by Jürgen Euler
I. In praise of private transport
"Previously I understood little of the high articles of faith, as is the way with laymen, and much less of nature, until the light within nature eternal commenced to radiate before me and filled me with such ardour that I started to write, wishing to set a memorial to my realization. for my spirit passed through all things like a bolt of lightning and I saw into the depths of eternity."
One summer morning in 1977 I was driving from Wiesbaden to Frankfurt in my old 180 MERCEDES DIESEL, a 1961 model (plate number WI - AR 14), in order to attend a lecture on pedagogics at the university. Near the ARAL petrol station behind the Wiesbaden OPEL roundabout stood an aged, bearded hitchhiker in beatnik look. I stopped and invited him in. I recognized him at once, for not long before a poster with his portrait had hung in my room. There was no doubt about it, it was Karl Marx.
A lively conversation ensued and we got along marvellously. After a short lull in the conversation - in the meantime we had reached the MASSA supermarket outside Hattersheim, he suddenly remarked: "By the way, did you know that I received an illumination?" I gave a start and all at once I was so confused that I could easily have caused an accident.
He's of his rocker, I thought, perhaps his memory has waned during his long period of absence. "That can't be true", I said, "just remember, you were the greatest theorist of atheism. Illumination! You can try telling that to your hairdresser."- "Well," he replied, "I did write in my Parisian Manuscripts that atheism no longer has any meaning. If you're interested I can show you a few things that will astonish you." Of course I was interested.
We reached Frankfurt without further incident. Once inside the Deutsche Bibliothekclick for 1) we had the first two half volumes of the first book of the first part of the Complete Works of Marx and Engels from 1975 (MEGA), the first two half volumes of the first book of the first part of the Historico-Critical Complete Works from the year 1927, and the first supplementary volume of the Works of Marx and Engels brought to us.
There he showed me his novel, his poems, in particular those he had dedicated to his father on the occasion of his birthday in 1837, and his letter to his father from the 10th of November, 1837.
I was extremely surprised to discover that Marx had written poems, and as promised I came across a large number of highly peculiar utterances which talked about "manifestations", "heavenly forms", "magical occurrences", "super-natural manifestations", "metamorphoses", "transformations", "electrical convulsions", "luminous configurations", "lightning flashes", "flashes of genius" and "inner combats".
On reading some of the poems he slapped his thigh and laughed until the tears rolled down his cheeks. Then Marx started to describe his illumination which I shall retell in the following chapter.2)
II. The quiet corners of the Deutsche Bibliothek
"How well I know that blissful feeling experienced by all who place themselves in a deep, heartful relationship with God, - both the rationalist as well as the mystic." Friedrich Engels
"In the spring of 1837 I, a young doctoral candidate for jurisprudence, arrived in Trier from Berlin to ask the privy councillor von Westphalen for the hand of his daughter, Jenny. I was really looking forward to seeing both my beloved and - if slightly less so - my parents. I no longer had the best of relationships with them, but I enjoyed visiting them from time to time. Just that I no longer really knew how I should react to them. But first and foremost I delighted in returning to my home grounds.
The following days passed quite harmoniously until the fateful evening where I not only gave my parents a full account of my studies up to that time, but also of the fundamental changes in my view of the world. I was no longer the pious Christian high school boy of yore, but had in the meanwhile become an atheist and counted myself among the leftist Hegelians. I told them about Bruno Bauer, and also Feuerbach who had unmasked God as a mere reflection of human nature in assumed heavenly form.
My father was incensed. All his efforts to bring me up as a God-fearing person seemed to have proven fruitless. A fierce argument developed between my father and I which carried on deep into the night. My mother wept.
The next day my mother and I were sitting together after breakfast when we came back to the hefty exchange of opinions from the previous evening. I said that my father was living on the moon if he was still able to consider that a product of human phantasy and human ineptitude was the measure of all things. My mother did not take the matter any further, but rather she said: "You and your father - you're both rebels."
At first I was unable to understand this comment. It was quite clear to me that I was a rebel - what I hated above all else was subservience, and it was not without reason that I had attempted to do battle with the pious. That could already be seen by my changeover to atheism and the row with my father. - But that my father was apparently a rebel? -Ridiculous. It was sheer opportunism which had led to my father's conversion from Judaism to Protestantism, and with the the Kasino conflict3) he had not exactly proved himself to be the greatest fighter against authority.
But then it occurred to me that by changing his religion my father had gone against the conventions set down by his family circle. At that moment I began to see the circumstances under which my father had been raised with my father's eyes, and I came to the conclusion that if I had undergone the same socialization, I would have become the same servile, submissive conformist I took my father to be. The harder I thought about it, the more my self concept I had held up until then disappeared. My thoughts reached the point where they had become completely autonomous. I was no longer the thinker - I was being thought. There was something which was thinking 'Me'. I, the 'goodly person', had not developed into a leftist Hegelian off my 'own' bat, by my 'own' decision, but was rather the product of my socialization. This realization brought 'me' to the point where 'I' placed my whole 'self' in question, or rather to where 'my' 'self' no longer existed at all. At that point, where my previous identity vanished, my entire view of the world, my conception of what life is and means, dwindled into an indefinable mass. Then it happened: a celestial manifestation emanated from my soul.
"A celestial manifestation emanated from my soul." (MEGA I, 1, 1, P.696)
I felt how all opposites resolved themselves and became one as a matter of course, how everything melted, forming an incredible harmony:
"I was rapt in myself, I saw a realm well up whose aether billowed so weightlessly and yet so heavy, and in the aether was a divine image, beauty incarnate, of which I had once had a glimmer in daring reveries but could never properly discern."
(MEGA I, 1, 1, P.702)
and that one is, oneself, a small person which is part of this unity, a feeling as if one were floating in the cosmos
"My innermost self is excited, I look into the cosmos and into myself" (MEGA I, 1, 1, P.688)
"You sink, trembling,
There is a beating in your breast,
You see boundless,
Above you, beneath you,
Floating, dancing the reel
Of indefatigable eternity,
And you, an atom,
Sink into the universe." (MEGA I, 1, 1, P.639)
"I see the heavens open,
How strange it grippeth me,
My hopes to near the stars
become an entity." (MEGA I, 1, 1, P.518)
and with this one hears Pink Floyd music,
"A heavenly form approaches me,
Borne on the aether's stream,
And from it sounds a melody
Of darkest power supreme." ("The manifestation", MEGA I, 1, 1, P.743 ff.)
"The emergence of forms from atoms, their attraction and repulsion, is noisy. The workshops and smithys of the world are a clamorous battle, a tension full of animosity."(Excerpt from: Lucretius II 113-120, quoted in the preliminary work for his dissertation)
but considerably better. As if the gravity of the world has diminished and you are freed. Freed from doctrines, philosophies, society, consumerism, from yourself.
This feeling of the total dissolution of self was at the same time a feeling of new discovery. Of newness coming into being.
"Your waking is infinite arising,
Your arising eternal fall...
Is infinite arising,
Your infinite arising,
Is with trembling lips,
Kiss of love,
From the godhead,
Reddened by the aether." (MEGA I, 1, 1, P.639 f.)
Everything which you have worried yourself about seems childish, ridiculous and banal.
"You vilify the worth of man,
Forsooth, you know just what he can,
You know already depths profound
That other gazes have yet to sound." (MEGA I, 1, 1, P.639)
Phew, it's incredibly hard to describe. It was simply a feeling of deep contentment,
"Such lofty well-being, like aether so light,
Like floating on cloudlets and currents of air,
A beauty transcending a great artist's might,
as if spun of perfumes aetherial and fair." (MEGA I, 1, 1, P.741 ff.)
of being able understand all things, I knew `everything', was connected with `all things', I could no longer see any problems whatsoever, somewhere in the darkness of the universe I had found my God who is neither ancient nor sports a white beard, who is simply just the dissolution of the hylic and consequently one's own human body, and at the same time is a unity of all things, a new constitution.
"On waves of light, from far away,
A self-existent spirit draws by,
The planets surge and life's springs play,
Eternity enwraps his eye." (MEGA I, 1, 1, P.622)
After this experience I gradually returned to my consciousness of the everyday world. But this was accompanied by an incredible Eureka experience:
"Beauty...sparkled with flashes of genius" (MEGA I, 1, 1, P.702)
Concepts which I had experienced as opposites and viewed as unique and separate were linked with one another:
"I devoted myself to intense research, to discover what connection there might be between the linen cupboard and primogeniture, when it was as if I was struck by a thunderbolt, thought after thought piling up in my mind4), my gaze was transfigured and a configuration of light entered my sight.
Primogeniture is the linen cupboard...
Found it, found the philosopher's stone!" (MEGA I, 1, 1, P.696)
This restructuring of my mental processes was extremely painful. Anyone who has ever suffered from a renal colic will have an idea of the extent of the pain, with the exception that this pain raged in my mind.
"The supernatural manifestation...had ravaged their nerves to such an extent that in the chaos of expansion the cohesive power of their limbs was dissipated, just as in the embryo which has not torn itself from the universal state and taken on specific form5), so that their noses sank to their navels and their heads to the ground." (MEGA I, 1, 1, P.697)
"At first the (magical-) stroke was shattering" (Letter written to his father on 10.11.1837)
With this pain I was endowed with crystal clear, unclouded perception. The world was different to everything that I had been told and hitherto understood. And then I was beset by the terrifying fear that I would be forced to remain with this perception for ever, never longer able to speak or write - to be dead whilst physically alive. All at once I could understand 'madmen' incredibly well. But then my everyday consciousness finally returned after all. I was beset by a fit of depression and just managed to drag myself to bed.
With this experience the identity I had held until now was fundamentally destroyed.
"A curtain had fallen, my most holy of holies torn to shreds, and had to be replaced by new gods." (Letter to his father)
"My eye looks so crazed,
My cheek is so pale,
My mind is so dazed,
By this strange vale." ("Transformation", MEGA I, 1, 1, P.545)
"I gaped at myself, for I had grown large as a result of my love, gigantic, I saw an infinite sea, but there were no longer waves roaring across it, it had taken on depths and eternity, its surface was crystalline and attached to its dark floor were pulsating golden stars which sang songs of love and radiated heat, and the sea was warm!" (MEGA I, 1, 1, P.702)
"We are all, each one of us, a Dr. Faust in as much as we do not know which side is the right and which the left, and so our life is a circus, we run about searching for the sides until we fall over in the sand and the gladiator, life itself, kills us... we cannot distinguish the right side from the left, we do not know where they are." (MEGA I, 1, 1, P.694)
However, with this I knew what death was like, that it means nothing more than a metamorphosis into another state of consciousness.
"Although thought and being are ... different, at the same time they form an integrated whole.
Death seems to be a hard victory for the genus over the specific individual, and to contradict the former's unity; but the specific individual is merely a specific generic creature and as such mortal." (MEW Supp. 1, P.539)
On the basis of this experience I later wrote that atheism no longer has any meaning.
"Atheism ... no longer has any meaning" (MEW Supp. 1, P.539)
There is absolutely nothing I can do about the way my correct statement, religion is the opium of the people, was later interpreted to assume that I was an atheist.
I tried to convey the impressions I gained from this crisis in my letter to my father on the 10th of November 1837,
"As I left you a new world had come into being for me..."
in the poems dedicated to my "dearest father on his birthday, 1837",
"Like some creator, a fiery tide
Welled to me from thy breast,
It came araging from far and wide
And I nourished it in my breast.6)
Radiant stood thy form, and love's vibration -
Aeolian tones - stilled the conflagration...
At last the inner struggle was gone,
I saw pain and joy distiled in song." ("Dedication. To my father", MEGA I, 1, 1, P.623)
"Now that I have discovered the highest and found the depths midst my contemplations
I am rough-hewn, like a God, so cloak me in darkness like Him.
For long I inquired and floated on the billowing waves of thought,
And there I found the word, and cling tight to what I have found...
Merrily roving through the aether,
Fichte and Kant sought a far-off land,
But the objects on ev'ry street are
all my spirit wants to understand!" ("Hegel", MEGA I, 1, 1, P.611)
"I can't explain to what I owe
This thing that sets my heart aflame,
That which the heavens can but grant
And no mundane sound ever name.
And none to whom I can impart,
They simply ridicule me,
For into nature's hidden heart
They've ne'er been able to see. " (MEGA I, 1, 1, P.517)
"A phoenix rises high'r and high'r,
Up from its fiery brand,
It bears within a heav'nly choir
And shines across the land...
I stood there rooted and quite dazed,
Yet mysteriously obsessed,
For hope and love had in my breast
Most suddenly come ablaze." (MEGA I, 1, 1, P.611 f.)
as well as in the tragedy "Oulanem" and my novel "Scorpion and Felix".
Furthermore, after this expansion of my consciousness my dissertation in jurisprudence, which I had already begun, seemed to be so inane that I cast it to one side and wrote instead on the "Difference between the Democretian and Epicurian natural philosophies".
I offer the following advise to anyone who wishes to have a similar experience:
"I can not give any better advice to one who wishes to attain a self-evident, rather than an abstract, conception of the ...Holy Trinity7) than to dream of Nothing until he has not fallen asleep but, on the contrary, keeps wakeful in the Lord and examines this sentence, for the self-evident concept lies within it. If we mount to its heights, five paces removed from our present vantage point, stationed above it like a cloud, the gigantic Not comes up to us, if we descend into its midst we are startled by the enormous Nothingness, and if we sink into its depths, the two of them reconcile themselves again, harmonising with each other in the Not which leaps out at us in an audacious, vertical flaming script."8)
(MEGA I, 1, 1, P.700)
However, I warn you:
"He who beholds with healthy eye,
Returns hushed and deathly paled,
He digs the grave for his own joy
From death's blind breath assailed."9)
No way should one attempt it unaccompanied. Whoever wishes to sink gently into such dreams is recommended to place my poem "Nachtgedanken"10) beside St.John's Revelation, especially Rev. I, 14-16."
With this Marx concluded the description of his illumination.
"To this world the spirit is drawn
on rolling waves of life 'tis borne,
Not thirst for knowledge, not courageousness, stirs its blood,
But hush, you critics -"illumination was most good." (MEGA I, 1, 1, P.754)
III. The advantages of wandering
"The 'it' goes marching on." Melanie
If you should come across it, give the "it" my greetings.
Translation: Malcolm Green
1) Translator's note: Deutsche Bibliothek, the main library in Frankfurt which collects all post-war publications in German.
/ back to note 1)
2) While describing his illumination, Marx pointed his finger at the corresponding passages in the texts. In the following chapter I shall quote them at the appropriate junctures. / back to note 2)
3) Translator's note: The `Kasino Gesellschaft' was a progressive, pro French literary and debating society to which Marx's father belonged. In 1834 he gave a speech (after the Marseillaise had been duly sung!) which, although fairly temperate, was enough to en-gender the wrath of the Prussian authorities. Threatened with sanctions and repercussions, father Marx backed down. / back to note 3)
4) In the Historico-Critical Complete Works from 1927 stands the word `thönend'!!! (resounding) instead of `thürmend' (piling up). Marx found both equally fitting. / back to note 4)
5) Here Marx is pointing to the connection between "Illumination" and prenatal consciousness.
/ back to note 5)
6) Marx clasped his forehead with a groan as he came to this rhyme. / back to note 6)
7) Marx opined that in the description presented here he had made a substantial contribution to clarifying the mystery of the combination of "Father - Son - Holy Ghost". / back to note 7)
8) Marx complained at this point that a scientific paper on the importance of this mantra had yet to be presented.
/ back to note 8)
9) Marx said that the scripturists should have generously placed `joy' in the dative. (Translator's note: i.e. "He digs the grave for joy." ) / back to note 9)
10) Translator's note: `Nachtgedanken' = `Nocturnal thoughts' / back to note 10)
Euler, Jürgen, Identität und Marxistischer Materialismus - Zur Theorie epistemologischer Einschnitte, Frankfurt /M 1977, nicht-veröffentlichte Diplomarbeit
Marx, Karl, Engels, Friedrich, Werke (MEW), Ergänzungsband 1, Berlin 1958
Marx, Karl, Engels, Friedrich, Historisch-Kritische Gesamtausgabe, Berlin 1927, Abteilung I, Band 1, 1. u. 2. Halbband
Marx, Karl, Engels, Friedrich, Gesamtausgabe (MEGA), Berlin 1975, Abteilung I, Band 1, 1. u. 2. Halbband