The History Of A Metaphor (2)

This is Part 4 (B) of "'I See Further Than Others': Reflections On Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West and The Hour of Decision", a serial essay by Steve Kogan.

Early in The Decline, Spengler cautions the reader that the “Destiny-idea,” like "inward certainty," will always elude strict analysis, although it makes perfect sense in the high arts and among those whose vocation seems innate, such as Spengler's "born" historian, physicist, or leader. Michaelangelo believed that his statues existed fully formed within their blocks of stone; Leonardo said that a drawing should be complete in its very first line, and Spengler would have found an exact parallel to the awakening of a cultural destiny in Delacroix's reflections on the origins of a pictorial masterpiece:

The first outlines through which an able master indicates his thought contains the germ of everything significant that the work will offer. Raphael, Rembrandt, Poussin . . . they make a few rapid strokes on the paper, and it seems that there is not one of them but has its importance. For intelligent eyes, the life of the work is already to be seen everywhere . . . it has scarcely opened to the light, and already it is complete. (1)

The great interpreters of classical music could have said the same of the works in their repertoire. About Furtwängler, in particular, Brendel writes that "No other musician in my experience conveyed so strongly the feeling that the fate of a piece (and of its performance) was sealed with its first bar, and that its destiny would be fulfilled by the last"; and powerful leaders, for good or ill, have also experienced "the deep logic of becoming" at key moments in their lives. Winston Churchill said it best and for all the right reasons when he wrote in The Gathering Storm that when he was offered "the chief power in the State," on May 10, 1940, just before Dunkirk, "I was conscious of a profound sense of relief. At last I had the authority to give directions over the whole scene. I felt as if I were walking with Destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and this trial."

The "collective biography" of a culture for Spengler is marked by a similar awakening, and the nations in its orbit not only share certain general features but can also be distinguished by their own continuities of character. Spengler's critics take him to task for compartmentalizing cultures into separate worlds, when in fact his observation is drawn from experience and is vividly expressed in every classic European and American work of literature that is rooted in a social world. Orwell himself unwittingly made a fine Spenglerian observation when he reflected that

there is something distinctive and recognizable in English civilization. It is a culture as individual as that of Spain. It is somehow bound up with solid breakfasts and gloomy Sundays, smoky towns and winding roads, green fields and red pillar-boxes. It has a flavour of its own. Moreover it is continuous, it stretches into the future and the past, there is something in it that persists, as in a living creature. What can the England of 1940 have in common with the England of 1840? But then, what have you in common with the child of five whose photograph your mother keeps on the mantelpiece? Nothing, except that you happen to be the same person.

Written in England's darkest days of the Second World War, The Lion and the Unicorn (1940-41) epitomizes in homely, intimate prose what Spengler means by the soul of a culture, with its own "distinctive and recognizable" character that "stretches into the future and the past" and "persists, as in a living creature." In celebrating England's “living” history, Orwell found inspiration in the conservative view in which he was raised and never wholly relinquished, as he states in "Why I Write" (1947). Toward the beginning of The Hour, Spengler makes a keen observation on this view when he notes that, unlike the ideologues of the French Revolution, Edmund Burke “argued that on his side of the Channel men demanded their due as Englishmen and not as human beings, and he was right" (2).

Both writers also share a high regard for prose style and what Orwell calls his "love [of] the surface of the earth," two traits that are evident in the way they develop their historical themes through a series of vivid impressions that are punctuated by concise and telling observations. Spengler remarks more than once that we all make judgments out of our store of such impressions and that those who have not lost contact with the “cosmic beat” still possess an instinctive life-sense of irreversible time. The childhood "photograph your mother keeps on the mantelpiece" expresses just such a recognition.

Spengler's philosophy of "organic" cultures, which "grow with the same superb aimlessness as the flowers of the field," is born of this common heritage of the human condition and speaks to "that deeply-felt relationship between plant destiny and human destiny which is an eternal theme of all lyrical poetry." If one thinks of Shakespeare's "Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May" or Whitman's "When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd," one has a vivid reminder that Spengler is not articulating a theory so much as an experience of history, whose world cultures appear all the sharper to our senses and all the more poignant in our reflections when viewed in light of implacable time, wars and social upheavals, and an indifferent universe.

It is the same experience that Herder depicts in Ideas on History, in which

every thing in history is transient: the inscription on her temple is, evanescence and decay. We tread on the ashes of our forefathers, and stalk over the entombed ruins of human institutions and kingdoms. Egypt, Persia, Greece, Rome flit before us like shadows: like ghosts they rise from their graves, and appear to us in the field of history.

Surveying this panorama of the past, Herder concludes that "in new places new capacities are developed; the ancient of the ancient places irrevocably pass away."

Spengler mentions Herder only once in The Decline, yet his introduction both includes and sharpens Herder's vision of history in a single concentrated image of growth and decline, in which every culture is born in its own "mother" landscape and is an expression of inner drives writ large:

I see, in place of that empty figure of one linear history . . . the drama of a number of mighty Cultures, each springing with primitive strength from the soil of a mother-region to which it remains firmly bound throughout its whole life-cycle (3); each stamping its material, its mankind, in its own image; each having its own idea, its own passions, its own life, will and feeling, its own death.

Like the monumental openings of Beethoven's Third and Fifth symphonies, Spengler's declaration speaks to the entire character of his work, in which he writes as though he were defending the unique identity of individuals, even to the last stages of cultural decline and death. A striking parallel may be found in Ranier Marie-Rilke's The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge (1910), in which Rilke defends the idea of a personal death in contrast to the "factory-like" deaths in modern hospitals, where "the different lethal terminations belong to the disease and not to the people."

For all his cycles of history, therefore, Spengler's style is both fluid and evocative; and although he has been taken to task for his "dogmatic exactitudes," he is essentially speaking in the language of metaphor and analogical relationships, whose purpose is to illustrate what amounts to a deep belief in the individual identity and “livingness” of cultures. The character of England likewise appears to Orwell by analogy to “a living creature"; and it was just this process of individuation that Albert Schweitzer had in mind when he observed in "Goethe the Philosopher" that, in Goethe's view, "nature's design . . . is realized to the extent to which each creature achieves fully its own life."

As I remarked earlier, Spengler sees the high cultures as individual biographies of a people in the field of world history. Moreover, their birth takes place in a moment that is filled with a special pastoral grace of childhood, since the life-cycle of every culture originates for him in the "Super-personal unity and fullness" of a "Rural-intuitive," "Springtime," and "dream-heavy Soul" (4). So too, from Blake and Wordsworth to Friedrich Froebel’s Mother Play and Children’s Songs (1844), Whitman’s “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking” (1859), and Orwell’s celebration of a pastoral upbringing in Coming Up for Air, childhood is envisioned as its own complete world in a rural setting.

The romantic background of Spengler's symbolism again makes itself felt; for, as in Wagner's forest setting of Siegfried's childhood and youth, Spengler's "springtime" cultures represent the birth of a "Rural-intuitive" child-spirit in the realm of history, whose "primitive strength" contains the original source of meaning that flows through a culture and shapes the physiognomy of its development. Seen in this light, Spengler's "prime symbols" of "Euclidean," "Magian," and "Faustian" consciousness correspond to what Wordsworth in The Prelude calls "spots of time / Which with distinct preeminence retain / A fructifying virtue" and "chiefly seem to have their date / In our first childhood." For Wordsworth, these moments occurred when he had his first visual and auditory sensations among "the green plains" and "fields and groves" near his "Beloved Derwent, fairest of streams."

With the exception of Hughes, Spengler's critics say nothing about this tradition, and Hughes cites it only to denigrate Spengler's adaptation of Goethe and Herder as "a pretentious blowing-up of the biological or botanical metaphors that had haunted the whole nineteenth century." At no point does he relate them to the idea of primal childhood consciousness, which is central to this network of analogies (5). To borrow Robert Frost's words from "Education by Poetry," Hughes is not at home in metaphor and therefore does not appreciate the figurative content of his material.

Whatever limitations Spengler's analogies may have, and all metaphors have their limits, as Frost observes, they define an approach to history that is particularly sensitive to a culture’s "own idea, its own life, will and feeling," even in its most direct borrowings from the past. Despite Collingwood's insistence, Spengler does not ignore the subject of cultural inheritance, but, as he demonstrates in his discussions of the Renaissance, even when a culture feels deeply connected to another, its adaptations have meanings that differ from their source. In Spengler's words, "It is not products that 'influence,' but creators that absorb" (6), and here too the unconscious plays its part:

[Raphael, Leonardo, and Michelangelo] strove to be "Classical" in the Medicean sense; and yet it was they themselves who in one and another way . . . shattered the dream. . . . What they intended was to substitute proportion for relation, drawing for light-and-air effect, Euclidean body for pure space. But neither they nor others of their time produced a Euclidean-static sculpture - for that was possibly only once, in Athens. In all their work one feels a secret music, in all their forms the movement-quality and the tending into distances and depths. They are on their way, not to Phidias but to Palestrina, and they have come thither not from Roman ruins but from the still music of the cathedral.

Spengler not only speaks eloquently of the High Renaissance masters but also makes the accurate observation that their achievements are far more Gothic than Classical in feeling and expression (7). It is a telling instance of his general theme that, just as events are transient, so too "an old significance never returns." Similarly, in Herder's words, the Greek tragedians "ate, as Aeschylus says, at Homer's table, but prepared for their guests a different feast."

For Spengler, therefore, no interpretation of history can be true without being true to life. Hence his attraction to Goethe's philosophy of the becoming, in which he found "a perfectly definite metaphysical doctrine" of organic development:

I would not have one single word changed in this: "The Godhead is effective in the living and not in the dead, in the becoming and the changing, not in the become and the set-fast; and therefore, similarly, the reason (Vernunft) is concerned only to strive toward the divine through the becoming and the living, and the understanding (Verstand) only to make use of the become and the set-fast" (to Eckerman). This sentence comprises my entire philosophy.

In any serious study of philosophy, one reads Hegel, Kant, and Nietzsche as a matter of course, whereas one discovers Goethe’s almost at random as one becomes familiar with his works.

Echoes of Goethean philosophy in European thought are similary diffuse yet unmistakable. Kierkegaard, for example, distinguishes between “the becoming” and “the become” when he writes that we live forwards and understand backwards, while in Benedetto Croce's History - Its Theory and Practice (1916), we read that "Every history becomes chronicle when it is no longer thought but only recorded in abstract words, which were once upon a time concrete and expressive." Similarly, in "Clio Rediscovered" (1903), G. M. Trevelyan argues that "the past was once real as the present and uncertain as the future," which is to say that the past was once a becoming. Furthermore, Trevelyan states, "You can dissect the body of a man, and argue thence the general structure of the bodies of other men," but insofar as history represents real lives once lived, it cannot be contained within the boundaries of science. In short, "You cannot dissect a mind." Taking the work of Carlyle on the English civil wars as a model, he concludes that, "irrespective of 'cause and effect,' we want to know the thoughts and deeds of Cromwell's soldiers, as one of the higher products and achievements of the human race, a thing never to be repeated, that once took shape and was." Spengler sums up this point of view in the following terse remark: "Every happening is unique and incapable of being repeated."

In another of his lessons from the arts, Spengler writes that all the great landscape painters of the west understood this principle through their disciplined powers of observation. To borrow his examples, whether we consider the works of Claude Lorrain, the Dutch painters, or Corot, we see the face of nature "in the physiognomic sense, something uniquely-occurring, unforeseen, brought to light for the first and last time." So too, Cézanne said that new motifs appeared to him merely by shifting his gaze left or right, and for Constable not even two leaves on a tree were alike.

In "Clio Rediscovered," Trevelyan’s response to all "that once took shape" was to favor historical narrative, but Spengler sensed a mystery in "the become" that could only be expressed figuratively through a kind of poetic prose. His seasons of history, in particular, derive from Goethe's four stages of a culture in Epochs of the Spirit and, in Spengler's adaptation, "agree with this entirely":

Every Culture passes through the age-phases of the individual man. Each has its childhood, youth, manhood and old age. It is a young a trembling soul, heavy with misgivings, that reveals itself in the morning of Romanesque and Gothic. It fills the Faustian landscape from the Provence of the troubadours to the Hildesheim cathedral of Bishop Bernward. The spring wind blows over it. "In the works of the old-German architecture," says Goethe, "one sees the blossoming of an extraordinary state."

The "cosmic beat" continues in the maturation of a culture: the summer ripening of the Ionic in the Classical world, the era from Augustine to Mohammed in the Magian, and the centuries from Galileo to Newton and Leibniz in the Baroque, in which forms are "virile, austere," and "controlled":

Still later, tender to the point of fragility, fragrant with the sweetness of late October days, come the Cnidian Aphrodite and the Hall of the Maidens in the Erectheum, the arabesques on Saracen horseshoe-arches, the Zwinger of Dresden, Watteau, Mozart.

Finally, with the onset of winter, "the fire in the Soul dies down." The twilight deepens, the spirit of a culture begins to chill,

and, as in Imperial Rome, wishes itself out of the long daylight and back in the darkness of protomysticism, in the womb of the mother, in the grave. The spell of a "second religiousness" comes upon it, and Late-Classical man turns to the practice of the cults of Mithras, of Isis, of the Sun - those very cults into which a soul just born in the East has been pouring a new wine of dreams and fears and loneliness.

The “soul just born in the east” is Christianity, and, as in Vol. II, Spengler's Magian "springtime" has pronounced affinities with Parsifal, in which Wagner's redemptive hero restores the spiritually ailing kingdom of Amfortas on Good Friday, having been reborn himself that morning (“never did I see such mild and gentle grasses, flowers and blooms”); while the construction and impending doom of Valhalla in the Ring foreshadow Spengler's hardened civilizations approaching their inevitable end in the landscape of their birth, a fitting counterpart to Wagner’s Earth, or Erda-spirit of primal knowledge and destiny (Imperial Rome longing to be back "in the womb of the mother, in the grave").

The full burden of The Decline is therefore not in its readings of the past but in their implications for our own moment in time, for, as Spengler writes in his preface to the first edition, "Although a philosophy of history is its scope and subject, it possesses also a certain deeper significance as a commentary on the great epochal moment of which the portents were visible when the leading ideas were being formed." Several pages later, we read that these signs also prefigure "the still untravelled stages" of the future and in Vol. II that its decisive features will be wars for global supremacy and cities spread over enormous tracts of land, with “notions of traffic and communication which we would regard as fantastic to the point of madness.”

All the advances that we take for granted - superhighways, jet travel, the internet - belong to a world that Spengler’s generation would have already regarded as “fantastic to the point of madness,” and in time to come our own “notions of traffic and communication” will also seem as dated as the biplanes and steam engines of the 1920s. As Spengler would say, it is “ever thus.” The present passes into history, all that was particular to the life of an age will become increasingly remote, and nothing that a culture experienced as its actuality will ever be "exactly transferable just as it [was] into the experiential living and knowing of another Culture." It is precisely here, in "the finest and deepest elements" of a high culture, that we arrive at what "is incommunicable" through unaided reason alone.

Spengler reminds us that there is another faculty, however, that is available to us, for we also possess a language of the intangible, which speaks in symbol and metaphor and is the only way of making the "incomprehensible comprehensible." For Spengler, the principle that governs this language is best expressed in the last line of the Mystic Chorus at the end of Goethe's Faust: "Alles Vergängliche ist nur ein Gleichnis" - "Everything transitory is only a metaphor." It is the underlying maxim of his work, whose finest passages are written in view of poetry, as Nietzsche says of all good prose:

Poems and battles, Isis and Cybele, festivals and Roman Catholic masses, blast furnaces and gladiatorial slavery, money, machinery - all these are equally signs and symbols in the world-picture of the past that the soul presents to itself and would interpret: "Alles Vergängliche ist nur ein Gleichnis."

History for Spengler does not reveal any advance of the spirit, as it does for Hegel, yet its "signs and symbols" represent an inexhaustible world of expressive facts by which soul speaks to soul, beyond the reach of words. To cite Goethe once again, "The highest to which man can attain is wonder," which Beethoven put in the most personal terms possible when that most solitary of all composers inscribed at the top of his score for the Missa Solemnis: ”From the heart – may it return to the heart.”

The sheer range of Spengler's “emotional theme,” therefore, not only flows from his personality, as Koktanek observes, but also mirrors his attempt to "enter into" and interpret all that belongs to "the world-picture of the past." His ambition was not unique. Hegel had felt this same hunger to interpret what Spengler calls the "Riddle of History" when he wrote The Phenomenology of Spirit (1807); and it also led the youthful Herder on a journey into "new thoughts emerging from the human soul, half-comprehensible, half-obscure, my perspective of fragments, groves, torsos, archives of the human race - everything!" Literature knows a similar drive among the encyclopedic novelists, such as Balzac, Tolstoy, and Joyce; and in American literature, it takes a singularly tragic turn in the figure of Melville's Captain Ahab, whose quest to harpoon Moby Dick is a function of his deeper drive to know what is “beyond all utterance” and penetrate the final secret behind the silence of appearances:

"Hark ye yet again - the little lower layer. All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event - in the living act, the undoubted deed - there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask!"

Those who are familiar with the development of symbolist literature and the rise of symbolic analysis in the study of dreams, folk tales, myths, and religions should not be surprised that the turn of the century also saw the appearance of a symbolic treatment of history.

Spengler's habit of mind is so deeply grounded in poetry that “the whole voiceless language of Nature” also speaks to him with "the immediacy of vision," most eloquently at the opening of Vol. II:

Regard the flowers at eventide as, one after the other, they close in the setting sun. Strange is the feeling that then presses in upon you - a feeling of enigmatic fear in the presence of this blind dreamlike earth-bound existence. The dumb forest, the silent meadow, this bush, that twig, do not stir themselves, it is the wind that plays with them. Only the little gnat is free - he dances still in the evening light, he moves whither he will. . . . This midget swarm that dances on and on, that solitary bird still flying through the evening, the fox approaching furtively the nest - these are little worlds of their own within another great world. An animalcule in a drop of water, too tiny to be perceived by the human eye, though it lasts but a second and has but a corner of this drop as its field - nevertheless is free and independent in the face of the universe. The giant oak, upon one of whose leaves the droplet hangs, is not.

Every image draws us deeper into Spengler’s evening landscape, from an over-arching sky to forest and meadow, a single bush and twig, a gnat amid a “midget swarm,” a bird in flight, a lone fox, and even an "animalcule in a drop of water." There is a great stillness over everything, yet the scene is filled with insects and animals and the passive motions of flowers closing in the setting sun and twigs stirring in the wind. Our first impression is of pastoral repose, but we no sooner become aware of our separateness “in the presence of this blind dreamlike earthbound existence” than the mood turns to "enigmatic fear." The passage is pure Spengler in its counterpoint of dramatic oppositions and the soaring direction of his thought. From a darkening, Grimms brothers' landscape, the passage grows to metaphysical proportions in evoking that same “world-fear” out of which his culture-souls were born.

Spengler's “word-pictures” are indeed worth a thousand words. His abend landscape recalls not only the title image of his work but also the deep twilight world of Caspar David Friedrich's wooded landscapes, the ties to the Black Forest in German history and culture, and, in twentieth-century literature, the dread of isolation in the face of overwhelming forces, a feeling that accompanies what Spengler sees as the inevitable winter "twilight of the west.”

Spengler is no more out of date than the classic twentieth-century writers who share some aspect of his sensibility. Images of an individual trapped in wintertime in fact recur among a surprising number of modern works, and in Kafka’s writings, in particular, they intensify his pervading theme of the hopeless journey. In The Castle (1926), the land surveyor K. is called to his assignment during winter, when landmarks are obliterated; in "The Bucket Rider" (1919), the narrator ascends “into the regions of the ice mountains" and is "lost forever,” and, in "The Country Doctor" (1919), the narrator leaves for his patient at night as “a thick blizzard of snow filled all the wide spaces between him and me," only to find it impossible to return home “through the snowy wastes," where he is "exposed to the frost of this most unhappy of ages.” Other examples include the snowfall over Ireland in James Joyce's "The Dead" (1916), the atmosphere of entrapment in a Swiss alpine sanitarium in Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain (1924), the entire convict literature of the Gulag, and the mood of harshness and rigidity that dominates 1984, which is announced at the very beginning through “a bright cold day in April,” a “vile wind,” “a swirl of gritty dust," and the window pane of Winston Smith’s apartment, through which “the world looked cold” outside.

Orwell's division of the world into three warring blocs also has its counterpart in Spengler’s future wars “for the heritage of the whole world,” in which “continents will be staked" and "new technics and tactics played and counterplayed”; likewise Orwell's “Hate Week” and "Two-Minutes Hate”:

. . . in the background, unseen, the new forces are fighting one another by buying the press. No tamer has his animals more under his power. Unleash the people as reader-mass and it will storm through the streets and hurl itself upon the target indicated, terrifying and breaking windows; a hint to the press-staff and it will become quiet and go home. . . . A more appalling caricature of freedom of thought cannot be imagined.

The systematic enforcement of controlled agitation requires a constant drum-beat of inflammatory slogans and shifting targets, a process that Orwell elsewhere likens to a blow-torch, which can be turned in any direction at will. In Spengler's words, "What the Press wills, is true. Its commanders evoke, transform, interchange truths," and "the needle of public opinion," precise as any gauge, swings round to the new party line. As in 1984, agitprop is cynically directed toward the thought-control of entire populations by "The dictature of party leaders" who aim to bring people "en masse . . . under their own mind-training" for the sake of limitless power. For Spengler, this dynamic recalls the rigorous “expression-will of early Gothic . . . but cold, controlled, and Civilized" in the worst sense of the word. On June 18, 1940, four days before the fall of France, Churchill exploited the conventional picture of the Gothic to the same effect when he warned England that,

if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.

By 1940, the word “civilized” had indeed taken on a sinister meaning. In a grim corroboration of Churchill’s speech, Orwell begins The Lion and the Unicorn with the following terse remark: "As I write, highly civilised human beings are flying overhead trying to kill me.”

Ever since the French Revolution, writes Spengler, modern civilization has been taking shape as the "Faustian" equivalent of the city-civilizations of earlier cultures. It is during this phase that the tensions of “waking-consciousness become more and more dangerous,” the pulse of nature’s rhythms become increasingly faint, and old towns and cities are bypassed, disappear, or are radically transformed. In his memoirs, Chateaubriand notes that the medieval festivals of Brittany that he knew as a child had all but vanished and that in the aftermath of the revolution the social and political world in which people would be raised would no longer outlast their lives. A little over a century later, Orwell would develop this motif in his picture of England on the eve of World War II, as the narrator in Coming Up for Air returns to his childhood town on the Thames and discovers a semi-industrial city that he last knew as a type of the old English village. Everywhere he sees ghosts of his past until it occurs to him that he is the ghost and that a harsh new world has taken the place of the old (8), with its rows of "faked-up Tudor housing," the river covered "with a film of oil on it from the motor-boats," cheap suburban lawn sculpture "where the beechwoods used to be," a Truefitt Stockings factory that is now "making bombs as well as stockings," and a nearby RAF aerodrome. "Funny," he says to himself. "It was exactly to escape the thought of war that I'd come here. But how can you, anyway. It's in the air you breathe."

In an earlier time and a new country, the Rip Van Winkle effect was the subject of mirthful optimism about the workings of history and fate. An eternal child in a sleepy colonial village, Rip makes his final escape from his scolding wife one day by taking a long country walk and scrambling "unconsciously . . . to one of the highest parts of the Kaatskill mountains," where he meets the ghosts of Henry Hudson's crew, is knocked insensible by their Holland gin, and sleeps through the American Revolution, the metamorphosis of his quiet hamlet into a thriving town, and the happy transformation of his domestic life.

Bowling's hyper-active eye looks out upon a very different world, and grimmer yet the tensions of "waking-consciousness" in Spengler's "stone Colossus," whose growth can be charted in the rise of the "late-season" cities of nineteenth and twentieth-century fiction, documentary literature, and poetry: the soul-deadening Coketown of Dickens’ Hard Times (1854), the teeming streets of Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor (1861-62), the "colossal conceptions of modern barbarity" in Rimbaud's Illuminations (c. 1870), the dark tenaments of Cendrars' Easter in New York (1912), and "the monstrous scenery" of "slag-heaps, belching chimneys, blast-furnaces, canals, 
and gaso-meters" in Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier (1937). They are the twilight cities of what Spengler calls "the hard cold facts of a late life," like the "dull canal / On a winter evening round behind the gashouse" in Eliot's The Waste Land.




(1) Eugène Delacroix, Journal (1822-54), trans. Walter Pach, Crown Publishers, 1937, p. 551.

(2) This was not a theoretical argument for Burke but the position of Parliament itself: "In the famous law of the 3rd of Charles I called the Petition of Right, the parliament says to the king, 'Your subjects have inherited this freedom,' claiming their franchises not on abstract principles 'as the rights of men,' but as the rights of Englishmen, and as a patrimony derived from their forefathers." Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1965, p. 36

(3) "Firmly bound [to a] mother-region" even when the culture expands in its "world-city" phase. "Ubicunque lingua Romana, ibi Roma" is a late-Classical expression of this idea, the globalization of "Faustian" technics its "late-Western" form. On the ties between a "mother" landscape and its culture, Spengler offers the following examples, among others: In Egypt, "The sacred way from the gate-buildings to the tomb-chamber, the picture of life, is a stream - it is the Nile itself become one with the prime-symbol of direction. . . . And just so, in some mysterious fashion, the Euclidean existence is linked with the multitude of little islands and promontories of the Aegean, and the passionate Western, roving in the infinite, with the broad plains of Franconia and Burgundy and Saxony."

(4) See Spengler's characterization of "Spring" in "Table I. 'Contemporary' Spiritual Epochs," Vol. I.

(5) Consider, for example, Billy Budd's name and innate innocence, coupled with his origins as an infant foundling and resemblance to Adam in the Garden of Eden before the Fall, whereby Melville's tale reaches the heights of nineteenth-century plant symbolism, whose apotheosis appears in the transfiguration scene when Budd is dropped from the spar, "and simultaneously therewith, watched by the wedged mass of upturned faces, Billy ascended, and, ascending, took the full rose of the dawn."

(6) Spengler, "The Relations between the Cultures," The Decline, II: 55. On the same page, Spengler exclaims, "What a wealth of psychology there is in the probings, rejections, choices, transvaluations, errors, penetrations, and welcomings! - and not only between Cultures which immediately touch each other . . . but also as between a living Culture and the form-world of a dead one whose remains still stand visible in the landscape." One gets no sense from Collingwood and his successors that Spengler even considered these relationships, much less gave them prominent attention in Vol. II.

(7) On p. 58 of Vol. II, Spengler lists twelve key features of Classical art known to Renaissance artists that had no "influence" on their work. Vasari's Lives provides a principle reason, for one cannot read it without appreciating just how deeply Gothic Christianity still permeates their world. Michaelangelo, to cite a telling instance, was renowned among his contemporaries as a Dante scholar of the first order.

(8) Unlike the radical changes that he portrays in the novel, Orwell's celebration of England's continuities in The Lion and the Unicorn speaks to its central purpose as a contribution to the war effort, as were his broadcasts for the BBC.

@ Steve Kogan

Wouldn't it be nice to be able to consult with Mr. Spengler today?

I feel cheated that this magnificent mind lived a century ago and we have the benefit of his writings but not of his up-to-date comments as per today.

Every time I read one of your essays I feel related to the thoughts, so many times I recognize the ideas and the feelings, particularly now again as to the things we are born to, a favourite topic of mine for which I am normally heavily criticized.


Thank you again Mr. Kogan, You and Mr. Bertonneau are my favourites here.