There Is No Logical Passage, or Leszek Kołakowski in a Valley of Broken Bridge*

Krzysztof Czyżewski

Krzysztof Czyżewski in Butan. From accessible sources, with author’s permission.

To the Memory of Leonidas Donskis

What we can learn from Leszek Kołakowski about the bond between the Self and World if there is no logical passage? For the answer we should follow him in the “pursuit of truth as distinct from the pursuit of technically reliable knowledge”. Since for the author of God Owes Us Nothing the negation of the passage does not contradict working on its construction, we will encounter him as a builder, not a crosser, of the Bridge.

The philosophy of Leszek Kołakowski, just like his philosophical via activa cannot boast establishing some passage across to the banks of the Shore, beyond the limes of the realm of individual consciousness. This, however, does not dominate my perception of the author of If there is no God as a bridge builder. A decisive factor is time:  past perfect whose laid bare inability paralyzes both the cynic and the nihilist, it is superseded by the present continuous imperfect which – without prejudging anything – gives its consent to building. A decisive factor is form: the closed form claiming the right of passage easily undermined by critical philosophy, yielding to the open form, hospitable to what is unknown, unsatisfied and utopian. Finally, a decisive factor is, perhaps most importantly for the developed here thought – philosopher’s persistence in the ground zero of the broken bridge. For Kołakowski it is only an actual reality from which escape is an unforgivable mistake. Knowledge becomes in this case simultaneously a moral imperative. Let us imagine life in the neighbourhood of a broken bridge. It is a situation, apart from other possible – that releases a great potential for action, otherwise it becomes impossible to tolerate. You can escape to the shore accessible to us and in this way deepen the division until the destructive extreme or turn to thought and action meant to rebuild the bridge. The third option would be accessibility of both shores, equally distanced from the subject situated between, but then we would find ourselves in the situation of a donkey placed between a stack of hay and a pail of water from the famous Buridan’s sophism – equally hungry and thirsty, we would die unable to make a rational choice.

Kołakowski, the philosopher, lives in the valley of the broken bridge; if he is to be rooted anywhere in the world, it is there. It is a space so much peculiar that it cannot be abstracted from the real life, from the everyday, from the ethos of coexistence, politics or moral choices and religious experience. The bridge has not been so much broken as it is being broken everyday, or – in other words – the residents of the valley are in a constant need of rebuilding it.

Kołakowski’s enrootment in the space of the broken bridge implies questions about what has happened and what has been left to be done in the situation when we do not decide on an escape from this valley of the post-Enlightenment fate. Before I endeavour to follow the Masters’s reflection, I would like to cite Leonidas Donskis reflecting on the mentioned above impossibility of abstracting the problem we deal with from the real life: “Let me say something that I feel very deeply. For a long time I was convinced, along with my generation that grew up in the Brezhnev era, that Ketman described by Milosz referred only to people in danger of losing their lives or threatened by hunger. The truth is, however, that people may practice Ketman, that is, this peculiar art of hypocrisy not only from fear, but also for life comforts and pleasures. Political clowns know that their clownery is a merchandize they can sell at a profit. Many of them are aware that what they publicly preach is nonsensical. […] But it is a show, and a show that can ruin the whole political life because it paralyses with fear conventional politicians who no longer know how to compete with them. […] It is a new type of Ketman, people who are ready to sacrifice truth, wisdom and even their own conscience for the sake of a cheap success. What possible antidote can we find, what can be done? Only one thing: oppose the tyranny of success. Open to people and publicly say what you think, to speak out what you feel. Yes, in this way you are going to lose elections. So, what? You establish a possibility of creating a new model, a model of alternative politics”.

Leszek Kołakowski: “… in philosophy, in contrast to technology, to describe a method is never sufficient to enable people to apply it-the method is never clear until it is demonstrated in operation”. The same applies to the construction of the bridge: its description does not make us builders of the bridge, able to “implement it” we shall become builders only in action aimed at its construction. In other words, we may become liberated from being tied to just one shore not by an accomplished structure enabling us to cross over, but by emerging ourselves in action building the “connective tissue”. What kind of action and what philosophy can tell us about it? I believe this question occupies the very centre of Leszek Kołakowski’s thought. Read from this perspective his work becomes a real tool kit for those never reconciled with disenchantment of the world, those who have no illusions that the bridge between knowledge and faith was broken, but also not recognizing this state of affairs as final.

The cited above Leonidas Donskis’ attitude leads us towards the action that I am going to discuss below. I say “attitude” not “reflection”, keeping in mind that these words are spoken not only by a philosopher and writer, but also a politician and intellectual, engaged in public issues. There is nothing logical in his exceeding the limits of political common sense or encouraging a strategy that gives no chances of winning elections. At the same time, what he says is not nonsensical. Out moral intuition tells us he is right. His lack of illusions is not destructive, it does not paralyse action. Action he proposes goes beyond ethics enclosed in codes and political ramifications that would bring him to despair, loss of faith and nonfeasance. He points to the opportunity of opening to new models and searches. He does not propose any ready-made or closed concepts, instead offering addressing people directly, entering the agora, overcoming both fear and the anxiety of hiding in one’s retreat (as rev. Jozef Tischner would have said), contesting the necessity of stubbornly keeping to one shore. His position reminds me that of Martin Buber’s from an anecdote he liked to quote about how during a lecture at Chicago University, Buber asked if anybody in the audience feels pain and would like his help, after which Buber left his lectern and came up to the person who raised his hand and started an intimate conversation that lasted over half an hour leaving the confounded audience alone. “He wanted to lead his life caring for the other – continued Leonidas Donskis his tale – because he could not live thinking only about himself. This is what the dialectics of dignity is about: if you help another, you receive it yourself”. Buber abandoned his professor’s ex cathedra for the sake of suffering of a single man; Donskis opposed the tyranny of success giving up the political necessities for the sake of the people in the agora, for a meeting deprived of Ketman’s mask, and for opening to a search of new models of co-existence. In both cases action derives from moral duty whose sources include suffering and evil actually existing in the world. In this way we approach the estuary of Leszek Kołakowski’s thought: for him the only sensible praxis of man in the world after the breaking of the bridge is going to be stretched between the struggle with the devil and the struggle for human dignity.

Leszek Kołakowski, similarly to Czesław Miłosz “experiences more painfully the centuries old enmity between Christianity and Enlightenment”. I refer here to Miłosz because his “Ulro Land” was regarded by Kołakowski as one of the most important books written in Polish after 1945, published in the same 1970s decade as “The Presence of Myth”, containing many affinities with the later thoughts of the philosopher and for discussed here issue as important as Henri Bergson’s “Dual sources of morality and religion”. Before, Max Weber was able to ascertain with conviction in his 1918 essay “Learning as Profession and Calling” that ” there are no longer mysterious incalculable forces that come into play”[1], where the play stood for modernity under the rule of rationalism and intellectualism, the Western culture already experienced the growing process of disenchantment of the world. “The fact that faith had no foundation in science was already known in the 17th century without Darwin” – wrote Kolakowski in a footnote to Miłosz’s “Theological Treatise”. The Weberian concept of  Entzauberung described a peculiar moment in the process: a definitive break with the ties connecting faith and knowledge, sacrum and profanum as a consequence of the “nakedness effect” caused by a rapid advance of technology in the 19th century (Industrial Revolution) and related to it victory of the West, or more precisely, of the Western rationality, which in the opinions of the followers of the Enlightenment, finally ruled the world. This break was astutely anticipated by William Blake in his vision of the absolute rule of Urizen-Reason over the human land of uprootment, the Land of Ulro. It was the way Miłosz discovered Blake searching for support of his idea of restoration of religious imagination and followed in the steps of Blake’s successors: Mickiewicz, Dostoyevsky, Oskar Miłosz or Simone Weil. Both, Miłosz and Kołakowski did not confine themselves to the recognition and description of the Great Break and we can learn a lot about the consequences of Entzauberung. They both searched a way out of the Land of Ulro and both did not agree with the finality of alienation and contingency of man’s fate in the world, they both were builders of “the invisible bridge”.

Contrary to the believes of hard-line supporters of the scientific worldview, modernity is not an era of a universal secularization. Agata Bielik-Robson wrote convincingly about it ascertaining Sigmund Freud’s opinion: “in his last essay The Man Moses, he deconstructed the secularity of modern man showing that his subconscious mind still dwells in the prehistory of religious wars between paganism and monotheism”[2]. The experience of Entzauberung resulted in an increased interest in what has been lost, bearing fruit of a variety of concepts and attempts of overcoming the re-enchantment of the world. One of the most interesting and ambitious ones was created by Edmund Husserl who through his gigantic work tried to “to restore hope in the return to absolutely primordial insight in cognition and to achieve victory over relativism and scepticism”. It is in a dialogue with Husserl that Kołakowski formulates and critically examines “the problem of the bridge” we are dealing with here. I mean here his small but precious book “Husserl and the Search for Certitude” originally published in English in 1975.

Reflecting on Husserl’s path from anti-subjectivism that attacked all relativism and irrationalism, to the transcendental consciousness as the only possible ground of objectivity and all rationality, Kołakowski says: “Scepticism and relativism can be overcome only when we discover the source of absolute certitude. This certitude can be gained where we do not need to worry about “the bridge” from perceptions to things, where there is an absolute immediacy, where the act of cognition and its content are not mediated in any way…”. In this sense, bridge is continuity between the existence of world and what can be thought. The moment subjectivity becomes a mere reflection of subjects and not the thing constituting them causes a break, which Kołakowski calls “the problem of the bridge”. It happens when transcendental consciousness, beyond which Self or World have no name to include them both, either disappears or is not given unto us.

Performing transcendental reduction which makes philosopher a phenomenologist, and thus recognizing that “to be independent of consciousness” is a concept contradictory in itself, Husserl turns towards immanence which is not transferable and has, similarly to intuition in Bergson, “basic features of mystical experience. ” In this way, our Self finds itself on the island of consciousness, which is – in Husserl’s understanding of it – not a part of the empirical world, subjected to human psychology, biology or history, but, still is an island, beyond which we cannot transcend. Kołakowski perceives here an aporia which will turn decisive for Husserl’s unsuccessful search for a new, transcendental rationality or a source of absolute certitude. This poses the question of how can exist other people for a subject which must remain within their own limits. What about the reality of alter ego, what about the sphere of separation of “being your own” from “different”? Even if we assumed after Husserl that the transcendental intersubjectivity of separated monads is formed in me, but as a community that is constituted in every other monad as well”, we still do not know how to reach the other person as a real subjectivity, at least “as long as we lack a transcendental theory of empathy”.

Kołakowski: „Alter ego cannot be anything else but a concretion of my consciousness. To say that I constitute all objects, and among them myself as an object, is self-contradictory; and to call a contradiction a paradox does not make it go away”. In this way, remaining locked on the island of consciousness, we are confronting the “problem of the bridge”, which philosophy tries to confront in the miserable times of disenchantment of the world. „Husserl’s monadology […] is for me another example of the logical hopelessness of all philosophical endeavours which start from subjectivity and try to restore the path toward the common world” – writes Kołakowski, to state a moment later in this philosophical trial that “the problem of the bridge is insoluble; there is no logical passage”[3].

“The problem of the bridge” remains for Kołakowski insoluble, but it is by no means a reason to discard it. He is very far from regarding Husserl’s endeavours in this field as worthless. A great value for our culture is the very awareness of the dilemma: “either consistent empiricism, with its relativistic, sceptical results […], or transcendentalist dogmatism, which cannot really justify itself and remains in the end an arbitrary decision”.

The moral drawn by Kołakowski from the story about Husserl’s search for certitude for himself shows us some important clues for thinking and acting in a disenchanted world. We should not miss the notes made by the philosopher makes on the side-lines of the basic course of thought, about the importance of “the hypothetical demon” in Descartes’ reasoning, one which tries to make us aware that our life is assigned to this shore of the world inhabited by the devil and his unstoppable will to “pervert all our cognitive efforts.” Therefore, any action taken by us in the search of truth and good, is born from the experience of his presence and the struggle with him, impossible without reference to the transcendental dimension. As a result, turning away from such an identified reality, rejection of unsolvable dilemmas such as “the problem of the bridge,” abandoning the search for the transition between Self and World is a betrayal of our moral obligation. It is not surprising, therefore, that “This search has little to do with the progress of science and technology. Its background is religious rather than intellectual; it is, as Husserl perfectly knew, a search for meaning. It is a desire to live in a world out of which contingency is banned, where sense (and this means purpose) is given to everything. Science is incapable of providing us with that kind of certitude, and it is unlikely that people could ever give up their attempts to go beyond scientific rationality.” These conditions lead us to another, important moral in our considerations: our culture is full of diverse and mutually incompatible components, whose synthesis – Kołakowski believes – is not in man’s power. If, however, it was left it in the hands of a sceptic, its survival would be doubtful. “It is the conflict of values, rather than their harmony, that keeps our culture alive. As a result, “it is possible that philosophy is fatefully condemned to oscillate between these two perspectives

, each being arbitrary and each, once admitted, closing the way to the other, and both inexpressible together in the same discourse”.

In this way we return to the valley of the broken bridge inhabited by Leszek Kołakowski. The story of the Edmund Husserl in vain looking for the way to return to the absolute transcendence being a self-sufficient foundation of knowledge, brings us to recognize the drama of a rupture that constitutes our existence in the world. The thesis of the non-existence of the logical transition between Self and World which allows Kołakowski to pose “the problem of the bridge,” is not the only broken bridge in the valley. Alienation, broken ties, uprootment, absolutisation of borders, living in hiding and on the islands, insoluble contradictions and conflicts of values – all these are the names of the daily experience of the inhabitants of this valley. In other words, each broken bridge, which becomes theirs, has its origins in the drama of the Great Rupture, sowing its seeds in the world like drops of dark light.

Kołakowski not only does not reject the space of the broken bridge making it the place where he dwells, but also a space which nurtures his philosophy. His thinking is most commonly spread in the discourse on two shores separated by an abyss of contradictions and conflicting arguments. While writing his books and essays, he creates – following Bakhtin’s analysis of Dostoyevsky’s method of writing or his imagery – a polyphonic narration, granting each voice an autonomy, a possibly strong power of persuasion and respect for its distinctiveness. Here, a conflict does not discredit any of the voices. That is the way he wrote his “God Owes Us Nothing”, a book on Jansenists and Jesuits, or about a dispute between spirituality fleeing from the world that is getting engaged in the earthly life; that is the way he wrote about ” Religious Consciousness and Ecclesiastical Bond”, about “The Priest and the Clown,” where he focused on permanently present in the philosophy conflict between a search for the absolute and an escape from it, or his essays from the volume “Can the Devil Be Saved.” His remarkably current “Looking for the Barbarians” confronts a benevolent interest in other cultures with fear for the survival of one’s own, he enquires about the relationship between a possible tolerance to other civilizations and ceasing to take one’s own seriously. In an essay, he managed to complete just before September 11, 2001, bearing a slightly pompous title “Can Humanity still Save Civilization” he does  not reveal the  perceptiveness of its content anticipating the most important conflicts of the times ahead, considering the clash of the worlds: the closed one, focused on the defence of national identity and homogeneity of society,  with an open one, conscious of the fact that the meeting of cultures is fertile for development, while isolation and hostility toward diversity is the best way to totalitarian despotism. “Expressed in this way, the truth lies on both sides” – this starting argument is subjected to critical analysis proving that, in practice, it is impossible to reconcile the truths; there is no such thing as a just border, and it is impossible to simultaneously expand the field of liberty and security, that we are dealing here with a conflict, which “cannot be solved either through the liquidation of one of the parties, nor by a synthesis “.

Reading Kołakowski, one gets the impression that he is always on the look out for an evidence of an emergence of a broken bridge, he follows in the footsteps of broken ties and exposes their illusory character. From the space of collusion, conformist systems, legalistic decisions, scientific certainties and technologically established links, he exposes to light the hiding in the recesses of the space, conflicts, contradictoriness of opinions, dictate of final decisions, at the same time revealing their inadequacy, hypocrisy or simply fallacy. It is this laying bare of the petitio principii that becomes the centre of his philosophical trials with the concepts of synthesis and reconciliation across boundaries, liberal absolutism and boundless openness. In the “Conclusion” of his “If there is no God…” from 1982, he poses a problem: “Is it the spectre of God that confuses our perception of things, or, on the contrary, the world hides him away from our eyes?”. it is hard to answer this question without the risk of committing a logical error, because “each of these two colliding worldviews with their own rules of legitimacy, refuse to recognize the other’s criteria. Unable to persuade each other, followers of these irreconcilable visions are trying to force each other to the extreme consequences, to draw definitive conclusions from their own assumptions … “. In such a situation, Kołakowski refers to Nietzsche, Kafka or Camus with whom he finds a painful feeling of the tragic rapture: “an impassable chasm separates our quest for the meaning of the world, from the world the way it is, and the way it must remain.”

Kolakowski’s answer to breaking of the bridge takes the form of a via negativa – getting rid of illusions and falsehoods, eliminating appearances and easy decisions, defying the dictates of consolation and building of closed and final structures. His attitude is akin to the attitudes of an ancient skeptic who never stops “questioning everything, to liberate himself from doubt.” In ‘The Torment” added to Miłosz’s poem “To Mrs. Professor in Defence of My Cat’s Honour and Not Only”, he writes about himself remembering those “who continue asking questions, not frightened by philosophical bans, know no good answers and if they have them cannot convince others according to the rules logically reliable”.

Kołakowski’s via negativa includes the at least three conditions of primary importance for learning the secrets of the workshop of the bridge builder. The first one I would call liberation from the phantom of the bridge. I mean here quite a common phenomenon of manipulating bridge symbolism and social associations connected with the bridge that trivialize and misrepresent its secret, making it an instrument for easy, achieved at low cost processes of integration, reconciliation and conflict resolution. There is no greater threat to the building of a passage to the shore of the Other than an illusion of a bridge. To Kołakowski, just as it was the case with Marxism, religion, or the devil himself, the bridge is a matter not reduced to purely theoretical speculations.  Thinking about it, I still have before my eyes, Tony Judt, who in 1987 went to Kołakowski’s Harvard lecture titled “The Devil in History”, and who for a long time could not figure out why the audience had trouble following the philosopher’s line of argument, until his neighbour, Timothy Garton Ash, whispered in his ear: “I’ve got it. He is really talking about the devil”. Kołakowski really reflected on the broken bridge which embodied the transgression of his deep life experience onto the field of philosophical reflection.

The dependence of life experience on persistent liberation from the phantom of the bridge leads us to another premise that can be read from Kołakowski’s via negativa. It is connected with the mentioned by me at the beginning philosopher’s fidelity to the space, although one should rather say now: to the truth of the broken bridge. We touch here on a very important, rooted in the memory of the old culture, deposits of knowledge about the craftsmanship of bridge building. Those initiated in the craft were people bearing a deep stigma of rupture in their lives. One of the oldest stories about the construction of a bridge survived to our times due to the journey of Apollonius of Tyana, the “divine man” (theios aner), for whom knowledge and faith were one, and for this reason was often compared in the ancient times to Jesus, to the ancient Babylon, described by his biographer Flavius Filostratos. He saw a city halved “into two identical parts by the waters of the Euphrates. It is bound by an underground, a passage of an unusual design, secretly connecting the royal palaces built on the hills. ” From the local magi he learned that the history of this passage went back to the old ages, when Medea came to Babylon, the first stranger in the world of Greek-limes, violated in hospitality, betrayed in love and banished, the heroine of the myth of an  intercultural meeting that ended in a tragedy of the first a broken bridge in a Greek  polis. In Babylon, she was entrusted with the construction of a passage to link the banks of the river and she was the first person who succeeded. Kołakowski was aware that his via negativa is not a road of destruction, and that cognition and experience he collects in the valley of the broken bridge are as necessary as work on reconstruction.

The third premise inferred from Kołakowski’s philosophy is “wound cleansing” necessary for its healing. Any falsehood, oversight, concealment beneath the surface, maltreatment of another or yourself, neglect of a moral obligation, relativism of evil – all these are bacteria that  constantly inflame a wound. The cleansing meant here man’s work on himself, inner honesty of the bridge-builder himself. Miłosz wrote once that at least in some respects Kołakowski reminds him of a Jesuit named Giava. “Who was Giava? Nobody reads nowadays the great novel by Stanisław Brzozowski “Alone among People” whose author wanted to portray the European intelligentsia from the middle of the 19th century and in the chapters about Berlin in 1840s, introduced a perfectly painted character of a philosopher named Truth (of course Hegel) and the Jesuit Giava, who was convinced that anything that the Catholic Church says  is true, but was unable to believe it. Brzozowski created the character of Giava at least 10 years before Thomas Mann introduced the Jesuit Naphta on the pages of his “Magic Mountain”. Giava is a slightly demonic character. He supports the Hegelian left, believing that a political movement that will be born of it (and born of was to be Marxism) should mature as quick as possible, because when it gets into power, it may disgrace itself, to the benefit of the Catholic Church. […] In the year – I supposed 1960 – Miłosz continues – I spoke in Paris with the bishop Bolesław Kominek, and I’ve learned from him with big satisfaction that Simone Weil’s “Collected Writings” in my translation is proclaimed as a necessary reading in the catholic seminars in this parish.-diocesy. We were talking about Leszek Kołakowski, at that time still a communist party activists wha had some statements against the Church. Bishop Kominek was smiling with an irony in his eyes and at the end he said: a time will come when the Catholic Church will benefit from Kołakowski’s thought.” The moral of the story is that via negativa means also awareness of one’s own limitations and inabilities, which are often the consequence of being faithful to oneself. Self-restraint and courage in trusting one’s inner voice creates larger space for a meeting with the Other and can contribute more to coexistence of different people and worlds than uncritical universalism aspiring to be unity over the heads of everyone and everything. Therefore, of course, the Bishop Kominek was right in saying –  and this concerns not only the Catholic Church, but also, speaking in the language of the borderlands: each inhabitant of the valley of the broken bridge, including atheists or followers of other religions and worldviews – everybody would like to have Leszek Kołakowski for a neighbour.

The philosophical attitude of Kołakowski’s towards “the problem of the bridge” is not limited only to via negativa. Also, within the space of restoration of the passage, just like in e.g. the utopia of the leftist worldview, we also need the priest and the clown. Although at the time when his famous essay under that title was published, that is, in the era of the communist regime, but also today, when we witness recurrence of totalitarian ideologies and creation of new ones, readers’ affection clearly leaned and it will continue to lean towards the clown – yet  we cannot forget that we would distort the philosopher’s message if we gave the clown primacy over our thinking and attitudes. “Unlike the priest, the clown cannot himself provide foundations, all he can do is to undermine those already in existence.” Marci Shore whom I quoted here, followed the development of Kołakowski’s reflection on recognition of utopia and his growing concern for the costs incurred by its application, emphasizes that the author of the essay on “The Spirit of Revolution” combines it with his conviction that “an answer to lack of ability should not be a fatalist appeasement of all evils. Even though there are no laws of history that would guarantee progress, it does not mean, however, that there are no reasons to object that we can do it a better one.”

Undermining the foundations in the valley of the broken bridge is not enough, either, they might have proved too illusory or too weak to support the fragile, composed of many different elements structure. What is the real foundation made of, then, one that is the fruit of “the pursuit of truth as distinct from the pursuit of technically reliable knowledge”? This foundation, about whose construction traces of knowledge and intuitions can be found across all Leszek Kołakowski’s philosophical works, viewed from this perspective look extraordinarily coherent and could be referred to as constructing “an invisible bridge”. What lies behind “the invisible bridge”? Because we are entering here the sphere of myth, let me refer to the oral part of the tale – yet unwritten or encoded by scientific tools. It is a tale known in various borderlands passed from mouth to mouth, still very elusive to both: the proponents of “the Arcadia of universal agreement” and the supporters of hard technological tools for establishing communication.  Leszek Kołakowski, fearless of philosophical bans constantly sought expression of the tale’s truth in his books. The tale is, for example, passed among the inhabitants of Mostar, the city famous for the “Stari Most”, a bridge of great beauty built by Mimar Hayruddin. During the war in the former Yugoslavia, when the world forgot about the war, the bridge was destroyed, or as they say in Mostar: it was killed. After many years, the world, that included it on the UNESCO world Heritage Sites list, engaged in its reconstruction. The opening ceremony drew from the world of so many people, that the local people in their majority were not able to participate in it and watched it in their homes on television screens. Today, when asked about their bridge, they reply that this material bridge actually stands there, as in the past, and you can walk over to the other side of the Neretva River. What though – says the tale – if it is just a phantom of the bridge, a tourist attraction, an empty symbol featuring in speeches of politicians? The thing is, – Mostarians used to say – they have not yet rebuilt “the invisible bridge”, the only real one, existing in the interpersonal space of coexistence. Leszek Kołakowski, writes at the end of his book, “If there is no God”: “What is  real or unreal to us is a matter of a practical rather than philosophical commitment; real is what people really want. “

What is then building “the invisible bridge” according to Leszek Kołakowski’s philosophy? It is a descent into the realm of myth and cultural practice based on trusting cultivare – the daily, immersed in the longue durée, work on yourself and on your place of living, which alone is able to break our nature that may be led astray by the evil really present in the world and thus incapable of authentic coexistence with the Other. “And only in so far as man is weak, limited, fragile, “broken hearted “, says Kołakowski, he may become a moral being.” Krzysztof Michalski writing about human fragility as a central motif in Kołakowski’s thought, wrote: “only repentant, only as a pitiful man, he is able to distinguish good from evil, truth from falsehood, and to do justice to the dignity of another human being.”

The conflict, which in the dimension of via negativa was considered in terms of logical confusion, now, in the dimension of building of “the invisible bridge” Kołakowski’s attitude sounds “grotesquely incongruous.” He even writes: “The conflict is not logical, but cultural, and its roots are probably persistent, mutually incompatible claims, imposed on us by various forces present in the human nature.” To settle down a cultural conflict one needs a genuine belief in one’s own convictions, therefore the rejection of contemporary cynicism is needed, something what Peter Sloderdijk is referring to as “the Enlightenment’s false consciousness.” Kołakowski sees here a chance of re-internalization of values, which in the re-enchanted world can be viewed with an ironic distance, but it cannot be lived as sacrum, as a living present sanctity. The community of “the invisible bridge” is established by “these non-productive and non-utilitarian “ties of solidarity” which bear fruit only in the mythical graft, mentioned by Kołakowski in “The Presence of Myth”.

The presence of evil is to Kołakowski essential for the building of “the invisible bridge”, the only real space of human intercourse. Unlike to humans, fragility does not apply to evil. And so, goodness is given unto us only in anticipation, it is always in front of us, whereas evil touches us here and now, it is among us, expecting us. We are expelled, carved from knotty wood, and “in the myth of Exile we admit that evil is within us” [If there is no God]. Therefore, for Kołakowski “the invisible bridge” means the community “of moral vigilance” which is only possible when we are aware of our evil-doing, of the fact that evil concerns us or that we ourselves are guilty. Only in this way can we discover the reality of good that has been violated. Such is the creation of the real foundation for the construction of “the invisible bridge”. This is testified by Leszek Kołakowski’s letter to Józef Czapski sent from the depth of the inhabited by him valley of the broken bridge: “Animals suffer, but I suppose, they do not perceive suffering as evil, they simply have no perception of good and evil. We have, and thus in the very act of perceiving evil we attest our feeling of sense. (…) In the infinite darkness we inhabit and to which we contribute, there is, however, a shining thread, frail perhaps, but an unbreakable tie, that binds us with what lies beyond darkness.”

Leonidas Donskis

Slightly changed version of a lecture given in the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna as a keynote speech during the Second Annual Leszek Kołakowski Symposium “Paradises Lost: Entzauberung, Utopia, and their Afterlives”, 6-8 October 2016. Especially for the Development Centre “Democracy through Culture”, 2018.

[1] M. Weber, Science as a Vocation, 1918 [There are no longer ‘mysterious incalculable forces that come into play]

[2] A. Bielik-Robson, Return of the Messianic Promise. On the Post-Secular Turn in a Narrower Perspective

[3] [The problem of the bridge is insoluble; there is no logical passage.]