Labyrinth — Dedalo

Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Faust von Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


Of joyous days ye bring the blissful vision;

The dear, familiar phantoms rise again,

And, like an old and half-extinct tradition,

First Love returns, with Friendship in his train.

Renewed is Pain: with mournful repetition

Life tracks his devious, labyrinthine chain,

And names the Good, whose cheating fortune tore them

From happy hours, and left me to deplore them.


Ihr bringt mit euch die Bilder froher Tage,

Und manche liebe Schatten steigen auf;

Gleich einer alten, halbverklungnen Sage

Kommt erste Lieb und Freundschaft mit herauf;

Der Schmerz wird neu, es wiederholt die Klage

Des Lebens labyrinthisch irren Lauf,

Und nennt die Guten, die, um schöne Stunden

Vom Glück getäuscht, vor mir hinweggeschwunden.


Voi recate le immagini di giorni spensierati,

ed affiorano ombre che mi furono care;

simili ad un’antica, quasi svanita saga

ritornano con voi gli amici e i primi amori;

si rinnova il dolore, il pianto ripercorre

il corso labirintico di una vita errabonda,

e nomina i magnanimi prima di me scomparsi,

frodati dalla sorte di belle ore felici.



 梁啟超 (Liang Qichao) said

to renovate the people of a nation, one must first renovate its fiction

Which can be about the dissemination of ideas, though with modern sociology we can know that society is itself a kind of fiction, a narrative that is the result of power games between people, and their organisations and institutions, resulting int he great narrative that we ay call society, be it in the shape of small communities and neighborhoods or be it as matter of the word society.

The part of the narrative is not (only) a matter of the presentation but moreover and importantly a matter of establishing the inks, thus also the gaps that we may be able tip open fro a counter-hegemony. Wasn’t Goethe right? 

An extremely odd demand is often set forth but never met, even by those who make it: i.e., that empirical data should be presented without any theoretical context, leaving the reader, the student, to his own devices in judging it. This demand seems odd because it is useless simply to look at something. Every act of looking turns into observation, every act of observation into reflection, every act of reflection into the making of associations; thus it is evident that we theorize every time we look carefully at the world.

 From: Goethe, Preface,” Theory of Color, Miller 159; Quoted in: Frederick Amrine, 1990: The Metamorphosis of the Scientist. Goethe Yearbook, Volume 5: 187-212; here: 188

wishes … – on the Greek elections, and the time that follows

Whatever we are able and would like to do, presents itself to our imagination, as without us and in the future ; we feel a longing after that which we already possess in secret. thus the passionate anticipating grasp changes  the truly possible into a dreamed reality. Now if such a bias lies decidedly in our nature, then, with every every step of our development will a part of the first wish be fulfilled – under favourable circumstances in the direct way, under unfavourable in the circuitous way, from which we always come back again to the other. Thus we see men by perseverance attain to earthly wealth; they surround themselves with riches, splendor, and external honour. Others strive yet more certainly after intellectual advantages, acquire for themselves a clear survey of things, a peacefulness of mind, and a certainty for the present and the future.
Goethe: Truth and Poetry. From my Own Life; Translated from the German by John Oxenford, Esq; London: Henry G. Bohn; 1848


Unsere Wünsche sind Vorgefühle der Fähigkeiten, die in uns liegen, Vorboten desjenigen, was wir zu leisten imstande sein werden. Was wir können und möchten, stellt sich unserer Einbildungskraft außer uns und in der Zukunft dar; wir fühlen eine Sehnsucht nach dem, was wir schon im Stillen besitzen. So verwandelt ein leidenschaftliches Vorausgreifen das wahrhaft Mögliche in ein erträumtes Wirkliches.

Quelle: Dichtung und Wahrheit IX

Domine Quo Vadis?

It seems to be a simple question that recently had been put forward here

But what are people coming to Rome want to buy? What is the special pleasure, the experience they are looking for when doing to the so-called eternal city?

And it seems so simple that at the beginning, near those times of the very beginning at which we find the word,[1] a man supposedly had been asked

Domine Quo Vadis?

found an immediate answer. At least this is what had been handed down to us: he promptly replied to the Apostle who thus asked:

Romam vado iterum crucifigi.

But seen in the light of the answer the question takes a different form – and is surely not simple at all, especially not if we accept that an answer as this is by no means self evident, and will surely not given by most of us.

Sure, the danger of being crucified is today marginal – though one wonders about some things happening in this world, at this stage, in this place called Europe: enlightened and shining bright, claiming to be idol for the rest of the world. Sure, the danger of being crucified is marginal as cases where people are fixed to a bench with needles in their arm for death penalty are called execution of justice in the name of the USNA-law [yes, it is part of Northern America, not The Americas].

Anyway, though we wanted to go originally to Gandolpho, I changed plans after looking at the map – looked too complicated, too much hassle.

“OK to change plan?” – “OK. We can go to the Via Appia Antica – perhaps there you find an answer on yesterday’s question!?”

After briefly checking the map, I started the engine and …

“Ready?” – “Ready!”

The first, though tiny Quo Vadis? experience occurred somewhere near to the city walls at the other side of the city, the Appian mountains already in sight. There are about four lanes – the traffic light had been red and I stopped – to my right a van, I only saw relatively late that it had been police. No bother, the usual “Roman kick start”, moving on when the traffic light just starts to think about changing to green would not be wrong … – no sign of traffic on the left side – until a car just flew along, bypassing me, the police car and ignoring the traffic light, still “deep red”. I had been a bit puzzled to see the police car still standing there … – not for long: the traffic light changed, the car on my right started and stopped the other car on the next junction – two cars now blocking the traffic, giving just enough space to pass with the scooter.

The question remained unchanged – perhaps not for the driver of the car. But Via Appia Antiqua. I had been thinking about a friend who visited me a couple of weeks ago:

There is something here in Rome ….., hm, this feeling of walking where over two thousand years ago “these people” walked, talked, prosecuted and celebrated victories …

What could I reply?

Yes, but in some way one gets used to it: there you walk in the footsteps of Nero, there you sit down where Cesar had been sitting, and at the corner, it is the building much later erected under …. – and they are all present, not only the locals:  Raphael, Genteleschi (father and daughter [sic]!) and hundreds of others: Goethe, Stendhal, Keats, Shelley, Byron, Boromini, Bernini. All coming, leaving, asking, criticizing, agreeing ….. finding something new, while permanently asking where they go – Well, you get used to it and at the same time you probably never get really used to it.

The engine switched off, the machine locked, the real via is not passable with the scooter, at least it is not recommended (leaving aside that it is also prohibited). Quo vadis! – Perhaps it is just this question that brings so many people here: as the priest said during the sermon we attended, it is about the father and redemption:

Io, io sono

– it is me that is

– and it had been added

By redemption it is that you can be – speranza: hope

After enlightenment this probably translates into esperienza: experience.

If we really can gain that experience we are expecting, or if it is another experience; if we are actually able to make any kind of such experience is another question, and looking for it is like walking on a tightrope. While we are walking further, I ask

Do you remember Jean-Paul Sartre, writing about hope?

Of course I new the answer:

– Sûrement, mais …

The reply comes with some hesitation from somebody who knows Sartre not as idol, not as writer, but as co-actor of those years in the late 60s, where he pleaded that intellectuals and workers belong together, where he ended one of his public speeches with the words like:

We (workers and intellectuals) will meet again: not because the intellectuals should tell the workers the truth; but to develop it to something new

Seeing him in this way, his permanent questioning had been difficult to cope with: not because of the questions that he asked but because of the answers it evoked. And this had also been the permanent challenge: the freedom we are all striving for though we are apparently unable to deal with.

This is the similarity and difference if you want: The one had been asked Quo vadis and knew the way, which required much courage; the other asked himself and others permanently new questions and he did not know exactly the way – he only knew that we have to go it: Freedom had been for him action.

In any case, for both one question did not exist, had not even been possible to be thought:

Who sent you here?

Indeed, we can come back then to the question:

So what are people, coming to Rome, want to buy? What is the special pleasure, the experience they are looking for when doing to the so-called eternal city?

Perhaps they are just looking for the answer, although they know that the given answer remains unacceptable for them when they return. As Antonio Gramsci once wrote

To create a new culture does not only mean to make individually “original” discoveries, it also and especially means, to critically distribute discoveries that had been already made, in other words to “socialise” them and thus to establish them as foundation of vital actions, element of coordination and the intellectual and moral order.[2]

The crux is that people, facing the question Sartre posed, are easily referring to such new culture but do so only as long as somebody else makes the actual step, still saying for them

Romam vado iterum crucifigi.

Father, redemption and hope for eternity – not least as everything we do today has nolens volens, and if we know it or if we don’t, eternal meaning.

And of course, as we all know that this kind of search, the huge numbers of tourists travelling from one country to another, moving between places is not without costs – not least for the environment – there is a new means at hand, allowing us following our sinful search, namely the modern way of selling indulgences: compensation in form of paying for charities that are active in the environmental area, a flight across the Atlantic is “charged” with about 60 Euro.

Of course, all this cannot be seen as rebuke – the challenge for us, who had been brought up in the tradition of the father, the redemption and the hope for eternity is nearly insurmountable, and possibly within this habitual way of thinking even logically impossible. We may remember Rosa Luxemburg’s words:

Freedom only for the members of the government, only for the members of the Party — though they are quite numerous — is no freedom at all. Freedom is always the freedom of dissenters. The essence of political freedom depends not on the fanatics of ‘justice’, but rather on all the invigorating, beneficial, and detergent effects of dissenters. If ‘freedom’ becomes ‘privilege’, the workings of political freedom are broken.[3]

This sounds simple, but even Rosa, according to one biography, refused once to dance on a New Years Ball with [if I remember correctly] Kautsky, saying something like:

I cannot dance with you, while knowing that you will most likely attack me in the next parliamentary plenary.

This little episode sheds some light on the difficulties of welding general principles with individual behaviour – asking for redemption, unable to truly reconcile.



[1] Alluding to the Gospel according to St. John. Which begins with the words:

“{1:1} In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. {1:2} The same was in the beginning with God. {1:3} All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. {1:4} In him was life; and the life was the light of men. {1:5} And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” (The King James Version of the Holy Bible; 611)

[2] Gramsci, Antonio, 1932-33: Gefängnishefte. Elftes Heft (XVIII) [Einführung ins Studium der Philosophie]; Antonio Gramsci. Gefängnishefte. Bd. 6: Philosophie der Praxis; herausgegeben von Wolfgang Fritz Haug; Hamburg/Berlin: Argument Verlag, 1994: 1365-1493; hier: 1377]

[3] Rosa Luxemburg – Gesammelte Werke Vol. 4; Dietz Verlag Berlin, 1983: : 359, Footnote 3

… because we have always done it that way …

It had been in 1648, that the Treaty of Westphalia had been signed (actually it had been a package on the Peace of Westphalia, comprising of different parts. This is also the explanation for ). Not 3,000 years ago, but surely a long time. And surely an occasion to maintain the insight into the importance of historical thinking, or should I say: thinking historically, in historical terms, considering the historical character of realities – taking change and changeability as serious matter?

Commonly it is understood that it is the most decisive date when it comes to the emergence and establishment of the modern nation state. And in so many cases we get still aware of the importance, the nation state being foundation for social insurance systems, for ongoing conflicts in international relationships and also the usually intergovernmental relationships, many of which we consider wrongly as being “global”.

In any case, being aware of the wider historical context, the “3,000 years” we may finally grasp that there is no reason to maintain the idea of nation states as indisputable foundation for politics and policies:

Let him who fails and to learn and mark

Three thousand years still stay,

Void of experience, in the dark,

And live from day to day[1]

(Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von, 1814-1819: West-Eastern Divan; London/Toronto: J.M. Dent&Sons Ltd., 1914: 74 f.)

Sure, seemingly … we have always done it that way …; but actually it is not true. And we surely can change again.


[1] Original: Wer nicht von dreitausend Jahren // Sich weiß Rechenschaft zu geben, // Bleib im Dunkeln unerfahren, // Mag von Tag zu Tage leben. – West-östlicher Divan – Rendsch Nameh: Buch des Unmuts