The darkness of this world (7) 1

The Darkness of This World 

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Our Gnostic Age

7

On May 5, 1818, there was born, in the Prussian city of Trier, one of those rare persons who change the course of history. He did not live to see his prophecies warp the world. He died in 1883, and the first earth-shattering event of which he was an effective cause came thirty-four years after his death: the Russian Communist revolution of 1917.

Karl Marx was the second child and eldest son of a prosperous lawyer. Two years before his birth, his father, Herschel Marx, had taken a step that must have amazed, even outraged, a good many of his Jewish co-religionists in his (overwhelmingly Catholic) home city, which for generations had had its rabbis from the Marx family: he was baptized by the Lutheran church, becoming Heinrich Marx. Protestant Christianity itself did not attract him irresistibly, but he wanted to play a full part as a citizen of (largely Protestant) Prussia. He was a man of reason who admired the products of reason: machines, engines, modernity in general. In 1824, overcoming his wife’s opposition to the move, he had his seven children (an eighth was yet to come) baptized into the recently established Evangelical Church of Prussia, Lutheran and Calvinist.

In his late teens, Karl fell in love with an aristocrat, Jenny von Westphalen, the friend of his older sister, and at about the same time decided to become a great poet. He wrote love poems to Jenny, and hate poems to the world.

The poems are bombastic, full of religio-romantic imagery. Little meaning can be found in them. But they do reveal the character and mentality of their composer. They are emotional, defiant, rebellious, destructive, swaggering, and express above all a hunger for power. Typical is this monologue from a verse drama titled Oulanem, the eponymous hero speaking: “Ha, I must entwine me on the wheel of flame,/ And in Eternity’s ring I’ll dance my frenzy! If aught besides that frenzy could devour,/ I’d leap therein though I must smash a world/ That towered high between myself and it!/ It would be shattered by my long drawn curse,/ and I would fling my arms around cruel Being,/ Embracing me, ‘twould silent pass away,/ Then silent would I sink into the void./ Wholly to sink, not be … oh, this were Life,/ But swept along high on Eternity’s current /To roar out threnodies for the Creator,/ Scorn on the brow! Can Sun burn it away?/ Bound in compulsion’s sway, curse in defiance!/ Let the envenomed eye flash forth destruction –/ Does it hurl off the ponderous worlds that bind?/ …… And we, we Apes of a cold God, still cherish/…… The viper so voluptuously warm,/ That it as Universal Form rears up/ And from its place on high grins down on us! And in our ear, till loathing’s all consumed,/ The weary wave roars onward, ever onward! ”

The young poet cast off the Christian God he had been lightly brought up to believe in, but he clung on to the concept of Satan and the powers of evil. He wrote, in a lyric titled The Fiddler: “Why do I fiddle? Or the wild waves roar?/ That they might pound the rocky shore, / That eye be blinded, that bosom swell, / That Soul’s cry carry down to Hell./ … I plunge, plunge without fail/ My blood-black sabre into your soul. / That art God neither wants nor wists,/ It leaps to the brain from Hell’s black mists/ … Till heart’s bewitched, till senses reel:/ With Satan I have struck my deal./ He chalks the signs, beats time for me,/ I play the death march fast and free.” “

With lines such as these young Karl expected to be recognized as a towering genius who would be listened to by a dumbstruck Europe. He intended through the power of his words to have an effect on history – a dire and destructive effect, apparently, while waves rolled onwards and pounded rocky shores. But his poems were received less favorably than he had confidently anticipated. The editors of periodicals to whom Karl sent a selection for publication returned them without comment. Indeed it seems that only Jenny von Westphalen was moved by them, especially by those dedicated to her. “Jenny! Do I dare avow/That in love we have exchanged our souls,/That as one they throb and glow,/And through their waves one current rolls?

His father would have liked Karl to take up some useful and lucrative career, in engineering perhaps, or science; something that would have involved him in the amazing developments of the age. Reason was pouring out inventions for the improvement of everyday life: gaslight on the streets, steam powered trains and ships, factories with machines that mass-produced goods. But such mundane things were of no interest to the young man of passionate poetic vision. He would never even visit a factory. Heinrich Marx and his son Karl stood on opposite sides of the post-Enlightenment divide between Reason, which fertilized civilization, and Romanticism, which poisoned it. …

 

The whole of this essay may be found on our Pages, added to the earlier essays under the same title. Access it by clicking on The Darkness of This World under the Pages heading at the top of our margin, and scroll down to 7, The Fiddler and His Proof

Posted under Articles, communism, History, Marxism, Philosophy, Religion general, Socialism by Jillian Becker on Sunday, January 26, 2014

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  • liz

    Reading this and the section before it really brings out the continuity between Rosseau and Marx. Completely fascinating!
    It also explains so much about the French revolution, and the leftist revolutions of the modern era. They reflect the character of the original authors of the ideas.
    It also clarifies further the similarities with Christianity, in particular the romantic idealism and rejection of reason.
    The far-reaching consequences of bad ideas is breathtaking.
    Thanks for providing such an interesting study!