Rüdiger Zill: Der absolute Leser

Der absolute Leser. Hans Blumenberg. Eine intellektuelle Biographie Book Cover Der absolute Leser. Hans Blumenberg. Eine intellektuelle Biographie
Rüdiger Zill
Suhrkamp
2020
Paperback 38.00 EUR
816

Reviewed by: Alexander Gerner (CFCUL, Faculdade de Ciência da Universidade de Lisboa)

1. Introduction: Towards an Intellectual History of Technology of Hans Blumenberg in Rüdiger Zill’s “Der absolute Leser. Hans Blumenberg-Eine Intellektuelle Biographie”

Rüdiger Zill is a scientific referent of the Berlin-based Einstein Forum, who, together with Oliver Müller, will soon present us with a first comprehensive Blumenberg Handbook (announced for 2022). Zill’s (2020) actual intellectual biography of Hans Blumenberg “Der absolute Leser” is a rich and extensive resource – including a chronology and a comprehensive register of primary and secondary (German) sources to access not only Blumenberg’s published work, including journal texts in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Akzente, the swiss NZZ or published under Blumenberg’s pseudonym of Axel Colly. Still, Zill’s book makes countless archive documents, such as the primary resource for posthumous editions from the Marbach archive accessible to the reader. In three circumnavigating parts after the plunging into the introduction on the readability of thinking, it enters in the first part, Description of Life, circles around his work in part two-Work on the works-, and circumnavigates in the third part around the process of philosophical curiosity.

Hans Blumenberg (1920-1996), besides Odo Marquard (1928-2015) as well as the spiritus rector of the reformed and interdisciplinary University of Konstanz -Hans Robert Jauss (1921-1997), took part in the historically influential interdisciplinary research group Poetics and Hermeneutics (Boden & Zill 2017), that has shaped the landscape of humanities and cultural studies in the old Federal Republic of Germany as perhaps only Critical Theory has done comparatively. Zill provides us with a biographically augmented sphere of possibility to experience and reflect a diachronic examination of Blumenberg’s life and structures of ideas, rich in historical and biographical detail, exact in its descriptions, and up to date regarding the editions of posthumous work of the Marbach archive. Zill achieves this by going beyond imaginary soul checking or vicarious embarrassment regarding the uncovered and naked truth (Blumenberg 2019) of the philosopher’s life. By mapping out the internal motivations and external events, we are introduced to the thinking machine called Hans Blumenberg, one of the 20th century’s most curious and inspirational and still to be fully discovered post-WWII German philosophers. Suppose you want a diachronic introduction to Blumenberg or are fond of Hans Blumenberg as a philosopher of intellectual wit and richness of detail. In that case, you will read Zill’s book with assertive pleasure. In a techno-anthropological perspective on technical aiding tools and procedures, we get to remember that Blumenberg, from the very beginning, separates self-assertion as a historically rendered conscious phenomenon from self-preservation as a biological and factual principle. However, why Blumenberg localizes these thoughts historically in the shift towards the medieval age seems not clear to Zill. He assumes that the theory of meaningfulness (cf. Heidenreich 2018) and the theorem developed in Blumenberg´s work on myth relates to the banishment of the fear-inducing absolutism of reality (in Marquart’s perspective on Blumenberg). The employment of rhetoric relief figures- becomes paramount to handle the tension inside a critique of pure rationality that has emerged since the 1960s in Blumenberg’s work.

There are strategies that Blumenberg puts at the fore to generate significances: means of effectiveness {Wirksamkeit} for action as methods of conceptual formation of pregnant formulations, rhetorical forms such as “simultaneity, latent identity, circularity, recurrence of the same, reciprocity of resistance and increase of existence, isolation of the degree of reality.” (Blumenberg, in Zill 2020: 534). Zill mentions the loss of the absolute world picture {Weltbild} as an essential topic in Blumenberg: In Zill’s reading, the world picture as an institution is irreversible gone and lost for Blumenberg. Subsequently, human beings would have to live in a provisional (Blumenberg 2015: 136), groundless and unhinged world! For Blumenberg, so Zill, we have not fallen out of a worldview in modernity but out of the idea of worldview par excellence[1].

In this respect, Zill’s intellectual biography is a unique book within a biographic (cf. Blumenberg in Zill 2020) narrative philosophy (535) tradition that shows us how multifaceted archival sources can be made accessible for understanding a life´s work and a philosophers life -including Blumenberg’s interesting reading notes and sometimes surprising evaluations- by describing the lifetime and historiography not only of the philosopher himself, but by the life’s example of Hans Blumenberg lets us enter a society tentatively searching for new grounds in the post-WWII Federal Republic of Germany struggling with its Nazi heritage and cultural burden, starting with two central life experience: First, being the best pupil of his age group, and- nevertheless- not being allowed by his former schoolmaster to hold the farewell speech, – against the tradition of the high school Katharineum in Lübeck- as having being stigmatized as a half-jew at that time (cf. The review of Krajewski on to the topic – in my view overstated – of formative bitterness, even only because Blumenberg in this situation became his school friend´s -Karl August Rohrbach (Zill 2020)- ghostwriter (55) instead. Second, assisting the allied bombings -while hiding from the Nazis, of his hometown Lübeck on the Palm Sunday night 1942 with mixed feelings- referring to the destroyed church organs and feeling sorry for his friends from Lübeck, but with asserted clarity about this beacon of the turn of the war (93). Zill’s book not only shows excellently how Blumenberg dealt with conflict situations – anger and strength in his responses being indeed a more robust motivator of Blumenberg- elegantly and forcefully during his whole life but as well how the philosopher´s theoretical positions changed over time and how he has evolved consciously as a person far from any tentative spiritual glorification that recently even assimilated the philosopher to a sort of a reclusive mystic as in Wolf (2020). On the contrary, Zill offers us an overlooking expansion of the scholars and Blumenberg editor previous fundamental studies on the work of Blumenberg. Zill had already worked on Blumenberg’s Metaphorology (2010{1960}) as substructures of thought (Zill 2002) or the theme of the Minima Historia by analyzing forms of philosophical writing (Stegmaier 2021) traditionally, if at all, considered minor forms. As Zill emphasizes, Blumenberg’s technique and writing celebrated to become a significant textual focus, wittily densifying scenes to dramaturgically sharp to a point by which the philosophical anecdote (Zill 2014; Zill 2014b) installs a climatic horizon of thought, that readers then can think even further.

Zill shows how from the work on myth onwards, Blumenberg’s interest in the history of science turns into intellectual history in which he reflects on the possibilities of Blumenberg’s approach to describing a history of technology that focuses on the time of Copernicus and not, for example, Albert Einstein (cf. Zill 2020: 483). This argumentation, however, falls short in understanding the importance of the complex problem of the scientific image as a model that is treated inside Blumenberg’s thought on inconceptuality. We can reflect on the relation of metaphorical shortcomings of untreated metaphysics and metaphor use in philosophy and theological world views and even more so inside scientific praxis and rationalities (cf. Gerner 2012) where it is supposed to be entirely avoided. Zill designates Blumenberg’s posthumous anthropology {Beschreibung des Menschen} as a philosophy of speculative paleoanthropology that could also be called a narrative anthropological phenomenology. Zill’s  view is based on the idea that Blumenberg puts different explanatory models to the test to understand the pragmatic intellectual performance of each approach according to external criteria. Then, according to Zill, Blumenberg chooses the theory that can explain more, which Zill then points out, for Blumenberg to be the theory that can narrate more and might not yet be empirically proven any better than the other theories.

2. Towards technological rhetoric of reading, storing ideas for writing and finding philosophical forms

How do we organize the experience of reading and keeping ideas we want to work out further?

Blumenberg takes advantage of essential material order tools of the pre-digital humanities: Pencil, ruler, and foremost a system of index cards in a flexible slip box to organize the experience of reading and subsequent mapping of ideas in writing. Zill shows us that Blumenberg’s slip box is of utmost importance; as for Zill, it becomes clear that it is particularly productive when it stores the findings of many years of the author’s work of reading and with very few selected keywords of themes and authors as the articulative axis. From early on -in the late 1940s-Blumenberg organized his tools and traces. He carefully managed and meticulously documented the genesis of the intermediate textual steps. Moreover, Blumenberg used as material storage of quotations, rare notations collected in a flat hierarchy of broad categories – that he could restructure quickly and flexibly: keywords included concepts such as {Aufklärung,} or {Anthropologie,} or {Zeit,} {Technik,} {Welt,} {Judenfrage.} Late in Blumenberg’s slip box, in 1992, a new keyword entered the thinking stage: boredom {Langeweile}.

 

3. On Blumenberg´s assistants, detour technologies of the Stenorette and the file card box (Zettelkasten)

When do reading and reception finally turn into production and writing, and when does production cease?

In the chapter Finding philosophical styles, Zill follows Blumenberg’s technical methods and rehearsals of thinking: traces of reading, lecture, stenorette, index cards. Zill also provides us with insights into the terrain of production of typescripts tested in the auditorium. In a household of thought, big projects were produced with the help of 1 to 5 assistants and his wife Ursula Blumenberg Proofs corrections, as well as with the help of his main publishing house and its proofreader Axel Rütters at Suhrkamp, for the book project of the Genesis of the Copernican World. Zill lays out traces of the origin of The Copernican Turn from within essays of Blumenberg, as well as Blumenberg’s dialogue with his critics, evident in, for example, the correspondence with Carl Schmitt (Blumenberg and Schmitt 2007) – an ideological opponent and equal sufferer of “curiositas” (111).

Blumenberg’s preference for the anti-method of detour – especially in his late works, as shown in his Freud prize reception speech, is that the basic movement pattern of culture-based dynamics becomes evident via technical mediation devices. Instead of dictating to his secretary, Blumenberg often used a transcribable and correctable stenorette as a mediating and recording tool. Rehearsal stages of thinking, such as the testing and probing of actual lectures held, are later at night, respoken into this kind of tape-recorder. For Zill, the stenorette is a means of Blumenberg’s use of his time economy –, particularly the night work. But Zill insists that the stenorette is foremost a distance medium, enabling actio per distans, as an action tool from a safe distance: allowing a personal thinking recording machine when others sleep. After the transcription of the spoken dictation by his secretary Ute Vonnegut, usually, two copies were made, which were corrected and revised by hand. Blumenberg only typed significant additions again or asked his secretary to do so. On an important note, Zill reminds us that Blumenberg – ten months before his retirement – wrote (cf. Zill 2020) to Alfons Neukirchen about the ceasing of production by being thrown back to typewriting with his own hands: “In 300 days, I will lose my secretary, and then I will be back where I started: writing on my own. Fortunately, in 27 years of writing full time, I’ve never stopped keeping myself in practice. The >output< has decreased anyway: in Giessen, it was still 20 pages per day, here recently 8, and with self-writing, I will probably retreat to 3. “Braggart, I secretly call to myself, it will be two if it goes well – and 0 if it doesn’t go at all.”(393; my translation from the German original)

Regarding notes from friends, Blumenberg ironically remarks about his card index cabinet of the latest technology, filled at the time with 16000 file card entries: “All your hints are written on file card slips (…) When the thing is full, I stop collecting and start writing”. Zill carefully approaches this development of Blumenberg’s file card box {Zettelkasten} method of selected reading samples, collecting, and writing notes that predisposition and luck play a role in this diachronic textual genesis machine, denying any mysticism of any technical self-constitution texts of reading material bogged down as supposedly self-executing. Depending on the context of use, the quotations collected by Hans Blumenberg landed in ever new places, thus declaring the file cards box a dynamic turnover point that says nothing about the arbitrariness of what had been written down before. While a rigid pattern governs index cards, Zettelkästen is characterized by its flexibility. Individual notations can wander to other places and migrate into different contexts, creating flexible references. Only what is read into it can be read out of the card index. What does not fit into the thesis is left to the note box. In this venue, Zill interprets the laughter of the Thracian woman as a Blumenberg’s self-conscious treatment of the loss of recontextualization of the material that is necessary after its decontextualization. Blumenberg’s search pattern based on which the material is perceived according to its usefulness is already at work in his reading that served the philosopher as an incubator for his works. His activity of collected and set aside reading is connectable to what has already been collected and an expansion of his seeing and thinking in the sense of an expansion of man as a historian of ideas: a conceptual synthesis of person and thing, the reader and the read. Zill emphasizes that the term {Zettelkasten} as archive “note box” or file card box – after the liberation of the rigidly organized index cards as used by Lichtenberg- has become an established technical term that today has been even entitled as “ruminant machines”[2](Helbig 2019a, b). It might be essential to add to Zill´s (2020) excellent elaboration on the Zettelkasten, following the work of Bülow and Krusche that for Helbig (2019a), Blumenberg´s Zettelkasten-method is seen as crucial to developing a systematic theoretical attitude (Blumenberg 1981) towards the history of science and science studies. Inside a critical stance towards the interpretation of the Zettelkasten method by von Bülow and Krusche (2013) in a tendency to self-conversation as a medium of self-communication (113-114), Helbig positions Blumenberg´s index card method beyond a mere technique for Soliloquium. For Helbig (2019a), the importance of Blumenberg’s adoption of the method lies in the diachronically augmented degree of freedom and constitution of a ruminant field of play within the Zettelkasten-method that allows the establishment and cultivation of „a Geschichtsverhältnis, or “relation to history“(96) to provide „a space to play with connections as they have been formed by historical predecessors or might be formed in the present“(97).

Blumenberg’s project of a history of ideas includes, above all, work on the history of science, technology, metaphorology as the pragmatics of metaphysics inherent and thus often less reflected even in scientific world images, a metakinetics of historical changes in meaning horizons. Blumenberg, later in the 70s -and already pre-announced in a text in 1966- corrects his course of philosophical action into anthropology and theory of non-conceptuality {Unbegrifflichkeit}. In the tension between the infinity claim of reason and its procedures of finitude as anthropological conditions, Zill designates Blumenbergs writing as a philosophy and anthropological rhetoric of gaining or taking distance to stimulate Pensiveness– a process of meaning possibility exploration. Against coming directly to the point, >Pensiveness< digresses and, preliminarily in zigzags, allows itself detours as the most critical cultural operation.

Zill elaborates on the retreat of the late Blumenberg in which not only there were no more questions of his students answered by him, with an idea-historical approach. Blumenberg’s implicit aversion of the student revolt of 1968 elevates critics into a moral habit, despite Blumenberg’s preference for rhetoric as a trick of reason to install pragmatic reasonableness in disfavor of absolute reason. Reasonableness is an outcome of an anthropological variant of reason, one that has learned its limits in the passage through self-criticism and has become modest in its insurmountable provisionality. This becomes evident in {Die Verführbarkeit des Philosophen} (cf. Zill’s 2014:38), in which Blumenberg launches a short anecdote in the direction of our forgetting of history entitled {Das jeweils Vergessene,} in which the “respectively forgotten” of each philosophical approach densifies in a short master-pupil anecdote of a joint hurrying towards a leaving train: Heidegger running after the forgetful professor Husserl, that asks his student what it was that he had forgotten to take with him on his journey: “Herr Geheimrat- And History?” Heidegger prompted, and Husserl supposedly answered: “History, yes that’s it, that´s what I have forgotten” (Blumenberg 2014: 63; my translation from the German original): a self-demarcation of Blumenberg to continue to work on the “respectively forgotten” in each thinker or epoch. This self-demarcation is present as well in one of the rare and hand-selected photo reproductions in Zill’s book (2020; image 35) of Hans Blumenberg; a photo of Hans Blumenberg’s handwritten remark posted onto his habilitation work on the “ontological distance” that had been labeled with a skull and a note that says: To be used only with great caution! (376) that Zill comments clearly: “His habilitation thesis thus went into the personal poison cabinet. The closeness to Heidegger annoyed him very soon.”(Ibid.)

4. Rehearsing the dramatization of philosophical curiosity: On the anecdote as a philosophical form

Zill´s book follows philosophical curiosity as a trial treatment of thinking, which I like to call rehearsals. In this sense, writes Zill, Blumenberg is less concerned with the ideology-critical search for some fundamental naked truth, but instead with the process of rendering visible something that has been self-evident to Blumenberg, but that is not or no longer self-evident to us. One of these rehearsals is Blumenberg’s anthropological phenomenological approach, not only of traditional topics such as the concept, as a technical device that allows us, humans, to act at a distance towards the thing described and back over language. For Blumenberg, man is only given inside time, which renders the historical dimension inherent in humankind: and this implies for Zill that historicity, according to Blumenberg, means relatedness of all certainty to horizons, to the temporally manifest real. Zill clarifies that Pensiveness lies beyond traditional hermeneutics as texts through Pensiveness are not an object to be understood but a technical means and opportunity to understand oneself.

Blumenberg’s stupendous erudition laid out his thinking paths in large and small forms precisely cut into short and often ironic and concise miscellanies. He is always form-conscious and ready for witty comments (cf. Alexander Kluges’ (2022) project of thinking as commenting). Despite his rhetoric’s that he might have published smaller text as a preliminary trial test or “rehearsal” {Probe} or even as “small escapes” {kleine Fluchten} and that some since 1973 might be better called “unauthorized fragments” {Unerlaubte Fragmente}, seems an ironic self-comment that shows that Blumenberg’s thinking and philosophy style lies beyond the rolling of problem-rocks, thick-bodied “problem thrillers” (Odo Marquard), but that Blumenberg growingly showed his delight in digressions into the shorter and densified philosophical forms: the compressed and pictorial, the dramaturgically sculptured episodic and the sharpness of the anecdotal.

Beyond lighthearted and history-forgotten narrative style memorials Blumenberg’s writing often could be condensed into a short narrative such as an ironic gloss or an anecdote up to a particular point: The non-edited, or the unpublished in a lifetime is precisely meant -as we deepen our understanding with Zill- with an-ekdoton. The importance of a precise anecdotal writing style is treated in the unpublished manuscript of Blumenberg “Die Unverächtlichkeit der Anekdote” (UNF2241; Zill 2014:36), in which Blumenberg refers to the unrealized program of Nietzsche’s attempt to extract three anecdotes from each philosophical system and accordingly the three basic narratives of a philosopher’s life we should still care about discarding at the same time each particular systems or exorbitant grand theory. What are these three densified anecdotes or philosophical and intellectual biographic narratives in turn that would reveal all the rest? Blumenberg comments on Nietzsche’s pre-announced but never fulfilled program Nietzsche that would have meant an ultimate rebellion against the monocracy of the concept. But, Blumenberg twistedly adds that we will never know if it succeeded. The short gloss of Blumenberg as philosophical crisp and straightforward narrative of an anecdote that grows into a formal philosophical statement, in my view, is missing in the recent edition of Werner Stegmaier’s introduction of “forms of philosophical works” (Stegmaier 2021: 260) which mentions Blumenberg au passant as merely part of one out of three contemporary forms (besides the philosophical, analytical scientific paper and new digital metric and designed forms) as having contributed to transdisciplinary theme volumes, that opening up new thematic fields put forward by the collective of poetics and hermeneutics. But, Blumenberg works on the transformation of hermeneutics through the minimal form of philosophical buccaneering in which the anecdote, according to Zill, becomes the third field of a theory of non-conceptuality alongside the work on myth and metaphor.

5. Towards an Intellectual History of Technology

Zill’s book is by far too rich to put down in a short review. However, still, I tentatively attempt to cut a breach into Zills work of the multifaceted reading of Blumenberg’s intellectual biography into an intellectual history of technology: Zill reconstructs Blumenberg’s project of development of an Intellectual History of Technology {Geistesgeschichte der Technik} but also assists in early archeology of Blumenberg of technology as a self-contained topic. In this vein, besides the important initial texts of the Kiel inaugural lecture of 1951 The Relationship Between Nature And Technology As A Philosophical Problem {Das Verhältnis von Natur und Technik als philosophisches Problem} and the Brussels conference contribution Technology and truth {Technik und Wahrheit} of 1953, among other writings and lectures in the volume Works On Technology {Schriften Zur Technik} published posthumously in 2015, Zill refers to the fragmentary text from a lecture of 1956 entitled Automation which Zill commented (Zill 2019) and which has now also been published (Blumenberg 2019b). As Rüdiger Zill points out, Blumenberg focuses not only on the economic and cultural but specifically on the spiritual and philosophical preconditions of automation. Blumenberg does not shy away from drawing a big bow from the human ability of symbolization to technology that means from the power of sign-use to automation. For automation, according to a manuscript transcribed by Zill – Blumenberg (2019b), goes back to mathematization: For Blumenberg -as Zill reminds us- what can be formalized, can be mechanized; and what can be mechanized, can be automated. Consequently, for Blumenberg in his text on automation, technology slumbers in theory, and in the sign reside the machine.

Zill notes that Blumenberg does not focus on the moral and social problems of technology because he does not consider the social and economic consequences of automation to be problems of technology itself, but rather to be technical problems: turning the appearance of a deficiency inside technology towards a problem of a lack of technology.” Blumenberg, with his early philosophy of technology – as Zill convincingly maps out- stands in contrast to positions of contemporaries such as Friedrich Georg Jünger, Martin Heidegger, or left-wing cultural critics such as Horkheimer, Adorno, or Günther Anders (cf. Eatherly, Anders, and Russell 1961) in questions of technology. However, Zill (2020) notes the astonishing – unquoted- familiarity in what Anders wrote on prompting and the technological shortcuts as a way to the barbaric and – in opposition- the cultural methods of digressions and the productive tensions created by detours in both authors (458-459) reconstructs that as early as 1966, Blumenberg sees the historical interest in technology seconded by its anthropological dimension of how to win time could be treated as a significant human technological category. However, Blumenberg’s strength does not lie in the scientific adequacy of evolutionary anthropology. For example, in the evolutionary theoretical he defends a kind of a savannah hypothesis, which is necessary for his argumentation to draw on the habitat change from forested terrain to free steppes and explain man as a distance being, currently historically aged scientific knowledge. What matters is much more his speculative detours on anthropological details: Since in Blumenberg visibility serves the self-determination and self-assertion of man, the examination of the history of technology was intensified in the 1960s. Zill shows how Blumenberg, through his publications and lectures as a member of the leading group “Man and Technology” in the “Association of German Engineers” (VDI), is perceived as a decisive philosopher of technology of his time, primarily through three lectures. Since the lectures on Some Difficulties in Writing an Intellectual History of Technology {Einige Schwierigkeiten, eine Geistesgeschichte der Technik zu schreiben}, which additionally was broadcasted as a radio transmission on Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) in 1966, moreover, the lecture Methodological Problems of an Intellectual History of Technology {Methodologische Probleme einer Geistesgeschichte der Technik} and Dogmatic and Rational Analysis of Motivations of Technical Progress {Dogmatische und rationale Analyse von Motivationen Technischen Fortschritts}, which was presented at the timely conference of the VDI in Ludwigshafen in 1970, Blumenberg relies on the elaboration of the relationship between theory and reality and the boundary between technology and craft in particular consideration of Cusanos. Zill is particularly interested in Marx’s development of machinery in the book “Das Kapital,” noting that in Marx’s chapter “Machinery and Great Industry,” the possibility of mechanizing a production process only became visible for Blumenberg through the division of labor.

If we speculate a bit further, we could ask: What would Blumenberg have thought of literary and cultural experiments such as the “1 the road” project (Goodwin, Mcdowell, and Google 2018) to write a – theoretically eternal and unstoppable – road trip book with a machine learning algorithm, or the works of the text collective of Gregor Weichbrod and Hannes Bajohr of the “0x0a” the hex code for the line break, as a character that does not exist in the analog, cannot be spoken and exists only as a “control character” – as attempts to produce genuinely digital literature in the line of algorithmic aesthetics today? We know that Blumenberg distinguished clearly unreflective monologs of AI protocol machines (Blumenberg 2002) based on unanimity {Einstimmigkeit} (39) of judgment or atomized sentences from dialogic concordance {Übereinstimmung}(Ibid.) after inspection {Prüfung} (Ibid.) of compatibility of different views and dialogic co-descriptions. By the automatization of writing (cf. Schönthaler 2022) of programmed contextual understanding of automata based on the operation of signs that must be determined and connected for interacting with humans; however, according to Blumenberg (2002), uninvolved world-less spectators are created, such as Joseph Weinbaum’s ELIZA artifact. Due to the lack of the non-mechanical intermittence of dialogic conscious experience of perception and reflective self-interruption, AI protocol machines are ruled out by Blumenberg (38-43) as any other kind of evidence establishing machine. Zill does not explicitly work out these possibilities of rethinking contemporary issues of philosophy of technology (cf. Bajohr 2021 and its relation to Blumenberg’s specific beginning with a technology of language (Blumenberg 1946; Blumenberg 2001; Bajohr 2018; Bajohr 2017). But there is still a possibility for such a philosophy of language and technology beyond mentioning that Blumenberg was more focused on initial human techniques and not abstracted technology systems questions in the words of Zill(2020):  “The algorithms of modern computer technology or the procedures of chemical industry were not fields in which he wanted to spend his efforts.” (497).

With Zill’s reading of Blumenberg’s intellectual biography, we might not reach an absolute end but come back to a preliminary beginning by continuing to think what it was that made Blumenberg’s life so fascinating to read in these short-lived 814 pages. What was it, we wanted to understand while observing the way Blumenberg thought and lived, particularly in the field of Intellectual History of Technology? For Blumenberg (2009) each science has to bare its own history (9), and each intellectual biography has to bare its history as well: I think it is time for us readers to (re-)read Rüdiger Zill’s book and discover Hans Blumenberg’s intellectual biography anew!

Bibliography:

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———, and Carl Schmitt. 2007. Briefwechsel 1971-1978 Und Weitere Materialien. Edited by Alexander Schmitz and Marcel Lepper. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.

———. 2014. “Die Unverächtlichkeit der Anekdote” (n.d.)  UNF2241, Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach, in: R. Zill, “Minima historia. Die Anekdote als hermeneutische Form.” Zeitschrift für Ideengeschichte 8(3), p.36.

———. 2014. Beschreibung Des Menschen. Edited by Manfred Sommer. Frankfurt Am Main: Suhrkamp.

———. 2015a. “Einige Schwierigkeiten Eine Geistesgeschichte Der Technik Zu Schreiben.” Hans Blumenberg: Schriften Zur Technik., edited by Alexander Schmitz and Bernd Stiegler, 203–29. Berlin: Suhrkamp.

———. 2015b. “Weltbilder Und Weltmodelle.” In Hans Blumenberg: Schriften Zur Technik, edited by Alexander Schmitz and Bernhard Stiegler, 126–37. Berlin: Suhrkamp.

———. 2016. Paradigms for a Metaphorology. Translated by Robert Savage. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.

———. 2019a. Die Nackte Wahrheit. Edited by Rüdiger Zill, Berlin: Suhrkamp.

———. 2019b“Automation.” In Metaphorologie, Anthropologie, Phänomenologie. Neue Forschungen Zum Nachlass Hans Blumenbergs, edited by Alberto Fragio et al., 214–234. Freiburg, Albers.

———. 2020a. “An Anthropological Approach to the Contemporary Significance of Rethorics.” In History, Metaphors, Fables: A Hans Blumenberg Reader, edited by Hannes Bajohr, Florian Fuchs, and Joe Paul Kroll, 718–847. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

———, 2020b. Hannes Bajohr, Florian Fuchs, and Joe Paul Kroll. 2020. History, Metaphors, Fables: A Hans Blumenberg Reader. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

———. “2020c. Prospect for a Theory of Inconceptuality.” History, Metaphors, Fables. A Hans Blumenberg Reader, by Blumenberg Hans, translated by Hannes Bajohr et al., edited by Hannes Bajohr et al., Ithaca: New York, Cornell University Press, 2020, pp. 739–799.

Boden, Petra, and Zill, Rüdiger. 2017. Poetik Und Hermeneutik Im Rückblick : Interviews Mit Beteiligten. Paderborn: Wilhelm Fink.

Gerner, Alexander Matthias. 2012. “Philosophical Investigations of Attention.” PhD Thesis, Universidade de Lisboa. https://repositorio.ul.pt/handle/10451/6496.

Goodwin, Ross, Kenric Mcdowell, and Google. 2018. 1 the Road. Paris: Jean Boite Éditions.

Hanusch, Frederic, Claus Leggewie, and Erik Meyer. 2021. Planetar Denken Ein Einstieg. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag.

Heidenreich, Friedrich. 2015. “Bedeutsamkeit.” In Blumenberg Lesen – Ein Glossar, edited by Daniel Weidner, 43–55. Berlin: Suhrkamp.

Helbig, Daniela K. 2019a. “Life without Toothache: Hans Blumenberg’s Zettelkasten and History of Science as Theoretical Attitude.” Journal of the History of Ideas 80 (1): 91–112. https://doi.org/10.1353/jhi.2019.0005.

———. 2019b. “Ruminant Machines: A Twentieth-Century Episode in the Material History of Ideas.” Journal of the History of Ideas (blog). April 17, 2019. https://jhiblog.org/2019/04/17/ruminant-machines-a-twentieth-century-episode-in-the-material-history-of-ideas/.

Kluge, Alexander. 2021. Das Buch Der Kommentare. Unruhiger Garten Der Seele. Berlin: Suhrkamp.

Krajewski, Bruce J. “BLUMENBERG RECONSIDERED the Afterlife of Hans Blumenberg’s Centennial.” Journal of the History of Ideas Blog, 20 Sept. 2020, jhiblog.org/2020/09/14/blumenbergs-centennial/. Accessed 21 Oct. 2021.

Merker, Barbara. 1999. “Bedürfnis Nach Bedeutsamkeit: Zwischen Lebenswelt Und Absolutismus Der Wirklichkeit.” In Die Kunst Des Überlebens: Nachdenken Über Hans Blumenberg, edited by Franz Josef Metz and Hermann Timm, 68–98. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.

Rothacker, Erich. 1963. Heitere Erinnerungen. Frankfurt a.M/ Bonn: Athenäum Verlag.

Schönthaler, Phillip. 2022. Die Automatisierung Des Schreibens & Gegenprogramme Der Literatur. Berlin: Matthes & Seitz Berlin.

Stegmaier, Werner. 2021. Formen Philosophischer Schriften. Zur Einführung. Hamburg: Junius Verlag.

Wolff, Uwe. 2020. Der Schreibtisch Des Philosophen : Erinnerungen an Hans Blumenberg. München: Claudius.

Zill, Rüdiger. 2002. “>>Substrukturen Des Denkens<<.” In Begriffsgeschichte, Diskursgeschichte, MetapherngeschichteGrenzen Und Perspektiven Einer Metapherngeschichte Nach Hans Blumenberg, edited by Hans Erich Bödecker, 209–58. Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag.

———. 2014. “Minima Historia. Die Anekdote Als Philosophische Form.” Zeitschrift Für Ideengeschichte 8 (3): 33–46. https://doi.org/10.17104/1863-8937-2014-3-33.

———. 2014a. “Anekdote.” In Blumenberg Lesen. Ein Glossar, edited by Robert Buch and Daniel Weidner, 26–42. Berlin: Suhrkamp.

———. 2019. “>>Automation<<. Die Entstehung Der Blumenberg´schen Technikphilosophie Anhand Eines Frühen Vortragsmanuskripts . Freiburg: Albers, 187-213.” In Metaphorologie, Anthropologie, Phänomenologie. Neue Forschungen Zum Nachlass Hans Blumenbergs, edited by Alberto Fragio, Martina Phillipi, and Josefa Ros Velasco, 187–213. Freiburg: Albers.

———. 2020. Der Absolute Leser Hans Blumenberg. Eine Intellektuelle Biographie. Berlin: Suhrkamp.


[1] An interesting point to explore, if we compare this view with the historian Phillip Blom who argues for the necessity of a reinvention of world pictures as part of a dramaturgically padded world theater (Blom 2020) by imaginative forms such as narratives to be able to face and act accordingly to our precarious planetary condition and thinking (cf. Hanusch, Leggewie and Meyer 2021) under the threat of mass extinction and climate change (Blom 2017) as one possible counter reading to Blumenberg.

[2]Wiederkäuer: a system to chew over various bits of reading material over periods that are long enough to allow new connections and combinations to appear, and thus to generate genuine surprises“ (Helbig 2019b.)

Hans Blumenberg: St. Matthew Passion, Cornell University Press, 2021

St. Matthew Passion Book Cover St. Matthew Passion
signale|TRANSFER: German Thought in Translation
Hans Blumenberg. Translated by Helmut Müller-Sievers and Paul Fleming
Cornell University Press
2021
Hardback $39.95
258

Sebastian Lederle: Endlichkeit und Metapher. Studien zu Hans Blumenberg und Eugen Fink, Königshausen u. Neumann, 2021

Endlichkeit und Metapher. Studien zu Hans Blumenberg und Eugen Fink Book Cover Endlichkeit und Metapher. Studien zu Hans Blumenberg und Eugen Fink
Orbis Phaenomenologicus Studien, Bd. 51
Sebastian Lederle
Königshausen u. Neumann
2021
Hardback 48,00 €
280

Hans Blumenberg: Realität und Realismus

Realität und Realismus Book Cover Realität und Realismus
Hans Blumenberg. Edited by Nicola Zambon
Suhrkamp
2020
Hardback 30,00 €
232

Reviewed by: Martijn Visser (Radboud University Nijmegen)

Introduction

What does it mean to say something is real? It is exactly this question—Was heißt ‘etwas sei wirklich’?—that serves as the epigraph of Realität und Realismus, one of  the most recent publications from Hans Blumenberg’s Nachlass. The texts that are collected in this volume do not so much answer this question as they show what it implies and why we keep asking it. They address a pathos of realism that has been operative throughout the history of philosophy, manifesting itself in different conceptions of reality over time, and which ultimately appears to be rooted in the human condition: a fundamental need to distance oneself from and master reality at the same time, both in theory and praxis. In these texts, Blumenberg shows that the human relation to reality is originally not a fixed, immediate and self-evident rapport but something that must be established and maintained, changing over time depending on its functionality, and shining forth in theoretical constructs, cultural expressions and other ‘detours’ through which we have learned to deal with the demands of the real. Consequently, the titular themes of this book do not refer to the metaphysical, ontological or epistemological problems and discussions characteristic of many of today’s ‘realisms’ – whether it is speculative, new, neutral, material, scientific, phenomenological or otherwise qualified. There is no talk of a mind-independent world, of constructivist or correlationist conundrums, and the whole word idealism is conspicuously absent from these texts. As such, Blumenberg approaches the topic of reality and realism from a rather fresh and original perspective, both in a historic and systematic manner.

Realität und Realismus appeared last year on the occasion of Blumenberg’s much celebrated centennial together with a series of other books from and on Blumenberg, most importantly the long awaited publication of Blumenberg’s dissertation (Beiträge zum Problem der Ursprünglichkeit der mittelalterlich-scholastischen Ontologie, originally from 1947), a voluminous Hans Blumenberg Reader with a diverse selection of his finest essays that are almost all translated for the first time into English, and two sweeping intellectual biographies that present Blumenberg in a detailed and delightful way to a broader public. Until now, Realität und Realismus has been somewhat overshadowed by this outburst of celebrations and publications, which is not very surprising since the volume looks prima facie like a rather tentative, technical and fragmented collection of texts. Indeed, this publication does not exactly present a general and accessible entry to Blumenberg’s thought, let alone a very straightforward and comprehensive account of ‘reality and realism’, despite its alluring and fashionable title. Nevertheless, as the editor Nicola Zambon writes in his afterword, Realität und Realismus certainly does not uncover terra incognita either: it expands and explicates a key-aspect of Blumenberg’s writings, which the well-versed reader could already find scattered throughout his published texts, but that is only now for the first time brought into clear view.

Indeed, within Blumenberg’s vast, meandering and increasingly available oeuvre, reality and realism are a central focus of interest, albeit not always from the same perspective or with the same intensity. As we can now very clearly see, the notion of reality is already a prominent motive in Blumenberg’s dissertation, where he takes up the theme of a historically conditioned experience and understanding of reality in a critical discussion with Heidegger’s history of Being. Most notably however, Blumenberg thematised and analysed reality throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s in a series of essays on the ‘concept of reality’ (Wirklichkeitsbegriff) in relation to art, myth, political theory and the lifeworld, some of which have been translated and included in the aforementioned Hans Blumenberg Reader. These and many other of Blumenberg’s ‘smaller’ essays are often considered marginal or premature in comparison to his major studies, but what is clearly explicated at the periphery of his work often leaves significant traces in the centre of his thinking, playing an implicit but no less important role on the operative level of his thematic analyses. The case of reality is no different in this regard. Not only Blumenberg’s famous historical works such as Legitimität der Neuzeit (1966) and Die Genesis der kopernikanischen Welt (1975), but also his metaphorological studies and anthropological explorations in Arbeit am Mythos (1979) and Höhlenausgänge (1989) appear to have been developed against the backdrop of a particular understanding of reality that underpins many of his analyses. Although it will probably remain a matter of dispute whether there ever was one central question or concern for Blumenberg, reality is certainly a very important methodical and thematic leitmotif that accompanied his writings from the very beginning to the end.

The nine longer and shorter texts – all written between 1970 and 1984 – that make up Realität und Realismus can very roughly be divided into two categories: the first half deals with reality from a historical point of view and enters into a discussion with Plato, Descartes, Leibniz, Nietzsche and Husserl, among others. These texts contain an explicit and extensive treatment of the four epochal concepts of reality that we already know from Blumenberg’s earlier essays – this time however not in order to thematize socio-cultural phenomena, but to provide these concepts with a theoretical and methodical framework that was largely lacking in other writings. This already makes the volume a very valuable and insightful contribution to Blumenberg’s oeuvre. The second half of the book is more varied and fragmented, but one of the themes that stand out is an anthropological approach to reality and an investigation into the human being as a ‘realist’, most clearly in  the longer texts Illusion und Realität and Zur Anthropologie des Realisten, but also in a short text on the reality of the Eigenleib. This second half also contains an intriguing and topical text on the reality of invisible threats (in casu quo: germs, war gas, and radiation), and covers other realism related themes in the domains of aesthetics, rhetoric and theology as well. In this review however, I will focus on Blumenberg’s historical and anthropological approach to reality and realism as it can be traced throughout this volume. Although much more could be discussed, these two perspectives seem to me to strike at the core of his thinking on reality and contain moreover a very interesting and fundamental tension.

Blumenberg’s Historical Approach to Reality

On the very first page of Realität und Realismus, Blumenberg explains that the  notion of reality has a very pragmatic meaning for him. He emphatically distances himself from any kind of ontology or philosophy of being and does not wish to speak of reality in a traditional metaphysical manner as a comprehensive theory of everything. Instead, reality refers for Blumenberg to that instance which determines our behaviour, which binds us together and upon which we rely in our everyday speech and action: “Das Wirkliche ist das, worauf man sich beruft” (11). He understands reality as a kind of pregivenness, which we take for granted in our everyday life; a meaningful background which enables and conditions practical orientation, common sense, and theoretical reflection. Rightly so, it has been compared to Kuhn’s paradigms and Foucault’s epistemologies: a concept of reality seems to be a historical horizon of meaning and understanding – at one instance Blumenberg speaks of an “epochalen Horizont von Wirklichkeit” (34) – that determines what is noteworthy and significant and what not; what can be thought and what not, in short: what is real and what not.[i]

Characteristic of this pregivenness is that it is always already conceived in a particular manner—as a concept of reality—but this conception remains at the same time implicit and mute (Stumm) as long as it fulfils its function. A concept of reality is self-evident (Selbstverständlich) to such a high degree that it usually does not reach the threshold of explicit propositional language or thought, it is not even understood as being self-evident. Hence, reality is operative and functional as reality to the extent that it remains unnoticed, unquestioned and inconspicuous. Of course, the question then immediately arises how we are able to thematize reality if it its defining characteristic denies this very possibility. The answer lies in the historicity of our relation to and conception of reality, which cannot always uphold its implicit and self-evident nature but is subject to change. A concept of reality only comes to the fore the very moment it starts to be questioned or criticized:

Nur dadurch, daß das Verständnis von Wirklichkeit selbst Geschichte hat, daß es abgelöst werden kann durch ein neues Verhältnis zur Wirklichkeit und diese Ablösung sich gerade als Kritik am Wirklichkeitsverständnis der Vergangenheit formuliert, nur auf diese indirekte Weise gewinnen wir einen Zugang zur Geschichte des Wirklichkeitsbegriffs (11).

In this quote, we find Blumenberg’s historical approach to reality in a nutshell: different historical epochs are assumed to have different ‘concepts of reality’, because our relation to reality as it is established in a particular and implicit understanding of ourselves and the world changes over time. Concepts of reality replace one another once they become dysfunctional and no longer provide the means for our practical and theoretical orientation. Blumenberg aims to trace this changing understanding and these different conceptions, but he can only do so in an indirect way, since an epoch ‘uses’ its concept of reality to the degree that it does not talk about it. A history of the concept of reality cannot be a conceptual history, Blumenberg argues, but must instead proceed via negativa: it is only when a concept of reality collapses under critical scrutiny and loses its validity – i.e. when a secure and stable sense of self and world is lost in a collective crisis of understanding – that it can be determined and reconstructed in retrospect, distilled from the traces it left in philosophical and scientific writing, literature and other documentations.

Interestingly, Blumenberg argues that these crises manifest themselves primarily in a growing unease about the use of language: the feeling that concepts, categories or claims appear increasingly empty, instable, or insubstantial; the experience that words lose their ‘substrate’ that was always taken for granted as reality and now appear frictionless spinning in the void instead. On a more general level, it is a fear of semblance and pretence, a preoccupation with the illegitimacy of prejudices and idols, and an awareness of the inadequacy and insufficiency of established theories and explanations, which can give rise to another concept of reality. The critical demand to go back to ‘the things themselves’ and not be led astray by the deceiving powers of language or time-honoured ideas is therefore a characteristic realist appeal according to Blumenberg. Plato’s suspicion of sophistry, the medieval adagio res, non verba!, the attempted rejection of all prejudices by the likes of Bacon and Descartes, Husserl’s call to return to the Sachen selbst, and the positivist critique on language are all mentioned in Realität und Realismus as examples of such an appeal. Blumenberg emphasises that these theories and philosophies do not themselves present but reflect a changing conception of reality; they are not the cause, but a consequence of an acute experience of a loss of self-evidence – an experience of unreality – which critique, thought and theory aim to remedy:

‘Kritik’ wetzt sich an dem, was schon nicht mehr selbstverständlich ist. So paradox es klingen mag: nicht Wirklichkeit wird als Wirklichkeit erfahren, sondern Unwirklichkeit als Unwirklichkeit. Das heißt: Realität ist ein implikatives Prädikat, da sie schon kein reales Prädikat mehr ist (39).

The notion of reality as an implicit or ‘implicative’ predicate is not new: one finds it also at the end of Höhlenausgänge or the text Vorbemerkungen zum Wirklichkeitsbegriff, where Blumenberg gives a similar explanation. Yet, the texts in Realität und Realismus provide these rather short and esoteric passages with some clear and substantial context that help us understand better what Blumenberg is after. To say that reality is implicative means that it is always implied in an experience – often an experience of unreality, when something turns out other than it appeared to be – without becoming explicit in this experience itself. It is for this reason Blumenberg calls reality also a ‘contrast concept’ (Kontrastbegriff) and a residue (Residuum): reality is a reticent remainder after the unreal is experienced, exposed and eliminated. Our understanding of reality is historical because the criteria for this elimination process vary, and it is indeterminate because elimination is in theory an infinite process. Thus the only formal description Blumenberg can give of reality is a seeming tautology, and appears to serve him more as a heuristic rule than a definition proper: “Wirklich ist, was nicht unwirklich ist.” Blumenberg explains this cryptic formula as follows:

Diese Formel verweist auf den Umweg über das, was jeweils unter der Schwelle nicht so sehr der Wahrnehmbarkeit als vielmehr der Wahrnehmungswürdigkeit, der Beachtbarkeit, der Einkalkulierbarkeit liegt (39).

Reading these formal and methodical characterisations, one becomes curious as to their practical application: how does Blumenberg deduce and distil a concept of reality as it is characteristic for a specific time and age? What criteria are used to delineate different epochs? What historical sources are consulted to infer and attribute a particular conception of reality to them? Unfortunately, this does not become very clear in Realität und Realismus. Much like in his large historical studies such as Legitimität der Neuzeit, Blumenberg seems to engage in a speculative hermeneutics without much methodical justification, and at times it seems he simply draws on authors and texts that allow him to write his grand historical narratives precisely the way he wants to. More specifically, it is not always clear whether Blumenberg actually reconstructs a concept of reality on the basis of his reading of history, or if he reads the history of thought already through the lens of preconceived concepts of reality. Of course, these two perspectives necessarily complement each other, but because a concept of reality cannot be found in a text but must be inferred from a text as its implicit and conditional horizon of meaning, it remains quite a speculative endeavour. As a result, Blumenberg’s concepts of reality seem to function more often than not as heuristic instruments or tools for thought that allow him to analyse historical tendencies and cultural developments, instead of accurate characterisations of epochal understanding. Nevertheless, what seems to count in the end for Blumenberg is the explanatory and descriptive potential of a concept of reality – its Leistungsfähigkeit – and the four concepts he describes certainly live up to this demand. We will now take a look at each of these concepts themselves.

Blumenberg’s Four Concepts of Reality

The first concept of reality Blumenberg describes belongs to antiquity and is defined as instantaneous evidence (Realität der momentanen Evidenz). What is implied in this concept is that reality presents itself in the very moment of its presence as undoubtedly real, as something that is final (letztgültig) and unsurpassable (unüberbietbar) in its reality. And it is instantaneous insofar as there is no temporal and intersubjective process in which reality is realized: reality is understood as something that can be perceived at once, in one look, by one person. As such, reality is quite literally self-evident: “Wirklichkeit ist etwas unmittelbar und an sich selbst Einleuchtendes, eine unwiderstehlich Zustimmung ernötigende Gegebenheit” (16). Blumenberg speaks repeatedly in this context of an “implicit assertion” (Behauptungsimplikation) of reality, a concept he admittedly borrowed from Alexander Pfänder who coined it as a ‘logical translation’ for the Greek phainesthai, but which Blumenberg understands in more a figurative manner:

Es steckt in diesem Wirklichkeitsbegriff eine Metapher: das Wirkliche stellt sich uns vor mit einer Art von impliziter Behauptung, das Vorgestellte auch wirklich zu sein, nicht von einer anderen Instanz her ins Unrecht gesetzt werden zu können (17).

Of course, this does not mean people knew nothing of deceiving appearances in antiquity, but the point is that it was never questioned that ‘real reality’ would be recognised as such once it presented itself. For Blumenberg, this is the “Kerngedanke” of Greek thought: “Wenn der Schein aufgehoben ist, kommt die Sache selbst zutage” (77). Plato’s cave allegory is taken to be the exemplary expression of this understanding: it presupposes an ‘ontological comparative’ with different ‘levels of reality’ each constituting a māllon on, a surplus of being, which ultimately culminates in a superlative of the ideas that are indeed described as a final and unsurpassable instance.

The second concept of reality comes into play once we entertain the idea of an infinite series of ‘comparatives’, the suspicion that every given reality might always be surpassed by an even higher degree of reality. From this perspective, reality is less and less understood as self-evident; its evidence needs to an increasing extent to be guaranteed by something other than itself. As Blumenberg claims: “Sobald das Sehenlassen nicht mehr das Sichsehenlassen ist, kommt eine dritte Instanz ins Spiel, die zur momentanen Evidenz nicht mehr paßt” (47). The moment reality is taken to be completely dependent on this third instance, when reality can no longer be understood and experienced as a final and definitive reality, instantaneous evidence becomes impossible and the ancient concept of reality gives way to the second concept, which Blumenberg attributes to the Middle Ages: reality as guaranteed reality (garantierte Realität), to which he also refers as the ‘scheme of the third position.’ Not surprisingly, Descartes figures here as paradigmatic thinker: he wants reality to be as it appears to be, but his radical doubt denies him any such straightforward acceptance. Consequently, he needs to revert to an absolute witness, i.e. God, which guarantees the validity of our knowledge and perception of reality (as it is given in clear and distinct ideas), and ensures that we are not living an all-encompassing yet undetectable illusion.

Blumenberg finds a third concept of reality, that of the modern age, in a critique on Descartes by Leibniz. Specificities left aside, this critique comes down to the simple observation that an all-encompassing and undetectable illusion or deception is a meaningless assumption, which, even if it is true, has no consequences whatsoever. Descartes’ need for a divine guarantee is the result of the suggestion that all aspects of reality might be simulated by an evil demon without producing that very reality itself, together with the demand that reality must really be as it appears to be. It is this belief that motivates Descartes’ doubt, but Leibniz considers this to be an excessive and misguided demand. Excessive because Descartes’ genius malignus is in principle an irrefutable hypothesis; misguided because for Leibniz, our sense of reality does not rely on a correspondence of our ideas and appearances to a transcendent ground. Appearances do not appear real because they refer to a ‘real’ reality; instead, reality and illusion only concern the immanent consistency of what is given to us:

Die Einstimmigkeit der Gegebenheiten untereinander, ihr gleichsam horizontaler Konnex,  die Konstitution eines lückenlosen, sprungfreien, nicht in Enttäuschung zerbrechendes Prospektes gibt uns jene kategorische Gewißheit, mit eine Realität konfrontiert zu sein (23).

This modern concept of reality implies moreover an essential relation to time, in contrast to the other two concepts: reality is not understood as something that gives itself immediately or is guaranteed forever, but it is realized in a process – constantly adapting to new situations, correcting for irregularities, anticipating novelties or deceptions and taking into account (possibly diverging) contexts of other persons. Hence, Blumenberg often speaks of this modern concept of reality as a provisional and “open context” that is oriented towards the future, regulated by the never realizable and hence ideal limit of one coherent intersubjective totality. Any reader familiar with Husserl will recognize this as a phenomenological description of reality, and this is no coincidence: Leibniz’s change of perspective on reality – from a transcendent implication to an immanent consistency – is explicitly understood by Blumenberg as phenomenology avant la lettre (88); a figure of thought that underlies many modern idealist philosophies, with Husserl’s phenomenological idealism as its most decisive and dogmatic exponent (98).

A fourth concept of reality appears to follow in a dialectical way from the third. The idea of reality as a coherent and consistent context almost naturally invites us to think the opposite: the idea of reality as something that resists this consistency, which does not conform or comply but manifests itself as stubborn, contradictory and unyielding. This is “der Wirklichkeitsbegriff der Ungefügigkeit und Unverfügbarkeit des Widerstreits” (178). Blumenberg likes to illustrate this understanding with a Kafka quote that reoccurs in other writings as well: “Wirkliche Realität ist immer unrealistisch” (175). Unfortuntately, he says little about this concept of reality from a historical perspective in Realität und Realismus, although he does explicitly claim that it is a concept which appeared after the third concept: the notion of a resisting inconsistency makes only sense against the background of a consistent context. The two last concepts thus seem to complement each other, and Blumenberg hints occasionally at the idea that there might be more than one concept of reality at work in the modern age. In contrast with the other three concepts of reality, Blumenberg does not provide us with a paradigmatic philosophy in which this concept is expressed or reflected. This is quite surprising since there has been a long standing tradition of thinking reality in terms of resistance. To name but one significant example: it figures prominently in Scheler’s essay Idealismus-Realismus (1927) and in his lecture Die Stellung des Menschen im Kosmos (1928); two influential texts with which Blumenberg was very familiar but to which he never refers in this context. Much like for Scheler, the notion of a resisting reality does play an important role in Blumenberg’s phenomenological anthropology and his description of the constitution of our consciousness of reality, a topic which is explored at greater length in the second half of Realität und Realismus.

Blumenberg’s Anthropological Approach to Reality and Realism

In the third text of the volume, which deals with the modern concept of reality, we find a surprising and insightful footnote in which Blumenberg seems to question his own historical approach of a series of successive concepts of reality:

Müssen sie [die Wirklichkeitsbegriffe – mv] überhaupt eine Reihe bilden? Ist nicht möglich, daß sich das Wirklichkeitsbewußtsein aufspaltet in zwei Spezies, Konsistenz und Kontrast? Wo bleibt die Epoche zum Wirklichkeitsbegriff IV sonst (79)?

With this remark, Blumenberg seems to suggest that our consciousness of reality might very well have a constant ahistorical structure, conditioned by the two opposing tendencies of consistency and contrast. To what extent this implies a downright contradiction with his historical approach is not immediately clear and Blumenberg does not further elaborate on this, but we see at least a very stark shift of emphasis in the following texts: whereas the concept of reality was first understood as a tacit horizon of meaning and understanding operative in the self- and world-conception of a specific epoch, Blumenberg now enquires into the conditions of the possibility of our experience and awareness of reality in general, and the question is posed where our concept and sense of reality comes from, regardless of its specific historical expression.

These questions are partly addressed in a critical discussion with Husserl’s phenomenology—one of the texts is explicitly dedicated to the Welt- und Wirklichkeitsbegriff der Phänomenologie—but most importantly, they are marked by the anthropological turn that is characteristic of many of Blumenberg’s writings from the 1970’s. The concept of reality is now understood in relation to the human condition, which Blumenberg postulates as a Mängelwesen, a creature of deficiencies. In a nutshell, the argument goes as follows: insofar as the human being lacks adaptive instincts and a specialised physiology, his relation to reality is not regulated in a fixed, immediate and automated manner—he is not naturally equipped with a ‘realism’ (168)—which leaves him particularly vulnerable to threats and uncertainties of the outside world or ‘absolutism of reality’ (127). Reality is thus understood as something over and against which the human being has to maintain and assert itself, an achievement which Blumenberg thematizes throughout his work in many different ways, but most importantly in terms of distance:

Der Mensch, so muß die These lauten, ist ein Wesen, welches nicht zwangsläufig und aus Existenznot jederzeit realistisch sein muß, weil es alle Arten und Grade von Distanz zur Realität ausgebildet hat (168).

Blumenberg describes some of the steps this distancing process must have taken in the development of the human being: from devouring and dragging along (no distance), and touching and pointing (some distance), to symbolising and negating (maximum distance), to name some of them. More generally, this distance is cultivated in all kinds of cultural manifestations, scientific theories, social institutions and technological artefacts, which create the conditions under which the human being can afford to not take reality into account. The actio per distans, as Blumenberg likes to call it, provides a shelter that wards off the burdensome demands of an uncertain and unknown reality, and which frees the human being of a constant need to readapt to his environment. Hence, our relation to reality is in principle and to a very high degree indirect, mediated and circuitous. Blumenberg defines the human being therefore as “ein Wesen, das auch als Nichtrealist existieren kann” (167). Even more, realism is considered to be an exceptional disposition (Ausnahmezustand): the appeal to get real – to act and think realistically, i.e. directly adapted to the demands of reality – always serves as a correction, it refers to a situational discrepancy or mismatch that cannot be ignored but must be dealt with (175).

From this anthropological perspective, reality manifests itself precisely in the case of such an unavoidable discrepancy: real is what resists and interrupts a seamless flow of life. As Blumenberg puts it: “Sie [die Wirklichkeit] ist ihrem Wesen nach Anpassungszwang.” (124) In a similar manner, reality is defined as: “Gegeninstanz” (111), “Versagung von Erfüllung” (113), “Rücksichtslosigkeit gegen Subjektivität” (205), or that “was zum Umweg zwingt.” (130). Occasionally, this conception is couched in more psychanalytic terms: real is anything that interferes with our wishes and desires, which causes shock, trauma and pain. Conversely, an absolute and continuous satisfaction of the pleasure principle would render our sense of reality void: “Würde der Lustanspruch vollkommen erfüllt, gäbe es kein Wirklichkeitsbewußtsein” (155). This is nicely illustrated in a description of how one experiences the reality of one’s own body, der Eigenleib (153-154). Insofar as the human body serves as a medium to get in touch with the world, it becomes less noticeable the more it succeeds in this; like any other medium, it disappears in its functionality and manifests itself only when it malfunctions. The body becomes more real when it gets hurt or sick; when somebody is not at ease or gets anxious, but less real when somebody is healthy and flawlessly immersed in an activity.

This example of the body supports Blumenberg’s claim that our consciousness and experience of reality is constituted in a reciprocal interplay between consistency and contrast, reliability and uncertainty, self-evidence and surprise (133). Exposed to a constant and overwhelming uncertainty, shock and adversary, we would not be able to make sense of reality, but neither would we in the case of an omnipresent reliability and self-evidence.[ii] Our experience of reality is constituted between these two limit situations and a concept of reality organizes this experience: it provides a relatively stable and reliable horizon of meaning that regulates our relation vis-à-vis the world. Hence, the rule which underlies and propels the history of thought on a macro level – ‘real is what is not unreal’ – reappears here as a condition of our consciousness of reality. What follows from this, and what is essential to our consciousness for Blumenberg, is our ability to negate. With reference to Kant, Blumenberg argues that our categories of reality and existence ultimately presuppose those of negation and possibility. We know of reality because we know it can turn out otherwise than it appears to be; because it often opposes our wishes and expectations or obstructs our paths and can correct for this. It is only because we can readjust in case of a misfit between us and the world, only because we can experience unreality, that reality gains relief and becomes – real.

Concluding Remarks

In Beschreibung des Menschen, the posthumous collection of Blumenberg’s anthropological manuscripts, we find the revealing remark that there is an  obvious “Exklusionsverhältnis von Anthropologie und Geschichtsphilosophie.”[iii] This tension clearly applies to Blumenberg’s different approaches to reality and realism as well: on the one hand, Blumenberg historicizes reality by his series of epochal concepts of reality that underlie the history of thought and determine what is regarded to be real in a specific time and age, but on the other hand he postulates an ahistorical source for this historical development in the form of a continuous human need to furnish the world with a secure and stable sphere of self-evidence so as to keep the absolutism of reality at bay. What remains particularly ambiguous is the way Blumenberg’s last two historical concepts of reality – reality as the actualization of a consistent context on the one hand and reality as resistance on the other hand – inform this ahistorical anthropology.

More generally, this raises the question to what extent our thought is inherently bound to a concept of reality. Can we somehow transcend the concept of reality that regulates our thinking and understanding characteristic for this time and age? Like any other epistemology which radically historicises the conditions for our knowledge, Blumenberg appears to run into a self-reflexive problem: either his own theory is itself a product of a time-bound concept of reality, which would render its claims about other epochs at least doubtful if not illegitimate, or his theory can in fact transcend the historical horizon that it considers to be conditional for every other theory, thereby creating an exception that seriously affects the scope and potential of the theory itself. Blumenberg’s anthropological explanation seems to side with the latter option, and although his formal and functional account of the history of reality might be a remedy for the problems involved, it lacks in the end methodical justification and clear theoretical support.

That being said, Realität und Realismus is a very rich and interesting volume, containing much more material than we have discussed here. Although many of its topics and themes are treated in other works as well, this book is certainly invaluable for future Blumenberg research, as it clearly shows the extent and significance of Blumenberg’s thinking on reality and realism in the broader context of his oeuvre. In the end, however, it serves more than academic interest: with its many creative insights, surprising associations and keen observations Realität und Realismus is really a valuable read for any realist philosophy in need of some serious inspiration, and for anyone wondering what it implies to ask if something is real.

 

References

Bajohr, Hannes. 2017. “History and Metaphor: Hans Blumenberg’s Theory of Language.” PhD diss., Columbia University.

Bajohr, Hannes et al. (Eds.). 2020. History, Metaphor, Fables: A Hans Blumenberg Reader. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Blumenberg, Hans. 1979. Arbeit am Mythos. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag.

Blumenberg, Hans. 2020. Beiträge zum Problem der Ursprünglichkeit der mittelalterlich-scholastischen Ontologie. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag.

Blumenberg, Hans. 2006. Beschreibung des Menschen. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag.

Blumenberg, Hans. 1975. Genesis der kopernikanischen Welt. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag.

Blumenberg, Hans. 1989. Höhlenausgänge. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag.

Blumenberg, Hans. 1986. Lebenszeit und Weltzeit. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag.

Blumenberg, Hans. 1966. Legitimität der Neuzeit. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag.

Blumenberg, Hans. 2018. Phänomenologische Schriften. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag.

Blumenberg, Hans. 2010. Theorie der Lebenswelt. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag.


[i] Among others, Hannes Bajohr draws this link in his dissertation: Hannes Bajohr, “History and Metaphor: Hans Blumenberg’s Theory of Language” (PhD diss., Columbia University, 2017), 71.

[ii] Readers familiar with Blumenberg will recognise this as his description of the lifeworld. Although this concept itself does not frequently occur in Realität und Realismus, it certainly plays a prominent role in the background of Blumenberg’s thinking on reality, both in his historical and anthropological approach. It exceeds the purpose of this review to engage in a discussion on the relation between reality and the lifeworld, but the reader is well-advised to read Realität und Realismus in combination with, among others: Lebenszeit und Weltzeit (in particular its first and last part, Das Lebensweltmißverständnis and Die Urstiftung respectively), Theorie der Lebenswelt (in particular the essay Lebenswelt und Wirklichkeitsbegriff), Beschreibung des Menschen (in particular chapter X: Leib und Wirklichkeitsbewußtsein), and Phänomenologische Schriften (for example the highly illuminative text Rückblick von der Lebenswelt auf die Reduktion).

[iii] Hans Blumenberg, Beschreibung des Menschen (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 2006), 485.

Hans Blumenberg: History, Metaphors, Fables

History, Metaphors, Fables: A Hans Blumenberg Reader Book Cover History, Metaphors, Fables: A Hans Blumenberg Reader
signale|TRANSFER: German Thought in Translation
Hans Blumenberg. Edited and translated by Hannes Bajohr, Florian Fuchs, and Joe Paul Kroll.
Cornell University Press
2020
Paperback $29.95
624

Reviewed by: Marina Marren (PhD. Department of Philosophy, University of Nevada, Reno)

The Aesthetic Dimension of Life and the Freedom of Thought: A Hans Blumenberg Reader Review

The Cornell University Press edition of the History, Metaphors, Fables: A Hans Blumenberg Reader is a first of its kind volume, masterfully edited and translated by Hannes Bajohr, Florian Fuchs, and Joe Paul Kroll. Continuing to widen the Hans Blumenberg (1920 – 1996) readership in the English-speaking world, the wide-ranging collection includes Blumenberg’s “most important philosophical essays, many of which provide explicit discussions of what in the large tomes often remain only tacit presuppositions and often act as précis for them, as well as selections of his nonacademic writings” (5). The editors organize Blumenberg’s writings thematically, beginning in Part I with Blumenberg’s accounts of the historical significance of secularization and his assessment of the concept of the real. Part II encompasses select writings on language and rhetoric including Blumenberg’s seminal and groundbreaking conceptualization of metaphoricity (e.g., Introduction to Paradigms for a Metaphorology 1960 and Observations Drawn from Metaphors 1971). Unique in his thinking about the metaphorical process, Blumenberg is a contemporary of Ricoeur, whose own analyses of metaphor begin to appear in the mid-seventies in French (e.g., La Métaphore vive 1975). Moving from Blumenberg’s examination of new modes of poetic, rhetorical, and metaphoric thinking and writing (what Blumenberg refers to as “nonconceptuality”), Part III of the book offers several key compositions on the meaning of technology and nature. The volume closes with Part IV that contains Blumenberg’s literary varia and more whimsical pieces that reflect Blumenberg’s interest in playfulness and riddles as entryways to a revivified philosophical reflection that breaks free from canonical meaning and form.

There are “two criteria” that the editors of the Reader cite as determining their “selection: the centrality of the texts for Blumenberg’s oeuvre as such—the core canon, as contestable as this notion is—and their illustrative value for the genres, topics, or types of question he was engaged in but for which no such canon has yet crystallized” (20). The editors situate their selections in the historical background of Blumenberg’s intellectual development, which they discuss in the Introduction. There Bajohr, Fuchs, and Kroll remind us that Blumenberg’s father worked extensively on the philosophy of Edmund Husserl and that Blumenberg’s 1950 Habilitation thesis, Ontological Distance, an Inquiry into the Crisis of Edmund Husserl‘s Phenomenology, examined Husser’s ideas at length. Being half-Jewish (Blumenberg’s mother was Jewish) just as Husserl, Blumenberg suffered during the reign of the National Socialists in Germany. This background makes Blumenberg’s criticism of Carl Schmitt’s take on law, politics, and exceptional power (The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, originally published in 1966) all the more poignant.

Blumenberg’s own understanding of the task of thinking – and especially philosophical thinking – arrives early on, in one of the opening selections in Part I, entitled World Pictures and World Models (1961), where Blumenberg writes, “countless definitions that have been given for philosophy’s achievements in its history have a basic formula at their core: philosophy is the emerging consciousness of humans about themselves” (42). However, this externalizing power of philosophical reflection, which takes us out of our cultural and historical belonging in order to allow us to examine both, according to Blumenberg, results if not in utter alienation, then at least in a loosening of national and political convictions. Paradoxically, the pluralism of cultures and views, and the resultant inability “to adopt one of these worlds obviously and unquestionably as our own” (42), makes us all the more malleable when it comes to political manipulation. On Blumenberg’s view, “beneath the competing world pictures, interests stemming from rather less rarefied spheres interpose themselves imperceptibly. World pictures are becoming pretexts under which interests are advanced. This type of substitution is implied when one speaks of world pictures as ideologies” (50). Blumenberg contrasts the world picture with a more theoretical and scientific construction such as a “world model” (43), and which he defines as an “embodiment of reality through which and in which humans recognize themselves, orient their judgments and the goals of their actions” (43). The possibility of a successful substitution of a world picture for an ideology makes Blumenberg’s critique of the sort of political theory that Schmitt proposes all the more salient. For Blumenberg, “Whoever campaigns for the state as a “higher reality” and whoever identifies himself with the state thinks it as a subject of crises—and is easily inclined to think it into crises” (84), and as we know already from Plato’s Republic, which both Blumenberg and Schmitt studied at length, a tyrant, who identifies with and as the state is “always stirring up war” (567a).

However, the observation that Blumenberg fails to make is that his own take on the meaning of the Republic makes this dialogue out to be, precisely, the kind of tool of ideological manipulation against which he warns us to start, i.e., in his remarks on the world picture. Blumenberg reads the dialogue literally, which is clear from his own gloss on the supposed function of the Kallipolis. He writes, “Plato had derived his Republic from the three-tiered structure of the human soul; at the center of the work stood the theory of ideas, and the famous cave allegory illustrated the necessity of binding the state to the knowledge of absolute reality” (87). Blumenberg directly attributes to Plato those images and ideas that are a part of the city in speech that is a construct and a product of the dialogical exchanges between the interlocutors. Any product of the discussions among the dialogical characters cannot be directly identified with what Plato may have thought or believed. If Plato wanted us to think that a surface and literal reading was the correct one, he would have written in the first person, and straightforwardly recommended his ideas as being correct and true. Instead, Plato writes dialogues and there is not a single dialogue of Plato’s where we have him address us in the first person. Blumenberg’s claim about Plato’s alleged prescription of the “necessity of binding the state to the knowledge of absolute reality” (87) allows Blumenberg to set Plato up as a subject of Machiavelli’s discontent and attacks, but it makes Plato’s thought out to be much too simplistic and brings it in the vicinity of ideology. Another problematic set of connections that Blumenberg makes has to do with his swift excursus through the history of ideas – from Aristotle to Husserl. Blumenberg’s take on this tradition in The Concept of Reality and the Theory of the State chapter is set in the epistemological key. In other words, Blumenberg omits the ontological register. This omission allows him to establish a clean and clear-cut, but mistaken view of the conceptual continuities between ancient philosophy, the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and then also late 19th Century German thought. Blumenberg thinks that

Aristotle’s dictum that, in a way, the soul is everything, was the maximally reduced formula that was still prevalent in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. To this formula corresponds the expectation that experience is, in principle, finite and can be reduced to a catalog of distinct Gestalten, each of which communicates its reality in the instantaneous self-evidence of a confirmed ought-to-be. The Platonic theory of ideas and the notion of anamnesis [recollection] are merely consistent interpretations of the basic fact that such instantaneous self-evidence, such confirmation in propria persona [Leibhaftigkeit], might exist.  Even Husserl tried to rediscover this self-evidence in his phenomenology by choosing the metaphor of an experience in propria persona for the original impression. (122)

Blumenberg misses the fact that, for Aristotle, psyche ta onta pos esti panta (Peri Psyche 431b20) – the “soul somehow is all beings” – is a hard ontological claim. In Aristotle, the soul is not a totality of knowledge in terms of a faculty of the mind, but in terms of the very reality and being of things. This oversight skews Blumenberg’s interpretation in the direction of an epistemic clarity, rather than in the direction of thinking about a nascent possibility. In other words, Blumenberg thinks of the soul as something that both undergirds and grants access to the always already existing and knowable noetic reality. Given Blumenberg’s direct attribution to Plato of the “Theory of Ideas,” he then establishes a simple continuity between the reality and the world-forming status of the “Ideas”; the epistemic status of the soul in Aristotle; the hypostatization of divine and noetic reality in the human world (the Middle Ages and Renaissance); and lastly, Husserl’s philosophy. The last, being an epistemologist, misunderstands Aristotle in his own right. Husserl treats psychology as phenomenology, i.e., as a mode akin to Wesensschau. It is Heidegger, who in a sense, offers a corrective to Husserl’s program and sounds out the ontological significances of the Greek language and, in particular, of Aristotle’s thought. Blumenberg’s interest in establishing philosophical continuities that inform the history of the Western world from antiquity to the modern era is a leitmotif of The Concept of Reality and the Theory of State (1968/69), which along with the Preliminary Remarks on the Concept of Reality (1974) concludes Part I.

Part II, which is entitled Metaphors, Rhetoric, Nonconceptuality, showcases Blumenberg’s interest in rethinking the traditional notion of concept-based philosophy through the lens of poetry, rhetoric, and the power of metaphor. It opens with a chapter on Light as a Metaphor for Truth: At the Preliminary Stage of Philosophical Concept Formation (1957). In this essay, Blumenberg takes the Schellingian idea of mutually belonging, but opposing tendencies or states, i.e., light and darkness, as being at the heart and at the beginning of the all. Following Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, Blumenberg claims that “despite an abundance of gods of nature, Greek religion did not have a deity of light” (129). The intimation is that this designation is saved for the monotheistic god and especially of a Christian religion. However, this is an oversight, because the ancient Greeks not only had Apollo Phanaios or Apollo of Light, but also in the Orphic cosmogonies we have an androgynous god, Phanes – a deity of light. In any case, Blumenberg’s consequent analysis of the way in which light, as a metaphor, operates in the history of Western thought is fascinating. For example, turning to modern thought, Blumenberg sees that

in the idea of “method,” which originates with Bacon and Descartes, “light” is thought of as being at man’s disposal. Phenomena no longer stand in the light; rather, they are subjected to the lights of an examination from a particular perspective. The result then depends on the angle from which light falls on the object and the angle from which it is seen. It is the conditionality of perspective and the awareness of it, even the free selection of it, that now defines the concept of “seeing.” (156)

This is Blumenberg’s conclusion, i.e., that with the onset of modern thought we experience a reversal in the dynamic of revelation. Heretofore, things revealed and presented themselves to human beings, but now we engage in the kind of experimental and scientific examination whereby human beings control the revealing potency of light and use this power at will. The next step, as Blumenberg sees it, is the pervasive and subjugating power of technology, which speeds up our work, extends our work-day well into the night, and depends – largely – on “artificial light” (156). Technology subjugates us and permeates our lives through and through. Blumenberg wonders whether we can find an opposing power to counterbalance this advance of technicization. He sees this opposing force in metaphors. According to Blumenberg, they can loosen the hold of technocracy on our thinking and on our lives. The Reader offers Blumenberg’s ideas on this theme in the chapter entitled, Introduction to Paradigms for a Metaphorology (1960).

Blumenberg seeks to uncover the “the conditions under which metaphors can claim legitimacy in philosophical language” (173). In the first place, he wants us to note that “Metaphors can first of all be leftover elements, rudiments on the path from mythos to logos; as such, they indicate the Cartesian provisionality of the historical situation in which philosophy finds itself at any given time” (173). In other words, just as Descartes’ Discourse on Method offers provisional Maxims of Morality, likewise Blumenberg wants metaphors to fulfill a similar function. Metaphors would serve as a temporary measure of thought or as a passage from the already by-gone to the not-yet established way of philosophizing and living. It is questionable whether Descartes means for us to take his Maxims of Morality – of which the thinker famous for his discoveries in geometry and algebra tells us there are “three or four” (Discourse on Method Part 3) – as provisional. An alternative reading of Descartes, which does not undermine Blumenberg’s comparison, is that morality and its maxims are always only provisional; subject to re-examination and re-valuation depending on the place and time we find ourselves in. Descartes’ insistence that we continuously seek to rejuvenate our ethical outlook and relations agrees with Blumenberg’s interest in finding a surreptitious element that would allow us to undermine, undo, and then recast outmoded ways of thought. “Metaphorology,” he writes, “would here be a critical reflection charged with unmasking and counteracting the inauthenticity of figurative speech. But metaphors can also—hypothetically, for the time being—be foundational elements of philosophical language, ‘translations’ that resist being converted back into authenticity and logicality” (173). It is this “resistance” to the structure of accepted, logically-sound language and presentation that attracts Blumenberg to the metaphorical process.

Blumenberg probes and pivots our understanding of the philosophical value of poetic, metaphoric, and rhetorical expression in the consequent selection that the Reader offers, which is entitled An Anthropological Approach to the Contemporary Significance of Rhetoric (1971).  Blumenberg’s claim about rhetoric is that its “modern difficulties with reality consist, in good part, in the fact that this reality no longer has value as something to appeal to, because it is in its turn a product of artificial processes” (202). There is a need, in other words, to get to the underlying truth-structure of reality, which moves past the artificiality of social engineering, the technocratic state, or simply the sedimentation of interpretive layers that dictate what reality is supposed to be for us. However, this need in the guise of an imperative (and here Blumenberg again recalls Husserl and his “Zur Sache und zu den Sachen!” 202) and issued as “an exhortatory cry” (202) itself becomes rhetorical. The latter is a technology in its own right, i.e., that of language, of shaping opinions, and influencing emotions. In this estimation, Blumenberg comes close to a Derridean position, which offers us both the elemental and complex nexuses of the world, including the world of nature, in terms of the techniques, expressions, and formations that can only be reached because of and by means of language. Thus, both for Derrida and for Blumenberg (at least on this presentation in An Anthropological Approach to the Contemporary Significance of Rhetoric), as central as the logos is, it must be displaced to give way to a possibility of re-interpreting our relation to our thinking and to our world. This insight, along with his thinking about metaphors, allows Blumenberg to proceed to a discussion of “nonconceptuality.” This discussion, which concludes the selections in Part II of the Reader is preceded by two other pieces: Observations Drawn from Metaphors (1971) and Prospect for a Theory of Nonconceptuality (1979).

In the very last essay in Part II, which is an excerpt from the 1975 Theory of Nonconceptuality, Blumenberg outlines his program.  Prior to giving us this outline, he entertains the meaning and pitfalls of theoretical reflection in the context of ancient Greek theoria. Blumenberg’s take on theoria, which equates it with motionless and stilling contemplation of eternal reality written in the starry sky, misses the important sense that the Greeks themselves attributed to theorein (at least prior to the arrival of Pythagorean thought). This term, theorein—to  contemplate or to spectate—includes spectatorship of various religious,  theatrical, and athletic events. As such, it is much more immersive and emotionally engaged than the purified, rarified sense of theorein, which comes into play after Pythagorean beliefs and practices take hold. The self-possessed, reserved, and calm theoretic practice (although we have allusions to it made by various characters in Plato’s dialogues, e.g., Timaeus, Republic, Symposium, Phaedrus, and Phaedo) is not a good representation of the originary meaning of theorein. Nonetheless, Blumenberg takes the meaning of theoria, which  is already purified of its sensual alloys, to be representative of the Greek understanding of this practice. He writes, “for the Greeks, contemplating the sky meant not only contemplating a special and divine object of the highest dignity, but the paradigmatic case of what theory ought to be, what is at stake for it. The ideal of theory is the contemplation of the sky as an object that cannot be handled” (260). Blumenberg then takes this sense of theory as what has been handed down through the history of Western thought and what must be counteracted by a new engagement with the non-conceptual, emotional, sensible, sensitive, and intuitive dimension of life. It is this latter recommendation that we must heed in order to follow Blumenberg’s intimations on the point of nonceptual philosophizing.

To state the key moments of his program briefly, 1) “The turn away from intuition is wholly at the service of a return to intuition. This is, of course, not the recurrence of the same, the return to the starting point, and certainly not anything at all to do with romanticism” (262). This interest in re-inscribing thinking by retracing the intuitive dimension – a retracing, which is not a simple repetition, but a deepening of our reckoning with it – is the first postulate. Then comes a key aesthetic and emotional attunement 2) “Pleasure [which] requires the return to full sensibility [Sinnlichkeit]” (262). This call to pleasure hearkens us back to the Greek beginnings of contemplation as both a mental and an emotional immersion in and an attunement to the world – the kind of activity that pleasure properly completes (e.g., Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, esp. Bk. X). And finally, a medium or passage that must go between the noetic and the aesthetic, for Blumenberg just as for Riceouer, is 3) “Metaphor [which] is also an aesthetic medium precisely because it is both native to the original sphere of concepts and because it is continually liable and has to vouch for the deficiency of concepts and the limits of what they can achieve” (262). This, then, is the basic outline of Blumenberg’s program in the excerpt from Theory of Nonconceptuality with which Part II of the Reader ends.

Part III, entitled Nature, Technology, and Aesthetics, begins with Blumenberg’s The Relationship between Nature and Technology as a Philosophical Problem  (1951), and proceeds historically to show how a distinction between nature and being insinuates itself in philosophical reflection. Blumenberg then traces out a further divide between nature and divinity in Christian thought. A short section on enjoyment in this essay is reminiscent of Hegel’s analyses in the Phenomenology of Spirit (VI. B. II. b. § 581 – Spirit, Culture, Truth of Enlightenment). In Hegel, this section on the totalizing function of “utility” leads to a situation in which “heaven is transplanted to earth below” (§ 581), which are the last words of the section that precedes Hegel’s discussion of “Absolute Freedom and Terror” – a discussion that is informed by Hegel’s reflections on the French Revolution. Blumenberg’s analyses, too, lead up to a revolution, but of a different kind, i.e., to the revolutionazing, but also totalizing, and not altogether salubrious power of technology.

In part 7. Of The Relationship between Nature and Technology as a Philosophical Problem, entitled “The ‘Second Nature’ of the Machine World as a Consequence of the Technical Will,” Blumenberg speculates about the way in which the displacing effect of technology or the “technical ‘out-of-itself’” (302) can be understood as “second nature” (302) for us. Blumenberg frames his reflections on this possibility in terms of Heidegger’s thinking and poses them in the form of a question. He asks:

does the concept of a “second nature” really carry the implications of the modern age’s understanding of nature to their conclusion, to the end of all its possible consequences? Is the claim to “unconditioned production,” as Heidegger has called the technical will, enacted in the “second nature” of a perfected machine-world? Or does such unconditionality imply that it will suffer nothing else alongside it—which is to say that not only has “second nature” provided the potency for the nullification of the first nature but that the former’s essence also pushes toward the latter’s realization? Man’s experience of this ultimate stage of possible technical fulfillment is only just beginning. (302)

This prescient formulation and the possible danger it expresses is all the more worth exploring in our world – today – permeated, navigated, run, and shaped by a heretofore unseen proliferation of virtual communication and technology. Blumenberg, having offered for us this portentous problem, then goes on to lay out its roots in the relationship between nature, divinity, and creative power – both divine and human, the latter of which is largely a power to imitate. These reflections appear in the essay that follows in the Reader next and which is entitled Imitation of Nature: Toward a Prehistory of the Idea of the Creative Being (1957).

In the immediately following essay, entitled Phenomenological Aspects on Life-World and Technization (1963), Blumenberg traces out the transformation of the intuition of life into a totalization of world-horizon and the consequent objectification of the life-world. This transformation sets the stage for the thoroughgoing displacement of nature by the “second nature.” The displacement that Blumbenberg outlined in The Relationship between Nature and Technology as a Philosophical Problem. Concretely, Blumenberg explains that “the intentionality of consciousness is fulfilled in the most comprehensive horizon of horizons—in the ‘world’ as the regulative pole-idea of all possible experience, the system that keeps all possibilities of experience in a final harmony, and in which alone what is given to experience can prove itself to be real” (356). This unification and fulfilment of intentionality as and in the world prepares the stage for the transformation of the world into an object. This happens because of the identification that takes place between the world-totality “in which alone what is given to experience can prove itself to be real” (356) and the fact that, for Husserl, according the Blumenberg, it is “in the ‘world’ as the horizon of all horizons [that] objecthood is likewise isolated and stressed” (356). Not only that, but also “’Nature,’ [which] is essential for our topic—is the result of such emphasis. It is thus not equiprimordial to world but a derivative, already constricted objective horizon. Nature, so much can already be seen, cannot be the counterconcept to technology, for already in the concept of nature itself we find a deformation—an emphasis—of the original world-structure” (356). Since the latter is object-skewed, also nature is not free from objectification and is already prepared for being worked over and substituted with or nullified through the “second nature,” i.e., through the all-encompassing technological transformation. However, Blumenberg does not assign to Husserl the blame for this transformation, instead Blumenberg’s “Husserl is only concerned with making visible in exemplary fashion how disastrous in the broadest sense human action can be where it no longer knows what it is doing, and with exposing what one might call active ignorance as the root of all those disoriented activities that have produced human helplessness in the technical world” (367). The counterpoint and a saving force to this onslaught of “active ignorance” and in the face of a thoroughgoing technicization, has to do with our reorientation toward the intuitive, sensible, and aesthetic dimension of life.

The remaining essays in Part III, as well as Blumenberg’s engagement with various literary and philosophical figures and thinkers such as Socrates, Valéry, Kafka, Freud, Faulkner, Goethe, Nietzsche, and Aesop (among others) point the way to this aesthetic reorientation. For example, in Socrates and the Object Ambigu: Paul Valéry’s Discussion of the Ontology of the Aesthetic Object and Its Tradition, Blumenberg engages with Valéry’s Eupalinos or the Architect and the accounts of noetic construction and the role of necessity in the Timaeus; Aristotle’s unmoved mover; as well as reflections on beauty and finitude from the point of view of the Phaedrus. Blumenberg concludes that “the Socrates of Valéry’s dialogue does not arrive at an aesthetic attitude toward the objet ambigu because he insists on the question, definition, and classification of the object—thereby deciding to become a philosopher. The aesthetic attitude,” Blumenberg continues as he contrasts it to the Socrates of Valéry, “lets the indeterminacy stand, it achieves the pleasure specific to it by relinquishing theoretical curiosity, which in the end demands and must demand univocity in the determination of its objects. The aesthetic attitude,” in the final analysis, “accomplishes less because it tolerates more and lets the object be strong on its own rather than letting it be absorbed by the questions posed to it in its objectivation” (434). The attitude for which Blumenberg argues, then, is a kind of intuitive, aesthetic, deeply pleasurable – and having offered a reconstruction of theoria, I can also say – an originary contemplative attitude that immerses us into the world and thereby allows the world to show itself to us anew.

The closing set of selections in Part IV of the Reader offers Blumenberg’s analyses of philosophically significant literature, which I see as a kind of propaedeutic to the aesthetic, metaphoric, nonconceptual, but originarily theoretical thinking and being in the world. Thus, in The Concept of Reality and the Possibility of the Novel (1964) essay, Blumenberg examines the relationship between truth, poetry, nature, and imitation in its literary and historical unfolding. This multi-disciplinary and cross-historical examination is characteristic of Blumenberg’s style of analysis. He moves through Plato, Aristotle, Scholasticism, the Renaissance, and on to the emergence of the concept of the absurd. In the final analysis, Blumenberg claims about the novel that it does not need to take on the guise of the absurd or be guided by it as a concept (502). The sphere of possibilities that the novel encompasses and iterates surpasses the straightforward mimetic schema where culture seeks to imitate nature. Because of this, the novel does not run aground once this schema shatters against the absurdity of life where nature has become infused with culture through and through; subtended in the conceptual delimitation of its object within a world-horizon; or displaced by means of technological dissolution of the natural being of the world. These latter eventualities call for a break-through and an overcoming by means of the absurd, but the novel circumvents this need, because the novel serves as “the extension of the sphere of the humanly [and not naturally] possible” (502). What does this mean concretely in terms of the philosophical mode of reflection and thought? Blumenberg’s answer is forthcoming in the essay entitled Pensiveness (1980), which is both a prelude to the more whimsical selections in this Reader and also offers Blumenberg’s estimation of the task and value of philosophy. Blumenberg first lets us know that “pensiveness is … a respite from the banal results that thought provides for us as soon as we ask about life and death, meaning and meaninglessness, being and nothingness” (517). In this formulation, pensiveness evokes both Descartes’ resolve to waver and to be of a wandering, instead of a weak mind (Discourse on Method Part 3) and also Heidegger’s call to authentic openness in anticipatory resoluteness or Entschlossenheit (Being and Time Sect. 54). Blumenberg goes on to offer us his “conclusion—since I must present one because of my profession—is that philosophy has something to preserve, if not revive, from its life-world origin in pensiveness” (517). This is both lyrical and evocative, as well as a methodologically rigorous a conclusion.

Although the Reader does not end here, I would like to close my review with the following quotation that expresses both a recommendation and a challenge that Blumenberg issues to us. “Philosophy must not be bound, therefore, to particular expectations about the nature of its product. The connection back to the life-world would be destroyed if philosophy’s right to question were limited through the normalization of answers, or even through the obligation of disciplining the questions by beginning with the question of their answerability” (517).

Agata Bielik-Robson, Daniel Whistler (Eds.): Interrogating Modernity: Debates with Hans Blumenberg

Interrogating Modernity: Debates with Hans Blumenberg Book Cover Interrogating Modernity: Debates with Hans Blumenberg
Political Philosophy and Public Purpose
Agata Bielik-Robson, Daniel Whistler (Eds.)
Palgrave Macmillan
2020
Hardback 96,29 €
XXV, 277

Reviewed by: Bruce J. Krajewski (University of Texas at Arlington)

In a recent review, Kate Hayles praises Catherine Malabou for admitting in Morphing Intelligence that she was “dead wrong” about some scholarly matter. While not begrudging Malabou her applause, most academics would have to admit the low cost of such an admission for a full professor invited to speak across the globe, and treated as a “celebrity,” as Malabou is. More praiseworthy is for younger academics, and those with unsubsidized careers in higher education’s hierarchy, to write that some prominent author is wrong. Those assertions can mean banishment from conferences, withdrawal of speaking invitations, and the like, since professional societies devoted (in the questionable sense) to major authors are understandably controlled almost always by an author’s fans, disciples, and sometimes family members. Speaking truth to yourself (a confession) and speaking truth to power is a distance similar to being winged in a Twitterstorm for your views and being “canceled.” None of this should be compared to the kind of courage, say, Alexey Navalny exhibits. That’s a different realm, but needs to be part of the context, lest academics damaged by schoolhouse politics slip into masochism.

The contributors to Interrogating Modernity demonstrate an inspiring irreverence and willingness to declare that the volume’s star, Hans Blumenberg, has gotten things wrong. That virtue makes for an admirable collection worthy of its subtitle. At this early stage—Blumenberg’s ashes were scattered only a quarter century ago—the scholarly work on Blumenberg has been uncritical, making Interrogating Modernity a refreshing novelty on the Blumenbergiana shelf.

Blumenberg’s followers have fashioned a mythic Blumenberg, portraying him as a mysterious intellectual Colossus, adopting Blumenberg’s own tendency later in his life toward self-aggrandizement. Thus, we have the film The Invisible Philosopher, for example. The followers’ strategy has upped the stakes for anyone who might question or criticize the great philosopher.

Willing to be heretical, the contributors to this volume refuse to be intimidated by The Wizard of Oz scenario fabricated by Blumenberg’s fans to promote knee-bending as opposed to scholarly spinefulness. The volume’s editors charged the authors with “putting [Legitimacy of the Modern Age, the book that arguably launched Blumenberg’s international reputation] into dialogue with later versions of modernity” (vii). The editors insisted on rethinking issues Blumenberg raises in Legitimacy, and the contributors frequently exceed expectations in responding to the call for rethinking.

The first essay out the gate encapsulates all that is good about this book. It’s not a head-on meeting with Blumenberg’s Legitimacy. It’s creative. It takes risks. It could have failed. Here’s a taste of Bielik-Robson’s experimentation: “Although it does not mention Job explicitly, Hans Blumenberg’s reading of Descartes suggests this affinity very strongly” (4). Bielik-Robson resurrects an old-fashioned scholarly recipe: rub any two things together and see what sparks fly.

Bielik-Robson recognizes Job as a figure of “self-assertion,” a topos in Blumenberg. Unable to tie Blumenberg directly to Job, Bielik-Robson uses a side door. Blumenberg’s research counterpart in the Hermeneutik und Poetik group, Hans Robert Jauss, views “Job as the first hero of self-assertion” in his essay “Job’s Questions and Their Distant Reply” (6). This clever move allows Bielik-Robson the opportunity to demonstrate an incompleteness in Blumenberg’s attention to Descartes. In Legitimacy, Blumenberg acknowledges the importance of Descartes: “Descartes appear[s] not so much as the founding figure of the epoch as rather the thinker who clarified the medieval concept of reality all the way to its absurd consequences and thus made it ripe for destruction.” Blumenberg wants to downplay “the founding figure,” the singular Descartes,” in order to promote “the thinker,” synonymous with anyone who employs the method Descartes used to bring about the old reality’s destruction.

The new reality Descartes advocates post-destruction appeals to Blumenberg, because it involves principles of construction to philosophize. That is, Descartes emphasizes the form and conditions of thinking rather than the contingent content. Like Descartes, Blumenberg wants “reoocupation” to function as a transcendental model untainted by historical events, a point fleshed out in the last chapter by Whistler. Historical changes are to be explained by Blumenberg’s ahistorical model.

Descartes studies his “own self” in a room of his own, where it occurs to him “that frequently there is less perfection in a work produced by several persons than in one produced by a single hand.” The primacy of the individual thinker is Job redux. Bielik-Robson describes Job’s situation in memorable prose. Job’s story becomes important when “the anthropological minimum [Job] asserted itself for the first time against … the theological maximum [God]” (15). In a schoolbook, this might be described as individuality versus omnipotence.

Job becomes a synonym for “enough is enough!” (16). For Bielik-Robson, Job’s story is the journey of a patient moving toward health. “According to [Jonathan] Lear, the patient reaches the point of relative health when she is able to exclaim: ‘Oh, this is crap!’—which very nicely corresponds with Blumenberg’s take on Descartes, who may be said to have reacted in a similar way, by simply deciding to cut himself off emotionally from the theological morass and call deus fallax a ‘metaphysical fable’—basically, a very crappy story” (16). Unfortunately, Blumenberg’s focus on the meta-analysis instead of the patient means the trauma of being fed up is not given its due as a revolutionary catalyst (18).

Elad Lapidot’s “Legitimacy of Nihilism” juxtaposes Hans Jonas and Blumenberg. Lapidot argues that Blumenberg rejects Jonas’s critique of modernity as “the return of Gnosticism” (45). For Blumenberg’s taste, that would leave modernity without as radical a break as he wants. Blumenberg needs a way past the logic that “legitimacy enters the world through negation, through illegitimacy” (48). Modernity establishes its own legitimacy apart from the previous historical epoch. According to Lapidot, the New itself “is a category of entitlement and legitimation.”

Opposing not only Jonas but also Martin Heidegger, Blumenberg seeks to jettison a notion of continuity attached to a substance. Lapidot writes, “This original constant substance is the basic assumption of all critiques against any historical age” (45). Blumenberg is uninterested in substantialism. He is after something more radical. “The new has no other foundation but itself, and so its specific form of legitimacy is self-legitimization” (47). This antifoundationalism is partly what attracted Richard Rorty to Blumenberg (Rorty was an early Anglophone reviewer of Blumenberg’s Legitimacy book).

Lapidot’s essay pairs well with Daniel Whistler’s “Modernizing Blumenberg.” Whistler begins boldly: “[Blumenberg] gets modernity wrong” (257). According to Whistler, Blumenberg supplements modernist figures’ arguments for modernity’s legitimation, fashioning a case that the modernist figures themselves did not make.

Like Lapidot, Whistler reports that the continuity between the middle ages and modernity Blumenberg emphasizes is functional, but not substantive. In a way, it’s the old form versus content argument. Rather than seeing the two as dependent on other, Blumenberg elevates form over content, since that’s the airplane ticket out of any historical ruptures at ground level. Forms fly above temporality’s constraints. From such a height, anyone might have anticipated Blumenberg to look down on things. Thus, Whistler writes, “[I]t is hard not to discern a slight tone of condescension in Blumenberg’s narrative of modernity” (259).

By siding with form and functionality, Blumenberg asserts that his account offers a novel stability. Whistler: “[W]henever the content of history changes, the forms stay the same. Forms may themselves be changing slowly, but their inertia is sufficient for them to remain a stable reference point by which to make sense of any novelty in history” (263). Blumenberg is not content with the messiness of mere history. “Like Kant, Blumenberg considers his transcendental apparatus to be immutable, to exist outside of the frame of historical change and epochal transformation” (264). Whistler concludes that this viewpoint makes Blumenberg a “right Aristotelian” (268). Given Blumenberg’s allegiances to far-right ideas linked to Latinate Catholicism, Whistler’s “right Aristotelian” designation rings true. Blumneberg is a “conservative” (267).

In the chapter contrasting Bruno Latour and Blumenberg, Willem Styfhals understands Blumenberg as an “apologist” (77) for the ecological mess we are in, and decides Latour offers better options for the predicted apocalypse. “The apocalypse is an unstable, unbearable position that might be conceptually appealing but not practically endurable. This is what Blumenberg made crystal clear in Lebenszeit und Weltzeit as well as in Legitimacy. The apocalypse is so attractive because it allows us to see the world in a radically different perspective, liberates us from the old world for a moment. But this moment does not give rise to a stable and durable position in the world” (77). Syfhals has missed Frederic Jameson’s insight, cited in Slavoj Žižek’s Living in the End Times, that calls for distinguishing among apocalypses: “[I]t is easier to imagine a total catastrophe which ends all life on earth than it is to imagine a real change to capitalist relations” (334).

Latour does not see capitalism as the problem; it’s religion: “If modernity were not so deeply religious, the call to adjust oneself to the Earth would be easily heard.” (71). Thus, Styfhals says, “[W]e should develop a political theology of the environmental apocalypse” (61).

While Blumenberg published at least one book specifically about technology, it’s difficult to categorize any other of his major writings as confronting environmental issues in the way Styfhals does with his focus on Latour and the Anthropocene. No one would think of Blumenberg as a stand-in for Rachel Carson.

The fourth chapter by Joseph Albernaz and Kirill Chepurin also addresses the theme of political theology. Styfhals’s use of apocalypse in the previous chapter has its place in the fourth chapter. For anyone acquainted with televangelism, the continual announcement of forthcoming apocalypses is a staple of populist Christianity. No matter that a specific date for the rapture is given and then passes. That failure is overlooked while a new date for the end is announced. The misreading of signs can be chalked up to human fallibility rather than an indication of a flaw in “God’s plan.” Albernaz and Chepurin recognize that what becomes important for Christianity is not that the world didn’t end as predicted, but that it continues: “But as Christianity found itself needing to explain the world’s continued existence, it was also establishing itself … as a [worldly] power. As a result, it needed to justify not the end of the world, but its prolongation” (86). The Christian Church sets itself up “as the institution of the not-yet that is the world – as the institution ‘stabilizing’ this not-yet” (86).

Within this context of an ever-delayed apocalypse, Christians fashioned a God with unlimited sovereignty and omnipotence. However, by the late medieval period God’s characteristics became incomprehensible, “alien to consciousness,” according to Albernaz and Chepurin (88). In response to this affront to consciousness, human beings develop their own rationality to give themselves security that is comprehensible (91-92).

The deleterious effects of Christianity’s global power as explored by Albernaz and Chepurin also concern Lissa McCullough. Her essay makes the case that if you thought Martin Heidegger and Carl Schmitt were harmful, then you need to take a second look at John Locke (124). “Locke founded a new religion focused around the sacrality of proprietas in The Second Treatise on Government, while retaining in The Reasonableness of Christianity (1695) as much as was reasonably salvageable of the trappings of Christian faith to give the new religion a respectable pedigree, hitching it to . . . the authority of an apparent continuity with Jewish-Christian tradition (122). If you wonder why some people feel it legitimate to kill others for stealing, you can thank Locke for valorizing property over human lives. McCullough writes that Locke and his advocates managed to persuade numerous capitalists that the individual’s only incentive to consent to “join” society is to protect the property he has” (122).

McCullough sifts through Blumenberg to demonstrate Blumenberg’s allegiance to Locke’s valorization of property, despite Blumenberg’s efforts to make Locke seem insignificant to the massive scholarly buttresses Blumenberg uses to build his cases. Vital matters pivot on a reference to Locke in a footnote, for example. “[A]n extended footnote in Paradigms for a Metaphorology (1960) … proves a vein of gold when mined for its immense implications. This footnote expands on the notion of truth as a product of labour. In it, Blumenberg remarks that this sort of produced [constructed?] truth is truth that is legitimately one’s own. The possession to be taken” (110). McCullough’s hermeneutical attention shows Blumenberg’s participation in Locke’s scheme. Blumenberg contributes to overturning the Horatian view that what is natural is not something one can own: “Nor he, nor I, nor any man, is made/by Nature private owner of the soil” (111).

In addition to articles that confront Blumenberg’s arguments and politics, the collection features authors who affirm Blumenberg’s positions. Zeynep Talay Turner’s “Political Legitimacy and Founding Myths” corroborates Blumenberg’s criticism of Hannah Arendt in Blumenberg’s “Moses the Egyptian,” written around 1978. Turner writes, “As Freud took Moses the man from his people [Blumenberg says Freud “damaged” his people’s “self-confidence”], so Hannah Arendt took Adolf Eichmann from the State of Israel.” Blumenberg does not hide his “indignation” towards this “stealing” (129).

Turner captures the salient features of “Moses the Egyptian” and presents an effective précis of Blumenberg’s use of the term “prefiguration.” Even though Turner seems ultimately to agree with Blumenberg about Eichmann in Jerusalem, Turner notes in his conclusion that Blumenberg may have been venturing outside his area of expertise in taking up the question of “what a Jewish state should do with someone who had sought to destroy the Jews” (146).

According to Turner and Blumenberg, Israel needed Eichmann to take on a mythic role at his trial in order to solidify Israeli nationhood. It’s not clear whether anyone ever laid that task at Arendt’s feet during the trial, since she was writing in the moment, as events unfolded. Unlike Blumenberg, Arendt did not have the luxury of hindsight, nor was she alive in 1978 to respond to such criticism. Furthermore, Turner and Blumenberg do not provide details of how Arendt’s book on Eichmann undermined Israel, then or since. Conceptual damage is of a different order from “stealing” a nation’s legitimacy.

In Chapter 7, Robert Buch concentrates on a “neglected” (153) part of Legitimacy of the Modern Age, the section about theoretical curiosity. Why has it been neglected? Buch: “The reasons for the relative neglect of the third part undoubtedly have to do with its length and more specifically its detail and apparent digressiveness, but above all its sheer material abundance.”

The editors sought to bring Blumenberg into conversation with other thinkers, and Buch chooses Husserl as Blumenberg’s conversation partner. Buch’s aim is “to juxtapose Blumenberg’s account of the genesis of early modern science with Husserl’s Crisis of the European Sciences” (153).

Perceptions of science’s legitimacy have relevance, Buch writes, given “the modern suspicion of science, aggravated dramatically in our times of climate crisis” (164). Husserl questioned the cause of a universal science, a science that adhered to rational structures and objectivity (166). Husserl reacted against the easy division between objectivity and subjectivity. Husserl posits that modern science fails to consider consciousness as a component of its investigations.

In Buch’s account, Blumenberg owes many debts to Husserl’s view of science and technology. The differences are fewer than the commonalities. One important difference appears in Blumenberg’s narrative about the electric doorbell in an essay Buch leans on heavily, “Phenomenological Aspects on Life-World and Technization,” now available in English in The Blumenberg Reader. Blumenberg says the electric doorbell, the workings of which are hidden in comparison to a mechanical doorbell, “is ‘packaged’ in a way that it conceals this history and deprives it from us in its abstract uniformity…. [I]t is legitimized by being … put into operation” (Blumenberg Reader, 386). The “artificial product,” the doorbell, is “shrouded” with “obviousness”; technization produces this unquestioned obviousness (Reader, 387), a point Blumenberg claims shows the limits of Husserl’s commentary on the connection between life-world and technization. Blumenberg aims to show that his account is “more complicated.” To appreciate Blumenberg’s point, think of the unknowability about the functioning of crosswalk buttons in urban centers, many of which remain deliberately unfixed. Even a non-working button gives the illusion of control.

Charles Turner’s chapter on “infinite progress” in science concludes with an exploration of time and the life of the politician (175). In the middle of the two topics is C. Turner’s choice for Blumenberg’s partner in dialogue, Max Weber. The question Weber poses that C. Turner investigates is: [W]hat are the chances that someone whose life is necessarily limited to one arena of activity can achieve something of lasting significance?” (181). Weber directs that question at scholars and politicians.

In making Weber’s question contemporary, C. Turner reminds readers about the fast pace of contemporary life coupled with an increase in life expectancy. In the infinity of time, how are finite individuals to gather meaning for their lives? For scholars, the fear is that one’s work becomes obsolete within the scholar’s lifetime. For the politician, long-lasting glory can come with great success, but few politicians are remembered beyond their lifetimes. As Weber puts it, the scholarly life is chained to progress (thus fear of obsolescence), while the political life is more like art in that multiple spectacular achievements by different artists are possible, though those achievements must be of a stature to escape temporal constraints (184).

Weber’s long view echoes Blumenberg’s considerations of Lebenszeit and Weltzeit, the tension between the individual’s tiny lifetime amidst the ocean of time that is world history. Blumenberg suggests we leave the tension in place, lest the world itself suffer as it did with Adolf Hitler. According to Blumenberg, Hitler’s sin was an effort at melding Lebenszeit and Weltzeit. The evidence lies in a quotation from Hitler: “I … stand under the command of fate to achieve everything within a short human life … That for which others have an eternity, I have merely a few meagre years” (191).

In Chapter 9, Oriane Petteni escorts her readers into the world of art history and optics. This gives Petteni reason to ponder Blumenberg’s preference not to be photographed (202), as if Blumenberg’s own study of optics caused his wish to avoid the medium. Petteni is well aware Blumenberg’s avoidance of selfies is something more than shyness. Petteni sees it as connected to much larger matters, like truth. The visible and the hidden link up with Western beliefs about truth. Petteni writes, “[I]n the modern age, truth no longer reveals itself; instead, it must be revealed by decisive action” (195). That is, we must work for our truth.

The comments on truth correspond to Blumenberg’s views about biology. Petteni sees that Blumenberg derives his anthropology from biology. Petteni turns to The Genesis of the Copenican World for evidence. “The Earth requires both exposure to the Sun for complex lifeforms to arise and protection from direct exposure to sun rays, which would otherwise threaten to consume every living thing. The exposure to light requires—for the Earth as well as for human beings—a kind of filter or screen” (203). Others back up Petteni’s sense that Blumenberg foregrounds the importance of indirection and camouflage, such as the recent biography by Uwe Wolff, who notes multiple times Blumenberg’s penchant for indirect communication.

Petteni finishes her reflections on Blumenberg via a journey through Franz Kafka’s Der Bau. The unfinished Kafka text parallels, for Petteni, Blumenberg’s open-endedness regarding the human impulse to fashion “endless significance” (211). The story about a burrow also fits in with a quotation Petteni cites by Heinz Wisman, “[Blumenberg’s] thought is strongly marked by the worry not to remain at the surface of things” (202).

Chapter 10 might serve readers best read in conjunction with the first and the last chapters where Descartes has a prominent role. One difference about Adi Efal-Lautenschläger’s chapter is the linkage between Descartes and Blumenberg’s book The Legibility of the World. Blumenberg himself points out the parallels between his theme in Legibility and Descartes’s Traité du monde et de la lumière. What does Blumenberg find in Descartes’ book? “The self is to be experienced according to the measure of the world, as compatible or not with its changing conditions” (Legibility, 92). This lesson runs counter to interpretations of Descartes that rely on the celebrated cogito ergo sum and tend to make Descartes a happy solipsist. The lesson also seems a challenge to Whistler’s essay in which Blumenberg leaves behind the messy world for timeless forms and models, though keep in mind that Whistler’s interpretation launches from a different Blumenberg work, Legitimacy rather than Legibility.

Efal-Lautenschläger contributes a useful dichotomy based on the arguments of Legibility: “Blumenberg chooses to put his concept of reality on the side of world-imaging, instead of world-modelling. [R]eality is understood as belonging to the arena of representations or of world-imaging. World imaging – and, with it, reality itself – has an interpretative orientation: the reality that results from the image of the world is designated as an act of reading” (224-25).

Credit the editors with choosing to follow Efal-Lautenschläger’s essay with one that expands Efal-Lautenschläger’s points. Returning to Blumenberg’s Legitimacy of the Modern Age, Sonja Feger dives into another pairing, “reoccupation” (Umbesetzung) and “reality-concepts” (Wirklichkeitsbegriffe). Feger tells readers that Blumenberg uses reoccupation “to explain how epochal change can be grasped. On the other hand, and in other texts, he provides a historical analysis of what he calls “reality-concepts.” “In this chapter, I attempt to bring these two concepts into line with each other” (237).

Reoccupation is up first. Feger: “It is important to note that “reoccupation”, that is, the English term Wallace uses to translate the German word Umbesetzung, does not allude to anything antagonistic; it is not about any kind of (intellectual) conquest or usurpation. Rather, the term brings into focus the process-character of epochal change” (244). Emphasizing the “process-character” of change points to Whistler again, because “reoccupation” is about a perennial question-and-answer model Blumenberg wants to say is at work. Not that a “firm canon” of “great questions” exists. Fegel warns readers not to become fixated on answers or questions in their concrete content. Relying on a quotation from Blumenberg’s essay on secularization, Fegel asks readers to remember that “the historical identity and methodical identifiability of supposedly secularized notions is an illusion created by the identity of the function that altogether heterogeneous contents can assume in certain positions within man’s system of understanding the world and himself” (245).

How do we find out about reality? In some places, like Blumenberg’s famous essay on the possibility of the novel, his response seems to be “sometimes we won’t.” Feger pinpoints his wording: “[I]t is quite natural that the most deeply hidden implication of an era – namely, its concept of reality – should become explicit only when the awareness of that reality has already been broken.” (246). It’s a version of not being able to see the forest for the trees. “The subject as historically situated can only account for earlier concepts of reality, not current ones” (246).

Exiting that reality dilemma depends on reality-concepts. “Making a reality-concept explicit draws on the distinction between an object (i.e. a certain behaviour towards reality) and reflection on that object” (247). While it looks as if Blumenberg’s position is that our reflecting on an object called reality is accurate only for earlier periods, Feger says our access to what’s real about the moment we are in depends on Husserlian transcendental phenomenology. “[T]ranscendental consciousness both carries out and simultaneously reflects upon the process of (reality-) constitution” (248). Problem solved (if Blumenberg is correct).

References

Bajohr, Hannes, Florian Fuchs, and Joe Paul Kroll (Eds.). 2020. History, Metaphor, Fables: A Hans Blumenberg Reader. Ithaca, NY. Cornell University Press.

Hayles, N. Katherine. 2019. “Review of Morphing Intelligence.” Posted May 17, 2019. Accessed November 1, 2020. https://criticalinquiry.uchicago.edu/n._katherine_hayles_reviews_morphing_intelligence.

Prisco, Jacopo. 2020. “Illusion of Control: Why the World is Full of Buttons that Don’t Work.” CNN.com. Accessed November 1, 2020. https://edition.cnn.com/style/article/placebo-buttons-design/index.html.

Wolff, Uwe. 2020. Der Schreibtisch des Philosophen: Erinnerungen an Hans Blumenberg. München: Claudius Verlag.

Žižek, Slavoj. 2011. Living in the End Times. London: Verso.

Felix Heidenreich: Politische Metaphorologie: Hans Blumenberg heute

Politische Metaphorologie: Hans Blumenberg heute Book Cover Politische Metaphorologie: Hans Blumenberg heute
Felix Heidenreich
J.B. Metzler
2020
Softcover 17,99 €
VI, 135

Reviewed by: Nel van den Haak

While Adorno and others maintained that, after the Second World War, poetry and philosophy are impossible, Blumenberg belonged to that group of post-war, German philosophers committed to exploring what would be possible in and with philosophy. Did Blumenberg succeed in this endeavour, and is that why some today find his work inspiring?

This new volume by Felix Heidenreich examines the operation of the work of Blumenberg, focusing on the operation of his metaphorology as political metaphorology. Yet he does not merely inquire into Blumenberg’s metaphorology. Indeed, there is a certain ambiguity in the title Politische Metaphorologie Hans Blumenberg heute. Hans Blumenberg heute is surely a more expansive topic than his metapho­rology. What is the book about?

The book is structured as follows. In chapters 1-6 the author approaches metaphorology as philosophy, or more broadly as thought movement, thinking style. Chapter 6, on myth, is transitional, with chapters 7 and 8 being explicitly about political metaphorology. In chapter 9 the relationship of politics, morals, and truth is the central theme, with a focus on the political character of metaphorology. Chapter 10, the closing chapter, returns to the core question: What can we do with or make of Blumenberg’s philosophy and with his metaphorology?

The first chapter elaborates the core question: What is the operation of Blumenberg’s work? Thus it is clear that the book will not be an introduction to Blumenberg’s work (enough manuals are already available) nor an argument for a single thesis. Rather, it is a search for an answer to the question of what we are able to make of Blumenberg. Instead of a doxography, the author prioritizes investigation as a style of thinking. He wants to offer something other than the usual perspective, moving away from the question “What does Blumenberg say?” and towards the questions, “How does Blumenberg operate?” and “Is it possible to continue this operation?” By investigating these questions as paradigms, as examples of a working style and thinking style, the book attempts to contribute to the self-understanding of philosophy, as well.

The second chapter focuses on Die Legitimität der Neuzeit (1965), the book that made Blumenberg famous. Blumenberg examines Euro­pean intel­lec­tual history, arguing that the modern representation of the self-assertion of the human, the representation that the human uses to take his fate into his own hands, is that by which he can and must transform his world. European modernity is thus not opposed to the Christian world, but procreated by it. The author refers to Anselm Haverkamp, who argues that Blumenberg at the end of the 1960s was conceived as left or progressive philosopher not least because of this book. In Die Legitimität der Neuzeit, the concept of rearrangement is important. Blumenberg’s conception of rearrangement suggests that themes and argu­ments exist in a functional coherence, in which separate elements can be exchanged and altered, but that there is no absolute “point zero,” an originary place from which new interpretations spring. Since every new idea arises from combinations of existing narratives, concepts, and metaphors, intellectual history becomes a series of changes, rearran­gements, and bricolages.

In the third chapter the central question is whether there are any constants in innovation dynamics. What connects the contemporary person to the human being of the Middle Ages, to the ancients, or even to primitive times? Classically, philosophical anthropology gives the answers here. For instance, Kant’s question, “What is man?”, establishes a telos of the human being: Man is substantially social, substantially seeking knowledge, substantially gifted with reason. But according to Blumenberg, this essential determination cannot be continued today. As opposed to the essentialism of traditional European philosophy, he asks the question of man in his own, narrative way. The author points to two strategies in this context. First, in Blumenberg’s narrative philo­sophy, in place of attributions of being come stories and histories; second, there is Blumenberg’s plea for the generation and use of descriptive categories. In stories and descriptions, Blumenberg’s goal is also to produce distance, not a vision of the absoluteness of reality. He aims for an integration of the phenomenological, first-person-perspective on the one hand and natural-anthropological, third-person perspective on the other. In doing so, his descriptions are strongly bound to histo­ri­cal and personal circumstances, so that culture becomes a shield against the absolutism of reality. To describe this project, Blumenberg uses the metaphor of “caves” that are not built of stone, but of histo­ries, texts, theories woven into houses. Thus, in his last major monograph, Höhlenausgänge (1989), the history of European philosophy becomes a series of cave metaphors. Yet, in contrast to Blumenberg’s emphasis on distance, Heidenreich argues that man is a being who alternates between distance and intimacy, and aligns one with the other.

In the fourth chapter the author discusses the relationship between culture and technology in Blumenberg’s anthropological variations. Not only do humans have means to anticipate danger and to prevent it, but animals also have rudimentary forms of technology: they build nests, commu­ni­cate, and reap the benefits of their labour. Technology does not contrast with the world, but comes from it. The author applies Blumenberg’s concepts to phenomena that Blumenberg himself never described: digitisation, the Internet, development of self-learning machines. What do these technologies mean for people? They affect us by transforming us into data-producers and consumers. So, here, there appears to be a fruitful way to build on Blumenberg’s anthropological approach to technology.

In the fifth chapter the author points out something more explicitly about Blumenberg’s approach to anthro­pology and to rhetoric. Anthropological arguments always carry the danger of a certain reduc­tionism. How does Blumenberg face this danger? As already indicated, for Blumenberg, description constants replace essence determinations. And while Blumenberg follows Kant in directing his thinking against a certain pathos of reason, his more powerful contribution is to rehabilitate a justification for rhetoric. Such rehabilitation is necessary because rhetoric has for too long been perceived primarily as an art of seduction. In contract, for Blumenberg, rhetoric is a technique of delay, a substitute for violence. Blumenberg is not so much interested in the rationality of rhetoric as he is in its formalising, delaying, and deflecting effect. In this context, Blumenberg’s understanding of education or Bildung as a kind of distancing or refusal to be impulsive is important. For Blumenberg, political education is not about rhetoric as display or framing, but about rhetoric as a kind of exercise in slowness and thoughtfulness. Nevertheless, rhetoric and metaphor do not always slow down, but can make things more complex, confuse, enthuse, but also oversimplify, leading to questionable cognitive “shortening.”

Criticism of an “essentializing anthropology”, which is based on a given being of man, cannot neglect to hold on to description constants, as already indicated. Chapter 6 starts with Blumenberg’s central thesis of the complexity reduction via narrative by man: Man likes to keep the world off the body and live with the things he experiences by telling himself and others a history. In this view, anthro­po­logy is systematically intertwined with myth. The foundational hypothesis here is that man as a narrative, myth-forming,  myth-gathering being can never fully outgrow the premodern techniques of world-conquering. From chapter 6 onwards, the book moves towards Blumenberg’s political metaphorology. This chapter, not yet explicit about this, functions as a transition.

In German-language post-war philosophy, myth is a major field of study, and Blumenberg plays a central role in the intense struggle concerning how to understand myth and its function (the origins of this discussion are found in Carl Schmitt, Ernst Cassirer, and Albert Camus). According to Blumenberg, myths organize chaos. The first detailed and explicit presentation of the theme of myth theory can be found in Blumenberg’s contribution to the band on Probleme der Mythenrezeption (1968) under the title “Wirklichkeitsbegriff und Wirkungs­potential des Mythos”, on how myth production and myth reception relate to each other.  Yet it is Blumenberg’s monograph Arbeit am Mythos (1979) that dogma becomes central, and with it a questioning of the Christian tradition. Unlike Plato, Blumenberg does not pit myth against logos, but instead opposes it to dogma. In particular, he conceives myth as liberal and open in the face of the closedness and authoritarian character of dogma. At the end of the 1960s, this view produced the Blumenberg –Taubes controversy. Whereas Jacob Taubes stressed that the myth can also become anti-liberal, even becoming a means of spreading terror, Blumenberg has no plausible reply. He does write about the Hitler myth, but simply assumes that myth must be ambiguity-tolerant and ambiguous. Nevertheless, even ambiguity can be dangerous, as evidenced by the ideological promiscuity of the national socialist elite. Heidenreich concludes, I think quite rightly, that the outlining the form of thought and presentation of myth does not yet say anything about its content, a point Blumenberg largely missed.

In the seventh chapter, Blumenberg’s investigation of metaphor, as developed in his Paradigmen zu einer Metaphor (1960), takes centre stage. Indeed, Paradigms is Blumenberg’s methodically most important text, and perhaps the one for which he is most famous. Heidenreich argues that with this text Blumenberg opened up an entire field of research within philosophy, its important offshoot emerging, for example, in Ralf Konersmann’s Wörterbuch der philosophischen Metaphern (2007).

What is the core of metaphorology? The author indicates that this question is not easy to answer. The term suggests that it is a scientific treatment of metaphors, so that metaphorology relates to metaphor formation as a kind of reflexive science. But the significance of the project only becomes clear when it is placed in relation to the history of understanding, something that Blumenberg himself never accomplished. When concepts shape our thinking, the historically informed handling of these concepts becomes a requirement of controlled thinking. I think this implicitly shows a focus on the content of metaphors, but that is not yet an answer to the question of what metaphorology is. So, the question arises again: is metaphorology just the history of metaphors (akin to the history of concepts, which includes the history of their content) or a theory of metaphor and its function?

Another important question arises in this connection: Are metaphors ornaments or are they more fundamental? The view that metaphors should be understood not as an appendage but as a foundation of human language, is usually traced back to Nietzsche’s text Über Lüge und Wahrheit im aussermoralischen Sinne (1896). This is a central question about metaphor, but is it addressed by metaphorology? Blumenberg refers to Nietzsche, but offers no extended discussion, nor is Heidenreich clear on this point.

Heidenreich does point out that Blumenberg’s metaphorological texts have been compared to topos research. A classic objection to topos research is its associative character. One jumps among text types, eras, and reception contexts, to compare similar usage modes. But this purely associative linking counters Blumenberg’s approach, which looks to a structuring background narrative, as in Licht als Metapher der Wahrheit (1957). The decisive distinction between a metaphor-collecting topos-research and a metaphorological study is the presence in the latter of an historical thesis, which organizes the material. The concept of “Leitfossile” (leading fossils) is significant here. It means that metaphorology must assume significant cases in any given period, without which it would become a collection of bare materials.

The detection of analogies itself leads to thinking in analogies, for Blumenberg. Thus, the question arises: do people constitute metaphors or do metaphors constitute people? For Blumenberg, the study of metaphor shows that texts know more than their writers, since reality speaks through them. According to Heidenreich, this observation means that people do not have ideas, but ideas have people. But this leads to a methodological difficulty concerning the capacity of metaphorology to oversee the context of its research objects. This question about the relationship of metaphors and people, which appears in various places, seems to be a blind spot in the book, since the author never makes it thematic nor takes any real position on it.

Chapter 8 raises the key issue: what is political metaphorology? In Blumenberg, the word com­bi­nation of political metaphorology does not occur. Heidenreich wants to investigate how metaphors themselves become political, and hence to understand how metaphors exercise power. His concern is not so much about metaphors within the history of ideas as it is about intellectual martial art, which keeps out questionable ideas. But it seems to me that one need not choose between the polemical function of metaphors, and metaphors as guiding fossils. Again, as far as I am concerned, the author does not offer a lucid treatment of this ambiguity in the functions of metaphor.

The author points out that the dimension of power in Blumenberg’s metaphorology remains implicit, but the next chapter considers political, military, and violent metaphors in the work of Blumenberg and of his pupils. It has long been acknowledged that such metaphors can lead from the point of view of theoretical knowledge. But, then, why is this discussion of violent metaphor necessary? Do these metaphors have depth, or do they serve as merely collective concepts? The same question can be asked about the author’s digressions about Brexit and about the French yellow jackets. Heidenreich even says that metaphors can at once be deadly and guiding. But the point of this observation eludes me. Perhaps we are once again asking whether metaphors form us or whether we form metaphors, but the discussion here does not gain any clarity on that question.

Though they do not resolve this crucial question, the author mentions several valuable features of Blumenberg’s ap­proach. First, Blumenberg’s work clarifies the great relevance of cultural contexts and historical conno­tations to understanding metaphor: as a phenomenologist, Blumenberg knows that we always “see more than we see.” Second, Blumenberg’s approach makes it possible to consider the mixing of metaphors and myths. Indeed, metaphors can be understood as “micro-myths” insofar as they already have a narrative structure and are in many cases woven into larger narrative, which may even have its own mythical connections. Third, we learn something from Blumenberg about the dynamics of realignment.

The author then elaborates on the metaphorology of “the ship of state” and the question of the democratic “captain,” following Blumenberg’s Schiffbruch mit Zuschauer (1979). Here he refers in passing to Blumenberg’s analyses of the nautical metaphors that unfold in a Bundestag debate. The discussion of this example shows mainly how difficult a good political metaphor can be to unpack.

The author raises another methodically decisive question in this context: do these metaphors guide political relationships ornamentally, or do they have a real, channeling effect? How exactly should the relationship between expression and the expressed be understood here? Metaphors are plastic, so even the limited image of the state ship branches into a variety of theories and themes. Do metaphors really form our thought and action, or do we form metaphors as ornaments to our pre-existing ideologies and decisions? Could it be that metaphors are not deep guide fossils but rather a kind of surface foam?

The author tends somewhat towards the surface foam view. He holds, in a stronger way than Blumenberg himself, that one must assume the incoherence of human metaphor use. Blumenberg imagines that leading metaphors fundamentally pre-structure our view of the world, of which we ourselves are parts. In this view, metaphors are incoherent in the sense that they do not push our thinking through a single compelling channel, but rather through a complex network as in Venice, with side arms, dead-ends, main and side canals. Modernisation also contributes to this pluralisation, since in the absence of an absolute metaphor, there is rather a horizon of meanings, that terminate in one another. Our use of metaphors, including those that form political communication, is a bricolage.

For Heidenreich, the toolbox of Blumenberg’s political metaphor, unlike its pure framing analysis, provides an historically grounded analysis of primary philosophical leading metaphors. Against this back­ground, the author indicates what he believes an integrative political metaphorology should look like. He makes a attempt at systematization, guided by a maxims of political metaphorology:

  • Analyse the entire network of image fields! Metaphors are semantic compactions, or nets of concepts that refer to one other. For instance, consider the field of architectural metaphors such as buildings and houses, foundations, pillars or struts, and so on. Each metaphor in the network is constituted as a member of a metaphor family, the members of which, in Wittgenstein’s sense, bear a certain family resemblance to one another.
  • Familiarize yourself with important matters! A broadening of the metapho­ro­logical programme concerns the exposure of technical historical and social contexts. For example, light can become a metaphor for truth because people see in light but not in the dark. When Blumenberg analyses the ‘Licht als Metapher der Wahrheit’, this analysis gains depth by examining the history of the luminous agent at the same time.
  • Ignore media boundaries! This is not Blumenberg’s, though today it is trivial. It is precisely the manifes­tations of metaphor in the mass media that have the greatest political effect.
  • Specify the character of the metaphor’s leadership! The most difficult step in political metaphorology is to show that there is not only strategic use of ornamental metaphors, but also a leading function in metaphor itself.  Yet, according to Heidenreich, even Blumenberg often fails to show this.

In the end, the author also stresses that a political metaphor in the continuation of Blumenberg’s work has a deconstructive character: Metaphorology is hardly focused on the question of whether metaphor is “correct”, but will only make explicit what connotations and implications are built in; the metaphors of people in the struggle for the appropriate expression must be understood analytically.

Chapter 9 focuses on the relationship between politics, morality, and truth, based on Hannah Arendt’s writing on the Eichmann trial. The question of truth here is focused on the truth of the existence of evil, while Arendt emphasizes the banality of evil. Though it takes effort to see what relevance this has to metaphorology, the link seems to be that political metaphorology must be guided in terms of power and democracy, and therefore also in terms of good and evil. Blumenberg blames Hannah Arendt for creating the myth of everyday – and thus innocent –  evil, by portraying Eichmann as a stupid pawn. I will not go into the discussion between Blumenberg and Arendt about Eichmann, because recent research on Eichmann has shed new light on her assessment of the man and his crimes.

What is important is how we value myth-making. According to Blumenberg, collective myths can have a function. The unsustainability of their imagination does not have to be presented to the weak. As a means of defensive self-confidence, community-forming myths can be legitimate. Myths and truth thus become pharmaka, substances whose use presupposes a context-related clarity. But how can myth distinguish between right and wrong? When is a political myth useful for self-defence and when does it become hegemonic? Blumenberg lacks an answer to these questions, according to Heidenreich, for principled reasons. These questions depend on common sense and practical experience that is indicated in traditional philosophy with the concept of phronesis or prudentia. Because these are eminently practical questions, there is no rule that can be used to answer them. So, Heidenreich argues, there is no moral philosophy in Blumenberg, or at least nothing that solves these practical questions. But if that’s right, does this disqualify Blumenberg’s metaphoro­logy from being political?

Chapter 10 turns to a key question in Blumenberg’s thinking: Where can philo­sophy still be practiced? As Heidenreich portrays it, Blumenberg gets rid of hard dividing lines of classical philosophy: the image of rhetoric as the enemy of philosophy disappears, myth is no longer directly opposed to reason. Blumenberg is taken as a representative of a soft, empathetic, deconstructive philosophy that allows authors, theories, and perspectives to manifest their metaphorical, time-bound and literary assumptions. But what does Blumenberg have to say about the mission of academic philosophy? Does philosophy disappear into scholarly writing, argument and insight into essayistic commentary?

For Blumenberg himself, it was internal philosophical doubt that makes a certain representation of the profession questionable. He is also clear in his rejection of the usefulness or applicability of philosophy. Heidenreich agrees that the current culture puts research projects under heavy time pressure, a problem already stressed by Blumenberg. Blumenberg opposed the instrumentalization of philosophy by industry, its economization. But since for him, theory was already form of praxis, he also saw little interest in the left-wing thinkers’ demand for the coherence of theory and revolutionary political praxis. The idea that theory could produce solutions to social problems, must have struck him as naïve.

One problem that presents itself in interpreting Blumenberg is that he left few programmatic texts in that set out his intentions. Yet Blumenberg clearly has a narrative style intended to allow one to consider objects from different perspectives, to explore detours and side roads, and to slow down and to express doubts. He allows for impressions to be processed in freedom without immediately reaching a judgment. Blumenberg is therefore very much in a phenomenological tradition. But according to Heidenreich, this narrative style is not dialogical, so the reader is left wondering how any statement could be contradicted or corrected. Perhaps narrative and dialogical philosophy could indeed develop further together, without contradiction, but for further answers about Blumenberg’s philosophy, a lot of research is needed.

But could Blumenberg’s ideas nevertheless help us understand the leading metaphors of the present day? According to Heidenreich, the great potential of Blumenberg’s approach lies in the careful deconstructive effect of a consistent survey of unselec­ted background metaphors and narrative structures, and the apparent plasticity of meanings within that structure. Analysis should focus not only on dramatic metaphors, such as “struggle” but also on less conspicuous metaphors. With Blumenberg, we can initiate the questioning of those images, which in Ludwig Wittgenstein’s words “hold us captive.” Metaphorology is thus at once a  cultural techniques and a reflective approach to meaning that may ultimately be more than a deconstructive act.

Although the book contains much of interest, its investigation of the main question, about the politics of Blumenberg’s metaphorology, makes no real reference to Blumenberg’s own conception of politics. The author writes as if Blumenberg approached politics as a necessary evil, about which philosophy does not have to make much of a fuss. And to be sure, we rarely find an explicit discussion of the political in Blumenberg. It does arise, however, in his discussions of political theology, in which he questions traditional views on human nature. Similarly, in his posthumous book Beschreibung des Menschen (2007) (Description of the Human), he treats the state not so much as representing the citizens, but as prevailing over them. That’s a little different than seeing the politics as a necessary evil. Perhaps Blumenberg does politicize philosophy, just in a very different way than Heidenreich would like.

A few other criticisms I made in passing can also be made more explicit. First, no clear definition of metaphor is offered. Since metapho­rology is a reflection on metaphors, this makes it a little difficult to grasp what the book is reflecting on. More importantly, in Heidenreich’s argument, metaphor and metaphorology are often mixed, which leads to ambiguities, particularly when he asks about the political operation of metaphor. In many places in the book, he wants to draw on the politically operational nature of metaphors as understood by Blumenberg. But a politically operative metaphor need not depend on politically-opera­tional metaphorology, nor would a non-politically-operational metaphor detract from a politically-operational meta­pho­rology. By the end of the book, the author seems to agree with Blumenberg’s broad understanding of the political dimensions of metaphor, as thinking routines. But since this emerges only at the end of the book, much of the earlier discussion remains ambiguous.

Another criticism is that the author is not always sharp about which point he wants to make, especially when he asks whether we form metaphors or whether metaphors form us. This question is regularly run together with the question of whether a metaphor is a superficial ornament or a guiding or channeling idea, e.g.

The methodically decisive question now is: do these metaphors guide purely orna­mental world and political relationships or do they actually have a channeling effect? How exactly should the relationship between expression and the expressed be under­stood here? …… Do metaphors really channel or do we form metaphors? (90)

We see that the author shifts to the second question, without the first question being answered. But whether a metaphor is ornamental or channelling, does not seem to bear on whether man determines it.

If humans are creators of language, they can produce both superficial metaphors and channeling ideas. But perhaps the author has a different view, and he believes that a metaphor can be a guiding idea, only if man is guided, and not creative himself. The author could have offered a clearer argument by drawing on the extensive French philosophical discourse on this subject (e.g. the work of Lacan, Kristeva, and Ricoeur).

Ultimately, it could be the case that Heidenreich fails to find unity in Blumenberg’s work simply because it is not there. Blumenberg hardly mentions metaphorology in his later work, perhaps because Gadamer in Wahrheid und Methode (1960) has sharply worked out this theme. Blumenberg moved on to myth and incomprehensibility, themes that mark a deepening of his pheno­me­nology. The connection with the earlier work is increasingly loose and unclear, and it becomes increasingly difficult to see the political significance in his later work. Never­theless, despite these concerns, with Politische Metaphorology: Hans Blumenberg Heute, Heidenreich has produced a rich book that provides a welcome, fresh look at Blumenberg’s work.

Florian Arnold: Die Architektur der Lebenswelt, Klostermann, 2020

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