Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Further on Curtius

As to Curtius "getting his ideas," from someone, he might object to that construction.  On page 7 he is writing of Troeltsch and Toynbee with approval:  "The convergence of our knowledge of nature and our knowledge of history into a new, 'open' picture of the universe is the scientific aspect of our time.  At the close of his Historismus Troeltsch outlines the task of a concentration, simplification, and deepening of the intellectual and cultural content which the history of the West has given us and which must emerge from the crucible of historism in a new completeness and coherence: 'Most effectual would be a great artistic symbol, such as the Divina Comedia once was, and later Faust. . . .'  It is remarkable that in Toynbee too -- even though in an entirely different sense -- poetic form appears as the extreme concept of historism.  His train of thought is as follows: The present state of our knowledge, which takes in barely six millenniums of historical development, is adequately served by a comparative method of investigation which attains to the establishment of laws by the road of induction.  But if one imagines the stretch of history too be ten times or a hundred times, the employment of a scientific technique becomes impossible.  It must yield to a poetic form of presentation: 'It will eventually become patently impossible to employ any technique except that of 'fiction.'"

Curtius dismisses Spengler, disbelieving his "laws."  He hasn't mentioned Marx and won't if his index is to be believed, but I'm sure he would dismiss Marx's "laws" as well.  Toynbee claimed no laws, using only induction on the 21 Societies he examined and these are the ones Curtius is primarily referring to in the above.  If differences multiply as time goes on, relationships viewed inductively must become more and more tenuous and vague (assuming laws of history do not exist).

As to resorting to poems to sum up societal epochs, one perhaps has no difficulty in accepting in a certain sense Homer as representing early Greek society, Dante the 14th century in Italy, Cervantes and Shakespeare 16th and 17th century Spain and England, and Goethe 18th century Germany, but in thinking about them I don't believe they can be said to "sum up" their various societies.  On the other hand, if we add significantly to them (all the other "poetry" being written), perhaps that might work.

Earlier Curtius praises Toynbee by describing some of his ideas and then writes, "These selected and isolated details cannot give even a remote idea of the richness and illuminating power of Toynbee's work -- still less of the intellectual strictness of its structure and of the precise controls to which the material presented is subjected.  I feel this objection.  I can only offer in reply that it is better to give even an inadequate indication of the greatest intellectual accomplishment in the field of history in our day than to pass it over in silence."   I took this to mean that Curtius would not be relying upon Toynbee to any great extent in what follows.  In his index Curtius has only one line of references for Troeltsch, two lines for Toynbee as opposed to 5 for Spenser, 10 for Shakespeare and 28 for Publius Papinius Statius.

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