Potestas Clavium \ Part II
MUSIC AND PHANTOMS
Dostoevsky began with terror, reporting in his Notes from the Underground his torments and humiliations, and ended with The Brothers Karamazov and the prophecies of The Diary of a Writer. Tolstoy, on the other hand, began with Childhood and Adolescence and War and Peace and ended with "The Death of Ivan Ilych," "Master and Servant," "Father Serge," etc. Habent sua fata libelli [books have their own destinies] - yes, not only libelli but homines also.
What is the object of philosophy: is it to examine the significance of everything and to seek at all costs to construct a finished theodicy on the model of Leibniz's and of other famous sages? or to explore to the end the destinies of individual men - in other words, to raise questions which exclude in advance the possibility of any intelligible answer whatsoever?
Many remarkable minds have thought - and who can wish to think otherwise? - that the supreme goal of man's earthly life consists in attaining a state such that he can sing a loud hosanna to the entire universe. So that Dostoevsky, if one takes his last "ideas" literally, has already obtained his recompense here on earth. But Tolstoy did not receive it. Is it thus that the dispute between these two great writers ends? Or was there perhaps no dispute between them?
It is only in our limited vision that there is a war of all against all - bellum omnium contra omnes, and not only for material rights but also for spiritual rights. Here is a problem that philosophy - one knows not why - carefully avoids, but it is with this problem that we ought to begin and also end. Why did Tolstoy not arrive at the hosanna while Dostoevsky did? The most natural answer is that something prevented him. In other words, Dostoevsky must have had some mysterious source which Tolstoy lacked. Dostoevsky obtained his reward. Is this certain, or do people only imagine that he received it while in fact he did not receive anything at all? And, furthermore, why do some obtain their reward while others receive nothing?
The most important and best works of Dostoevsky - The Adolescent, The Idiot, The Possessed, The Brothers Karamazov - were written in the course of the last ten or twelve years of his life, when he had already passed his fiftieth year. Tolstoy, after he was fifty, wrote only one important work. War and Peace and Anna Karenina appeared when Tolstoy was approaching the half-century mark.
In the last thirty years of his life, it is true, Tolstoy wrote some remarkable works - but all of restricted dimension, except Resurrection, which appears to me only an accidental anachronism, a kind of lingering echo of the first period of his literary activity. After Anna Karenina, in which Tolstoy still tries to appear as one who has already obtained his reward here on earth, comes a series of works which show us precisely that he had not received any reward and that he did not deserve any. Why, then, was Dostoevsky in such haste to sing hosanna while Tolstoy was incapable of it?
So in Shakespeare speaks the criminal, the regicide Macbeth. When one reads the last works of Tolstoy, one involuntarily hears the words of Macbeth. Ivan Ilych, Pozdnyshev, Brekhounov - all are terrified that the amen dies on their lips. And Father Serge, who could be proud that Europe, skeptical Europe, knew and respected him, felt also what is felt by the soul that dies without penitence, without having received absolution for its sins. Dostoevsky, on the contrary, who produced one novel after another, sang his hosanna ever more loudly, and solemnly and cruelly crushed underfoot all who could not repeat his hymns.
- But wherefore could not I pronounce "Amen"?
I had most need of blessing, and "Amen"
Stuck in my throat.
I have here mentioned Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. I can also cite another pair if you wish - Schiller and Shakespeare. Schiller was a great master of solemn speech. It has been said that it was precisely from Schiller that Dostoevsky learned this art. And this, in part, is true. Though Dostoevsky had the greatest admiration for Pushkin, Pushkin lacked what is needed for the office of the teacher, the professor. And to attain the prophetic pathos without which he would not have been able to write much of what he wrote, Dostoevsky had to turn to Schiller.
And so I raise for the third time my question: why is it given to some to proclaim hosanna, while among others the supreme and solemn words die on their lips?
I proceed from the assumption that Schiller and Dostoevsky not only pronounced the words but also felt the sentiments that the hosanna arouses. I make this assumption without having the slightest ground for it. The soul of others is nothing but darkness. It may very well be that the man who shouts words of inspiration is only repeating what he had heard from others, as the contrary may also be: many a time a man takes on a sorrowful air, though every one of his gestures and even his face allow one to guess a more or less well-hidden joy or even triumph.
Look at Schopenhauer, for example. One cannot find, it would seem, in all of philosophic literature another writer who demonstrated with more perseverance and obstinacy the absurdity and purposelessness of our existence; but, on the other hand, it would be difficult to mention a philosopher who could more alluringly lead men into temptation through the mysterious charm of the accessible and inaccessible worlds he described. In this respect few writers, I believe, surpass him. Similarly his disciple who later became his adversary, Nietzsche, proclaimed himself officially an optimist. But in his writings lie so much bitterness, suffering, and horror that if men were capable of reading between the printed lines what the author lived through, it would probably be necessary to ban his books under threat of the worst punishments.
But at this moment it is not this purely psychological question that concerns me. I am not disposed to impart to my readers my reflections on the meaning and significance of this or that philosophic or literary work. Whether Schopenhauer glorifies the world and Nietzsche curses it, or whether the opposite is the case, there is no doubt of the fact that to one man it is given to understand and bless life here on earth, while to another this is not given. One could speak thus not only of writers or, in general, of well-known people. I cite famous names only because everyone knows them. And yet, among those of whom no one has ever heard, who were neither the first nor the second either in Rome or in the village, there are those who sing hosanna freely and easily and there are others whose lips open only to complain that it is impossible for them to pronounce the word. And I believe that these two categories of individuals, who often differ only slightly from each other in their external aspect and even in their earthly destinies and who therefore seem to the non-initiates artificially separated, must not under any circumstances be confused. The artificiality of this division is only apparent. In reality, the divisions that are generally admitted and customary have much less meaning.
Everyone understands, for example, that one can divide individuals into certain categories according to their nationality, religion, social class, etc. It is assumed that these empirical, tangible, and therefore easily realizable divisions apply to what is essential in the individual, and they are readily given even super-empirical meaning. For example, when it is a question of nationalities - the French, the English, the Spanish, etc. - it is believed the French are destined to associate with each other and to be together not only here on earth but also in the intelligible world (I detest this stupid word, but for various reasons I do not wish to employ another). The metaphysicians also judge it possible to speak of the "soul" of France, of Italy, etc. And those who speak thus are entirely convinced that they are deepening human knowledge, that with a flap of their wings they can fly from the positive realm into the metaphysical. But can there be anything more superficial than this view?
The idea of the soul of a nation is the purest and most vulgar kind of positivism. Of course every people on earth constitutes a certain unity, bound together by a community of interests, a common past, language, etc. But on earth a herd of cows or horses is also bound together by a community of interests, a common life, and various other commonalities. I hope, however, that we shall not find a metaphysician so poor - even among our contemporaries who are so remarkable for their poverty - who holds it necessary to spur on his poor imagination to the point of "seeing" the soul of a herd of cows or horses. It is true that certain people would be rather inclined to see a soul in a herd of cows or horses - so incapable is everyone today of seeing anything outside of what has earlier been shown. However, the esthetic sentiment forbids it. "The soul of a herd" does not resound solemnly enough in the ears of the metaphysician. It must at least be the soul of Spain! But, actually, the soul of Spain is the same empiricism as the soul of a herd of cows or even of a herd of pigs. The essential thing in this matter is not that Spain is a beautiful country with a great history, while horses are only horses and pigs only pigs. The essential thing is that metaphysics is a more singular, more capricious, more fantastic thing than contemporary intelligence would wish - the intelligence which only seems to have escaped from the chains of positivism to which it has become accustomed and which are so dear to it.
Metaphysics cannot in any way be adapted to visible reality. Among us on earth the Frenchman does indeed feel close to the Frenchman, the Englishman to the Englishman. They speak the same language, fight in the ranks of the same army, are protected by the same tariffs, gain and lose together, etc. But in the other world there are neither customs barriers, nor armies, nor expensive and cheap merchandise; there the "community of interests" which we are accustomed to consider the very foundation of being, something eternal and fixed, is only a combination of words devoid of all meaning. There, language itself, the "word," is to all appearance superfluous. There souls walk about not only without garments but also without bodies and do not require any words to communicate among themselves; they need only look at each other in order immediately to understand. So the Frenchman sees the very depths of the soul not only of the Frenchman but also of the Englishman, the Chinese, and even the savage living on some unknown island, if there still is such a thing on earth. I imagine, for instance, that Mozart and Beethoven do not now in the other world converse with their compatriots, Bismarck and Moltke, who ought to be constituents of the soul of Germany with them.
If I could imagine a war of souls in heaven it would be quite clear to me that Mozart and Beethoven together would fire invisible shells at Bismarck and Moltke and would be helped in their work by Musset, Chenier, Baudelaire, and Verlaine, while Napoleon and his marshals would fight with the ranks of Bismarck. In any case, Mozart would never agree to make common cause not only with Bismarck but even, it seems to me, with Kant; it would appear to him too dull, too boring.
Do not imagine, however, that I am here raising objections against medieval realism or against the idea of the substantial unity of the universe, which is so often spoken of today. If I have ever made any objections against them, these were directed only against the definitions that contemporary philosophy, which wishes to be a rigorous science, gives us of these ideas. Either universalism or individualism, either realism or nominalism. And if it be realism, then it is a realism already completely prepared, conforming to general ideas already constituted; and if it be universalism, it is also a universalism completely prepared, conforming to social groups historically constituted.
All this is absurd, the invention of our poor and sluggish fantasy. Universalism is not at all hostile to individualism, and realism gets along perfectly well with nominalism. But, above all, men may not imagine that they will so easily succeed in untying the Gordian knot of reality. It is not so simple to pass from the visible empirical world to metaphysical realities. There is a Spain and a Denmark, therefore there is a soul of Spain and of Denmark; there are lions, consequently the idea of the lion must exist. You are quite wrong. Granted that collective souls exist, it is not so easy to see them. There is the soul of the musician, the drunkard, the maiden, the monk, the drug addict, etc. But we must not think that the metaphysical soul has taken into itself all the empirical souls whose characteristics correspond to it. It may be that Bernard of Clairvaux and Phidias have entered into the musician's soul, while Caesar Borgia and Nero find themselves included in the monk's soul, and that in the soul of the alcoholic or drug addict live people who never drank a drop of alcohol and did not even know the name of morphine or in any case never used it - Dostoevsky, for example, or Horace who sang of the aurea mediocritas. In passing from individual being to collective being, the soul undergoes metamorphoses such as would have astonished Ovid himself. We must always remember this and not allow ourselves to be led astray by the false hope that everything happens in the metaphysical Universe as simply as those men who are accustomed to simplifying, through scientific methods, even our empirical reality wish.
But if the metaphysicians should become tired of reflections on the intelligible world, we can recall to them certain things concerning the terrestrial world, things better known and more "natural." In the Middle Ages different peoples, just as today, spoke different languages. But educated people used Latin and at that time even thought in Latin when it was a question of lofty things. Then the obstacles and the frontiers which exist today appeared less insurmountable and were in fact less so. And the books that were then read and from which men drew wisdom and inspiration were the same for all the people of Europe. To be sure, at that time also men argued and fought with each other, but while peoples were differentiated by the same signs that serve to distinguish them today, the souls of learned people, one could say, soared above the nations to which they belonged according to their earthly origins. The French as well as the English and the Italians were divided into Thomists and Scotists. Nominalists and realists wandered all across Europe. The fact that a man belonged to such or such a monastic order was considered a more important characteristic than his nationality. It seems that if one admitted a collective metaphysical soul, it would then have to be the Franciscan or Dominican soul rather than the French or English soul. This means that the substantial unity of men did not depend on the accident of birth but on the commonality of their aspirations and goals. I think, furthermore, that if the metaphysicians were not so afraid to lose all connection with the visible and tangible values of this world, they would also reject the Thomist, Scotist, Franciscan, and Dominican souls. From all this nomenclature emanates an odor - sit venia verbo - not only of the earth but of earthly cooking, of the fumes of the kitchen, and of repugnant human sweat. The metaphysicians should be more daring, much more daring, and try to live at their own risk and peril by renouncing values and categories already made and elaborated by common sense and history. To encourage them I would quote a famous ancient philosopher.
I have in mind Plotinus, who today is praised and quoted so readily by the very people who do not take a single line of his writings seriously. "Yet among human things is there anything so great as not to be scorned by him who has risen to a principle that is above everything and no longer depends on lower things?" (Enn., I, IV, 7) For the present this, as you see, is only one of those statements that are so frequently encountered among philosophers. Who, indeed, has not spoken of the vanity of terrestrial things? What is interesting and striking is not this general formula which, like every general formula, is irresponsible: it is spoken, and one passes on. In reality, the whole question is to know what is to be understood by the terms "supreme good" and "terrestrial goods." There is nothing easier than to replace in a formula, according to circumstances, one magnitude with another. If one wishes, even wealth and power may be called supreme goods, for it is known that wealth and power can be used "disinterestedly" - and not only the wealth and power of one's country or people but even one's own. Napoleon believed himself a servant of a great idea, and even Brekhounov in Tolstoy's "Master and Servant" respected what he considered his mission. The originality and audacity of Plotinus does not consist in this general formula, which is finally empty, but in the content he introduced into it. "Such a man," Plotinus continued, "will see nothing great in the ordinary favors of fortune, whatever they may be, such as kingdoms, ruling over states and peoples, founding and building cities, even if it were himself who had this glory, and he will attach no importance to the loss of his power or even to the ruin of his fatherland." You see that it is a question here of something completely different. I should not be astonished if even a great admirer of Plotinus cried out, in connection with this passage, that from such nobility to the most vulgar cowardice there is only a step. I think that at the moment when the fatherland of the philosopher would have actually been threatened by danger, such sublime speeches would not have been tolerated; it would not have been noticed that he who pronounced them was destined to immortality.
This, then, is the difference between general ideas and their realization. But Plotinus speaks with impassivity and assurance, like a man who possesses the truth, the one eternal truth that is obligatory for all reasonable beings. "If he regards all this as a great evil, or even only as an evil, he will make himself ridiculous; he will no longer be a virtuous man for, by Jupiter, he will regard as great things wood and stones and the death of mortal beings, whereas he ought to know the indisputable truth that death is better than corporeal life." Do not think that you can succeed in frightening Plotinus with threats. Can threats act upon one who is convinced that death is better than corporeal life? Not only will he persist in his convictions, but he will continue to declare them despite all threats, whatever may be the dangers that lie in wait for him.
"But it is more beautiful not to surrender to what the vulgar ordinarily regard as evils. To struggle against the blows of fortune it is necessary to act not as an ignorant man but as a skillful fighter who knows that the dangers he braves are dreaded by certain natures but that a nature such as his own endures them easily; they do not appear to him terrible but capable only of frightening children." So the philosopher argues. He does not wish to take any account of "real needs," of what are considered "real needs" among men. He despises even the holy things and makes reckless attacks on the temples. He expresses his own thought and, for him, what is, does not exist; for him there exists only what for ordinary minds is not. If he rejects what appears to men dearest, do you think he will stop before the customary categories of thought? If for him the final truth is "death is better than corporeal life," what then can resist the destructive impulse of his soul? It may be that, among all the questions that have ever been posed to the philosophers, this is the most troubling and also the most capable of leading us into temptation. We return to that of which we spoke at the beginning: when is it given a philosopher to stop and sing hosanna? Or perhaps we must ask thus: what happens to the philosopher at the moment when he intones his hosanna? And can one be certain that, having proclaimed hosanna once, he will then die with chants of glory on his lips?
I would propose that you listen once more to Plotinus. He was the last of the great Greek philosophers and it was more difficult for him to live in the world than for all his predecessors. In his time the days of the pagan gods were numbered, and men were obliged, whether they wished it or not, to get along without them and be content with human powers. Men had to revive with their weak, mortal hands the very things that had been the source of all life. To whom shall one sing hosanna, when it is clear that the gods themselves grow old and live, to be sure, longer than men but not much better? Anabateion oûn palin epi to agathon, oû oregetai pâsa psychê. ei tis oûn eiden aito, hoiden ho legô, hopôs kalon. So solemnly and powerfully does the great philosopher, who had with his own eyes seen the gods growing old and dying and had not wished to submit and lose his faith even before so terrible a spectacle, begin his discourse.
So speaks, no, rather sings, the great sage of the dying Hellenistic world. In all of world literature you will find few pages that are so exalted, with inspiration so sincere and powerful. The divine Plato himself only rarely attained such pathos (Cf. Plato's Symposium, 211 D ff.), and it is only in the Psalms that you will find similar moods. I believe there are few who, in response to these wonderful words, will not cry: "Hosanna, blessed be he who cometh in the name of the Lord!"
- We wish now to return to the Good for which every soul yearns. Whoever has seen it knows what I mean, knows what the beauty of the Good is... What transports of love must one feel who sees it, with what ardor must he desire to be united with it, with what ravishment must he be transported! He who has still not seen it must desire it as for all his good; he who has seen it must love it as the very beauty. He is stricken at the same time with amazement and pleasure, feels a terror that has nothing of the painful in it. Animated with true love, with unequaled ardor, he laughs at other loves and disdains things that he had previously called beautiful. This is what happens to those to whom the forms of the gods and the demons have appeared; they no longer look at the beauty of other bodies. What then must he feel who has seen Absolute Beauty itself in all its purity, without flesh or body, beyond earth and heaven? All these things, indeed, are contingent and composite; they are not original, they derive from it. If one can come to see that which gives all beings their perfection while at the same time remaining itself immovable, without receiving anything - if one rests in the contemplation and enjoyment of it, becoming like it, what beauty will he still desire to see? It is the supreme Beauty, the original Beauty, which renders all who love it beautiful and worthy of love. Here is the great and supreme goal of souls, the goal which summons all their efforts if they would not be disinherited from that sublime contemplation whose enjoyment renders one happy and whose deprivation is the greatest misfortune. For the miserable is not he who does not possess beautiful colors or beautiful bodies or power or domination or royalty; it is he only who sees himself excluded from the possession of Beauty, a possession for which he should disdain Kingdoms, domination, the whole world, the sea, the heavens even, if he can, abandoning himself and scorning all these in order to contemplate Beauty face to face (Enn. I, VI, 7).
But it is here precisely that the greatest difficulty begins, and we must look it squarely in the face.
I ask: what relationship to philosophy has all this that Plotinus tells us? Is this still philosophy or has Plotinus, without realizing it, flown on the wings of ecstasy beyond the domain of one kind of knowledge to penetrate the domain of another kind of knowledge that has nothing in common with the first? What is philosophy? Ask any contemporary scholar. He replies - I take the first one who comes along but, fortunately, he is a Platonist - philosophy is the science of true principles, of origins, of rhidzômata pantôn [Edmund Husserl, Philosophie als strenge Wissenschaft, Logos (1910-11), p. 340]. Does what Plotinus tells us resemble science in any way? Plotinus himself does not at all consider it necessary to define philosophy as a science: ti oûn hê philosophia; to timiôtaton.
"What is philosophy? That which is most valuable." Who is right: the Platonist Husserl or the Platonist Plotinus? If Plotinus is right, philosophy is indeed the most valuable, and if what we have just read of Plotinus is philosophy (but to take this away from Plotinus would be equivalent to taking his soul away from him), by what right shall we drive out of the domain of philosophy Mozart and Beethoven, Pushkin and Lermontov? By what right did Plato exclude the poets from his republic? And would not Plato himself have had to be the first one banished from this republic which denied civic rights to poets?
And since I have said this much I shall go further: I shall now quote a fragment of Lermontov's "Demon," which is a kind of counterpart to Plotinus' song and which it is particularly appropriate to recall when it is a question of philosophy, as to timiôtaton:
I think it is not necessary to quote other fragments of the speeches of Lermontov's "Demon." It would be better if one could express in words the music of Mozart and Beethoven. Those who know it have only to remember it. The chief thing for the moment is that the immortal spirit, the demon of whom Plotinus also speaks so often, suddenly envied involuntarily the incomplete joy of earth, and that precisely this incomplete joy of earth becomes for him the most valuable, to timiôtaton. It is to this that he, the son of clouds and sky, turning away from the plenitude of being that is offered him, dedicates hymns as passionate and beautiful as those Plotinus had dedicated to his One. And I ask again: what is it that justifies Plotinus? Why does he affirm with such assurance that his Beauty is the only thing worthy of adoration? For it he is prepared to give up kingdoms, crowns, seas, and skies! The demon does not remain behind him: he also gives away crowns, kingdom, and a power such as no mortal on earth ever possessed. He does not even regret his immortality; he will add it to all the goods that the Greek sage throws with such audacity into the balance.
- From the moment I saw you
I felt suddenly a secret hatred
For my immortality and my power.
Then I saw with envy, robbed of peace,
The incomplete joy of earth,
For terrible it is to be far from you
And torment to live not as you.
But here doubtless you remember Husserl's definition, "philosophy is a science." Consequently, you will say, the power of Plotinus consists not in his pathos but in the arguments that he has found in support of his thesis and that are developed in other parts of his writings. Well! Science is - science. Let us lower our tone and examine his proofs: do they contribute anything to the force and justification of his statements? Is not rather the contrary true, and are not his proofs themselves nourished on that divine beverage which the great philosopher so generously offers us?
In order to observe a certain order, let us listen first to what Plotinus himself tells us about proofs. On this as on many other questions, we cannot establish in him a unity of view; his opinions vary. As is known, men of genius have the privilege of not hiding their contradictions and even of exposing them with impunity to the gaze of others. So Plotinus declares in one place of his Enneads : deî de peithô epageîn tôi logôi mê menontas epi tês bias, that is to say, proofs must be followed by persuasion, for one should not limit oneself to methods of mechanical constraint. Proofs are likened to mechanical force, and the final resort turns out to be charming "persuasion." But, on the other side, Plotinus shows himself obviously unhappy with the tendency of man to accord too great importance to persuasion: kai gar hê men anankê en nôi, hê de peithô en psychêi. dzêtoûmen dê, hôs eoiken hêmeîs peisthênai mâllon ê nôi katharôi theasthai to alêthes (Enn., V, 3, 6). This means: "In reason - necessity, in the soul - persuasion; apparently we are more inclined to be persuaded than to contemplate truth by pure reason." The second statement does not agree with the first. The second glorifies the "necessity" that was so loved by the Greeks without which neither their reason nor their logos could or would have existed. Plotinus, as a faithful disciple of Plato, could not believe that it was given him to contemplate truth by pure reason.
Plato taught that thought is a conversation of the soul with itself: Oukoûn dianoia men kai logos tauton. plên ho men entos tês psychês pros hautên dialogos anen phônês gignomenos toût' auto hêmîn epônomasthê dianoia, "Are not thought and speech the same thing - only that we have given the name thought to the dialogue that the soul conducts with itself inwardly without sounds?" Plato and, after him, Plotinus wished that thinking be a conversation of the soul with itself and not differ in any way from the conversation carried on between two men except that it proceed in silence and within the soul. Thinking must proceed by means of words, just like conversation, but by silent words. If there are words, then there will also be anankê, and that saving dialectic that is alone capable of helping men in their search for the eternal and immutable truth.
Following Plato, all the other Philosophers have accustomed themselves to believe that dialectic must be considered the source of wisdom, and formally Husserl is justified in calling the definition of Philosophy he proposes Platonist and in considering himself a Platonist. This however cannot prevent us from posing and examining our own question: what is the source of philosophy - charming peithô or the logos, the brother of anankê and even of brutal bia? To avoid all misunderstanding, I shall say in advance that in raising this question I do not at all believe that the philosopher is necessarily obliged to choose between one or the other of these solutions. I am far from denying the importance of the logos, anankê, and even of bia and of the dialectic produced by them. It is obvious to me that it is impossible to get along without them, and if Plato and Plotinus valued them so highly they had very serious grounds for doing so. But this is not the essential thing. In ordinary life, not only in philosophy, men are obliged to use language, to accommodate themselves to necessity; Apollo himself was one day forced to abandon the lyre and take his staff in hand. But why have the ancient and after them the modern philosophers decided that wisdom must be based on the very same thing as common sense is based?
Why have they seized the legal rights of common sense? Plato, in my opinion, should not in any way have used the method of reasoning by means of which he triumphed over his adversaries. As is known, he always began his argumentation with the examination of the most ordinary things, those that are most common and accessible to the senses. He spoke of the art of carpenters, cooks, doctors, etc., and, setting out from the definition of these arts, passed to the examination of purely philosophic problems. But, as I have said, Plato should have forbidden himself such a procedure. Perhaps he is right, surely he is right, that the doctor is distinguished from the cook in that he knows what is useful for the body and therefore gives advice that is useful for health, while the cook knows only what is pleasant to the body and can therefore injure the body's health. This reasoning is based on common sense, and no one will object to it. But to conclude from it that philosophy must be concerned with making itself useful to the soul, as the doctor is concerned with being useful to the body, is absolutely impossible, for the needs of the body have nothing in common with the needs of the soul. It may be that flattery of the body, kolakeia, is indeed hurtful for the body, while flattery of the soul preserves the soul. It may also be that flattery has no effect on the soul. In any case, questions concerning the soul must be examined in complete independence and it cannot be resolved through analogy with the problems of medicine or of the culinary art.
If Plato, following Socrates, commits so important a methodological error, this is explained, it seems, by the fact that he feels for the human soul the same fears that the doctor feels for the human body. He was relentlessly pursued by this thought: may it not be that bad treatment of the soul has the same consequences as bad treatment of the body? A medicine for the soul must be discovered.
The further one goes into the forest the thicker become the trees. If one admits that dangers and even death threaten the soul just as they do the body, it is justified to suppose that the hygiene of the soul is a way of protecting the soul against deformities, just as the hygiene of the body is a way of protecting the body against premature decomposition. And then one comes to the following conclusion, quite as correct as the preceding from a formal point of view, but quite as obviously essentially faulty: if the principle of bodily hygiene is moderation in everything, the soul also must above everything else fear to pass beyond certain limits - mêden agan, "nothing too much." We shall say nothing of further conclusions; the preceding is quite sufficient.
Let us compare them with the statement of Plotinus: "death is better than corporeal life." We recall that this statement did not escape him by chance but that it runs through all his writings as a kind of leitmotif (see Enn., III, II, 15). And we recall also that this same thought likewise inspired Plato, who says in the Phaedo that the goal of philosophy is apothnêiskein te kai tethnanai, "preparation for dying and death" (Ph. 64 A); or in the Theatatus: peirâsthai chrê enthende ekeîse pheugein hoti tachista, that is, "one must try to flee from here to there as quickly as possible." But if this is so (and one cannot imagine Plato and Plotinus without these ideas), how can Plato declare that medicine and its principles must serve as the model of philosophy? It is clear as day that medicine is the worst enemy of philosophy. It protects and strengthens the body, that body the destruction of which and the escape from which is the dearest goal of the soul!
If, then, one wishes to pay attention to medicine and study it, this should be only in order to realize to what a degree it can injure the soul and prevent it from realizing its purposes. And the natural ally of the philosopher will then not be the doctor but the cook, not medicine but the art of cookery with its kolakeia that Plato so detested.
I have dwelt on these arguments of Plato's concerning the kolakeia only because their invisible presence is always felt in Plotinus' argumentation. It appears to me that if we succeeded in attaining what in philosophy is known under the name of rhidzômata pantôn, we would discover in the final analysis, in almost every philosopher, this opposition between the doctor and the cook. Such is the influence of Plato - or is it not a question of Plato here? I hope I shall have occasion to treat this question again in detail. But now let us pass on to the argumentation which belongs properly to Plotinus himself. Naturally I cannot here deal exhaustively with all his "proofs," but this is not necessary. What is important for the moment is to establish why the soul aspires to that Beauty of which Plotinus speaks to us so inspiringly.
This statement is undoubtedly already a "proof"; Plotinus aspires to nôi katharôi theâsthai to alêthes. But do we discover here that necessity on whose power of constraint all proof rests? Is it true that in order for there to be in the world no discord and injustice, the world must be one? Cannot injustice be avoided some other way? And as for discord would it be such a great misfortune if it remained? In any case, is not to transform the world in order to avoid discord too heroic a means and even a bit ridiculous in its radicalism? In brushing discord aside we shall brush aside at the same time many things that are worth far more than any harmony or concord. It appears, furthermore, that in Plotinus, as in most philosophers, the source of wisdom, eternal and immutable wisdom, is the perhaps transitory need to drive out of life those elements that are particularly painful and therefore unacceptable to us. This need is certainly understandable and perfectly legitimate. What is not understandable is only why he uses such means of combat. Is it that he had already tried all others, I shall ask once more, and did he begin to transform the world only after becoming convinced that these means were useless? No, he was far from having tried all other methods, and not only he. If we gathered together the works of all the philosophers of the world, we would see how far we are from being justified in our assumption that men have already experienced everything that it is possible to experience. And truly, we have no reason to believe that we have already experienced everything: that is why every "last word" appears to us more unjust than all the injustices because of which Plotinus fled from the sensible world into the intelligible world. Plotinus continues:
- "Pure intelligence and being itself constitute the true and primary world, which has no extension, is weakened by no division, has no defect even in its parts (for no part is separated from the whole). This world is the universal life and the universal intelligence; it is the living and intelligent unity, for the part here reproduces the whole and there rules in their agreement a perfect harmony, for nothing is here separated, independent, and isolated from others; therefore no thing commits any injustice toward, or finds itself in contradiction to, any other thing. Being everywhere one and perfect, this intelligible world is permanent and immutable." (Enn. III, II, 1)
I do not wish to praise or justify our world: it has its imperfections, and they are many. The struggle of all against all is mostly a spectacle that is far from consoling. But not all discord is necessarily hateful. The struggle of ideas, for example: this even has a special charm, and if I were to construct an intelligible world I should prefer to keep in it the struggle of ideas and still other kinds of struggle. In any case, neither discord nor the other imperfections of our visible world should frighten us to such a degree that, out of the desire to forget the horrors of reality, we renounce all new searching.
- "It is from that true and one world that the sensible world which is not at all one draws its existence; it is multiple and divided into a plurality of parts which are separated from and alien to each other. It is no longer friendship that rules in it but rather hatred produced by the separation of things whose state of imperfection makes them enemies of each other. For each part does not suffice for itself, but is preserved by another thing and is no less inimical to that thing that preserves it. The sensible world was created not because of a judgment establishing its desirability but because it was necessary that there be a nature inferior to the intelligible world which being perfect, could not be the last degree of existence" (Enn., III, II, 2).
Inspiration is a great thing and a great power. But it may act on its own responsibility, at its own risk and peril. Why must it hide behind the logos, anankê, or, as the modern philosophers do, behind rigorous science? Do you wish to save men from despair? Do you fear catastrophe? But despair is an immense, colossal power, which is not less but perhaps greater than any ecstatic eruption.
Plotinus, like Dostoevsky, wished to teach men wisdom, and that is why he tried to proclaim as an indisputable truth: ou gar tros to hekastôi katathêmion, alla pros to pân deî blepein - "We must consider what happens not in relationship to the needs of a particular being but in relationship to the whole" (Enn., II, IX, 9). This is the favorite commonplace of philosophy: the entire theodicy of Leibniz derived from this. I would quote another maxim of Plotinus which could also occupy an honorable place in any theodicy and which is worth just as much as the first. To those who ask why there is so much evil in the world Plotinus replies: "This is to demand for the sensible world too great a perfection and to confuse it with the intelligible world of which it is only the image" (Enn., II, IX, 4). And corresponding to this is morality: "The virtuous man is therefore always serene, calm, content; if he is truly virtuous, his state cannot be troubled by any of the things which we call evil. If one seeks another kind of joy in the virtuous life, one seeks something other than the virtuous life" (Enn., I, IV, 12).
This is certainly an ideal, a true human ideal - to be always serene, calm, and content. But I am glad to point out that this ideal does not express Plotinus, just as Father Zossima or Alyosha Karamazov does not express Dostoevsky. Why must a virtuous man always be serene and content? And does the value of his virtue reside in this virtue itself or in his serenity and contentment? Needless to say, serenity and contentment are very attractive. It may be that if Dostoevsky had not spoken so much of the always serene and joyful Father Zossima and of his final, definitive truth, no one would have recognized him, and those who today venerate him would have had to seek some other idol. Nevertheless, Zossima is not Dostoevsky, and the strength of Plotinus' genius lies neither in his proofs nor in his morality. Proofs, morality, moving and venerable images of holy personages - all this gilded tinsel without which obviously neither art nor philosophy can exist - will pass away. There will remain only... But let us rather give the word to Tolstoy, and not to the prophet Tolstoy - are the prophets alone able to give us what we need?
But first of all, a bit of information, for the purpose of comparison. When Goethe was eighty years old he received many letters of congratulation, among others from his noble protector, the Grand Duke of Weimar. Looking back over the eighty years that had passed, the old man, crowned with laurels, cried out, Der feierlichste Tag! So Goethe. And Tolstoy? Tolstoy fled from his house the day after his anniversary; he fled posthaste without looking back, abandoning glory, protectors, admirers, memories. eighty years of unheard-of glory, wisdom, and virtue - what more could a man want? But it seems that Tolstoy, like Lermontov's Demon, unwillingly envied the incomplete joy of men. Toward the end of the last century, long before his flight, Tolstoy admitted:
So, at the end of the last century, spoke Tolstoy. And the day when, after the celebration of his anniversary, he secretly left his house, he would probably not have deemed it necessary to add the last phrase. If the hero of this entire story did not himself know that he was a saint, must we absolutely know it? Would it not be better if we, like the martyred hero, did not know why this heroism and why these sufferings?
- "I often imagine the hero of a story that I would like to write. As a young man he is a member of a circle of revolutionaries. He is first a revolutionary, then a socialist, then orthodox. A monk on Mount Athos, then an atheist, then father of a family, then a Quaker; he begins everything but leaves everything without achieving anything. People laugh at him. He has accomplished nothing and dies unknown in some hospital. And dying, he thinks he has wasted his life. And yet he is - a saint."
And if we must have an epitaph on the tomb of a man, let it not be composed by men. I believe that if in our time the nymphs were interested (as they once were) in the destinies of mortals, they would have dedicated to the memory of Tolstoy's hero and to Tolstoy himself - these words with which, according to Ovid, they immortalized the daring youth Phaeton:
- Hic situs est Phaeton, currus auriga paterni,
Quem si non tenuit, magnis tamen excidit ausis.
[This is the place of Phaeton, the driver of his father's chariot;
and if he did not steer it well, still he fell engaged in a bold venture.]