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Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy – Notes from 5/7/2007

1. Why study ERH?

ERH offers many helpful and challenging perspectives about living in our world. While
this list is not exhaustive and may not even represent the best of what he offers, here are
three things I think he can help us to think about.

Integration – His ideas can help people find ways of integrating the many worlds we live
in. Some postmodernists suggest that we are simply an amalgamation of the various
relationships we have. Our culture tends to move toward disintegration, creating different
silos for work, personal life, and public life.

This manifests not simply in a personal disintegration but a public disintegration. To the
point that people from different silos seem to speak different languages: they cannot
communicate with one another. Discussions have devolved into a angry arguments both
in public arenas, online and sometimes even in private settings. This tension causes some
people to associate with people who think just like them. Martin Buber calls this a
community of affinity and acknowledges that over time this is very unhealthy for a

ERH proposes ways to help the various worlds open and communicate with one another.
His ideas can help us experience integration on a personal level by bridging the
inner/outer, body/soul divisions and they can help us find ways to integrate socially and
even globally.

Becoming Human – ERH is deeply concerned that humans are being de-humanized.
Some of the effects of this include loss of personal dignity, broken relationships, and
inability to change. His ideas recognize the multiformity of the person and looks for ways
to integrate that muliformity so that we can grow and change, know what to do and when
to do it.

He emphasizes the importance of vulnerability, weakness and acknowledgement of our

very human tendencies to be illogical, unsystematic, unpredictable, and uncontrollable.

This last trait is difficult for our generation. We hope to find a way to control everything,
so nothing can hurt us and nothing can keep us from experiencing all our desires. ERH
acknowledges that the various ways we seek to gain control are actually secondary to real
life and sometimes hinder us from changing and discovering the new world while letting
go of the old one.

Long Term Perspectives – ERH offers ideas that can help us think about the future of our
lives and our world. He restores the power of speech and teaches us how to speak and
move toward the future. Obviously this requires having some vision of the future and
making plans to realize that vision.

Those who create the future reproduce themselves into the future through other people:
Luther creates Lutherans, Francis creates Franciscans, Buddha creates Buddhists, Christ
creates Christians.

2. The Real World vs. the Play World.

ERH distinguishes between two world: the real and the play. We give up control in the
real world. We don’t control our birth or our death. The real world surprises us with joy
and sorrow, love and hate, peace and war.

The play world teaches us ways to act/react in the real world. Using playtime and
playgrounds, the play world lets us rehearse and explore ways of thinking and acting in
the real world.

Another way of putting this might be thinking of the difference between immediate life
and mediated life. Mediated life is not experienced directly. Something mediates the
encounter: a lens, a framework, a world view.

The mediation helps to explain the immediate encounter. It helps to provides strategies
for coping, responding, and living within the immediate world.

The problem arises in that we tend to concretize our mediated lenses. We can no longer
distinguish between the mediation and the immediate. So if we are living in a tribe, we
assume only those in our tribe are real. Those outside the tribe are false and a threat to the

ERH looks at this through history and uses for worlds to represent all prior worlds to
Christ: Tribes, Egypt, Israel, and Greece. These four worlds tend to four different
directions along the time/space divide: Tribes (past); Israel (future); Egypt (outer);
Greece (inner). Humans need to move in and through all four worlds, but when they are
concretized we interpret everything through just one of these worlds.

ERH lays this on what he calls the “cross of reality.” Time crosses space. To move
between worlds, requires a death and life, and end and a beginning. Suffering is an
inescapable aspect of living and moving through the cross of reality. And yet suffering
means new life, new worlds, new possibilities.

As we consider this cross of reality, we’ll find many ways to identify different worlds
operating in our own lives, and our own culture. Some worlds operate on temporal planes
and other worlds operate on spatial planes. These worlds always tend to think of
themselves as the whole. But you cannot be integrated personally or socially an live only
in part of one plan and be whole.

Take religion and science as an example. Science operates on a spatial plane. It deals with
what is observable. Thus science focuses on the outer world of space. Depending on how
it is defined, religion can operate on the inner world of space. It might also be understood
in a temporal way. So in one sense, religion and science live on two completely different
planes. They form separate worlds, yet both try to be all-inclusive and look at the other as
non-existent. (Just like the ancient tribes.)

They build fortresses and hurl arrows back and forth between their forts. This is not
healthy for either world.

We cannot fully live in one or the other but we may think we do, which causes animosity,
personal division, etc.

ERH actually puts religion itself onto the cross of reality and finds that different religions
operate on different planes. Take Buddha, Lao-Tzu (father of Zen), Abraham (father of
Jews, Christians, Muslims), and Jesus. Buddha deals with freeing oneself from an outer
world we cannot control. Thus Buddha teaches letting go, detachment from the outer
world. At first, this involves suffering but eventually it brings freedom. Lao-Tzu focuses
on freedom in the inner world. Freedom from inner issues of ego, ideas, knowledge, etc.
Abraham is the patriarch and a connection to the primeval world of the past. Jesus points
to the future and ushers in the new world by laying down his life.

The cross of reality is one way of helping to distinguish and under how the mediated
worlds impact us and our immediate encounter. Once we acknowledge these mediated
worlds, we might also begin to see when we need to move from past to future or from
inner to outer and so on.

Exercise – While we have just barely opened the cross of reality, it might be helpful to try
and apply various worlds to it. Think about politics, how can you place the various
political groups on the cross of reality. What about business, education, various church
denominations? What about nations – do some move in particular directions? What about
our own personal disposition? Do you spend much of your life moving in one of the four
directions? This might help us to dicuss and further explore the cross of reality.