Four-Fold Cross of Reality of Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy

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* Book: In the Cross of Reality: The Hegemony of Spaces. By Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy. ERH Fund,


"The Cross of Reality, which discriminates between forward and backward, and inward and outward, for any possible thought process of a human mind." [1]

Contextual Quote

"Man is an heir and an ancestor. As far as he is an heir, he has to believe that what he is told about himself is true. As far as an ancestor, he must not believe that anything said about him has to remain true. It may be transformed. Then man is not so much a transformer, but somebody to be transformed. Both his beginning and his heritage, however, and his future and his destiny, are valid. And they contradict each other in nearly any case we know of. They have to contradict each other, because the future must not look like the past. The only identity between past and future is established as soon as you understand that once your past was the result of a transformation, and once you also understand that you, as a transformed being, still will have to be inherited, will have to be gratefully remembered as an ancestor, ancestor and heir then are on both sides to be recognized as real.

Man lives then in two times, from two times, on two times, so to speak: the past and the future. And what we call "the present" now, which most people in their glib talk as scholars and scientists--which I think is a very superficial and a very damaging talk--take the present for granted. And about the future and the past, they go on research. It's absolutely unnecessary to do so. Everybody knows his destiny, and everybody knows his origin. But he doesn't know what he has to do in the present. Because the present is the collision between the two demands made on us: from the past, from the days of Adam; and from the last day of judgment, upon us."

- Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy [2]


"This book makes the first volume of Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy’s Soziologie, published in German in 1956, available in English for the first time. Rosenstock-Huessy argues that social philosophy has favored abstract and spatially contrived categories of social organization over processes in time. This preference for space-thinking has diverted us from recognizing the power of speech and its relationship to living on the front lines of life, creating “hours” of time.

Taking speech and the social responsibilities and reciprocities that accompany naming as the key to social reality, In the Cross of Reality provides a sociological exploration of “play” spaces as the basis for reflexivity. It also explores the spaces of activity and their correlation in war and peace to the spheres of “serious life.” If we are to survive and flourish, different qualities and reciprocal relationships must be cultivated so that we can deal with different fronts of life. Arguing that modern intellectuals and their obsession with space have created a dangerously false choice between mechanical and aesthetic salvation, Rosenstock-Huessy clears a path so that we better appreciate our relationship between past and future in founding and in partitioning time."



Explaining the Four-Fold Cross

1. Scott Preston:

"it bears repeating that the root of our words “subject” and “object” is Latin jacere — which means “to cast” or “to throw”. And what is being cast or thrown in this fashion is attention or consciousness, inwards or outwards. We direct our attention inwards, or we direct our attention outwards. Oddly enough, throughout much of the Modern Era, these were recognised as the only real dimensions of human experience. It was either “subjective” or “objective” demonstrating that the modern mind, befitting its perspectivist orientation, was completely space-obsessed and limited by that.

It was the innovation of the “speech thinker” Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy to realise the deficient character of this space-obsession, and that was its omission of similar formal terms to characterise our attention to times – past and future were also directions in which we cast our throw our attention or consciousness, and so he coined terms for those orientations — “trajective” for the backwards and “prejective” for the forwards. Consciousness, thus, not only interfaces between the two spaces of inner and outer — subjective and objective — but also with the times — past and future. There are thus four modes of attention in which consciousness is cast — subjective, objective, trajective, prejective. This is what Rosenstock-Huessy represents as his “cross of reality”. And as you can see, it is a mandala.

”It is now generally recognised in neurology also, that the human brain and nervous system not only interfaces or mediates between the subjective and objective, but also between time past and time future, and is thus exactly as Blake describes it — fourfold.

Now, this just makes sense, doesn’t it? Yet, it was not acknowledged as such by the perspectival consciousness, and only became an issue with Einstein’s innovation — the spacetime unification which suddenly made time of as much interest and concern as space. And as you might surmise from the controversies about the actual nature of time, it remains for us something of a mystery and a riddle. But in any case, it cannot be denied in our own experience that we look backwards and forwards as much as inwards and outwards, and in so doing, form and shape a mandala or a “cross of reality”.

Even a purely neurological description of consciousness cannot avoid the conclusion that we actually bring four modes of attention to reality and our experience. For some obscure reason, this remains opaque to the Modern Mind.

So, what is our consciousness actually doing in casting its attention in these different directions of space and time if not attempting to integrate its entire experience through coordination of the spaces subjective and objective and synchronisation of the times trajective and prejective? This is exactly what it is doing — attempting to integrate its reality through the two processes of coordination and synchronisation and bringing together the four directions which are often quite contradictory because they are polarities of space and time.

So, we actually cast our consciousness in these four directions or domains, but then something quite paradoxical happens in doing so. We also bring those domains into presence. It is not only a reaching out into those dimensions but also a retrieving or bringing into presence of those dimensions or domains, and in every instance we are engaging the “divine Imagination”, as Blake put it. In the very act of casting our attention, we are also engaging what Phenomenologists call “intent” or “intentionality”. We are, in effect, also intending those domains or dimensions by imagination. So, the act of attention is also, perforce, a generative, constitutive and creative act.

“Presentiation” is the name that Gebser gave to this constitutive or integrative act of consciousness, the paradox that the deeper into the spaces and times that we cast our attention, the more those are also made present once again, and in that sense we can speak of a “convergence” of all times and spaces — past and future, inner and outer — in and on the Present. Our attention revives everything latent or potential and brings it once again into manifestation or actuality.

In those terms, I think we can conclude that Blake’s “fourfold vision” is actually McGilchrist’s “Master”, while Blake’s “Single Vision” is, indeed, McGilchrist’s “Emissary” mode of attention. But it must be noted, too, that “Single Vision” is still a component or aspect of the Fourfold.

Why should we conclude that the “Master’s” mode of attention is actually “fourfold”? Well, it follows pretty well from McGilchrist’s own insight that the Master’s mode of attention is pretty holistic while the Emissary’s is much more narrowly focussed, partial, partisan and “perspectival”. But we just described how our actual experience of our whole reality is as a fourfold structure, sometimes also reflected in the cardinal points North, South, East, and West. And if we look closely at Blake’s own illustration of “Fourfold Vision” these cardinal points are marked as being associated, too, with his four Zoas."


2. Otto Kroes:

"The cross of reality is Rosenstock-Huessy’s description of the grammatical structure of language that reveals us to be continually at the crossroads, where we have to make crucial choices. The imperative stands over against the participative mode. The imperative mode in language represents the future, that which should happen. The future, in this understanding, is not our anticipation of what is expected, in a linear way. It is a rupture in the course of events. The imperative interrupts the traditions flowing from the past. For that reason future and past are constantly in tension and conflict. But in addition to the temporal distinction there are also two spaces, which are in tension. The subjunctive tries to ‘conjugate’, connect, different persons. Expressions like ‘Shouldn’t we?’, ‘Would you please?’ try to convince, to invite, to propose in order to create a common present and shared representation of what is actually going on––a shared inner space. The indicative or third person points to the facts outside, to ‘they’, or ‘it’, i.e., to dead matter, objects in space. Future, past, inside, outside, these are the poles of reality constantly to be dealt with. Do I try to establish agreement on the inside with others? Or should I jump alone into the future? Should I confront the realities outside? Should I identify myself with the achievements of the past? Such questions immediately put us within the context of competing value priorities. The presence of all four fronts is by Rosenstock-Huessy considered to be a criterion to judge the healthy historical development of a community (Rosenstock-Huessy 1963:790).

New codes of speech, or discourses, are initiated by the articulation of new imperatives, something that postmodern philosophers have never really noticed. For Rosenstock-Huessy ‘The imperatival usage of language is creative. A new act asks for a new word. And the verbs seem to be that part of language containing the greatest originality and the most efficient fruits of creative gestures, new words’ (Rosenstock-Huessy 1970:131). An imperative is not yet a discourse; it is an outcry, an outburst, a command. It often overwhelms the first person or the first generation exposed and subjected to it. It is equivalent to the ‘new love’ of Rosenzweig. It sets a new standard. Only after the new problem has been recognized and put on the agenda can our subjective mode take the initiative again. This subjective mode is reflected in the subjunctive forms of language, in the optative and cohortative moods, which seek for cooperation and try to convince others. Different points of view may be balanced or harmonized in the process of criticizing each other, correcting each other, supplementing each other. The rhythm of historical revolutions follows the rhythm of the forms of grammar(Rosenstock-Huessy 1970: 131, 132). The new imperative initiates the revolution (phase 1).The new revolutionaries try to meet the new challenges by proposing different solutions and by trying to marry these propositions to each other and to older forms of speech (the subjunctive form of speech, phase 2). The new language is gradually accepted and becomes common, so that everybody participates in it and the first person plural is appropriate, ‘we’(the participative, phase 3). In the end the new language and the procedures connected to it become a matter of fact, in unnoticed self-evident discourses or rules (the indicative, phase 4).In this last phase the new problem is finally resolved, the solution is realized, but over time its result often declines into a petrified society, which runs into a new deadlock. In that sense attempts to create common ground unavoidably end up in some form of petrification.


Then the circle of grammar, which is at the same time the cross of reality, needs to start all over with a new imperative. The institutionalization of a former revolutionary challenge for this reason becomes both a condition and an obstacle for the new upheaval. Another break with tradition becomes necessary and yet, even after such a break the new order in turn needs to integrate the achievements of former ones."


Lecture: Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy on the Cross of Reality

Podcast via

Volume 28: Cross Of Reality (1965); One 1-hour lecture.

"Every word we say has some meaning inherited from the past. We are our parents’ and our grandparents’ children. Our own name, our mother tongue has molded us… The mother tongue is the womb of time out of which we ourselves have received anything we know about ourselves.

Rosenstock-Huessy produced many descriptions and explorations of his Cross of Reality as a basic structure for a new science of society. Each says the same thing in different ways and with greater or lesser detail. Each also offers a different shade of insight.

This short piece is a tightly woven, succinct statement of the core concept."


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