On Truly Memorable Memories

Herbert Hrachovec

The director of Vienna's Technisches Museum. saved one of the first steam-engines used by an Austrian railway company with considerable effort. Imagine his dismay when, after restoring it to its original splendor, he was asked by the secretary of transportation to make it available for the 150th anniversary of the first Austrian railway line, since the committee preparing the celebration planned to re-employ it as an oldtimer during a memorial joyride. A peculiarity of current interest in history is highlighted by this example. Society affords itself the luxury of saving equipment made obsolete by accelerating progress and on certain occasions, as the need for commemoration arises, outdated devices - suitably adapted to meet modern security standards - are called upon in order to fulfill nostalgic desires. It has often been noticed that museums create an artificial environment seriously distorting the original context their exhibits are taken from. Compared to the current historicism exemplified by the case of the steam-engine, however, museums seem comparatively unproblematic. Updating history in order to cater to nostalgic sentiments is arguably more questionable than trying to conserve some of its remnants unaltered - which means unusuable according to contemporary standards.

When it comes to reviving outdated devices for nostalgic, financial, or political purposes, ideas are not entirely different from machines. Post-modernism is scanning museums for inspiration. Historians of ideas like Hans Blumenberg on the other hand are likely to condemn this enterprise. Learning from history must not amount to a sell-out of wisdom slowly accumulated in time. Against this prospect one should hold on to the archival wealth of tradition.

"Es mag sein, daß man aus der Geschichte lernen kann - oder auch nicht. Das ist sekundär gegenüber der elementaren Obligation, Menschliches nicht verloren zu geben. Ich habe den Vorwurf des "Historismus" immer als ehrenvoll empfunden." [1]

Research into the history of ideas is constrained by an obligation to something Blumenberg calls "the Human". It is to be rescued from what the Frankfurt school called Kulturindustrie, mass culture produced by multinational corporations intent on finding the lowest possible denominator for marketing pleasure. But just as there is something pathetic in the plight of the director mentioned above, invoking a concept of humanity exempt from history seems a hollow gesture. Putting "the Human" before humans actually struggeling within history is a metaphysical strategy that cannot be taken for granted even by Blumenberg himself. In what follows I shall trace his uneasy path between outright essentialism and awareness of the all-pervasive contingency of human history.

My account will be restricted to Blumenberg's meta-historical reflections as summarized in Lebenszeit und Weltzeit (Frankfurt am Main, 1986) [2]. It is there that he faces a methodological problem implicit in most of his work, i. e. how phenomenological investigations into history under present conditions of late modernity are possible. Since only two of his several substantial books has been translated into English [3] and discussed in philosophical circles the picture I am going to draw might well surprise many people. Blumenberg's answer to the proposed question is given on three different levels. Firstly, Blumenberg positions Husserl's notion of "Lebenswelt" within the general framework of Husserl's inquiries into intuitively accessible, primordial qualities of phenomena. [4] As it turns out, "die Phänomenologie (ist) das andere Wegende zur Lebenswelt" (p 61). This is because "Lebenswelt" serves as a "Grenzbegriff" from which ordinary temporal succession and its philosophical investigation have to be derived by means of a speculative reconstruction. Such an approach to clarify the possibility of history within phenomenology cannot, however, stand on its own. It has, secondly, to be embedded within a story making plausible why anyone should care about (i) history at all, (ii) the kind of pre-history implied in talking about "Lebenswelt". Adressing these issues Blumenberg develops an ambitious narrative describing European history unfolding against the forces of nature. The actuality of this history, he clearly feels, is the best possible proof of its possibility.

But this does not get us as far as Blumenberg, following Husserl, wants us to go. In particular it does not provide an argument against someone recklessly exploiting "historical substance" for his own passing advantage. History has to be invested with normative features in order to be useful for the purposes Blumenberg envisages. Enlisting Husserl's help he comes up with a theory of "Urstiftung" that is supposed to explain how European history, once started, should and can be kept on one particular track. The general idea is the Eurocentric equivalent of the director's fight to keep his steam-engine from being spoilt by inadequate deployment, the obvious difference being that, in the case of the latter, loss of functionality of the machine cannot be overcome without invalidating the whole exercise. European history, on the other hand, as Husserl writes and Blumenberg indicates, has the sublime opportunity of regaining the original drive of its "Urstiftung". This is rightly called "dynamic Platonism" by Blumenberg. Confronting the intuitions behind such a position will be my third exploration into "phänomenologische Historik".


Probably the best known piece of Husserl's intricate methodological machinery is his "phenomenological reduction", an incisive turning away from the actual existence of things towards their more general, "essential" features that Husserl claimed to be accessible to the human mind. On the face of it historical research has little to contribute to this undertaking since its concern is precisely with accidental events typically bracketed by reduction. Temporal existence through consecutive epochs can, however, itself be regarded as a distinctive trait of human experience. In Husserlian terms: there should be room for a "Regionalontologie" of history. If this is true the question of how to approach such a field immediately arises. According to Blumenberg's speculative reconstruction this involves us directly into the most elementary presuppositions of phenomenology. At a particular moment there is phenomenological reduction; systematically mirroring it on the opposite end of the axis of time is "Lebenswelt"; in between history unfolds.

"Im Rahmen dieser vermutungsweise nachholenden Systematik der Lebensweltheorie Husserls erweist sich die phänomenologische Reduktion als das finale Gegenstück zur initialen Enthebung aus der Lebenswelt und dem ihr inhärenten Entschluß zur theoretischen Einstellung".(p. 352)

The human endeavor of Europeans (i.e., as will become clearer later on, the pursuit of "theoretische Einstellung" following from the loss of "Lebenswelt") is flanked by a conceptual construct and the methodological move of reduction. It does not sound too plausible, so let me explain.

There is a problem with phenomenological reduction as practised by Husserl since his "Ideen zu einer phänomenologischen Philosophie". How can one leave behind the real world and still hope to achieve insights that might eventually be applied to it? Even the most aloof essentialist has at some point to face the problem of his insight's relation to real life. Starting from a rejection of actuality Husserl's investigations have nevertheless to be thought as embracing it in the end, unless phenomenology is to remain a completely atemporal, essentialistic project. One way to avoid such an outcome is to historically embed phenomenological reduction itself. In order to achieve this a story has to be told. Suppose reduction is the final move in a development leading to its principled disengagement of "Dasein" and "Sosein", preceded by numerous attempts to come to terms with their constellations through time ("history"). When did this start? Was there a time when existence and essence actually coincided? This is what "Lebenswelt" is about.

"Damit hieß die Fragestellung: Was war es gewesen, was der leichtesten Hinfälligkeit anheimgegeben werden sollte, und wie kam es aus dem, was doch nur übrig ließ, einsichtigerweise wieder hervor? Die methodische Annahme ist ganz plausibel, das würde sich am ehesten darstellen lassen, wenn man eine Geschichte erzählte und für diese einen plausiblen Anfang fand. Der Anfang hieß "Lebenswelt". (p. 47)"

Phenomenological reduction, taken as a historical decision made responding to a particular problematic in European history, can only be invested with fundamental importance if it is intrinsically connected to the very beginning of this development.

"Lebenswelt", arrived at by imaginatively constructing "eine Sphäre und Phase des gedachten Einverständnisses zwischen Bewußtsein und Welt" (L & W 73) is not a realm accessible to ethnographical or sociological research. "Es gibt keine 'Geschichten aus der Lebenswelt'" (p.23) Part One of "Lebenszeit und Weltzeit" is called "Das Lebensweltmißverständnis", referring to misguided attempts to regard "Lebenswelt" as just another social configuration in the history of mankind. It should be clear from the preceding discussion that it has a different role to play in Husserl's theory. His concern is not with the phenomena of everyday life but with sketching an account of something systematically preceding the field of ordinary historical and theoretical discourse. "Genetische Fragestellungen setzen konstruierte Ausgangszustände voraus." (p. 61 f) If one finds oneself drawn to narrative reconstructions of a particular series of events, the logic of this kind of presentation includes reference to an initial state from which the story-line develops. This state has a peculiar status, however, which is familiar from creation-mythology. It can be looked upon as the first step in a row, starting all subsequent development. Yet this does not exhaust its power. Since this is where a new beginning can be thought to reveal itself, questions concerning the meaning of the whole process arise at this particular juncture, transcending the intrinsic problems connected with the unfolding of the narrative. Origins, as opposed to mere starting points, are designed to synthesize questions of linear development and its foundation.

The pattern according to which "Lebenswelt" is surmised as an initial state in the course of events of history owes more to idealistic speculation than to phenomenological observation. Yet it is not without systematic support from within phenomenology. Positing "Lebenswelt" can be justified as a device considerably simplifying discussions about the possibilities and prospects of "phänomenologische Historik". For Blumenberg two issues in particular deserve notice.

One is a direct consequence of "Lebenswelts" status as an origin. Values arrived at within a historical process are different from values thought to be inherent in its very beginning. Wherever a narrative might lead to is no match to the first investment into sense that is made by starting it within a particular language, genre and literary mode. In the case of historical discourse the distinction is particularly obvious with regard to memories. There are ordinary ones, arising as things develop and special memories pertaining to their origin. Since foundational epiphanies fulfill a special role, memories associated with them carry particular weight. Those are the truly memorable memories for people striving to make sense of temporal occurences viewed through the medium of narrative historical reconstructions. The next part of this paper will be concerned with Blumenberg's reading of Husserl's attempts to get at the original meaning of European history. Before entering into this type of discourse a second benefit of postulating "Lebenswelt" should be mentioned.

"Lebenszeit" and "Weltzeit", as we know them, are modes of time that do not fit. The experience of "objective" time outrunning one's lifetime is constitutive of human consciousness extending itself between actual intentional actions and ideal intentional contents supposedly not touched by subjective activities. Once the gap between individuation and socio-historical generational continuity opens up, the meaning of human life can only be established by sketching an account of how they interrelate. The point about "Lebenswelt" is that it is first and foremost the systematic exclusion of this mismatch.

Die Lebenswelt als Form der schmerzlosen Anerkennung des Vorlebens und des Überlebens ist eine Fiktion, ein Konstrukt; wir brauchen sie, um zu begreifen, wie der Hiatus von Lebenszeit und Weltzeit sein Kontingenz hat. (p. 309)

This is Blumenberg's roundabout way of saying that "Lebenswelt" serves as a convenient device in presenting a story about accomodation to the existence of this "hiatus". As it turns out it is an enterprise reaching from the ancient Greeks up to our times. Notice, again, the consequential merging of two different lines of arguments. A systematic construct is put at the beginning of a narrative that is supposed to render an actual development in the history of ideas. I shall come back to the effects of this incongruence.


"Geschichte ist die Trennung von Erwartung und Erfahrung." (p. 66) Blumenberg could have described consciousness in just the same way. Losing the pre-established harmony of "Lebenswelt" is the price to be paid for intentionality.

Austritt oder Vertreibung - im Kern und an der Wurzel ist das nichts anderes als die aufbrechende Divergenz von Lebenszeit und Weltzeit durch Auflösung der Passung zwischen dem Horizont der Bedürfnisse und dem der Bedingungen ihrer Befriedigung." (p. 76)

How is an individual faced with scarcity and death supposed to deal with "objective" time inexorably moving towards its extinction? We are familiar with the answer most popular in modern times: progress is going to validate the human enterprise and to lift it onto a qualitatively new level which can be imagined as a new Eden or - secularized - as utopian society finally overcoming the division between being and becoming inherent in history as we conceive of it. Blumenberg spends more than half of his book presenting the development of this account, starting with early astronomy, Kopernikus, Newton and continuing with Enlightenment's claim to make Reason's gains against nature irreversible. In spite of these lenghty reconstructions, however, the methodological focus is on the predicament Husserl was facing at about 1930.

Once he had introduced the temporal quality of consciousness as a phenomenologically accessible stratum, to be revealed by "categorial intuition", Husserl could not remain blind to the fact of historical development's transcending the horizon of a single person's life-expectancy. His treatment of the essentials of this phenomenon is characterized by two very strong normative presuppositions. Firstly, Husserl regards the present age as immersed in a profound crisis. Technology is running out of control, spoiling the achievements of the Enlightenment by imposing an opaque domination by unintuitive power-relations upon human conduct. This is his line of argument in "Die Krisis der europäischen Wissenschaften und die transzendentale Phänomenologie" (Husserliana VI). Progress has led humanity into an exceedingly dangerous situation, threatening the very foundations on which civilizations rests. Husserl's response to this, secondly, is a surprisingly traditional, Platonic move. We are to refer back to the potential that was initially invested into the establishment of European history. This is where the speculative construction of a primordial "Lebenswelt" merges into a more pragmatic strategy of salvaging our particular history. Blumenberg paraphrases Husserl's intentions:

"Unter dem Namen 'Urstiftung' belegt sich der Anspruch auf Unvergeblichkeit der menschlichen Geschichte in einem Augenblick, da man sich damit abzufinden gelernt hat, daß der Mensch zwischen Evolution und "Wärmetod" nur eine Weltepisode ist." (p. 360)

At a moment when the logic of secularization does not leave us with any convincing answer to the question of where humanity is heading to , we are called upon to take a new look at one of its privileged foundational moments.

Husserl arrives at this proposal by applying his general methodological maxim of searching for original intuition to the field of Eurocentric historiography. Dynamic Platonism (cf. p. 345) is the result of submitting our civilization's alleged first principles to the test of time. Blumenberg tries his best to make Husserl's procedure plausible by relating it to various areas of human experience. I shall discuss two of them in order to prepare the field for presentation of his own theory of memoria which tries to elaborate on the most important motive of this enterprise. Before being scandalized by Husserl's blatant Platonism one should remember that it connects to a style of thought very popular in formal disciplines. Husserl, after all, started as a mathematician and as early as 1887 insisted on an algebraic version of the difficulty of continuity of intention through time.

"Beim Wörtchen 'und' hatte übrigens Husserl schon in der "Philosophie der Arithmetik" (1887/1891) mit der Fragestellung eingesetzt, woher wir wissen, was wir zu tun haben, wenn wir in der Bildungsformel für die natürlichen Zahlen die Vorschrift des Vollzuges von 'und' erhalten: n + 1." (p. 53).

One does not have to go all the way back to the ancient Greeks to hit on the problem of primordial foundation. Trying to continue a series of expressions for numbers according to the principles laid down by certain initial rules can give rise to systematically equivalent difficulties.

For philosophers in the Continental tradition, however, another analogy is more obvious. Equipping the course of history with a privileged foundational moment, supposed to govern its direction throughout all centuries, echoes the conventional description of personal decision-making.

"Ob realisierbar oder nicht, an faktischen Schwächen gescheitert oder durchgehalten: ein universaler Willensentschluß vermag ein Leben zu regieren. Das ist die Grunderfahrung." (p. 358)

Taking the conscious self-determination of human agents as his model Husserl finds an all-encompassing intention in our history . "Urstiftung" ist "die früheste Willensbildung, die den Geschichtsweg auf Theorie eingerichtet haben sollte". (p. 326) This initial event supposedly pre-designated acceptable developments, i. e. steps taken to fulfill the promise of perspicuous theoretical elucidation of the human potential in its entirety. The dilemma Husserl is constructing for himself is obvious. On the one hand history, if these stipulations are accepted, is determined in advance. Blumenberg is very explicit: "Geschichte heißt, daß es keine Anfänge nach dem Anfang gibt." (p. 356) Platonism applied to the temporal unfolding of some civilization can only yield one pre-determined outcome. This is where truly memorable memories are to be found. Husserl's speculations are, on the other hand, dubious even for himself. His work on the crisis of European "Lebenswelt" indicates awareness of a possible radical rupture of pre-ordained intentions. It is in fact precisely the threat of such a decisive break with established procedures that leads him to invoke Platonic origins.

More on this in the final section. Before I can discuss these matters I have to describe Blumenberg's contribution to this distinctively continental pattern of thought. It serves to explain how his extensive exploration of "Geistesgeschichte" relates to the methodological framework he takes from Husserl. When discussing "Urstiftung" Blumenberg is careful to distinguish between a reading of Husserl's texts and an assessment of the claims put forward. Husserl doubtlessly believed in primordial foundation, Blumenberg, on the other hand, is hesitant to embrace this conviction himself. His way of modifying it so as to avoid outright Platonism and still keep some of its intuitions is to develop an account of memoria .This connects directly to the main expository device of his book. "Memoria heißt das Zentrum der Auseinandersetzung zwischen Lebenszeit und Weltzeit." (p. 301) Blumenberg's statement shifts the emphasis from decision-making to another mode of consciousness, more suited to his own field. His interest is not so much creational activity as securing a lasting importance for thoughts and actions once they have been realized. Following the lead of secularization Blumenberg acknowledges the impossibility of an absolute, guaranteed future that would fulfill all desires and answer all the questions raised throughout history. Yet, he is not prepared to simply abandon the quest for some kind of outlook onto what used to be called eternity.

Paraphrasing Nietzsche Blumenberg arrives at an amazing formula. "Wenn es keine absolute Zukunft mehr geben kann, muß es eine absolute Vergangenheit geben, das untilgbare Gewesensein . ... Was gewesen ist, bleibt." (p. 360) At another place he refers to this particular transcendence of the realm of corruption as post-apocalyptic ideality (cf. p. 361) or, more simply, as ideas not being subjected to the laws of time. "Was Idee genannt werden darf, beginnt damit, daß es gedacht wird, endet damit jedoch nicht." (p. 372) Blumenberg's defense of incorruptible memoria rests on this asymmetry. Obviously he cannot claim to have any guarantee that human life will not be extinguished at some point in the future. By pushing Platonic intuitions very hard he nevertheless tries to make a case for some kind of a posteriori a-temporal permancence.

"Gegengift gegen Kontingenz: Was ist, kann nicht gleichgültig sein, weil es gewesen sein wird. Erinnerung zu hinterlassen, Erinnerung zu werden, wäre geradezu der Sinn einer Welt..." (p. 96).

Reading this as a metaphysical manifesto is not a good way to make sense of it. Rather, it should be taken as phenomenology risking its respectable piece-meal approach by establishing foundations for the history of ideas. There is something in conscious action exceeding the flow of time, staking a claim for being remembered, which cannot be refuted by reference to subsequent events - or lack of them. Even though everything worth remembering has to begin in time, its mode of being calls for exploration beyond time's limits.

"Das jeweils Gedachte bekommt seine Idealität durch das jeweils zu Denkende, das dieses kraft der 'Urstiftung' ist und es unter deren Legislatur bleibt." (p. 366) An extensive speculative edifice is needed to support such a statement. Once something develops under the influence of an "Urstiftung", it clearly is under its spell, getting its meaning from conforming to this initial determination. Since, as we have seen, "Urstiftung" transcends time as defined by the events following from it, ideas relating back to "Urstiftung" participate in this condition, exceeding the material medium needed for their actualization. If you add the further presupposition that something called "history of mankind" is inevitably projected by us as the most general frame for making sense of the evolution (and destruction) of the human race, Blumenberg's version of Platonism comes into focus. Conscious beings like us, in remembering the achievements of their predecessors, give credit to something "the tooth of time" cannot destroy, because it does not entirely fall into the domain of contingency. Contingency itself is but one way to explain what human life is about, and whatever we place within its limits points to the outside stipulated by those very limits. Memoria is an all-embracing gesture of solidarity with our past, designed to meet the obligation "nichts Menschliches verlorenzugeben".

"Als Protention über die Gegenwärtigkeit des Lebens hinaus besteht sie (sc. memoria) in dem Widerstand gegen Kontingenz, gegen den immanent unvollziehbaren Gedanken von Anfang und Ende." (p. 302)

Now that I am sure to have shocked all readers thinking of Blumenberg as Richard Rorty presents him, namely as a pragmatist resigned to tinkering with contingent possibilities from generation to generation [5], let me ask whether his exertions can be defended against more down to earth approaches.


"Urstiftung", taken as a particular hyper-intentional act of foundation on which the fate of the Western world depends, will strike many as a very implausible idea indeed. Before discussing what seems wrong with it, I want to show it in the best possible light. It has already been remarked that it amounts to the imposition of structures of conscious activity onto a historical narrative. "Der Gedanke der 'Urstiftung' ist von dieser Voraussetzung einer homogenen Geschichte und ihres raumzeitlich verbunden und gebundenen Subjekts nicht zu trennen." (p. 317) This move, just like Husserl's general strategy to address himself to original intuitions of agents, has to be put into a certain context, namely an experience of profound crisis. It is when the meaning of formerly secure institutions and practical patterns slip away that questions like "What is it all about?" force themselves upon us. Essentialism looms large in such an enterprise, as we have seen, but in Husserl it has a certain twist. It is invoked against a perceived state of crisis, meant to shed some light on future possibilities, tentativly overcoming the current deadlock. Reference to primordial intentions, in other words, is supposed to enrichen the scope of present action. Going back to an initial project of reason supposedly set into motion by the ancient Greeks is Husserl's way to discuss the profound disturbances of his own "Lebenswelt".

"Denn die Neuzeit ist zur Epoche der krise geworden, kann also nicht mehr die der Begründung der Idee unter Einprägung ihrer Willensrichtung ins Leben sein. Durch die Griechen wäre die Entscheidung über die Hauptlinie der europäischen Geschichte, über ihr Leben als ein wesentlich theoretisches - wie weit man immer diesen Ausdruck nehmen mag - gefallen. Sie hätten die Intention angesetzt, deren Erfüllung Aufgabe dieser Geschichte geblieben wäre." (p. 325)

Even though one might not find this ploy very helpful a profound philosophical problem is hidden in such meta-historical considerations. One way to bring it into the open is to remember the point about mathematical certainty touched upon earlier. "Er (sc. der Theoretiker) nimmt auf, was er in der Geschichte und als seine Geschichte vorfindet, womit zu brechen oder liederlich umzugehen ihn des Horizonts sinnfähiger Handlungen berauben müßte." (p. 356) Paraphrasing this with regard to arithmetic one might say that performing any kind of operation on (signs referring to) numbers implies conformity with some pre-established prescriptive pattern. It is (to take the best-known case) commonly agreed that there is one definite way to continue the series of natural numbers. Haphazardly producing some of the symbols referring to them clearly violates the requirements of arithmetical competence. But how are those to be determined? Ordinarily one falls back on a strategy very similar to what Husserl and Blumenberg have been elaborating concerning European history. Someone consciously acting under the guidance of "Urstiftung" accepts the following maxim: "... keinen Verlust als Abreißen der intentionalen Kontinuität hinzunehmen, die geleistete Bestimmtheit in der Aneignung zu halten: dieses Bestimmte will ich hinfort stets als meine Meinung anerkennen." (p. 342) Taken in a similar vein, arithmetic rests on the supposition that once the meaning of some procedure is grasped, this procedure will be followed in the appropriate way forever after. There is a way counting is supposed to work and only by conforming to this regulative posit participation in mathematical activity is ensured.

For someone familiar with recent discussions in Analytic Philosophy the course my remarks are taking is obvious. "Urstiftung" should be discussed against the background of the considerations concerning rule-following that have been vividly presented in Saul Kripke's book on Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language. [6] Rather than overcharging the issue by talking about millenia the philosophical structure of claims concerning stability of intentions through time might be outlined more fruitfully in the simpler case. Reference to some determination inherent in a "law of Arithmetic" is intuitively more acceptable and arguments against this kind of Platonism appear more focussed. If, following Wittgenstein, we decide to reject the notion of an all-encompassing imposition of meaning onto the realm of simple numbers, we will certainly refuse to accept the equivalent in historical methodology. But by looking at the case of arithmetical rule-following the intuitions behind something like "Urstiftung" can become more tangible and consequently easier to deal with in a non-dismissive way.

Wittgenstein's humble substitute for the crisis of European civilization is a peculiar puzzlement. Imagine someone is given the order to continue the series 0, 2, 4, 6, etc. Having done this properly up to 1,000 he writes 1,004, 1,008, 1,0012 and when his teacher intervenes he claims to just follow the original order which he understood to ask for precisely such behaviour. The teacher naturally would reply that this was not what he meant and claim something like this: "Der richtige Schritt ist der, welcher mit dem Befehl - wie er gemeint war - übereinstimmt." (Philosophical Investigations § 186). But the teacher's confidence is not easily justified as Wittgenstein brings out in a fascinating dialogue.

Taking the teacher at his word an interlocutor begins to spin out possible consequences of his attitude. "Du hast also zur Zeit, als du den Befehl '+ 2' gabst, gemeint, er solle auf 1.000 1.002 schreiben - und hast du damals auch gemeint, er solle auf 1.866 1.868 schreiben, und auf 100.034 100.036, usf. - eine unendliche Anzahl solcher Sätze?" (loc. cit.) Clearly in giving an arithmetical rule we are not explicitly aware of the meaning of an infinity of sentences. The teacher, rephrasing his position, answers: "Nein, ich habe gemeint, er solle nach jeder Zahl, die er schreibt, die zweitnächste schreiben; und daraus folgen ihres Ortes alle jenen Sätze." This response paradigmatically exhibits the crucial difficulty of any attempt to conserve the meaning of a sentence once it is grasped: at one particular time a decision pertaining to subsequent points of time is supposedly taken. Wittgenstein doubts the validity of commonsense acceptance of such a stipulation.

"Aber es ist ja gerade die Frage, was, an irgend einem Ort, aus jenem Satz folgt. Oder auch - was wir an irgend einem Ort 'Übereinstimmung' mit jenem Satz nennen sollen (und auch mit der Meinung, die du damals dem Satz gegeben hast, - worin immer diese bestanden haben mag.)" (loc. cit.)

Rules necessarily have to be applied under changing conditions which can never be written into their initial symbolization. No guarantees concerning future derivations can therefore be extracted from such formulae. Or, to put it the other way, unconditional insistence on the unalterable meaning of a sequence of words amounts to nothing more than the systematic exclusion of the possibilities of actual development. By insisting that nothing but such and such behaviour is going to count as "addition by 2", one is not - once and for all - fixing the meaning of these words but rather indicating a certain state of mind, namely not being prepared to consider any alternative to what seems correct usage now. Instead of talking about future instantiations of a Platonic law, we are affirming borderlines currently drawn to our understanding of a certain concept. But while it is an interesting feature of our relevant intuitions that arithmetical operations are often thought to be determined without reference to actual circumstances, it does not follow that some pattern is thereby imposed onto future applications in advance.

"Woher die Idee, es wäre die angefangene Reihe ein sichtbares Stück unsichtbar bis ins Unendliche gelegter Geleise? Nun, statt der Regel könnten wir uns Geleise denken. Und der nicht begrenzten Anwendung der Regel entsprechen unendlich lange Geleise." (PI § 218)

Wittgenstein does not immediately attack this line of thought but his criticism is obvious. Various ways of metaphorically describing the activity of rule-following are available, one of them being guidance by rails. This is not objectionable as long as such pictures are not burdened with an impossible task, namely with providing justifications for following a certain course regardless of the circumstances coming up. Even though the picture of rails might capture some important trait of rule-following as it is normally practised, it is of questionable help in instances of doubt. Falling back on this picture to bolster one's resolve to continue in kind does not provide extra legitimacy to any further action. It just amounts to vacuosly confirming what is already known, namely one's resolve to stick to some horizon of understanding symbolized in an expression of a rule. Wittgenstein's verdict on such an insistence is the following one: "Mein symbolischer Ausdruck war eigentlich eine mythologische Beschreibung des Gebrauches einer Regel." (PI § 221) Mythology serves to structure a set of circumstances according to some rather simple story, stripping away complications of real life and emphasizing a timeless pattern of conduct as being the substrate of human experience. Picturing cases of rule-following as direct outcome of a foundational act of meaning on the part of some law-giving authority seriously distorts the phenomenon under investigation. There is far-reaching disagreement about the correct analysis of this activity and I lack the resources to go into these difficult matters here. But however this matter is settled Wittgenstein's skepticism against invoking original intentions cannot easily be pushed aside.

Introducing Wittgenstein into a discussion of Blumenberg's "Lebenszeit und Weltzeit" does not superimpose an entirely foreign set of presuppositions upon its narrative. Blumenberg's book actually concludes with reflections on Wittgenstein's position on essence and mathematics. Implicitly Blumenberg seems to accept a structural similarity between the epochs of European history starting with the Greeks and lined up to the present time and a geometrical line drawn to connect two given points. Mathematical essentialism, according to Wittgenstein, claims that the points cannot but define the line even if it is not yet (or never) actually drawn. Such posits might be considered a kind of "Urstiftung", determening the geometrical figure just like the beginning of Occidental civilization and its subsequent stages define the appropriate course of events in a moment of crisis. But Blumenberg, who on several occasions had been talking as if the mythology of "The History of the West" were the straightforward truth, finally draws back from offering the logic of his mythological narrative as an unescapable feature of reality. Recognizing that the ideal existence of the line depends on the facticity of two points randomly given, he comes very close to deserting Platonism in the end. The nature of something given over and above material presence is not as comforting as the Platonists had thought. Ideality, in order to be taken into consideration at all, has to be preceded by real life events. There is not even the possibility of a line once the two defining points are removed. Moments in time, similarly, are thoroughly contingent and cannot guarantee the irrevocability of memoria Blumenberg had tried to argue for. "Nur primäres Wesen würde bleiben." (p. 374) This concluding sentence is a silent admission that "historical Platonism", in admitting chance as a constitutive element, has lost its capacity to guard over a realm of truly autonomous permanent meaning.

This conclusion will hardly come as a surprise to the average philosopher nowadays. Presumably he found it difficult enough to follow Husserl and Blumenberg in their attempts to rescue part of the traditional confidence in the progress of Reason apparent in European history. But, having tried to follow Blumenberg into his speculative exertions, I hesitate to close the argument here. What if the demise of his exaggerated claims, more or less re-enacted in Blumenberg's own course of argument, distract from the fact that not everything is decisivly settled by the triumph of contingency. Taking up some of Blumenberg's hints and using Wittgenstein's methodology, I want to take a second look at attempts to articulate the feeling that memoria, once established, can never be undone. That memories, to put it quite naively, last forever. At one point Blumenberg refers to an ancient saying: "Facta infecta fieri non possunt." Once something is registered as being the case it can be undone in the sense of destruction, decay, or death, but that it has been the case is unassailably true. It cannot be removed from the realm of what has existed. The question arising here is how to make sense of our tendency to talk like that. It is quite clear that we have to look for something other than a metaphysical region preserving a replica of whatever happened during history. Now, speaking about phenomenological perspecuity, available in particular situations, Blumenberg gives the following account of its indestructability: "Einmal vollzogene Anschaulichkeit ist nicht wieder aus der Welt zu schaffen, sofern Identität der Bezugnahme auf sie zur 'Geschichte' des Begriffs selbst wird." (p. 344) This adds a new twist to Blumenberg's attempts to clarify the status of incorruptible intentional attitudes.

Given a concept, e. g. "addition by two" or the Greek theoria, there is one way to "Platonize" it without falling into the trap of metaphysical objectivism. Blumenberg is putting it in different words, but it is the one I mentioned discussing rule-following. If the history of these concepts, namely the series of their applications in time, is thought to be constitutively determined by some particular condition, there simply is - by construction - no such history unless this condition is met. As long as some continuity under certain stipulations is judged to be the case, consequently, these posits will be uneliminable prerequisits for thinking about the situation. To put this less mysteriously: as long as someone is using a measuring-device some standard of measuring has to be presupposed at a systematically higher level. It is written into the language-game of measuring that we cannot escape such a two-tier approach to make what we are doing intelligible. This standard will not be assailable by reference to actual mismeasurements, not even by assuming that the activity of measuring is not practised by anyone at all. Even if there are no humans, one is tempted to say, it would still be true that measuring requires standards residing in, but never exhaused by, definite actions. This is Blumenberg's ultimate argument for "Urstiftung". He does no longer require that it should ensure the actual continuity of our history, just that it function as a transcendental criterion of its existence: "Die 'Urstiftung' ist Kriterium für die Geschichte, die darin intendiert ist; aber jene garantiert diese nicht, weder ihren Erfolg noch ihre Fortdauer." (p. 369) Is this an improvement on his Platonistic position?"

It certainly is, given that one considers transcendental discourse to be more sophisticated than old-style metaphysics. But viewed in connection with Blumenberg's earlier statements it seems too easy to let him escape the Platonistic predicament by simply affirming that philosophical predication involving time conforms to an entirely different set of rules. Transcendental philosophy avoids the pitfalls of more robust ontology by pointing out that a breakdown in ordinary temporal discourse does not engender some positive quality of "timelessness" attributable to certain entities. But Blumenberg's nonchalance concerning this shift from talk about things to talk about methodology in the rest of his book should be reason enough to be suspicious. He should not be allowed to abandon his objectivistic intuitions by simply switching philosophical strategies. Since he does not, however, offer any attempts to interrelate his diverging positions I will conclude with an attempt to confront them to each other.

Two options concerning particular language-games are commonly given: either to play the game or else to take an outside position, investigating its characteristics. Internally its expressions, as far as they refer, call up a world that cannot be entirely unmade or transcended from the point of view of the active participants. Looking from the outside yields different results, of course. Here it is possible to scrutinize and to completely reject the ontology implicit in the more restricted practice. It is taken for granted, furthermore, that different interpretations of a particular set of expressions and different worlds, unaccessible by means of the given vocabulary, are available. Ordinarily humans manage to cope successfully with their capabilities to act and reflect. But when the scope of a language-game becomes too wide, certain irregularities arise. Philosophically talking about "European history" is a case in point.

On the one hand, it is common to use the duplex technique of moving within the narrative and still transcend it, plotting a certain canonized sequence of events and simultaneously asking about their necessity and possible future development. This means mixing the commonsense and the transcendental stance as Husserl and Blumenberg are doing most of the time. Never doubting their involvement with the process, they nevertheless reached out towards its origin and destination. To do this they have to switch levels, turning insights about conditions layed down by the narrative as such into prescriptions and predictions about its actual course. In disambiguating their procedure one is led to distinguish two distinct ways of talking and to strongly recommend caution against confusing both, particularly in the case of overly extensive language-games. But it is instructive to see what happens when one goes against those rules.

The question to ask is: How serious can certain attempts to transcend elementary language-games be taken? Theoretically, withdrawing from one's position as an European intellectual, one is able to imagine different origins, different cultures, and total oblivion in the end. It is along these lines that objections to Husserl's and Blumenberg's speculations arise. But consider a possible response, namely that such a strategy itself is not given unhistorically, as a matter of pure thinking. It is, on the contrary, one of the characteristic moves developed within our tradition. Reflecting on its contingency and thereby assuring ourselves of a peculiar distance towards contingency is, as it were, written into the grammar of our civilization's self-understanding. We cannot neatly extract transcendental features and regard them "uncontaminated" by our literal understanding of the expressions used. Reflecting on the preconditions necessary for us to talk and act as Europeans, we do not cease to be Europeans, exhibiting all the claustrophobia and transcendence typical of this tribe. Bracketing this existential involvement leads to statements that can be constructed as referring to the possibilities of a neutralized universe stripped of any particular points of reference. But we should not be surprised that this does not put an end to our curiosity.

I am obviously not pleading for regression into the chauvinism of some tribal creed, only pointing to what I take to be a possibly instructive collapse once we grant equal status to our intuitions concerning transcendence of and involvement into the European tradition. Taking the sort of life we actually lead seriously, it is very difficult to imagine its making no difference whatsoever, or to construct a future state of the universe of which it would be true to say that human life has never been in existence. This is no more mysterious than observing that the characters of some narrative might well be able to talk about their radical contingency and even their possible non-existence while systematically being unable to raise themselves into a position from which it would make sense for them to annihilate their world without a trace. If the language-game is comprehensive enough it cannot be done without contradiction. Someone invoking "Urstiftung" is most likely searching for metaphysical comfort in times of crisis. Enough has been said about the danger of such attempts. It might be helpful, for a change, to spend some energy to ascertain the impact of boderlines we cannot jump, of memories we have no way to seriously discard. This strikes a note not currently fashionable among philosophers, but Blumenberg has opted to face this objection.



[1] Hans Blumenberg, Wirklichkeiten, in denen wir leben. Reclam UTB 7715, S. 170

[2] All quotes given by simple page numbers will be from this book.

[3]The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, Cambridge, Mass. 1983 and Work on Myth, Cambridge, Mass. 1988

[4]It is beyond the scope of this paper to assess whether Blumenberg's understanding of Husserl is adequate and/or helpful in understanding this philosopher. His proper name will therefore refer to a certain construct in Blumenberg's exposition of his own thoughts.

[5] cf. Richard Rorty, Essays on Heidegger and Others. Cambridge 1991. Cambridge University Press pp. 168-169, 172-174

[6] Cambridge, Mass 1982. Harvard University Press