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Home Uncategorized The God in the I

The God in the I

Manus Charleton
The Travel Diary of a Philosopher, by Hermann Keyserling, Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1925, Vol.1, 338 pp Vol. 2, 400 pp Hermann Keyserling (1880 – 1946) is not well-known now. Yet in the first half of the twentieth century he was a leading intellectual in Europe and America. A hereditary count born into an Estonian family of landed aristocracy, he grew up interested in philosophy and spirituality. In 1911, at the age of thirty-one, he travelled around the world to develop his spirituality by drawing from different religious cultures and the secular culture of North America. The Travel Diary of a Philosopher, first published in English in 1925, is his account of this journey. He wrote it while living on his estate between 1912 and 1914. The outbreak of the First World War prevented its publication, and he continued to revise it until it was published in 1918. In that year also he lost his estate and fortune as a result of the Russian revolution and went to Germany, where he lived by his work as a writer and lecturer, and in 1920 he founded a school of wisdom in Darmstadt. Keyserling’s aim in travelling was unique in what he hoped it would accomplish; it also had a certain logic. To develop spirituality in himself, he would be experiencing some of the best means available for it in places where it has flourished among the peoples of the world. There is some similarity between The Travel Diary and William James’s 1902 study The Varieties of Religious Experience. But James’s book is more an academic study of the efficacy and diversity of religious experience than a personal journey of spiritual development. Keyserling’s undertaking, in contrast, has something of the inordinate ambition, if not obsession, of Fitzcarraldo, the character in Werner Herzog’s film of the same name, who embarked on an extraordinary journey down the Amazon to acquire rubber which would fund an opera house he wanted to build in the jungle city of Iquitos in which a troupe of singers headed by Caruso would sing. A bestseller in the late 1920s and long out of print, The Travel Diary is a strange book to read now. In some ways it’s of its period, the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when the world was opening up for well-off, educated Europeans who were curious about other countries and their native cultures. The Diary is marred by some spurious pejorative generalisations…

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