March 3, 2009

Living in no man's land

“Bruno withdrew from the field of history more resolutely than Vigo; that is why I prefer the former’s retrospect but the latter’s prospect. As an anarch, I am determined to go along with nothing, ultimately take nothing seriously – at least not nihilistically, but rather as a border guard in no man’s land, who sharpens his eyes and ears between the tides." Eumeswil, Page 87-88

COMMENTARY

Manuel, the protagonist of Ernst Jünger´s novel Eumeswil, has two important mentors or teachers: Bruno, a future-oriented metaphysician, who experiments with the Titanic possibilities of technology for Man’s evolution, and who works, in Jünger’s own words, on the Tree of Life; and Vigo, a past-oriented historian, who is skeptical of technology’s promises and who works rather on the Tree of Knowledge.

Manuel’s attitude to their respective opinions indicates a paradoxical aspect of the anarch’s general attitude to external opinion. That is, he prefers those ideas of each respective teacher regarding the realm they have most distanced themselves from, the realm they can thus view more critically and objectively. From his future-biased vantage point, in the light of new possibilities, Bruno is able to view past events more neutrally; but he is less capable of this neutrality regarding the period with which he identifies or believes in, the future. The opposite is true of Vigo, who as a historian is too nostalgic and identified with past events to be an objective judge. On the other hand, he can more skeptically view future promises, say of technology, since he has a framework of past human experience by which to judge them.

In contrast to both, the anarch is neither future nor past-oriented, but rather “timelessly self-oriented”. He observes and studies both temporal realms, but identifies with neither, just as he takes no external opinion or authority as necessarily worthy of respect or belief. Changes in beliefs and affliliations over time are ultimately as neutral and abstract to him as they are over space.

If he temporarily finds nothing worth believing in past beliefs or future promises, this does not make him a nihilist, who actively believes in Nothing. Instead, he stands guard, by himself and over himself, in a emptied zone, a no-man’s land between past and future tides, listening keenly for what may come, from past experience or future possibility.

5 comments:

TGGP said...

This reminds me of Robin Hanson's favorite "near-far bias". Also, taking the outside view.

Karl Fraser said...

Thanks, TGGP, I checked out Robin´s blog, lots of interesting stuff to read there. At a first glance, it does seem a little overly mystified, more complicated than necessary. But I´ll qualify that until I take a closer look.

Hope to hear more from you!

TGGP said...

Eliezer tends to write the long posts and create complicated threads of thought. Robin's style is to gather a collection of "stylized facts" and come up with some simple theories to explain them. Signalling is one such idea he focuses a lot on.

beowulf1723 said...

Bruno < Giordano Bruno.

Vigo < Giambattista Vico.

I think these are pretty secure sources for the two characters.

Its been awhile since I read the book, but, as I recall, Manuel learned his cryptic notetaking system from Bruno, which would, I think, point to Bruno's version of the ars memoriae.

Karl Fraser said...

Yes, I've also heard that about Bruno and Vigo.

Never made the connection between Manuel's note-taking at the bar and Bruno's memory arts. Thanks for the tip.