The German mind is characterised by an affection for recesses and darkness; in particular, German thought seeks to bring what lies in darkness to the light; and it wishes to do this through rigorous and logical systems followed through in an absolute manner. Kant locates unknowable noumena beyond us; we negotiate with this unknowable element through an absolute system, a strict and precise prior logical system: it is all as particular and as clockwork as his daily walks.
In Goethe, we see a man who is fascinated by dark-light interplay, a Germanic counterpart to the East’s yin-yang: the gestalt. He conceived himself as planted in strong shadows, precisely because he was so close to scalpel-like light. In his Elective Affinities, a character reveals her true emotions when she blots the ink on a letter; in this, Goethe anticipates the unconscious mind and the Rorschach test—also a Germanic invention. His last words were: “More light!” We must have more light to see into the shadows, to bring what has lingered in the darkness into the light—illumination in dark death.
Hegel picks up the theme with his dialectic; the interplay between two forces—as when a cell pulls against itself to produce another cell—brings the implicit into consciousness. Hegel said that the owl Minerva takes fight at dusk because in his philosophy knowledge is attained after the event. We undertake an action and, once we cross the border, we understand the hidden force that moved us forward; we produce a philosophy at the day’s end and hence the most complete philosophical system emerges when a civilisation has fallen to darkness.
The complete philosophical summation of that civilisation appears at the moment the civilisation passes into darkness; once again, the interplay: light emerges from darkness and darkness from light—a shadow world.
As with Kant, the process is ineluctable and follows a strict logic: history starts in unconsciousness; then there is a conflict, and the conflict develops until it returns to the highest form of consciousness—a state of complete unity, as existed at the beginning; though this is a complete and illuminated unity. The same goes for Jung and Freud—the latter not Germanic, but certainly trained to think like a German—the darkness must be excavated to make the complete man; we are driven, as with Goethe’s characters, by occult forces that reveal themselves in everyday “accidents”. The Germans have a word—“Hintergedanken”, the “behind thought”—for the realm explored by Jung and Freud. Germany is a deep land, vulnerable to East and West; the German psyche investigates its hinterland, and German geopolitics seeks a hinterland for the nation as protection.
The English are less deep—as Nietzsche said—since their country is small and cosy: there is no hinterland here; we live with “darkness visible”: there is nothing to explore. The French, meanwhile, are too gay and frivolous to be overly worried by the unconscious; they are too Mediterranean and Latin. Lacan investigated the unconscious, but he made his own algebra to do so—very French, very Cartesian. By contrast, the Germans—Jung in particular, a deeper man than Freud—go right into the archaic myth, far too deep for the fashionable and frivolous French. Finally, we have Heidegger: his whole concern is that Being has been concealed—and not recently; no, it has been concealed for thousands of years, since Plato and maybe before. The German always digs deeper; and always with rigour and logic. Heidegger’s whole project is to uncover and reveal; truth as revelation.
The Germans are forest people. The Black Forest stands for Germany; in Grimm fairytales, the children go into the darkness and here they find witches and murder and gold. The darkness is illuminated by occasional lightning; it creates, Heidegger might say, a clearing: we are blinded by the light for a moment and then we see scorched earth and branches—perhaps a little fire—and then we see a clearing. Now we see like a German.