Category Archives: LIBRARY

Limits of Linguistic Representation: Wittgenstein and the Unrepresentable that shows forth

Luwig_Wittgenstein_right corner__and his_Family
The paper seeks reexamination of the received critical heritage about Wittgenstein that treats him as a positivist or unquestionably derives inspiration for positivism from him or sees him as a philosopher of language instead of the translinguistic unrepresentable transcendence. It also questions the influential reading of Wittgenstein scholars who argue that he supports only foundationless view of religion and language game is best metaphor for characterizing his religious views. I argue for the centrality of the mystical or transcendence in understanding the whole corpus of Wittgenstein, especially the Tractatus and his ethics. Questioning the approach that writes off a few scattered mystical utterances here and there in Wittgenstein the paper, building on Russell  Neili’s arguments, argues for shift in the paradigm of approaching Wittgenstein by keeping subservient the “positivist” in him  and foreground the broader head of mystic in him. A proper understanding of mysticism is all that we need to have in order to appreciate the mystic Wittgenstein’s transcendence of logic and language in both life and thought and foreground him as a philosopher of transcendence and not merely a philosopher of language. Mysticism is the key to Wittgenstein though most Wittgenstein scholars have failed to put in proper perspective the primacy of the mystical and ignored this vital element that alone explains certain ambiguities and difficulties in traditional Wittgenstein exegeses. Far from being antimetaphysical positivist Wittgenstein is to be read as a mystic in the tradition of great mystical thinkers and can be compared with Simone Weil and other significant mystical thinkers of the recent past. His dialectic of transcendence has significant resemblances with transtheistic mystical philosophies such as that of Buddhism and Taoism. Arguing for continuity of his religious views from Tractatus onwards, the paper seeks to rectify problems resulting from emphasizing later Wittgenstein for deriving a philosophy of religion that has been perpetuating noncognitivist, fideist interpretations of him while failing to properly place ethical and aesthetic in his fundamentally mystical approach to religion and culture.

Wittgenstein’s philosophical reflections are in large part, however indirectly, readings between the lines of the story of the soul in the Western metaphysical tradition.
Fergusson Kerr in Theology after Wittgenstein p.166
I am not a religious man but I cannot help seeing every problem from a religious point of view.
My thoughts are one hundred percent Hebraic.

Linguistic Representations and Dialogue with the Mystical

What do linguistic representations aim at? Mirroring reality? Or they constitute an autonomous play that gives us no insights into the most important foundation for culture? The dream or motivation has often been access to reality however imperfect that may be. Strangely there now seems to be increasing consensus over the thesis that language and reality are two different things and the latter is either opaque for the former or far too rich a thing to be captured in the net of the former. From Nagarjuna to Wittgenstein and Derrida many thinkers have denied language and thought access to reality. The question is what do mystics say about this problem? Could the path ahead for philosophers dealing with linguistic representations be opening for a cross disciplinary study with mystical philosophers or philosophers of mysticism? My contention in this paper is that it should be so. Particularly focusing on Wittgenstein it is argued that the royal road to reality is not through language and thought but modes of perception that bypass them. The most important point is that what matters at the end of the day is ethics and answer to fundamental existential questions, the problems that Culture and Value embodies and for these questions we need to explore other languages than the one ordinarily known. This language is the language of the Self. Wittgenstein fundamentally preoccupied himself with this problem though this concern has been largely sidelined by Wittgenstein scholars and those working on philosophy of language. The present paper pleads for a dialogue with this ignored Wittgenstein to contemplate the possibility for breaking fresh ground in tackling the nagging problems in the debate on language and reality.

There is hardly any difference in early and late Wittgenstein’s on the question of the mystical and the ethical. He remained Tractarian till the end in his mystical viewpoint. He did abandon parts of the Tractatus later but there was no evolution – and in fact could not by the very logic of mystical experience that converts its subjects for good. The mystics solve – for themselves at least – all important problems – intellectual and existential. In fact experiencing God dissolves all problems. For logical positivists what mattered most was what is in Tractatus but for Wittgenstein himself what mattered most was what was not in there, the unsaid part. That was not in the Tractatus because language could not handle that. That something is neither linguistic nor representable in any other way. However that shows itself and thus need not be spoken of or represented. Wittgenstein’s most decisive move was thus away from linguistic representations and the most important job for the philosopher was to delimit what can be represented and thus related to what only shows itself. Ethics and aesthetics and the mystical all belong to this second category. Man does not live by bread of facts (science, instrumental rationality) alone but needs supernatural manna embodied in ethical/aesthetical/mystical. It is ironic that what mattered most to him has not been given due attention by his successors. All his endeavor was to save the intelligence from the bewitchment of language. He was all for transcendence so that man becomes himself and lives truly, joyfully. In his search for happy life, life lived sub species aeternatatis  he paid great attention  to working of language, how language fails to represent reality and leads us astray by creating problems that are not there. It is how men lived that interested him rather than their speculative exercises. This alone solves the riddles of life. Language has no answers and answers can only be found when we step outside language.
As Wittgenstein was more interested in what cannot be linguistically represented his conclusions are radical. The most important things can’t be talked about. Ethics, religion and aesthetics are transcendental. The very fact that things exist is mystical or linguistically and conceptually unrepresentable. We can only gaze at it and get lost in wonder. We can dissolve into this primordial mystery, love and celebrate it. Wittgenstein lived almost like a saint. He is the most mystical of the greatest philosophers of the modern Western history. He tried to show exit to philosophy. He found no problems once we let intelligence operate naturally and it shatters linguistic cobwebs. He fought against pervasive bewitchment of intelligence by language.
However he also realized all pervasiveness of language and how it constructs the world for us. It hardly needs to be argued that we have nothing but linguistic representations even when we seek to talk about transcendence. Man, as has been observed in the classical ages, is a speaking animal. Language is a house of Being. In language the divine and the human meet. Prophets and saints too have spoken. Even the Buddha, the Prophet of silence, spoke even if it is about the impossibility of speech in matters transcendental. Man is condemned to speak and even speak to God and receive the speech of God in turn as scriptures narrate. Scriptures are all filled with linguistic representations of that which though ideally resists getting represented nevertheless is largely accessible though not quite adequately through language. Masses don’t know silence and even saints can’t afford it for too long. Man lives in dialogue, I and Thou dialogue. The absolute stillness is superhuman and for most humans synonymous with death. It is not given for man to conceptually know Truth or represent the divine. But nevertheless he has no other window to higher worlds. Language though imperfect is normally indispensable for humans. Later Wittgenstein is all about appreciating how divine suffuses and expresses in religious language, how ordinary use of language is steeped in transcendental world.

We must not confuse two senses of the term transcendental in Witttgenstein. Logic too is transcendental and we can only show rather than speak about/represent the correspondence between two pictures. To ‘say’ the correspondence between language and reality would require an intermediate language which in turn will require the same ad infinitum., but then that language would also require the same. This kind of transcendence has logical or intellectual function only and did interest Wittgenstein but what mattered for him both personally and as a philosopher is transcendence in ethical/aesthetic/mystical experiences, in the primordial encounter with the world and finding that things exist. The present paper is about this transcendence. As there can be no propositions about what is not in the world or is transcendental we shall have to focus more on life and experiences of the transcendent than on analysis of some theses regarding language or language games to make our point.

Wittgenstein’s Mysticism

Wittgenstein’s protests against being misunderstood notwithstanding, a great industry propounding a version of him he would strongly resent, has been flourishing. What he considered more important has been relegated to background. There is great agreement between scholars on almost everything except that mattered most to him. His motive for doing philosophy and living philosophy have been absent amongst his admirers, not to speak of detractors. His life has not been taken seriously as an aid in clarifying his basic theses and commitments. He has been read as philosopher of language though for him transcendence is more central for culture and value realization.

The mystical in Wittgenstein has not been duly noticed and if noticed  not quite well understood. His religious thought has been misunderstood and not read in continuation with his fundamentally mystical outlook. All kinds of theories have been put forward for accounting for his scattered mystical statements and observations on religion. The mystical is central for Wittgenstein and his philosophy and he has stated it in his Tractatus, Notebooks,“Lecture on Ethics” and in fact most of his writings develop this theme in novel ways, in so subtle a manner that few can notice. His attitude towards religion, often understood in connection with the thesis of language game, is to be put in proper context by foregrounding the empirical mystical foundation that he gives to religion. Wittgenstein scholars have not generally succeeded in integrating his mysticism with his view of religion, culture and aesthetics. Mysticism is in the background of many a theses of later Wittgenstein as well and not just the Tractatus. Even Philosophical Investigations’ central arguments that foreground illusoriness of the self, critique mentalistic picture of the soul, dissolve subject object duality and plunge headlong into the world which is all there us, alert us of dangers in asserting or making propositions on anything that transcends language.
Wittgenstein deserves a comparison with great mystical thinkers. If we understand that God is what is and is missed when we attempt to think or imagine or make images of Him or attempt to comprehend the Mystery we can understand Wittgenstein. According to mysticism God is the case. The only thing is we don’t see. We verbalize and babble and create theologies and metaphysics. Wittgenstein is a metaphysician in the same way Buddha is or Krishnamurti is. God is above speech. The Absolute has never been defiled by speech. But by metaphysics is here meant living or breathing the noumenal world, dissolving into it and not speculating about it with conceptual schemes. Metaphysics as the knowledge of the supraphenomenal reality is the soul of all traditional cultures or “epistemologies.” Man is made for the Absolute, to die in It and thus to eternally live. Certainty is the requirement of intelligence and man is not absurdity. If man fails to access the most certain, the indubitable, the absolutely safe in Wittgenstein’s terms, he has failed as a man. God is the greatest certainty – the greatest and most palpable of the present facts in Whitehead’s words –and a philosophy or epistemology that doesn’t account for this does not deserve to be called a philosophy. It is failure and betrayal of philosophy and of man and his intelligence if the  real is not knowable though of course not conceptually knowable.  Modern philosophy that is largely ignorant of God can’t qualify as a genuine philosophy, as Indians or great traditional philosophers from other traditions understood philosophy as darsana, as seeing or vision.
Wittgenstein had mystic experiences of both the ecstatic and nature-mystical kind. Seeing creation as wondrous is what Einstein correctly defined as religious or mystical attitude. God is attention without distraction as Simone Weil would say. He is the Mystery at the heart of everything. For Wittgenstein God is approached in all these ways and doubting our experience of wonder, of mystery, of eternity, of the ethical or unconditional goodness or his urge for it is absurd. Indeed God is the case and only the fools say in their hearts there is no God. Nasr has remarked that if it were possible to teach (traditional) metaphysics to everyone there would be no atheists around. Modern man has failed to understand what traditions meant by God. God is Reality for traditions and it is absurd to ask is there a reality. Only mystics can, however, say this so genuinely and Wittgenstein is a mystics. As ethics or aesthetics is transcendental and yet quite human and real concerns and constitute the grounds of all that we value most  so is religion understood as living/talking God (to be distinguished from talking about God or mere propsitional belief statement) so characteristic of human endowment that it is absurd to question it. In fact, as the Quran says, no question or doubt can be entertained regarding God. God is love, superabundant joy, beauty that kills, sweetness of every sweat thing, green in the leaves and red in the golden rays and  mystery that surrounds us.

This is not pantheism which is a heresy for traditions but our experience of God out of the world, so to speak, -and of course we also need to note that samsara is nirvana and this very garden is the Garden of Eden for the seeing or who know. Debating about God is height of folly like debating about pleasures of love by enunchs. Against this folly Wittgenstein asserted what normal men have always taken to be the case that God is reality or Reality and only saints truly live life. Wittgenstein was a saint though not of the order of great Western saints like Eckhart. Saints don’t talk about God but talk God, live God, breathe God and share the great joy that God is with lesser mortals. The real question for traditional philosophies is how we become Godlike (theosis) or prepare for death in life (which is the same thing or means for it) or live and move and have our being in God. All else is vanity.

Wittgenstein stood for this primordial heritage of man and that is why was misunderstood by most of his friends and foes like. Needless to remark that he didn’t consider Western civilization that refused to fully countenance the reality of the sacred as something of a monstrosity and like Gandhi a laughable “interesting” idea He complained of Russell, the paragon of modern rationality or philosophy – to have fatally misunderstood him. In fact what he considered most important has been dismissed by many a modern thinker as folly. God (understood mystically or more precisely metaphysically) is the meaning of life for all religions including transtheistic one as for Wittgenstein. I wish to argue the point that Wittgenstein is to be read alongside great traditional philosophers that saw the Good above everything, had little use for fashionable pursuits of today, considered ethics as first philosophy and metaphysical discoveries as fruits or realizations of real ethical life, were centred on God rather than man and saw quintessentially human in living up to the divine image in him, in transcending himself. There is nothing new or original in Wittgenstein’s mysticism as in fact there can’t be anything new in matters transcendental. One can refer to many mystics while explicating central statements of him. So far we have read – with few exceptions– Wittgenstein as a philosopher or failed to appreciate how mysticism informs/grounds his philosophy.
Wittgenstein is not only a philosopher of mysticism but a mystic, a practical mystic of great standing. All his work was dedicated to the “glory of God” as he once said to his friend Dury (Rhees, 1984: 168) – an expression quite unexpected from modern profane philosophers. He didn’t like philosophizing as a speculative/analytical  exercise, as an academic pursuit as is the case now in modern academies or universities but something that Plato would appreciate or other ancient traditional philosophers would prescribe as a way of life and nothing short of preparation of death. That he wanted his legacy to c of changed attitude towards ethics is hardly surprising.  “I am by no means sure that I should prefer a continuation of my work by others to a change in the way people live which would make all those questions superfluous.”(Wittgenstein, CV: 61). Philosophy, as pursued by his contemporaries or today, is a disease of modern form of life that needs cure. And that cure is ultimately provided by seeing the futility of the game called philosophy.

For ancients it was ethics and a vision and had little to do with language or concepts.  It was, most probably, his deep conviction borne from experience regarding sacrality of the world and thus the truth of the supernatural/eternal that made him loath modern civilization that had banished the sacred. It is in light of mysticism that we can understand his  unconventional attitude towards secular carriers or vocations, his renunciation of his property, his austerity in life and manners, his casual attitude towards dress, his independence in thought and action, his nostalgia for peasant life in Russia, his alienation from his times that he characterized as dark ages and many puzzles in his biography. His view of philosophy’s aim, his attempt at transcending it for getting the vision of the things as they really are, his rejection of the claims of conceptual analysis or linguistic analysis as explaining reality, his rejection of classical dualisms that have bedeviled Cartesian and post-Cartesian thought, his plea for convergence of the ethical and the aesthetic, his view that ethics is transcendental, his rejection of doing science and mathematics as the ideals of philosophizing endeavor, his critique of psychologism and rationalistic attempts at building a metaphysics and our addiction to use metaphysical notions in ordinary discourse at rational plane are all threads in the fabric of mystical tapestry that has so subtly woven. He rejected theological representations as many others before have done but he never rejected the symbolizandum.

He said there is no theoretical content in religious doctrines. This is, in a way, easily understandable. God is not a thing, an entity, a being among other being or existence. “God is not” as Eckhart would put it. God is Nothing as Buddhism would put it. God is all that there is as Sufism and Taoist mysticism see it. Samsara and nirvana are really one.
There can be no doubt about the mystical in Wittgenstein. Amongst the most loved books of him are included William James’s Varieties of Religious Experience and Tolstoy’s The Gospel in Brief, Augustine’s Confessions, Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov in which Father Zossima figures, and writings of George Fox and Plato. He claimed that Vienna circle people didn’t understand Tractatus and that few will understand it and in fact his learned commentators still mostly miss its kernel, its last pages and especially the closing proposition. His only public lecture is through and through a mystical piece. His only published book during his life time is an attempt to delineate the sacred realm and prevent its debasement by speculative metaphysics and exoteric theology. His notebooks are marked by the mystical passion. His Culture and Value criticizes modern Western civilization on precisely religious-mystical grounds. His Philosophical Grammar, Blue Book and Philosophical Investigations have mysticism in the background and in fact pave way for it. The most important questions of life that science or logical positivism or any reductionist philosophy miss need, according to him, to be treated mystically. His respect for religion as a form of life – though this belongs to the exoteric part of his work – and his refusal to take cudgels on behalf of theologians are explainable through the thesis of the mystical that he values above everything.
If we don’t comprehend such typical mystical statements as “Samsara and nirvana are one,” “God is what is,” “ I see nothing but God everywhere,” “God is the Hidden and the Manifest” “ God is our ultimate concern,” “Eternity is the present moment,” “Don’t prat about God; God is not,” “God is neither good nor true,” “God is the sweetness of all sweat things,” “ God is Beauty and Truth,” “ God is the real Doer,” “It is God that sees and listens rather than we,” “God is the knownest of the Known,” “No doubt can be entertained regarding God,” “God is the Light of the World,” “God is the Totality, the Whole,” “God is the most immediate of the present facts and unattainable quest” we can’t comprehend mysticism of Wittgenstein. He saw everything from mystical (what he wrongly called religious) point of view. His metaphysics of experience is built on the foundations provided by mystical attitude towards life and the world. The central doctrines and conceptions of religion or theology are understood in light of mystical interpretation that informs Wittgenstein.
Review of works on the mystical in Wittgenstein
The problem with most of the works done on this theme is that they have not been done by the students of mysticism but philosophy and that too a very hostile antimetaphysicalantimystical philosophy. How deeply ironic it is that Wittgenstein would be understood as supporter of the manifesto of logical positivism that banished as nonsense everything which concerned Wittgenstein the most. Science for Wittgenstein has not and could not even touch the problem of life, the problem of meaning, the problem of transcendence. His critique of psychologism meant saying good bye to one of the most fashionable reductionist approaches to spiritual reality. His denial of self was negation of everything for which secular humanism and modern individualism stands. His characterization of scientific-technological civilization as dark ages places him squarely with other great religious critics of Enlightenment thought. For him modern positivist civilization lacked culture and therefore was cursed. He lamented that Russell, Carnap and many others who were so close to him didn’t really understand him and those who claimed to be his followers didn’t make spiritual endeavour share the spiritual vacation that moved him. He was every inch a mystic and no doubt should be entertained regarding this. Both Russell and Carnap accused him of mysticism and in fact none of the Wittgenstein scholars or biographers has denied the element of mystical in him but none has been able to see how mysticism is the key to his whole thought not excluding the latter Wittgenstein. Logic is a tool for paving the way to the supralogical or transcendental. In fact mystical is the case for him and needs no arguments. The unrepresentable shows forth. It is there to be contemplated, breathed and enjoyed. God is everywhere and nowhere. Man is not. He lives and moves and has his being in God. My purpose here is to make some general remarks on the centrality of the mystical in Wittgenstein and thus help to put in perspective the critical writings on his religion besides clarifying why it should matter in any discussion of him. I shall particularly focus on his Notebooks (1914-16) to argue my case though I shall not ignore the Tractatus which has been much though still inadequately and often not quite rightly commented upon from this perspective.
Amongst those who have sympathetically written on his mysticism Russell Neili should count as the most important and balanced. Atkinson reads him as a pantheist as if Wittgenstein had not placed transcendence outside the world in so clear terms. Malcolm and some other critics who have written on his view of religion as a language game have missed the mystical core of his religiosity – his metaphysics of experience – to recall Pradhan’s title of his very useful book – I believe it is Indians who can better comment on Wittgenstein because the metaphysics that he affirms – metaphysics as suprarational intuitive or intellectual instead of speculative rational affair – belongs to India especially. (Indians have no difficulty in understanding Buddha as a mystic and Buddhism as a great metaphysic even if Buddha refused to answer 14 metaphysical questions). Brian McGuiness has made a useful small study and there are valuable insights in Kerr’s Theology after Wittgenstein. Mark Lazenby in The Early Wittgenstein on Religion pays attention to the mystical in him and rightly points out that McGuinness’s view that Wittgenstein is a nature mystic in the Tractatus is not correct and instead argues that he is actually a theistic mystic. He notes that there are two worlds in Tractatus, namely the factual and the spiritual and points out that realizing this is in order to understand how there can be value inside the world. Lazenby develops this position by arguing that the factual world is the everyday one which logic characterizes and that value lies outside this world. The mystic looks back upon this world after transcending it and once it has been transcended there is nothing to say and hence silence ensues. Engleman, Dury and other acquaintances of Wittgenstein have also pointed out the profundity of his mystical outlook. In fact logical positivist camp soon discovered that he is not amongst them. Wittgenstein’s differences with Russell and positivist friends are largely attributable to his mystical-ethical convictions. Many papers have been written to argue the point that Wittgenstein had mystical convictions but very few studies have been able to convincingly link his life and work and interpret him consistently on mystical lines. He has been approached more from theological/religious than from mystic-metaphysical viewpoint. The present paper seeks to fill the gap.
K.C Pandey’s edited collection Perspectives on the Unsayable shows a glimpse of confusion on Wittgenstein’s fundamental contributions to the debate on religion or transcendence. There are disagreements over the nature of his religiosity, cognitive status of religious claims, central metaphysical notions such as the self in relation to God, the meaning of the unsayable etc. Wittgenstein has been approached as a philosopher and not as a mystic and this contributes to confusions. So far few scholars specializing in mysticism have written on Wittgenstein and this has complicated problems. Wittgenstein is a mystic and a metaphysician of a different order – he does metaphysics as many traditional philosopher-sages have been doing it. It is nonrational route for doing metaphysics that he takes. I think the best guide to understanding traditional non-rational metaphysics is the trinity of perennialistmetaphyiscians Rene Guenon, AnandaCoomaraswamy and FrithjofSchuon. For Wittgenstein – to refute his postmodernist appropriations that argue he is a prisoner of language and textuality – what can’t be said is the case. The world is not explained by science or philosophy or anything that employs language.
In a remarkable book Wittgenstein and the Mystical: Philosophy as an Ascetic Practice  Fredrick Sontag sets ten themes that run throughout Wittgenstein’s work. The “themes” dominated Wittgenstein’s life and, Sontag argues, provide a way to understand Wittgenstein’s work. The themes are, as his reviewer puts it, : (1) Philosophy as an ascetic practice; (2) The philosopher as existentialist/pragmatist; (3) The monk’s isolated search for forgiveness; (4) The penitent’s search for forgiveness; (5) The struggle with God as an unknown object; (6) Philosophy as a “religious” way of life; (7) Philosophy as a life of courage; (8) Serious philosophical pursuit has an affinity to mysticism; (9) Language has a mystical quality; (10) Insight can be imparted only to one who is serious and dedicated.
The Mystical in Wittgenstein’s texts
I focus here particularly though not exclusively on Notebooks (1914-16) and then subsume those observations and comment on them from mystical viewpoint. Some statements from Tractaus are too well known and commented to need quoting here. Almost all the statements on religion, ethics and aesthetics in the Notebooks need to be kept in focus for appreciating our reading. Here only a few statements can be quoted or alluded to while commentary proceeds.
Ethics is transcendental.
The work of art is the object seen sub species aeternitatis and the good life is the world seen sub species aeternitatis. This is the connection between art and ethics.
The urge towards mystical comes after non-realization of our wishes by science. We feel that even with all possible scientific questions answered our problem is still not touched at all.
It is true: Man is the microcosmos.
There is no such thing as the act of the will. Will is the attitude of the subject to the world.
World in itself is neither good nor evil.
Everything is perfect.
Objects I can only name.
Where in the world is the metaphysical subject to be found?
There is no riddle.
How things stand is God.
…my will is world will.
There can and must be mentioned of I in a non-physcological sense in philosophy.
Skepticism is not irrefutable, but obvious nonsense if it tries to doubt where no question can be asked
For doubts can only exist where a question exists; a question can only exist where an answer exists, and this can only exist where something can be said.

The fact that Wittgenstein had personal mystical experience is well attested. His description of being absolutely safe and seeing creation as a miracle are so compelling that we hardly need to entertain any second opinion about the mystical in him or his encounter with the mystical. The cognizance of the fact that there is a world is enough to make one dance with ecstasy and wonder. Wonder is the beginning and end of human wisdom.
According to him philosophy is not one of the natural sciences. He made the aim of philosophy more a vision than any things else (Pradhan:237). He aims was to get “vision of things as they are and therefore he aimed transcending philosophy itself. Philosophy could be transcended only after it has given us the correct vision of the world. As we have said earlier, this vision consists in man’s knowledge of the world, or in other words, in the metaphysic.” Although metaphysical interpretation of Wittgenstein’s thought has been disputed we can still say that he does argue for a new way of looking at the world which involves a kind of transcendence quite similar to the one advocated by mystics. After enlightenment the world continues to be the same but we have one foot above the ground as famous Zen anecdote recounts. This is the whole burden of a remarkable work titled Wittgenstein: A Way of Seeing. To quote only one statement from Philosophical Investigations “What you have discovered is a new way of looking at things. As if you had invented a new way of painting; or again a new metre or a new kind of song” (401). Wittgenstein is a metaphysician in a special sense. He is a philosopher of transcendence. This point may need a clarification.
Metaphysics as conceived by its greatest masters across traditions from Nagarjuna to Sankara to Lao Tzu to Eckhart and IbnArabi consists in a vision that transforms our ordinary perception or attitude regarding the world. It is not necessarily a vision of beyond in the sense that involves moving out of oneself and talking of an abstraction or higher world ontologically distinguishable from the world we all know. It always presupposes samsara-nirvana or world-heaven equivalence. The immediate is the ultimate and path is the goal as Zen tradition would put it. God is the green in the trees and the red in the sunrays. Transcendence could well be construed as true being of beings as Heidegger would tell us or mystery of things or depth dimension of things. Everything is within according to all traditions.There is no other in absolute sense. All are one. IbnArabi’s words “you are everything, in everything, and from everything” express the vision of all great mystical thinkers. Thus all the higher worlds are part of the Self or consciousness. Ken Wilber has been emphasizing this point especially in almost all his writings. things.

To be open to revelations of transcendence is simply to keep the sense of wonder alive. Philosophy begins in wonder and mysticism makes this wonder a permanent state. The highest stage in the path is the stage of wonder or getting lost as IbnArabi says. Nietzsche was right to emphasize loyalty to this earth. In fact father Zosima in Dostovesky’s mystical work The Brothers Karamazarovsees every garden as the Garden of Eden. He says: “We don’t understand that life is a paradise [at present], for we have only to wish to understand this and it will immediately appear before us in all its beauty.”Rabbi Herschel has made the same point in different terms “Just to be is a blessing, just to live is holy.”
The quarrel between transcendentalists and antitranscendentalists of almost all hues is largely verbal quibble. Platonic ideal world is not a separate world, an abstraction. But the world ordinarily thought to be world is also not the whole world but a mental construction. Blake sees eternity in an hour or infinity in a grain of sand. In fact for the mystics everything is, as it is infinite. Eternity is not an abstraction or some new realm as opposed to time but present moment. To live in eternity is to live in the present, to live moment by moment. What characterizes a philosopher of transcendence is he continues to find a depth in the world, something that excites wonder, something that invites our response and even love. Wittgenstein lucidly made this point in these words:

Some philosophers (or whatever you like to call them) suffer from what maybe called “loss of problems.” Then everything seems quite simple to them,no deep problems seem to exist any more, the world becomes broad and flatand loses all depth, and what they write becomes immeasurably shallowand trivial. Russell and H. G. Wells suffer from this (Z, 456).

His remark about Ayer after listening to his debate with Father Copleston  that ‘he has a point but he is shallow’ underscores the same sensibility. His remark that “The I, the I is what is deeply mysterious”(p. 80 of his dairy) is in line with this viewpoint. Though he granted that only strictly scientific statements are meaningful but  he cautioned against positivists that natural science could never touch what was really important in human life, the mystical.
That would have to be contemplated in silence. For “whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent/’ as the last proposition of the Tractatusdeclared. We can understand his famous statement “I am not areligious man but I cannot help seeing every problem from a religious point of view”in this light. In fact religions don’t aim at even vision but advocate a discipline that makes us open or vulnerable to reality, to richness of being, to thingliness of things as Heidegger would have it, to essences of things that get expressed through things when looked at rather than thought. Wittgenstein would recommend looking instead of thinking. Transcendence of thinking is what contemplation/meditation is all about. It appears to me that Wittgenstein says nothing because nothing needs to be said. He advocates no position or privilges no point of view because this can’t be done. All his endeavor, like the mystics and prophets, is to emphasize that we need to see with open eyes, unburdened by memories or anxieties of thought. We need to see through God’s eyes. And that consists in nonegoistic vision and this makes it possible to assert that “How things stand is God.”
Wittgenstein gave great attention to language in order to show that what constitutes us and what we value most is delimited from what could be expressed in language, from profane textual domain. The Tractatus’s design was expressly determined by this consideration. For him the metaphysical self that constitutes us transcends the world, the urges that move us point beyond the world, experiences that we most cherish are of the world beyond the ordinarily familiar world, our ethical and aesthetic dimension is anchored outside the world.

For him both the willing subjects and the knowing subjects are one and both are outside of the world, and are the source of our language and world-cognition. However, as in mystical traditions, transcendence is not consummated; it remains an unfulfilled quest. It is movement, perpetual movement and not reaching anywhere. It is the limit that can never be reached. Absolute is inexhaustibly rich. Man must perpetually travel. Experiences are open ended and self is perpetually creative. Our search for transcendence, like our need to engage with philosophy is, as Pradhan has noted, “merely an ideal never to be fulfilled, because the metaphysics of experience as unfolded through our subjectivity has to be constantly guarded against unclarity and confusion through language itself. Therefore, philosophy can never ultimately be transcended, since transcendence of language itself is a continuing activity which is performed by philosophy” (Pradhan, 237). It means one can never stop worshipping or glorifying God and travel on the plane of servitude or perfect his surrender or state of innocence or vulnerability to reality. Mystics, as true philosophers (as traditionally understood activity) are always striving to remove the veils of language and thought in order to reach the still centre of existence that transcends language and thought. Wittgenstein is quite clear on the point that Conceptual analysis can teach nothing about reality. Nor resolve the puzzle of how we should understand the world and how we should live. He leaves all questions open and thus paves way for alternative approaches that bypass conceptual analysis and science for understanding or living the great mystery of life.

As Paul Johnson notes: “The conclusion of a Wittergenstein investigation still have all great questions open. As far as the Inner is concerned, in one sense it will always remain as mysterious as life itself” (Johnson: 239). This is precisely mystical attitude towards mystery of life. No question is answered. Only our plane of seeing life shifts and dissolves the ordinary sense of questions. We consent to unlearn. The learned ignorance. “The mystic is an extraordinarily ordinary person” He is a non-knower, non-caner. “The human need for account for the world and our place in it will not disappear, because traditional metaphysics has been shown to be flawed… accepting these points doesn’t involve embracing relativism and is close to a moral argument. (Pradhan, 239). It means the mystic, the artist, the poet, the scientist, shall ever be busy and man needs to be humble. Let Reality speak to him. Let him learn to be receptive. Imposing conceptual structures is violence. We need to learn to be still so that God speaks to us in silence. This opening up, surrender of self, emptying out and polishing our receptivity is what is the crux of Vedanta as Som Raj Gupta has argued in his largely ignored but superb work Word Speaks to the Faustian Man (1991). In fact all religious and mystical traditions are agreed on this point.
Wittgenstein’s statement that ‘God is the meaning of life’ is quintessentially mystical and best understood in light of mystical writings. Underhill’s explication of the meaning of life in mysticism is best commentary on this statement. One can’t be more God intoxicated to equate the most significant thing in life with God. Wittgenstein’s statement that man is a microcosmos is comprehensible only in mystical worldview. He also observed that “As a thing among things each thing is equally insignificant. As a world each one equally significant” (7-10-16) which reminds of Blake’s seeing the heaven in a grain of sand. Mystics have never doubted the significance of the meanest flower or blade of grass seeing everything as the face of the Absolute, as participating in everything.
Wittgenstein famously remarked that the riddle doesn’t exist and the solution of the problem of life is seen in the disappearance of the problem of life. For mystics God is the Light of the world. The question is how to live and that dissolves the problem or riddle. Life is not a riddle to be solved but a mystery to be lived, dissolved in. Riddle exists for those who want to conceptually approach life that resists all logic. The problem of meaning of life is the problem of how to live, how to live so that life stops being problematic.  For him good life is world seen in certain way rather than in a way of behaving. For him there is no value in the world (6.41). It is impossible for to be there proposition of ethics (6.42). The problem of how to live becomes for him not  some epistemological inquiry  the problem of how to  look at that world, the problem of how to find the right spirit in it.
Wittgenstein assigns key importance to art, on the ground that art alone can express the meaning of life. Only the artist can teach the things that matter most in life. For him art is the solution. Compare this with Coomaraswamy or Schuon on art and aesthetics and we get the full import of the statement.
Wittgenstein has categorically stated the error of moderns for believing that laws of science explain nature. The world is suffused in mystery that is divine. The very fact that there is a world is incomprehensible and metaphysical. God has been conceived as mystery, as given, as something that is – ‘what is’ in Augustine’s and Krishnamurti’s phrase. Who can afford to deny the “gratuitous” universe? Philosophy begins and ends in wonder explaining nothing and demanding our opening up towards the transcendent miracle of existence. Modern man’s key problem in engaging positively or creatively with religion/mysticism arises from felt absence/hiddenness of God in contemporary experience.  But taken as synonymous with Reality the complaint seems to lose all warrant. God is the only Experiencer, Knower and Actor.


For IbnArabi, the great Sufi metaphysician, we don’t see but God sees and we don’t hear but God listens. God is immanent in every experience. As he says:
If we gaze, it is upon Him; if we use our intelligence, it is towards Him; if we reflect, it is upon Him; if we know it is Him. For it is He who is revealed in every face, sought in every sign, worshipped in every object of worship, and pursued in the invisible and the visible. The whole world prays to Him, prostrates itself before Him and glorifies His praise; tongues speak of Him, hearts are enraptured by love for Him, minds are bewildered in Him (Futûhât, III: 449-50).
For Wittgenstein these lines of IbnArabi would be perfectly comprehensible given his notion of metaphysical subject and its role in constituting experience, his view of the world as my world. Here I propose to compare Wittgenstein and IbnArabi by keeping IbnArabi’s explication in the background while applying the same for understanding Wittgenstein. Agnosticism and skepticisms of various orientations in the contemporary world have a point if understood as the declaration of impossibility of conceptually knowing the Reality, Transcendent Principle, the Ground of existence, the whole Truth, the Mystery. However these are often presented in cruder versions that deny men any knowledge of the supraphenomenal or the very existence of the sacred for which Wittgenstein and IbnArabiwill have zero tolerance. The Pure Absolute or Essence (Dhat) in its fundamental aspect – and thus Meaning/Truth/ Presence/ Identity/ Reality per se – is beyond the human quest and all attempts to reach It, track it, pinpoint It, catch It in the net of language or realm of the finite or time, to conceptualize It, to imagine It, to speak about It, to affirm anything of It are doomed. Before the Ipseity or Dhat one can only be bewildered according to Ibn ‘Arabî and Wittgenstein. The world is ultimately a Mystery, a Mystery of Mysteries and no rational or scientific approach could finally and completely demystify it. The world being ultimately a mystery that resists being demystified by means of conceptual intellect is what transcendence implies as Stace has explained in his Time and Eternity (1952). There is no humanely discoverable ultimate truth. All representations of the Real are provisional. Godhead/ Absolute/ Zat-uz-Zat is opaque, deep deep darkness, impenetrable, the absolutely inscrutable unknowable Other. Gnosis consists in knowing that God can’t be known as Abu Bakr is quoted time and again by IbnArabi. As the world is not-He and man ever a worshipper of his Lord or conditioned by his belief – a notion subsumable under the concept of form of life in Wittgenstein, and nothing is ever repeated as God’s theophanies change ceaselessly imply that the world will never cease to be an object of wonder and fascination and Beauty never cease to be worshipped and act as an efficient net through which God catches most of his servants as Plato also noted.
Rationalization, familiarization, demystification and descaralization of the world that ultimately make it inhuman, alienating and absurd and disrespectful towards the Big Other  can’t happen in the Akbarian/Wittgensteinian perspective that sees the mysterious, sacred divine face in everything. Western philosophy, as Heidegger pointed out, is oblivious to the ground of being. It is not open to the sacred mystery of Being. It is not the philosopher but the poet who can show the track of the holy, to the sacred mystery of Being. Nothing in the world of known can express the Divine Darkness. All quests end in wonder. In the last analysis man knows nothing to its depth by means of senses, language and reason. Other modes of knowledge such as intellectual intuition give us another kind of knowledge that instead of making things comprehensible dissolves the knowing subject in the object preserving the ultimate mystery of things in the process. If to comprehend means to have discursive conceptual knowledge we comprehend nothing ultimately. All our explanations, analyses stop at a certain point. Things are as they are. There is something instead of nothing. Being or wajudis in the last analysis a miracle or a scandal to reason. Why should there be a knowing subject and why should our universe be comprehensible are perhaps unanswerable. Man knows but little and this applies to everything from God to quarks. God is incomparable, transcendent. Symbols are all we know. We can only name things and that is all but things escape us as Wittgenstein would say. God alone knows or is Knowledge. The knowledge of reality given to mystics and prophets is of a different order. God remains inscrutable and the sacred inapproachable. Man’s prerogative is to contemplate and dissolve in the mystery of being. Though being is aware of itself this awareness has no analyzable or knowable structure.
We are here and there is no cure for it. But, more precisely, we are not. Only God is. Only the play of divine names is and man happens to be a locus of their action rather than some independent subject or agency. The cloak of mystery can’t be removed from the universe. All human knowledge is progressive unveiling of the ultimate impenetrability of the veil that disguises Reality. Essences are not discursively known.  Existence is a mystery and its grandeur and sublimity defy our reason and its categories. Rereading of Kantian sublime by such writers as Derrida or Lyotard is based on increasingly felt inability of reason to contain the brutal power of imagination. We can’t conceptualize or represent in language the infinity which human beings do encounter. The highest station is that of bewilderment according to IbnArabi and Wittgenstein . All this implies that dogmatisms are unwarranted.  Exoteric theologies need to be on guard and take Wittgenstein seriously as Kerr has also argued in Theology after Wittgenstein.
It is God and not the name of God that religions seek. Exoteric theologies may not distinguish between the Truth and the descriptions or representations of Truth. Nothing can capture the Reality in rational propositional framework. Even ethical propositions are not possible for Wittgenstein. This means we can only know our inability to know God and will good on our own and this means humility in the face of the Great Mystery that God is. This vetoes all self righteous fundamentalist ideologies. Jaina doctrine of syadvada is a corollary of the fundamental mystery and transcendence of the First Principle, the Absolute. This rules out all totalistic or totalitarian claims. Ideological conflicts are based on one’s exclusive claim to have access to truth and denying one’s fallibility. Religions by relegating truth to transcendent realm  and its access to transcendent intellect (which is in us but not ours) veto all quarrels about accessibility to it of any worldly ideology and self-centric person. Secular philosophies that require no moral purification on the part of the philosopher are barred from entering the doors of the great King or Truth.
The essential ethics of Wittgenstein like that of IbnArabi is constituted by such virtues as disinterest, self-denial, charity and love which form the ethical core of all religious/mystical traditions. God is experienced by everyone who sincerely cultivates these virtues. (Post)Modernity has essentially no argument against these values and indeed affirms them. Ibn ‘Arabî has nothing to argue for and against – he only invites us to experience things afresh, to be open to the Real which alone is really experienced in every experience. Wittgenstein’s endeavour is similar in his invitation to transcend language and thought in order to see what is, to see things sub species aeternitatis, to see solution in aesthetics, to live rather than think the mystery that life is. God is not a hypothesis that one needs to prove or could question – He is the ground of every perception, every imagination, every conception or thought, every experience. As Wittgenstein puts it there is no answer as there is no question where nothing can be said.
Wittgenstein is not himself a philosopher in the modern sense of the term which sees reason as the chief if not the only tool for understanding or approaching reality. His view of modern philosophers could not but be largely negative. For projecting IbnArabi or Wittgenstein as a philosopher we need to refer to perennialist conception of philosopher and philosophy. His denunciation of rationalism and much of what today passes for intellectuality aligns him to  perennialist critics of modern thought. It is not a prerogative of ratio or mental faculty of reason but of nous, the supraindividual universal faculty of intellect. For Wittgenstein knowing and willing subjects are one and man is knowledge, so to speak. Instead of conceptualizing we can see and in order to pave way for that direct seeing he removes the traps and cobwebs that language builds. Philosophy should not be a mere theoretical rational inquiry, a conceptual analysis or analysis of language as an end in itself but a realization, intellection or noetic vision that transcends subject-object duality and demands something like ethical discipline that Plato argued for. Philosophy as an abstract philosophical discourse based on rationalistic scientific method and its methodically obtained “truths” is what Ibn ‘Arabî and Wittgenstein  often critique. Philosophy for Wittgenstein is not a method to discover truth but a sort of shock therapy to prepare us for receiving truth, to make us innocent or children again. It is a sort of death to the linguistically/conceptually constructed self. Philosophy implies for all of the ancients a moral conformity to wisdom: only he is wise, sophos, who lives wisely as Schuon notes (8:136). Living happily is living wisely. Living in such a way that problem disappears and there is no more sorrow and one partakes of eternity by living in the present is what  Wittgenstein is all about. Philosophy in the traditional Orphic-Pythagorean sense is wisdom and love combined in a moral and intellectual purification in order to reach the “likeness to god.”( Uzdavinys, 2005). It is contemplation of Beauty and Good. This is attainable by gnosis. By philosophizing ancients meant “both noetic activity and spiritual practice.” Wittgensteinian conception is remarkably similar.
In IbnArabi’s understanding the Real alone is and there is no distance between us and It. We are already there in the lap of God – we have never been really away and cannot be away from It. God has never been missed. We have forgotten or fallen asleep but this doesn’t alter the fact that God is our very being, our inmost reality. Man is inwardly God and outwardly a creature according to Ibn ‘Arabî. The world is God’s visible face. The real, the obvious, that which is always with us, has been always with us, will always be with us, is God. God is the world. God is how things are as Wittgenstein would put it. But this doesn’t make him a pantheist as he has categorically stated also that God is outside the world, the world constructed by language, by a self that sees it as the other.

God is the Isness of things. He is the Meaning of everything as Wittgenstein said. God constitutes all pervasive Environment (al-Muhitin the Quranic parlance) in which normal man lives, moves and has his being.
Realizing that everything is perfect this very moment or, in Buddhist (Nagarjunian) terminology, that samsara is nirvana is realizing God. Wittgenstein’s transcendence of good/evil binary and pleading for a vision of perfect harmony between the self and the “alien will” called God and seeing everything as unalterably perfect makes the same point. Such notions as  “Ground of being” “ depth of life” “mystery of things or existence” which many moderns have advocated as substitute metaphors for what used to be conventionally called God and most often pictured with a human face by anthropomorphic idolatrous imagination seem to be given some representation in this fundamentally Unitarian view of God as Totality, as Reality.
God is not an epistemological problem at all that our mind/reason can investigate. He is a percept rather than a concept for Ibn ‘Arabî and Wittgenstein. In more poetic terms He is a song to be sung rather than an abstract Being, a Being among other beings but a Being of beings. God is “the knownest of the known” and so close that we only need to open our eyes, to cleanse the doors of perception to see how. Belief in God is not a proposition for Ibn ‘Arabî and Wittgenstein but a matter of tasting, experiencing the divine (or the revelations of sheer Being), which, to him, presents itself in all experiences every moment and for everyone – in fact God is the Hearing and the Seeing as is often reiterated in the Quranic verse – and not just to a select few in the so-called religious experience which is a Jamesian construct uncritically accepted by many modern philosophers of religion. All the roads lead to His abode as they proceed from it. God is the name of ‘that which is.’ He is not something within isness, he himself is that which is.
Knowing oneself after denying the illusory desiring ego one comes to subsist in God. All beliefs and disbeliefs are in the realm of duality and need to be transcended. IbnArabi’s and Wittgenstein’s  Unitarian Metaphysics is transtheistic and transcends both theism and atheism. This Unitarianism leads to the realization that the world is ultimately none other than the Absolute and thus finding everything perfect this very moment or seeing eternity here and now.  Wittgen
Modern man’s problems are primarily with a constricted dualistic theological view of God and static absolutes of idealistic philosophies. Ibn ‘Arabî’s and Wittgenstein’s conception of divinity is not vulnerable to these standard critiques of theistic and idealistic philosophical pictures. Most empiricist-positivist-postmodernist critiques look beside the point and based on faulty construction of religious experience. Modern philosophy of religion seems to have gloriously misunderstood the central experience of religion if Akbarian exposition is accepted. It is not a subject that sees something which constitutes the essence of religious experience or mystical vision for Wittgenstein or IbnArabi. It is more a discovery or insight into things as they are, an attitude, a way of seeing the world rather than a particular or extraordinary experience.
Wittgenstein, like traditional philosopher-sages, is more concerned about certainties “seen” or “lived” by the immanent Intellect, as did the best of Greeks than about building rational speculative metaphysics.  Cracks, crises and emasculations of the discipline of philosophy in the modern West could have been avoided if the West had not opted for Latin Averrorism and Cartesian rationalism and consequent dualisms and irresolvable problems that still haunt its epistemology and other areas like ontology.
Wittgenstein, like IbnArabi, provides a possible exit point from the choking morass of skeptical thought currents which otherwise doom us to abysmal ignorance regarding our most important questions in life including possibility of certain knowledge and knowledge of good life or good action.
“The final end and ultimate return of the gnostics … is that the Real is identical with them, while they don’t exist” said IbnArabi. Wittgenstein arrives at similar conclusions through a different route. It is through the metaphysical realization that one realizes that the Self withdraws from the “servant-Lord” polarity and resides in its own transpersonal being. The subject-object dichotomy is transcended by virtue of pure intellect or Spirit, which is identical with the divine Essence” (Qaisar, 2002:133). Once the soul or nafs has withered away in the experience of fana, the self-identity of mystic realization is transformed into the Self-identity of metaphysical realization. In the metaphysical perspective the reality of the ‘I’ doesn’t belong to man or nafsbut to the Spirit which is the divine spark at the center of man’s being identical with the unmanifest consciousness or Divine Essence. The crucial distinction between soul and Spirit is necessary to understand the Akbarian-Wittgensteinian metaphysical conception of religious experience. This distinction is largely forgotten by most philosophical critics of religious experience. Numerous misunderstandings and debates of theological vs. mystical debate in religions and meaning of such notions as soul/spirit, God/man, could be resolved if we keep these key points in mind. A fruitful dialogue with critics of religion and mysticism and in fact with secular thought in general is possible if we keep in mind ingenious interpretations put forward of many exponents of nondualism in the contemporary world.

Love of the World and Discovering God as Unutterable Joy

For Wittgenstein happy life is life divine and the great moral prerogative. It comes by loving the world, byamorfati. It comes from transcending the principle of ego which judges from self-centric perspective. Jesus said “judge not.” For Wittgenstein joy accompanies this surrender of vanity of the self in the All Embracing Divine Environment or “alien” Cosmic Will. He defined God as the Other, the Great Other that dictates terms, that constrains one, that embodies principle of Necessity.
One is reminded of many writings and especially the following from Augustine’s commentary on Psalm 32 in one of his sermons.
As the harvest, in the vineyard, wherever men must labour hard, they begin with songs whose words express their joy. But when their joy brims over and words are not enough, they abandon even this coherence and give themselves up to the sheer sound of singing. What is this jubilation, this exultant song; It is the melody that means out hearts are bursting with feelings words cannot express. An to whom does this Jubliation most belong? Surely to God, who is unutterable.  And does not unutterable mean what cannot be uttered? If words will not come and you may not remain silent, what else can you do but let the melody soar? (Qtd.In Kerr, 1986:167).

In mystical perspective God is joy and awareness of God is joy and thus awareness of reality in which all association with the self is put aside. If it is possible to access Reality or God nihilism is overcome. Weil has an ingenious argument to show that awareness of reality is joy and despair or sadness is a loss of contact with reality. This is her expression of old mystical /metaphysical viewpoint which identifies God as ananda, bliss. Simone Weil expresses the identity of joy with the awareness of reality. Since beauty is manifest appearance, the striking sign of reality, joy can only be a feeling, an awareness of reality. Weil describes sadness as a loss of contact with reality. Through sadness we cannot fulfill our vacation – to understate misery of our condition and to accept our reduction to what we truly are: nothing.  The memory of the revelation of reality through joy keeps us from plunging into despair, and the joy felt in our nothingness can be inscribed in our sensibility only by suffering. “Joy and pain are equally precious gifts both of which must be savoured fully, and each in its purity…” ( Weil, 1951: 132).
Simone Weil best captures the essence of many ideas that Wittgenstein only briefly touches. I think her observations allow us to make sense of Wittgenstein’s many observations from a mystical perspective. I reproduce some of her observations to put Wittgenstein in perspective and make him comprehensible.
Wittgenstein maintained that God is the Meaning of life and one must love the world unconditionally to appropriate this meaning. Weil is at her best in showing how one creates the meaning in life by renouncing all personal meanings, by complete acceptance of submission to the order of the world. One loves the order of the world by renouncing all personal interests. This is, in practice, close to Spinoza’s view of love of God by renouncing every vestige of personal interest. Freedom lies in recognizing our utter dependence on Totality, on God and in fact giving up sense of illusory autonomy or freedom that we associate with a separate individuality. We are not asked to do something against which our heart or head rebels but just shifting the perception in accordance with the nature of things.  One is just asked to accept or recognize the obvious fact that there is the order called necessity, which exists prior to us and which is there for reasons not necessarily understandable in human terms. Reality is there that transcends all our estimates, evaluations, desires and constitutes the given and man has no choice but to accept it by renouncing that which would have led him to rebellion – the sense of individuality and freedom outside God. “Where there is complete, authentic, and unconditioned consent to necessity, there is the fullness of love of God” (Weil, 1956: 267). Other texts identify the supernatural faculty in us as consent. For Weil that consent is always consent to the good, and, as such, it is the good itself. Faith is itself this faculty of submission or consent according to her. Absurdism rejects this notion of consent as a species of bad faith. Affirming the principle of autonomy and freedom in man independent of God it can’t but reject consent and consequently suffer alienation, angst and all those things with which absurdist literature is suffused.
All traditions emphasize remembrance of God. Modern mystics such as Krishnamurti translate it as attention or choiceless awareness. Weil has a similar understanding. Attention bridges division of subject and object, knower and known. Attention consists in suspending thought, in making it available, enmity, penetrable by the object….Thought must be empty, waiting, not searching for anything, but ready to receive in its naked truth the object which will penetrate there (Weil, 1951: 92-3). For her God is attention without distraction. It is living as a witness, a detached subject or awareness that watches every moment, that lives in the present by transcending thinking which distracts one from the given, the present. Living beyond the mind, in what has been called as the space of no-mind where time doesn’t enter and thus neither fear nor hope nor any need of consolation. God is what is in Krishnamurti’s phrase and to live in God is to be aware of what is without judgment, without condemnation, disinterestedly. Wittgenstein pleaded for seeing without the conceptual glasses, seeing things as they are after transcending philosophy. He meant something similar. Contemplation is a means of transcending confusions created by use or misuse of language.
Giving up the centre of one’s own value system is harder, but when we succeed, the very sensibility changes and we become capable of a new way of seeing. We are able to “empty ourselves of little false divinity, deny oneself, to renounce being at the centre of the world, to discern all the points of the world as being centers in the same title and the veritable centre as being outside the world.” Wittgenstein was all for this ascesis, this transformation in attitude and not correcting one’s views by updating our knowledge of history or science. By saying that God is outside the world or aesthetics is transcendental he meant adopting the divine perspective of seeing things from outside the world. This necessitates transcendence of individuality and human way of seeing and judging. When we are no longer centers we can’t condemn anything and can justify the world.
Weil argues that one shouldn’t desire particular things or pray for particular things because that is slavery.  Her argument practically converges with the formula of amorfati and loving everything as if there is eternal recurrence. This alone ensures unconditional love. Total renunciation is demanded for loving the order of the world or affirming everything unconditionally. To quote her:

Nothing can be produced unless the conditions for its production are brought together.
Such and such a thing calls for such and such a condition. But if one thinks: everything can be produced, given the conditions, and everything is equivalent…
If one desires a particular thing one becomes enslaved to the series of conditions. But if one desires the series itself, the satisfaction of this desire is unconditioned.
That is why the one and only liberation is love of the order of the world.
Christ on the cross, the greatest harm inflicted on the greatest good [can anything be more absurd and more revolting]: if one loves that, one loves the order of the world (Weil, 1970:143-144).

Nietzsche suggests a similar way of overcoming nihilism. Affirming the order of the world, praying for nothing, or letting one consent to the order of the world, freedom from the self that seeks consolation and this or that thing – these are the strategies common to Weil and Wittgenstein and in fact is the mystical position. Eckhart teaches the same thing.
Man has only two choices – to affirm his will, his autonomy or to affirm divine or cosmic will and his creatureliness, his nothingness. The first choice pits him against God and against cosmos and leads him to wail and despair for that which is thwarted, which is not honored in the scheme of things. When one renounces free will and thus choice between good and evil one no longer wishes good against evil to be done to him. Everything is justified because both good and evil are really one. (This relative understanding of good and evil is to be distinguished from that supreme value which Plato calls Good which stands above all relative distinctions.) Camus finds Christianity based on great injustice as an innocent lamb was sacrificed. Weil leaves no scope for any such reading.  We too are asked to consent to die, to be crucified, to love God in utter desolation of the Spirit when He seems absent as He was when the Christ cried.
Wittgenstein wanted us to see things from God’s perspective or sub species aeterneti. Weil asks for adapting the perspective of God or the non-perspective of supraindividual faculty of intellect (nuous as distinct from ratio or discursive reason). For attaining this perspective one has to die first. One starts from the Absolute and from the perspective of the Absolute man, his free will, his dreams, his autonomy is an anomaly, a state of disequilibrium.  If individual is engulfed in the Absolute as critics of perennialists point out or as existentialists argue against monists, it is something for which nothing can be done. If we are concerned with truth and not sentimentalism there is no escape from the tragic fact that individual or ego doesn’t count in the face of the Absolute. Are we after truth as such or truth as it appears to our subjective predispositions, to our heart? God is Truth and man may be in need of consolation though truth need not be necessarily consoling. From perennialist/Weil’s perspective the need for consolation is a weakness and a species of bad faith. This also explains Wittgenstein’s critique of conventional prayer as petition.We need to be iron-willed, capable of facing utter solitude or Void (Neant). It is only the strong man, the superman, who can unconditionally affirm and love fate – a fatalist in this higher sense is a man of strong character – or consent to eternal recurrence. Weil thus advocates the perspective of God in contrast to man-centric perspectives that individualist subjectivist thought currents advocate. This appropriates Keatsian negative capability, Nietzsche’s perspectivism and Jainism’s syadvadaas all these imply openness to infinitely nuanced and multidimensional character of reality or truth.
Meaning of Providence
Wittgenstein observed in Tractatus. “How things in the world are a matter of complete indifference what is higher.  God does not revel him self in the world.” He rejected conception of prayer as petition. He, however, attempted to make sense of religious person’s trust in God and religious language that express care of God. Weil explains this difficult problem in her own characteristic way. We need to note that nothing is gratuitous and nothing is meaningless and nothing is out of God’s control, care and mercy in God-centric view though nothing is respectful of human egoism which wants things according to the self’s desire. Not a sparrow falls except by the writ of providence. There is no role for chance. God is equally present everywhere, in all circumstances. Even rain drops fall in a measured quantity and angel accompanies every drop. This is the conviction of all religions, even those who have no personal God to look into the affairs of the world. However these statements are best understood by those who are familiar with the strange language of God. One can approach such statements not as cognitive verifiable statements that positivist or empiricist could handle but only by being within a “form of life” and mastering the rules and conventions of the particular game. Despite the fact that God is “absent’’ for Weil there is providence, the mystery of which is not decipherable to the uninitiated, to those profane inquirers who refuse to be annihilated in God and insist on seeing things outside God. The following account is irrefutable on its own terms by outsiders.
All the events of life, whatever they may be, without exception, are by conventions or signs of God. God establishes a conventional language with his friends. Every event in life is a word of this language. These words are all synonymous but, as happens in beautiful languages, each of them has its completely specific nuance, each of them is untranslatable. The meaning common to all these words is: I love you.
A man drinks a glass of water. The water is God’s “I love you.” He is two days in the desert without finding anything to drink. The dryness in his throat is God’s “I love you” … Those who are beginning to learn this language think that only some of its words mean “I love you.” Those who know the language know that it has only one meaning (Weil, 1970:128-129).
There is no providence that pertains to our created nature which itself is a result of injustice because by definition it tends to be autonomous and in opposition to the whole, the totality that the term God designates. What transcends the world is indeed indifferent towards the concerns of the world as Wittgenstein would say. To be born is indeed sin according to both Christian and Eastern traditions because it involves separation from the ground and thus a kind of fall. (Redemption consists in, according to Weil, consenting to return to God what is His, i.e. our very being or existence. Metaphysically our being is a non-being and God alone is truly real and the illusory dream of separate existence must be given up and this constitutes salvation.) Providence has, as in Beckett, only a negative meaning, of ensuring decreation so that the dust returns to dust and the uncreated Spirit comes to its own glory. Because creation is abandonment it necessarily implies subjection to necessity and thus, in a sense, absence of providence in the usually accepted sense of the term.

God abandons our whole entire being – flesh, blood, sensibility, intelligence, love – to the pitiless necessity of matter and the cruelty of the devil, except for the eternal and supernatural part of the soul.
The Creation is abandonment. In creating what is other than Himself, God necessarily abandoned it. He only keeps under His care the part of Creation which is Himself – the uncreated part of every creature. That is the Life, the Light, the Word…” (Weil, 1970: 103).

God himself can’t prevent what has happened from having happened. What better proof that the creation is an abdication? What greater abdication of God than is represented by time?
We are  abandoned in time. God is not in time.
God emptied himself of his divinity and filled us with a false divinity. Let us empty ourselves of it. This act is the purpose of the act by which we were created
At this very moment God, by  his creative will, is maintaining me in existence, in order that I may renounce it (Weil, 1970:140).

One doesn’t ask of providence to take care of this and that because if one loves the order of the world one transcends it with all its misery. Love is transcendence. It is we who are asked to redeem or justify ourselves in relation to the Totality. Love of the world takes all its pain. Love, in the final analysis, is the one thing needful that solves all problems. Here Rumi comes to mind who says love cures all ills. As Weil says: “It is sufficient if we consent to this order of things.” Faith is precisely this demand for loving the world which God has made and found good. Faith is trust in the order of things. It is gratitude towards Existence. It is self effacement before the whole, the Totality, the Tao. It is renunciation of all claims to a separate selfhood over and against the Whole.
Meaning of time and Eternity
Weil has a time tested mystical mechanism of ending of time called decreation. Decreation, according to Weil, means the “end of time.” There is an eternal and hidden part of soul which has the reservoir of energy “beyond time.” Through it one lives beyond time. Nihilism is overcome by those prepared to live it to hilt by annihilating oneself, by eliminating the seeking self which lives in time and rising above the mind which lives in past and future and never beyond time, in the moment. Cultivating the faculty of undistracted attention and intelligence one breaks through the prison of time. Weil is convinced as is Beckett that there is a timeless dimension which is our home.
The entire life of the self is directed towards the future because its substratum is supplementary energy, “produced” only by motives whose ends are in the future (or in the past) (Weil, 1956: 184). One should live in the present breaking the ties with the future and the past. Here Heidegger comes to mind who sees life as project into future. Being reduced to the present moment also implies a sinless state, since sin is essentially a claim to mastery over the future, the refusal of future love or suffering, or the refusal to repent of an evil act committed in the past: “If we contemplate ourselves at a specific moment – the present moment, cut off from past and future – we are innocent… Isolating a moment in this way implies forgiveness. But this isolation is detachment” (Weil, 1956: 216).
Remarks on his Ethics and Suffering
In 1939 Wittgenstein said,
The fat that life is problematic shows the shape of your life does not fit into life’s mould. So you must change the way you live and, once your life does fit into the mould, what is problematic will disappear.
Or shouldn’t I say rather: a man who lives rightly won’t experience the problem as sorrow, so for him it will not be a problem but a joy rather; in other words for him it will be a bright halo around his life, not a dubious background  (CV:27).

This is the crux of mystical theodicy. This is what Buddha said in a different way. Eliminate desire and you will be in peace. Wittgenstein said this quite clearly and wondered what for are amenities. He was the monk in the true sense.
‘Ethics,’ Wittgenstein says, has nothing to do with punishment and reward in the ordinary sense (TLP,6.422) and he adds that “the ethical consequences must lie in the action itself. If we assume that it is a person’s actions and the way those actions are performed that create a life, then the ethical desert of those actions is simply that life itself, and since life and the world are said to be one, the ethical reward is nothing else but the fact with which the world looks back at you. To complete the account let us remember that the face that looks back at our is your own: it is tempting to speculate that your ethical reward is no more nor no less than the discovery of your own character.” From Lao Tzu to IbnArabi and Eckhart mystical ethics and its eschatological significance has been almost similarly understood. For mystics like IbnArabi people choose their stations in the other world. God only unveils their reality. People judge themselves in the light of the Absolute. Choosing to live inside the cocoon of limiting self amounts to obstructing Divine Mercy or choosing separation from the Real. Prayer establishes the dialogue between the self and transcendence. Refusing to pray – which is, for IbnArabi, simply gratitude to Existence for the gift of life – amounts to condemning oneself to self referring and self enclosed windowless subjective space. Hell is self love and nothing burns there but self will as one Christian mystic has said.
Modern world is largely convinced that ethics is relative and everything is permissible. There is no ontological foundation for ethics. There are some isolated thinkers who challenge dominant model but in almost all spheres of secular life there are no imperatives like those bequeathed by religions. In contrast Wittgenstein’s  ethics, like mystical ethics, is grounded in ontology. Noble character traits are not merely extraneous qualities that have no bearing upon our mode of existence. They define our mode of existence and the extent to which we participate in the fullness of the Light of Being. He accepted and further developed by including aesthetics also in it Moore’s definition of ethics as a discovery of the Good or Divinity. Ethics, he said, is transcendental. The moral law within is not biological or cultural product. It is the voice of God. Values are from the transcendental world. His disagreements with Plato come to end here. Ethical commandments have to be observed if man desires felicity. Modern wishy washy do goodism or absolutization of ethical relativism or ethics complicit with Capitalism and other power centric ideologies are not compatible with Wittgensteinian theomorphic ethics. Capitalism and State Capitalism disguised as Marxism have little room for attributes of beauty. There is no warrant for ignoring the Scale of the Law interiorized in conscience which provides the norm. Antinomianism which has been popularized by certain libertine Gurus has no place here. Men with all their limitation and imperfections can’t claim to be infinitely beyond this world and thus beyond good and evil which we encounter at every stage of existence. Man must always separate divine viewpoint which is corollary of his incomparability from his own human, all-too-human viewpoint which is a corollary of divine similarity as IbnArabi would insist.

However all this should not be construed to imply that he countenances moralism which is typical modern heresy. The deadly criticism of Nietzsche on morality doesn’t apply to his view of ethics. Wittgenstein read Gospels in Brief by Tolstoy and then read Anti-Christ of Nietzsche and could not be moved an inch from his commitment to Tolstoy’s Christian ethical universe. Postmodern probematization of ethics and modern scientific discoveries implicating relativism of morals can’t problematize Akbarian- Wittgensteinian position as he too, like Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, speaks from the high mountains of the Spirit which transcends all actions, good or evil. Wittgenstein emphasizes that man is not an agent of action. He can’t will to do good. This is explainable by reference to God as the Only Doer or what Taoism calls wuweiwei, actionless action. Evil action in ordinary parlance is possible only when man is under the dominion of ego or lower self and Wittgenstein’s demand for possibility of ethics is transcendence of this principle of egoism.
It is religion taken as a metanarrative, a system, an ideology explaining things, as privileging of the otherworld or eternity at the cost of this world and time here-now and privileging of soul over body, elaborate creedal formulae coached in terms of propositions privileging the religious as distinct from or opposite to the secular, as unqualified belief in the representation of Reality and their absolutist exclusivism that IbnArabi and Wittgenstein plead for transcending by virtue of their Unitarianism that puts the Real at the centre while questioning absolutization of all conceptions and theorizations of It. The world is one. And It must be affirmed in toto. Language and thought divide the One of experience and integrity of unitary subject and the world.  The Real is the essence of everything and no dualistic apprehension or categorical framework can capture it. It is the totality of all existents, a metaphysical whole that can’t be reduced to an object of knowledge by a subject that is thought to be separate from the object. All this implies that meaning closure, epistemic chauvinism, totalistic thought and consequent war on the basis of a particular conception or delimitation of the Reality/ Truth are unwarranted. Truth rather than discourse about Truth which is the prerogative of exoteric theology and rational philosophy is what the gnostic comes to realize and as it is the One and All it necessarily follows that the knower transcends all particular beliefs and views. Living Truth, dissolving in Truth rather than talking about it and fighting for it is the way to end all conflicts that arise from dualistic theological and rationalistic philosophical approaches.
For Wittgenstein religion gives one new eyes so that everything looks different and redeemed by and  suffused with love. God is wherever love is, beauty is, blessedness is and grace is. In fact God is these things and not an abstraction or object. This solves the important problems of theology as well without making it pantheism either. Seen with the eyes of love, trust and faith everything appears God. God is not the name of a person or entity but the very thingness of a thing, the beauty of beauty, the goodness in the good. As Weil puts it: “God ‘not as I love, but as emerald is green. He is ‘I love.’ And I too, if I were in the state of perfection, would love as emerald is green. I would be an impersonal person (like God)” (Weil, 1970: 129). God speaks these words through all of us who love and more effectively through those who love so intensely and selflessly as to become love. What differentiates a bhakti mystic or Sufi from ordinary mortals or nonmystics is their capacity to love and it is this love which redeems them. All positive experiences – aesthetic, moral, cognitive – are bridges to God-realization.
Representation or Practice of the Self
Wittgenstein is concerned, above all, with t he happy life and that he links with transcendence of desiring or willing self. His problem is ethical and existential and his proposed solution too is on these planes that have little to do with language or representation business. His solution involves contemplating, looking, wondering, loving rather than thinking or questioning. He is struggling with/against language rather than doing business with it. His object (ethical/aesthetical/religious or mystical) is not in the world, is untouched by scientific discoveries or any speculative exercise. His concern is metaphysical and metaphysical is what he calls mysterious, mystical, outside the world, supernatural. He was interested in speaking without words – “conveying thoughts by themselves without words” (CV:15). He thought, with Goethe, that we need to learn from contemplation of untrammeled nature rather than laboratory experiement and hypothesis that distort the truth (CV:11). Like Heidegger he found the richness of being to which poets rather than philosophers point out the key to salvation.
Wittgenstein was supremely religious man and it is because he is religious in every important sense of term (rather than only in a trivial sense as G. H. von Wright claims) that he said he is not a religious man. Humility is the supreme virtue of a religious man. He had not only respect for religion (including even its rituals) but moulded his life by its dictates. One of the things Christianity says, Wittgenstein thinks, is that all sound doctrines are of no avail. One must change one’s life (or the direction of one’s life). According to him Christianity didn’t talk about what has happened or will happen to man but what happens daily to him, every moment (CV: 28). Existentialist theology and demythologization movement have been emphasizing this point as have been mystics in all climes. For all religions the greatest obstacle in one’s journey to God or beatitude is pride/ego and Wittgenstein was supremely concerned about this thing all his life and many of his biographical details can be understood in this light only.
His remarks about symbolic significance of rituals and how they embody our search for the sacred in Culture and Value and elsewhere show how profound his religious sensibility is. His dismissal of Frazer and defence of ‘primitives’ at many points against moderns show what kind of a man he was. His critique of modernity and European civilization is fundamentally on religious grounds. He found in it loss of respect for mystery, the idea of progress, lack of culture and direction or purpose, and the cult of the ugly in its art objectionable. All his beloved writers and philosophers have been religious/mystical.  God was his ultimate concern as shown by exemplary moral life he lived and his wish to have been able to dedicate all his work to the glory of God. His biographer, Brian McGuiness reports that before doing any action, he prayed like this: “God be with me!”, “The spirit be with me.”  Sin and thus hell were terribly real for him. He thought about sin as seriously if not more as about logic as his reply to Russell to the question regarding what he was thinking about when he came to meet him during night. Explanations, reasons, justifications come to an end in religious thinking for Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein, like the mystics before and after him, did not favour a cosmological conception of a Deity. For mystics theology is in fact autology.He was, like Spinoza, God intoxicated and standard reading of him as fideist or noncognitivist is far off the mark. His considering himself wretched and in need of infinite help and never ceasing to scrutinize the desires, vanity and all that religion cautions against shows how seriously he took religion and what grounds it.
Wittgenstein’s stand on different aspects of ethics is the following. Ethics deals with absolute value; value judgments that we often use can be reduced to facts. We can re-formulated them as hypothetical judgments of if …then form and make them to be statements of facts. Paradoxically, Wittgenstein states that we can experience value. An experience, is an event, and hence ought to be factual. It seems strange that Wittgenstein maintains that values are absolute and transcendental and yet we can experience them. Ethical values cannot be spoken or discussed about since they are transcendental
There are explicit statements of Wittgenstein that militate against any kind of fideist interpretation, extreme or moderate versions of it. For him God is the case. How things are is the mystical. These imply Wittgenstein can’t be framed in either ethical or conventional religious frameworks. He is fundamentally a mystic who has made metaphysical claims in the sense metaphysics is understood by perennialists. He has made cognitive claims of mysticism though not of religion. What better argument for cognitivity or knowledge claimand against fidiestic interpretations than his assertion that the mystical shows forth?
Wittgenstein scholars have not paid due attention to the distinction between the religious/theological and the mystical and confounded the two in approaching him resulting in quite divergent interpretations. I have foregrounded the mystical in him which grounds his religiosity and thus gives us a heremenutical tool to make sense of his different observations on religion. I argue that he is an absolutist and we should not approach him from the lens of Philosophical Investigations and then attempt to show that religion is a language game, a foundationless discourse making no cognitive or knowledge claims and a matter of faith. If Sankara or Eckhart or Augustine are absolutists Wittgenstein oo is an absolutist for whom God/eternity is absolute certainty, the first principle and is experienced rather than merely believed
The Unrepresentable shows forth
In a letter from the Russian front date 9 April 1917, to his friend Paul Engelmann, who had sent him a poem by the early nineteenth century poet Johann Ludwig Uhlan, Wittgenstein wrote.

The Poem by Uhlan is really magnificent. And this is how it is: if only you do not try to utter what is unutterable then nothing gets lost. But the unutterable will be – unutterably-  contained in what has been uttered! (Qtd.In Kerr, 1986: 166).

Though one can’t clearly state what he means similar things in the writings of mystics that emphasize how God speaks when we become silent and how everything is lighted up by God and God is meaning of everything, how transcendence and immanence or samsara and nirvana are ultimately linked and even one. The unrepresentable shows forth and the gnostic sees nothing but That which is also the Light of the world, the light that is neither of the sea nor of the land but light that lights everything.
Though we should guard against the identification of the inexpressible and the mystical it is nevertheless clear that the really mystical for Wittgenstein transcends the world but can be accessed in ethical life rooted in transcendence and mystical and aesthetic experiences and concretely lived in religious forms and rituals. If the Unrepresentable were not accessible there would be no meaning for Wittgenstein’s taking cudgels on its behalf and judging modern intellectual thought currents from religio-mystical viewpoint.

Wittgenstein rejects all the important modernist myths such as that of progress and criticizes reductionism in anthropology and psychologism to pave way for faith. He judges modernity in the light of faith. It means how cognitive an affair religion is for him. He takes Frazer and his like to task for rationalistic interpretation of traditional ritual. He pointed out that many religious practices are not generated by any views that one could censure or verify. He saw university educated intelligentsia of the west carriers of moral and spiritual corruption that had thrusted human civilization into a new dark age.
For Wittgenstein “Symbolism of Catholicism are wonderful beyond words. But any attempt to make it into a philosophical system is offensive. All religions are wonderful, even those of the most primitive tribes.” (Qtd in Kerr, 1986). Nothing of this sort could come out from an agnostic. Like mystics he rejects literalism and believes in symbolism. He seems to appreciate the transcendental unity of religions by emphasizing mystical core at the heart of them. Religion for him is deed and not theory. This was so for Buddha also and in fact mystics have seen religion as transformative therapeutic towards a good life. Like mystics he underscored nonanthropomorphic character of belief.  God for him is not a thing, a being, a superbing, an existence.
No doubt can be entertained regarding Wittgenstein’s commitment to religion even if he didn’t deem himself pure enough to be called a religious man. He looked at every problem from religious point of view. He liked to call himself as ‘a truth seeker,’ and he had found it though one can’t claim that he had reached the peaks that advanced mystics have access to. “It strikes me  that religious belief could only be something like a passionate commitment to a system of reference, hence though it is belief and assessing life. It is passionately seizing hold of this interpretation.” If religion is a method of assessing life, it is in a way cognitive. If one takes it seriously it means one takes it to be truth of a certain kind. For Wittgenstein religion was a matter of life and death. He was not a phenomenologist observing it with a detachment of a scientist. He plunged passionately into God and found the treasure. He meant business when he talked about religion or philosophy. He had faith and learnt wisdom in the end, the wisdom of an Oriental sage who cultivates detachment.  For him it is wisdom that he finds nowhere in his contemporary professors of philosophy doing sort of a work as appears in Mind that really counts. To conclude there is a path that bypasses language and thought for accessing that which really matters, for realization of what has been eternal quest for values. Wittgenstein has outlined this path that needs to be kept in mind while we ponder on the limits and approaches to linguistic representations. No confusion needs to be entertained in understanding Wittgenstein’ essentially religious/mystical outlook. He was not a great mystic but a great mystical philosopher. He had very few intense mystical experiences.

He often behaved in a way that is not expected from a mystic. Contemplating committing suicide, extreme agitated mind at times, sense of gloom that obsessed him are not the mark of a great mystic. He didn’t take himself to be a saint but had the saintly ideal of moral purity to which he tried to conform. However if religion or mysticism are centred on deeds or practice we can’t but see him as a great soul who renounced wealth, fame, amenities and other guises that self love takes. He did find for himself the truth he sought and for him indeed philosophy has been love of wisdom. He has more wisdom than faith which is passionless and that is a sign of maturity of religion. His fundamental stance can be expressed in few sentences that express a worldview that is hundred percent Hebraic and hundred percent mystical.

I conclude by quoting and commenting on these few sentences.
The problem of life is “seen in the disappearance of the problem.” This means that the answer is not known, but seen and need not be known as the problem doesn’t demand an answer as it disappears. In fact the question can’t be asked. Vanishing of the problem is only found through a way of knowing other than language. “To believe in God means to understand the question about the meaning of life” (NB:74).To believe in God means to understand that there is more than facts (NB:74).  For him to pray is to think about the meaning of life. Further explaining the meaning of mystical prayer he says that “I can’t bend the happenings of the world to my will; I am completely powerless. I can only make myself independent of the world.”It is impossible to know God through what can be said. What one knows about God is that this world exists. To be outside the world means to be outside what can be put into words. “I am my world”(TLP:5.63). Atkinson beautifully explains it:
The separation between the thinker and the thought, or the eye and the object of sight, occurs in language, not in the event itself. Thus the idea of the personal self or subject in terms of  a thinker of the thought among others. The subject is not a thing in the world and the thought one has of it does not correspond to a fact (Atkinson, 2009: 133).
The difference between seeing the object together with and in space and time is a matter of seeing the world from either the outside or the inside. From the outside it is to see the world like one’s eye in its visual field (NB:73). To see the object sub species aeternitatis from the outside is to see it from outside the world and language. Being outside language there is nothing that can be said about an object. Wittgenstein states that there are things that can’t be put into words. These things show themselves. They are the mystical. (TLP: 6.522) These things “don’t point to another world outside the world, but show themselves as the mystical.” The metaphysical interpretation of the Tractatus has been forcefully criticized by a host of scholars including Atkinson. The mystical is what one finds immediately in reality. What “can’t beput into words shows itself as the world that is and what shows itself must be coordinated with the solipsistic self in the moment of experience. This moment, I have argued, is to fell the world as a limited whole” (Atkinson, 2009: 69).

We need not advocate metaphysical interpretation and can remain contended with the fact that there is something that science can’t handle, there is a joy of the spirit available to a happy man who has consented to be nothing, the world is full of beauty, there are no problems and man’s hunger for higher things can be quenched. It hardly matters where we precisely locate transcendence that gives meaning to life and grounds ethics and aesthetics – beyond the world or immanently within its depths. Interpretations, theological and metaphysical ultimately can differ but what matters is what Wittgenstein achieves. He achieves the similar end that religions and mysticisms across traditions have sought. He gets the riddle dissolved and puts thoughts or philosophy to peace and that is the end of philosophical/mystical quest.

Atkinson, James R., The Mystical in Wittgenstein’s Early Writings, Routledge, London, 2009.
Johnson, Paul, Rethinking the inner, Rutledge, London, 1993,
Ibn ‘Arabî , 1972–91, al-Futûhât al-makkiyya, 14 volumes, O. Yahia (ed.), al-Hay’at al-Misriyyat al-‘Âmmali’l-Kitâb, Cairo. (Quotes and translations are mostly from Chittick and Chodkiewicz.)
Lazenby, Mark, The Early Wittgenstein on Religion, Continuum, 2006,
Kerr, Fergus, Theology after Wittgenstein, Balckwell, 1989,
McGuiness, Brian, “Mysticism of the Tractatus,”Philosophical Review, 75, 1966
Neili, Russel, From Mysticism to Ordinary Language Philosophy:A Study of Viennese Positivism and the Thought of Ludwig Wittgenstein, SUNY, New York, 1987
Pradhan, R.C., Wittgenstein and the Metaphysics of Experience
Qaisar, Shahzad, Iqbal and KhawjaGhulamFarid on Experiencing God, Iqbal Academy, Lahore 2002.
Sontag, Fredrick, Wittgenstein and the Mystical: Philosophy as an Ascetic Practice, Oxford University Press, 2000.
Weil, Simone, 1970, First and Last Notebooks, tr. Richard Reese, Oxford University Press, New York. (Here in the text referred to as F).
……. ………..Waiting on God, 1951, tr. Emma Caruford, Putnam, New York, 1951 (referred as WG).
……………..  The Notebooks of Simone Weil, 1956, tr. Arthur F. Mills, 2 volumes, Putnam (referred as N).
Wittgenstein, Ludwig,  Notebooks, 1914-16, 2nd Edition Ed. Wright and Ascombe.
Wittgenstein, Ludwig, Culture and Value, G.H. von Wright (ed.), P. Winch (trans.), Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1980.
Wittgenstein, Ludwig,TractatusLogico-Philosophicus,D.F. Pears and B.F. McGuinness (trans.), New York: Humanities Press, 1961.


Courtesy of : Muhammad Maroof Shah







A Poet’s Creed




Harvard Lectures


شهاب الدين يحيى السهروردي


click image to read on….


شهاب الدين يحيى السهروردي


“There was among the ancient Persians a community of people guided by God who thus walked the true way, worthy Sage-Philosophers, with no resembelence to the Magi (Dualists). It is their precious philosophy of Light, the same as that to which the mystical experience of Plato and his predecessors bear witness, that we have revived in our book called Oriental Theosophy (Hikmat al-‘Ishraq), and I have had no precursor in the way of such project.”

هذه نسخة متحقق منها من هذه الصفحةعرض/إخفاء التفاصيل
هذه النسخة المستقرة، فحصت في 19 ديسمبر 2013. ثمة 3 تعديلات معلقة بانتظار المراجعة.

الدقة    منظورة
اذهب إلى: تصفح، ‏ ابحث

أبو الفتوح يحيى بن حبش بن أميرك السهروردي ويلقب بـ “شهاب الدين”، واشتهر بالشيخ المقتول تمييزاً له عن صوفيين آخرين هما: شهاب الدين أبو حفص عمر السهروردي (632هـ)، مؤلف كتاب «عوارف المعارف» في التصوف، وصاحب الطريقة السهروردية، أما الآخر فهو أبو النجيب السهروردي (ت:563هـ).

وأبو الفتوح فيلسوف إشراقي، شافعي المذهب، ولد في سهرورد الواقعة شمال غربي إيران، وقرأ كتب الدين والحكمة ونشأ في مراغة وسافر إلى حلب وبغداد , حيث كان مقتله بأمر صلاح الدين بعد أن نسب البعض إليه الفساد المعتقد ولتوهم صلاح الدين أن السهروردي يفتن ابنه بالكفر والخروج عن الدين وكان مقتله ب قلعة حلب سنة 586 هـ،[1][2] مع أنه كان من كبار المتصوفة في زمانه ومن أفقه علماء عصره بأمور الدين والفلسفة والمنطق والحكمة ويسمي مذهبه الذي عرف به “حكمة الإشراق” وله كتاب بهذا الاسم. ومن كتبه أيضا رسائل في اعتقادات الحكماء وهياكل النور.

يعد مؤسسا للفكر الفلسفي الإشراقي، الذي يدعو إلى الوصول للمعرفة عن طريق الذوق والكشف الروحاني، بخلاف التوجه الفلسفي العام والمستدل بالتقصي والتحليل البرهاني، جمع بين عدة توجهات فلسفية من اليونان ومصر وغيرها كنماذج فلسفية لتوضيح الفلسفة الإشراقية، أكبر من دعى إلى التأمل الروحاني من بين الفلاسفة المسلمين كما عرف عنه بعدم الاقتناع بالمصادر بل بأسلوب التفكير الذاتي والنفسي, ويحكي ابن أبي أصيبعة في كتابه )عيون الأنباء في طبقات الأطباء ٫ص ٦٤١ ( فيقول ما مختصره عن السهروردي:” كان أوحد في العلوم الحكمية، جامعاً للفنون الفلسفية، بارعاً في الأصول الفلكية، مفرط الذكاء، جيد الفطرة، فصيح العبارة، لم يناظر أحداً إلا بزّه، ولم يباحث محصلاً إلا أربى عليه، وكان علمه أكثر من عقله. فلما أتى إلى حلب وناظر بها الفقهاء كثر تشنيعهم عليه. وعملوا محاضر بكفره وسيروها إلى دمشق إلى الملك الناصر صلاح الدين. فبعث صلاح الدين إلى ولده الملك الظاهر بحلب كتابا في حقه بخط القاضي الفاضل يقول فيه إن هذا الشاب السهروردي لا بد من قتله، ولا سبيل أن يطلق ولا يبقى بوجه من الوجوه، ولما بلغ شهاب الدين السهروردي ذلك، وأيقن أنه يقتل، وليس جهة إلى الإفراج عنه اختار أنه يترك في مكان مفرد ويمنع من الطعام والشراب إلى أن يلقى الله ففعل به ذلك. وكان ذلك في أواخر سنة ست وثمانين وخمسمائة بقلعة حلب 586 هـ 1190م “.

لكن اختلف في موته الكتاب في تاريخ الفلاسفة فمنهم من ذكر أنه قتل عن طريق الجوع ومنعه من الطعام ومنهم من قال بالسيف كما قيل أنه أحرق لكن اجتمعوا على أنه حكم علية بالإعدام بتهمة الإلحاد والزندقة. ، وبعد ذلك بعدة سنوات كان ابن رشد في قرطبة يعاني من نفس المصير.

“Whoever knows Hikmat (Wisdom), and perserves in thanking and sanctifying the Light of the Lights, will be estowed with royal Kharreh and with luminous Farreh, and—as we have said elsewhere—divine light will further bestow upon him the cloak of royal power and value. Such a person shall then became the natural Ruler of the Universe. He shall be given aid from the High Heavens, and whatever he commands shall be obeyed; and his dreams and inspirations will reach their uppermost, perfect pinnacle.”

On the Supernatural in Fictitious Composition



“On the Supernatural in Fictitious Composition; and particularly on the works of Ernest Theodore William Hoffmann”

by  Sir Walter Scott

First published in  Foreign Quarterly Review  vol. 1, no. 1 (1827): 60-98.

No source of romantic fiction, and no mode of exciting the feelings of interest which the authors in that description of literature desire to produce, seems more directly accessible than the love of the supernatural. It is common to all classes of mankind, and perhaps is to none so familiar as to those who assume a certa degree of scepticism on the subject; since the reader may have often observed in conversation, that the person who professes himself most incredulous on the subject of marvellous stories, often ends his remarks by indulging the company with some well-attested anecdote, which it is difficult or impossible to account for on the narrator’s own principles of absolute scepticism. The belief itself, though easily capable of being pushed into superstition and absurdity, has its origin not only in the facts upon which our holy religion is bounded, but upon the principles of our nature, which teach us that while we are probationers in thissublunary state, we are neighbours to, and encompassed by the shadowy world, of which our mental faculties are too obscure to comprehend the laws, our corporeal organs too coarse and gross to perceive the inhabitants.

All professors of the Christian Religion believe that there was a time when the Divine Power showed itself more visibly on earth than in these our latter days; controlling and suspending, for its own purposes, the ordinary laws of the universe; and the Roman Catholic Church, at least, holds it as an article of faith, that miracles descend to the present time. Without entering into that controversy, it is enough that a firm belief in the great truths of our religion has induced wise and good men, even in Pro- [61] testant countries, to subscribe to Dr. Johnson’s doubts respecting supernatural appearances.“That the dead are seen no more, said Imlac, I will not undertake to maintain against the concurrent and unvaried testimony of all ages, and of all nations. There is no people, rude or learned, among whom apparitions of the dead are not related and believed. This opinion, which perhaps prevails as far as human nature is diffused, could become universal only by its truth; those that never heard of one another could not have agreed in a tale which nothing but experience can make credible. That it is doubted by single cavillers, can very little weaken the general evidence; and some who deny it with their tongues, confess it by their fears.”

Upon such principles as these there lingers in the breasts even of philosophers, a reluctance to decide dogmatically upon a point where they do not and cannot possess any, save negative, evidence. Yet this inclination to believe in the marvellous gradually becomes weaker. Men cannot but remark that (since the scriptural miracles have ceased,) the belief in prodigies and supernatural events has gradually declined in proportion to the advancement of human knowledge; and that since the age has become enlightened, the occurrence of tolerably well attested anecdotes of the supernatural character are so few, as to render it more probable that the witnesses have laboured under some strange and temporary delusion, rather than that the  From Samuel Johnson’s Oriental tale  Rasselas  (1759), Chapter 31.laws of nature have been altered or suspended.  At this point of human knowledge, the marvellous is so much identified with fabulous, as to be considered generally as belonging to the same class. It is not so in early history, which is full of supernatural incidents; and although we now use the word romance  as synonymous with fictitious composition, yet as it originally only meant a poem, or prose work contained in the Romaunce language, there is little doubt that the doughty chivalry who listened to the songs of the minstrel, “held each strange tale devoutly true,”  and that the feats of knighthood which he recounted, mingled with tales of magic and supernatural interference, were esteemed as veracious as the legends of the monks, to which they bore a strong resemblance. This period of society, however, must have long past before the Romancer began to select and arrange with care, the nature of the materials out of which he constructedhis story. It was not when society, however differing in degree and station, was levelled and confounded by one dark cloud of ignorance, involving the noble as well as the mean, that it need be scrupulously considered to what class of persons the author addressed himself, or with what species of decoration he ornamented his story.  “Homo was  [62]  then a common name for all men,” and all were equally pleased with the same style of composition.  this, however, was gradually altered.  As the knowledge to which we have before alluded made  more general progress, it became impossible to detain the attention of the better instructed class by the simple and gross fables to which the present generation would only listen in childhood, though they had been held in honour by their fathers during youth, manhood, and old age.
It was also discovered that the supernatural in fictitious composition requires to be engaged with considerable delicacy, as criticism begins to be more on the alert. The interest which it excites is indeed a powerful spring; but it is one which is peculiarly subject to be exhausted by coarse handling and repeated pressure. It is also of a character which it is extremely difficult to sustain, and of which a very small proportion may be said to be better than the whole. The marvellous, more than any other attribute of fictitious narrative, loses its effect by being brought much into view. The imagination of the reader is to be excited if possible, without being gratified. If once, like Macbeth, we “sup full with horrors,” our taste for the banquet is ended, and the thrill of terror with which we hear or read of a night-shriek, becomes lost in that sated indifference with which the tyrant came at length to listen to the most deep catastrophes that could affect his house. The incidents of a supernatural character are usually those of a dark and undefinable nature,such as arise in the mind of the Lady in the Mask of Comus, –incidents to which our fears attach more consequence, as we cannot exactly tell what it is we behold, or what is to be apprehended from it:—

“A thousand fantasies
Begin to throng into my memory,
Of calling shapes and beck’ning shadows dire,
And aery tongues that syllable men’s names
On sands, and shores, and desart wildernesses.”

Burke observes upon obscurity, that it is necessary to make any thing terrible, and notices “how much the
notions of ghosts and goblins, of which none can form clear ideas, affect minds which give credit to thepopular tales concerning such sorts of beings.”   He represents also, that no person “seems better to have
understood the secret of heightening, or of setting terrible things in their strongest light, by the force of audicious obscurity, than Milton. His description of Death, in the second book; is admirably studied; it isastonishing with what a gloomy pomp, with what a significant and expressive uncertainty of strokes andcolouring, he has finished the portrait of the king of terrors.  [63 ]
2  From William Collins’ “Ode to Fear.”
3 From Shakespeare’s Macbeth, in which Macbeth says “I have almost forgot the taste of fears; / The time has been, my
senses would have cool’d / To hear a night-shriek; and my fell of hair / Would at a dismal treatise rouse and stir / As
life were in’t: I have supp’d full with horrors; / Direness, familiar to my slaughterous thoughts / Cannot once start me”
(V.v.9-15). 4  From John Milton’s  Comus  (1634), 205-209.
5  From Edmund Burke’s  A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful  (1756), Part 2, sec. 3.Burke argues that obscurity is essential to terror: “To make anything very terrible, obscurity seems in general to be necessary.” The discussion of Milton is from the same section.

‘The other shape,—
If shape it might be called, which shape had none
Distinguishable in member, joint, or limb:
Or substance might be called that shadow seemed,–
For each seemed either; black he stood as night;
Fierce as ten furies; terrible as hell;
And shook a deadly dart.  What seemed his head
The likeness of a kingly crown had on.’

In this description all is dark, uncertain, confused, terrible and sublime to the last degree.” The only quotation worthy to be mentioned along with the passage we have just taken down, is the well-known apparition introduced with circumstances of terrific obscurity in the book of Job: “Now a thing was secretly brought to me, and mine ears received a little thereof. In thoughts from the visions of the night, when deep sleep falleth on men, fear came upon me, and trembling which made all my bones to shake. Then a spirit passed before my face: the hair of my flesh stood up. It stood still, but I could not discern the form thereof: an image was before mine eyes; there was silence, and I heard a voice.”

From these sublime and decisive authorities, it is evident that the exhibition of supernatural appearances in fictitious narrative ought to be rare, brief, indistinct, and such as may become a being to us so incomprehensible, and so different from ourselves, of whom we cannot justly conjecture whence he comes, or for what purpose, and of whose attributes we can have no regular or distinct perception. Hence it usually
happens, that the first touch of the supernatural is always the most effective, and is rather weakened and defaced, than strengthened, by the subsequent recurrence of similar incident. Even in Hamlet, the second entrance of the ghost is not nearly so impressive as the first; and in many romances to which we could refer, the supernatural being forfeits all claim both to our terror and veneration, by condescending to appear too often; to mingle too much in the events of the story, and above all, to become loquacious, or, as it is familiarly called,  chatty .  We have, indeed, great doubts whether an author acts wisely in permitting his goblin to speak at all, if at the same time he renders him subject to human sight. Shakspeare [ ], indeed, has sic contrived to put such language in the mouth of the buried majesty of Denmark as befits a supernatural being, and is by the style distinctly different from that of the living persons in the drama. In another passage he has had the boldness to intimate, by two expressions of similar force, in what manner and with what tone supernatural beings would find utterance:

“ A n d  th e  s h e e  te d  d e a d
Did and gibber in the Roman streets.”

squeak   But the attempt in which the genius of Shakespeare has succeeded would probably have been ridiculous in any meaner hand; and hence it is, that, in many of our modern tales of terror, our feelings of fear have, long before the conclusion, given way under the influence of that familiarity which begets contempt.

A sense that the effect of the supernatural in its more obvious application is easily exhausted, has occasioned the efforts of modern authors to cut new walks and avenues through the enchanted wood, and to revive, if possible, by some means or other, the fading impression of its horrors.

The most obvious and inartificial mode of attaining this end is, by adding to, and exaggerating the supernatural incidents of the tale. But far from increasing its effect, the principles which we have laid down, incline us to consider the impression as usually weakened by exaggerated and laborious description. Elegance is in such cases thrown away, and the accumulation of superlatives, with which the narrative is encumbered, renders it tedious, or perhaps ludicrous, instead of becoming impressive or grand.

There is indeed one style of composition, of which the supernatural forms an appropriate part, which applies itself rather to the fancy than to the imagination, and aims more at amusing than at affecting or interesting the reader. To this species of composition belong the eastern tales,  which contribute so much to the amusement of our youth, and which are recollected, if not re-perused, with so much pleasure in our more advanced life. There are but few readers of any imagination who have not at one time or other in their life sympathized with the poet Collins,  “who,” says Dr. Johnson, “was eminently delighted with those flights of imagination, which pass the bounds of nature, and to which the mind is reconciled only by a passive acquiescence in popular traditions. He loved fairies, genii, giants, and monsters; he delighted to rove through the meadows of enchantment, to gaze on the magnificence of golden palaces, to repose by the waterfalls of Elysian gardens.”  It is chiefly the young and the indolent who love to be soothed by works of this character, which require little attention in the perusal. In our riper age we remember them as we do the joys of ourinfancy, rather because we loved them once, than that they still continue to afford us amusement. The extravagance of fiction loses its charms for our riper judgment; and notwithstanding that these wild fictions contain much that is beautiful and full of fancy, yet still, unconnected as they are with each other, and conveying no result to the understanding, we pass them by as the championess Britomart rode along the rich strand.

Which as she overwent,
She saw bestrewed all with rich array
Of pearls and precious stones of great assay,
And all the gravel mixt with golden ore:
Whereat she wondered much, but would not stay
For gold, or pearls, or precious stones, one hour;
But them despised all, for all was in her power.

With this class of supernatural composition may be ranked, though inferior in interest, what the French call Contes des Fées;  meaing, by that title, to distinguish them from the ordinary popular tales of fairy folks which are current in most countries. The  Conte des Fées  is itself a very different composition, and the fairies engaged are of a separate class from those whose amusement is to dance round the mushroom in the moonlight, and mislead the belated peasant. The French  Fée  more nearly resembles the Peri of Eastern, or the Fata of Italian poetry.  She is a superior being, having the nature of an elementary spirit, and possessing magical powers enabling her, to a considerable extent, to work either good or evil. But whatever merit this species of writing may have attained in some dexterous hands, it has, under the management of others, become one of the most
absured, flat, and insipid possible.  Out of the whole  Cabinet des Fées,  when we get beyond our old acquaintances of the nursery, we can hardly select five volumes, from nearly fifty,  with any probability of receiving pleasure from them.It often happens that , when any particular style becomes somewhat antiquated and obsolete, somecaricature, or satirical imitation of it, gives rise to a new species of composition. Thus the English Opera arose from the parody upon the Italian stage, designed by Gay, in the Beggar’s Opera.   In like manner, when the public had been inundated,  ad nauseam,  with Arabian tales, Persian tales, Turkish tales, Mogul tales , and

9  What are now commonly referred to as “Oriental tales,” such as William Beckford’s  Vathek  (1786).
10  William Collins (1721-1759); Collins is regarded as one of the “Graveyard School” poets, and his  Persian Eclogues  is in
the “eastern” mode Scott is discussing.  Collins was a favorite poet of Ann Radcliffe.
11  From Edmund Spenser’s  The Faerie Queene  (1590), Book III, canto 4; Britomart, the chaste warrior hero of Book III, is noted for her calm and heroic martial character as well as her unwavering commitment to her future husband, Arthegall.
12  A Peri is a superhuman being, typically represented as good, from Persian mythology; a “Fata” is a “fay” or woman of
supernatural power in Italian folklore.
13  John Gay’s  The Beggar’s Opera  (1728) is a satiric  “opera” (actually a play with a lot of songs) poking fun at the
conventions of Italian opera of the day.  It was the inspiration for Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weil’s  The Three-Penny Opera (1928), which gives us, via adaptation and translation, the jazz classic “Mack the Knife,” the roguish highwayman from  Gay’s work having become a roguish hitman.
14  Mogul, used generally as here, referes to any aspect of the Mogul Dynasty, which ruled parts of the Indian subcontinent, from current-day northern India into what is now southern China, from the 15  to the 19  Centuries.
the legends of every nation east of the Bosphorus,  and were equally annoyed by the increasing publication of all sorts of fairy tales, —Count Anthony Hamilton,  like a second Cervantes, came forth  with his satirical tales, destined to overturn the empire of Dives, of Genii, of Peris,  et hoc genus omne. Something too licentious for a more refined age, the Tales of Count Hamilton subsist as a beautiful illustration, showing that literary subjects, as well as the fields of the husbandman, may, when they seem most worn out and effete, be renewed and again brought into successful cultivation by a new course of management. The wit of Count Hamilton, like manure applied to an exhausted field, rendered the eastern sea more piquant, if not more edifying, than it was before.  Much was written in imitation of Count Hamilton’s style; and it was followed by Voltaire  in particular, who in this way rendered the supernatural romance one of the most apt vehicles for circulating his satire. This,  [66]  therefore, may be termed the comic side of the supernatural, in which the author plainly declares his purpose to turn into jest the miracles which he relates, and aspires to awaken ludicrous sensations without affecting the fancy—far less exciting the passions of the reader.  By this species of delineation the reader will perceive that the supernatural style of writing is entirely travestied and held up to laughter, instead of being made the subject of respectful attention, or heard with at least that sort of imperfect excitement with which we listened to a marvellous tale of fairy-land. This species of satire—for it is often converted to satirical purposes—has never been more happily executed than by the French authors, although Wieland,  and several other German writers, treading in the steps of Hamilton, have added the grace of poetry to the wit and to the wonders with which they have adorned this species of composition. Oberon, in particular, has been identified with our literature by the excellent translation of Mr.Sotheby, and is nearly as well known in England as in Germany. It would, however, carry us far too wide from our present purpose, were we to consider tbe comi-heroic poetry which belongs to this class, and which includes the well-known works of Pulci, Berni – perhaps, in a certain degree, of Ariosto himself, who, in
some passages at least, lifts his knightly vizor so far as to give a momentary glimpse of the smile which mantles upon his countenance.

One general glance at the geography of this most pleasing “Londe of Faery,”  leads us into another province, rough as it may seem and uncultivated, but which, perhaps, on that very account, has some scenes abounding in interest. There are a species of antiquarians who, while others laboured to reunite and ornament highly the ancient traditions of their country, have made it their business,  antiquos accedere fontes ,  to visit the ancient springs and sources of those popular legends which, cherished by the grey and superstitious Elde, had been long forgotten in the higher circles, but are again brought forward and claim, like the old ballads of a country, a degree of interest even from their rugged simplicity.  The Deutsche Sagen of the brothers Grimm,  is an admirable work of this kind; assembling, without any affectation either of ornamental diction or improved incident, the various traditions existing in different parts of Germany respecting popular superstitions and the events ascribed to supernatural agency.  There are other works of the same kmd, in the same language, collected with great care and apparent fidelity. Sometimes trite, sometimes tiresome, sometimes childish, the legends which these authors have collected with such indefatigable zeal form nevertheless a step in the history of the human race;

15  The Bosphorus Strait connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara in present-day Turkey.  It has long been regarded as the dividing line between Europe and Asia. 16  Count Anthony Hamilton (1646? – 1720) was an Irish-born writer and courtier from a well-known Scottish family, and spent much of his life in France and England.  Among his literary works is a collection of satiric fairy tales, intended,
Miguel de Cervantes’ classic novel  Don Quixote , to ridicule what was seen as a stale and  passé  literary mode.
17  Latin for “and all [stories] of that type.” 18  Voltaire: pseudonym of François-Marie Arouet (1694-1778), French writer, satirist, and philosopher.
19  Christoph Martin Wieland  (1733-1813), German poet and writer, well-known for works drawing on classical myth and folklore; one of his most famous works was the romantic epic poem  Oberon  (1780; translated 1798).
20  Scott uses this term in one of his footnotes to his poem  The Lady of the Lake  (1810).
( 21  Adapted from Lucretius’  De Rerum Natura On the Nature of Things ), this translates roughly to “the older ones approach the source.”
22  These are the “Brothers Grimm,” best known for their “fairy tales,” the first edition of which was published in 1812.
( The  Deutsche Sagen German Legends ) to which Scott referes were published in two volumes, in 1816 and 1818. and, when compared with similar collections in other countries, seem to infer traces of a common descent which has placed one general stock of superstition within reach of the various tribes of mankind. What are we to think when we find the Jutt and the Fin  telling their children the same traditions which are to be found in the nurseries of the Spaniard and Italian; or when we recognize in our own instance the traditions of Ireland or Scotland as corresponding with those of Russia? Are we to suppose that their similarity arises from the
limited nature ofhuman invention, and that the same species of fiction occurs to the imaginations of different authors in remote countries as the same species of plants are found in different regions wit.hout the possibility of them having been propagated by transportation from the one to others?  Or ought we, rather,  refer them to a common source, when mankind formed but the same great family, and suppose that as philologists trace through various dialects the broken fragments of one general language, so antiquaries may recognize in distant countries parts of what was once a common stock of tradition? We will not pause on this inquiry, nor observe more than generally that, in collecting these traditions, the industrious editors have been throwing light, not only on the history of their own country in particular, but on that of mankind in general. There is generally some truth mingled with the abundant falsehood, and still more abundant exaggeration of the oral legend; and it may be frequently and unexpectedly found to confirm or confute the meagre statement of some ancient chronicle. Often, too, the legend of the common people, by assigning peculiar features, localities, and specialities to the incidents which it holds in memory, gives life and spirit to the frigid and dry narrative which tells the fact alone, without the particulars which render it memorable or interesting. It is, however, in another point of view, that we wish to consider those popular traditions in their collected state: namely, as a peculiar mode of exhibiting the marvellous and supernatural in composition. And here we must acknowledge, that he who peruses a large collection of stories of fiends, ghosts, and prodigies, in hopes of exciting  in his mind that degree of shuddering interest approaching to fear, which is the most valuable triumph of the supernatural, is likely to be disappointed. A whole collection of ghost stories inclines us as little to fear as a jest book moves us to laughter. Many narratives, turning upon the same interest, are apt to exhaust it: as in a large collection of pictures an ordinary eye is so dazzled with the variety of brilliant or glowing colours as to become less able to distinguish the merit of those pieces which are possessed of any.

23  “Jutt” is an archaic term referring to a people of northern and northwest India; “Finn” is a reference to inhabitants of Finland. “… the attachment of the Germans to the mysterious has invented another species of composition, which, perhaps, could hardly have made its way in any other country or language.  This may be called the FANTASTIC mode of writing,– in which the most wild and unbounded license is given to an irregular fancy….”

[72] “We do not mean to say that the imagination of Hoffmann was either wicked or corrupt, but only that it was ill-regulated and had an undue tendency to the horrible and the distressing.” [81] “…the exhibition of supernatural appearances in fictitious narrative ought to be rare, brief, indistinct, and Re: Hoffmann’s “The Sand-man”: “It is impossible to subject tales of this nature to criticism.  They are not the visions of a poetical mind, they have scarcely even the seeming authenticity which the hallucinations of lunacy convey to the patient; they are the feverish dreams of a light-headed patient….” [97] “…we possess in a much greater degree the power of exciting in our minds what is fearful, melancholy, or horrible, than of commanding thoughts of a lively & pleasing character.  The grotesque, also, has a natural alliance with the horrible; for that which is out of nature can be with difficulty reconciled to the beautiful.”



The Man Who Never Lived

Evariste GaloisEvariste Galois  – Mathematician

Evariste Galois, the famous French mathematician whose life is tragic and inspiring at the same time was born 200 years ago. Gonit Sora is celebrating his life by bringing forth a series of articles on the life and works of Galois. (…)

A famous and oft repeated quote is “Whom Gods love, die young!” Although, there seems to be no scientific evidence nor any coherent study confirming or discarding this statement, it has been noticed now and again that great men indeed die young. Not everyone, of course; but there have been some glaring examples in many fields; take for instance the great poet John Keats who died very young. But the field in which such examples are galore is mathematics. Throughout the history of mathematics, there has been many examples of extraordinarily brilliant minds living for a very short span of time. Take for example, the great Indian mathematician S. Ramanujan who died at the young age of 32; the famous Norwegian mathematician Neils Henrick Abel died at the age of 27. Some other notable people who lived for a short span of time are Riemann and Pascal; both geniuses of the first order and both could have achieved a lot had fate been kinder to them. However, no example is as tragic and as hearttouching as that of Evariste Galois, the now famous French mathematician who died at the age of 20!

Evariste Galois (pronounced ‘Gelwa’) was born in Bourg la-Riene in the then French Empire on 25th of October, 1811. Galois, like many mathematicians before and after him showed a tenacity and zeal for higher mathematics at a very small age that could only be described as hauting. Galois started his formal education at the age of 10 being self tutored at home and later joined the Lycee’s school in his hometown. As was expected, Galois showed a tremoundous amount of scholarship in his studies and soon rose to the top of his class. But, such is the tale of genius that at the age of 14, he became bored with the regular school curriculum and started taking an uncanny liking towards mathematics. This was eventful not only for him, but for the whole of mathematics as he did some pioneering work in the fields he touched upon, that even now we are yet to reap the benefits of the seeds that he sowed.

During this period of his life, Galois began studying the masters of mathematics. It is said that he finished the famous mathematician Legendre’s book on Geometry in almost 5 days cover to cover and all the while he read it like a novel. It must be mentioned that even now professional mathematicians find this book too difficult to master. At the age of 15, Galois started to follow the original research papers of another great mathematician, Lagrange. This not only fueled his deep passion for mathematics but also encouraged him to unravel the mathematical mysteries on his own. In April, 1829 Galois published his first research paper on continued fractions at the age of only 17. Thus, began the journey of a legend. Galois deep and varied contributions in many different fields of mathematics has earned him the respect and adulation of one and all today. He was the first person to use the word ‘group’ to define a certain class of mathematicial objects that are today omnipresent not only in almost all branches of mathematics but in fields as varied as physics, chemistry, biology, engineering and even economics.

Galois after completing his school with excellent marks in mathematics decided to try and enter the distinguished Ecole Polytechnique, and so sat in its entrance exam. However, Galois failed to secure a seat in this institute of unique importance and had to enroll in the far inferior Ecole Normale Superior. Here Galois studied for some time, and then again decided to try and enter for the Ecole Polytechnique. Meanwhile, on the personal frontier Galois lost his father who committed suicide by hanging himself in public. This was a major blow to the teenaged Galois and which further fuled his Republican tendencies. The French nation was at that time going through enormous imbalance in its monarchy and system of governance. Galois too decided to join the revolution at the cost of his mathematics. History is testament to tha fact that Galois was even jailed a few times for his revolutionary activities and this got him into trouble even in his institution. All these incidents happened when he was preparing for his entrance exam at the Polytechnique. It was again a surprise when Galois failed a second time to clear it. The genius of Galois was not reccognised at that hallowed institution of learning. Eric Temple Bell, the famous historian of mathematics in his book “Men of Mathematics” quotes

“People not fit to sharpen his (Galois’) pencils sat on judgement of him.”

Such failure prompted Galois to almost leave doing mathematics and light the fire of revolution once again, which was later the cause of his death too.

Galois’ major contribution to mathematics lies in his theory of equations, where he gave a very novel approach to solve one of the major outstanding problems of his time. He along with Abel showed the impossibility of solving the quintic equation via regular methods. This is regarded as a giant leap in the then 19th century mathematical scene. Galois made fundamental contribution to a new field of mathematics which is now termed as ‘Galois Theory’. Galois wrote one paper on Number Theory where he discussed the concept of a ‘finite field’ for the first time. Galois’ entire mathematical research output was a mere 66 pages. This was all that he gave to world mathematics, and this is what made him immortal. It took major advances in group theory to fully understand the implications of the works of Evariste Galois.

The story of this great man came to a very cruel end on 31st May, 1832 at Paris when he had just entered his 20th year. Galois was killed in a duel. There have been numerous speculations as to what may have been the cause of his death, and it seems that the most likely explanation could be that he fell in love with his physician’s daughter and it was at her instigation that he challenged someone for a duel and was as a result killed. The sadder part of this story is that Galois didn’t recive any medical attention for many hours after he was shot, maybe this giant of mathematics could have been saved had helped arrived on time. Galois died a very slow and painful death at the tender age of 20, and the world lost a brilliant mind who was just showing his capabilites. His last words to his brother were

“Don’t cry, Alfred! I need all my courage to die at twenty.”

Galois never recived the admiration from his peers that he should have recived in his lifetime. Even his grave is unmarked and he died almost an anonymous person. It was only years after his death when the letters and manuscripts that Galois wrote just before he died were published that the world started revering Galois and his unparralled genius. The night before he died Galois sensing his end was near wrote down many letters, both mathematical and political to his numerous friends and brother. These letters contain some very though provoking mathematical ideas that has forever sealed Galois name in the annals of mathematical wizardry. The famous mathematician Hermann Weyl while describing these letters said

“This letter judged by the novelty and profundity of ideas it contain, is perhaps the most substantial piece of writing in the whole literature of mankind.”

Galois may have died, but his legacy still lingers on. His life shows us what legends are made of, and is a true testament to the fact that whether a man is a legend or not, is determined by history, not fortune tellers. Galois seems to be a perfect man on whom the words of Albert Einstein used to describe Mahatma Gandhi fit perfectly

“Generations to come and generations to go will scarcely belive that such a one as he ever walked upon this earth in flesh and blood.”

Courtesy of Manjil P. Saikia

The Ragas Of Carnatic Music


(Click Image above to read on)



The ” Doppelgängers”

der doppelgänger


Edgar Allan Poe and E. T. A. Hoffmann:

The Double in “William Wilson” and The Devil’s Elixirs

In response to accusations that the horror in his stories was derived from German literary sources, Edgar Allan Poe claimed in the Preface for the Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque in 1840 that “if in many of my productions terror has been the thesis, I maintain that terror is not of Germany, but of the soul.” [1] There are several indications, though, that Poe could have gained access to German literature and to E. T. A. Hoffmann’s writings through Gillies’s translation of The Devil’s Elixirs, through Carlyle’s publication of the German Romance, through Sir Walter Scott’s essay on Hoffmann’s use of the supernatural, or through readings of his own in English translation. As the editor of several prominent journals such as the Southern Literary Messenger, Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, Graham’s Magazine, the Mirror, and the Broadway Journal, Poe was well acquainted with publications by European writers and even accused other American authors of plagiarizing their ideas. [2] While some critics have noted the similarities between “William Wilson” and The Devil’s Elixirs, scholarship on the double in these works still requires further investigation beyond a positivistic approach. This article traces the developmental stages of the double in “William Wilson” and The Devil’s Elixirs according to a reading of Freud’s essay “The Uncanny.” It also examines the impact of the double on the lives of the protagonists and analyzes Poe’s and Hoffmann’s overall statement on the divided self.

The historical background of the double is rooted in the philosophical, literary, and scientific theories of German Romanticism, which illustrate the Romantic poet’s constant struggle within himself to reach beyond his own existence. In terms of German philosophy, the double is steeped in Fichtean Idealism, according to which the ego creates and projects itself onto the world, and in Schelling’s concept of “identity” as developed in his philosophy of nature, which illustrates the interaction of the individual with its counterpart in nature. From a literary perspective, the double signifies the Romantic poet’s continuous longing for the infinite, which can never be fulfilled. Since the Romantic ego is continuously striving for something higher than itself, the Romantic poet finds himself divided into two parts: one is rooted in his mortal existence, the other pursues a higher transcendental harmony with the infinite. Typically, Romantic literature abounds with references that illustrate the discrepancy between the “real” and the “ideal,” that seek to express the sublime, the longing for mystical and spiritual unity, and the interaction between man and nature.

The interest in supernatural or unexplained phenomena such as hypnosis, telepathy, sleepwalking, insanity, drives, and in the subconscious also contributed to the motif of the double in Romantic literature. Students of the German physician Friedrich Anton Mesmer (1734-1815) developed a scientific method of delving into the human psyche that provided the medium with access to the patient’s inner world and secrets that lay beyond human existence. This new scientific approach became the cutting-edge development in scientific research to approach the mysteries of the spiritual world and the dark side of the human mind. The Romantic poet, therefore, employed the motif of the double as the chance to investigate the passions and illnesses of the human mind and to examine the presence of a supernatural world.

Prior to the advent of Romanticism, the motif of the double existed for the sake of comedy through the mistaken identity of characters such as one finds in Plautus’s Menaechmi or Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors. Romanticism gave the double its psychological depth by endowing it with the meaning of “the admonishing angel, the good repressed ego, or the tenacious devil” [3] and by building around it a canon of literature that included Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué’s Der Zauberring (1813), Adelbert von Chamisso’s Peter Schlemihls wundersame Geschichte (1814), and Jean Paul Richter’s Siebenkäs (1776-97). [4] In American literature, there is virtually no tradition of the double, and the motif has been taken from German philosophical, literary, and scientific theory. Even though Poe asserts that he borrowed the motif of the double in “William Wilson” from an article by Washington Irving, [5] it is well known that the latter also drew extensively on German literature for his short stories and sketches. [6]

In Freud’s essay “The Uncanny” (1919), the psychoanalyst asserts that the creation of the double is a means for the individual to safeguard himself “against the destruction of the ego” and a kind of primitive narcissism and self-love. [7] In this duplication process, the double becomes the manifestation of the ego’s repressed drives and desires, finding expression in human form. Through the psychological distance between the double and the self, the individual is able to evaluate his own behavior and to develop a conscience for his improvement. This means that once the critical stage of the Doppelgängertum has been reached, the double either provides the individual with the necessary impetus for a conscience or the double becomes the “uncanny herald of death.” [8] The characters of Medardus and Wilson undergo similar stages of development in respect to the double, including the formation of narcissistic tendencies in their formative years, the repression of sexual desires and power, and, in the words of Freud, the development of “ego-duplication,” “ego-separation,” and “ego-substitution.” [9] However, Wilson is never able to develop a “conscience” and to rejoin his second self, bringing about his own destruction.

Poe’s short story “William Wilson” is less complicated than Hoffmann’s novel, although the main character undergoes a similar process of development. Wilson is a child at a boarding school in England and grows up within the tranquil and solitary walls of the institution. He believes to be in control of his classmates, with one exception: William Wilson, the double. From their very first encounter the double proves to be superior to Wilson, offering him advice and admonishing him for his wrongdoing. After the double exposes Wilson to his fellow students for cheating at cards, and after following him to the various capitals of Europe and stopping him from committing adultery, Wilson revolts and murders his double in a duel. In retrospect, the narrator remarks that he has in fact destroyed himself by having murdered his double.

In the first stage of his development, Wilson reveals the narcissism of his early years by asserting that he had “ascendancy over” other children and that he “was left to the guidance of [his] own will, and became … the master of [his] own actions” so that he “grew self-willed, addicted to the wildest caprices, and a prey to the most ungovernable passions.” [10] At the same time, however, Wilson deplores his authority over others and states that “if there is on earth a supreme and unqualified despotism, it is the despotism of a master-mind in boyhood over the less energetic spirits of its companions” (WW 431). In other words, Wilson is aware of the control that he has over others and he rejects this authority as a kind of “unqualified despotism.” As a result of the wish to save himself from his uncontrollable behavior, Wilson creates a double that functions as a conscience and helps him control his desire for manipulation and power. In producing a double that embodies the positive side of his being, Wilson subconsciously prevents himself from taking part in drunkenness, cheating, and adultery, and thereby protects himself from harm. Still, he regards the protective behavior of the double as “impertinent and dogged interference” (WW 432), although he inadvertently realizes that the double’s moral sense is “proof of his true superiority” (WW 432).

In Hoffmann’s novel, an orphan child is brought up in a secluded monastery under serene and pious conditions. With the coming of adolescence the child, Medardus, begins to develop sexual urges and rebels against the authority of the monastery. After drinking the forbidden elixir of Saint Anthony, that had been placed in his safekeeping, Medardus undergoes a change of personality and becomes a popular orator at the monastery. Sensing that Medardus is acting out of his own self-interest and the desire to gain his independence, Prior Leonardus implores him to leave the monastery and go on an important mission to Rome. On his way through the mountains, Medardus comes across his double (actually his own brother) asleep on the precipice of a cliff. When Medardus awakens him, the double becomes frightened and falls to his death in the abyss. Medardus then takes on the identity of the double by putting on his clothes and assuming his position at the castle. When he arrives at the double’s residence, Medardus discovers that an intricate plot is already underway between Viktorin (the double) and his lover, Euphemie, concerning the murder of his half-brother, Hermogen. Mistaken by the entire family for the actual Count Viktorin, Medardus becomes Euphemie’s lover and a conspirator to the murder of Hermogen. At the same time, Medardus recognizes Hermogen’s sister, Aurelie, as the woman from the confessional in the monastery who proclaimed her love for him. In a moment of anger, Medardus poisons Euphemie and murders Hermogen in a fight. After the double appears to him in the hallway (Viktorin had crawled out of the abyss), Medardus flees from the castle and the scene of the crime. For the remainder of the novel, Medardus attempts to hide his identity by moving from place to place (the village, the forester’s house, the prince’s residence) and in the process slowly discovers his past.

While Wilson attempts to save himself by creating a double that functions as a conscience, Medardus produces a double that allows him to live out the sexual fantasies and need for authority that he has repressed as a monk. [11] Like Wilson, who grows up in the solitary environment of a boarding school and gradually develops his desire to control others, Medardus reveals his need for power by preaching at a monastery. After having consumed Saint Anthony’s forbidden elixir, Medardus gives a sermon in a crowded church in order to win the desired admiration of his congregation and even claims of himself: “I am Saint Anthony” (DE 33). His repressed sexual desires are unleashed once he drinks the sacred potion and hears the confession of a young woman in the church: “‘You-you yourself, Medardus, are the one that I so inexpressibly love!'” (DE 41) He decides to leave the monastery “in order to hold this woman in [his] arms and to still the burning desire inside of [himself]” (DE 42). Medardus compares the young woman in the confessional with the portrait of Saint Rosalia in the church, which serves as a fetish for his sexual desires.

Wolfgang Nehring claims that “the entire vision is an erotic dream for Medardus, which surprisingly for the protagonist himself, moves from the subconscious to consciousness. From now on Medardus acknowledges his desires and attempts to fulfill them outside of the monastery.” [12] Medardus therefore creates a double (Viktorin) who enables him to pursue his sexual interests outside of the monastery through his relationships with Euphemie and Aurelie. As a result of Viktorin’s alleged sudden death, Medardus not only replaces him sexually in his affair with Euphemie, but he is also able to fulfill his taboo sexual desires with Saint Rosalia through his relationship with Aurelie. Hoffmann’s novel can be regarded as an encounter between Medardus and the manifestation of his sexual fantasies: as Medardus is composed of the negative side of Viktorin and the positive side of his grandfather Francesco, his female counterpart also embodies the femme fatale Euphemie and the saint-like qualities of Aurelie.

In both texts the double is a manifestation of the characters’ innermost drives and desires, which find expression in human form. In The Devil’s Elixirs, the double functions as an “id” who carries out devious actions and forces Medardus to examine his life, whereas Wilson’s double serves as a “conscience” who admonishes him for his wrongdoing. Wilson expresses his need for self-control and discipline through a double who has the same “identity of name” (WW 432), the “same age” (WW 434), the “same height” (WW 434), “entered the school upon the same day” (WW 432), and keeps a constant watch over him and prevents him from acting immorally. Whereas Wilson’s “ego-duplication” exists from the very onset of the story through the presence of the second William Wilson, his actual separation from the double takes place upon secretly entering the double’s room one evening in order to play a joke on him. Finding the double asleep in bed, Wilson is confounded by the fact that the second self is not a mere imitation but actually exists independently of himself. Wilson’s response to this encounter with the double is not one of recognition that would allow him to look at himself objectively, but rather one of fear, an encounter that causes him to flee throughout the story. “Awe-stricken, and with a creeping shudder, I extinguished the lamp, passed silently from the chamber, and left, at once, the halls of that old academy, never to enter them again” (WW 437).

In their first encounter after this frightful evening, the narrator explains that he had invited some friends to his room and the wine was flowing freely, when the double appeared at the door and interrupted the party by “whisper[ing] the words ‘William Wilson!’ in [his] ear” (WW 439). Once again, as Wilson is cheating at cards, the double enters the scene in order to reveal the main character’s devious activity to the others: “Gentlemen…. You are, beyond doubt, uninformed of the true character of the person who has to-night won at écarté a large sum of money from Lord Glendinning…. Please to examine, at your leisure, the inner linings of the cuff of his left sleeve” (WW 443). Finally, the double disturbs Wilson just as he is about to make advances towards the beautiful wife of Duke Di Broglio at a party in Rome, and Wilson feels “a light hand placed upon [his] shoulder, and that ever-remembered, low, damnable whisper within [his] ear” (WW 446). Wilson believes that the double interrupts him throughout his life in order “to frustrate those schemes, or to disturb those actions, which, if fully carried out, might have resulted in bitter mischief” (WW 445). However, during these episodes Wilson never reflects upon his own actions as being dishonest or immoral, but rather claims that his “natural rights of self-agency” are “so pertinaciously, so insultingly denied” (WW 445) by the double.

In The Devil’s Elixirs, Saint Anthony’s wine enables the main character to delve into the darker side of his mind, to give moving sermons, and to conjure up lustful visions of Saint Rosalia in church: “I drank again, and the desire of a new magnificent life rose up inside of me” (DE 37). In “William Wilson,” the protagonist lives out his repressed desires and gives the double the greatest resistance under the influence of alcohol. It is precisely during these moments of drunkenness that the double appears before Wilson to admonish him for his actions. During the first major encounter with the double, Wilson remarks that he was “madly flushed with … intoxication” (WW 438) and “was in the act of insisting upon a toast” (438) when his double appeared at the door. It is also in this inebriated condition that Wilson finally summons up the courage to oppose his double openly and to challenge him to a duel: “I had given myself up entirely to wine; and its maddening influence upon my hereditary temper rendered me more and more impatient of control. I began to murmur-to hesitate-to resist” (WW 446).

Similar to Wilson, who refuses to accept the existence of his second self, Medardus represses the existence of his double (Viktorin) by causing him to fall from a ledge of a cliff into a dark abyss. In order to hide from his true self, Medardus pretends to be Viktorin, taking on the identity of the double, who is posing as a monk: “I am that, which I appear to be, and do not appear to be that, which I am; I am an inexplicable riddle to myself; my being has been divided in two!” (DE 59). Since Viktorin slowly climbs out of the abyss and returns to haunt Medardus throughout the novel, one can see that the double and the sexual manifestations that he represents are only repressed and eventually surface in human form. The first sign of the repressed double reemerging (ego-separation) occurs in the hallway of the castle following the murders of Euphemie and Hermogen. Similar to Wilson, who is terrified by the initial vision of his own double, Medardus flees from the castle and attempts to hide from the darker side of himself by concealing his habit-“I hid the frock in a hollow tree” (WW 79)-and by changing his physical appearance through new clothes and a haircut. Unlike Wilson, however, Medardus, in his various encounters with the double, undergoes a process of development that enables him to create a conscience and to reflect upon his actions by the end of the novel.

Most important among these encounters with the double are the scenes in the forester’s lodge and in prison, and the confrontation with the double on the way to his execution. In the first instance, Medardus spends a night at the forester’s house in the woods after his carriage leaves him stranded there, and during the night the double (Viktorin) dressed as a monk enters Medardus’s room and climbs onto his bed (ego-substitution). In this key scene, the double is pointing to the psychological battle between Medardus and his second self, which would provide one of them with supremacy. Medardus, however, does not recognize the double as a manifestation of his repressed desires, but instead sees him as something strangely apart from himself: “you are not me; you are the devil” (DE 105). The forester explains that the double “is said to have committed a terrible sin by misusing a relic and has been banned from the monastery” (DE 114) and that he exhibited uncontrollable sexual behavior by trying to seduce his daughter, “whose door he kicked in with his foot” (DE 111). At this point in his development, however, Medardus is being torn apart through his second ego: “divided in my being more than ever, I became ambiguous to myself, and an inner horror enveloped my soul with destructive power” (DE 116).

After Medardus has been charged with the murder of Euphemie and Hermogen at the prince’s residence, the double whispers to him in his dark prison cell, “lit-tle broth-er … lit-tle broth-er … Me-dar-dus … I am here … am here … op-open up … up … we wa-want to go into the wo-woods … go into the woods!” (DE 165). In the appellation “little brother,” which can refer to the fact that Medardus is a monk or that he is the brother of the double, Medardus recognizes his own voice and repeats, “Me-dar-dus … Me-dar-dus!” (DE 165) The response, “lit-tle broth-er … lit-tle broth-er, did … you, you recognize m-me … recognize me?” (DE 165), points to the fact that Medardus is on his way to recognizing the darker side of his self. A few days later, Medardus again experiences the double. This time, he emerges through the floor of the cell with a knife in his hand, calling, “Lit-tle broth-er! Lit-tle broth-er, Medar-dus is here-here, come up … take this, take this! … break out … break out … into the wo-woods … into the woods!” (DE 171-72). Through this metaphorical scene of the double literally breaking through the subconscious of the main character, Medardus moves closer to the realization that the double is part of him, and he sees his own figure in the dark hole of the floor: “the full light of the lamp fell upon his face-I recognized myself-I lost consciousness” (DE 172).

Whereas Hoffmann employs the floor of the prison cell and the deep abyss of the “Teufelsgrund” as metaphors of the human subconscious, Poe draws upon the complex arrangement of rooms in the boarding school as analogous to the various parts of the human mind. Wilson describes his school, which is watched over by the Reverend Dr. Bransby, as having “no end to its windings-to its incomprehensible subdivisions” (WW 429), and that many of the rooms were “merest closets” (WW 436), “capable of accommodating but a single individual. One of these small apartments was occupied by Wilson” (WW 436). Wilson’s flight from this institution to the capitals of Europe is an expression of freedom; however, it is an escape that offers him no reconciliation with his divided self: “I fled in vain. My evil destiny pursued me as if in exultation…. Years flew, while I experienced no relief” (WW 444-45).

When Medardus sees his double being carried away in a carriage to his execution, he is confronted with the evil side of his being and his own devious actions. Although he is about to fulfill his innermost desire and marry Aurelie, whom he associates with Saint Rosalia, Medardus openly admits that he is the murderer of Hermogen: “I … I, your beloved, your fiancé, am Medardus … your brother’s murderer” (DE 206). It is through the double that Medardus is prevented from marrying his half-sister Aurelie and that he recognizes his involvement in the murder of Euphemie and Hermogen. In a fight analogous to William Wilson’s duel with his double, Medardus wrestles with his second self for his ego and thus starts the process of reconciliation with himself.

William Wilson’s final confrontation with his double takes place at Duke Di Brogio’s party in Naples, where he is again plagued by the moral voice of his second self. Unlike Medardus, who gradually learns from his various encounters with the double and is able to develop a conscience, Wilson does not yet realize that the double’s function is to bring about a moral change in himself. According to Freud’s theory of the double, the second self can either bring about a moral change in the individual through the development of a conscience or it can ultimately cause the character’s own destruction. Angered by another intrusion by the double and unable to comprehend the significance of the encounter, Wilson decides that he “would submit no longer to be enslaved” (WW 446). In the ensuing confrontation, Wilson challenges his double to a duel that ends with the murder of Wilson’s moral self. Instead of conceding victory to Wilson, the double sternly informs him: “You have conquered, and I yield. Yet, henceforward art thou also dead-dead to the World, to Heaven and to Hope! In me didst thou exist-and, in my death, see by this image, which is thine own, how utterly thou hast murdered thyself” (WW 448). At the moment of running his sword through the double, Wilson sees his own reflection in what appears to be “a large mirror” (WW 447), “all pale and dabbled in blood” (WW 448), and realizes that he has murdered his own conscience, and, in effect, has brought about the moral death of himself. As Hoffmann’s depiction of the double suggests, one needs both the positive and negative sides of the self to exist. Since the “ego-substitution,” the murder, and the recognition of the double happen at the same time, Wilson is unable to bring both halves of his being together and is forced to seek reconciliation post facto through the narration of his story. In retrospect, Wilson refers to himself as an “outcast of all outcasts most abandoned” (WW 426) and asserts that he “might, to-day, have been a better, and thus a happier man, had [he] less frequently rejected the counsels embodied in those meaning[ful] whispers which [he] then but too cordially hated and too bitterly despised” (WW 435).

Medardus’s final stage of development begins with seeing his double being brought to the execution and ends with the writing of his memoirs at the monastery. While Aurelie is about to take her vows to become a nun, the double enters the church and stabs her on the altar before the entire congregation. After the double flees from the church, and the painter Francesco steps down from the painting of Saint Rosalia, Aurelie explains to Medardus that the phenomenon of the double is the battle between good and evil over his soul, and that its resolution lifts the divine curse on his family. As a final penance for his transgressions, Medardus writes down the story of his life. Unlike Wilson, who writes the story of his double in order to justify his own mistakes, Medardus writes his life story in order to relive the past as a kind of psychotherapy: “I did as the prior asked. Oh!-indeed it happened as he said!-pain and bliss, horror and desire-dismay and delight rushed forth inside of me when I wrote down the story of my life” (288).

The use of the double in “William Wilson” and The Devil’s Elixirs shows an overwhelming affinity between Poe and Hoffmann in terms of motifs, symbolism, and stages of development. While the double in “William Wilson” serves as a “conscience” for the main character’s moral development, the double in The Devil’s Elixirs functions as an “id” that allows Medardus to live out his sexual fantasies and need for power. In both cases, however, the double provides an impetus for the protagonists’ improvement through a process of duplication, separation, and substitution. Medardus is able to embrace both halves of his divided self and to learn to be a better person, whereas Wilson rejects the advice of his double and, in effect, brings about his own moral death. For this reason, Wilson can only comfort himself afterwards through the narration of his story. Medardus, on the other hand, returns to his life at the monastery as a complete being and sets out to write down the story of his life.


[1] Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. Thomas Ollive Mabbott, vol. 2 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1969-78) 473.
Return to article

[2] The most famous accusations of plagiarism are aimed at Nathaniel Hawthorne (Godey’s Lady’s Book, Nov. 1847) and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (New York Evening Mirror, Jan. 1845; Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, Feb. 1849).
Return to article

[3] Elisabeth Frenzel, Motive der Weltliteratur (Stuttgart: Alfred Kröner Verlag, 1992) 101; my translation.
Return to article

[4] The German writer Jean Paul Richter coined the phrase Doppelgänger in this novel Siebenkäs by claiming that “Doppeltgänger” are people who can see themselves (Frenzel 102).
Return to article

[5] Washington Irving, “An Unwritten Drama of Lord Byron,” The Gift for 1836 166-67.
Return to article

[6] Henry A. Pochmann, German Culture in America: Philosophical and Literary Influences, 1600-1900. (1957; rpt. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1978) 367-81.
Return to article

[7] Sigmund Freud, “Das Unheimliche,” Psychologische Schriften, vol. 4 (Frankfurt/M.: Fischer, 1970) 258; my translation.
Return to article

[8] Freud 258.
Return to article

[9] Freud 257.
Return to article

[10] Poe, “William Wilson,” Collected Works., vol. 2, 427. Subsequent references are to this edition and appear in the text in parentheses following the abbreviation WW.
Return to article

[11] All translations from The Devil’s Elixirs are my own and are based on E. T. A. Hoffmann, “Die Elixiere des Teufels,” Sämtliche Werke, vol. 2 (München: Winkler, 1970). Subsequent references are to this edition and appear in the text in parentheses following the abbreviation DE.
Return to article

[12] Wolfgang Nehring, “E. T. A. Hoffmann: Die Elixiere des Teufels (1815/16),” Romane und Erzählungen der deutschen Romantik, ed. Paul Michael Lützeler (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1981) 344; my translation.

(Courtesy of Patrick Labriola, Bonn, Germany)
see also




by Edgar Allan Poe

What say of it? what say (of) CONSCIENCE grim, That spectre in my path?

Chamberlayne’s Pharronida.

LET me call myself, for the present, William Wilson. The fair page now lying before me need not be sullied with my real appellation. This has been already too much an object for the scorn –for the horror –for the detestation of my race. To the uttermost regions of the globe have not the indignant winds bruited its unparalleled infamy? Oh, outcast of all outcasts most abandoned! –to the earth art thou not forever dead? to its honors, to its flowers, to its golden aspirations? –and a cloud, dense, dismal, and limitless, does it not hang eternally between thy hopes and heaven?

I would not, if I could, here or to-day, embody a record of my later years of unspeakable misery, and unpardonable crime. This epoch –these later years –took unto themselves a sudden elevation in turpitude, whose origin alone it is my present purpose to assign. Men usually grow base by degrees. From me, in an instant, all virtue dropped bodily as a mantle. From comparatively trivial wickedness I passed, with the stride of a giant, into more than the enormities of an Elah-Gabalus. What chance –what one event brought this evil thing to pass, bear with me while I relate. Death approaches; and the shadow which foreruns him has thrown a softening influence over my spirit. I long, in passing through the dim valley, for the sympathy –I had nearly said for the pity –of my fellow men. I would fain have them believe that I have been, in some measure, the slave of circumstances beyond human control. I would wish them to seek out for me, in the details I am about to give, some little oasis of fatality amid a wilderness of error. I would have them allow –what they cannot refrain from allowing –that, although temptation may have erewhile existed as great, man was never thus, at least, tempted before –certainly, never thus fell. And is it therefore that he has never thus suffered? Have I not indeed been living in a dream? And am I not now dying a victim to the horror and the mystery of the wildest of all sublunary visions?

I am the descendant of a race whose imaginative and easily excitable temperament has at all times rendered them remarkable; and, in my earliest infancy, I gave evidence of having fully inherited the family character. As I advanced in years it was more strongly developed; becoming, for many reasons, a cause of serious disquietude to my friends, and of positive injury to myself. I grew self-willed, addicted to the wildest caprices, and a prey to the most ungovernable passions. Weak-minded, and beset with constitutional infirmities akin to my own, my parents could do but little to check the evil propensities which distinguished me. Some feeble and ill-directed efforts resulted in complete failure on their part, and, of course, in total triumph on mine. Thenceforward my voice was a household law; and at an age when few children have abandoned their leading-strings, I was left to the guidance of my own will, and became, in all but name, the master of my own actions.

My earliest recollections of a school-life, are connected with a large, rambling, Elizabethan house, in a misty-looking village of England, where were a vast number of gigantic and gnarled trees, and where all the houses were excessively ancient. In truth, it was a dream-like and spirit-soothing place, that venerable old town. At this moment, in fancy, I feel the refreshing chilliness of its deeply-shadowed avenues, inhale the fragrance of its thousand shrubberies, and thrill anew with undefinable delight, at the deep hollow note of the church-bell, breaking, each hour, with sullen and sudden roar, upon the stillness of the dusky atmosphere in which the fretted Gothic steeple lay imbedded and asleep.

It gives me, perhaps, as much of pleasure as I can now in any manner experience, to dwell upon minute recollections of the school and its concerns. Steeped in misery as I am –misery, alas! only too real –I shall be pardoned for seeking relief, however slight and temporary, in the weakness of a few rambling details. These, moreover, utterly trivial, and even ridiculous in themselves, assume, to my fancy, adventitious importance, as connected with a period and a locality when and where I recognise the first ambiguous monitions of the destiny which afterwards so fully overshadowed me. Let me then remember.

The house, I have said, was old and irregular. The grounds were extensive, and a high and solid brick wall, topped with a bed of mortar and broken glass, encompassed the whole. This prison-like rampart formed the limit of our domain; beyond it we saw but thrice a week –once every Saturday afternoon, when, attended by two ushers, we were permitted to take brief walks in a body through some of the neighbouring fields –and twice during Sunday, when we were paraded in the same formal manner to the morning and evening service in the one church of the village. Of this church the principal of our school was pastor. With how deep a spirit of wonder and perplexity was I wont to regard him from our remote pew in the gallery, as, with step solemn and slow, he ascended the pulpit! This reverend man, with countenance so demurely benign, with robes so glossy and so clerically flowing, with wig so minutely powdered, so rigid and so vast, —could this be he who, of late, with sour visage, and in snuffy habiliments, administered, ferule in hand, the Draconian laws of the academy? Oh, gigantic paradox, too utterly monstrous for solution!

At an angle of the ponderous wall frowned a more ponderous gate. It was riveted and studded with iron bolts, and surmounted with jagged iron spikes. What impressions of deep awe did it inspire! It was never opened save for the three periodical egressions and ingressions already mentioned; then, in every creak of its mighty hinges, we found a plenitude of mystery –a world of matter for solemn remark, or for more solemn meditation.

The extensive enclosure was irregular in form, having many capacious recesses. Of these, three or four of the largest constituted the play-ground. It was level, and covered with fine hard gravel. I well remember it had no trees, nor benches, nor anything similar within it. Of course it was in the rear of the house. In front lay a small parterre, planted with box and other shrubs; but through this sacred division we passed only upon rare occasions indeed –such as a first advent to school or final departure thence, or perhaps, when a parent or friend having called for us, we joyfully took our way home for the Christmas or Midsummer holy-days.

But the house! –how quaint an old building was this! –to me how veritably a palace of enchantment! There was really no end to its windings –to its incomprehensible subdivisions. It was difficult, at any given time, to say with certainty upon which of its two stories one happened to be. From each room to every other there were sure to be found three or four steps either in ascent or descent. Then the lateral branches were innumerable –inconceivable –and so returning in upon themselves, that our most exact ideas in regard to the whole mansion were not very far different from those with which we pondered upon infinity. During the five years of my residence here, I was never able to ascertain with precision, in what remote locality lay the little sleeping apartment assigned to myself and some eighteen or twenty other scholars.

The school-room was the largest in the house –I could not help thinking, in the world. It was very long, narrow, and dismally low, with pointed Gothic windows and a celling of oak. In a remote and terror-inspiring angle was a square enclosure of eight or ten feet, comprising the sanctum, “during hours,” of our principal, the Reverend Dr. Bransby. It was a solid structure, with massy door, sooner than open which in the absence of the “Dominic,” we would all have willingly perished by the peine forte et dure. In other angles were two other similar boxes, far less reverenced, indeed, but still greatly matters of awe. One of these was the pulpit of the “classical” usher, one of the “English and mathematical.” Interspersed about the room, crossing and recrossing in endless irregularity, were innumerable benches and desks, black, ancient, and time-worn, piled desperately with much-bethumbed books, and so beseamed with initial letters, names at full length, grotesque figures, and other multiplied efforts of the knife, as to have entirely lost what little of original form might have been their portion in days long departed. A huge bucket with water stood at one extremity of the room, and a clock of stupendous dimensions at the other.

Encompassed by the massy walls of this venerable academy, I passed, yet not in tedium or disgust, the years of the third lustrum of my life. The teeming brain of childhood requires no external world of incident to occupy or amuse it; and the apparently dismal monotony of a school was replete with more intense excitement than my riper youth has derived from luxury, or my full manhood from crime. Yet I must believe that my first mental development had in it much of the uncommon –even much of the outre. Upon mankind at large the events of very early existence rarely leave in mature age any definite impression. All is gray shadow –a weak and irregular remembrance –an indistinct regathering of feeble pleasures and phantasmagoric pains. With me this is not so. In childhood I must have felt with the energy of a man what I now find stamped upon memory in lines as vivid, as deep, and as durable as the exergues of the Carthaginian medals.

Yet in fact –in the fact of the world’s view –how little was there to remember! The morning’s awakening, the nightly summons to bed; the connings, the recitations; the periodical half-holidays, and perambulations; the play-ground, with its broils, its pastimes, its intrigues; –these, by a mental sorcery long forgotten, were made to involve a wilderness of sensation, a world of rich incident, an universe of varied emotion, of excitement the most passionate and spirit-stirring. “Oh, le bon temps, que ce siecle de fer!”

In truth, the ardor, the enthusiasm, and the imperiousness of my disposition, soon rendered me a marked character among my schoolmates, and by slow, but natural gradations, gave me an ascendancy over all not greatly older than myself; –over all with a single exception. This exception was found in the person of a scholar, who, although no relation, bore the same Christian and surname as myself; –a circumstance, in fact, little remarkable; for, notwithstanding a noble descent, mine was one of those everyday appellations which seem, by prescriptive right, to have been, time out of mind, the common property of the mob. In this narrative I have therefore designated myself as William Wilson, –a fictitious title not very dissimilar to the real. My namesake alone, of those who in school phraseology constituted “our set,” presumed to compete with me in the studies of the class –in the sports and broils of the play-ground –to refuse implicit belief in my assertions, and submission to my will –indeed, to interfere with my arbitrary dictation in any respect whatsoever. If there is on earth a supreme and unqualified despotism, it is the despotism of a master mind in boyhood over the less energetic spirits of its companions.

Wilson’s rebellion was to me a source of the greatest embarrassment; –the more so as, in spite of the bravado with which in public I made a point of treating him and his pretensions, I secretly felt that I feared him, and could not help thinking the equality which he maintained so easily with myself, a proof of his true superiority; since not to be overcome cost me a perpetual struggle. Yet this superiority –even this equality –was in truth acknowledged by no one but myself; our associates, by some unaccountable blindness, seemed not even to suspect it. Indeed, his competition, his resistance, and especially his impertinent and dogged interference with my purposes, were not more pointed than private. He appeared to be destitute alike of the ambition which urged, and of the passionate energy of mind which enabled me to excel. In his rivalry he might have been supposed actuated solely by a whimsical desire to thwart, astonish, or mortify myself; although there were times when I could not help observing, with a feeling made up of wonder, abasement, and pique, that he mingled with his injuries, his insults, or his contradictions, a certain most inappropriate, and assuredly most unwelcome affectionateness of manner. I could only conceive this singular behavior to arise from a consummate self-conceit assuming the vulgar airs of patronage and protection.

Perhaps it was this latter trait in Wilson’s conduct, conjoined with our identity of name, and the mere accident of our having entered the school upon the same day, which set afloat the notion that we were brothers, among the senior classes in the academy. These do not usually inquire with much strictness into the affairs of their juniors. I have before said, or should have said, that Wilson was not, in the most remote degree, connected with my family. But assuredly if we had been brothers we must have been twins; for, after leaving Dr. Bransby’s, I casually learned that my namesake was born on the nineteenth of January, 1813 –and this is a somewhat remarkable coincidence; for the day is precisely that of my own nativity.

It may seem strange that in spite of the continual anxiety occasioned me by the rivalry of Wilson, and his intolerable spirit of contradiction, I could not bring myself to hate him altogether. We had, to be sure, nearly every day a quarrel in which, yielding me publicly the palm of victory, he, in some manner, contrived to make me feel that it was he who had deserved it; yet a sense of pride on my part, and a veritable dignity on his own, kept us always upon what are called “speaking terms,” while there were many points of strong congeniality in our tempers, operating to awake me in a sentiment which our position alone, perhaps, prevented from ripening into friendship. It is difficult, indeed, to define,or even to describe, my real feelings towards him. They formed a motley and heterogeneous admixture; –some petulant animosity, which was not yet hatred, some esteem, more respect, much fear, with a world of uneasy curiosity. To the moralist it will be unnecessary to say, in addition, that Wilson and myself were the most inseparable of companions.

It was no doubt the anomalous state of affairs existing between us, which turned all my attacks upon him, (and they were many, either open or covert) into the channel of banter or practical joke (giving pain while assuming the aspect of mere fun) rather than into a more serious and determined hostility. But my endeavours on this head were by no means uniformly successful, even when my plans were the most wittily concocted; for my namesake had much about him, in character, of that unassuming and quiet austerity which, while enjoying the poignancy of its own jokes, has no heel of Achilles in itself, and absolutely refuses to be laughed at. I could find, indeed, but one vulnerable point, and that, lying in a personal peculiarity, arising, perhaps, from constitutional disease, would have been spared by any antagonist less at his wit’s end than myself; –my rival had a weakness in the faucal or guttural organs, which precluded him from raising his voice at any time above a very low whisper. Of this defect I did not fall to take what poor advantage lay in my power.

Wilson’s retaliations in kind were many; and there was one form of his practical wit that disturbed me beyond measure. How his sagacity first discovered at all that so petty a thing would vex me, is a question I never could solve; but, having discovered, he habitually practised the annoyance. I had always felt aversion to my uncourtly patronymic, and its very common, if not plebeian praenomen. The words were venom in my ears; and when, upon the day of my arrival, a second William Wilson came also to the academy, I felt angry with him for bearing the name, and doubly disgusted with the name because a stranger bore it, who would be the cause of its twofold repetition, who would be constantly in my presence, and whose concerns, in the ordinary routine of the school business, must inevitably, on account of the detestable coincidence, be often confounded with my own.

The feeling of vexation thus engendered grew stronger with every circumstance tending to show resemblance, moral or physical, between my rival and myself. I had not then discovered the remarkable fact that we were of the same age; but I saw that we were of the same height, and I perceived that we were even singularly alike in general contour of person and outline of feature. I was galled, too, by the rumor touching a relationship, which had grown current in the upper forms. In a word, nothing could more seriously disturb me, although I scrupulously concealed such disturbance,) than any allusion to a similarity of mind, person, or condition existing between us. But, in truth, I had no reason to believe that (with the exception of the matter of relationship, and in the case of Wilson himself,) this similarity had ever been made a subject of comment, or even observed at all by our schoolfellows. That he observed it in all its bearings, and as fixedly as I, was apparent; but that he could discover in such circumstances so fruitful a field of annoyance, can only be attributed, as I said before, to his more than ordinary penetration.

His cue, which was to perfect an imitation of myself, lay both in words and in actions; and most admirably did he play his part. My dress it was an easy matter to copy; my gait and general manner were, without difficulty, appropriated; in spite of his constitutional defect, even my voice did not escape him. My louder tones were, of course, unattempted, but then the key, it was identical; and his singular whisper, it grew the very echo of my own.

How greatly this most exquisite portraiture harassed me, (for it could not justly be termed a caricature,) I will not now venture to describe. I had but one consolation –in the fact that the imitation, apparently, was noticed by myself alone, and that I had to endure only the knowing and strangely sarcastic smiles of my namesake himself. Satisfied with having produced in my bosom the intended effect, he seemed to chuckle in secret over the sting he had inflicted, and was characteristically disregardful of the public applause which the success of his witty endeavours might have so easily elicited. That the school, indeed, did not feel his design, perceive its accomplishment, and participate in his sneer, was, for many anxious months, a riddle I could not resolve. Perhaps the gradation of his copy rendered it not so readily perceptible; or, more possibly, I owed my security to the master air of the copyist, who, disdaining the letter, (which in a painting is all the obtuse can see,) gave but the full spirit of his original for my individual contemplation and chagrin.

I have already more than once spoken of the disgusting air of patronage which he assumed toward me, and of his frequent officious interference withy my will. This interference often took the ungracious character of advice; advice not openly given, but hinted or insinuated. I received it with a repugnance which gained strength as I grew in years. Yet, at this distant day, let me do him the simple justice to acknowledge that I can recall no occasion when the suggestions of my rival were on the side of those errors or follies so usual to his immature age and seeming inexperience; that his moral sense, at least, if not his general talents and worldly wisdom, was far keener than my own; and that I might, to-day, have been a better, and thus a happier man, had I less frequently rejected the counsels embodied in those meaning whispers which I then but too cordially hated and too bitterly despised.

As it was, I at length grew restive in the extreme under his distasteful supervision, and daily resented more and more openly what I considered his intolerable arrogance. I have said that, in the first years of our connexion as schoolmates, my feelings in regard to him might have been easily ripened into friendship: but, in the latter months of my residence at the academy, although the intrusion of his ordinary manner had, beyond doubt, in some measure, abated, my sentiments, in nearly similar proportion, partook very much of positive hatred. Upon one occasion he saw this, I think, and afterwards avoided, or made a show of avoiding me.

It was about the same period, if I remember aright, that, in an altercation of violence with him, in which he was more than usually thrown off his guard, and spoke and acted with an openness of demeanor rather foreign to his nature, I discovered, or fancied I discovered, in his accent, his air, and general appearance, a something which first startled, and then deeply interested me, by bringing to mind dim visions of my earliest infancy –wild, confused and thronging memories of a time when memory herself was yet unborn. I cannot better describe the sensation which oppressed me than by saying that I could with difficulty shake off the belief of my having been acquainted with the being who stood before me, at some epoch very long ago –some point of the past even infinitely remote. The delusion, however, faded rapidly as it came; and I mention it at all but to define the day of the last conversation I there held with my singular namesake.

The huge old house, with its countless subdivisions, had several large chambers communicating with each other, where slept the greater number of the students. There were, however, (as must necessarily happen in a building so awkwardly planned,) many little nooks or recesses, the odds and ends of the structure; and these the economic ingenuity of Dr. Bransby had also fitted up as dormitories; although, being the merest closets, they were capable of accommodating but a single individual. One of these small apartments was occupied by Wilson.

One night, about the close of my fifth year at the school, and immediately after the altercation just mentioned, finding every one wrapped in sleep, I arose from bed, and, lamp in hand, stole through a wilderness of narrow passages from my own bedroom to that of my rival. I had long been plotting one of those ill-natured pieces of practical wit at his expense in which I had hitherto been so uniformly unsuccessful. It was my intention, now, to put my scheme in operation, and I resolved to make him feel the whole extent of the malice with which I was imbued. Having reached his closet, I noiselessly entered, leaving the lamp, with a shade over it, on the outside. I advanced a step, and listened to the sound of his tranquil breathing. Assured of his being asleep, I returned, took the light, and with it again approached the bed. Close curtains were around it, which, in the prosecution of my plan, I slowly and quietly withdrew, when the bright rays fell vividly upon the sleeper, and my eyes, at the same moment, upon his countenance. I looked; –and a numbness, an iciness of feeling instantly pervaded my frame. My breast heaved, my knees tottered, my whole spirit became possessed with an objectless yet intolerable horror. Gasping for breath, I lowered the lamp in still nearer proximity to the face. Were these –these the lineaments of William Wilson? I saw, indeed, that they were his, but I shook as if with a fit of the ague in fancying they were not. What was there about them to confound me in this manner? I gazed; –while my brain reeled with a multitude of incoherent thoughts. Not thus he appeared –assuredly not thus –in the vivacity of his waking hours. The same name! the same contour of person! the same day of arrival at the academy! And then his dogged and meaningless imitation of my gait, my voice, my habits, and my manner! Was it, in truth, within the bounds of human possibility, that what I now saw was the result, merely, of the habitual practice of this sarcastic imitation? Awe-stricken, and with a creeping shudder, I extinguished the lamp, passed silently from the chamber, and left, at once, the halls of that old academy, never to enter them again.

After a lapse of some months, spent at home in mere idleness, I found myself a student at Eton. The brief interval had been sufficient to enfeeble my remembrance of the events at Dr. Bransby’s, or at least to effect a material change in the nature of the feelings with which I remembered them. The truth –the tragedy –of the drama was no more. I could now find room to doubt the evidence of my senses; and seldom called up the subject at all but with wonder at extent of human credulity, and a smile at the vivid force of the imagination which I hereditarily possessed. Neither was this species of scepticism likely to be diminished by the character of the life I led at Eton. The vortex of thoughtless folly into which I there so immediately and so recklessly plunged, washed away all but the froth of my past hours, engulfed at once every solid or serious impression, and left to memory only the veriest levities of a former existence.

I do not wish, however, to trace the course of my miserable profligacy here –a profligacy which set at defiance the laws, while it eluded the vigilance of the institution. Three years of folly, passed without profit, had but given me rooted habits of vice, and added, in a somewhat unusual degree, to my bodily stature, when, after a week of soulless dissipation, I invited a small party of the most dissolute students to a secret carousal in my chambers. We met at a late hour of the night; for our debaucheries were to be faithfully protracted until morning. The wine flowed freely, and there were not wanting other and perhaps more dangerous seductions; so that the gray dawn had already faintly appeared in the east, while our delirious extravagance was at its height. Madly flushed with cards and intoxication, I was in the act of insisting upon a toast of more than wonted profanity, when my attention was suddenly diverted by the violent, although partial unclosing of the door of the apartment, and by the eager voice of a servant from without. He said that some person, apparently in great haste, demanded to speak with me in the hall.

Wildly excited with wine, the unexpected interruption rather delighted than surprised me. I staggered forward at once, and a few steps brought me to the vestibule of the building. In this low and small room there hung no lamp; and now no light at all was admitted, save that of the exceedingly feeble dawn which made its way through the semi-circular window. As I put my foot over the threshold, I became aware of the figure of a youth about my own height, and habited in a white kerseymere morning frock, cut in the novel fashion of the one I myself wore at the moment. This the faint light enabled me to perceive; but the features of his face I could not distinguish. Upon my entering he strode hurriedly up to me, and, seizing me by. the arm with a gesture of petulant impatience, whispered the words “William Wilson!” in my ear.

I grew perfectly sober in an instant. There was that in the manner of the stranger, and in the tremulous shake of his uplifted finger, as he held it between my eyes and the light, which filled me with unqualified amazement; but it was not this which had so violently moved me. It was the pregnancy of solemn admonition in the singular, low, hissing utterance; and, above all, it was the character, the tone, the key, of those few, simple, and familiar, yet whispered syllables, which came with a thousand thronging memories of bygone days, and struck upon my soul with the shock of a galvanic battery. Ere I could recover the use of my senses he was gone.

Although this event failed not of a vivid effect upon my disordered imagination, yet was it evanescent as vivid. For some weeks, indeed, I busied myself in earnest inquiry, or was wrapped in a cloud of morbid speculation. I did not pretend to disguise from my perception the identity of the singular individual who thus perseveringly interfered with my affairs, and harassed me with his insinuated counsel. But who and what was this Wilson? –and whence came he? –and what were his purposes? Upon neither of these points could I be satisfied; merely ascertaining, in regard to him, that a sudden accident in his family had caused his removal from Dr. Bransby’s academy on the afternoon of the day in which I myself had eloped. But in a brief period I ceased to think upon the subject; my attention being all absorbed in a contemplated departure for Oxford. Thither I soon went; the uncalculating vanity of my parents furnishing me with an outfit and annual establishment, which would enable me to indulge at will in the luxury already so dear to my heart, –to vie in profuseness of expenditure with the haughtiest heirs of the wealthiest earldoms in Great Britain.

Excited by such appliances to vice, my constitutional temperament broke forth with redoubled ardor, and I spurned even the common restraints of decency in the mad infatuation of my revels. But it were absurd to pause in the detail of my extravagance. Let it suffice, that among spendthrifts I out-Heroded Herod, and that, giving name to a multitude of novel follies, I added no brief appendix to the long catalogue of vices then usual in the most dissolute university of Europe.

It could hardly be credited, however, that I had, even here, so utterly fallen from the gentlemanly estate, as to seek acquaintance with the vilest arts of the gambler by profession, and, having become an adept in his despicable science, to practise it habitually as a means of increasing my already enormous income at the expense of the weak-minded among my fellow-collegians. Such, nevertheless, was the fact. And the very enormity of this offence against all manly and honourable sentiment proved, beyond doubt, the main if not the sole reason of the impunity with which it was committed. Who, indeed, among my most abandoned associates, would not rather have disputed the clearest evidence of his senses, than have suspected of such courses, the gay, the frank, the generous William Wilson –the noblest and most commoner at Oxford –him whose follies (said his parasites) were but the follies of youth and unbridled fancy –whose errors but inimitable whim –whose darkest vice but a careless and dashing extravagance?

I had been now two years successfully busied in this way, when there came to the university a young parvenu nobleman, Glendinning –rich, said report, as Herodes Atticus –his riches, too, as easily acquired. I soon found him of weak intellect, and, of course, marked him as a fitting subject for my skill. I frequently engaged him in play, and contrived, with the gambler’s usual art, to let him win considerable sums, the more effectually to entangle him in my snares. At length, my schemes being ripe, I met him (with the full intention that this meeting should be final and decisive) at the chambers of a fellow-commoner, (Mr. Preston,) equally intimate with both, but who, to do him Justice, entertained not even a remote suspicion of my design. To give to this a better colouring, I had contrived to have assembled a party of some eight or ten, and was solicitously careful that the introduction of cards should appear accidental, and originate in the proposal of my contemplated dupe himself. To be brief upon a vile topic, none of the low finesse was omitted, so customary upon similar occasions that it is a just matter for wonder how any are still found so besotted as to fall its victim.

We had protracted our sitting far into the night, and I had at length effected the manoeuvre of getting Glendinning as my sole antagonist. The game, too, was my favorite ecarte!. The rest of the company, interested in the extent of our play, had abandoned their own cards, and were standing around us as spectators. The parvenu, who had been induced by my artifices in the early part of the evening, to drink deeply, now shuffled, dealt, or played, with a wild nervousness of manner for which his intoxication, I thought, might partially, but could not altogether account. In a very short period he had become my debtor to a large amount, when, having taken a long draught of port, he did precisely what I had been coolly anticipating –he proposed to double our already extravagant stakes. With a well-feigned show of reluctance, and not until after my repeated refusal had seduced him into some angry words which gave a color of pique to my compliance, did I finally comply. The result, of course, did but prove how entirely the prey was in my toils; in less than an hour he had quadrupled his debt. For some time his countenance had been losing the florid tinge lent it by the wine; but now, to my astonishment, I perceived that it had grown to a pallor truly fearful. I say to my astonishment. Glendinning had been represented to my eager inquiries as immeasurably wealthy; and the sums which he had as yet lost, although in themselves vast, could not, I supposed, very seriously annoy, much less so violently affect him. That he was overcome by the wine just swallowed, was the idea which most readily presented itself; and, rather with a view to the preservation of my own character in the eyes of my associates, than from any less interested motive, I was about to insist, peremptorily, upon a discontinuance of the play, when some expressions at my elbow from among the company, and an ejaculation evincing utter despair on the part of Glendinning, gave me to understand that I had effected his total ruin under circumstances which, rendering him an object for the pity of all, should have protected him from the ill offices even of a fiend.

What now might have been my conduct it is difficult to say. The pitiable condition of my dupe had thrown an air of embarrassed gloom over all; and, for some moments, a profound silence was maintained, during which I could not help feeling my cheeks tingle with the many burning glances of scorn or reproach cast upon me by the less abandoned of the party. I will even own that an intolerable weight of anxiety was for a brief instant lifted from my bosom by the sudden and extraordinary interruption which ensued. The wide, heavy folding doors of the apartment were all at once thrown open, to their full extent, with a vigorous and rushing impetuosity that extinguished, as if by magic, every candle in the room. Their light, in dying, enabled us just to perceive that a stranger had entered, about my own height, and closely muffled in a cloak. The darkness, however, was now total; and we could only feel that he was standing in our midst. Before any one of us could recover from the extreme astonishment into which this rudeness had thrown all, we heard the voice of the intruder.

“Gentlemen,” he said, in a low, distinct, and never-to-be-forgotten whisper which thrilled to the very marrow of my bones, “Gentlemen, I make no apology for this behaviour, because in thus behaving, I am but fulfilling a duty. You are, beyond doubt, uninformed of the true character of the person who has to-night won at ecarte a large sum of money from Lord Glendinning. I will therefore put you upon an expeditious and decisive plan of obtaining this very necessary information. Please to examine, at your leisure, the inner linings of the cuff of his left sleeve, and the several little packages which may be found in the somewhat capacious pockets of his embroidered morning wrapper.”

While he spoke, so profound was the stillness that one might have heard a pin drop upon the floor. In ceasing, he departed at once, and as abruptly as he had entered. Can I –shall I describe my sensations? –must I say that I felt all the horrors of the damned? Most assuredly I had little time given for reflection. Many hands roughly seized me upon the spot, and lights were immediately reprocured. A search ensued. In the lining of my sleeve were found all the court cards essential in ecarte, and, in the pockets of my wrapper, a number of packs, facsimiles of those used at our sittings, with the single exception that mine were of the species called, technically, arrondees; the honours being slightly convex at the ends, the lower cards slightly convex at the sides. In this disposition, the dupe who cuts, as customary, at the length of the pack, will invariably find that he cuts his antagonist an honor; while the gambler, cutting at the breadth, will, as certainly, cut nothing for his victim which may count in the records of the game.

Any burst of indignation upon this discovery would have affected me less than the silent contempt, or the sarcastic composure, with which it was received.

“Mr. Wilson,” said our host, stooping to remove from beneath his feet an exceedingly luxurious cloak of rare furs, “Mr. Wilson, this is your property.” (The weather was cold; and, upon quitting my own room, I had thrown a cloak over my dressing wrapper, putting it off upon reaching the scene of play.) “I presume it is supererogatory to seek here (eyeing the folds of the garment with a bitter smile) for any farther evidence of your skill. Indeed, we have had enough. You will see the necessity, I hope, of quitting Oxford –at all events, of quitting instantly my chambers.”

Abased, humbled to the dust as I then was, it is probable that I should have resented this galling language by immediate personal violence, had not my whole attention been at the moment arrested by a fact of the most startling character. The cloak which I had worn was of a rare description of fur; how rare, how extravagantly costly, I shall not venture to say. Its fashion, too, was of my own fantastic invention; for I was fastidious to an absurd degree of coxcombry, in matters of this frivolous nature. When, therefore, Mr. Preston reached me that which he had picked up upon the floor, and near the folding doors of the apartment, it was with an astonishment nearly bordering upon terror, that I perceived my own already hanging on my arm, (where I had no doubt unwittingly placed it,) and that the one presented me was but its exact counterpart in every, in even the minutest possible particular. The singular being who had so disastrously exposed me, had been muffled, I remembered, in a cloak; and none had been worn at all by any of the members of our party with the exception of myself. Retaining some presence of mind, I took the one offered me by Preston; placed it, unnoticed, over my own; left the apartment with a resolute scowl of defiance; and, next morning ere dawn of day, commenced a hurried journey from Oxford to the continent, in a perfect agony of horror and of shame.

I fled in vain. My evil destiny pursued me as if in exultation, and proved, indeed, that the exercise of its mysterious dominion had as yet only begun. Scarcely had I set foot in Paris ere I had fresh evidence of the detestable interest taken by this Wilson in my concerns. Years flew, while I experienced no relief. Villain! –at Rome, with how untimely, yet with how spectral an officiousness, stepped he in between me and my ambition! At Vienna, too –at Berlin –and at Moscow! Where, in truth, had I not bitter cause to curse him within my heart? From his inscrutable tyranny did I at length flee, panic-stricken, as from a pestilence; and to the very ends of the earth I fled in vain.

And again, and again, in secret communion with my own spirit, would I demand the questions “Who is he? –whence came he? –and what are his objects?” But no answer was there found. And then I scrutinized, with a minute scrutiny, the forms, and the methods, and the leading traits of his impertinent supervision. But even here there was very little upon which to base a conjecture. It was noticeable, indeed, that, in no one of the multiplied instances in which he had of late crossed my path, had he so crossed it except to frustrate those schemes, or to disturb those actions, which, if fully carried out, might have resulted in bitter mischief. Poor justification this, in truth, for an authority so imperiously assumed! Poor indemnity for natural rights of self-agency so pertinaciously, so insultingly denied!

I had also been forced to notice that my tormentor, for a very long period of time, (while scrupulously and with miraculous dexterity maintaining his whim of an identity of apparel with myself,) had so contrived it, in the execution of his varied interference with my will, that I saw not, at any moment, the features of his face. Be Wilson what he might, this, at least, was but the veriest of affectation, or of folly. Could he, for an instant, have supposed that, in my admonisher at Eton –in the destroyer of my honor at Oxford, –in him who thwarted my ambition at Rome, my revenge at Paris, my passionate love at Naples, or what he falsely termed my avarice in Egypt, –that in this, my arch-enemy and evil genius, could fall to recognise the William Wilson of my school boy days, –the namesake, the companion, the rival, –the hated and dreaded rival at Dr. Bransby’s? Impossible! –But let me hasten to the last eventful scene of the drama.

Thus far I had succumbed supinely to this imperious domination. The sentiment of deep awe with which I habitually regarded the elevated character, the majestic wisdom, the apparent omnipresence and omnipotence of Wilson, added to a feeling of even terror, with which certain other traits in his nature and assumptions inspired me, had operated, hitherto, to impress me with an idea of my own utter weakness and helplessness, and to suggest an implicit, although bitterly reluctant submission to his arbitrary will. But, of late days, I had given myself up entirely to wine; and its maddening influence upon my hereditary temper rendered me more and more impatient of control. I began to murmur, –to hesitate, –to resist. And was it only fancy which induced me to believe that, with the increase of my own firmness, that of my tormentor underwent a proportional diminution? Be this as it may, I now began to feel the inspiration of a burning hope, and at length nurtured in my secret thoughts a stern and desperate resolution that I would submit no longer to be enslaved.

It was at Rome, during the Carnival of 18–, that I attended a masquerade in the palazzo of the Neapolitan Duke Di Broglio. I had indulged more freely than usual in the excesses of the wine-table; and now the suffocating atmosphere of the crowded rooms irritated me beyond endurance. The difficulty, too, of forcing my way through the mazes of the company contributed not a little to the ruffling of my temper; for I was anxiously seeking, (let me not say with what unworthy motive) the young, the gay, the beautiful wife of the aged and doting Di Broglio. With a too unscrupulous confidence she had previously communicated to me the secret of the costume in which she would be habited, and now, having caught a glimpse of her person, I was hurrying to make my way into her presence. –At this moment I felt a light hand placed upon my shoulder, and that ever-remembered, low, damnable whisper within my ear.

In an absolute phrenzy of wrath, I turned at once upon him who had thus interrupted me, and seized him violently by tile collar. He was attired, as I had expected, in a costume altogether similar to my own; wearing a Spanish cloak of blue velvet, begirt about the waist with a crimson belt sustaining a rapier. A mask of black silk entirely covered his face.

“Scoundrel!” I said, in a voice husky with rage, while every syllable I uttered seemed as new fuel to my fury, “scoundrel! impostor! accursed villain! you shall not –you shall not dog me unto death! Follow me, or I stab you where you stand!” –and I broke my way from the ball-room into a small ante-chamber adjoining –dragging him unresistingly with me as I went.

Upon entering, I thrust him furiously from me. He staggered against the wall, while I closed the door with an oath, and commanded him to draw. He hesitated but for an instant; then, with a slight sigh, drew in silence, and put himself upon his defence.

The contest was brief indeed. I was frantic with every species of wild excitement, and felt within my single arm the energy and power of a multitude. In a few seconds I forced him by sheer strength against the wainscoting, and thus, getting him at mercy, plunged my sword, with brute ferocity, repeatedly through and through his bosom.

At that instant some person tried the latch of the door. I hastened to prevent an intrusion, and then immediately returned to my dying antagonist. But what human language can adequately portray that astonishment, that horror which possessed me at the spectacle then presented to view? The brief moment in which I averted my eyes had been sufficient to produce, apparently, a material change in the arrangements at the upper or farther end of the room. A large mirror, –so at first it seemed to me in my confusion –now stood where none had been perceptible before; and, as I stepped up to it in extremity of terror, mine own image, but with features all pale and dabbled in blood, advanced to meet me with a feeble and tottering gait.

Thus it appeared, I say, but was not. It was my antagonist –it was Wilson, who then stood before me in the agonies of his dissolution. His mask and cloak lay, where he had thrown them, upon the floor. Not a thread in all his raiment –not a line in all the marked and singular lineaments of his face which was not, even in the most absolute identity, mine own!

It was Wilson; but he spoke no longer in a whisper, and I could have fancied that I myself was speaking while he said:

“You have conquered, and I yield. Yet, henceforward art thou also dead –dead to the World, to Heaven and to Hope! In me didst thou exist –and, in my death, see by this image, which is thine own, how utterly thou hast murdered thyself.”