Halcyon Days

The “halcyon days” are—after the Greek halkyon, “the kingfisher”—the breeding time of the kingfisher around the winter solstice in late December. During that time it is supposed to be cold, calm, and clear, which is why a lonely wanderer named Friedrich Nietzsche always spoke of “halcyon days” when he had some brief respite from his permanent headache. Even in the high-mountain air of the Engadin alps near Sils-Maria, where he spent the summer months, he only experienced passing relief from these pains— which seems already inscribed in the metaphor with the alien sound reminiscent of a time long gone.

At the same time, there is hidden in the metaphor of a hoped-for mythical-climatic cleansing a motif that goes even further than Nietzsche’s saying suggests at first: it is an allusion to the north-south orientation of a Euro-continental mind-set, a tradition in which Nietzsche has a distinctive position at the threshold of modernism. The ideal of Greek antiquity which, since Johann Joachim Winckelmann, had been part of the early modernist identity formation, led through a quasi transhistorical exuberance to the wish to finally complete this heritage against the rising relativistic energies of the age. The light of a future age was to be measured against the light that still shines over the rubble of the sites of antiquity—and it was to be the same light that formerly had made possible the Socratic, i.e., fundamental modern question, which precisely in the analytical will allows for the necessary night of history. A cultural renewal was to link the heyday of that epoch with a new self-confidence—that was the message that speaks of taking up a tradition without which the next step would be blind, deaf, and dumb: polytheism and pantheism are appropriate, it was maintained, for a new and free world whose origin is not Jerusalem but Athens. After the expected big clear-out of monotheistic official religions, a world not without morality, but without hypocrisy was to be hatched in the cold halcyon days. Homer’s “Odyssey”was to be the Bible of modernism! That call cuts through the silence of that cloudless southern winter sky in which the wanderer followed the origin of a path that not only leads him upwards into the mountains, but also has to lead him downwards again, without the headaches starting anew.

The headache has long ago evaporated in favor of other phenomena: mental derangement, death and intrigues led to a new century of endurance tests. But the nihilistic shadow that had been evoked during the halcyon days remains the reality of the second sight. No technological progress, no new fundamentalism, and no new enlightenment can chase it away! But the more the annihilation of all motivating differences is declared as the paradoxical goal of purity of a (hi)story that is to be purged of chaos, the more chaotic and dubious do the individual steps and motifs of that (hi)story appear.
       In the twenty-first century, the contradictory progress of events is exacerbated. From a unity that subjects that which is to be unified to an autistic apparatus, new contrast agents and processes for distancing emerge, which this time around do not move against the nihilistic shadow, i.e., in the manner of a substitute religion, but with it, i.e., crepuscularly.
       Without violating the laws of post-drama and embodiment taboo, points of departure appear (with a new compactness) that establish the special status of a cultural context, now more than ever: on the path from the Platonic cave, via the Sistine cosmos, all the way to the hypothesis of dark matter, not just a physical, but also a metaphysical quantum leap has taken place which furnishes the break between role and actor with Parmenidean consequences: he who speaks now can speak authentically and yet stand beside himself!
       The modern and postmodern curse of sentimentality had caused an inhibition that had put every statement that does not contribute to its own invalidation under suspicion of dogmatism. But the curse only works as long as the irrationality does not betray itself in its own justification. Once the betrayal has taken place, any dogma that does not declare every word meant relativistically to be naïve, can not be maintained in the atomistically mirrored world of the twenty-first century. With the necessary correction, an almost forgotten context rises to the surface that re-magnetizes the fragments of a cultural identity in an unfamiliar place: analogously, without a date, almost without any information, and yet permeated with labyrinthine text. There is no reason to fear the void anymore! Whoever thus questions today the frantic border blurrings of a misunderstood eschatology of history and the prohibition of authorship that goes hand in hand with it, does not engage in subtle reaction, but rather in an archeology of future caves.
       Whether the source of light thus can be named which lends an epoch its shadow depends on how far the person standing next to himself can deny the shadow the negativity which determines events. The more clear the break, the more we can see that the only important thing is the shadow cast by the actor himself—while the light remains a stage light, even for Parsi saints. And where the differentiation of light and shadow makes a final border marking possible, acoustic feedback is already booming: a loop of wind rustles in the cypresses of the isle of the dead, the he-goat song sounds, which for once reaches the shores without any commercial breaks.

At the shores, gold rush fever or crapulence reign.
       The yearning for the halcyon days—articulated on the peaks of a mountain range that symbolized the geographical and also cultural dividing line between north and south, ancient culture and modern civilization—produces before this background a future echo that lets melancholic disillusionment sound beyond the calls of cultural conflict. In spite of the tectonic shifts that have taken place in the meantime, the question remains as to where the will that is to be quickened can turn to now, if the cold water is, above all, a dangerous refreshment. If the valleys are already flooded, descent is no longer possible. And the wanderer, who became a hermit in the Engadin mountains for health reasons, stands on an island in a sea above which the kingfishers build their floating nests.

Halcyon Days, Cologne 2013, p. 15