The Ever-Present Origin

By Jean Gebser; Noel Barstad et al. | Go to book overview

In memoriam Jean Gebser

by Jean Keckeis

While completing his studies in Berlin during his mid-twenties--a time of precarious circumstances, as the inflation had abolished the family reserves--Jean Gebser wrote a poem entitled "Many Things are About to be Born," which begins: "We always lose our way / when overtaken by thinking . . .," a thought which surely reflects a premonition of his later intellectual and spiritual journey.

Born in Posen in 1905, Gebser received his schooling in Königsberg and later in the renowned preparatory school in Rossleben on the Unstrut. He has left us a fine account of how he learned there to "swim free"; ever since a jump from the diving board "into uncertainty," he was in possession of something that he did not fully realize until decades after. "It was then," he wrote later, "that I lost my fear in the face of uncertainty. A sense of confidence began to mature within me which later determined my entire bearing and attitude toward life, a confidence in the sources of our strength of being, a confidence in their immediate accessibility. This is an inner security that is fully effective only when we are able to do whatever we do not for our own sake. . . ."

Following his first-hand experience of the Brown Shirts in Munich in 1931, Gebser left Germany of his own free will and went, penniless, to Spain. There the difficult decision to forego his mother tongue was rewarded by the "enriching knowledge of the Latin way of thinking, acting, and living." He became sufficiently familiar with Spanish culture to hold for a time a position in the Republican Ministry of Culture and even to write poetry in the language of his friend Federico Garcia Lorca ( Poesias de la Tarde, 1936). Twelve hours before his Madrid apartment was bombed in the Autumn of 1936 he again set out on the path of uncertainty.

By this time he had already formed the conception of his magnum opus, The Ever-Present Origin, a conception which matured during three years of privation in Paris during his association with the circle around Picasso and Malraux. The necessary repose for completion of the work Gebser found in Switzerland, where he arrived near the end of August, 1939, two hours before the frontier was closed. He became a Swiss citizen in 1951. Unfortunately, Gebser was unable to assume the

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