Tag Archives: Hans Blumenberg

Who is Hans Blumenberg?

The editors of the Blog of the American Philosophical Association, particularly Nathan Oseroff, have been kind enough to publish my essay about Hans Blumenberg. The piece is intended for those unacquainted with the man and his works. The online publication of the essay serves also as an opportunity to thank the people working in the Interlibrary Loan department at the University of Texas at Arlington Library. They provide the treasures of research.

photo of Hans Blumenberg


Quotation of the Day

Georges Clemenceau (quotation from 1928 below as recorded by Jean Martet) might have thought it was a bit early to celebrate Martin Luther King. Clemenceau might have had us wait 800 years.

They explained to me over there — very nice and intelligent Americans — that they were compelled to defend themselves against the negroes, that they were afraid of degenerating if they allowed the two races to mingle. I think there was something of that in it. But I also believe that that wasn’t all. It’s because the Americans are still too near their beginnings; they need a bit of past. It takes a country a thousand years to come to the point of understanding that a human being is a human being.

Hans Blumenberg cites the latter portion of this quotation in an essay entitled “The Slowness of Reason.”

The Famous Philosopher Axel Colly

photo of cover of Neue Rundschau journalToday, my copy of the latest issue of Germany’s Neue Rundschau arrived, and it features a collection of articles published in the Dusseldorf newspaper by Axel Colly in the early 1950s. You say you’ve never heard of this philosopher Axel Colly? That’s probably because it is a pseudonym. Hans Blumenberg chose to use the name Axel Colly when writing for the newspaper. Perhaps this choice would have been scrutinized, except that Blumenberg was friends with Alfons Neukirchen, the editor of the newspaper’s general entertainment section. Neukirchen and Blumenberg played tennis against one another and celebrated New Year’s Eve together. They knew each other before Neukirchen offered Blumenberg the opportunity to have a byline.

When Axel Colly began publishing for the newspaper, Blumenberg received .40 German marks per line of text, about ten cents a line in 1952 US currency, if my arithmetic is correct. As far as I can tell, the Dusseldorf newspaper received more than its money’s worth. The range of topics alone is noteworthy — from sleep and sleeplessness to a consideration of Jürgen Spanuth’s book about Atlantis, in which Spanuth suggests that the Vikings are linked to Atlantis.

While this “new” Blumenberg material is exciting, the editors of the journal also mention that we may never see other items, such as an essay Blumenberg sent to Neukirchen called “A Letter to the Rich Man” (Brief an der reichen Mann), which seems to have been lost. Maybe we should call the emotional state arising from such losses “Atlantis Syndrome.”

Hans Blumenberg Weighs in on the Gun Debate

xkcd cartoonIn an earlier post, I complained unfairly that the English translation of Blumenberg’s book on lions was taking too long. Do old people have a right to impatience, since we have less time to wait, less life-time to give? That’s an issue for another day. Now that I have my copy of the book on lions, here is Blumenberg offering his view of hunters:

Ever since the end of feudalism, the hunting classes have consistently employed such excellent arguments in defence of their noble pursuit that to an impartial observer it can start to seem that they do protest a little too much: where, after all, have people ever been motivated purely by such lofty goals as stewardship, husbandry, conservation and love, when at the same time they each carry over their shoulder one of the most effective instruments of murder ever devised?

New Film about Blumenberg

Reports are out that a documentary film is (or is about to be) available, in which three figures travel around Germany tracking traces of the philosopher Hans Blumenberg. The film’s title is Hans Blumenberg: The Invisible Philosopher (Der unsichtbare Philosoph).

poster of Blumenberg film

Hans Blumenberg on Narcissus

Blumenberg explores the story of narcissism in several places in his works, including a short piece in Quellen, Ströme, Eisberge (Suhrkamp, 2012). Here’s a translated selection.

Narcissus does not recognize himself when he sees himself in the spring. He knows nothing about himself, and he does not know how to discover that he has himself in front of him. Therefore he is the point at which self-knowledge and mortality coincide successfully. Philosophically, this is a myth about the consequences of lacking self-knowledge.

photo of man looking in mirrorYou might have seen the videos on the internet that poke fun at dogs that don’t seem to recognize themselves in mirrors. Those of you familiar with Lacan will have “the mirror stage” to fall back on at this point as further confirmation of Blumenberg’s commentary.

After the section translated above, Blumenberg invokes Martin Luther’s Disputatio de homine to give the story a theological spin. Blumenberg concludes:

This reads as if the first book of the Bible had not stated that God created man according to his image – that is, the mirroring relationship is just the other way around, and consequently also the state of cognition. But between this act of divine manifestation in man and his self-knowing will lies just what happened in paradise: man had put himself before God.

It seems safe to say that we have a degree of narcissism in God’s creating human beings in his own image, though the situation is Janus-faced, according to Blumenberg. What is perhaps more troubling is that a similar scene of narcissism has a central role in the myth about Cura (care), cited by Blumenberg (and Heidegger) from a fabulist who is a contemporary of Christ. Cura’s story is not all that different from the one above about the first book in the Bible and the making of something in the self-same image. In the text entitled Care Cross the River (Stanford UP, 2010), Blumenberg writes, “Cura crosses the river so that she can see herself mirrored in the river.” That is a detail left out of the fabulist’s report. In such a scenario, empathy, for example, is self-pleasure in caring. People care, because they see themselves in another’s circumstances. When narcissism is at the core of caring, it becomes easier to understand why the fabulist left out why Cura crossed the river. What if caring isn’t selfless? Does it remain virtuous? The fable about caring could be drawn only by Escher.

A World without Lions is Dreary

photo of book cover Lionsbook cover Lions in GermanIt’s the German philosopher Hans Blumenberg who comments that “a world without lions would be dreary [trostlos].” The University of Chicago Press has been promising for a year now the English translation of Blumenberg’s book Lions. The German version appeared in 2001. Amazon now indicates that we can expect to see a copy in mid-September, although it has been scheduled for release almost every month for a year, so don’t sell your children based on the mid-September prediction that a copy will be available to purchase.

Now, to be fair, the University of Chicago Press is serving as the distributor for Seagull Books, so I suppose my complaint would be with Seagull Books, a publishing house that began its life in India, and needs to be forgiven immediately, since they probably have literary tigers and bears to address in addition to lions. Maybe someone from the press will see this, and take pity on those of us whose lives will be trostlos until the translation appears. Luckily, I have my own copy of the German edition, though that heightens the trostlos-ness, because I know what I’m missing.

As a service to others out there longing for lions, I’m including my own translation of a morsel from the book. Lions is one of those Blumenberg books consisting of short anecdotes, reflections, ruminations. The title of the section for the translation is called “The Truth’s Power to Set You Free.”

The moral reprehensibility of lying is one thing, the power of truth to set you free another. You will be able to cope with the lie’s unacceptability, because while we say true things, not everything that is true must be said. The permissibility of silence protects against the difficulties that the prohibition of lying can cause (p. 96 in the German edition).

image of winged lionLater in the snippet, Blumenberg delves into Martin Luther’s translations of Aesop, particularly a story about a lion in a cave. The lion invites some other animals over to ask them about their smell. You’ll need your Latin dictionary to make it through the Luther section – another reason to wish for the release of the English translation as soon as possible. Qui exspectat diutius exspectem?*

*I don’t claim to be able to translate English into Latin, but welcome criticisms of the small part translated from the German above.