Having seen some of the other very ambitious reviews, I have to be modest: this is not a proper review; I say this in order not to disappoint you (I don’t know how to write reviews). Or, maybe, it will contain elements of a review, but most of all, I think, it will be simply be a small discussion of and a few reflections on the book, of Endstation Dornach, by Christian Grauer, Felix Hau, Christoph Kühn and Ansgar Martins. I hope some of my readers will have read the book, or that I will inspire them to read it, and join a discussion in the comment thread. (If I begin this by saying: the book contains a discussion on the racist elements in Steiner’s work… then I’m sure people will get excited! It usually does the trick.)
Although I’m pretty certain Steiner, waldorf, anthroposophy critics will not agree with everything in the book — that is as it should be — I see it as highly likely that they will find it more entertaining than dogmatic anthroposophists will. In fact, some of them aren’t entertained at all, but rather pissed-off, I’ve noticed from the debate following the book’s publication. In my opinion, the book is both entertaining and illuminating. Dismissing it would be a mistake, but probably one of the mistakes many anthroposophists are ready to make.
For example, the book, which basically consists of a conversation between the four authors, has a refreshing perspective — it shows ways of thinking about and engaging with Steiner’s teachings (philosophy, worldview, religion… whatever you want). Ways that are not standard (within anthroposophy), but definitely valid, reasonable and more modern than the conventional, ingrained, dusty, old anthroposophical ways, which, for all the imaginative supersensible paraphernalia, feel frighteningly unimaginative. It’s a liberating take on anthroposophy. It’s less infantile, actually, than the usual old malarkey (again, in my opinion, the fundamentalist anthroposophists will surely see it differently). It’s not for keeping the zealots happy — thank heaven. Not that they wouldn’t benefit from reading it and trying to understand it, but being zealots, they can’t. In the long run, things may change. Perhaps not likely, though. There are too many people who don’t realize that a lack of humour is not sign of seriousness, but rather quite comical in itself. (In a detrimental and quite inane way, I might add.)
I’m not sure any philosophy or worldview can do without humour and playfulness, because the second it tries to, it seems, it turns fanatical and dogmatically religious. In other words, the very ills that so often appear to be plaguing anthroposophy. I don’t know why it would have to be that way. Perhaps anthroposophists don’t dare try to be funnier than Steiner (that’s a hilarious thought!). Perhaps they don’t dare admit that he was in fact often funny. Perhaps that would, in some odd way, kill meaning of life. Perhaps they believe laughter is diametrically opposed to reverence. Perhaps humour will destroy anthroposophy. But when the corpse has been buried and forgotten, it’s too late to laugh. In life (and possibly in death), humour is the other side of seriousness, each presupposing the other. There’s a lot to gain from humour. Even in matters of life and death — and higher worlds and lofty spiritual goals — there’s humour. Humour doesn’t detract, it adds. I think Steiner recognized it, more than anthroposophists recognize that he did, although maybe I see what I want to see. In any case, they don’t want to follow him there. Humour requires, I would guess, a certain amount of scary independence… and a capacity to view certain phenomena with a critical eye.
To get to the point, if there is one, what is more to be said about the book? There are some cheerful resemblances to the ethereal kiosk (I wish you knew German, Melanie!). We have dead people present in spirit, Ita Wegman leaving a picture frame and coming to life, there’s alcohol and I think I noticed both sofas and chandeliers. And, in addition, a very realistic trip to the spiritual worlds, passing through ‘Dr. Steiners Intergalactic Zoo’. (I won’t reveal how it ends. Of course not.)
Some parts are terribly serious, too. There are very interesting exchanges on the early versus the late Steiner — continuities and contrasts (continuities despite contrasts maybe) and so forth. There’s epistemology, and anthroposophical epistemology. There’s the ever present anthroposophical dogmatism. Anthroposophy as a religious worldview, of course. There are those always interesting questions, among them: how to deal, today, with the absurdities of Steiner, the crazy facts he delivers, and of course the intergalactic zoo itself. That is, the question: what did he mean? What did he mean to express, if we’re not to take the absurdities literally? And so forth. Then there’s waldorf education. Perhaps the waldorf education chapter is the easiest to comment on, from my perspective.
Basically, I recognize most of the evangelists’ criticisms (that should come as no surprise). Overall, though, their experiences of their waldorf education seem to have been far more positive than mine; my final verdict being much harsher. It may have to do with bad teachers, although not just that. I don’t think that my main teacher was a bad teacher; I think she might have been a good teacher, in different circumstances. Unlike many other anthroposophists who taught, sometimes without actually being teachers or having any qualifications (except anthroposophy), she was skilled and had most likely chosen a teaching career because she enjoyed teaching children (despite my criticisms, I can see that). I agree with Christoph, who (somewhere around p 240) says that he didn’t notice much of the ‘education to freedom’ actually taking place. And as for the problem with schoolyard (and classroom) violence, I saw it too, and it wasn’t so much the fact that it existed that troubles me but that its presence wasn’t acknowledged. Waldorf was so good, so beautiful, so refined; thus bad things could not be happening, and if they happened, there was an oppressive demand (perhaps not always fully conscious) to pretend they didn’t. Let’s collectively stick our heads in the sand, while the children ‘discipline’ each other.
Unlike the evangelists, I despised the theatrical and musical productions; I ended up playing the most uninspired rock or tree you’ve ever seen. Or… I can’t even remember. I wasn’t there; my mind was elsewhere. (I sometimes say: waldorf unintentionally taught me the art of day-dreaming, to disassociate lightly from the situation. These were useful skills in the circumstances.) There’s some mentioning of things related to a topic that interests me: teachers ‘sacrificing’ themselves — teachers you suspected weren’t teaching because they wanted to teach or wanted to work with children at all, but who did this sacrifice for a cause. The sacrifice, obviously, ended up benefiting neither themselves nor the children. But of course, this being anthroposophy, the real goal is long-term and the real cause is a higher one (in my conclusion).
There’s a good dynamic between the four authors, which, thank Dog, prevents the book from becoming too heavy and perhaps even too serious. Too highbrowed. Although I appreciate that kind of thing as well, the book could have easily been bogged down by it. It isn’t, however. Nothing to complain about, perhaps, but I’m occasionally missing Christoph’s voice among the more verbose three. There’s no doubt, I believe, that the personal and the individual perspectives are what makes the book special and interesting. More so than the theoretical expositions.
One of the failures, if it’s right to call it a failure, of anthroposophy (speaking of it collectively, which is a bit silly in this regard) is the lack of personal, individual perspectives on it — from anthroposophists themselves. Expressed in an ordinary-world language, not in that dreadful, overwrought anthro lingo. I’m missing that stuff that doesn’t conform to the party line. All the stuff that isn’t put out there in the world to preach and to present a picture of anthroposophy that is adapted to what is thought to appeal to others (but often fail to do so anyway). All the stuff that isn’t glossy and superficially attractive, but honest. It’s not that it doesn’t exist, but it often seems sadly marginalised.
Perhaps it’s easier, in this regard, for people who hover somewhere around the borders of (organised) anthroposophy, so to speak, while ‘proper’ anthroposophists feel they’re expected to conform. Or perhaps, which may be an even more dire prospect for anthroposophy, many of these other anthroposophists experience little desire to engage with the rest of the world. Sometimes, I’ve noticed in discussions, it is assumed that people don’t flock to anthroposophy because anthroposophists have not (and perhaps cannot) ‘explain’ anthroposophy so that ‘outsiders’ understand. I always feel that these ‘explanations’ are overestimated. What I want is to know why people care about something, in their own words, from their very own perspectives. I want personal enthusiasm. There’s a place for dry discourse too, certainly. (Perhaps there’s even a place for glossed-up versions ‘explaining’ anthroposophy in a PR fashion. But, oh Dog, how tiring!) That said, dry discourse has a place, but it can’t replace hearing or reading what people actually experience, think, feel, believe, even (or in particular) what they doubt — in their own words. But anthroposophy is far too obsessed with saying the right things than to say the genuine things. And to always be deadly serious, at any cost. That is, at least in its relationship to that dreaded world outside. What a way to make it all appear bland, utterly tedious, uninspiring and indifferent (to both the individual and to the times).
In short: this is a kind of book anthroposophy must leave space for, if it is to be a culture of some liveliness rather than a dead or dying one. This is not about the particular book as much as it is about leaving room for thoughts, ideas, doubts; in other words, the need for openness to new and diverging perspectives, in order to be less of a religion, and even worse, a religion of unquestioned belief. (Belief in Steiner, in what’s right, in what’s good, and so forth. And worse: absence of doubt.) I’m not going so far as to say this is anything what anthroposophy needs to be, but it is what it has to allow for. I think you — both critics and anthroposophists — should definitely read the book.
Canineosophist approves of the book