Friday, August 29, 2008

DotW Chapter Five

Decline of the West
Oswald Spengler
Chapter V: Makrokosmos
Apollinian, Faustian and Magian Soul

This chapter describes the parting of the ways of the Cultural soul of classical man and the Culture of this day and age, in Eastern and Western Cultural terms. The zeitgeist, if you will, of each is different because they are based on differing base views of the world and man's place in it. The things we take for granted in our time, however, as still valid only for our present Culture, and were built on these assumptions that are unique to our time and Culture, and therefore not necessarily applicable to other times and Cultures, regardless of how "universal" we think our ideas of man and his universe are.

I would also point out that the splitting off of these Cultural worldviews in the past leads to some inabilities in the present day to understand one another, and we read our own meanings into the words and phrases that we use everyday, meanings that may not be present for people of past or eastern cultures. We use the same words, but they don't mean the same things. Oswald in this chapter is trying to show how and where the division between past, west and east reveals inherent differences in our thoughts and worldview. Spengler in this chapter points out how our architecture, one clearly visible language-form of our worldview, reveals our inner attitudes.

Part one: Architecture and Divinities

Henceforth, we shall designate the soul of the Classical Culture, which chose the sensuously-present individual body as the ideal type of the extended, by the name (familiarized by Neitzsche) of the Apollinian. In opposition to it, we have the Faustian soul, shoe prime symbol is pure and unlimited space, and whose "body" is the Western Culture that blossomed forth with the birth of the Romanesque style in the 10th century on the Northern plain between the Elbe and the Tagus.

"Space" - speaking now in the Faustian idiom - is a spiritual something, rigidly distinct from the momentary sense-present, which could not be represented in an Apollinian language...but the created expression-space of the Apollinian arts is equally alien to ours.

The Classical Culture begins, then, with a great renunciation. A rich, pictorial, almost over-ripe art lay ready to its hand. But this could not become the expression of the young soul, and so from about 1100 BCE the harsh, narrow, and to our eyes scanty and barbaric, early Doric geometrical style appears in opposition to the Minoan.

Faustian architecture, on the contrary, begins on the grand scale simultaneously with the stirrings of a new piety...and a new thought...and proceeds at once to plans of gigantic intention...and often again it proved impossible to complete the projected scheme.

The love of wild nature, the mysterious compassion, the ineffable sense of forsakenness - it is all Faustian and only Faustian.

Of this world-experience neither Apollinian nor Magian man, neither Homer nor the Gospels, knows anything whatever.

In opposition to the Classical sacrifices offered to individual gods in separate temples, there is here the one never-ending sacrifice repeated everywhere and every day. This is the Faustian idea of the 9th-11th centuries, the Edda time.


Contrast this with Judaism's insistence, first penned by Ezra and enforced to this day, that sacrifices and pilgrimages to Hashem can ONLY take place at the Temple Mount, in Jerusalem. There is no doubt that Ezra did this upon his return from the Babylonian Captivity for the sole and express purpose of having complete CONTROL over the worship and interaction of the Hebrew people with Hashem, just as the Rabbis do to this day. Prior to that time, people could and did set up shrines, tended by Levitical priests, wherever they were - Shiloh, for example - and Hashem was perfectly OK with this. He didn't demand centralized, rigidly controlled, identical cookie-cutter worship - He permitted those who would obey His Torah to worship in their own communities, with their own traditions and interpretations - and only became angry with them when they had clearly departed from the written letter of the Torah. Rabbinic Judaism has captured worship in a dead and limited worldview of the past which people of this Faustian day and age cannot understand and frankly don't want to. Even people born to it are walking away, to the tune of some 40% of frum youth leaving ultra-orthodoxy for other sects of Judaism, or worse, leaving Judaism completely (stats given by UOJ last year, and I presume little has changed).

The plurality of bodies which represents Cosmos for the Classical soul requires a similar pantheon - hence the antique polytheism. The Single world-volume, be it conceived as cavern or space, demands the Single god of Magian or Western Christianity.

[Here Spengler uses Magian to refer to Eastern, that is, asian or semitic religions such as Judaism and Islam, Buddhism et al which proclaim the One as the Source of all.]

The Deity of the Reformation and the Counter Reformation can only be "manifested" in the storm of an organ fugue or the solemn progress. At the end of the 17th century this religiousness could no longer be limited to pictorial expression, and instrumental music came as it last and only form-language.

They suffer not "any graven image or likeness whatsoever," and this impossibility carries an implicit recognition tht eternal space, and not the corporeal copy - which levels them down, desecrates the, denies them - is the supreme symbol.

Part two: The Egyptian and the Chinese Prime Symbol

That which is expressed by the soul of the West in its extraordinary wealth of media...namely its world feeling...has taken Endless Space as the prime symbol of the North and body as that of the Classical. Strangely, and for Western thought almost incomprehensibly, the one element in extension that they emphasize is that of direction in depth. The tomb-temples of the old kingdom and especially the mighty pyramid-temples of the 4th dynasty represent not a purposed organization of space such as we find in the mosque and the cathedral, but a rhythmically ordered sequence of spaces.

For the Egyptian, the depth-experience with governed his world-form was so emphatically directional that he comprehended space more or less as a continuous process of actualization. Man must move, and so become himself a symbol of life, in order to enter in relation with the stone part of the symbolism. And consequently the art of these Egyptians must aim at plane effects and nothing else, even when it is making use of solid means.

Relief work is - in utter contrast to the Classical - carefully restricted in one plane, int he course of development dated by the 3rd to the 5th dynasties it diminishes from the thickness of a finger to that of a sheet of paper, and finally it is sunk into the plane. The dominance of the horizontal, the vertical and the right angle, and the avoidance of all foreshortening, support the two-dimensional principle and serve to insulate this directional depth-experience which coincides with the way and the grave at its end. It is an art that admits of no deviation for the relief of the tense soul.

The Chinese also have the intensely direction principle of the Tao, [which] wanders through the world, consequently he is conducted to his god or his ancestral tomb not by ravines of stone, between faultless smoothe walls, but by friendly Nature herself. Nowhere else has the landscape become so genuinely the material of the architecture. This Culture is the only one in which the art of gardening is a grand religious art.

Sequence in time presupposes a sequence of space-elements through which the eye is to wander from one to the next.


Judaism originally shared a great deal with oriental philosophy on the grounds that like the seasons of nature progress and then recur, history is cyclical and repeats in a spiral in which every day on the calendar shares the vibrations and events of that date in the past, which are projected forward even from the present into the future. Now, however, Judaism has embraced the more linear time of ancient Eqypt and the evolutionary Western thought, and has lost a great deal of it's former emphasis on the every-repeating NOW of every day living in favor of an eschatological theology which appears almost entirely borrowed from Catholicism and Christianity. Originally Jews were never supposed to live exclusively for an afterlife or a future millenia-off age. Original Hebrew worship and relationship with Hashem was to be simply part of their daily being, their household life, with only three times a year when a "progression" to the Temple was required. Now Jews are sold on the platonic ascent, a Greek pagan concept also adopted by Christianity, and told that the earthly life has no value - only the later ascent to a perfect place is what counts. This was never Hashem's intention. Torah never even mentions the afterlife at all, nor the End Times except in the vaguest terms - there is apparently no commandment from Hashem to even believe in an afterlife or an End Times as UltraOrthodoxy and Christianity picture it. True, there is prophecy in scripture, but it is never supposed to be the emphasis of our daily lives - and in fact the prophets stated over and over and over that the prophesied punishements of the future could be AVOIDED by reform and repentance in the here and now. Our only goal is supposed to be to live THIS LIFE in harmony with others and in covenant with Hashem, whose commands are solely about our everyday earthly life in the here and now.

Part three: Imitation and Ornament

All art is expression-language. This expression is either ornament or imitation. Every life religion is an effort of the waking soul to reach the powers of the world-around. As so too is Imitation, which in its most devoted moments is wholly religious, for it consists in an identiry of inner activity between the soul and body "here" and the world-around "there" which, vibrating as one, become one.

Ornament detaches itself now from Imitation as something which does not follow the stream of life but faces it. The intention is no longer to pretend to conjure. The "I" overwhelms the "Thou." Imitation is only a speaking with means that are born of the moment and unreproducible - but Ornament employs a language emancipated from the speaking, a stock of forms that possesses duration and is not at the mercy of the individual.

Only the living can be imitated, and it can be imitated only in movements. To that extent, imitation belongs to Time and Direction. Ornament, on the contrary, is something removed from Time: it is pure extension, settled and stable.

With the dawn of the great Culture, architecture as ornament comes into being suddenly and with such a force of expression that for a century mere decoration-as-such shrinks away from it in awe. The spaces, surfaces and edges of stone speak for themselves. When the form-world of the springtime is at its highest, and not before, the ordained relation is that architecture is lord and ornament is vassal. [Afterwards,] the spell of the great Ornamentation remains unbroken till in the beginning of a "late" period architecture falls into a group of civic and worldly special arts that unceasingly devote themselves to pleasing and clever imitation and become ipso facto personal. Then comes the gleaming autumn of the style...the "return to nature...[which] reveals itself in the form-world of the arts as a sensitive longing and presentiment of the end.

At the last, when Civilization sets in, true ornament and with great art as a whole are extinguished. The transition consists - in every Culture - in Classicism and Romanticism of one sort or another, the former being a sentimental regard for an Ornamentation (rules, laws, types) that has long been archaic and soulless, and the latter a sentimental Imitation, not of life, but of an older Imitation. In the place of architectural style we find architectural taste.


Now it is terribly interesting to study the development of synagogues in this light, because while we used to have beautiful stylish synagogues admired by all who saw them, no matter what their country of origin, now we have "synagogues" made out of people's garages and houses, covered in cheap ugly vinyl siding and completely devoid of the beauty and inspiration of times gone past. This speaks volumes about Jewish culture in more ways than one.

First off, it declares to the world that we, as a Culture, couldn't care less what impression we make to our neighbors. Their opinions, laws, and standards are beneath consideration. You would think this would mean that the inside, what should "count" to us, would be beautiful, ordered, and spiritually uplifting. How we see ourselves, on our inside, where no outsiders are allowed, however, are in just as bad a condition as the outsides of the synagogues. This broadcasts to us and to the world that even we ourselves don't believe that what we are doing is beautiful and uplifting! We completely discount even our own brothers and sisters - the Judaism of Ultra-orthodoxy is self-absorbed to the point of mental illness. Rabbis who cover up for molesters and allow women to be chained and ignore child abuse and neglect and engage in vigilante power-mongering believe themselves, their own inner self, to be the only judge and arbiter of what they do and how they appear - and they justify this to themselves because they, in their own minds, have the final authority to decide what is acceptable to Hashem. Their deification of themselves shows, therefore, in their architecture both inside and outside the synagogue - in which they proclaim loudly to the world that they have no need or want to connect with the beauty and serenity of the eternal - they are within themselves all they need. It's narcissistic in the extreme.

Part four: The Architecture of the Window

The Magian and Faustian souls...build high. Their dream-images became concrete as vaultings above significant inner-spaces, structural anticipations, respectively of the mathematic of algebra and that of analysis.

The window as architecture, on the other hand, is perculiar to the Faustian soul and the most significant symbol of its depth-experience. In it can be felt the will to emerge from the interior into the boundless.

To get rid of every trace of Classical corporeality, there was brought to bear the full force of a deeply significant Ornamentation, which defies the delimiting power of stone. It is this spirituality that gave their deep meaning to the gigantic glass-expanses of our cathedral windows with their polychrome, translucent and therefore wholly bodiless painting - and art that has never and nowhere repeated itself and forms the completest contrast that can be imagined to the Classical Fresco.

It, too, was a defiance of architectural body, of "exterior."

Part five: The Great Style. The History of Style as an Organism.

The phenomenon of the Great Style, then, is an emanation from the essence of the Macrocosm, from the prime symbol of a great Culture. The organic hsitory of a style comprises a "pre-," a "non-," and a "post-."

In the Faustian West, from the very beginning, inner and outer construction were placed in a fixed relation, the wall was penetrated by the form-language and the form worked into the wall in a way that no other Culture has ever imagined. From the very beginning the window and the belfry were invested with their meanings. The form was irrevocably assigned. Only its development remained to be worked out.

The result of this was an almost bodily standardization of the form-types and style-species. One might choose between them, but never overstep their strict limits - that would have been in some sort an admission of an infinity of possibilities.

It is a statical treatment of static genera, and it stands in the sharpest possible contrast t the dynamic fertility of the Faustian with its ceaseless creation of new types and domains of form.

Styles do not follow one another like waves or pulse-beats. The style, like the Culture, is a prime phenomenon. It is, as "Nature" is, an ever-new experience of waking man, his alter ego and mirror-image in the world-around. And therefore in the general historical picture of a Culture there can be but one style, the style of the Culture. The task before art-history is to write the comparative biographies of the great styles, all of which as organism of the same genus possess structurally cognate life-histories.


The shuls of today's communities are comparable to the "store-front" churches springing up in old shopping centers across America - they are both born of poverty, both monetary and spiritual poverty. But the storefront churches at least give the appearance of welcoming the passer-by, of wanting to share what little they have with those who are seeking. Our shuls, on the other hand, are in many communities and congregations just the opposite - designed to keep away anyone who is "different," (meaning anyone who won't submit to the power and control structure of the resident Rav). Not all, but many, if not most - and this inward redirection of energy is growing to more and more shuls and more and more communities as the Jewish people are torn apart by cults of stringencies and cults of personality instead of accepting of the broad range of leniencies and various ethnic and geographical traditions and interpretations available within the Halachic framework.

Part six: History of the Arabian style

In this as in every other Culture, Spring seeks to express its spirituality in a new ornamentation and, above all, in religious architecture as the sublime form of that ornamentation.

The architectural type of the Pseudomorphosis, both for Jew and Gentile, is the Basilica. It employs the means of the Classical to express the opposite thereof, and is unable to free itself from these means - that is the essence and the tragedy of "Pseudomorphosis."

Outside the domain of the "Pseudomorphosis," on the contrary, the cavern feeling [of the mosque] was free to develop its own form language and here therefore it is the definite roof that is emphasized (whereas in the other domain the protest against the Classical feeling led merely to the development of an "interior").

The architecture of the central-dome, in which the Magian world-feeling achieved its purest expression, extended beyond the limits of the Roman Empire. When the Pseudomorphosis began to crumble and the last cults of Suncretism to die out, it also impressed itself victoriously upon the Basilica of the West. But in the Arabian world, Islam, the heir of Monophysite and Nestorian Christianity and of the Jews and the Persioans,m carried the development through to the end.

What is true as regards architecture is even more so as regards ornamentation, which in the Arabian world very early overcame all figure representation and swallowed it up in itself.

Nevertheless, the Arabian soul was cheated of its maturity. This alone is sufficient to explain the intense vehemence with which the Arabian Culture, when released at length from artistic as from other fetters, flung itself upon all lands that had inwardly belonged to it for centuries past. It is the sign of a soul that feels itself in a hurry, that notes in fear the first symptoms of old age before it has had youth. This emancipation of Magian mankind is without parallel.

True, all Cultures have grown up under the tutelage of some older Culture. Each of the form-worlds shows certain alien traits. But the Magian soul of the Pseudomorphosis had not the courage to appropriate alien means without yielding to them. And this is why the physiognomic of the Magian soul has still so much to disclose to the quester.


It has been the practice of Islam, no matter where it goes, to appropriate the sacred sites of other cultures, build a mosque on them, and claim they were "always" Islamic - the exact same thing they have done to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. They do this because they, in their heart of hearts, feel apprehensive about the youngness of their religion, and wonder why it only appeared in the modern age. They cast their faith backwards into Abraham, the same way the Chereidi cast themselves backward onto the patriarchs and for the same reason - to attempt to give a sense of age and legitimacy to something that is in fact young and novel to the understanding of the peoples of our past.

The Cheredi claim that their tradition is "min har sinai" and that it has ALWAYS been the only true expression of legitimate Judaism in the same pathetic attempt to legitimize themselves - therefore they claim the authority to judge all of Judaism and to redefine it in their own mold the same way that Muslims claim existing Hindu and Buddhist and Christian and Jewish sacred places and redefine them as mosques. The imperialism of both Islam and the Chereidi are both indications of a Culture that has reached its dying days - a Culture that can no longer persuade but can only compel, a spiritually empty Culture with no windows and no beautiful face either for themselves or for the outside world.

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