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Blumenberg on Running Away

I saw Heiner Goebbel’s odd Stifters Dinge this weekend (made odder with the persistent head cold I’ve had), and though I think it’s senseless to try to give a concrete analysis of it, one part jumped out at me, an interview with Claude Levi-Strauss where he says that there is nowhere left unexplored in the world, no remaining frontiers. I don’t think he’s right, but humanity is definitely at a place where we finally think of the whole planet as our home rather than any one part of it. And so…

If we have to seek man’s origin in the category of animals that ‘flee,’ then we can comprehend that before the change of biotope [from jungle to savanna] all signals that set off flight reactions would indeed have the power of fear but would not have to reach the level of a dominating condition of anxiety, as long as mere movement was available as a means of clarifying the situation. But if one imagines that this solution was no longer, or no longer constantly, successful, then from that point onward the situations that enforced flight either had to be dealt with by standing one’s ground or had to be avoided by means of anticipation.

Hans Blumenberg, Work on Myth 1.1

So while Hegel thinks the primary will of humanity is desire, for Blumenberg the primary motive of primitive humanity is getting the hell out of Dodge. And when we settled down and no longer ran from place to place, an underlying anxiety originated of the anticipation of having to pick up sticks and run. (Blumenberg is more prosaic than Heidegger; he thinks life is tough enough on its own without the problems of Dasein.) And as long as we could imagine that flight, could imagine packing up and rebuilding elsewhere, the anxiety could be kept in check.

But I wonder: when you’ve filled up the planet and you know you’re stuck on it and you start to see assorted disaster scenarios that offer no refuge to start over (be they nuclear, environmental, or otherwise), what does that do to the anxiety? There’s no flight left (except to other planets, the fantasy of some optimists).


  1. well you can still flee from reality.

  2. Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is perhaps not inappropriate here. Europe exports its anxiety or madness (or internal contradictions) to the colonies. But there must come a time when the colonies become full or exhausted, with no new territories on the horizon. At that point Europe’s madness begins to pile up at home. HoD appears in Blackwood’s in 1899; WWI breaks out in 1914.

  3. We could also consider the possibility that a frontier might be not only geographic but temporal – or mechanical – and it might not be too much to say that if indeed there is a need in our minds for flight those minds will create territory of their own.

    Alternatively, we could say that all expansion is matched by a corresponding state of decay – so that as the frontier (wherever it may be) grows outward, its interior will tend toward entropy – and what was once a place of thriving production (Detroit, say) becomes abandoned to a form life that exists more or less independently of man. And thus there is a new frontier, recreated, that may now be re-explored.

  4. it could be both fear and desire. I have always thought the eastern migrations into asia and australia had to do with a mythical quest for the land of the sun. there is also the following of game animals as they migrate, and overpopulation of discreet eco-systems.

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