Making sense of Schelling

Schelling’s “Ages of the World” is a famously difficult, and to some non-sensical work. Never published during his lifetime, editors have their choice of 4 seperate versions, none of which Schelling was satisfied with.

It’s always been a ghost text for me, from the point I began to recognize to what extent Heidegger and Merleau Ponty’s Phenomenology is prefigured in it. Schelling’s notion of a “beginning” which does not occur at one point in time, but “persists…is that which is the ground of a steady progresssion, not of an alternating  advancing and retreating movement”(20), is probably the earliest German sense of “beginning” which becomes so important to Heidegger’s work on the 1930s. However, what I find truly essential in Schelling is the notion of scission – for schelling, the world is created in a scission which is a beginning in his sense of an enduring beginning. The entire account of the schism in the absolute which gives rise to nature is very complex, but it’s worthwhile to look at one part.

To set this up, Schelling has just described how Godhead is  the concept outside being, that state “without nature”, that we “posit outside and beyond eternal nature”. However, since actual existence of god neither occurs in god nor outside of god, we must posit a second higher realm beyond the necessity of god which is eternal freedom, pure conotion. Now the neccesity of God stands over against eternal freedom as the kind of thing that neither has being nor does not have being, an ambiguity which is itself a kind of ambiguous existence.

Now, “in that eternally commencing life there lies the wish to escape from the involuntary movement and from the distress of pining. And through its simple presence, without any movement (since it is still pure conation itself), that which is higher, jagically, so to speak, rouses in that life the yearning for freedom. This obsession abates into yearning, wild desire turns into a yearning to ally itself, as if it were its own true or highest self, with the will that wills nothing, with eternal freedom”. (27-28).

So, as far as I can figure it, Godhead (as neccesity) is pining with respect to freedom, and in pain due to the flux of his condition (not at rest, neither having being nor not having being). God becomes obsessed with Freedom, and this “obsession abates into yearning… as if it were its own true or highest self, with the will that wills nothing, with eternal freedom”. The will that will’s nothing – we’ll hear that again in Nietzsche, stressed in Heidegger’s readings. However, here the issue is:
“yearning nature has no relation to that pure spirit except that pure spirit is the freedom to be and in as much as it, in comparison with all else, has being. In contrast, yearning nature has in itself the possibility to come to Being.”(28).

So, the yearning God differs from that for which he years. Fair enough.

“But only here one finds the following distinction. Nature is capable of the immediate relationship to the incomprehensible spirit only by virtue of that which  is spirit within it, is free, and is elevated in the same way over that which does not have being.”(28)

The effect of this: “that which is similar to the higher elevates itself but that what is less similar to it, that on account of which its elevation was inhibited, is cast down and lowered into the depths….This cision , this inner divergence, the work of true yearning, is the first condition of every rapport with the divine.”(28).

This passage is extremely confusion, mostly because it seems like the terms change halfway through. All of a sudden we are talking about nature instead of God – at first it was the neccesity of God pining, and now it seems that nature is splitting into two, what gives? As far as I can see, this confusion arises when on page 27 when describing the Godhead which neither has being nor does not have being, which means “it can stand only against everything else as having being”. Then, as a yearning thing, the name is simply changed to “yearning nature”.

This problem is solved when we see what the upshot of the argument is meant to be. The splitting of the upper from the lower, the yearning in the godhead for freedom, seperates apart the part of god which does not have being (Freedom) from the part that does, this “frees” the lower part – “the moment in whcih the earthly and the heavenly first divided”(28).  This beginning is then repeated as the condition for any earthly rapport with the divine, as a cision, which explains why man has a higher and a lower part.

Schelling continues to describe the cause of this “splitting apart of the world egg”:

“since enternal nature first spots that against which it becomes Being, the merely expressiboe and can therefore suddenly give up, in all its forces, the expressing potency, being that which has being, and because this awakens within it the yearning to escape the annular drive and to reach continuance and rest; and furthermore because the highest is the standard by which the lower principle knows its lowliness and the higher principle knows its dignity. But yearning turns the mere beginning and only the first inner effort into the cision. Only when the relationship to the highest actually emerges into being on account of this inner beginning is the cision first confirmed; and it first becomes abiding only when eternal nature, p0laced iinto freedom by the confirmed cision itself, is able to decide. And now, by virtue of an eternal wanding or decision, it eternally and inseperably allies itself ot the highest as its immedate subject and becomes its unwavering Being, its abidign substratum. Hence, in itself, nature does not become less lively or less being. Rather it is because it is first elevated to ture blessed, ordered life that it becomes Being with respcet ot he highest.”(29)

“…that dark, inscrutable, and inexpressible being becomes the All in a subjugation and cision taht does nnot happen once and for all, but in a moemnt that is eternally, always, and still happening.”(29)


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