Cytherean Sitings Between Heraclitus and Kittler

by Josef Chytry (Author)
©2020 Monographs 468 Pages


Cosmotheism retrieves the importance of a cosmic approach to reality through its revival of the heliocentric creed championed by Copernicus, Bruno and Kepler, through its critiques of historical patterns of politics and technology, and through its sponsorship of emancipatory thinkers, artists, "psychonauts," and cosmologists.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Prefatory Comments
  • Part I Enchantment
  • 1 Enchantment of the World (Verzauberung) I
  • 2 Enchantment of the World (Verzauberung) II
  • 3 Disenchantment of the World (Entzauberung) I
  • 4 Disenchantment of the World (Entzauberung) II
  • Part II Commonwealth
  • 5 From Toleration to Partition (I)
  • 6 From Partition to Extermination (II)
  • Part III Technicity
  • 7 Ge-Stell I: The “History” of Technicity as Accelerative Techno-Science
  • 8 Ge-Stell II: The “History” of Technicity as Accelerative Political Economy
  • Part IV Seeking
  • 9 Rousseau and Nietzsche as Seekers1
  • 10 A Yank at Oxford1
  • 11 Homer and Hardware1
  • Part V Spirit
  • 12 Between Aistheterion and Artistdom
  • 13 From Castalia to Maui Wowie1
  • 14 From Hellenism to Cosmotheism
  • Appendix: Five Book Reviews
  • 1. Eugene Lunn, Marxism and Modernism (1982)
  • 2. Anson Rabinbach, In the Shadow of Catastrophe (1997)
  • 3. Suzanne Marchand, Down from Olympus (1996)
  • 4. Jacques Derrida, Athens, Still Remains (2010)
  • 5. Juliane Rebentisch, Aesthetics of Installation Art (2012)
  • References
  • Index


←x | xi→


My interest in the theme of Cosmotheism began as long ago as 1968 when I first read Karl Löwith’s Gott, Mensch und Welt in der Metaphysik von Descartes bis zu Nietzsche (“God, Man and World in Metaphysics from Descartes to Nietzsche”) (1967) and discussed some of its contents with the author at the University of Heidelberg during the academic year 1969–1970. A first stab at the theme then took the form of an invited lecture, “Zur Wiedergewinnung des Kosmos: Karl Löwith contra Martin Heidegger” (“On Regaining the Cosmos: Karl Löwith contra Martin Heidegger”) that was later published as part of the 1989 Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung symposium celebrating Heidegger’s hundredth birthday in Bonn-Bad Godesberg (Chytry [1990]). Subsequently, a further prod was generated by the generosity of Laurence Stallings when in 2009 I received his gift of the full five-volume edition of Alexander von Humboldt’s great work Kosmos (Humboldt [2004]).

An all too brief stay at the Nietzsche-Haus in Sils Maria, Oberengadin, in the summer of 2014 proved (as previously in the fall of 1968) an enormous provocation to my reflections, and I am grateful to the Stiftung Nietzsche-Haus in Sils Maria for granting that opportunity. Along with the reflections of Löwith—that “Empedokles without Religion” as Hans-Georg Gadamer once depicted him to ←xi | xii→me in a 1989 Heidelberg conversation—Friedrich Nietzsche and the atmospherics of Sils Maria remain, in my view, an indispensable landscape for accessing Cosmos.

Thanks to invitations to lecture to University of California alumni as part of Cal Discovery tours in 2011, 2013, and 2019, I acquired a first acquaintance with regions of Eastern Europe that awakened my extended curiosity about the fate of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and its dolorous aftermath, the subject largely of Part II.

My modest understanding of technicity, the theme of Part III, has been heavily influenced by my own work as founding managing editor of the Oxford journal Industrial and Corporate Change (1992–) for which I here express deep appreciation for their support over a quarter-century from head editors Giovanni Dosi and David J. Teece.

For the opportunity to spend the summer of 1986 at the Mas St-Christophe in Grasse, I carry a deep obligation to the kind hospitality of the late Madame Edouard Jonas; thanks to that occasion I was first alerted to the topics and sites in the Côte d’Azur that form the subjects of Part V, Chapter 12.

For willingness to consider, and in some cases comment on, one or more of the diverse chapters of a work of this order, I am indebted to Frank R. Ankersmit, Erik Davis, Frederick Dolan, Robert Evans, Florian Grosser, Stephen Kalberg, Robert Pirro, Jason Sexton, Amy Sims, Admir Skodo, and Timothy Snyder.

Slightly different versions of Chapters 10 and 13 as well as of the five book reviews comprising the Appendix have been previously published. I am grateful for the permission to publish these reviews.

For her unerring guidance, I remain indebted to Peter Lang editor Michelle Smith.

Finally, as with all my other works, this one is a gift primarily to my dear children Gabriel and Sophia, and also to Assunta.

Throughout its labors the indispensable companion has been Olivia Wise.

←xii | xiii→

Prefatory Comments

Cosmotheism continues a protracted labor begun a half-century ago at Oxford, Tübingen, Bali, and Benares (Varanasi) that was finally published as The Aesthetic State (1989). It follows as well a series of intervening works (Cytherica (2005), Unis vers Cythère (2009), Mountain of Paradise (2013)), which have aimed at solidifying and furthering the composite of ideas and purposes that that work debated and, in part, celebrated.

1. The Aesthetic State

Although the term “aesthetic state” was coined by Friedrich Schiller in his Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Mankind (1794–1795), the term itself only appears briefly in his closing twenty-seventh letter. To my knowledge, it does not directly play a central role in Schiller’s other writings. Subsequently Herbert Marcuse, again to my knowledge, mainly makes productive philosophical use of the term in his Eros and Civilization (1955), and does so only briefly. Hans-Georg Gadamer also brings it up, in passing, with his working definition of the aesthetic state as “a cultured society [Bildungsgesellschaft] that shows interest in art.”1 Yet the term has developed much currency in the last thirty-odd years, and I would like to think ←xiii | xiv→that my own careful—possibly over-careful2—efforts at laying down a genealogy of German thinkers (prefaced by their substantial predecessors from Homer and the Athenians through their Florentine Renaissance successors to the British Augustan Commonwealthmen) in The Aesthetic State has helped ensure its longevity in discourses that have increasingly opened out such promising domains as the “aesthetic-political” within contemporary debate.3

2. Cytherics

Encouraged by the positive responses to my book, I went on to formulate the preconditions for at least one variant of an aesthetic state by cultivating the concept of a “faculty of art” that I named “cytherics.” My neologism drew on the address of a mythically magical island “Cythera” ruled by the divine goddess Aphrodite as the classically Hellenic archetype of Love and Beauty. “Cytherics” was meant to function lexically on behalf of the notion of the “aesthetic-erotic” that Herbert Marcuse and other successors to Freudian, and not only Freudian, thought had cultivated with regard to the sensuous dimension. Since Aphrodite carried not only the classical honors of Beauty but also of Love, “aesthetic-erotic” seemed a preferable means for reinforcing discourse that was intended to stay stubbornly “aphrodisian” in its pursuit of “loveliness.” With these aims in mind I therefore defined cytherics as “the sighting and siting of aesthetic-eroticaphrodisianenvironments” and applied it to a series of studies and themes in Cytherica and Unis vers Cythère.

3. The Civilization of Greater California

To these forays into intellectual genealogy and faculties of thought, I went on to specify at least one historically concrete domain that might qualify as a possible candidate for such a site and siting. By formulating the idea of a “civilization of Greater California,” I already assumed acceptance of the more commonly used designation of “California civilization.” Yet even the latter geopolitical indicator had entered the literature merely as a somewhat subdued designation for a regional civilization within the ambit of the United States of America rather than as candidate in its own right for membership into the higher league of world civilizations. Thus my more ambitious efforts to promulgate an emerging civilization of Greater California—more or less the territories once marked out on Hispanic maps as ←xiv | xv→California or Las Californias—exceed, and are meant to exceed, the already bold claims on behalf of a presumed world-historical “California civilization.”

4. Cosmotheism

Finally, “cosmotheism” as approached from the varied angles developed in this volume is intended as my broadest step yet, reaffirming the highest spiritual and religious standards of ancient Hellenism for a post-Copernican context—granted, by the way, Copernicus’ own status as an unrepentant Hellenist in his vision of the heavenly order. If there is an intellectual history, an extended legacy of thought, to my project that might be summed up under the heading “aesthetic state”; if there is to be a faculty of thought called “cytherics” which includes, among other subheadings, “labor of love,” “aphrodisian logic,” “paradisics,” “polis thought,” and the “artful firm” (topics covered in the companion volumes Cytherica and Unis vers Cythère); and if there is to be a concrete domain—“California civilization,” or better: a “Civilization of Greater California”—to give world-historical ribbings to some of these in-spirations and a-spirations—then surely one would seem to require at this stage an overall “cosmic” vision for the final and enveloping gesture.

Not surprisingly that vision—as is here proferred—turns out to be: “cosmo-theism.”4


Divided into five parts, Cosmotheism confronts challenging obstacles to any possible politics of aesthetic-erotic emancipation in its first three parts before raising some benign options in its last two.

Thus Part I (“Enchantment”) is committed to an exhaustive study of the fate of Max Weber’s influential theme Entzauberung der Welt (“Disenchantment of the World”) within Western thought and culture. It nominates three thinkers best representing “Enchantment of the World”—Copernicus, Bruno, Kepler—who touted a “heliocentric Creed.” That Creed would then be opposed by three major proponents of a subsequent “Disenchantment”—Galileo, Descartes, Newton—culminating in the secularization of Western thought that has since grounded a “disenchanted” modernity. Part II (“Commonwealth”) takes as its point of departure the historico-geographical site of this heliocentric Creed to follow and evaluate the fortunes of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth as it made its way from being the most tolerant “noble democracy” in early modern Europe to serving as the exact future site for unparalleled acts of genocide by Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia in the twentieth century. Part III (“Technicity”) offers a unique history of ←xv | xvi→“technicity” (Technik) as broached by the philosopher Martin Heidegger, attaching the concept to overriding Standardization processes (Ge-stell) geared toward an accelerative techno-science and political economy (as developed in the works of Adam Smith, Karl Marx and Joseph Schumpeter) that helps unknot complex issues centered on parabolic ballistics, “action at a distance” and the launching of space travel.

In contrast Part IV (“Seeking”) modestly champions counterforces found in the vocations of four thinkers from the eighteenth to the twenty-first centuries—Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Friedrich Nietzsche, Ronald Dworkin, and Friedrich Kittler—who found subtle ways to undermine technification: from Rousseau’s “sentiment de l’existence” and Nietzsche’s “innocence of becoming” through Dworkin’s “religion without God” to Kittler’s post-digital evocation of the goddess Aphrodite.

Finally, Part V (“Spirit”) explores and celebrates patterns conducive of a more “cosmotheist” understanding, as it treats of affiliations between Aistheterion and Artistdom as undertaken by artists Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Marc Chagall in their later careers in the French Côte d’Azur (“Art”), the varied attempts that were made to create a psychedelic religious ritual in 1960s and 1970s California (“Religion”), and components in classical Hellenism that helped to evolve a significantly new relation via Cosmos to cosmic Time and Aion (“Philosophy”).

To this arrangement an Appendix has been added of a series of book reviews which may help to further clarify some motifs working into that arrangement.

The reader can best gauge whether the protective admonition by Alexander Pope cited as one of the epigraphs to this volume rescues the claimed integrity of the whole.

Berkeley, California


Kaua’i, Hawai’i


  1. Gadamer [1972], 78. The connection with classical Weimar is clear as Gadamer makes plain elsewhere when referring to that stage in German development, “die damals gerade erst den Punkt erreicht hatte, an dem ihre klassische Epoche der Literatur sich von Weimar aus wie ein ästhetischer Staat zu konstituieren suchte.” Gadamer [1960], 111 (emphasis added). But Gadamer then thinks that here freedom of the mind “ist Freiheit lediglich in einem ästhetischen Staat und nicht in der Wirklichkeit” (79, ←xvi | xvii→emphases added)— a curious distinction reflecting misunderstanding of Schiller’s concept.

  2. As my most acute reviewer Allan Megill put it, it may have been sometimes perhaps “too detailed.” History and Theory, 30:1 (1991), 72 (emphasis in original).

  3. The “political” implications of this vision were subsequently further advanced in the volume Unis vers Cythère through my clarification of the Minoan-Athenian legacy as a venture into the prospect of what I called “thalassic theatrocracy” to supplant, while drawing on, classical Athenian participatory democracy.

  4. “Cosmotheism” follows the spirit of Albert Einstein’s evocation of a “third level of religious experience” that Einstein calls “cosmic religion” or a “cosmic religious sense” cultivated by “art and science” and preceded by certain “heretics,” “atheists,” and “saints.” Einstein [1931], 47, 48, 49–50.

←xvii | xviii→

←2 | 3→
  Enchantment of the World (Verzauberung) I

Copernicus and Bruno

“Start with the sun, and the rest will slowly, slowly happen.”

D. H. Lawrence, Apocalypse1

The theme of “disenchantment of the world” (Entzauberung der Welt) in the evolution of Western culture has drawn extensive treatment in critical thought, thanks partly to the manner in which it was first introduced by Max Weber in his classic work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905).2

But if this notion is to be appropriately clarified, it is first necessary to investigate the logically prior notion of an “enchantment of the world” (Ver-zauberung der Welt).

This chapter proposes a focused meaning behind “Enchantment of the world”: the mathematico-aesthetic discovery that the Sun is the center of a universe taken to be a truly beautiful (lovely) “Cosmos.”3 The chapter and the next then seek to verify that such a discovery and proposition (“heliocentricity”) were first essayed by Nicolaus Copernicus (1543), comprehended and expanded by Giordano Bruno (1584), and both technically and mathematico-aesthetically confirmed by Johannes Kepler (1609, 1619).

The following chapters test the further claim that this “Copernican” turn was realigned, slurred, and obscured by Galileo Galilei (1632), René Descartes ←3 | 4→(1644), and—possibly with some backsliding—Isaac Newton (1687). “Disenchantment of the world” (“universe,” “cosmos”) entails the progressive unfolding of this realigning and obscuring.4

That Disenchantment took place during the era 1620–1660 first singled out by Weber when coining its expression and thematics with regard to Western religious and ethical life furnishes a valuable starting point.5 Still, as a legal and political economist working on the sociology of religions, Weber’s priorities influenced and directed his own slant on Disenchantment. Weber’s particular reading proved fertile for social thinkers who sought to extend it into a variety of areas, from Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno’s rendering of Entzauberung as the “program of the Enlightenment” and as “the extirpation of animism” (Ausrottung des Animismus) with which they sought to bring to light presumably regressive characteristics within the Western tradition of Enlightenment to the anthropologist Clifford Geertz’s studies of non-Western social and religious patterns he discovered among such “magical” societies as the Balinese.6 It no less often supported a kind of “once-upon-a-time” fallacy that before Disenchantment the West had somehow dwelt in an “enchanted” state.7 Unfortunately for the latter readings it would not be difficult for the historian of singularities to point out in detail the absence of magic in historical periods and symbologies presumably belonging to such “enchanted” stages of Western humankind.

In principle of course Ver-zauberung, or “en-chantment,” necessarily precedes Ent-zauberung, or “dis-enchantment.” Yet this chapter argues more robustly that Enchantment carries a far more momentous proposition than that of merely vouching for either a host of preceding magical societies or of following through on a simple heuristic sequentiality.

Rather, Enchantment stands for a precise and unprecedented focusing of the being of the universe or cosmos proper through its claim that the sun is the center of that same universe or cosmos—and moreover that this fact carries intrinsic worth. Such a claim is not only a “factual” consequence of the Copernican method which is to be supplanted in time by more exact astronomical discoveries that would render such a claim a minor, if fascinating (indeed ultimately incorrect), stage in the steadily maturing scientific mapping of the heavens. It is meant by Copernicus, along with the Copernicans who followed in his wake, to be one of the key points to the so-called “Copernican Revolution.”8

It then follows that if Disenchantment indeed designates a specific epoch—the 1620–1660 Calvinist-Puritan turn in Western sensibilities and social-religious-economic tendencies according to Weber—so too does the Enchantment preceding such Disenchantment. Between 1540 and 1620 Western thinkers ←4 | 5→discovered (perhaps invented?) a reality that proved staggeringly “enchanting,” “fascinating,” “magical.” It was “magical” or “enchanting” not just for being an appendage to a history of scientific method or the “new” astronomy, nor for being simply a presumably obscurantist Renaissance affair with magic, cabala, and hermeticism, but rather by its very nature as a putatively miraculous cognitive shift from geocentricity to heliocentricity within the relatively newly celebrated language of mathematico-aesthetic proportions.

And that language owes some of its unique origins to the epistemological and ideological factors that gave birth to an earlier phenomenon: Quattrocento Renaissance (Florentine) aestheticism.

Prior to Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus Orbis, the Florentine Leonardo da Vinci had observed that “the sun does not move” (il sole non muove), expressing in effect his solidarity with the later Copernican turn in thought. After the Copernican Revolution meanwhile, the Florentine Galileo Galilei supposedly muttered “and yet it moves” (eppur se muove), meaning the earth and thus highlighting the lesser of the two claims introduced by the revolutionary Copernicus. Without the more important claim of literally a new solar locus for humankind—an unprecedented claim in the history of the human species – the isolated claim of the earth’s motion can be in principle destabilizing.9


Renaissance aestheticism is in the first instance Florentine aestheticism of the later Quattrocento. It remains a subject infected by recurring debates over the nature of changes in Florentine society and culture between the Florentine civic humanism of Salutati, Bruni, Bracciolini, and Alberti (1390s–1440s) and the Medicean domination of the Ficino and Careggi years (1450s–1490s). So long as Ficino’s Platonism after 1460 is interpreted as a regression from the pragmatic, activist, and civic purposes behind the Bruni generation, or as a turn toward more extensive metaphysical readings of the universe that must be intrinsically incompatible with civic humanism, the possibility of a third option is ignored.

That option builds on the fact that Bruni’s generation had largely succeeded in laying out the paradigm of a society that owed a great deal to its imitation of ancient models—particularly, in time, of classical Athens—and professed its achievement of new patterns of cultural activity and self-identity. As late as mid-century, Medicean dominance was neither obviously fatal to republican ←5 | 6→institutions nor detrimental to a younger generation’s probings into areas not yet sufficiently explored by the prior generation of civic humanists.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2020 (October)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2020. XVIII, 468 pp.

Biographical notes

Josef Chytry (Author)

Josef Chytry is Senior Adjunct Professor in Critical Studies at the California College of the Arts and Founding Managing Editor of the Oxford journal Industrial and Corporate Change at the Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley. Chytry also regularly teaches philosophy in Stanford University Continuing Studies. Chytry has received an Alexander von Humboldt postdoctoral Fellowship in Philosophy at the University of Tübingen. He was awarded a D.Phil. in Politics and History of Ideas at the University of Oxford, a Master of International Affairs at Columbia University, and a Bachelor of Arts in International Affairs with Special Honors at the George Washington University. Chytry’s prior publications include Mountain of Paradise (2013), Unis vers Cythère (2009), and Cytherica (2005). On several occasions Chytry has been listed in Who’s Who in America and has been an Honored Instructor at the University of California Extension Program.


Title: Cosmotheism