The concept of truth. Four Works by Annette von Droste Hülshoff, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Fyodor Dostoevsky and Georges Bernanos

Doctoral Thesis / Dissertation, 2019

153 Pages, Grade: 4.0


Table of contents

I. Introduction

II. Chapter I The Influence of Enlightenment Thinking in European Literature: The Power of Anxious Concern?

III. Chapter II Aspects of the Enlightenment Embraced or Rejected by the Four Authors

IV. Chapter III Four Specific Works and the Modern Notion of Truth

V. Chapter IV Modern and Postmodern Truths

VI. Conclusion

VII. Bibliography

„Who, then, are the true philosophers? Those who come to love the spectacle of truth.”1

„Legal texts judge about right and wrong. ’Literature,’ by contrast, and this includes the fabulations of the mythos, preserves the right of justice by pronouncing neither a judgment nor even a judgment on judgment.”2


“O Menschenherz, kannst du denn alles zwingen? Muß dir der Himmel Tau und Regen bringen? Und öffnet sich die Erde deinem Wort?“—„Ach nein, ich kann nur sehn und mich betrüben, es ist noch leider nach wie vor geblieben und geht die angewies’nen Wege fort.“3 I open my study with this quotation from Annette von Droste-Hülshoff's collection Das Geistliche Jahr, not only because she is one of the main characters of this study, but also because it so aptly summarizes the problem I wish to examine, namely that of human knowledge of the truth: whether or not it is possible, by any humanly conceivable means, to understand the inner workings of reality and manipulate them. It is striking how in just these few lines Droste was able to convey the close connection between will and desire, knowledge and power. It is the heart, rather than the mind, which is held accountable for its aggression, and the lure of knowledge is represented as being its promise of granting power over the natural world, the physical order of things as they stand. I do not presume to provide an ultimate answer to the aforementioned question in and of myself since, by so doing, I would contradict the very premise of our opening quotation, nor do I believe the authors at hand do so categorically. Rather, I wish to demonstrate how each of them in their oeuvre, while displaying both their love of truth and the value of its pursuit, at the same time call into question the possibility of empirically or epistemologically knowing this truth. In this way the authors prefigured, in the case of Droste, Stowe and Dostoevsky, and concurred with, in the case of Bernanos, modern notions of truth, such as that reached by Eugen Fink: „Since the world is not some real existent, it can become illuminated only if it enters the enigmatic equivocality or real non-reality of play...Such completion of the fragment can only take place as a reflection or shining back of the whole, and that humans cannot control.”4 Hans Georg Gadamer would go on to elucidate this idea of „play” in his classic study of hermeneutic principles Wahrheit und Methode. To the extent that Gadamer understood dialogue as a „medial event” equivalent with his hermeneutic concept of play, namely an „uncontrollable event” in which the „prevailing truth of the issue may loom up,”5 our analyses of the literary works at hand will focus mainly on passages of dialogue.

Oh human heart, asks the speaker of Droste’s poem, can you force everything? Are you able to manipulate anything you set your mind to? Of course, the resounding answer of the heart in the poem is no, despite its maneuverings and displays of will, everything stays as it was and continues on its charted path. It may seem here as though Droste was promoting a belief in a kind of fatalistic providence, a Calvinistic predestination. Yet we know from works such as her poem „On the tower” that Droste was anything but resigned to docile forebearance and abstinence from the seemingly unattainable: „O wilder Geselle, o toller Fant, ich möchte dich kräftig umschlingen, und, Sehne an Sehne, zwei Schritte vom Rand auf Tod und Leben dann ringen!”6 There was a truth, at least a true state of being, to be had and known, and Droste was willing to struggle, to risk everything for it, although she knew it meant never being in control, never being able to change the course of time or reverse her destiny. As she so astutely noted, speaking with regard to her reinterpretation of events for her crime story Die Judenbuche, which we will later more closely examine: „...denn einfache Wahrheit ist immer schöner als die beste Erfindung.”7 Surely she cannot have meant here the facts of the original crime her novella was based upon, otherwise why would she have considered it worthwhile to provide her own version? Why would she have devoted her life to creating works of art? To what „simple truth” can she have been referring then? Clearly, it was a truth that went beyond circumstance and situation, fact and fiction, word and thought.

Dostoevsky voices his conviction regarding a similar approach to human knowledge and expression of the truth in a letter written to K.P. Pobedonostsev, shortly after the completion of the sixth book of his final masterpiece, The Brothers Karamazov. Speaking of the response he wished to present in his work to Ivan’s treatise of the Grand Inquisitor, he writes to his friend: ...the answer itself is not a direct one...but only an indirect one. What is offered here is a worldview that stands in direct opposition to the one that was previously presented, but again the opposition is not made point by point but, so to speak, in the form of an artistic picture...whereas real life is full of the ridiculous and is only sublime in its inner meaning.8

Dostoevsky here indicates that while ultimate sublimity and meaning do exist, it is impossible to capture them fully in words and concepts formed by the human mind. Yet he asserts that through artistic pictures there is some hope of glimpsing this meaning, obscured, for whatever reason, by what he calls „real life.” In his monumental work Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics Mikhail Bakhtin provided a succinct and brilliant exposition of the guiding principles behind Dostoevsky’s writing. Our task here will be neither to critique nor to expand upon his points but rather to integrally incorporate them into the wider ongoing dialogue about the nature of truth, a dialogue that will also engage contributions from Droste, Georges Bernanos and Harriet Beecher Stowe, as well as contemporary physicists and modern and postmodern philosophers. As this is, however, primarily a study about literature we limit our sources on string theory to Brian Greene’s The Elegant Universe in view of the fact that he is both a widely acknowledged expert in this field as well as being the author of this text meant for a broader audience. Bakhtin wrote at the conclusion of his study that, „The scientific consciousness of contemporary man has learned to orient itself among the complex circumstances of ’the probability of the universe’...but in the realm of artistic cognition people sometimes continue to demand a very crude and very primitive definitiveness, one that quite obviously could not be true.”9 Might these complex circumstances of probability coincide with the simple truth referred to by Droste? What can we learn from the scientific approach to reality that would aid us as we explore the realm of artistic cognition? As Bakhtin strove to demonstrate, the great appeal of Dostoevsky’s works seems to lie in his avoidance of any „primitive definitiveness,” something Bakhtin believed we all have an innate aversion to.

The work of early twentieth century French novelist Georges Bernanos also reflects a penchant for a certain indefiniteness, despite his devout Catholic faith. The poet and contemporary of Bernanos Pierre Emmanuel writes of him:

Bernanos never condemns anyone, because he knows that a person’s interior time never runs out, that the weightiest decisions are never definitive. He knows that there is always a possibility open for changing the past at its very root...for, beyond all apparent causes, the deepest cause of every human action can only be intimated obscurely.10

On the surface this can be taken to mean that Bernanos tends to portray an absence of real consequences, however anyone familiar with his work knows that this is certainly not the case. In what sense then does he demonstrate his conviction that human decisions are never absolutely definitive? And what evidence does he use to corroborate his belief in the impossibility of penetrating to the deepest cause of human actions? Although he questions the ability of the human mind to perceive and comprehend individual motives he does not deny their ultimate existence or relevance. Hans Urs von Balthasar, perhaps the most well known biographer and commentator on Bernanos’ life and work, remarked on the paradoxical maxim of reality that found its expression in Bernanos’ writings: „To be human, therefore, means both things at once: to understand oneself in one’s uniqueness as a being oriented through death toward eternity (as a being who is becoming eternal) and to see and understand oneself nevertheless within temporality from the perspective of eternity.”11 Similar to Droste and Dostoevsky, Bernanos appears to have conceived of the truth of what it means to be human as something which can only be defined in terms of an interrelatedness between time and eternity, death and life, resignation and struggle.

Harriet Beecher Stowe, in the second of her antislavery novels, Dred: a tale of the great dismal swamp, also highlighted the difficulty of defining truth, about a situation or about the motives of those involved, in terms of a set of overriding principles or a one-size-fits-all philosophy. The opening lines of the chapter entitled „The Desert” in volume II read: „There’s no study in human nature more interesting than the aspects of the same subject seen in the points of view of different characters. One might almost imagine that there were no such thing as absolute truth...”12 As with Droste, reality, or the subject, appears to be indivisible, all remains as it is and continues on its charted path. Yet Stowe’s narrator asserts that there is still nothing more worthwhile than taking the time to see this reality from different points of view, to struggle to perceive there that simple, absolute truth which seems so elusive. Echoing Bakhtin’s observations concerning Dostoevsky’s use of dialogic exposition, Jacob Stratman, in his article „Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Preachers of the Swamp: Dred and the Jeremiad” notes that, „According to Dred’s narrator, engagement with contradictions could bring forth the truth. What the narrator astutely envisions is that the truth can be found within a particular conversation.”13 Engagement, struggle, contradiction, opposition, dialogue are all recurring themes in the works of these four authors and their commentators. The following questions remain: What or whom do we engage with? Who or what stands in opposition? What is the end of the struggle? And how do we then recognize the truth? As William James noted in The Will to Believe at the end of the nineteenth century, „No concrete test of what is really true has ever been agreed upon.”14

Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht notes the contemporaneity of these questions in his essay "Explosionen der Aufklärung":

Und die Tatsache, dass Intellektuelle seit jener Zeit (1900) die Welt nicht mehr anders als sich selbst beobachtend erfahren konnten, wurde zum Ursprung von zwei Konsequenzen, die seither zentral für unser Denken und unsere Kultur geworden sind. Wir können die erste dieser Konsequenzen "Perspektivismus" nennen: ein Beobachter zweiter Ordnung entdeckt, dass seine Repräsentationen der Welt von den jeweils eingenommenen Perspektiven abhängig sind, und weil die Zahl solcher möglichen Perspektiven kein Ende hat, folgt daraus, dass es zu jedem Referenzgegenstand eine potentielle Unendlichkeit möglicher Darstellungen gibt. Das führte sehr früh im neunzehnten Jahrhundert zu einem epistomologischen horror vacui, zu der Befürchtung nämlich, dass es möglicherweise keine mit sich selbst identischen Referenz-Gegenstände gebe...der Doppelbödigkeit menschlicher Weltaneignung, die sich nicht nur als Erfahrung (Weltaneignung durch Begriffe), sondern auch als Wahrnehmung (Weltaneignung durch die Sinne) vollzieht. Damit rückte die Frage nach der Möglichkeit einer Kompatibilität zwischen Erfahrung und Wahrnehmung in den Vordergrund. Dieses letztere aus der Emergenz des Beobachters zweiter Ordnung erwachsende Problem ist bis heute ungelöst...15

Indeed, the early twentieth century French philosopher Gabriel Marcel addresses the same dilemma in his lecture „Légitimité de l’ontologie”: „Il semble bien plutot en réalité que nous soyons á la recherche de quelque chose á partir de quoi des normes deviendront pensables.”16 What enables us to distinguish between fact and fiction, wisdom and foolishness, the worthless and the worthy, the outdated and the timeless? As William James put it, „…the intellect, even with truth directly in its grasp, may have no infallible signal for knowing whether it be truth or no.”17 Why, if at all, does it matter? If we come to understand this capacity of differentiation, can we alter it? Can we mold it to serve our needs, our desires, our imaginations? These are the questions which have gripped intellectuals in the aftermath of the Enlightenment and which continue to be wrestled with today.

What is even more remarkable is the fact that an odyssey of a similar nature has been unfolding almost simultaneously in the natural sciences. Just as writers, poets, philosophers, artists, etc. continue to forge ahead in their pursuit of that „what” beginning with which norms become thinkable, Brian Greene writes in The Elegant Universe that, „...physicists by their nature will not be satisfied until they feel that the deepest and most fundamental understanding of the universe has been unveiled.”18 At the heart of their struggle stands a paradox which bears a striking resemblance to that of the aforementioned second degree observer: ...the gravitational force allows us to declare that all observers—regardless of their state of motion—are on absolutely equal footing...gravity enforces the symmetry: it ensures the equal validity of all possible observational points of view, all possible frames of reference...just as we say that a sphere exemplifies rotational symmetry because it looks the same regardless of how we rotate it around in our hands or how we shift the angle from which we view it, we say that the universe exemplifies strong force symmetry. 19

So far, so good, we have liberté, égalité and fraternité. However which way we turn the ball, reality remains unchanged, there is no danger in changing perspective, in worrying about whether this or that point of view is valid. But alas, just as this was not the end of the story for intellectuals of the arts and letters, neither was it for physicists: ...quantum mechanics changes this conclusion radically. Everything is subject to the quantum fluctuations inherent in the uncertainty principle—even the gravitational field...John Wheeler coined the term quantum foam to describe the frenzy revealed by such an ultramicroscopic examination of space (and time)—it describes an unfamiliar arena of the universe in which the conventional notions of left and right, back and forth, up and down (and even of before and after) lose their meaning...this conflict rears its head in a very concrete manner. Calculations that merge the equations of general relativity and those of quantum mechanics typically yield one and the same ridiculous answer: infinity.20

So the horror vacui is not just an epistemological experience but rather extends to the empirical realms of the natural and mathematical sciences. It would seem that physicists have run up against the same principle of reality, the same perspectivism that has confounded all post-Enlightenment intellectuals. And they have reached a conclusion which echoes that of Gabriel Marcel: “Even more recently, physicists have realized that infinite answers are a signal that a theory is being used to analyze a realm that is beyond the bounds of its applicability.”21 Interestingly, it appears to be something that is not merely the result of the emergence of the second-degree observer but rather something that is intrinsic to the very fabric of life, since the phenomena observed by physicists are not a product of the human mind. String theory proposes to be a possible solution to this incompatibility between the symmetry ensured by general relativity and the chaotic reality of quantum fluctuations. According to string theory, “extradimensional geometry determines fundamental physical attributes like particle masses and charges that we observe in the usual three large space dimensions of common experience.”22 It is called string theory because it hypothesizes strings, rather than particles, such as atoms, as being the basic building material of our physical reality. In string theory “tiny strings vibrate through all of the spatial dimensions, the precise way in which the extra dimensions are twisted up and curled back on each other strongly influences and tightly constrains the possible resonant vibrational patterns.”23 The unveiling of the quandary of the second-degree observer may even be called serendipitous in that it enabled us to see, as Gabriel Marcel noted, that, “…la réalité qui nous concerne le plus directement n’est en aucune maniére comparable á quelque chose que nous pourrions toucher ou atteindre.”24 Which other theories might be attempting to penetrate a realm that is beyond the bounds of their applicability?

As previously mentioned, Hans-Georg Gadamer, in his ground-breaking study Wahrheit und Methode: Grundzüge einer philosophischen Hermeneutik, was also in pursuit of this elusive deepest and most fundamental understanding of the universe:

Wir fragen nach der Identität dieses Selbst, das sich im Wandel der Zeiten und Umstände so verschieden darstellt. Es wirft sich offenbar in die wechselnden Aspekte seiner selbst nicht derart auseinander, daß es seine Identität verlöre, sondern es ist in ihnen allen da. Sie alle gehören ihm zu. Sie alle sind mit ihm gleichzeitig. 25

He, like contemporary physicists, never gave up the notion of an underlying unity and harmony, were we but able to find a way to view it in its entirety. Once again, we cannot help but be struck by the overarching themes of simple truth and representations, circumstance and probability, indefiniteness and symmetry, identity and relationship.

Paul Ricoeur describes the interplay between the historic and the imaginary in his analysis of the nature of time, Temps et Récit in strikingly similar terms, implying a truth that escaped them both: “D’autre part, le caractére elusive de ce vis-á-vis, pourtant impérieux, nous a entrainé dans un jeu logique oú les categories du Meme, de l’Autre, de l’Analogue structurent l’énigme sans la résoudre…c’est toujours par quelque transfert du Meme á l’Autre en sympathie et en imagination, que l’Autre étranger me devient proche.”26 Neither history nor imagination, the Same or the Other, resolution or irresolution hold the monopoly. It is again rather the moments of interaction alone which hold out any promise of sublimity. This would seem to contradict the age-old notion of truth as absolute unmediated knowledge. Giles Whiteley, in his recent study Oscar Wilde and the Simulacrum: The Truth of Masks, notes, …we might say that, for Plato, truth—what Hegel would call ‘absolute knowledge’ (das absolute Wissen)— is only revealed in its absolute presence when unmediated. Plato’s key philosophical image—indeed, if Heidegger is to be believed, the key philosophical image—is that of aletheia, the unveiling that is the disclosure (Erschlossenheit), or the unconcealment (Unverborgenheit) that is the event (Ereignis). For these reasons, then, Plato dislikes mimesis. But at the same time, he cannot help but be drawn to it.27

Is truth necessarily unmediated? If so, can it be grasped/apprehended in its unmediated form? Or is it something that can only be engaged in this present moment in its present form? Plato did not take well to the idea of a morphing Reality, yet he could not completely dismiss it.

Perhaps the key lies in understanding the ambivalence of mimesis itself, an imprecise concept which encompasses both what modern French philosopher Jean-Luc Marion would call the icon and the idol. Speaking of representation as a conduit of truth vs. a conduit of falsehood, or the icon vs. the idol Marion writes:

The icon…attempts to…allow that the visible not cease to refer to an other than itself, without, however, that other ever being reproduced in the visible…it teaches the gaze, thus does not cease to correct it in order that it go back from visible to visible as far as the end of infinity, to find in infinity something new…the gaze can never rest or settle if it looks at an icon…in this sense, the icon makes visible only by giving rise to an infinite gaze.28

To find in infinity something new: let this be the defining theme of our study, as it so felicitously encompasses the quest of post-Enlightenment thinkers, including our authors, Droste, Stowe, Dostoevsky and Bernanos, as well as post-relativity physicists, to grasp that reality which maintains its validity by escaping us.

The structure of the study will be as follows: 1) a brief discussion of the influence of Enlightenment thinking upon German, French, American and Russian literature and/or culture before and throughout the authors’ lifetime, 2) an exposition of the aspects of the Enlightenment which were embraced or rejected by the authors, including a comparative look at each of their conversion experiences and how their Christian faith, though members of differing branches thereof, shaped their intellect, 3) an analysis of four specific works by the authors, demonstrating how they coincide with modern notions of truth and even precede recent discoveries about the nature of our reality, 4) and finally a discussion of the aftermath of Enlightenment assumptions in the twentieth century and the effects that they have produced in the modern and postmodern understanding of what constitutes the truth of our reality. We will also look at how the foundation of many of these assumptions is being exposed as faulty in several different fields of study, including string theory, neurology, psychology and translation theory.

Chapter I The Influence of Enlightenment Thinking in European Literature and Culture: The Power of Anxious Concern?

The question raised in our introduction, namely whether or not it is possible with enough reason, determination, effort and research to understand the inner workings of reality and manipulate them, may be said to have been the central question of the Enlightenment. In his essay „The Eternal Truths” Jean-Luc Marion propounds that, ...philosophy, far from masking or destroying the power of anxious concern in a question, advances a thesis only in order to keep this power working. And conversely, one would even have to venture that the theses of a philosophy are worth being studied only insofar as they enable one to go back, through them, to the seriousness of the essential question that brought them forth.29

Perhaps this was the one Achilles’ heel of the Enlightenment: that its overwhelming influence was to mask the power of anxious concern in the question that sparked its genesis. It failed to fully recognize the weight and seriousness of this essential question and all its implications, the result of which is our modern world, taking for granted that its main purpose was to move humanity forward rather than continuing to weave an ancient thread that could in future generations be traced back to roots preceding itself. Not only was it unable to provide a solution to the following ancient cosmologic dilemma, which Ricoeur here mentions in Temps et Récit, more importantly it failed to acknowledge it as an actual problem: “Or, á l’arriére d’Aristote, se profile toute une tradition cosmologique, selon laquelle le temps nous circonscrit, nous envelope et nous domine, sans que l’âme ait la puissance de l’engendrer.”30 Of course, reason need not be in opposition to the unknown, to the mysterious and unfathomable, our temporal limitation must not necessitate contentment with passive ignorance, nor does knowledge of truth preclude adherence to authority. Yet the underlying conviction of the Enlightenment is that one individual human mind is sufficient to plumb the depths of the infinite. As Gadamer notes in Wahrheit und Methode, partially quoting Walch’s Philosophical Lexicon: “So sieht es die Aufklärung als die reformatische Tat Luthers an, daß “das Vorurteil des menschlichen Ansehens, sonderlich des philosophischen (gemeint ist: Aristoteles) und römischen Papsts, gar sehr geschwächt wurde”…31 He goes on to write that although the questioning of authority and tradition does not necessitate the exclusion of “übernatürlicher Wahrheit” (supernatural truth), the novelty of this newfound power and supreme trust in individual intellect led to a juxtaposition between authority and reason and ultimately to the wholesale rejection of the former: “Es kann jedoch kein Zweifel sein, daß die wirkliche Konsequenz der Aufklärung eine andere ist: die Unterwerfung aller Autorität unter die Vernunft.”32

Ironically, as Marion points out, Descartes, whose method served as perhaps the greatest impetus of Enlightenment thought, did not try to obliterate his connection with Aristotle. In an otherwise critical exposition of the famed thinker, Marion concedes the following: “As a general rule, I will credit Descartes with the compliment given him by Mersenne, who was in a good position to give it: ‘Besides, you have pulled off quite a feat…in showing that you do not scorn, or at least do not ignore, the philosophy of Aristotle.”33 Marion claims that Descartes’ connection to the past is most clearly evident in his most original thesis, a thesis, however, which was subsequently ignored or neglected and even left undeveloped by Descartes himself. This was the thesis regarding the creation of the eternal truths. Marion calls it the “…thesis that properly characterizes Cartesian thought…”34 Descartes first wrote of it in a series of three letters to Mersenne in 1630. “According to this thesis, no truth, however essential it may seem to the human mind, has absolute validity for God, because God has created it.”35 Despite its originality, the thesis of the creation of eternal truths remained, “…a question about which everyone after him was silent.”36 Quoting Bréhier, Marion notes it was, “…not maintained by the great Cartesians of the seventeenth century, Malebranche and Leibniz; to a greater or lesser extent, they even arrayed themselves violently against it.”37 Instead, what came to most characterize Cartesian thought was doubt of anything not self-evident to the mind and trust in the sufficiency of the perception of the intellect: “…but in fact the method teaches us to prefer what the mind thinks up from its own fancy (ex arbitrio excogitare), hence to privilege a fundamentum in intellectu [a basis in our intellect]. Whence, in a second moment, the attempt to situate ‘the foundation of the sciences’ in the knowing subject alone, fit for ‘building on a foundation that is completely my own.’”38 Thus, rationality rendered itself blindsided by its own ignorant assumptions: is it possible to see the invisible? Is it possible to understand that which is incomprehensible? Is it possible to perceive with one eye all that is perceived by a thousand eyes? Yes, came the resounding answer: Cogito ergo sum. The individual was declared sufficient for fathoming all mystery, a conclusion which amounted to equating human knowledge with truth, without stopping to consider that if this were the case there would be no innately insatiable hunger within us. The original question of whether or not it is possible for us to understand the inner workings of our reality and manipulate them would seem laughable, as though asking if a child will ever walk, a valid question but one which appears rhetorical, even ridiculous in the case of a perfectly healthy child. If, however, the child is impaired by some physical handicap, there is a real urgency in the question, an anxiety which is absent in the first case. To answer such a question by asserting that yes, the child will walk and overcome his or her physical handicap without outside assistance, medical or emotional, by sheer willpower alone, is clearly foolish. Either our understanding of this handicap which led us to ask the question is wholly unfounded, or the answer given us is not based in reality. As Marion writes, …the modernity that decisively separates rational theology (special metaphysics) from revealed theology (a modernity that runs, roughly speaking, from Descartes to Kant) nonetheless would always remain determined by a question—analogy—proper to Christian theology, since analogy stems from the divine names… for this reason, even the period of metaphysics that excludes revealed theology from its domain could very well appear as always secretly ruled by, or at least concerned with, revealed theology.39

In other words, either our knowledge is absolute, thus rendering the question of whether it is possible for us to understand reality absurd, or else if we acknowledge the question as rationally valid we must admit that we are tacitly agreeing to the premise of a knowledge more perfect than our own. And how can a running woman say to herself that she will eventually contain, or at least experience, within herself all existing energy if she only runs faster? If she had the capacity to contain all energy it would not be limited from her by time and space in the first place. It is of course a noble goal to experience greater and greater levels of energy, yet it can become a vain and foolish pursuit if the runner does not recognize the value of small gains and the futility of her desire to possess all existing energy.

In his Ethics Aristotle wrote that, “We must start from what is known. But things are known in two senses: known to us and known absolutely.”40 This was a distinction too easily cast aside in the Enlightenment. The difference between what is known to us and what is known absolutely was reduced to a question of time rather than seen as one of substance. Although Descartes asserts in his preface to the Meditations on First Philosophy that, “…we should consider our minds to be finite and limited, and God to be an infinite and incomprehensible Being,”41 he later attempts in the synopsis of the six meditations to establish that which is finite and limited as the basis for all truth:

It is necessary, in addition, to know that all things which we conceive clearly and distinctly are true in the manner in which we conceive them, and this cannot be proved before the Fourth Meditation…in the Fourth, it is proved that all things which we conceive or perceive very clearly and very distinctly are wholly true.42

He furthermore implies that those whose minds do not conceive or perceive the same things as his fail to do so due to lack of invested time and intellectual capabilities: “…although I consider that the arguments I use here equal or even surpass in certainty and obviousness the demonstrations of geometry, I nevertheless appreciate that they cannot be sufficiently well understood by many persons, partly because they also are somewhat lengthy and involved…”43 So essentially it is declared that absolute knowledge and the knowledge of the individual mind can become one when enough time, effort and will are exhausted to this end. The fathoming of all mysteries can be ours if we will only exert the full potentiality of our rational minds. Here Descartes parts company with Aristotle who makes a clear distinction between conceptions of the mind and truth: “Yet surely it would be thought better, or rather necessary (above all for philosophers) to refute, in defence of the truth, even views to which one is attached; since although both are dear, it is right to give preference to the truth.”44 How is the distinction to be made between simply views to which one is attached and the truth? This question persists to this day and was summed up by William James in the following manner: “…a rule of thinking which would absolutely prevent me from acknowledging certain kinds of truth if those kinds of truth were really there, would be an irrational rule.”45 On the one hand it can seem that elsewhere in his Metaphysics Aristotle is an early advocate of Descartes’ method: “Now what is known and primary to each of us is often known slightly, and has little or nothing of being; nevertheless, from the things poorly known but known to one, one must try to know the things that are known completely."46 Yes, one must try to know the things that are known completely, but not from solitary meditation, rather from the piecing together of the fragmentary knowledge of our collective individual minds and experiences. And even then there is not any hint of certainty that this knowledge is attainable, although it is quite certain that there is such a knowledge, that it is known in a sphere wholly beyond our limitations, and that it is the only thing worth aiming our energies at. Aristotle writes in Ethics:...for even if the goodness that is predicated in common is some one thing or has a separate existence of its own, clearly it cannot be realized in action or acquired by man. Yet it is precisely that sort of good that we are looking for now. It may perhaps be thought that we had better gain knowledge of the Good as a means of attaining to those goods that can be acquired and realized in practice; because if we have it as a pattern we shall gain a better knowledge of the things that are good for us, and so knowing, obtain them. The argument has a certain plausibility, but it seems to clash with the procedure of the {practical} sciences; for all these, though aiming at some good and seeking to supply its deficiency, neglect knowledge of it. Yet that all craftsmen should ignore such a potent aid and not even try to secure it is not reasonable.47

And this is sufficient, this quest for knowledge in the understanding and despite the fact that within the limitations of time and space it will remain an analogy of absolute knowledge which exists, in and of itself, and is also known, without penetrating its substance. This is the route so tenaciously avoided by Descartes and others of the Enlightenment, yet as we have seen earlier, any attempts to circumvent the analogic nature of our knowledge while at the same time claiming to be in pursuit of absolute knowledge are only further logical proof of the validity of the analogy as a true state of reality.

In his Anthologie de la littérature francaise Robert Leggewie writes of Descartes, En faisant table rase du passé intellectual pour construire sa philosophie, il a delivré les écrivains, non pas de l’admiration des Anciens, mais d’une idolatrie, il les a entrainés à fonder l’autorité des Anciens en raison. L’influence cartésienne les a aussi encouragés à poursuivre dans le sens de Malherbe et de Corneille l’étude générale de l’homme plutôt que celle des sentiments personnels, des particularités historiques et de la nature extérieure. Voilà donc rassemblés les éléments du classicisme: d’une part, raison volontaire, élévation de l’âme, généralité humaine, qui concourent à atteindre le vrai...48

Acceptance without question, trust without doubt, faith without sufficient reason are equated with idolatry, that polluted form of mediation, that mimesis so despised by Plato. The assumption is that absolute knowledge, or at least the ability to judge what does or doesn’t belong to this category, is within our reach. The setting up of anything or anyone as a higher authority outside of the perceptions of our own intellect and reason amounts to idolatry. Yet what possible significance can the concept of idolatry have in this context? What is the implied Reality that this ephemeral apparition eclipses? It can only be the absolute truth of human thought. This is indeed a “table rase” of the intellectual past in which it was only hoped that truth might be faintly grasped. It was the dawning of a new age when omniscience no longer seemed elusive, the promise of escape from all that held humanity back. However, as Vilém Flusser notes in his study Towards a Philosophy of Photography, the full impact of the price that was to be paid for this impetuous optimism would not be fully realized until well into the 21st century: …cameras are omniscient and omnipotent in the photographic universe. But they also have to pay a high price for their omniscience and omnipotence, this price being the reversal of the vectors of significance. That is: Concepts no longer signify the world out there (as in the Cartesian model); instead, the universe signifies the program within cameras.49

If human thought was the sublime, the supreme source of the Real, by default everything emanating from it became open to manipulation.

The way had long been prepared for this monumental paradigm shift. In his study Europäische Literatur und lateinisches Mittelalter Ernst Robert Curtius writes of the gradual obscuring of the concept of philosophy in the first centuries after Christ, and also of the nature of its original foundational pillars as recorded by the Roman historian and educator Cassiodorus:

Die Vorstellung von dem, was Philosophie sei, hatte sich schon seit dem 3. Jahrhundert n. Chr. verdunkelt…im spätantiken Lehrbetrieb werden sechs verschiedene Definitionen nebeneinandergestellt: 1. Erkenntnis des Seienden und seiner Seinsweise; 2. Erkenntnis der göttlichen und menschlichen Dinge; 3. Vorbereitung auf den Tod; 4. Anähnlichung des Menschen an Gott; 5. Kunst der Künste und Wissenschaft der Wissenschaften; 6. Liebe zur Wahrheit…nur die erste findet gar keine Nachfolge—sie war zu schwierig.50

Every effort was made to reconcile and equate the Judeo-Christian faith with the perceived intellectual excellence of the philosophy of the ancients, not only to hinder persecution but also to establish superiority. Yet, as Curtius notes, somehow in these efforts the great questions of Being and the meaning of one’s personal state of being were neglected. The pursuit of philosophy as the art of arts and the science of sciences may also be said to have been neglected, perhaps because these veins were not so easily formulated within the constraints of doctrine. They constitute more fluid branches of knowledge, the first a highly individual experience and the second subject to the evolving nature of scientific discoveries. Sadly, however, this amounted to a neglect of the sixth pillar as well, the love of truth, which left a vacuum filled perfectly by Descartes’ invitation to elevate the individual intellect. As Wilhelm Gössmann explains in his comparative study of Heinrich Heine and Annette von Droste-Hülshoff, by the time Descartes’ theory emerged the intellectual climate was rife with a thick fog which shrouded the ancient understanding of truth. The brand of skepticism promoted by Descartes is contrasted with that of the “Essais” of Montaigne as well as that found in Heine‘s works: “Skepsis ist in den “Essais” von Montaigne—und so auch bei Heine—ein Suchen nach den Wahrheiten des menschlichen Lebens, unter den Bedingungen seiner Zeit und den geschichtlichen Gegebenheiten. Ein anderer Denkensatz liegt bei Descartes vor…nicht Wahrheit ist das zuerst Gesuchte, sondern Richtigkeit und Gewißheit.”51

Of course, it was never his intention to confuse truth and rightness, nor did he intend to pave the way for those who, unlike himself, not only sought a logical exit from the tyranny of the past and mere adherence to doctrines, but also from the idea of absolute knowledge as such. Robert Leggewie notes that, «...le cartésiennisme, aprés avoir vécu en paix avec la foi, se séparait d’elle, se livrait á l’analyse rationaliste et au pur esprit de science avec Fontenelle et avec Bayle. Rien ne pouvait ouvrir plus largement les portes aux tendances sur lesquelles le dix-huitiéme siécle allait vivre.»52 Descartes sought to persuade his contemporaries of the implacable and inescapable logic of the divine, avoiding the pitfalls of appealing to authority and what were once considered well-established truths in light of the doubt that science was beginning to cast on the reliability of such sources. Yet he only aggravated the ever-widening rift, attempting to prove the existence of musical notes by virtue of the violin playing them. From this point on, as Marion writes in his article “Double Idolatry”: „God” is determined starting from and to the profit of that of which metaphysics is capable, that which it can admit and support. This anterior instance, which determines the experience of the divine starting from a supposedly unavoidable condition, marks a primary characteristic of idolatry.”53 Implicitly trusting in the infallibility of his reason, Descartes exposed the divine, the absolute, making it henceforth vulnerable to the fine tuning of fragile instruments with no control over the melodies they receive nor who plays upon them. Yet it came to be assumed that any melody which the instrument is incapable of producing is as good as non-existent. Flusser explains that, According to Descartes, thought consists of clear and distinct elements (concepts) that are combined in the thought process like beads on an abacus, in which every concept signifies a point in the extended world out there. If every point could be assigned a concept, then thought would be omniscient and at the same time omnipotent...unfortunately, this omniscience and omnipotence are impossible, because the structure of thought is not adequate to deal with the structure of extended matter.54

Thought is not a useless tool to be replaced entirely by emotion or faith, certainly a violin equally needs its pegs, strings, bow and every other component to produce a melody that rings true, however it would be foolish to assert that even an intact and fine specimen could play every possible melody in existence, or that any one part of the instrument alone could produce anything resembling a true melody.

Unlike Descartes, Immanuel Kant never set out to logically prove the existence of God, nor did he deny the existence of absolute knowledge. In his Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals Kant argued both for the inevitability of some „supreme cause”: „The speculative use of reason with respect to nature leads to the absolute necessity of some supreme cause of the world. The practical use of reason with respect to freedom leads also to an absolute necessity, but to the necessity only of laws of actions of a rational being as such”55 as well as the inescapability of our fallacy of perception: „Who can prove by experience the nonexistence of a cause when experience shows us only that we do not perceive the cause?”56 He later makes further use of this line of reasoning to argue for a freedom which is intrinsically absolute: „But this freedom is not an empirical concept and cannot be such, for it continues to hold even though experience shows the contrary of the demands which are necessarily conceived to be consequences of the supposition of freedom…Hence it is as impossible for the subtlest philosophy as for the commonest reasoning to argue freedom away.”57 Neither conception nor experience hold full sway. Experience may either confirm or contradict our conceptions, but in any case it cannot reveal to us the cause of those conceptions, nor ultimately the validity of such. As Claude Hill describes it in Zweihundert Jahre deutscher Kultur:

In unermüdlichem Studium bemühte sich Kant um die Fragen: Was kann ich wissen? Was soll ich tun? Was darf ich hoffen? Wobei alles von der Beantwortung der ersten Frage abhing…wie die “Dinge an sich” sind, wissen wir nicht…damit überschritt er aber auch zugleich die Aufklärung mit ihrem Optimismus, der keine Grenzen des Verstandes anerkannte, und wurde der Pionier aller modernen kritischen Wissenschaft.58

Kant’s solution was that since we can never know completely, we may as well stop trying and devote our rational energy to that knowledge which can be ours. This appeared to be a way out of both the impasse created in ancient philosophy (strive towards that which can never fully be yours) as well as that created by Descartes (absolute knowledge is already ours, we need only make ourselves aware of it), yet it once again places the individual intellect in the uncomfortable spotlight, asking it to bear full responsibility for its ergo sum. Kant defined Enlightenment as, “…der Ausgang des Menschen aus seiner selbstverschuldeten Unmündigkeit. Unmündigkeit ist das Unvermögen, sich seines Verstandes ohne Leitung eines andern zu bedienen...”59 Thus people of moral courage were admonished to „grow up” intellectually, to stop relying on or looking to revered teachings of the past or the authority of those who claimed superiority in some way, to light the path. The light no longer came from without but from within, once again echoing Descartes’ elevation of the individual intellect meditating in solitude. European intellectuals of the age were not yet prepared to grasp the paradox inherent in their claim to value truth and beauty without any clear understanding of what those were. Leggewie writes that, „...l’idéal de vérité et de beauté retrouvé chez les Anciens (grecs, latins et meme juifs) dans la lumiére cartésienne qui les fait comprendre et aimer sans manie d’érudition, sans dévotion aveugle, pour leur valeur humaine.»60 The assumption was that individual human reason, alone and unaided, possessed the capacity to recognize and appreciate truth and beauty in their purest form. Yet this underlying notion stood in direct contradiction to Kant’s assertion that we cannot know the “Dinge an sich.” Thus it would seem that bringing the light closer, locating its source within the human intellect, rather than giving a clearer vision of Reality, only proved that the solution being sought was another mirage. Still, the attempt to circumvent our inability to attain absolute knowledge would leave ample evidence of its relentless journey through the desert pursuing one more oasis on the horizon after another. For now, „Der harmonische, nach Universalität strebende Mensch wurde das Ideal...”61

What evidence can we witness of this journey of the lone intellect on its pursuit to prove either that it was already in possession of absolute knowledge or that absolute knowledge was irrelevant? In particular, how did it affect the substance of the literature produced in its wake? Claude Hill names Lessing’s drama, “Nathan der Weise” (Nathan the Wise), “…das nobelste Dokument der deutschen Aufklärung”.62 The most famous scene in the play, the fifth scene of the third act, depicts the Muslim sultan Saladin challenging the Jewish merchant Nathan to provide a reasonable defense for his beliefs, stating, “Ein Mann wie du bleibt da nicht stehen, wo der Zufall der Geburt ihn hingeworfen; oder wenn er bleibt, bleibt er aus Einsicht, Gründen, Wahl des Bessern.”63 Hoping to extort money from Nathan by tricking him, he praises him as an enlightened man, a man who uses his intellect to determine what is true, one who does not rely on mere tradition and authority, and then asks him to provide reasonable evidence for the truth of one of the three major faiths, Judaism, Christianity or Islam. His question also reveals his conception of that which is true: “Von diesen drei Religionen kann doch eine nur die Wahre sein.”64 It implies that truth is singular and exclusive; its veracity becomes apparent by virtue of comparison and contrast; it can be subsumed by creeds; it can be possessed. This idea of truth is neither wholly Aristotelian, nor completely Platonic, nor is it absolutely Cartesian, although it most closely resembles the latter. It borrows elements from all of them, and all of them expressed similarly dichotomic notions. Giles Whiteley writes that, “Since Plato, philosophy as the love of wisdom has been synonymous with the love of truth, of the eidos that is singular, identical and immediate.”65 Saladin is asking Nathan to take him outside the cave, to show him the Real, as it is a basic assumption of post-Enlightenment thinking, unlike in Plato’s conception, that one will not be blinded by what one sees. Although Aristotle predicated that, “…things are called good in as many senses as they are said to exist,” seemingly acknowledging a certain multifaceted and relative aspect of truth, he concluded that, “…there cannot be a single universal common to all cases, because it would be predicated not in all the categories but in one only.”66 Truth can be identified, categorized, analyzed, as Saladin demands, but there is not one common essence to it. In his third meditation Descartes wrote that, Among my thoughts some are like images of objects, and it is to these alone that the name of ‘idea’ properly applies, as when I picture to myself a man, or a chimera, or the sky, or an angel, or God {himself}…now as far as ideas are concerned, if we consider them only in themselves and do not relate them to something else, they cannot, properly speaking, be false; for whether I imagine a sage or a satyr, it is no less true that I imagine the one than the other.67

The source and criterion of truth is here firmly situated in the individual consciousness, and the truth which becomes evident by way of relation to another idea or object is a truth of existence. He later adds, “For I have the ability to conceive what is generally called a thing, or a truth, or a thought…and the longer and the more carefully I consider all these arguments, the more clearly and distinctly I know that they are true.”68 I, the subject, possess the ability to judge what is true on the basis of prolonged meditation and analysis. Saladin is also looking for arguments, logical evidence, reasonable deductions.

Nathan responds with a parable, many variants of which circulated throughout the Middle East and Europe from as early as the late 700’s A.D.69 This particular version is the tale of a ring, “…von unschätzbarem Wert…der Stein war ein Opal, der hundert schöne Farben spielte, und hatte die geheime Kraft, vor Gott und Menschen angenehm zu machen, wer in dieser Zuversicht ihn trug.”70 The ring is passed down from generation to generation, always bestowed by the father upon his most beloved son, until in one instance the father of three sons cannot bear to exclude any one of them from the blessing of this most prized heirloom. So, unbeknownst to them, he has exact replicas of the ring reproduced and, giving each one his inheritance, tells them individually that they are the fortunate heir of the precious ring. Of course, upon the father’s death confusion breaks out among the brothers as to who the real heir is, and they take their case to a judge. The judge admonishes, “So glaube jeder sicher seinen Ring den echten…es strebe von euch jeder um die Wette, die Kraft des Steins in seinem Ring an Tag zu legen! Komme dieser Kraft mit Sanftmut, mit herzlicher Verträglichkeit, mit Wohltun, mit innigster Ergebenheit in Gott zu Hilf!”71 Nathan’s parable shatters nearly every aspect of the sultan’s preconceived notion of truth, depicting it as neither exclusive, nor credal nor concrete, yet still situating its locus in human beings acting as subjects: “…let each one firmly believe…each one should strive…” The faith and good deeds of the bearer, rather than correct intellectual conception are now the creators of truth. Although there may still have originally been an authentic ring, it is by no means clear from the parable whether it was the ring itself that alone held the power to render the bearer pleasing to God and other humans or whether it was rather the good faith or confidence of the bearer in this power that actually brought about the desired result. In any case, truth was certainly not something that existed independently of human reason and understanding, or at least that part of it which did--the authentic ring--was not at all the most essential, nor was it merely an intellectual concept independent of human action and influence. In Nathan’s answer we hear strains of the Kantian melody:

The concept of any rational being as a being that must regard itself as giving universal law through all the maxims of its will, so that it may judge itself and its actions from this standpoint, leads to a very fruitful concept…for all rational beings stand under the law that each of them should treat himself and all others never merely as means, but in every case at the same time as an end in himself…reason, therefore, relates every maxim of the will as giving universal laws to every other will and also to every action towards itself; it does not do so for the sake of any other practical motive or future advantage but rather from the Idea of the dignity of a rational being who obeys no law except one which he himself also gives.72

The admonition of the judge to each one to, “prove the power of the stone” unveils the essence of truth to be progression, development, a kind of individual existential becoming. As Fritz Martini writes of the conception of truth in Lessing’s play in Deutsche Literaturgeschichte: “Der Glaube beweist seine Wahrheit in der höchsten Sittlichkeit; in der Gesinnung, der Frömmigkeit des Herzens, in der Reinheit des Gefühls und im sittlichen Handeln liegt allein seine Wahrheit, nicht im Buchstaben und Dogma.”73 Reason, that innate Cartesian ability to conceive and consider and therefore know, dictates morality which in turn is the measure and definition of faith. Martini uses a brilliant German compound word to describe this unique phenomenon of the Enlightenment, “Vernunftglauben,” literally “reasonfaith”: “Aus dem moralischen und pädagogischen Vernunftglauben der Aufklärung erwuchs der Idealismus einer allgemein-menschlichen, weltbürgerlichen Sittlichkeit.”74 Yet even Kant intuited reason’s limitations: “A metaphysics of morals is therefore indispensable, not merely because of motives to speculation on the source of the a priori practical principles which lie in our reason, but also because morals themselves remain subject to all kinds of corruption so long as the guide and supreme norm for their correct estimation is lacking.”75 The guide and supreme norm for the estimation of the source of the a priori practical principles of reason? Yes, there is something greater than reason, Kant seems to admit, but reason is not capable of grasping it, so it must be discounted as irrelevant to our purposes. It is impossible to identify the original ring, so we must each use what we have as best we know how, and this is as good as truth gets in this life. This is the only way to create our own best substitute for truth, our metaphysics of morals.

This was Enlightenment’s finest attempt to mediate between mysticism and blind authoritative dogma. Humanity remained as yet unaware of the full implications of perspectivism, a new kind of horror vacui engendered by this unquestioning confidence in individual intellect, judgment and willpower. Lessing’s version of the ring parable fell just shy of the intent which, according to Iris Shagrir, author of “The parable of the Three Rings: a revision of its history,” lay behind its original archetype in the Middle East. She notes the phrase of the mysticist Ibn al-Arabi: “Do not tie yourself uniquely to a single belief, rejecting all others. This way you will miss much of the goodness and will not succeed in recognising the genuine truth.”76 Not rightness, whether of belief or of behavior, but openness and humility were the key elements here in approaching truth. It was not something to be proven, either through arguments or deeds, but rather recognized. Unfortunately, Lessing opted for Kant’s shortcut: it is impossible by human means to determine which is the real ring, therefore it is irrelevant to all practical purposes. In this way the more urgent question of the desires of the sons is bypassed: if one’s supreme desire is to prove one’s rightness, to strive to demonstrate one’s possession of the true ring, the “genuine truth” has already been evaded. And of course, Lessing’s parable portrays truth as somehow constrained by time and space. Kant, however, recognized that any such notions would render his “categorical imperative” ridiculous: “Thus the question How is the categorical imperative possible? can be answered to this extent: We can cite the only presupposition under which it is possible. This is the Idea of freedom…but how this presupposition itself is possible can never be discerned by any human reason.”77

Although Enlightenment thinkers were unable to solve the question of how the categorical imperative was possible, or how the presupposition of freedom which made it possible was possible, through the exercise of reason alone, of one thing they became convinced and were able to convince the majority of western civiliztation: the supreme and invincible rationality of individual happiness. As Kant wrote:

There is one end, however, which we may presuppose as actual in all rational beings so far as imperatives apply to them, that is, so far as they are dependent beings. There is one purpose which they not only can have but which we can presuppose that they all do have by a necessity of nature. This purpose is happiness.78

We have seen one example from German literature of the time how the Cartesian idea of truth as a singular concept innate to the human mind and discernible through reason began to evolve into the more ambiguous nature of the Kantian idea of truth as “Vernunftglauben,” a trust in the power of reason to “prove” its veracity through practical morality. Now we will take a look at an example from French literature of the time, which, although written two decades before Kant published his Critique of Pure Reason, takes the case for the absolute truth of individual intellect to its ultimately hyperbolic conclusion: the presence of material comfort and/or the absence of suffering as a measure of happiness, tacitly equated with the good or existential truth. The author in question is Voltaire, who as early as 1736 expounded in the journal Le Mondain:

Moi je rends grace á la nature sage qui, pour mon bien, m’a fait naitre en cet age tant décrié par nos tristes frondeurs: ce temps profane est tout fait pour mes moeurs. J’aime le luxe et meme la mollesse…il est bien doux pour mon coeur trés immonde de voir ici l’abondance á la ronde, mere des arts et des heureux travaux, nous apporter, de sa source féconde et des besoins et des plaisirs nouveaux.79

Aside from the tongue-in-cheek reference to his “very foul heart” we may infer that Voltaire was expressing an otherwise sincere belief in the power of what he calls “abundance,” or material well-being. After all, what greater fruit can be attained from “cultivating one’s garden,” as the hero of Candide concludes, and what greater hope than this cultivation can be expected in a world where human reason fails to penetrate through to the answers to its most urgent questions? The biblical statement from Genesis 2:15: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it,” is turned on its head: it is transformed from a divine revelation providing structure and meaning into a sort of “emergency exit.” The naïve Pangloss continues to cling to his Leibnizian refrain until the last: “Tous les événements sont enchainés dans le meilleur des mondes possibles…”80 he concludes after listing a string of tragedies they have survived, while Candide quips in return, “Cela est bien dit…mais il faut cultiver notre jardin”81 Any effort by reason to provide a metaphysical context of meaning to human life is exposed as ridiculous; the only thing which rationally makes any sense at all is to, in spite of this, continue to burrow out our own individual comfort and well-being. And if one can, as a side benefit, ease the life of other entities around one, as the Turkish fruit vendor of Voltaire’s tale, then so much the better. Erich Auerbach, in his Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, accuses Voltaire of employing, …the searchlight device. It consists in overilluminating one small part of an extensive complex, while everything else which might explain, derive, and possibly counterbalance the thing emphasized is left in the dark; so that apparently the truth is stated, for what is said cannot be denied; and yet everything is falsified, for truth requires the whole truth and the proper interrelation of its elements.82

Of course, to conceive of the “interrelation” of the “elements” of truth would have seemed quite foreign to Enlightenment thinkers for whom truth was a singular notion proper to each human mind. So Voltaire continually confronts us with the limits of our own truth, asking us to provide reasonable proof for the raison d’etre of suffering, emphasizing again and again his conviction that because it escapes the realm of conceivable truth, reason compels us to give up the idea that meaning is an element of any relevant existential truth. Thanks to Descartes it was known that our raison d’etre was our rationality itself, but then the existence of the irrational, falling outside this category, remained inexplicable. Thus happiness, measurable, observable, palpable, individual material happiness floated to the surface, uniquely refusing to be absorbed into irrationality, and in the writings of Voltaire, “…from among the conditions which determine the course of human lives none but the material and natural are given serious consideration.”83

In Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence Voltaire’s conception of the truth of happiness is canonized and even equated in stature with freedom: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”84 Liberty is here not that unknowable and mysterious force of Kant’s conception which mediates the possibility of reason; rather it resembles the ring of Lessing’s Nathan der Weise, a possession which can be limited by time and space, indeed something inherited from the father, or Creator, a right to be demanded. If one is not happy it must necessarily be connected with a deprivation of the individual freedom to enjoy abundance, to cultivate one’s garden and profit from it as one deems best. The emphasis is once again upon the material and natural conditions as the highest of all possible rationally comprehensible truths.

This outright dismissal of the irrational, however, only exacerbated the contradiction it was unable to resolve. For although, as Heinrich Heine noted in his Zur Geschichte der Religion und Philosophie in Deutschland, “Der allgemeine Charakter der modernen Literatur besteht darin, daß jetzt die Individualität und die Skepsis vorherrschen,”85 reason by default eliminated sentiment, that irrational element which nonetheless renders any genuine expression of individuality possible. As Leggewie describes, sentiment was an impediment to the illusion that reason could subsume every anomaly: “Le besoin d’ordre et d’unité s’est fait sentir jusque dans la société littéraire…Malherbe…a voulu desserrer l’étreinte de l’antiquité et faire prédominer la raison sur les sentiments, la généralité humaine sur les cas particuliers…”86 Despite the fact that individual human rationale was seemingly granted free reign to “cultivate its garden” and pursue its own existential truth, it could not escape, nor simply ignore as in the case of metaphysics, the existence of the irrational. As result it had to be dominated, tamed and brought into submission. A new norm had to be established by which to measure eccentricities. It didn’t take long, however, for this aspect of the new “Vernunftglauben” to begin to show cracks. In her article “Cognition and the Biblical God: Herder’s Response to Leibniz,” Yael Almog juxtaposes Leibniz’s more or less rational approach to describing individual aesthetic experience with Herder’s more idealistic approach: „He (Herder) consequently describes Leibniz’s inquiry of the subject’s operating powers as pertaining to an ’inner subject position.’ It is unclear whether these powers may at all be understood or can even be studied objectively in any sense.”87 And commenting on the distinction between the Enlightenment conception of individuality and that of the emerging Romanticism expressed in the philosophy of Friedrich Schleiermacher, Hans Georg Gadamer writes:

Man darf den lebhaften, ja genialen Sinn für menschliche Individualität, der Schleiermacher auszeichnet, gleichwoll nicht als eine individuelle Besonderheit nehmen, die hier die Theorie beeinflußt. Vielmehr ist es die kritische Abwehr all dessen, das im Zeitalter der Aufklärung unter dem Titel ’Vernünftige Gedanken’ als das gemeinsame Wesen der Humanität galt, was zu einer grundsätzlichen Neubestimmung des Verhältnisses zur Überlieferung nötigt.88

Just decades following Kant’s call for the creation of a “guide and supreme norm” for the “correct estimation” of morals to bring some order to the chaos of reason’s incapability of either containing or explaining the existence of freedom, Schleiermacher rallies for a return to antiquity’s quest to touch the infinite, to know the unknown.

Before moving on to Enlightenment’s unique fruition in Russia as well as the continuing transition to Romanticism in the west we must mention one key figure whose influence reached into the Enlightenment and who, although he became widely known for his precise and objective observations, still resisted full surrender to Cartesian rational objectivity: Michel de Montaigne. Despite the fact that he also advocated the sublimity of a certain interior knowledge and in many ways is viewed as a precursor to Descartes, he at the same time acknowledged its limitations:

It is an absolute perfection and virtually divine to know how to enjoy our being rightfully. We seek other conditions because we do not understand the use of our own, and go outside of ourselves because we do not know what it is like inside. Yet there is no use our mounting on stilts, for on stilts we must still walk on our legs. And on the loftiest throne in the world we are still sitting only on our own rump.89

If we truly understood our own capacities, we would be satisfied with them, he claims, sounding at once like an undeniable herald of Descartes’ assertion that reason fully exploited has the ability to subsume divinity. However, the very next phrase brings our Icarus crashing back down into Kantian reality: even in the zenith of our reason we must acknowledge that the vehicle of its perception is limited by time and space. Even the intellectual conception of our minds cannot transcend the temporal dimension of our physical bodies. Prefiguring Kant’s claim that we cannot know “die Dinge an sich,” Montaigne writes:

I do not portray the thing in itself. I portray the passage; not a passing from one age to another, or, as the people put it, from seven years to seven years, but from day to day, from minute to minute. I must adapt my history to the moment. It is a record of diverse and changeable events, of undecided, and, when the occasion arises, contradictory ideas; whether it be that I am another self, or that I grasp a subject in different circumstances and see it from a different point of view. So it may be that I contradict myself, but, as Demades said, the truth I never contradict. If my mind could find a firm footing, I should not speak tentatively, I should decide; it is always in a state of apprenticeship, and on trial.90

Here truth was still clearly conceived of as a separate entity from human reason and behavior, unalterable, undiminishable by human failures and flaws and possessing its own absolute existence. Montaigne’s mind, in contrast to that of Descartes, never found a “firm footing” and was in a constant “state of apprenticeship” causing him to “speak tentatively.” He even went so far as to acknowledge that his state of mind might vary to such an extreme extent as to make it seem he were “another self,” another consciousness. Erich Auerbach writes in Mimesis that, “Among all his contemporaries, he had the clearest conception of the problem of man's self-orientation; that is, the task of making oneself at home in existence without fixed points of support."91 Wilhelm Gössmann, in his study on related ideas in the works of Droste and Heine, also differentiates between the rational, Cartesian brand of skepticism and that of Montaigne:

Die Wiederentdeckung der Skepsis, die in der Antike eine wichtige Rolle gespielt hatte, liegt am Anfang der Neuzeit. Für Montaigne ist die Skepsis eine Grundhaltung des Geistes und der geistigen Beschäftigung. Die positive Einschätzung der Skepsis verdanken wir weitgehend ihm. In seinen essayistischen Darlegungen verquickt sich wissenschaftliches und literarisches Argumentieren. Aber, er deduziert nicht, gibt keine metaphysischen Argumentationen. Er tut etwas anderes: Er beobachtet und analysiert, also eine Abwendung von den metaphysischen Prinzipien…92

Montaigne’s strategy is not to doubt everything that is known or knowable but rather to doubt the infallibility of his own powers of perception. Auerbach claims that he goes even a step further, not only acknowledging reason’s limitations but even valuing them: “For he [Montaigne] conceives of an ignorance forte et genéreuse (3, 11, p. 493) and values it more highly than all factual knowledge because its acquisition requires greater wisdom than the acquisition of scientific knowledge.”93 Here he touches upon a revolutionary idea which brings us back to our original observation about the shortcomings of the Englightenment: the idea that ignorance can be acquired and even that it requires wisdom to do so. The desirability of ignorance can only be comprehended when one takes seriously the anxious concern behind the question of whether or not it is possible with enough reason to understand Reality and manipulate it. Any prolonged and sober contemplation of this question must, as we have seen, lead to the realization that it is not so much the answer to this question that is so strikingly urgent but rather the anxiousness with which it is asked. The one asking has a kind of true existence: he thinks, therefore he is, without a doubt. Yet if it is true, in the sense of being whole, why is this existence not enough for him? To want this existence, that would perhaps be the most extraordinary of all.

In her study Religion and Enlightenment in Catherinian Russia Elise Kimerling Wirtschafter notes: “Historians of the eighteenth century have long marveled at the speed and ease with which educated Russians assimiliated and made their own the Enlightenment ideas and cultural models of western and central Europe.”94 She posits that a possible explanation for this phenomenon may have been, “…the Orthodox theological distinction between reason and intellect,”95 reason being our intellectual ability to process and analyze data and to formulate abstract concepts corresponding to our experiences, and intellect being what St. Makarios of Egypt called the “eye of the heart.”96 Another contributing factor was likely the historical circumstance that, “In Russia…in the later eighteenth century the natural sciences had barely begun to develop…all forms of human learning, including literature and theology, constituted science…the modern antithesis between science and religion had not yet crystallized,”97 unlike in western Europe. Whereas Descartes sought to demonstrate that the human mind was capable of mastering the transcendent with the same logic and precision as it did the material, attempting to reconcile the perceived dichotomy between scientific truths and religious beliefs, prominent figures of the Russian Enlightenment such as Metropolitan Platon (1737-1812) took for granted that, “…the knowledge gained from reason remains inferior to ‘spiritual knowledge,’ which is ‘inspired by God.”98 The notion that enlightenment was necessary in order to either re-establish or replace a flawed paradigm of authority was completely absent. In fact, Wirtschafter writes, “…more often than not it bolstered the authority of the church and the monarchy.”99 She cites the example of the widespread praise Empress Catherine II received upon her introduction of public education as well as the enthusiasm with which western European theater styles were embraced:

As the editors of the semi-official Russian Theater proudly proclaimed in 1786, the development of European-style public theater showed that Russia had become an enlightened country, a place where dramatic works helped to extirpate prejudice and vice. The following year the more overtly official St. Petersburg News echoed this sense of pride, hearalding the public schools introduced by Empress Catherine II as ‘the first stage of enlightenment’ for the Russian people.100

The connection between enlightenment and rational mastery of the concept of absolute truth, a cornerstone of the western European movement, remained obscure at first, with enlightenment instead perceived as an advanced form of Judeo-Christian morality in practice. Platon simply dismissed what he called, “the problem of universals,’ or the relationship between intellectual constructs and the concrete realities they represent.”101 The chief task of enlightenment was not to resolve dilemmas of logic but rather, “the improvement of earthly life through the reform of institutions and the betterment of society,” as Platon emphasized in his Transfiguration sermon of 1779 which highlighted the correlation between the light the apostles beheld on Mt. Tabor and the transformation of morals.102 Wirtschafter argues that the prominent idea of equality which emerged from this first wave of Enlightenment influence in Russia was not so much one of what an individual can expect from society as what that person can contribute: “Indeed, if it were possible to identify a singular or characteristic message conveyed by the Russian Enlightenment, the message might be that all human beings are equal in their capacity for moral goodness,” and that this is the essence of the, “…moral humanism of Russia’s most admired literary classics.”103 Yet this was obviously not the end of the story for Russia and Enlightenment thought. Ironically, Russia eventually came to embody in national form the very ideas which Descartes set out to refute through an infallible reason, thereby inadvertently spawning progeny whose development would likely have overwhelmed him. Even as in the west Cartesian skepticism, with its innate confidence in the perceptive powers of the mind, came to predomninate over Montaigne’s version of skepticism, with its predeliction for the ignorance forte et genéreuse, this initial openness in Russia to the consistency of Orthodox theology with enlightenment as moral transformation eventually gave way in the nineteenth century to a growing elitist disdain for merely “plotskaia” (sensual) wisdom. Wirtschafter explains that, Within ‘mainstream’ Orthodoxy intellectual churchmen became openly critical of European philosophy (deism, materialism, atheism, the Encyclopedists) and figures such as Metropolitan Filaret (Drozdov) worked to separate religious literature and language from secular culture in order to ensure the purity and sacredness of the ecclesiastical domain.104

It was only during this time as well that the first non-Church Slavonic translation of the Bible was undertaken, with the New Testament being completed in 1820 and the Old Testament added to it only in 1876 under the editorship of Metropolitan Filaret. Whereas intellectuals in the west sought to distance themselves from the church, Russian intellectuals sought to distance the church from polluting secular influences. Whereas the progression of thought in the west leading up to the Enlightenment followed a pattern of scientific development engendering religious rebellion and/or doubt, in turn engendering demands for social justice, in Russia the pattern was quite the reverse: Enlightenment ideas entered in their mature form into a highly pious society threatened by neither of the urgencies which initiated Descartes’ rational probing, scientific advances which appeared to contradict the teachings of the church and/or knowledge of the Holy Scriptures which might have caused, as they did in the west, a questioning of the church’s absolute monopoly of the truth. The latter two only began to widely impact the population at large towards the mid-nineteenth century, long after the introduction of Enlightenment ideas.

A complex collusion of historical and philosophical events, including the delay of the long-promised emancipation of the serfs in Russia, the Napoleonic wars, the Crimean War, and the influence of two prominent writers, Alexander Herzen and Nikolay Chernyshevsky, brought an end to the happy love triangle between Russian Orthodoxy, the Romanov monarchy and western Enlightenment ideas of Catherinian Russia and led ultimately to a climate of hostility between political and religious paradigms of authority and the general public, as it had already done in the west. The titles of the two most influential works by Herzen and Chernyshevsky, Who is to blame? and What is to be done?, respectively, succinctly summarize the prevailing mindset which was born out of a synthesis of the Russian political experience of the early nineteenth century and the ever-widening gap between what was perceived as enlightened social justice in the west and religious tradition and authority. Just as the initial openness to western Enlightenment ideas in Russia had been primarily associated with ethical and moral development rather than scientific or rational advancement, the main concern of socialist thinkers like Herzen and Chernyshevsky was to describe and achieve first and foremost an ideal state of social conditions, not to understand truth or justice in the abstract but to lay the groundwork for their concrete embodiment, in many ways not unlike Voltaire and the authors of the Declaration of Independence with their ideals of material contentment and bliss. Indeed, Herzen was a great admirer of the French Revolution. Knowledge of truth, or at least a true state of being, was taken for granted; the only question was how to make it a reality by first of all finding out who was to blame for the current state of affairs, getting rid of them and then following the step-by-step process to utopia. The question of who was to blame was easily resolved, and, as it had in the west, the finger came to rest on those in power, whether it be political, monetary, territorial or the religious authorities sanctioning them and keeping the simple in ignorance of their exploitation. Chernyshevsky, in particular, was greatly influenced by the German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach, in whose conclusions we can discern a Cartesian lineage. In his treatise The Essence of Christianity Feuerbach asserted: If therefore my work is negative, irreligious, atheistic, let it be remembered that atheism--at least in the sense of this work—is the secret of religion itself; that religion itself, not indeed on the surface, but fundamentally, not in intention or according to its own supposition, but in its heart, in its essence, believes in nothing else than the truth and divinity of human nature.105


1 Plato, The Republic, Translated by Richard W. Sterling and William C. Scott, 167.

2 Hamacher, Werner, „The Right Not to Use Rights:Human Rights and the Structure of Judgments,” 682.

3 Annette von Droste-Hülshoff, Sämtliche Werke, Das Geistliche Jahr Am Neujahrstage, 472. (Oh human heart, can you force everything? Must the heavens bring you dew and rain? And does the earth open itself upon your word?—No, I can only see and distress myself. All remains as it was before and continues on its charted path.) translation is mine

4 Nyírő, Miklós: „On the Scope and Function of the Concept of Play ‒ Heidegger, Fink, and Gadamer,” 12.

5 Ibid.,15.

6 Droste, Sämtliche Werke, 124. (O wild opponent, o fine dandy, I want to tightly embrace you, and, sinew to sinew, two steps from the edge, battle it out between life and death!) translation is mine

7 Heselhaus, Annette von Droste-Hülshoff: Werk und Leben, 147. (For simple truth is always more beautiful than the best invention.) translation is mine

8 Frank, Joseph and Goldstein, David I., ed. trans. Andrew MacAndrew, Selected Letters of Fyodor Dostoevsky, 486-487.

9 Bakhtin, Mikhail Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, trans. Caryl Emerson, 272.

10 quoted in Balthasar, Hans Urs von, Bernanos: An Ecclesial Existence, 84-85.

11 Balthasar, Hans Urs von, 121.

12 Stowe, Harrient Beecher Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp, Together With Anti-Slavery Tales and Papers, Vol. 2, 77.

13 Stratman, Jacob “Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Preachers of the Swamp: Dred and the Jeremiad” Christianity & Literature, 381-382.

14 James, William, The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy, 15.

15 Gumbrecht, Explosionen der Aufklärung: Diderot, Goya, Lichtenberg, Mozart, 5. (And the fact that intellectuals from that time on (1900) could no longer experience the world in any way other than through self-observation became the source of two consequences which have since become central to our thinking and our culture. We can call the first of these consequences "perspectivism": an observer of the second degree discovers that his representations of the world are dependent on each of the received perspectives, and since the number of these possible perspectives has no end, it follows that every point of reference has a potentially infinite number of representations. Very early in the nineteenth century this led to an epistemological horror vacui, or to the fear that there might possibly be no corresponding objects of reference in existence...the duplicity of human appropriation of the world, which occurs not only through experience (appropriation through concepts) but also through perception (appropriation through the senses). In this way the question about the possibility of a compatibility between experience and perception was thrust into the fore. This latter problem resulting from the emergence of the second degree observer remains unresolved to this day...) translation is mine

16 Marcel, Gabriel, Le Mystère de l’être, 53. (It seems that in reality we are rather in search of something beginning with which norms become thinkable.) translation is mine

17 James, 16.

18 Greene, Brian, The Elegant Universe, 117.

19 Ibid., 125-126.

20 Greene, Brian, The Elegant Universe, 127, 129.

21 Ibid., 396.

22 Greene, 206.

23 Ibid.

24 Marcel, 55. (the reality which concerns us most directly is not in any manner comparable to anything that we could touch or reach.) translation is mine

25 Gadamer, Hans-Georg Wahrheit und Methode, 126. (We are asking about the identity of this self, which presents itself in such a different light with the passage of time and circumstance. Clearly, in these changing aspects of its essence it does not deconstruct itself to such an extent so as to lose its identity, rather it is present in all of them. They all belong to it. They are all simultaneous with it.) translation is mine

26 Ricoeur, Paul Temps et Récit 3. Le temps raconté, 335, 336. (On the other hand, the elusive character of this vis-á-vis, although imperious, has led us into a game of logic where the categories of the Same, the Other, and the Analogous structure the enigma without resolving it…it is always by some transfer of the Same to the Other by way of sympathy and imagination that the Other stranger becomes close to me.) translation is mine

27 Whiteley, Oscar Wilde and the Simulacrum: The Truth of Masks, 12.

28 Marion, Jean-Luc, God without Being, 18.

29 Marion, The Essential Writings, 213.

30 Ricoeur, Temps et Récit, 21. (For, behind Aristotle, an entire cosmologic tradition takes shape according to which time circumscribes us, envelopes us and dominates us, without the soul having any power to create it.) translation is mine

31 Gadamer, 282. (So the Enlightenment views as its Lutheran feat of reform the fact that, “the prejudice of human appearance, especially that of philosophy (understood: Aristotle) and the Roman pope, was considerably weakened”.) translation is mine

32 Gadamer, 283. (But there can be no doubt that the real consequence of the Enlightenment was something else: the submission of all authority to reason.) translation is mine

33 Marion, The Essential Writings, 218.

34 Ibid., 215.

35 Ibid., 215.

36 Ibid., 215.

37 Marion, The Essential Writings, 215.

38 Marion, The Essential Writings, 221.

39 Ibid., 219.

40 Aristotle, Ethics, 67.

41 Descartes, René, Meditations on First Philosophy, 11.

42 Ibid., 14, 15.

43 Ibid., 6.

44 Aristotle, 69.

45 James, 28.

46 accessed: October 12, 2013.

47 Aristotle, 72.

48 Leggewie, Robert, Anthologie de la littéerature francaise, 107. (By making a table rase of the intellectual past in order to construct his philosophy, he saved writers not only from admiration of the Ancients, but from an idolatry, he led them to found the authority of the Ancients in reason. The Cartesian influence also encouraged them to pursue, in the sense of Malherbe and Corneille, the general study of humans rather than that of personal sentiments, historical particularities and external nature. Here, then, are the elements of classicism assembled: on the one hand voluntary reason, the elevation of the soul, the generality of humanity which contributes to the attaining of truth…) translation is mine

49 Flusser, Vilém, Towards a Philosophy of Photography, 68.

50 Curtius, Ernst Robert, Europäische Literatur und lateinisches Mittelalter, 216. (The idea of what philosophy is had already become obscured since the third century A.D…in the teaching of late antiquity six different definitions were juxtaposed: 1. the recognition of Being and one’s state of being; 2. the recognition of the divine and the human. 3. preparation for death; 4. the process by which humans come to more closely resemble the divine; 5. the art of arts and the science of sciences; 6. the love of truth…only the first has no succession—it was too difficult.) translation is mine

51 Gössmann, Wilhelm, Heine und die Droste: eine literarische Zeitgenossenschaft, 64. (Skepticism is, in the Essais of Montaigne—and likewise in Heine—a search for the truths of human life under the conditions of its temporality and the historical premises. Another way of thinking governs Descartes…truth is not that which is first and foremost sought, but rather rightness and certitude.) translation and emphasis are mine

52 Leggewie, Robert, Anthologie de la littérature francaise, 109. (Cartesianism, after having lived in peace with faith, separated itself from it and delivered itself over to rational analysis and a pure spirit of science with Fontenelle and Bayle. Nothing could have opened the doors more widely to the tendencies upon which the eighteenth century would be founded.) translation is mine

53 Marion, Essential Writings, 63.

54 Flusser, 67.

55 Kant, Immanuel, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, 81.

56 Kant, Immanuel, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, 36.

57 Ibid., 73.

58 Hill, Claude, Zweihundert Jahre deutscher Kultur, 11-12. (In indefatigable study Kant occupied himself with the following questions: what can I know? What should I do? What may I hope? Whereas everything depended upon the answer to the first question…we do not know how “things in themselves” are…he thereby at once surpassed the Enlightenment with its optimism, which didn’t recognize any boundaries of reason, and became the pioneer of all modern critical science.) translation is mine

59 Ibid., 12. (the exit of humankind from its self-inflicted immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to make use of one’s reason without the direction of another.) translation is mine

60 Leggewie, 107. (the ideal of truth and beauty rediscovered in the Ancients (Greek, Latin and even Jew) in the Cartesian light which caused them to be understood and loved without the compulsion of erudition, without blind devotion, for their human value.) translation is mine

61 Hill, 58. (The harmonious person striving for universality became the ideal…) translation is mine

62 Ibid., 25. (the noblest document of the German Enlightenment.) translation is mine

63 Ibid. (A man like you does not remain where chance of birth has cast him; or if he does stay, he stays out of insight, for good reasons, the choice of the better.) translation is mine

64 Hill, 58. (Of these three religions only one can be the true one.) translation is mine

65 Whiteley, Giles Oscar Wilde And The Simulacrum: The Truth of Masks, 25.

66 Aristotle, 70.

67 Descartes, 35-36.

68 Descartes, 36, 41.

69 Iris Shagrir, The Parable of the Three Rings: A Revision of its History,” 166-167.

70 Hill, 26. (…of incalculable worth…the stone was an opal which reflected a hundred beautiful colors and had the secret power to render the one who wore it in good faith pleasant to God and humankind.) translation is mine

71 Hill, 30. (So let each one firmly believe his ring to be genuine…each one should strive to prove the power of the stone in his ring! May this power consist in meekness, in sincere forebearance, in good deeds, in deepest devotion to God, looking to him for help!) translation is mine

72 Kant, 50, 51.

73 Martini, Deutsche Literaturgeschichte, 206. (Faith proves its truth in the highest morality; its truth lies in attitude, in the piety of the heart, in the purity of emotion and in moral behavior alone, not in the letter and in dogma.) translation is mine

74 Martini, 207. (Out of the moral and pedagogical faith in reason of the Enlightenment grew the idealism of a pan-human, world-citizen ethics.) translation is mine

75 Kant, 6.

76 Shagrir, 169.

77 Kant, 79.

78 Kant, 32.

79 quoted in Cotentin-Rey, Ghislaine, Les Grandes Étapes de la Civilisation Francaise, 149. (For my part I thank wise nature who, for my own good, caused me to be born in this age so much decried by our sad rebels: this secular age is made just for my ways. I love luxury and even languor…it is pleasing to my very foul heart to see abundance abounding here, the mother of the arts and of happy works, bringing from her fertile source needs as well as new pleasures.) translation is mine

80 Leggewie, 355. (All events are lined up in the best of all possible worlds.) translation is mine

81 Ibid., 355. (That is well said…but we must cultivate our garden.) translation is mine

82 Auerbach, Erich, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, 404.

83 Auerbach, 410.

84 accessed: February 15, 2014.

85 Gössmann, 65. (The general character of modern literature consists in the fact that now individuality and skepticism reign) translation is mine

86 Leggewie, 105. (The need for order and unity became apparent even in literary society…Malherbe…wanted to loosen the grip of antiquity and cause the predominance of reason over sentiments, human generality over particular cases.) translation is mine

87 Yael Almog, „Cognition and the Biblical God: Herder’s Response to Leibniz”, 186.

88 Gadamer, 183. (One must not take the lively, even ingenious sense of human individuality which Schleiermacher delineates, as an individual peculiarity which here influences theory. Instead it is a critical rejection of all that which was considered the essence of the collective being of humanity under the title ‘rational thoughts’ in the era of the Enlightenment, a rejection which requires a fundamentally new analysis of the stance with regard to tradition.) translation is mine

89 Bloom, Harold, The Western Canon, 147.

90 Montaigne, quoted in Auerbach, 287.

91 Auerbach, 311.

92 Gössmann, 63-64. (The rediscovery of skepticism, which had played an important role in antiquity, lies at the beginning of modernity. For Montaigne skepticism is a fundamental stance of the intellect and intellectual activity. We are greatly indebted to him for the positive appraisal of skepticism. We are regaled with scientific and literary argumentation in his essayist analyses. However, he doesn’t deduce, doesn’t bring any metaphysical arguments. He does something else: he observes and analyses, thereby turning away from the metaphysical principles.) translation is mine

93 Auerbach, 293.

94 Wirtschafter, Elise Kimerling, Religion and Enlightenment in Catherinian Russia: The teachings of Metropolitan Platon, 132.

95 Ibid., 36.

96 Ibid., 36.

97 Wirtschafter, 136.

98 Ibid., 36.

99 Ibid., 35.

100 Ibid., 35.

101 Ibid., 38.

102 Ibid., 29.

103 Wirtschafter, 121.

104 Ibid., 148.

105 Feuerbach, Ludwig, The Essence of Christianity, 7.

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The concept of truth. Four Works by Annette von Droste Hülshoff, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Fyodor Dostoevsky and Georges Bernanos
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Dostoevsky, Droste, Stowe, Bernanos, Gadamer, Marion, Enlightenment
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Ruth Levai (Author), 2019, The concept of truth. Four Works by Annette von Droste Hülshoff, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Fyodor Dostoevsky and Georges Bernanos, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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