All and Nothing

Friedrich Schelling’s answer was to tackle the problem of lack by transfiguring the concept of mythology into the sphere of the universe and nature. Schelling’s first approach is to equate the universe with God: “Gott ist das Universum von der Seite der Identität betrachtet, er ist Alles, weil er das allein Reale, außer ihm also nichts ist, das Universum ist Gott von seinen Totalität aufgefaßt“ (Schelling 149). Schelling prepares the reader with equation of God and the universe before he declares the crux of his concept: “Gott als die unendliche Affirmation von sich selbst begreift sich selbst als unendlich Affirmierendes, als unendlich Affirmiertes, und als Indifferenz davon, er selbst aber ist keines von diesen insbesondere” (156). God or the universe is both everything and nothing in compliance with his principle of “indifferenz,” or, perhaps more accurately, “non-different.” Now, for the uninitiated reader of Schelling, it is important to explain that he is very thorough in connecting his concepts, but that he is eventually able to make an additional link to mythology. “Die Mythologie ist nichts anderes als das Universum im höheren Gewand, in seiner absoluten Gestalt, das wahre Universum an sich” (190). If mythology becomes the universe in disguise and the essence of all natures, then the gods no longer can be revealed as the forces of nature; “sie sind es selbst. Die Ideen in der Philosophie und die Götter in der Kunst sind ein und dasselbe” (185). By reconstructing mythology as inextricably linked with the universe, simultaneously everything and nothing, Schelling presents his solution for filling the gap of creativity, and he fills it with literally “Alles.”

Schelling’s concept of Mythology reminds me of a gravitational singularity, or a black hole.  A black hole is an object with such immense density that light cannot escape from its gravitational pull. At the center of a black hole is a phenomenon known as a singularity, where the space-time curvature becomes infinite. It is infinitely massive while simultaneously being infinitely small, existing in only a single point in space, thus a singularity. This concept is an amalgam of infinity and nothingness. A similar phenomenon occurred at the beginning of the universe, according to the theory of the Big Bang. Before the universe was created, everything existed in an infinitely small space, a single point. It then exploded outward, explaining the expansion of the universe. The physicist Stephen Hawking explains the theory further with the help of a computer simulation that provides an interesting visual representation of the phenomenon.

The concept of a singularity, a point in which everything can be contained, lends itself well as an analogy to the kind of container that the Romantics needed to fill the void. The mythology would have to have far-reaching scope in order to provide the kind of universal harmony in society for which the Romantics were hoping.
It is not so much the causes and effects of a black hole that are appropriate here but the experience of the singularity that I wish to emphasis. The experience of the singularity is really a mystical one. Like the idealism which Schlegel described that has to journey into itself and then back out again to rediscover itself, mythology has to pass through the singularity. At the end of another video describing what a black hole is, the narrator comments, “At the center of a black hole all equations break down Even for physicists, what happens deep inside a black hole is a mystery.” This suggests that even science has its mystical limitations.


But how could such a mythology be created? A solution would be best achieved, according to Schlegel, by individual creative efforts. Part of Schlegel’s object with his “Rede über die Mythologie” was to make humanity aware of the clarion call(ing) to create a new mythology and unlock “seiner divinatorischen Kraft”:

Mich däucht wer das Zeitalter, das heißt jenen großen Prozeß allgemeiner Verjüngung, jene Prinzipien der ewigen Revolution verstünde, dem müßte es gelingen können, die Pole der Menschheit zu ergreifen und das Tun der ersten Menschen, wie den Charakter der goldnen Zeit die noch kommen wird, zu erkennen und zu wissen. Dann würde das Geschwätz aufhören, und der Mensch inne werden, was er ist, und würde die Erde verstehn und die Sonne. (Schlegel 322)

For Schlegel, it was important for everyone to get to work in this new endeavor; and surely the more individuals that engaged, the quicker a new mythology could be created, and harmony with nature could be restored to humanity. Like the death of the old individual and birth of a new one in an initiation rite, all of humanity would have to be reborn with a new mythology.

The result of this journey would be the ushering in of a new golden age, a post-initiated world, enlightened by the mystical journey of the new realism. Humanity would be able to regain what was lost through the restoration of humanity’s connection with the entirety of the universe, a truly singular experience.

 Indeed, Schelling had also declared the far-reaching implications of a new mythology: “daß die modern Poesie nicht mehr die Poesie für ein besonderes Volk ist, das sich zur Gattung ausgebildet hat, sondern Poesie für das ganze Geschlecht” (Schelling 231). Schelling summarized, “Die Grund forderung an alle Poesie ist – nicht universelle Wirkung, aber doch Universalität nach  innen und außen” (233). However, Schelling also intended to incorporate the lessons learned from Christianity, which he saw as a deviation from the original holistic perfection of the Greeks (231–238), and thereby also preserve the recognition of the individual that become intrinsically connected with modernity (233). In so doing, mythology could also be contained by the individual; each human being a vessel[1] for “eternal poem”: “Jedes wahrhaft schöpferische Individuum hat sich selbst seine Mythologie zu schaffen”; and also: “Jeder originell behandelte Stoff ist eben dadurch auch universell poetisch” (236). This of course preserves Schelling’s concept of indifference or non-difference, where mythology can be conceived and constrained as infinite and finite. Like the idea of the Big Bang or the beginning of all creation, mythology needed to undergo this singular confrontation with the infinite in order to recreate itself and reemerge, reborn and renewed with the universal scope that the original Greek word “ρύσις“ had contained.

George Williamson’s book The Longing for Myth in Germany traced the progress of this discourse of a new mythology throughout nineteenth-century Germany and found that it would lose this abstract, universal quality, promoted initially, in exchange for nationalism and ultimately its radicalized form in fascism. Following Schlegel and Schelling came a long line of German thinkers who wrestled with the issue of creating a new mythology, including the Grimm brothers, Heinrich Heine, and perhaps most (in)famously Richard Wagner and Friedrich Nietzsche. But it was a mythology too narrowly focused in Williamson’s view:

The vision of a society infused with myth was problematic not because it was apolitical or important… but because it tended to harden already existing divisions of class, religion, and ethnicity. In doing so, the discourse on myth ignored not only the potential for human communities that crossed such lines but the very possibility of meaningful cultural transfer or translation from one epoch, nation, or “race” to another. (Williamson 299)

The implications of the new mythology were really in its universalism, which Williamson sees as a potential for a trans-nationalism. Humanity had missed out on the higher implications of Schlegel and Schelling’s mythological thinking, or more precisely it was ultimately incapable of achieving the aim of a new mythology, to fill the gap internationally instead of nationally. There was not going to be a mystical transformation through the black hole of imagination. Still, the endeavor to create a mythology for the entire species has not lost any of its potency in the twenty-first century.



A New Mythology in the Digital Age »

[1] Schelling 248-9