Letters to the Third Millennium (Book Review)
by Harley Voogd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Gardner focuses much on ERH’s ideas of The Four Phases of Speech and The Cross of Reality.
The Four Phases of Speech
When I read literature from the past, I am not just reading it in a detached analytical way. Take the book of Isaiah for example. When I read it, I am there with Isaiah when he says, “Here am I! Send me.” I am there when Isaiah carries out his calling, preaching to and warning the people of Israel. I am there when Isaiah completes his task and is able to say, “Lord, for better or for worse, we have completed our task and have spoken to the people.” And I am there to see Israel dragged off into captivity into Assyria because they did not heed the words of the prophet, and I can stand back and analyze that result. I am connected and in relationship with Isaiah and Israel. I am the last part of the story.
“Human speech never was intended for expressing platitudes like ‘the weather is bad,’ or ‘come,’ or ‘I am happy,’ or ‘the moon rises.’ Human speech corresponds to the construction of our brain so as to permit the transfer of acquired experiences to the race. Speech enables us to gain times and spaces for ‘settling’ a question. Speech connects the departments of experience. The event which is expressed can only be expressed in four phases.”†
“Thou must” is looking forward to the event. “I am” is living in the event. “We have” looks back on the event. “He did” looks at past, present, future as one.
In the first stage, one sees himself, not as “I”, but as “Thou”. My four year old son often refers to himself in the third person: “Noah ate a lot today!” He does this because he sees himself through the eyes of others, namely me – his father. But, as he grows and matures, and his ego develops, he will see himself more and more from within: the “I”. However, no matter how old or mature he gets, whenever a higher power calls on him, he will at those times see himself from the point of view of the higher power — he will see himself from without: the “Thou”. “The hero never is: he is prejective because he is made over into a new realm of experience and has not yet any ‘feelings’; hence the hero is ‘Thou’; to himself the hero appears as the instrument of God…”‡
When one is called by a higher power (which might be God, a powerful idea, a passion, lust for a woman, or whatever drives a person), one is singled out for the calling, he is alone, but it can’t stay this way — he must bring others into his world. He does this by courting, convincing, pleading, and prophesying. He doesn’t know if he will be successful, but he must try. He goes from being the “Thou” to being the “I”, driven by his own emotions and ego. He calls people into his own experience.
If he is successful, he reaches the perfectum. “The subjective pressure of a deep emotion is transformed into the narrative of a past whenever the hero’s ‘thou’ and the subject’s ‘I’ can be tranquillized into a ‘we’.”§ He can now look back and say, “We have accomplished something together.” His declaring of an event completes the event. “Thus, the tale of an event is the tail light of the event. Nothing has happened which is not reported back as having happened. History is not arbitrary staring at bygone things. History is the articulation of the event itself in its participants; as the event goes by. It proves its passing by being told as a tale. The historian certainly is not the onlooker of an event but the last man whom the event produces.”||
“The fourth phase of speech is the spirit’s death.”¶ Once I’ve completed my task, what left is there to do but to look at it objectively from the outside? There is no more calling from the higher power, there is no one left to convince, there is no job left undone. I am free now from the first calling. “If we call the impetus by which a total experience subjects one man to the four phases through which the experience is realized ‘spirit,’ i.e., a breath of life, then phase four is the phase in which the spirit dies but the specimen recovers. If phase four did not abstract us from our spells, freedom could not exist to start a new phase. In phase four we expire one act of faith so that we may be inspired again.”#
These days, especially in western thought, we tend to live in the fourth phase. We look at light and analyze it scientifically — “Light is made of waves and particles.” But we ignore the first three phases: 1) “Let there be light;” 2) “Let us praise the light;” 3) “The sun has risen.” When we do this, we disconnect ourselves from the relationship we have with the past, and consequently the future as well.**
A helpful illustration is to think of a great piece of music, like Beethoven’s 5th symphony. Most people I think have never listened to the whole symphony, but I’m sure everyone would recognize the opening notes. Those opening notes are a powerful call: People! Listen to this. When you hear those notes for the first time you are not analyzing, you are not feeling anything yet — your reaction is much like Moses’ reaction when seeing the burning bush: What is this? I will turn to see. Then, once you’ve settled in to listen, your emotions come into play; you are drawn into the music and you feel the passion of Beethoven with Beethoven, with the orchestra. Thirdly, the piece comes to an end, and it does not end on a strange note leaving you wondering what happened to the flow of music — it ends precisely when it should end; the final notes cry out, We are finished! It is complete! And finally, the fourth phase allows you to look back on the whole piece and say, That was good. What’s next?
You cannot enjoy Beethoven’s 5th if you don’t experience the piece through all four phases. You cannot be connected in relationship to the past if you do not experience the lives and events of your ancestors through the four phases of speech. Speech connects us all.
Every time I study history, if it is good history, I relive the four phases with those people who came before me, and because of that I am connected in relationship to those people. This is why stories are so good for learning history. This is why the Bible is written as story.
Unfortunately, most western history books written today are written by historians who believe that they can have no bias. They are stuck only in the fourth phase. It’s not possible to have no bias, so, to hide their bias, they use the most dry and unimaginative language possible in their writings. For example, here is an excerpt from a contemporary history book describing the introduction of Christianity into the Roman world:
“In the first centuries of the Christian era, while Christianity was expanding in the Empire, it was increasingly the speech of much of the population on the western borders of the Mediterranean. A religion which employed Greek and Latin, and especially Greek, had advantage over rivals which did not and might gain an Empire-wide hearing. Important also was the religious and moral hunger which characterized much of the populace of the basin of the Mediterranean in the centuries in which Christianity was having its early development.”††
Now, here is another excerpt from a history book, concerning the same time in Christian history as the example above, written in the 19th century, by an author who didn’t care about his bias:
“In the cheerless waste of pagan corruption the small and despised band of Christians was an oasis fresh with life and hope. It was the salt of the earth, and the light of the world. Poor in this world’s goods, it bore the imperishable treasures of the kingdom of heaven. Meek and lowly in heart, it was destined, according to the promise of the Lord, without a stroke of the sword, to inherit the earth. In submission it conquered; by suffering and death it won the crown of life.”‡‡
Notice how the second history draws you into the story and life of the early Church. In this one excerpt we see the call of God on the Church, we see how the Church would carry it out, and we see what the final result will be, and putting that all together we can objectively analyze it. In the first excerpt, however, all we see is the analysis.
There is a lot of good information in the first history book, but how long can one read a book like that and stay awake? To be forever trapped in the fourth phase is to be forever dead.
In his essay, Politics and the English Language,§§ George Orwell points out this problem much better than I have…
I am going to translate a passage of good English into modern English of the worst sort. Here is a well-known verse from Ecclesiastes:
I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.
Here it is in modern English:
Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.
This type of speech is purely objective. When the living experience of time is ignored, and the only goal is to objectively analyze in the present “objectivity (becomes a) god. It would treat all realities as things external to the mind, things in which we as thinkers have no roots, and which may accordingly be touched, weighed, measured, and manipulated without reference to the common destiny in which we and they are jointly bound. This may do for physics. It will not do for human society.”||||
God could have just written the Bible as a textbook, explaining everything we need to know and do objectively. But instead, He wrote a story. When one reads the Bible, he is put into that story. He becomes a part of the story. The story’s past is his past, the story’s future is his future. And when one knows his past and future, one knows what to do in the present.
“When man rises above his future, which is imminence of his death, and beyond his past, which is reminiscence of his origins, he enters the present. From the conflict of end and origin, of death and birth, the present results for those who have the courage not to blink but face the abyss before and in back of them… Without participation in the life of the Word through the ages, we remain ephemeral.”¶¶
I am constantly in relationship with all those who came before me, and all those will come after me. This relationship spans across and conquers time through my speech and everyone else’s speech. We are all connected through the stories of our lives told and retold, lived and relived, throughout all the ages.
The Cross of Reality
The Cross of Reality shows us the four parts of life pulling on us in four different directions. You stand in the middle of the Cross and each element is pulling at you. In order to have a healthy life you need to be pulled equally by each element. If you are pulled by one or two too strongly your life will be unbalanced and confused. For example, a 35 year old single man who lives in his mom’s basement and has a video game and porn addiction is a man who is pulled much too strongly by the Past and Inner Life elements. While another man, being very charismatic and well loved by many people, but can’t commit to anything, is a man being pulled too strongly by the Outer Life and Future elements.
Also, as illustrated above with the Four Phases of Speech, one must progress through each element in its turn to have a healthy balanced life. Starting with the Future, then moving to Inner (subjective), then Past, and finally Outer (objective): one hears the call, contemplates the options, makes the decision, and observes the results. If one element is skipped over, there will be conflict.
“Emotional disturbances may be described as getting stuck in one particular phase [or element] or the result of an attempt to skip one. The speech method reveals four basic phases in any significant experience: 1. Inspiration 2. Communication 3. Institutionalization, finally, 4. History… [W]e see this sequence when we fall in love and get married. Our falling in love cannot be an objective or logical experience. We must be swept off our feet, inspired. Then we enter a subjective phase in which we must communicate our new relationship through love letters, singing, and talking. In the third phase, institutionalization, when we marry before witnesses, our experience has begun to enter recorded history. Finally, usually after our first child is born, we experience ourselves as an objective family unit. In each phase we had new and different emotions.”##
The book was published in 1980, and the “East” referred to in the subtitle is the U.S.S.R., which of course doesn’t exist anymore. The author is too sympathetic to Marxism for my taste, and he actually takes it seriously enough to think it works. Well, the fall of the U.S.S.R, and other communist/socialist failed experiments, have taught us otherwise.
* I Am an Impure Thinker can be read free with PDF download here.
† Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, I Am an Impure Thinker: The Four Phases of Speech, pg. 55
‡ Ibid., pg. 57
§ Ibid. pg. 57
|| Ibid. pg. 58
¶ Ibid. pg. 59
# Ibid. pg. 59
** Ibid. some of this taken from pg. 59
†† Latourette, Kenneth Scott, A History of Christianity (Peabody, MA.: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003), pg. 22
‡‡ Schaff, Philip, History of the Christian Church, Vol. II (Peabody, MA.: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002, originally published in 1858), pg. 335
§§ Read Orwell’s essay here
|||| I Am an Impure Thinker: Teaching Too Late, Learning Too Early, pg. 93
¶¶ Ibid. pg. 94
## Gardner, Clinton C., Letters to the Third Millennium, pg. 131