Theories and thoughts of Ludwig Klages


To start talking about Klages, it is worth quoting an excerpt from his poems: “From the fourteenth to the twenty-first year I walked as in a perpetual blood ring of dreams, into which the jolts of everyday life twitched painfully, but in vain. Supported by the only mastery of which I may boast, the mastery of German, I poured out the inner fullness in poetic choruses full of blown away voices from horizons of the previous world.” The “blasting” experiences fall in the years 1886 to 1893, to give way from then until the turn of the century to, as he writes, a “period of doubtful restlessness” and “piercing turmoil.” K.’s poems were published in the aforementioned estate work Rhythmen und Runen.

The period of searching and doubtful turmoil was ended around the turn of the century, in which his decisive metaphysical discoveries fall. Now he turned to scientific research. The poet became the thinker, scientist and philosopher. At that time he also formed numerous friendships with several personalities of intellectual life, such as the graphologist and sculptor Hans Hinrich Busse, the poet Friedrich Huch, the Germanist Karl Wolfskehl, the psychiatrist Georg Meyer and the philosopher Melchior Palágyi. A connection with Stefan George was severed after a few years. On the other hand, the friendship with the mystic Alfred Schuler, which began in 1893, was of lasting importance for K.’s own development.

In 1896 K. founded the Deutsche Graphologische Gesellschaft together with Busse and Meyer and published the Graphologische Monatshefte from 1900 to 1908. These contain important works by K., which are the root for his later published standard works Handschrift und Charakter (1917), Grundlegung der Wissenschaft vom Ausdruck (1935), and Die Grundlagen der Charakterkunde (first published in 1910 with the title Prinzipien der Charakterologie). The three works went through numerous editions and are still of interest today. Around 1903 he founded his “Psychodiagnostic Seminar” in Munich, which took off significantly until the outbreak of war in 1914. In this seminar, mainly the disciplines of characterology and science of expression, founded by K., were presented. Among his listeners were well-known names, including Ernst Bertram, Otto Fischer, Norbert v. Hellingrath, Karl Jaspers, Walter F. Otto, Heinrich Wölfflin. K. repeatedly gave guest lectures at German universities, but he rejected an academic career, which was offered to him several times. He developed his teaching activities in his seminar and on lecture tours mainly in Germany and Switzerland.

In 1913 he wrote a contribution to the Festschrift of the Freideutsche Jugend (Free German Youth) under the title Mensch und Erde (Man and Earth), which the Freideutsche Jugend published on the occasion of its centennial celebration at the Hohe Meißner. Long before the environmental destruction known today, K. advocated in this essay in a sharp way for the protection of nature. Here one can read sentences that are probably even more topical today than in 1913, for which an example is quoted. “We were not mistaken when we suspected progressˆ of empty lust for power, and we see that method is in the folly of destruction. Under the pretexts of utility, economic development, cultureˆ it is in truth bent on destruction of life. It strikes it in all its manifestations, clears forests, strikes animal species, wipes out the original peoples, covers and disfigures the landscape with the varnish of commerciality and degrades what it still leaves of living beings, like slaughter cattleˆ to a mere commodity, to the birdless object of an unrestrained hunger for prey. In its service, however, stands the entire technology and in its service again by far the largest domain of science.”
in August 1914 caused a deep shock to K. and had a paralyzing effect on his creative power. Incidentally, he foresaw the disastrous outcome of the war for Germany and Austria. In order to escape the mental strain, he left Munich in 1915, where he had lived for 25 years, and moved his residence to Switzerland to Kilchberg on Lake Zurich.

In 1921, K. published a small paper of barely a hundred pages entitled Vom Wesen des Bewußtseins (On the Essence of Consciousness). It deals with the science of consciousness, by which K. understands the doctrine of the nature and the origin of consciousness. The science of consciousness takes the place of what was conventionally called epistemology and opens up completely new perspectives for controversial epistemological questions. A year after this work, his book Vom kosmogonischen Eros, written in hymnic prose, appeared.Mythology, esotericism of the ancient mystery cults and critical science of consciousness are combined to a metaphysics of life. The Eros is represented as “Eros of the distance” and from it the essence of ecstasy and the Entselbstung is derived. The ecstatically experienced world forms for K. for its part the condition for the development of symbolism, death cult, ancestor service as well as original poetry and art. In 1926 K. published the book The Psychological Achievements of Nietzsche. It contains a critical examination of Nietzsche. As an important psychological and intellectual-historical finding of Nietzsche K. evaluates his psychology of self-deceptions and ressentiment and the resulting value falsifications and compensatory ideals. Nietzsche’s doctrine of the will to power and his skeptical epistemology, on the other hand, he firmly rejects.

In the years from 1929 to 1932 K.’s main philosophical work Der Geist als Widersacher der Seele (The Spirit as the Adversary of the Soul) finally appeared in three volumes. It represents a comprehensive system of philosophy, in which all fundamental, traditionally traditional questions and problems of occidental philosophy are treated. Only a few topics can be hinted at here.

Contrary to the usual confrontation of spirit and matter since Descartes, K. resumes the tripartite division of spirit — soul — body known in antiquity, but gives it a new interpretation. Soul and body are coherent “poles of the life cell”, into which at the threshold of world history the extra-space temporal, acosmic spirit has penetrated in a splitting way. — Every temporal and spatial continuum can be divided theoretically infinitely, from which the necessity of the assumption of a space-time-less mathematical point results. We use the mathematical point constantly, for example, as often as we determine what time it is. “The division points, by means of which we divide the hour into sixty minutes, are obviously permanent, because otherwise the hour would no longer consist of sixty minutes, but of sixty minutes, increased by the duration of the division points”. The mathematical point is set by the extra-space-time mental act and forms the prerequisite not only for every measurement, but also for the determination of the object of thought or thing and thus for the comprehending thinking. The object of thought is lifted out of the experienced phenomenal reality by the mental act as identical for a certain time. What is thereby comprehended is merely the identity and discontinuity of the object of thought, not the merely experienced flowing and coherent appearance. If the mathematical point is spaceless and timeless, then no number of points, no matter how large, can replace the continuity of space and time, and no interpolation of mathematical points brings us closer to the only experienceable continuity. Thus, if mathematical point and experienced continuum exclude each other, then the experience, whose counterpart is the reality event, must be different in essence from the act-like function, from which the metaphysical dualism of spirit and reality or spirit and life results.

For K., the junction of spirit and life and the place of origin of the spiritual act is the ego. While phenomenal reality including the human organism is an event, the I is extra-temporal. Every remembering contains the knowledge of the identity of the I in different moments of time. Something about us is therefore outside of time, which after all comes to appearance through constant change. — The kind of experience polar to the sensory (receptoric) life processes are the motor (effectoric) life processes. If the mental act meets the sensory processes, it is an act of apprehension and is the basis of perception; if it meets the motor processes, it is an act of will or volition. The motor processes include the movements of man and animals, which arise as a result of instinctive drives, in man also as a result of desires of the soul in the narrower sense. Drives and desires are determined by pictorial goals. The ego now transforms these goals into imagined purposes and uses the split-off movement drive for the regulation of the remaining movement life in the service of the predetermined purpose. As far as this happens, there are no longer vital drives or desires, but drives or interests. It is now essential that the will is not a moving force; its performance consists exclusively in holding an available life of movement in the direction of purpose comparable to a tax. As long as the will is determined by the act of apprehension, the spirit of man remains dependent on life; but if the will becomes autocratic, then the spirit-dependence of life occurs. In the emancipation of the will from life K. sees a danger for mankind. The contemplative “it-feelings” are replaced by feelings of assertion or will or “I-feelings”. The splitting of body and soul goes hand in hand with the far-reaching desecration of today’s man, whose emotional life is predominantly dominated by the will feelings of asserting, asserting, overpowering. Several times K. has emphasized that he sees the “key to the essence of the spirit not in the intellect, but in the will”. It is therefore a misunderstanding to accuse him, as has repeatedly happened, of hostility to reason or intellect.

According to K.’s doctrine of the “reality of images”, the images are psychic powers or beings which underlie both cosmic (elementary) and cellular (organismic) phenomena. In organisms (plant, animal, human) they have a substance-shaping effect in the form of growth, preservation and heredity. In animal life, moreover, they awaken drives and instincts that trigger the life of movement. In man, too, these vegetative and animal life processes are active, but above both rises the “remote vision”, which is independent of the instinctual goals. Thus the world itself awakens and reveals itself to man as the reality of images and enables him to create symbols of reality, in which the revelation of the beings renews itself for every observer. Therein lies the root of myth, cult, festival as well as of poetry and art. The spiritual powers are not visible, but they are called pictures, because they can appear for man and animal in sensual pictures. Each image (which is divided into sensory zones) is interwoven with a sense, a meaning, with which the essence, the soul power appears. The process of experience represents a polar connection between the effective images of the world (the macrocosm) and the receiving soul (the microcosm). But this means: only because in the images themselves an essential life appears, we experience, we feel alive.