Saturday, August 14, 2010

Hans Blumenberg, Shipwreck with Spectator: Chapter 5, "The Spectator Loses his Position"

Now we take up with the shipwreck-with-spectator metaphor in Schopenhauer. Schopenhauer makes the distancing of reason from the turmoil of life the key to his (all-too-Hegelian, according to Blumenberg) philosophy. The human being is both an agent of will, entangled with the pursuit of life, and a subject capable of detachment from this struggle. Appropriately, as Schopenahuer uses the metaphor in his exposition, the distinction between sufferer and spectator is extinguished; man is both at the same time. (59-61)

The distance of the spectator in Schopenhauer's reception of the metaphor is paradigmatically the distance of memory. Because he thinks that we experience pain directly, while happiness is a product of reflection on the absence of suffering, memory is essential to his conception of happiness. (61-63)

Schopenhauer's subject-spectator is also able to look towards the future and recognize that his demise is inevitable, although it is not quite clear whether this too counts in favor of happiness as a withdrawal into contemplation. (63)

Schopenhauer also describes his dual theory of man with another spectator metaphor, this time drawn from theater -- man as one who is both an actor in a drama and a spectator. Schopenhauer depicts the calm distance of the spectator as ultimately an asset to the man of action -- his ideal man is the Stoic. Of course, if the the role of actor is given up entirely, then there is no more life. Blumenberg notes this conclusion had already been drawn by the Enlightenment, which saw calm reason stripped of the passions not as a preparation for action but as its extinction. (64-66)

Heine's story about Boerne is notable for the justification he gives for remaining an unhelpful spectator while his friend ca,me to political grief -- in preserving himself, he was preserving a cultural heritage acquired from Boerne for the future. "This is the frightful formula of all those who refuse the little humanity of the present in order to fulfill the allegedly greater humanity of the future. So the expression used by the poet who sails past the shipwrecked man is of the most singular and frigid precision: ' I was carrying on board my ship the gods of the future.'" (66-67)

Blumenberg sees the reception of the shipwreck metaphor becoming increasingly detached from its original reference to the relationship between man and nature. During the 19th century, the metaphor becomes almost exclusively used to explore the great dilemma of historical knowledge, the tension between objective detachment and human engagement. Burckhardt, in his lecture "On Good and Bad Fortune in World History," holds that the historian must avoid a focus on fortune or misfortune, personal hope or despair, because these have a merely particular, subjective relationship to events. Nevertheless, he sees history as having the unity of a single dramatic narrative for an ideal spectator unattached to any particular interest - though this ideal of pure narrative knowledge can never actually be realized by the historian. (Here, once again, Blumenberg discovers a thinker in danger of becoming the Hegel he is struggling against.) (67-69)

Burckhardt paradoxical seafaring metaphor for historical knowledge -- the historian is a sailor who would like to see the wave his ship is riding, but he himself is the wave. (69-73)

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