Pseudomorphosis is one of my favorite surprises in reading notes on Spengler. Quotations are from Decline, and I’ll let the quotations carry the points here. I had some guidance by selected quotes cited by this site. This is my last post on Decline for a little while. I scribbled some notes on my flight, and I’m cleaning that up for my next post.
In mineralogy, a pseudomorph is a mineral or mineral compound that appears in an atypical form (crystal system), resulting from a substitution process in which the appearance and dimensions remain constant, but the original mineral is replaced by another. The name literally means “false form”.
Terminology for pseudomorphs is “replacer after original“, as in brookite after rutile.
By the term “historical pseudomorphosis” I propose to designate those cases in which an older alien Culture lies so massively over the land that a young Culture, born in this land, cannot get its breath and fails not only to achieve pure and specific expression-forms, but even to develop fully its own self-consciousness. All that wells up from the depths of the young soul is cast in the old moulds, young feelings stiffen in senile works, and instead of rearing itself up in its own creative power, it can only hate the distant power with a hate that grows to be monstrous. This is the case of the Arabian Culture.
“Magian after Classical”
Its pre-history lies entirely within the ambit of the ancient Babylonian Civilization, which for two thousand years had been the prey of successive conquerors. Its “Merovingian period” is marked by the dictatorship of a small Persian clan, primitive as the Ostrogoths, whose domination of two hundred years, scarcely challenged, was founded on the infinite weariness of a fellah-world. But from 300 B.C. onwards there begins and spreads a great awakening in the young Aramaic-speaking peoples between Sinai and the Zagros range. As at the epoch of the Trojan War and at that of the Saxon emperors, a new relation of man to God, a wholly new world-feeling, penetrated all the current religions, whether these bore the name of Ahuramazda, Baal, or Yahweh, impelling everywhere to a great effort of creation.
The Magian culture is particularly unique because in both space and time it is the “midmost” culture, in touch with practically all of the other High Cultures. Some of these encounters have warped the Magian culture in ways that caused it social distress. Magian culture has an ensemble of national literatures but no mother tongue.
Spengler believes that Mark Antony should have won the Battle of Actium, but in not doing so the young Arabian culture was violated by the Romans, and Classical civilization imposed its shape into Magian culture.
Spengler speculates about an opportunity that Magian culture had to impose on young Faustian culture (which it failed to do):
At Actium it was the unborn Arabian Culture that was opposed to iron-grey Classical Civilization; the issue lay between Principatc and Caliphate. Antony’s victory would have freed the Magian soul; his defeat drew over its lands the hard sheet of Roman Imperium. A comparable event in the history of the West is the battle between Tours and Poitiers, A.D. 732. Had the Arabs won it and made “Frankistan” into a caliphate of the North-east, Arabic speech, religion, and customs would have become familiar to the ruling classes, giant cities like Granada and Kairawan would have arisen on the Loire and the Rhine, the Gothic feeling would have been forced to find expression in the long-stiffened forms of Mosque and Arabesque, and instead of the German mysticism we should have had a sort of Sufism.
As a side note, the Abrahamic religions are all Magian in origin, but proponents of the branch of Christianity that trace to today’s (through Paul and Mark) allied themselves with early Faustian culture, speaking Greek and eventually turning its back on Magian spirituality and the Jewish texts. Other branches of Christianity survived in Magian culture for some time. Islam, though, was the greatest expression that Magian culture achieved religiously.
“Russian after Faustian”
Spengler thought that he saw in Russia the story of a nascent culture being impressed heavily upon by its Faustian neighbor through the Europeanization of Peter the Great, who distorted Russia’s native Czarism into a Faustian dynasty. Russia accepted a historical heritage that was not properly theirs, and it warped them.
The contrast between Russian and Western, Jew-Christian and Late-Classical nihilisms is extreme the one kind is hatred of the alien that is poisoning the unborn Culture in the womb of the land, the other a surfeited disgust of one’s own proper overgrowths. Depths of religious feeling, flashes of revelation, shuddering fear of the great awakening, metaphysical dreaming and yearning, belong to the beginning, as the pain of spiritual clarity belongs to the end of a history. In these pseudomorphoses t hey are mingled. Says Dostoyevski: “Everyone in street and market-place now speculates about the nature of Faith.” So might it have been said of Edessa or Jerusalem.
For the Bolshevists are not the nation, or even a part of it, but the lowest stratum of this Petrine [ie. from Peter the Great] society, alien and western like the other strata, yet not recognized by these and consequently filled with the hate of the downtrodden. It is all megalopolitan and “Civilized” the social politics, the Intelligentsia, the literature that first in the romantic and then in the economic jargon champions freedoms and reforms, before an audience that itself belongs to the society. The real Russian is a disciple of Dostoyevski. Although he may not have read Dostoyevski or anyone else, nay, perhaps because he cannot read, he is himself Dostoyevski in substance; and if the Bolshevists, who see in Christ a mere social revolutionist like themselves, were not intellectually so narrowed, it would be in Dostoyevski that they would recognize their prime enemy. What gave this revolution its momentum was not the intelligentsia’s hatred. It was the people itself, which, without hatred, urged only by the need of throwing off a disease, destroyed the old Westernism in one effort of upheaval, and will send the new after it in another. For what this townless people yearns for is its own life-form, its own religion, its own history. Tolstoi’s Christianity was a misunderstanding. He spoke of Christ and he meant Marx. But to Dostoyevski’s Christianity the next thousand years will belong.
Frankly, I don’t fully understand Spengler’s argument regarding Dostoyevski. This little polemic helped:
Late-period arts and sciences, enlightenment, social ethics, the materialism of world-cities, were introduced, although in this pre-cultural time religion was the only language in which man understood himself and the world. In the townless land with its primitive peasantry, cities of alien type fixed themselves like ulcers– false, unnatural, unconvincing. “Petersburg,” says Dostoyevski, “is the most abstract and artificial city in the world.” Born in it though he was, he had the feeling that one day it might vanish with the morning mist. Just so ghostly, so incredible, were the Hellenistic artifact-cities scattered in the Aramaic peasant-lands. Jesus in his Galilee knew this. St. Peter must have felt it when he set eyes on Imperial Rome.
After this everything that arose around it was felt by the true Russdom as lies and poison. A truly apocalyptic hatred was directed on Europe, and “Europe” was all that was not Russia, including Athens and Rome, just as for the Magian world in its time Old Egypt and Babylon had been antique, pagan, devilish. “The first condition of emancipation for the Russian soul,” wrote Aksakov in 1863 to Dostoyevski, “is that it should hate Petersburg with all its might and all its soul.” Moscow is holy, Petersburg Satanic. A widespread popular legend presents Peter the Great as Antichrist.
I’ve exhausted any new notes on Spengler for now. Switching back to another topic shortly.