Sunday, March 14, 2010

Hans Blumenberg, Shipwreck with Spectator: Chapter 1, "Seafaring as a Transgression of Boundaries", and 2, "What the Shipwrecked Person is Left with"

Two presuppositions of the ancient use of seafaring as a metaphor for life (8)

1. The seashore is a natural boundary of man's activity.

2. The sea lacks order; it is arbitrary and (in Christian terms) even evil.

Hesiod sees commerce and a desire for gain behind the crossing of this seemingly natural boundary, which opens such voyages to a critique based on alleged immoderation . (9)

Horace portrays shipwreck as a restoration of a natural order where the elements are separated, and man belongs only to the element of earth -- an order that has been upended by man's seafaring. (11-12)

The philosopher Aristippus is shipwrecked on Rhodes. He sees geometrical figures drawn in the sand, and realizes that he is close to civilization -- and he proceeds to go into town and earn his return cost by teaching. He proclaims the lesson of this is to possess no more than what can be saved from a shipwreck, because that cannot be touched by war or turmoil. (12)

Montaigne takes up this theme of what can be salvaged from shipwreck with his dictum "Certainly a man of understanding has lost nothing, if he has himself." According to Blumenberg, this is to be understood not as a refuge into interiority from external pressure, but as self-possession gained through self-examination. (14)

Montaigne's ethics through nautical metaphors: caution (don't stray far from port), awareness of bias towards subjectivity (like the optical illusion of the receding shore from a ship going to sea), steadiness (hold a steady course). (15)

Montaigne as spectator of political tumult. Avoids commitment to a cause as far as possible, because that would put him in danger. "One can almost feel how the skeptic approaches the the secure position of spectator, by raising higher and higher the conditions under which he would still be prepared to allow himself to go down, in what was then a thirty-year-old political situation." Takes pleasure in being a spectator to turmoil, although he feels compassion for those who suffer - compares it to watching a play. (16) (is it relief at being spared or the cathartic emotions of internalizing others suffering that create the pleasure?)

Montaigne does not use Lucretius' description of the shipwreck with a spectator to define his political situation. Blumenberg notes that he has already used it to support his thesis that nothing in nature is useless -- not even uselessness. Here being a spectator -- which amounts to a capacity to keep one's distance -- stands for uselessness, but this distance keeps the spectator alive. In particular, the ability to take malicious pleasure in being able to survive while others perish fosters the ability to stand apart -- and survive. This example is also part of a more general thesis argued by Montaigne: that human institutions require vices in order to work. (17)

Goethe's describes his predicament -- both generally and with regard to the reception of his theory of colors -- as the survivor -- in the latter case the sole survivor -- of a shipwreck. (18) For now this goes nowhere and we take up ...

Pascal's innovative twist on the seafaring as a metaphor for life -- "you are embarked." This dictum, which sets a condition for his wager about belief, excludes the cautious, skeptical path of staying in port recommended by Montaigne. In The Gay Science, Nietzsche follows this up with a further condition -- we have destroyed the land behind us as well, so there is nothing to be done but sail. Yet further, in Zarathustra, Nietzsche adopts the metaphor that not only are we already embarked, but already shipwrecked as well. (19)

Prince de Ligne -- an 18th century precursor to seeing metaphorical shipwreck as a primordial condition, at least of his experience. He claims to have always sought out the reefs, but always to have been saved by hanging on to a plank. (20)

Nietzsche on freely rearranging the debris of the shipwreck as a metaphor for intellectual liberation. (20)

Franz Overbeck on Nietzsche's endeavor as an existentially unavoidable sea voyage (21)

Nietzsche's metaphor for science -- the shipwrecked person finding dry land. Notable that the metaphor is not the spectator's relationship to land. The point is that science, like solid land to the shipwrecked, is a change, and even an unexpected one. Science provides a secure ground for further research -- something that had not been provided by man's thought throughout history. (21-22)

Nietzsche's use of voyages of Columbus and his discovery of a new world as an analogy with his philosophizing. (22)

Nietzsche on understanding Epicurus -- takes Epicurus' happiness to be that of the sufferer who has found serenity, like the seafarer who has come through the storm to find calm seas. Relationship of subject rather than (as with Lucretius) spectator to the storm-tossed ship. Nietzsche regarded the image of shipwreck with spectator as alien to Greek thinking, which Blumenberg calls a "profound insight." (22-23)

But is Nietzsche's insight true? Blumenberg brings up the anonymous Greek distich: "I have found the port. Farewell, Hope and Fortune!/ You have played enough with me. Now play with other men!" (Inveni portum. Spes et fourtuna valete!/ Sat me lusistis. Ludite nunc alios!) He considers its reception in both Casanova and in Alain Lesage's character Gil Blas di Santillana.
In both cases, he finds that the distich lends itself to leaving contemplation of the struggles of other with the game of fate-- the role of spectator -- out of the picture. (23-26)

1 comment:

Nicola Busca said...

Dear Blogger,
I'm studying philosophy at the University of Turin. The day after tomorrow I'l have an exam on Hans Blumenberg, "Shipwreck with Spectator". As the book was very demanding and difficult to understand, I searched on the web dome sources of help. In my personal shipwreck I was saved by your blog. Thanks for the post.

Nicola Busca