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Translated by Joe Pryce

522. Soul and Spirit. Let us imagine that somebody is contemplating a gleaming jewel (for example, in a shop window), and is held fast in the contemplation. Let there be present in him at first only the feeling of himself and the Image of the jewel. And now let there happen what in full strength is granted only to few, although its rudiments, if the object be suitably chosen (for example, the sight of the setting sun or the form of the beloved) are, after all, known to everybody: the contemplating subject is "absorbed" in the contemplated object. Then consciousness has become a mirror, empty except for the blaze of the jewel, and the feeling of ego is extinguished before the supreme power of the image. A man who has become pure contemplation knows of no "existence," and "has forgotten" himself, and nevertheless exists in a state of ardor compared with which the loftiest content of thought grows pale. He is freed from the trammels of solitary existence and becomes the reflected content, and through it becomes that of which it is "in itself" not part, but the vision and the symbol—the world, "infinity," and "universe."

For reasons which cannot here be discussed in detail such states have been experienced with intoxicating fervor only by the Classical Age. Such states were then, as they still are with certain races which remain in a state of nature, the zone which gave birth to holy mysteries, which the dense shade of horrific myths hid from the eye of the uninitiated. Since the time of Nietzsche our knowledge of these matters is chiefly connected with the name of the Thraco-Grecian god Dionysus, who, in truth, was only one manifestation of this universal elementary power, with certain peculiarities of partly barbarian and partly Hellenic derivation. Our views of the psychical conditions of his "epiphany" are confirmed by the fact that the mystic took the perfected degree to be not an "exaltation" or "purification" of the soul, but simply an "ecstasy," to be taken literally as the state of "being beside himself," and that he prepared for it by a profound excitement of the senses, whose deadly excess was softened only by the "rage" of orgiastic dances. But, as being beside himself, the person who has been dissociated from himself has become "enthousiasmos," that is, ‘filled by the god’ or ‘possessed’. He sees no longer with the eyes of common day, bounded by space, but is beyond every barrier, even that of time; words which he utters have prophetic meaning, and his power is capable of the achievement of magical effect at a distance. And when enthusiasm fertilizes knowledge, then, according to the belief of every age and race, there arises "revelation," "illumination," "enlightenment," "inspiration"....

The man who is wholly resolved in the contemplation of the jewel bears the world within himself; therefore, he can possess neither striving nor feeling. The ruling state of profoundest fullness or highest exaltation is distinguished from feeling (however intense) by the satiety due to the state of being at one—the perfected presentation of moving or quiescent entity. He would be no man and no person, but what the ancients called a Daemon, if he could remain in that flux of ecstasy. But we assume that this is impossible; the man who a moment ago was "far away" is awakened, for example, by some impact on his body, and must "come back" to himself; and now, being cut off from himself, he sees, reduced to the dimension of an object, that in which he recently embraced the world. Now there has been forged between him and the object the link of a striving which aims at the possession of the object as a source of potential happiness. Such a desire would include the complementary feeling of reluctance against any impediment to its satisfaction.

The outline of the origin of feelings which has here been developed would be misunderstood if it were assumed that so commonplace a matter as the multiplicity of feelings and emotions is based upon the extremely rare and exceptional state of ecstasy. We gave the direction of an inner process by placing before it a possible goal at which it aims even when it has not the means of reaching it. In the striving of will, the ego experiences its own activity; and, in the striving of feelings, it succumbs to the attraction of the world-content which is turned against them; and if the former, with relation to the ego, is the urge after its preservation, then the latter, seen from the same standpoint, represents the urge towards a weakening and dissolution of the ego, and towards a surrender to the allurement of the image...The power of the innermost of all feelings, of love, to free from self, has been felt and described in words full of illumination by the poetry and wisdom of all time; whereas philosophy (at least in the West, and apart from certain thinkers of the Romantic period) almost always misunderstood it. Accustomed to consider the action of reason as the prototype of every event, philosophers were inclined to subordinate feeling, with the rest, to the effects of spirit, and have left to modern science, if nothing better, at any rate, the incapacity to imagine the might, fullness, and power of the inner life otherwise than as a corresponding vehemence of self-assertion (whether egoistic or altruistic), in spite of the fact that language itself assigns a passive part to the ego in every violent mental affection, as in "pathos," or "passion." Modern thought, under the influence of a traditional inversion, has become blind to the entire sphere of self-sacrifice, and for the "conception" which can be undergone in that sphere alone; such thought seeks to raise yet higher the true "works" of an inspired artist or poet if it calls them "deeds," and by the absurdity of its interpretation degrades the most splendid of all the marvels of the past: the tragic and the heroic....

In principle every striving, like a straight line, may have a beginning, course, and necessary end, and, consequently, cannot last as striving: and this is especially true of sensitive striving. In volition, the ego tends straight to the final point, the act, but in feeling, while the ego tends, there is also something which exerts a tendency against the ego, and therefore feeling, which rests upon polarity, is extinguished in a twofold manner: both the ego, and the content which is directed against it, are deprived of their force. The former happens in the process of getting beside oneself, the latter in the act of will. The feeling does not perish; rather, it oscillates between two ends, the It and the act, and whatever its nature may be otherwise, it is a state of inner conflict, which, if protracted, would prove destructive; which perhaps explains why the exalted feelings of love, admiration, and adoration are never without a note of profound woe, and why the ethical desideratum of artificial equanimity (the ataraxia of the Ancients) does not owe its existence to the tutor reason alone.... 

It will be seen that our view leads to the necessary assumption that the nature of man has two substrata, one of which is active in the urge to exist, and the other in the urge to sacrifice existence. The exposition of the system of driving forces is facilitated if we give a name to both, which, after what has already been said, can be done without too rash an excursion into the province of metaphysics. The principle of ego, as is testified by the oldest human philosophies, lives in the spirit, which is opposed (in popular language) by the "world." This principle was celebrated in the Apollo-worship of the Greeks in its praise of "moderation" and "know thyself" (the inner meaning of which is know the self); the famous Judaeo-Christian demand for love of one’s neighbor realizes it; and the systems of almost all philosophers confess it with a monumental one-sidedness when they comprehend the prime cause of the world-content, under however diverse forms, by analogy of the ego—as ultimate ego, unmoved mover, will, absolute, God, etc...The "world," on the other hand, is not, as the philosophers falsely taught, a by-product and creature of the spirit, although it is produced by spirit, in so far as the latter molded it so that, from being an incomprehensible elementary world of experience, it becomes a world of objects comprehensible in principle...

For the man of today the world agrees so perfectly with the actuality with which he is familiar that he cannot immediately understand why there was an original abyss between the original world and spirit. But we need only turn to an age which, unlike ours, pursued no utilitarian course, but a truly spiritual direction, in order to discover how profoundly it is in conflict with the world of the senses. Charitable gifts and long-suffering were not the supreme commandments of the Church Militant of the Middle Ages; the true demands were: a denial of the world, and a contempt of Eros. It took the colored twilight of "worldliness" with its heathen idolatry, which even now has not been wholly eradicated, for a far worse temptation of the devil than selfishness, which became a moral stigma much later. "Cursed be all makers of images" is an anathema of the Church Fathers (or, in Tauler’s words, "Man must hide from all images and forms"); and the "Bride of Heaven" renounced not only sex in her oath of chastity, but also condemned as sinful pleasure what, for the Ancients, had a sacred dignity—bodily perfection. Her God, by the witness of those who proclaim him, is spirit, and the kingdom of the spirit was "not of this world."

At the same time an appeal might be made to the arts, and especially to architecture, to the colored glow of Gothic, and to the orgy of hues in books, robes, and public festivals of this particular period on the one hand, and, on the other, to the visionary states of so many ascetics, to the unio mystica and its symbol, the eucharist: and in the end we might see in the Middle Ages the brightest flower so far known of the ecstatic capacity of man. In face of such a view it would take us far beyond our limit if we were here to undertake the proof that the sensuous aspect of these and similar phenomena, although certainly it is part of the history of Christianity, still in fact denotes a dissolution, the reluctant fall, and the death-struggle of heathendom whose afterglow mingles its fires with the cold clarity of a spiritual beyond. We will consider only the alleged ecstasy of anchorites and saints in a few words.

Completely ignorant of the existence of two substances which are opposite and incompatible, certain essays in the description of ecstatic phenomena, partly of occultist tenor and partly psychological, confound these uncritically with the "convulsions" and "visions" of hermits; and in doing so they remain behind ascertainable knowledge in a remarkable manner—by more than a thousand years. Augustine knew, and Benedict XIV finally applied, fixed rules to the distinction between the elementary intoxication (which, according to our explanation, alone deserves the name of ecstasy) and the spiritual so-called ecstasy, which alone, according to the perfectly appropriate views of the Church, gives proof of sanctity, whereas the other (and genuine) ecstasy is interpreted as a kind of vulgar possession, secular at least, but very often diabolical (important documents will be found in vol. ii of the Christliche Mystik of Goerres; Goerres, for his part, calls the elementary ecstasy the "magic," and the spiritual the "mystic," and quotes as distinctly characteristic of the former its periodicity, which corresponds to the cycles of nature). But in order to understand why the unio mystica could ever be taken for a kind of ecstasy, we must remember what is explained more fully below, that spirit is not identical with the personal ego: whence, in proportion as the latter is bound in it, there does take place a rejection of all personal interests, as is demanded by the well-known rule of "Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience." The Pater Ecstaticus enjoys a closer proximity to God but, unlike the Dionysian mystic, he has not become God; he is freed from his person, but he is bound all the more tightly to the spirit; and, on the other hand, he is not one with the content of the world, but is severed from it all the more sharply, or raised above it in the mirror of his own experience (a process which is made objective, for example, in the overcoming of gravity by so-called levitation). And, equally, the absolute ego or, more correctly, the spirit, or even God (as is attempted by the feeble compromise of pantheism, rightly condemned by the Church) never becomes one with the world: for ego is only an alternative term for the consciousness of distinction, and the expression ‘world-spirit’ hides a contradiction.

We will return from these rather far-reaching explanations to closer and more familiar facts by pointing out that the contrast which we postulate was well known to Classical as well as to Romantic thought in the shape of the distinction between spirit and soul. For the former represents only the absolute ego, the latter only the element of life, so that it must be imagined as having universal extension. There is no contrast between the soul and the body: rather the soul is the inner life that is one with and inseparable from the body; and therefore it changes, ever flows and never stays, like the becoming and perishing of living creatures; compared already by the ancients to the incessant waning and waxing of the moon, and hence ‘sublunary’, and strictly banished by the founders of Christianity from the sphere of spirit with the counter-threat of the fiction of the "Kingdom of the Heavens." Side by side (because fundamentally identical) with the antithesis of permanence and change, there stands that of absolute activity and extreme passivity. Action belongs to the spirit alone, it "masters," "rules," and "overcomes," while the soul suffers and undergoes. Action has a kinship with the arrow and the beam, and so the free God Apollo is at the same time God of light; while, according to German usage, the spirit alone appears as "wide-awake" or, on the other hand, as "benighted"; while combinations like "sorrow," "grief," and ‘torment of the soul’ bear witness to the passion (lower in the human scale) of the soul. The analogy of gender, too, between spirit and man, and soul and woman, has a deep foundation, which can be traced all the way back to the Greeks (viz., the distinction between Greek text).

Now according to such a view each personality in its decisive kernel is built up of two substances, and the different species of character can all be traced back to the different proportions in which spirit and soul are mixed. The former supports the urge to self-preservation, whose effects are the apprehension of things and the will; the latter supports the impulse to devotion—the desire to supplant self and to ebb away in contemplation. Soul without spirit may be experienced, it may pulse rhythmically in the atmospheric "elements," and it may even preponderate in the animal world. Spirit without soul, on the other hand, can neither be thought of nor imagined, it is acosmic and lies outside consciousness, and is revealed only by its influence (which, in fact, however, is incessant) upon the elements in ourselves, which, under its ray, are frozen and shattered. It is "absolute" or "ex-centric" externality, while soul is a natural interiority: and the latter is akin to darkness and night, as the former is to clarity that knows no twilight. Their struggle in the neutral ground of personality gives birth to specifically human consciousness with its characteristic symptom of a feeling of self. The philosophy of the Romantic Period called it "day-consciousness," and its opposite "night-consciousness"; in man only exceptional states are symptomatic of it, but in animals, whole groups of symptoms, like a mysterious sense of locality, a magical power of scent, and seemingly supernatural instincts of care for the young....

Spirit and element (or, spirit and life, or, spirit and soul) are by natural law antagonistic to each other; hence the former may wish to ‘free’ itself from the latter and shake it off completely, in which case the final goal of its endeavor would lie outside the world or supra naturam, the personal form of which is the spiritual character (in the narrowest sense)—which in the form of flagellant monks gives its peculiar mark to the Middle Ages and, in the shape of esoteric self-scrutiny, to Buddhism. It has lost its importance in modern mankind, and we do not here discuss it. This is also true of the opposite mixture—of the element, which not only offers a lively struggle, but also breaks the spirit in ecstasy: an example (which has become unfamiliar) of this we find only among peoples in a "state of nature"; and a crystallization of this notion (which has been universally misunderstood) in such mysticism as deserves the name. In these two composite forms the struggling substances tend apart, and the result is, consequently, not so much a wealth of varieties of personality as of suspension of personality. In spite of the complete difference in their respective governing substances, both spiritual and elementary eras show a certain scarcity in strongly marked personalities, and in feelings of personality, and a preponderance of universal and, as it were, catholic ends of life which resemble one another in their tendency to break through the barriers of isolated existence. On the spiritual side this is arrived at by ascetic practices, by self-conquest, and even by self-mutilation, and, generally, by a disciplined renunciation of an independent will. Certain Tibetan monastic organizations of the present day closely resemble in these respects the practices of mediaeval Christianity. On the elemental or vital side this end is reached by a stimulation to intoxication, which likewise admits a peculiar technique and prefers to act through the means of crowds in a state of festive emotion—as, for example, in the orgiastic cults of the Ancients, especially that of Dionysus. And both these tendencies meet even today in the cult-practices of Islamic Dervishes.

On the other hand, an infinite multiplicity of character unfolds itself when we pass from the separate existence of substances to their co-existence. Spirit may turn to the element, and the element to spirit: each with a deep indwelling need to imitate the opponent, which leads to processes of indefinite length in a twofold direction. For, while neither is submerged in the other, spirit either forms a layer over element (or conversely), and this with greatly varying completeness—at the same time surrendering a considerable part of its peculiar nature. Spirit seeks to tie down the stream of happening into the unity of ego, and to dictate its "law" to the content of the world, and thus become "reason"—that is, the vehicle of logic which atomizes and conquers one part after the other, and yet can never read a riddle. The preponderance of the arithmetical intellect (which occurs in varying degrees) is the foundation of the third variety of character-types, which naturally has numerous subordinate forms. By its side there is the fourth and last variety in the shape of the enthusiastic character in which the element charms the spirit through the image and seeks to dissolve it in the image, and in exchange, for its part, assumes the form of feeling which (but for different reasons) can reach the goal no more than can the impulse of cognition.

The two genera are rich in variants and spread simultaneously with only a slight displacement of the accent; they characterize the personal subdivisions of history, like the later age of Greece, the Renaissance, and the second half of the eighteenth century, and, without exception, they contain all that is greatest in historical mankind…We must also admit that the relation between these substances is not necessarily one of antagonism, but may sometimes be a less painful co-existence. (SW 4 pp. 364-72)

Translated by Joe Pryce from the original sources. For reference, notes refer to the more easily obtainable texts:

AC=Klages, L. Zur Ausdruckslehre und Charakterkunde. Heidelberg. 1926. 

AG=Klages, L. Ausdrucksbewegung und Gestaltungskraft. Munich. 1968.

LK GL=Schroeder, H. E. Ludwig Klages Die Geschichte Seines Lebens. Bonn. 1966-1992. 

PEN=Klages, L. Die psychologischen Errungenschaften Nietzsches. Leipzig. 1926

RR=Klages, L. Rhythmen und Runen. Leipzig. 1944. 

SW=Klages, L. Sämtliche Werke. Bonn. 1965-92.

NEW  The Biocentric Metaphysics of Ludwig Klages | Introduction to Cosmogonic Reflections | Aphorisms 1-100 | Aphorisms 101-200 | Aphorisms 201-300 | Aphorisms 301-400 | Aphorisms 401-515 | A Letter On Ethics and Imagination and the Images | The Problem of Socrates and Images and their Messages | Reflections on "Psychoanalysis" | Man and Earth | Soul and Spirit | Selected Poetry | Consciousness and Life | Rosenberg contra Klages | Webmaster: Kevin Alfred Strom | Kevin Alfred Strom Historical Archive

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