David Auerbach on literature, tech, film, etc.


It was certainly a result of the quick disappointment of early expectations of definitive total results that the idea of progress underwent expansion into that of ‘infinite progress.’ Descartes still seriously thought of the attainment during his lifetime of the final theoretical and practical goals of his program of method, that is, the completion of physics, medicine and (following directly from these) ethics. Thus the introduction of infinity here was hardly the winning of a divine attribute for human history; rather it was initially a form of resignation. The danger of this hyperbolizing of the idea of progress is the necessary disappointment of each individual in the context of history, doing work in his particular situation for a future whose enjoyment he cannot inherit. Nevertheless the idea of infinite progress also has a safeguarding function for the actual individual and for each actual generation in history. If there were an immanent final goal of history, then those who believe they know it and claim to promote its attainment would be legitimized in using all the others who do not know it and cannot promote it as mere means. Infinite progress does make each present relative to its future, but at the same time it renders every absolute claim untenable. This idea of progress corresponds more than anything else to the only regulative principle that can make history humanly bearable, which is that all dealings must be so constituted that through them people do not become mere means.

Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, ch. 3

Whoever turned away from God, said the pious Christians and Jews, had to reach the point where he perpetrated or suffered the atrocities of Auschwitz. The Marxists claimed that capitalism, which had entered its final fascist stage, must become a slaughterer of human beings….Their kingdom was not the Here and Now, but the Tomorrow and Someplace….

Jean Améry, “At the Mind’s Limits”

(Thanks A.)


  1. Where does the Murphy illustration come from?

  2. it’s incredible how much Blumenberg loses in translation….it’s all there, the correct meaning and so on, but still. as if all the colour is gone, every lovely delicate nuance…it does not sound at all like him.

  3. I believe the Murphy is Guy Davenport’s illustration from Hugh Kenner’s The Stoic Comedians: Flaubert, Joyce, Beckett? Could be wrong on that, but it’s definitely Guy Davenport.

  4. Dan: right on all counts. There are a few other nice Davenport illustrations in the book as well.

    Antonia: it’s sad, but it doesn’t surprise me all that much. Blumenberg has only had one English translator as far as I know, and he’s an academic.

Leave a Reply

© 2024 Waggish

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑