This is not so much a review, but notes, just notes, from a personal journey—a journey that entails this profound, fascinating, important novel by Michael Frensch.
For I am now in my second reading and expect to keep returning to this book throughout my life.
For this book, written by Valentin Tomberg’s German biographer, sheds tremendous light on the tragedy of modernity, whereby intelligence has succumbed ever more to the mechanical and materialistic.
More particularly, it draws on both Valentin Tomberg and Rudolf Steiner, who both had so much to say of the dead, mechanistic intellect of modern times.
A slightly fictionalised Tomberg even features in the novel as a Russian character called Victor Valberg! As such, the book may hold deep interest for students of Meditations on the Tarot.
There is also a compelling fictional dialogue between the Archangels Gabriel and Michael, who are at variance about the horror of modernity. And just perhaps there are echoes, slight echoes at least, in this dialogue of Tomberg’s and Steiner’s differences, too . . .
Now, Frensch must be the world’s leading authority on Tomberg. He translated the German edition of the Meditations and has evidently grappled with this Russian sage for many, many years.
Perhaps, for the sake of transparency, I should say that two decades ago I lived near Frensch in Germany and personally benefitted from his penetrating insights in these matters, insights which have only kept maturing into the rich fruit we now find in this novel.
I repeat, however, this is not so much a review, but notes on a personal journey.
Hence, a note from my own voyage with these issues regarding Tomberg, Steiner, modernity, which voyage may have taken a somewhat different turn from Frensch’s.
For in my own journey, I was simply stunned by Tomberg’s 1944 turn — when he started writing his Catholic legal works.
Truly, beyond stunned. Astounded. My entire life is forever altered . . .
At any rate, it seems to me that after 1944, Tomberg’s works reveal a startlingly different view of modernity to Rudolf Steiner’s or indeed to that which Tomberg had espoused, just a few short years beforehand as an Anthroposophist.
For although Tomberg, like Steiner, continued to see the problem of darkening, intellectual materialism in the West and, like Steiner, also called for an enlivening and deepening of the spiritual imagination, he broke with Anthroposophy on key points.
Any spiritual renewal in the West for Tomberg could not be divorced from the fullness of the Christian tradition safeguarded by the Catholic Church. And the Sacraments of the Catholic Church were indispensable.
Yes, speaking personally, I am forever changed by Tomberg’s call to love and honour the Catholic Church, his call too for some sort of Christendom renewed, which began to appear in his 1944 work The Art of the Good (recently reviewed here). All this has made Tomberg’s break with Steiner’s Anthroposophy ever clearer in my mind.
Given that this book has a great deal to do with both Tomberg and Steiner, I personally cannot help but wish these issues concerning Church and Anthroposophy were more reflected here.
But, leaving aside the Archangelic dialogue, these matters were not particularly noticeable to me in Frensch’s book – at least on first reading. Even though I trust Frensch is profoundly conscious of them in a way that, alas, too many people are not.
But I deliberately stressed the word “personally” above for a reason. For Frensch’s novel is concerned with different matterss and these are, again, just personal notes from a man painfully convicted of the notion that Tomberg’s transformation in World War II is too easily missed . . .
And even though Frensch’s novel would seem to feature the character of a thinly disguised Tomberg, the matter of his transformation in the 1940s is hardly the subject of the book! Rather the novel appears to be a fictionalised rendering of Frensch’s philosophical quest to grapple with materialism, drawing on Steiner, Tomberg, Seurat, Gebser among many others.
I know something of this quest and it strikes me as brilliant, urgently needed and filled with rare, heartfelt integrity. But I can hardly do it justice in such brief personal notes.
I will simply note, though, that, among many other things going on in this complex work, I have the impression Frensch means to liberate certain aspects of Steiner’s thinking from the terrible traps of rigidified Anthroposophy. In that regard, there is also much to ponder here.
These intimate, gnomic musings remain deeply inadequate to all that Frensch has achieved here.
I need to plunge ahead with my second reading. And, no doubt, in time a third reading, a fourth …
Because this is a profound book that deserves and demands close, close study.
Update September 2021:
Since this review was originally written, I have had much more to say regarding Tomberg’s astounding mid- 1940s transformation. This has featured particularly in this piece here and in videos on my YouTube Channel. The above ‘review’ was also slightly reworked to tie in with these newer articles.
Tomberg Videos and More . . .
There is much more about Valentin Tomberg both in an archive of articles at this website and in my three books published by Angelico Press.
Foreword for Monarchy by Roger Buck
Buying Books at Amazon Through These Links Gives Us a Commission. This Supports Our Apostolate. Thank You if You Can Help Like This!