Chapter 1: The Beginning of the Beginning
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from In Search of Order (1987) 352 From Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, Volume 18: Order and History, Vol. 5: In Search of Order, ed. Ellis Sandoz (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2000), 27–62. [The first of the two chapters that make up the slim, fifth and final volume of Order and History, published two years after Voegelin’s death, indicates by its title—­ “The Beginning of the Beginning”—­ that Voegelin was continuing his search for “the order of history” through pursuing the non-­ chronological orientation he had explained and justified in his Introduction to The Ecumenic Age. “The Beginning of the Beginning” stands as a signal achievement in Voegelin’s culminating philosophical work for three reasons. First, it brings Voegelin’s concern with the structure of history, and with what can be known about historical meaning, to a laser-­ like focus on two issues: the fact that human beings, in “truly” telling the tale of history, are conscious of participating in a story with a divinely mysterious “Beginning” and thus of participating in a divine-­ human act of imaginative storytelling; and that all such storytelling , whenever it occurs in history, “begins in the middle” of the drama, and always from a perspective “in-­ between” time and eternity. Second, it comprises the last and most sophisticated iteration of Voegelin’s theory of consciousness, initially developed at length in his 1966 book Anamnesis. Here we find Voegelin’s careful explication of “intentionality” and “luminosity” as paradoxically co-­ constitutive “structures of consciousness,” supplemented by his account of the “reflective distance” through which consciousness is able to theorize accurately about these dimensions of its own nature . And third, the chapter—­ together with the following chapter’s 353 in search of order meditations on German Idealism, Hegel, Hesiod, and Plato’s Timeaus—­ consolidates, in the words of Ellis Sandoz, “Voegelin’s definitive theoretical break with Enlightenment rationalism as the form of modern philosophy and its replacement by meditative rationality or noesis, thereby reviving a mode of inquiry that goes back to St. Augustine’s Confessions and to Plato’s dialogues.”15 For these reasons, the chapter stands as an appropriate final selection both for the presentation of Voegelin’s philosophy of history and for the Reader as a whole.—Eds.] Chapter 1: The Beginning of the Beginning§1. Where Does the Beginning Begin? As I am putting down these words on an empty page I have begun to write a sentence that, when it is finished, will be the beginning of a chapter on certain problems of Beginning. The sentence is finished. But is it true? The reader does not know whether it is true before he has finished reading the chapter and can judge whether it is indeed a sermon on the sentence as its text. Nor do I know at this time, for the chapter is yet unwritten; and although I have a general idea of its construction, I know from experience that new ideas have a habit of emerging while the writing is going on, compelling changes in the construction and making the beginning unsuitable. Unless we want to enjoy the delights of a Sternean stream of consciousness, the story has no beginning before it has come to its end. What then comes first: the beginning or the end? Neither the beginning nor the end comes first. The question rather points to a whole, to a thing called “chapter,” with a variety of dimensions . This whole has an extension in space as a body of letters written or printed as pages. It then has a temporal dimension in the process of being written or being read. And finally it has a dimension of meaning, neither spatial nor temporal, in the existential process of the quest for truth in which both the reader and the writer are engaged. Is then the whole, with its spatio-­ temporal and existential dimensions, the answer to the question: What comes first? The whole as a literary unit called “chapter” is not the answer either. By its character of a chapter in a book, the whole points beyond itself to the intricate problems of communication between 354 part five | philosophy of history reader and writer. The book is meant to be read; it is an event in a vast social field of thought and language, of writing and reading about matters that the members of the field believe to be of concern for their existence in truth. The whole is no beginning in an absolute sense...