My thesis of the human limit seems, at first glance, to be countered by Lüthi’s persuasive notion that folktale heros and folktale objects possess a depthlessness that can’t be attributed to some stylistic primitiveness. That depthlessness is a narrative choice, as one can see by looking at the legends that circulate at the same time, and within the same circles. If a character displays no astonishment about the world in which “wishes matter”, then perhaps this is a sign of the fact that fundamentally, pre-modern European societies saw the world in the same way as early modern and modern societies – that the world is essentially made for man. In fact, the positivist version of history would say exactly this. Isn’t God simply Man, suitably arrayed in a cosmic fatsuit? Doesn’t Red Riding Hood’s wolf speak French? Aren’t the stars above us tuned to the flushes and faints of the microcosmic Adam? Isn’t the stamp of man on the World since the world was conceived in the minds of men? And, to reverse my narrative line, isn’t it just in modernity that we discover the “indifference” of the world, to use Camus’ phrase?
The positivist narrative, which plots the advance of the human understand from belief in God to belief in humanity (whether that humanity is represented by the self interested individual, the proletariat or the scientist) generated a counter-narrative that became popular in the sixties, in which the “West” is identified with greed and technology, and we are given an easy to use list of villains, like Descartes, capitalism, rationality, etc., etc. In this counter-narrative, the founding book, Genesis, lays out the environmental disasters to come, as God gives man dominion over nature. In fact, the positivists and their opponents generally share a view of the unfolding of history, but assign different values to it. And, of course, ultimately both views seem to agree on the desirability of promoting happiness as the supreme emotional value.
Take, for example, the judicial relationship between man and beast. Or man and caterpillar.
“In 1586, extraordinary rains caused a great quantity of caterpillars to be born, which devastated Dauphiné. The grand vicar of the diocese of Valence cited them to appear before him and appointed for them a curator of defender. After solemn debates, the caterpillars were condemned to empty the premices of the diocese immediately; but they failed to hasten to obey, and, in place of anathemas and excommunications, it was agreed, after the advice of two theologians and two professors of law, to have recourse to abjurations, prayers, and aspersions of holy water. In spite of all, the caterpillars only disappeared a long time afterwards. This singular sixteenth century trial is remarkable inasmuch as this was the age of a great intellectual movement imprinted on minds and that the teaching of Roaldes, Cujus and Salinger threw a lively flame on the university of Valence.” (Bulletin d'archéologie et de statistique de la Drôme, 1875:452-3)
What happened in Valence was not an unusual occurence. The philosophes of the eighteenth century had great fun with the idea of an “advocate for the insects”. However, LI is fascinated by the very possibility that the insects have a legal side that should be listened to, debated, especially since we know that the asperging of holy water has given way to the asperging of insecticide without the insects having any advocate left.
The positivist could say, however, that the advocate of the insects is only advocating for them from the human point of view – that is, God is using them to avenge some human fault.
Well, this will lead us to a little essay by Lichtenberg. And the, by these byways, we will get back to Schiller, Goethe and astrology.