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A Heart That Can Endure by Nadia Sels

In anthropology, philosophy, society on June 6, 2013 at 20:07

From: A Heart That Can Endure: Blumenberg’s Anthropology of Solace by Nadia Sels, Image & Narrative, http://www.imageandnarrative.be/index.php/imagenarrative/index

In his essay “Trostbedürfnis und Untröstlichkeit des Menschen”, Hans Blumenberg discusses the philosophical and anthropological importance of the concept of consolation. Man, he claims, is the only animal whose pain can be caused or taken away by what is ultimately a fiction. This article resumes and comments upon the main argument of this text and situates it in the context of Blumenberg’s broader view on man as an animal symbolicum, and more particularly his theory on the “absolutism of reality”. It concludes with an inquiry into the link between consolation and human creativity in both word and image.

Blumenberg starts out by referring to Boethius’ De Consolatione Philosophiae and draws attention to its peculiar premise: that philosophy should provide not so much truth but rather consolation – that what enables us to bear the unbearable. It is our relation to this enigmatic category, Blumenberg argues, that distinguishes us from other animals, even more so than our potential for rationality. He also immediately points out that there is a certain tension between these two human capacities. “Seeking or offering comfort is sometimes contemptible,” he immediately adds: “It appears as a mentality of faulty realism, since solace exactly consists in the fact that one believes that nothing can be changed about the way things are, and therefore abandons all attempts to do so” (“Trostbedürfnis” 623) Comfort indeed can be associated with escapism and fatalism, and this is probably particularly true for recent times, in which the prevailing neoliberal discourse propagates the idea that in all circumstances we are, and should be, in full control of our lives: problems ought to be seen as ‘challenges’ to be ‘met’, we have to ‘move on’, ‘look forward’, ‘be flexible’. Like a somewhat embarrassing physical problem, the need for consolation is not something we tend to discuss in public, and it is indeed difficult to even repeatedly use the word without sounding a bit corny.
Blumenberg however explicitly distances himself from this idea of the need for solace as a sign of personal weakness by approaching it as an anthropological constant, a category intrinsically bound up with the peculiarity of the human species. For this he quotes a diary fragment of Georg Simmel that puts the finger on the reason why consolation is distinctive to mankind, and at the same time points out its paradoxical nature:

The concept of consolation has a much broader, deeper meaning than we usually attribute to it. Man is a being who seeks to be consoled. Consolation is something other than help – even the animal seeks the latter; but consolation is the strange experience which lets suffering remain but, so to speak, abolishes the suffering from suffering. It does not concern the evil cause but its reflex in the deepest part of the soul. (625, cit. from Simmel 17)5

Read the essay

Reposted with permission from: Image & Narrative

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