Category Archives: Ludwig Hohl

Ludwig Hohl, ‘On the Accessible and the Inaccessible’

1

Where is the path? –

Give it your all! Then it will be easy.

2

Of the two great principles, some see only the one: that there must be change. They live solely in this impulse to change, as if it were the first and only and most perfecting principle, and they rise and fall with it: that is the simplicity of youth. 

Others, in contrast, see a chain of innumerable changes that have already occurred and through it all they see the immutable. They believe, in the end, that the will to change is vanity: that is the simplicity of age. 

But strength of spirit lies between these two and partakes of each. For human greatness – that is, spiritual greatness – is essentially founded on the number two. The wise man sees all that has not changed since the time of Heraclitus and will never change (this includes most of the world), but he also knows that strength of spirit is impossible without the will to change the world for the better. And he recognizes in the meeting of these two principles – of our mutability and the world’s immutability – something that is inexpressible but unites all great spirits across all borders.

[…]

36

This is perhaps the most decisive turn in life (some learn this too late, others never; Heinrich von Kleist died from having never achieved it); the turn from aiming at summits in one’s youth to the confident knowledge that no genuine effort remains fruitless.

For youth lives in the conviction that only conquering summits has value (and only the highest summits at that; as if there were a highest one!). As a result, when they do not conquer summits they lose faith in their steps.

On the mystical nature of every serious human effort: the path is not straight, as the young believe; the reward (the path’s goal) cannot be seen: we do not see the summit it is meant to lead to, but a banner lures us onto the path or, in the best case, a secondary summit of no significance. – Along the way we find precious stones – or we glimpse the summit that becomes more and more true: our actual summit is the path itself.

The greatest beings are simply those who know paths best.

– Ludwig Hohl, The Notes (tr. Lewis)

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Ludwig Hohl, ‘On Work’

1

            Human life is short.

            It’s a fatal mistake to believe – or, more exactly, to preserve the childish belief – that life is long. if we were constantly aware of the brevity of our lives, everything would be very different.

            Life certainly appears long from the perspective of childhood considered from its end, it seems incredibly brief. Which is its actual duration? It depends how early and how often you’ve considered your life brief.

            (A life is not measured by the clock, but by what it contained.)

For our actions to be worthwhile, we must undertake them fully conscious of life’s brevity.

            If we lose this awareness, we may appear active but will live in a perpetual state of expectation (in most cases, external forces compel us to engage in apparent busyness and leave us no escape). However, if you maintain complete consciousness of life’s ephemerality, your primary desire will be to do something immediately ( – and with a very different kind of seriousness than the one with which you do things when governed by external forces). Yet it is only doing of this sort – activity you engage in out of inner compulsion and not because of external pressures – that gives life, that can save.

            Precisely this kind of action is what I call work.

            2

            This person refuses to work. We can offer him this or that object, use every means of influence in our power –: work is the only realm in which no one can help another.

            We can help each other with sowing and mowing, with copying, with moving one’s limbs or one’s tongue, with all such actions, but not with work.

            3

            What does human worth consist in then, in this world of perpetual flux?

            Still, this difficulty in determining human worth is only an apparent difficulty; this ostensibly serious question is an illusory one. It is a question asked by those who are not in place; of what interest is it to them? A swindle! Those who are in place see it more clearly. Human worth consists in the desire for worth.

            Yet we must immediately caution against two misconceptions – unclear thinking that leads to confusion:

            First, wanting worth is not the same as wanting to amass worth, to fatten up, to gain power.

            (In primitive times, these two may well have been the same, just as they still are among animals. The constant, fundamental underlying urge is surely to live more, to live a larger life. Nonetheless, human consciousness has been developing for thousands of years and man has been aware for millennia now that it is impossible to acquire a greater quantity of life by increasing his weight, mass, or physical strength. Those who want worth cannot desire it disingenuously, in other words, they can never act in disregard of levels of consciousness already achieved.)

            – Wanting worth is not the same as saying one wants worth: but it is the same as working.

            And yet, how would I be understood, today, in our era of dervishes, if I were to say: “Human worth consists in working”:

            Tourne, tourne, le derviche!

            Que la force centrifuge

            Cravache aux quatres

                        horizons

            Ses bras, ses yeaux, sa raison!

            Spin, spin, dervish!

            May centrifugal force

            Spur his arms, his eyes, his

                        reason

            To the four directions of the

                        wind!

            (Fernand Lot)

– in our era, when turning in a circle for ten hours at a stretch or treading the floor until it wears away is considered work?

            It’s important to emphasize the fact that most people don’t flee work into laziness – not into apparent laziness – but take refuge in completely moribund busyness rather than simple immobility. True laziness these days consists in dead movement.

            In some cases, apparent utter immobility would surely be preferable, because legitimate movement can break out of it, can find a new beginning in it.

            ‘”Activity, movement”: is work, then, not the same as movement (and movement, therefore, also the same as work)?

            Work is movement…, but it is our movement. We have the fatal ability to mimic others, a water wheel, for example.

            A real water wheel works as it turns: because turning is its own particular motion, its complete possibility. Even a cat works as it moves, is completely present in its movements, progresses through its movements. As do children above all. He who does not completely grasp the elevated praise of children in the New Testament – one of the most peculiar and perhaps most modern passages in this fascinating scripture that has been more powerful than any other book for almost two thousand years –, he who fails to understand this immediate, unmediated, intensive praise of children but feels compelled to struggle for an explanation – such toilsome explication being roughly the opposite of complete comprehension –, he, too, has failed to understand what work is.

            4

            We build. And yet we have no idea where the general contractor is. Fulfill only your particular task, which you can surely find.

— Ludwig Hohl, The Notes (tr. Lewis)

Sketch of a Sketch of the World

A man had to realize his life’s work, a work built like a house. He began by erecting a scaffold.

To build the scaffold, he needed new preparations and other scaffolds.

Many of these preparations and those other scaffolds required their own long retrogressions, all kinds of constructions and demanding efforts.

Efforts that consumed his days, while time flew by.

Time flew by; already one could see the approach of death, and the work still distant.

Yes, now, the man was farther from the scaffolding of the work than he had been from the work itself at the beginning… And yet he had spent his entire life in ceaseless efforts.

Death was near, time was of the essence.

Then the man found, without knowing it, or merely suspecting it, a word; perhaps the word even uttered itself; and from the paths that the man had taken, on its own, the work was accomplished.

Was it a house?

Some, later, would call it a house.

And that was the only house there has ever been.

— Ludwig Hohl (tr. M. Tweed)