A Highly Tonic Effect

The election of the individual is the kernel of Protestantism. It must be that without it, a proper emphasis on Works opens the door to the institution of the Church, its system of sacramens and a priesthood, and makes the individual dependent on it. Hence the insistence on Justification by Faith, the doctrine of the proesthood of all believers. Many have found it curious with regard to the Protestant attachment to Predestination, as they do inn the case of Marxist determinism, that it should be precisely these deterministic creeds which create the greatest energy of will in their adherents and drive them on to make the greatest efforts. It seems paradoxical in those who are at such pains to deny freedom of the will. The explanation can only be that to identify your desires and wishes with the march of events is the greatest assurance, comfort and reinforcement that human egoism can command. It stores up and releases untold energies; for, as we all know, human egoism is the greatest motive force in the world.

A. L. Rowse, The England of Elizabeth.

 

In this new religion, everything had to be within the common range of the Arabs, i.e., it had to be possible. Therefore Islam has the simplest catechism, and the main elements of this simplicity are as follows:

Oneness of God and his predicates.

Allah is neither procreated nor procreating.

Revelations by the prophets Adam, Noah, Moses, Christ, and Mohammed as the last of the prophets, but with intimations of a Mahdi.

The absolute decree; fatalism (Mohammed himself calls it “submission”) which had a highly tonic effect on aspiring forces. In connection with untoward things one speaks of “Mektub.”

Belief in angels (because Mohammed found devas, jinn, and peris).

Immortality and Last Judgment, Heaven and Hell (“Paradise lies under the shadow of swords”).

Moral laws, all kinds of moral precepts, among them “No lying” (for Mohammed reserved lying for himself); part of this is the civil law of the Koran which is in force to this day.

Finally, prayer, fasting, pilgrimage.

Jacob Burckhardt, Judgements on History and Historians.

 

Nevertheless we should remember that a perfected idealism has a tendency to change into its opposite and become a materialism for all practical purposes. Absolute Will is not a natural being, not anybody’s will or thought; it is a disembodied and unrealised genius which first comes into operation when it begins to surround itself with objects and points of resistance, so as to become aware of its own stress and vocation. What these objects or felt resistances may be is not prejudged; or rather it is prejudged that they shall be most opposite to spirit, and that spirit shall experience its own passivity—one mode of its fated and requisite experience—in the form of an influence which it imputes to dead and material things.

The whole business of spirit may, therefore, well be with matter. Science might be mechanical, art might be cumbrous and material, all the instruments of life might be brutal, life itself might be hard, bitter, and obsessed, and yet the whole might remain a direct manifestation of pure spirit, absolute freedom, and creative duty. This speculative possibility is worth noting: it helps us to understand modern Germany. It is no paradox that idealists should be so much at home among material things. These material things, according to them, are the offspring of their spirit. Why should they not sink fondly into the manipulation of philological details or chemical elements, or over-ingenious commerce and intrigue? Why should they not dote on blood and iron? Why should these fruits of the spirit be uncongenial to it?

A theoretical materialist, who looks on the natural world as on a soil that he has risen from and feeds on, may perhaps feel a certain piety towards those obscure abysses of nature that have given him birth; but his delight will be rather in the clear things of the imagination, in the humanities, by which the rude forces of nature are at once expressed and eluded. Not so the transcendentalist. Regarding his mind as the source of everything, he is moved to solemn silence and piety only before himself: on the other hand, what bewitches him, what he loves to fondle, is his progeny, the material environment, the facts, the laws, the blood, and the iron in which he conceives (quite truly, perhaps) that his spirit perfectly and freely expresses itself. To despise the world and withdraw into the realm of mind, as into a subtler and more congenial sphere, is quite contrary to his idealism. Such a retreat might bring him peace, and he wants war. His idealism teaches him that strife and contradiction, as Heraclitus said, are the parents of all things; and if he stopped striving, if he grew sick of ambition and material goods, he thinks he would be forsaking life, for he hates as he would death what another kind of idealists have called salvation.

We are told that God, when he had made the world, found it very good, and the transcendentalist, when he assumes the Creator’s place, follows his example. The hatred and fear of matter is perhaps not a sign of a pure spirit. Even contemplatively, a divine mind may perfectly well fall in love with matter, as the Moon-goddess did with Endymion. Such matter might be imagined only, as if Diana had merely dreamt of her swain; and the fond image might not be less dear on that account. The romantic poet finds his own spirit greeting him in rocks, clouds, and waves; the musician pours out his soul in movement and tumult; why should not the transcendental general, or engineer, or commercial traveller find his purest ideal in trade, crafts, and wars? Grim work, above all, is what absolute Will demands. It needs the stimulus of resistance to become more intensely conscious of Self, which is said to be its ultimate object in imagining a world at all. Acquisition interests it more than possession, because the sense of effort and power is then more acute. The more material the arts that engage it, and the more complicated and worldly its field of action, the more intense will be its exertion, and the greater its joy. This is no idealism for a recluse or a moping poet; it does not feel itself to be something incidental and fugitive in the world, like a bird’s note, that it should fear to be drowned in the crash of material instruments or to be forced to a hideous tension and shrillness: shrillness and tension are its native element. It is convinced that it has composed all the movements there are or can be in existence, and it feels all the more masterful, the more numerous and thunderous is the orchestra it leads. It is entirely at home in a mechanical environment, which it can prove transcendentally to be perfectly ideal. Its most congenial work is to hack its way through to the execution of its World-Plan. Its most adequate and soul-satisfying expression is a universal battle.

George Santayana, Egotism in German Philosophy.

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Expanse of Soul

I do not admire the excess of a virtue as of valour, except I see at the same time the excess of the opposite virtue, as in Epaminondas, who had the greatest valour and the greatest kindness. For otherwise it is not to rise, it is to fall. We do not display greatness by going to one extreme, but in touching both at once, and filling all the intervening space. But perhaps this is only a sudden movement of the soul from one to the other extreme, and in fact it is ever at one point only, as in the case of a firebrand. Be it so, but at least this indicates agility if not expanse of soul.

Blaise Pascal, Pensées, translated by A. J. Krailsheimer.

 

Simultaneous existence of incompatible things in the soul’s bearing; balance which leans both ways at once: that is saintliness, the actual realization of the microcosm, the imitation of the order of the world. The simultaneous existence of opposite virtues in the soul – like pincers to catch hold of God.

Simone Weil, ‘Contradiction’, in An Anthology, translated and edited by Sian Miles.

A Defense Strategy

Now, “Frenchness” may seem to be an intolerably vague idea, and it smells of related notions like Volksgeist that have acquired a bad odor since ethnography became polluted with racism in the 1930s. Nonetheless, an idea may be valid even if it is vague and has been abused in the past. Frenchness exists….[I]t is a distinct cultural style; and it conveys a particular view of the world—a sense that life is hard, that you had better not have any illusions about selflessness in your fellow men, that clear-headedness and quick wit are necessary to protect what little you can extract from your surroundings, and that moral nicety will get you nowhere. Frenchness makes for ironic detachment. It tends to be negative and disabused. Unlike its Anglo-Saxon opposite, the Protestant ethic, it offers no formula for conquering the world. It is a defense strategy, well suited to an oppressed peasantry or an occupied country. […] The world is made for knaves and fools, they say: better to be a knave than a fool.

Robert Darnton, The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History.

Generally, the Romanian does not believe in people’s kindness; he does not have an idyllic and sentimental outlook on life. Sometimes, the very idea he forms about people, tainted by suspicion and mistrust, has something pessimistic about it. He sees first an enemy in the person he meets and only after he has known him well does he grant him confidence, but never completely. […] This aspect of his character can easily be explained by the century-old life of sufferings and exploitations he has felt. The soul of a permanently oppressed, lied to and disillusioned people cannot breed sentimental or idyllic humanitarianism, nor trust in people and their kindness.

Mihai D. Ralea, The Romanian Phenomenon.

 

 

This Springs from Love

As long as we are with those whom we love, and as long as the sense of security is unimpaired, we rejoice, and the remote consequences of our love are usually forgotten. Its fears and its risks are unheeded. But when the dark day approaches, and the moment of sorrow is at hand, other and yet essential parts of our affection come into play. And if, perchance, the struggle has been long and arduous; if we have been tempted to cling to hope when hope should have been abandoned, so much the more are we at the last changed and humbled. To note the slow but inevitable march of disease, to watch the enemy stealing in at the gate, to see the strength gradually waning, the limbs tottering more and more, the noble faculties dwindling by degrees, the eye paling and losing its lustre, the tongue faltering as it vainly tries to utter its words of endearment, the very lips hardly able to smile with their wonted tenderness ; — to see this, is hard indeed to bear, and many of the strongest natures have sunk under it. But when even this is gone ; when the very signs of life are mute ; when the last faint tie is severed, and there lies before us nought save the shell and husk of what we loved too well, then truly, if we believed the separation were final, how could we stand up and live? We have staked our all upon a single cast, and lost the stake. There, where we have garnered up our hearts, and where our treasure is, thieves break in and spoil. Methinks, that in that moment of desolation, the best of us would succumb, but for the deep conviction that all is not really over ; that we have as yet only seen a part ; and that something remains behind. Something behind ; something which the eye of reason cannot discern, but on which the eye of affection is fixed. “What is that, which, passing over us like a shadow, strains the aching vision as we gaze at it? Whence comes that sense of mysterious companionship in the midst of solitude ; that ineffable feeling which cheers the afflicted ? Why is it that, at these times, our minds are thrown back on themselves, and, being so thrown, have a forecast of another and a higher state ?

If this be a delusion, it is one which the affections have themselves created, and we must believe that the purest and noblest elements of our nature conspire to deceive us. So surely as we lose what we love, so surely does hope mingle with grief. That if a man stood alone, he would deem himself mortal, I can well imagine. Why not ? On account of his loneliness, his moral faculties would be undeveloped, and it is solely from them that he could learn the doctrine of immortality.

There is nothing, either in the mechanism of the material universe, or in the vast sweep and compass of science, which can teach it. The human intellect, glorious as it is, and in its own field almost omnipotent, knows it not. For, the province and function of the intellect is to take those steps, and to produce those improvements, whether speculative or practical, which accelerate the march of nations, and to which we owe the august and imposing fabric of modern civilization. But this intellectual movement which determines the condition of man, does not apply with the same force to the condition of men. What is most potent in the mass, loses its supremacy in the unit. One law for the separate elements ; another law for the entire compound. The intellectual principle is conspicuous in regard to the race ; the moral principle in regard to the individual. And of all the moral sentiments which adorn and elevate the human character, the instinct of affection is surely the most lovely, the most powerful, and the most general. Unless, therefore, we are prepared to assert that  this, the fairest and choicest of our possessions, is of so delusive and fraudulent a character, that its dictates are not to be trusted, we can hardly avoid the conclusion, that, inasmuch as they are the same in all ages, with all degrees of knowledge, and with all varieties of religion, they bear upon their surface the impress of truth, and are at once the conditions and consequence of our being.

It is, then, to that sense of immortality with which the affections inspire us, that I would appeal for the best proof of the reality of a future life.

 Henry Thomas Bucke, ‘Mill on Liberty’, Essays.

 

Perhaps there is no such thing as the concept of the immortality of the soul, but there is a feeling of the soul’s immortality, and this springs from love. Thus I rejected and “was not interested” in the immortality of the soul, because I had so little love for my mother. I pitied her – but this is something different from love, not quite the same thing . . . If I had loved her more keenly, more ardently, if I had felt more pain and fear that “she was no more,” then there would have been “immortality of the soul,” “eternal life,” “life beyond the grave.” But is this perhaps the “hypothesis of love”? Why a “hypothesis,” when I “eat bread” and shall die if I don’t “eat”? “Eating” is like “the rotation of the earth round the sun” and other cosmic phenomena. So from the great cosmological anguish at parting, brought about by death (for the anguish is cosmological), there results “we shall meet beyond the grave.” This is like “water runs,” “fire burns,” and “bread nourishes.” So the “soul does not die when the body dies, but is only torn from the body,” separated from the body. Why this must be so cannot be proved, but we are all aware of it; we all know that it is so. To the number of all these eternal “truths,” on which the world hangs together, belongs also the eternity of the “I,” of “my sorrow,” of “my joy.” This concept – or more exactly the feeling that unites all of us who are alive – is so noble, sublime, and tender that the “State Duma” or the “Lena Miners’ Strike” or the asinine “I propose that we all stand up” (at news of someone’s death) are as nothing . . . And yet this concept, this feeling, is rejected in our world: Our world does not want it, does not know it, laughs at it. Does this not mean that “our world” (with its concepts) is something so transitory, so ephemeral, and so useless even to the generations coming after us that it is terrible to think about. Women’s bustles!

“Women used to wear bustles.”

“What? What did you say?”

“I said bustles.”

“Well, what of it? We don’t see them any more.”

“That’s just the point – ‘we don’t see them.’ ”

So tomorrow we won’t see the whole of “our time,” with its parliaments, its Darwin, its strikes. And this might happen because of this trifling thing – that “our time” had no use for “the immortality of the soul . . .”

This tender idea will outlive iron laws. Rails will break apart. Engines will break down. But for men “to weep” at the mere threat of “eternal separation” – this will never break down, this will never come to an end.

O people, believe in tender ideas. Throw away iron: It is only a cobweb. True iron is tears, sighs, agony. Only what is noble is true and will never be destroyed.

Vasily Rozanov, The Apocalypse of Our Time.

 

On the ship to Bergen Wittgenstein wrote of Christ’s Resurrection and of what inclined even him to believe in it. If Christ did not rise from the dead, he reasoned, then he decomposed in the grave like any other man. ‘HE IS DEAD AND DECOMPOSED.’ He had to repeat an underline the thought to appreciate its awfulness. For if that were the case, then Christ was a teacher like any other, ‘and can no longer HELP; and once more we are orphaned and alone. So we have to content ourselves with wisdom and speculation.’ And if that is all we have, then: ‘We are in a sort of hell where we can do nothing but dream, roofed in, as it were, and cut off from heaven.’ If he wanted to be saved, to be redeemed, then wisdom was not enough; he needed faith:

“And faith is faith in what is needed by my HEART, my SOUL, not my speculative intelligence. For it is my soul with its passions, as it were with its flesh and blood, that has to be saved, not my abstract mind. Perhaps we can only say: Only LOVE can believe in the Resurrection. Or: it is LOVE that believes the Resurrection. We might say: Redeeming love believes even in the Resurrection; holds fast even to Resurrection …
What combats doubt is, as it were, REDEMPTION. Holding fast to THIS must be holding fast to that belief. …”

Ray Monk, Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius.

 

To Unite the Qualities of Each

Thus conducting himself, Antony was beloved by all. He subjected himself in sincerity to the good men whom he visited, and learned thoroughly where each surpassed him in zeal and discipline. He observed the graciousness of one; the unceasing prayer of another; he took knowledge of another’s freedom from anger and another’s loving-kindness; he gave heed to one as he watched, to another as he studied; one he admired for his endurance, another for his fasting and sleeping on the ground; the meekness of one and the long-suffering of another he watched with care, while he took note of the piety towards Christ and the mutual love which animated all. Thus filled, he returned to his own place of discipline, and henceforth would strive to unite the qualities of each, and was eager to show in himself the virtues of all. With others of the same age he had no rivalry; save this only, that he should not be second to them in higher things. And this he did so as to hurt the feelings of nobody, but made them rejoice over him. So all they of that village and the good men in whose intimacy he was, when they saw that he was a man of this sort, used to call him God-beloved. And some welcomed him as a son, others as a brother.

Athanasius, Life of Saint Anthony, translated by H. Ellershaw.

 

In all things by which praise is won, Leon Battista was from his childhood the first. Under the pressure of poverty, he studied both civil and canonical law for many years, till exhaustion brought on a severe illness. In his twenty-fourth year, finding his memory for words weakened, but his sense of facts unimpaired, he set to work at physics and mathematics. And all the while he acquired every sort of accomplishment and dexterity, cross-examining artists, scholars and artisans of all descriptions, down to the cobblers, about the secrets and peculiarities of their craft. Painting and modelling he practiced by the way, and especially excelled in admirable likenesses from memory. Great admiration was excited by his mysterious ‘camera obscura,’ in which he showed at one time the stars and the moon rising over rocky hills, at another wide landscapes with mountains and gulfs receding into dim perspective, and with fleets advancing on the waters in shade or sunshine. And that which others created he welcomed joyfully, and held every human achievement which followed the laws of beauty for something almost divine. To all this must be added his literary works, first of all those on art, which are landmarks and authorities of the first order for the Renaissance of Form, especially in architecture; then his Latin prose writings — novels and other works — of which some have been taken for productions of antiquity; his elegies, eclogues, and humorous dinner-speeches. He also wrote an Italian treatise on domestic life in four books; and even a funeral oration on his dog. His serious and witty sayings were thought worth collecting, and specimens of them, many columns long, are quoted in his biography. And all that he had and knew he imparted, as rich natures always do, without the least reserve, giving away his chief discoveries for nothing.

Jacob Burckhardt on Leon Battista Alberti, in The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, translated by S. G. C. Middlemore.

Religion

‘Love is the cheapest of religions.’

Cesare Pavese, This Business of Living: Diaries 1935-1950, translated by A. E. Murch.

 

‘To fall in love is to create a religion with a fallible god.’

J. L. Borges, ‘The Meeting in a Dream’, in The Total Library: Non-Fiction 1922-1986, translated by Eliot Weinberger.

The Rest of the World

‘Billy says the Germans are the most moral people in the world when it comes to dealing with Germans, and the most immoral in their dealings with the rest of the world. It’s quite true. A German would weep with pain if he saw our almshouses or our slums, or realized that we didn’t have federal workmen’s compensation — and didn’t carry out the law when we do have it in a State — or that we don’t always protect machinery for the workers. They hold the point of view, which religious sects are growing out of: Anything that added to the glory of God used to be right — what adds to the glory of Germany is right.’

Ernesta Drinker Bullitt, June 4th 1916, An Uncensored Diary from the Central Empires (1917).

 

‘To ensure his future hold over the people, Moses introduced a new cult, which was the opposite of all other religions. […] Whatever their origin, these rites are sanctioned by their antiquity. Their other customs are impious and abominable, and owe their prevalence to their depravity.  All that we hold sacred they held profane, and allowed practices which we abominate.  For all the most worthless rascals, renouncing their national cults, were always sending money to swell the sum of offerings and tribute. This is one cause of Jewish prosperity. Another is that they are  obstinately loyal to each other, and always ready to show compassion, whereas they feel nothing but hatred and enmity for the rest of the world. They eat and sleep separately. Though immoderate in sexual indulgence, they refrain from all intercourse with foreign women: among themselves anything is allowed. They have introduced circumcision to distinguish themselves from other people. Those who are converted to their customs adopt the same practice, and the first lessons they learn are to despise the gods, to renounce their country, and to think nothing of their parents, children, and brethren. However, they take steps to increase their numbers. They count it a crime to kill any of their later-born children,  and they believe that the souls of those who die in battle or under persecution are immortal. Thus they think much of having children and nothing of facing death.’

Tacitus, The Histories, Volume II, translated by W. Hamilton Fyfe (1912).

A Superfluous Labor of Verification

In youth, men are apt to write more wisely than they really know or feel, and the remainder of life may be not idly spent in realizing and convincing themselves of the wisdom which they uttered long ago. The truth that was only in the fancy then may have since become a substance in the mind and heart.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, preface from The Snow-Image, 1852.

 

One often makes a remark and only later sees how true it is.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Notebooks 1916-1916, 11 October 1914, translated by G. E. M. Anscombe.

 

Was I ignorant, then, when I was seventeen? I think not. I knew everything. A quarter-century’s experience of life since then has added nothing to what I knew. The one difference is that at seventeen I had no “realism.”

Yukio Mishima, Sun and Steel, translated by John Bester.

 

What I know at sixty, I knew as well at twenty. Forty years of a long, a superfluous labor of verification.

Emil Cioran, The Trouble with Being Born, translated by Richard Howard.

A Curious Specimen

‘The life of Lilly the astrologer, written by himself, is a curious work. He is the Sidrophel of Butler. It contains so much artless narrative, and at the same time so much palpable imposture, that it is difficult to know when he is speaking what he really believes to be the truth. In a sketch of the state of astrology in his day, those adepts, whose characters he has drawn, were the lowest miscreants of the town. They all speak of each other as rogues and impostors. Such were Booker, George Wharton, Gadbury, who gained a livelihood by practising on the credulity of even men of learning so late as in 1650, to the eighteenth century. In Ashmole’s Life an account of these artful impostors may be found. Most of them had taken the air in the pillory, and others had conjured themselves up to the gallows. This seems a true statement of facts. But Lilly informs us, that in his various conference with angels, their voice resembled that of the Irish!’

Isaac d’Israeli, ‘English Astrologers’, Curiosities of Literature, 1807.

 

‘But the revilers of the people have not spared even their speech. Of the species of abuse usually resorted to, a curious specimen may be found in the prejudiced Stanihurst, (temp. Elizabeth,) who assures his readers, that the Irish was unfit even for the prince of darkness himself to utter, and to illustrate this, the bigotted Saxon gravely adduced the case of a possessed person in Rome, who “spoke every known tongue except Irish, but in that he neither would nor could speak, because of its intolerable harshness.”‘
James Hardiman, Irish Minstrelsy, Or Bardic Remains of Ireland, Vol I, introduction, 1831.

Once Upon a Time

‘CONSIDER the herds that are feeding yonder: they know not the meaning of yesterday or to-day; they graze and ruminate, move or rest, from morning to night, from day to day, taken up with their little loves and hates, at the mercy of the moment, feeling neither melancholy nor satiety. Man cannot see them without regret, for even in the pride of his humanity he looks enviously on the beast’s happiness. He wishes simply to live without satiety or pain, like the beast; yet it is all in vain, for he will not change places with it. He may ask the beast—”Why do you look at me and not speak to me of your happiness?” The beast wants to answer—”Because I always forget what I wished to say”: but he forgets this answer too, and is silent; and the man is left to wonder.

He wonders also about himself, that he cannot learn to forget, but hangs on the past: however far or fast he run, that chain runs with him. It is matter for wonder: the moment, that is here and gone, that was nothing before and nothing after, returns like a spectre to trouble the quiet of a later moment. A leaf is continually dropping out of the volume of time and fluttering away and suddenly it flutters back into the man’s lap. Then he says, “I remember . . . ,” and envies the beast, that forgets at once, and sees every moment really die, sink into night and mist, extinguished for ever. The beast lives unhistorically; for it “goes into” the present, like a number, without leaving any curious remainder. It cannot dissimulate, it conceals nothing; at every moment it seems what it actually is, and thus can be nothing that is not honest. But man is always resisting the great and continually increasing weight of the past; it presses him down, and bows his shoulders; he travels with a dark invisible burden that he can plausibly disown, and is only too glad to disown in converse with his fellows—in order to excite their envy. And so it hurts him, like the thought of a lost Paradise, to see a herd grazing, or, nearer still, a child, that has nothing yet of the past to disown, and plays in a happy blindness between the walls of the past and the future. And yet its play must be disturbed, and only too soon will it be summoned from its little kingdom of oblivion. Then it learns to understand the words “once upon a time,” the “open sesame” that lets in battle, suffering and weariness on mankind, and reminds them what their existence really is, an imperfect tense that never becomes a present. And when death brings at last the desired forgetfulness, it abolishes life and being together, and sets the seal on the knowledge that “being” is merely a continual “has been,” a thing that lives by denying and destroying and contradicting itself.’

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Use and Abuse of History for Life, translated by Adrian Collins.

 

‘The historical materialist cannot do without the concept of a present which is not a transition, in which time originates and has come to a standstill. For this concept defines precisely the present in which he writes history for his person. Historicism depicts the “eternal” picture of the past; the historical materialist, an experience with it, which stands alone. He leaves it to others to give themselves to the whore called “Once upon a time” in the bordello of historicism. He remains master of his powers: man enough, to explode the continuum of history.

[…]

Historicism justifiably culminates in universal history. Nowhere does the materialist writing of history distance itself from it more clearly than in terms of method. The former has no theoretical armature. Its method is additive: it offers a mass of facts, in order to fill up a homogenous and empty time. The materialist writing of history for its part is based on a constructive principle. Thinking involves not only the movement of thoughts but also their zero-hour. Where thinking suddenly halts in a constellation overflowing with tensions, there it yields a shock to the same, through which it crystallizes as a monad. The historical materialist approaches a historical object solely and alone where he encounters it as a monad. In this structure he cognizes the sign of a messianic zero-hour of events, or put differently, a revolutionary chance in the struggle for the suppressed past. He perceives it, in order to explode a specific epoch out of the homogenous course of history; thus exploding a specific life out of the epoch, or a specific work out of the life-work. The net gain of this procedure consists of this: that the life-work is preserved and sublated in the work, the epoch in the life-work, and the entire course of history in the epoch. The nourishing fruit of what is historically conceptualized has time as its core, its precious but flavorless seed.

[…]

Historicism contents itself with establishing a causal nexus of various moments of history. But no state of affairs is, as a cause, already a historical one. It becomes this, posthumously, through eventualities which may be separated from it by millennia. The historian who starts from this, ceases to permit the consequences of eventualities to run through the fingers like the beads of a rosary. He records [erfasst] the constellation in which his own epoch comes into contact with that of an earlier one. He thereby establishes a concept of the present as that of the here-and-now, in which splinters of messianic time are shot through.’

Walter Benjamin, On the Concept of History, translated by Dennis Redmond.