The Well and the Tree: World and Time in Early Germanic Culture

The Well and the Tree: World and Time in Early Germanic Culture

The Well and the Tree: World and Time in Early Germanic Culture

The Well and the Tree: World and Time in Early Germanic Culture

Excerpt

The following essays have in common a concern with early Germanic culture. Although they deal severally with various manifestations of this culture, a central thesis runs through all of them. Most simply put, it is that Germanic culture was dominated by its conception of its own past. This is neither surprising nor new. The essays aim, however, not at elaborating the obvious fact of domination by the past but at examining how and in what form the Germanic conception of the past shaped events. Everywhere they emphasize not the events, actions, or constructs of the culture but those aspects of events, actions, and constructs that render them understandable and meaningful. Ultimately, this emphasis tries to articulate some significant aspects of the conceptual system that shapes action and event and underlies all human creation. To comprehend, even to a small degree, their conceptual system makes it possible for us to see more clearly how the Germanic peoples themselves experienced their world, how they thought and structured their existence, how they shaped their own reality.

In all human cultures, action and perception are mutually coherent; everything relates to everything else. Such perception is not--cannot be--fully conscious. Human conceiving and perceiving cannot be fully explained because human explanation is, as we still now live it, linguistic, and language itself is a conceptual structure, an essential but partial aspect of the larger system of conceiving and perceiving that predicates all human action. Our task in understanding any conceptual system--our own or that of any other culture--involves a kind of two-step operation of description and explanation. First, we must be able to observe the activity . . .

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