The Magus of the North

Ever since I stumbled across Johann Georg Hamann (1730-1788) while in grad school, I have been fascinated by his cranky, enigmatic perspective.   Rabidly anti-systematic, he described his own work as islands between which he refused to build bridges.  (Perhaps this explains his appeal, given the scattershot nature of my mind!)  If you don’t know Hamann, probably the easiest place to start is Isaiah Berlin’s little book, The Magus of the North.  Some Hamann scholars will argue over Berlin’s interpretations, but that’s normal for scholars (see the last quote below). 

 My sole rule is to have none.  All the good we human beings are capable of is merely negative; whether in relation to ourselves or others.  We can only strive to remove what prevents us from seeing more clearly, and presenting, the influence of the Godhead.  (translation from Ronald Gregor Smith, JG Hamann: A Study in Christian Existence, p. 110)

What is truth? A wind that blows where it lists, whose sound one hears, but does not know whence it comes and whither it goes – a spirit whom the world cannot receive, because it neither knows him nor sees him. (Smith, p. 232)

For if it is fools who say in their heart, There is no God, those who try to prove his existence seem to be even more foolish.  If that is what reason and philosophy are, then it is scarcely a sin to blaspheme it.   (Smith, p.253)

Think less and live more. (from a letter to Herder, quoted by Berlin, p.1)


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