Renewal, Reception, and Tradition
At the time of modernity's advent, tradition was in many cases no longer creative but a burden weighing down on people’s backs. Modernism, in part, represents a movement to go "back to the drawing board", as a phrase now proverbial puts it
(http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/back-to-the-drawing-board.html defines the term as meaning "Start again on a new design - after a failure of an earlier attempt" and notes that "This term is been used since WWII as a jocular acceptance that a design has failed and that a new one is needed. It gained common currency quite quickly and began appearing in US newspapers by 1947...") While there may never be such a thing as a tabula rasa (tabula rasa's --- clean slates --- tend, on examination, to be palimpsests, notes written on top of not completely bleached or whited-out texts), there is nevertheless a necessity sometimes to completely rework and transform one's material. One might even note that the boldness of such reworking is quite in the spirit of what at one point used to be called "manly" values.
It is an unfortunate legacy that Indo-European and Germanic Studies have in the recent history been unduly influenced by research conducted in large part by fascists. This is not a rhetorical or inflammatory statement, but a literal notation of fact. The book Aryan Idols and Mosse’s many excellent books really document the background of this fact quite well. Simply because many scholars in the background of these studies were fascist is no reason to dismiss all of their findings, of course, but it does call for the appropriate use of one’s critical faculties, some healthy suspicion, and careful filtering of the fascist take on traditionalism that colors much of the discussion of tradition. There is no good reason for us to take up the varied and disguised anti-communisms of the twentieth century in our own consideration of tradition, for several reasons ; one of which is that such attempts were in large part a resistance to progressive change, and therefore reactionary rather than creative, and secondly, that the fascist agenda in large part transformed tradition into a kind of monolithic shibboleth imbued with inappropriate aura, and as free individuals, we should not be thralls to anyone, including the ways of the ancestors.
Part of wisdom is double-handedness or ambidextriosity : being able to grant the partial validity of a particular viewpoint, on the one hand, but seeking to balance it with the partial validity of that which seems to oppose it, and finding a creative synthesis between the two. Some might call this approach Hegelian, but there was a great deal of Odinic wisdom in Hegel’s understanding of life as a dynamic of struggle in which truth emerges out of the clash between opposing viewpoints. (And again, while there are many reasons to be anti- or post- Hegelian, a prominent agenda behind some anti-Hegelianism is, again, fascism, which in its sometimes rabid anti-communism, often rejects Hegelianism simply because it seems a precursor to Marxism. But it is irrational to reject any philosopher wholesale simply because of guilt by association, because we unwisely deprive ourselves of access to good amounts of wisdom, and one might remember that the word “philosophy” means “the friendly-love of wisdom”. One would think that a healthy Odinism would inspire us all to be friends-of-wisdom.)
If one is incapable of appreciating the tremendous liberation of modernism’s throwing-off of traditionalism’s dead weight, one has, perhaps, an immature notion of what the process of tradition is in the first place, which is not simply carrying the detritus of all the past generations (one of the reasons for death, after all, is to make available older matter for newer life through a continual process of composting), but a continual process of creative reception of the heirlooms the ancestors offer us. There are a number of important components of this definitional approach, the most important of which is the concept of “reception”, a legal concept involving the adoption of the customs or legal processes of a different time or place. “In the theory of law, reception is chiefly defined as the transfer of a legal phenomenon of a different legal culture, other area or other period of time to a new legal climate. … Voluntariness of the process is also considered an essential condition for reception. No genuine reception occurs if a legal phenomenon is imposed upon another nation by force. … Upon the implementation of a norm in the environment of a different legal culture, its content and effect may diverge from its implementation in the culture of origin. Such modifications are often unpredictable…” (Marju Luts, “Jurisprudential Reception as a Field of Study”, Juridica International, Iuridicum Foundation, Tartu, Estonia, 1997, no.1, pp.2-6, emphasis mine.) Tradition itself, however, is always a process of reception in which the old is adapted, and therefore both creatively and critically evaluated and shaped, to fit the new conditions. Because life is dynamic, wyrd is always shifting, and creative adaptation of the tools of the past is therefore a continual necessity. We “receive” that which is of benefit, and therefore engage in a filtering process.
Conscious reception acknowledges that the past hands us both heirlooms as well as, unfortunately, unwyrd. Because human beings – even the venerated ancestors – are not perfect, and because life is a process of struggle in which the best does not always win out despite our best efforts, the ideas, norms, and customs of any particular time period represent the best compromises that were achievable under the prevailing conditions, but these compromises may have “received” unwyrd, or unfortunate, ignoble, or simply undeveloped elements. Intelligence must be utilized in sifting and filtering these elements of unwyrd from the true heirlooms or treasures which have been handed down to us, because to confuse garbage and treasure is truly the greatest of folly. There should be no shame in admitting that in the imperfect process of history, unwyrd has affected tradition which therefore incorporates elements of garbage which it would be wise to compost rather than receive. There should be no hesitancy or wavering in additionally declaring that some of the ideas and actions of the ancestors were just plain dumb ; that's not disrespectful, but merely acknowledging the humanity of our ancestors.
Because the ancestors were not perfect, we are not required to foolishly or slavishly conform to their every manner, but rather to find ways to honor that which was most worthy in what they were able to transmit to us, and in this regard, to have the appropriate level of respect to give them the benefit of the doubt when we are in doubt so that we do not prematurely condemn elements that when sifted or re-evaluated creatively and dynamically, might prove of hidden value. This latter gives us an instinct of conservatism, not in the modern political sense, but in the sense of wanting to conserve important resources. Tradition is certainly a resource, a kind of social and even spiritual capital, and therefore represents great sources of wealth which only the most foolish would squander. Yet all resources must be used wisely if they are to prove of benefit at all. Even those elements of the past which were not unwyrd may still have little application to modern conditions ; there will be plenty of things which made sense given the climate of the times which simply do not fit our conditions, and which, therefore, by definition, are not “good” for us. (However, one important element of the necessary instinct of conservatism found in a traditional approach must be noted, and that is making sure that we do not censor the past for our descendants ; therefore, we pass on what has been passed to us, but with our commentaries and careful notes of adaptation ; after all, that from the tradition which is not of benefit to the present generation may prove to be of benefit to one that follows.)
There comes a time and a place where tradition has accumulated such a critical mass of unwyrd, and where enough slavishness towards that tradition has developed, that the only creative and bold thing to do is to throw off that kind of traditionalism, at least for a time, long enough to liberate the creative and critical faculties that allow one to be a free person. Modernism, for all of its contradictions, flaws, and exaggerations, effected precisely that, and in fact, for it, we are all much freer, in quite tangible ways. The problem has always been the baby in the bathwater.
The proverbial “baby in the bathwater” is a good metaphor to begin with, because it acknowledges from the get-go the necessity of washing and cleansing the baby, and separating the filth and detritus that has accumulated from the cleansed, refreshed being, but it also emphasizes the importance of not discarding that which was of value to wash in the first place.
There is much in a tradition, as well, that is not unwyrd but is unworthed, meaning incomplete, not yet fully developed, not having reached its fruition, and which therefore represents a stage in a potential progression. Many movements were incipient or developmental, and therefore do not come to us complete, but as works-in-progress to be further developed. In this regard, one might say, in short, that we ought not to demonstrate laziness towards the undeveloped elements in a tradition, but to work hard to bring them as close to fruition as we can in our generation, so that we may pass them on in a more completed state for our descendants. Sometimes our ancestors had just begun to grasp an idea that we have the power to bring into much greater development. One can call such development "progressive", as a descriptive term.
As a normative term, however, in order to establish what is "progressive", we must evaluate our original goals. What is the purpose of tradition? If we see the purpose of tradition as benefiting life in its ongoing development by enhancing vitality through the sharing of the lessons and tools of the past, then we may define the "progressive" as that which enhances vitality rather than reinforcing moribundity in a tradition. If one is developing and further refining tools so that they may greater service life in its goal of vitality, then that may be described both descriptively and normatively as progressive. On the other hand, with this as reference, we may define the reactionary as that which seeks to undevelop what has been progressed in the service of moribundity.
When I embrace my ancestors dynamically, which is to say as parts of a movement towards developing and progressing that which is of value in the tradition, I can respect, appreciate, and even love them for who they were and what they portended, but if I am thrall to the demand to slavishly embrace all of their ways in their entirety, it will be difficult to have respect for their many imperfections. The slavish veneration for tradition which much of fascism encouraged in fact reinforces the modernist split from tradition. The entire reason for the need to go back to the drawing board in the first place was the torpor and refusal of those claiming to speak for the tradition to adequately respond to new developments. At first, and for a long time, attempts were made to reform, revision, and renew tradition, but the old guard was so stubborn, so reactionary, and so entrenched in their commitment against any kind of progress, that "tradition" -- at least as it was conceived, utilized, and represented at the time -- became a burden and a weight, a "haft", and a jotunnish one at that, from which liberation was needed. Unresponsive, reactionary traditionalists produce anti-traditionalist modernists, and this process can go on in a vicious cycle.
Like it or not, modernism has in fact created to a great extent a clean "break" from the past such that we are now in a position to re-evaluate, post-caesura, that which was of value in the traditional.
And indeed, one might evaluate modernism from a philosophical consideration of "ragnarok", which is not in itself the Germanic "Kali Yuga" (that would be the age which precedes ragnarok), but actually, that battle which cleanses the world of all the unwyrd which has accumulated since the loss of the Golden Age and the Time of Baldur. That this is the case is prominently signalled by the fact that after Ragnarok, Baldur returns. Ragnarok represents a radical eradication of much that has accumulated in the tradition, with the judgement that much of it represented unwyrd. That Ragnarok is a kind of judgement or doom is certain in its very etymology, rök signifying a doom or judgement. Ragnarok is that time and place where the forces representing unwyrd are defeated once and for all so that the dirty bathwater which covers over Baldur may be cleansed for his return. Modernism was no complete ragnarok, to be certain, as unwyrd forces still hold predominant positions in our world, but it might be worthwhile to consider modernism as existing in the image of ragnarok, and following its archetype of throwing out the unworkable in order to renew that which was of value, but even more importantly, to make way for the new.
While tradition holds wealth, modernism has won great treasures as well, through struggle. The rewards of difficult struggle should not be flippantly dismissed. These treasures, indeed, have now begun to become a part of our ongoing tradition, and so, in a sense, tradition also includes the legacy of modernism, and it is our jobs as recipients to creatively receive and evaluate all our legacies. I, for one, will not squander the wealth of Freudianism, Marxism, and Feminism, amongst other advances, and consider them strands in my tradition, nor will I allow the past struggles of anti-communist fascists to define my approach to tradition.
I do not wish to go back to the days before sexual liberation, and before the struggles against the worst of the patriarchal. Frey and Freya live in our midst as they have not since long, long before our ancestors ever met the Romans, and they promise renewal. I will not banish them in the name of the reactionary. I like orgies, I like sexual freedom, I like the liberation of strong, self-willed women unwilling to be ruled by outdated patriarchal notions ; I like the depth-psychological adaptation of Enlightenment values to encompass the unconscious ; I like the Marxist and Anarchist critiques which seek to slough off the jotunnish forces which have all too often dominated economies and politics. I like jazz and dada, surrealism, Stravinsky, punk and gothic rock. I wouldn't throw out the wealth of Wilhelm Reich or Raoul Vaneigem for all the gold in China. And because scoundrels, reactionaries, and indeed jotunnish wolves wrap themselves in flags and cloaks of tradition, we should be wary and keep our eyes about us when we enter into that great hall of tradition, lest there be foes in our midst.