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					                   THE ZONE
   Reflections on mysticism, war and psychosis
                 by Peter Wilberg

You, the extremes: the one from barren snow-drifts
 And wave-swept cliffs, the other from the glowing
     Wastes of a spectral god, are both at equal
Remove from radiant seas and fields where mortals
Live out their lives and shape themselves and gods.
 Fair-haired or dark, the selfsame womb begot you.
Each hates and seeks and does not know his brother,
      And always roams and never is fulfilled.

                  Stefan George

The “X” Files

Something needs to be done — something must be done. And it seems as if there is nothing that can
be done, nothing you can do, or nothing you can do. A partner, relative or friend — call him or her
“X” — is caught in a war zone, maybe lies injured and bleeding on a street somewhere or held in
some desolate prison or camp, who knows where..? Perhaps they have been kidnapped by terrorists.
It may be also that they were not just casual tourists or innocent victims. Perhaps they are the
terrorists. At any rate it is a shock when you hear the news — though you must have been aware of
the dangers and possibilities. No doubt “X” is to blame for going into the danger zone in the first
place. But getting out of it may not be simple. Helping them to do so may cost considerable effort,
time and money. It will be a personal sacrifice for you.

To do anything you must first take in the full drama and trauma of the situation they are in. The life-
and-death intensity of it all. It is not the appropriate time to reason “why?”, to look for reasons why
this situation has come about. Such analytical reflection is no more appropriate here than it would
be when faced with an accident victim or a patient on the operating table. Something must be done.
There is one problem however. This is not a logistic or practical problem but an emotional one —
or rather a problem of the emotional imagination. You see, X is not in fact, in Sarajevo or Congo
but right next door. There are no guns firing around them, nor are there any bodies or shrapnel on
the street. “X” may even seem to be going about their business in an ordinary way — or at least
appear outwardly to be doing so. They may perhaps complain of being tired, anxious or depressed
from time to time. But you see and hear no signs of physical injury nor of any psychological
trauma, torment or torture. And that is the point. It requires a special eye and a special ear to pick up
these signs. It requires a special imagination to read them — like reading news from a far distant

I am talking of the hearing and imagination appropriate to responding to what, in psychiatric
parlance, would be termed a psychotic episode. And yes, I am putting in a plea for the victims of
psychic injury. You do not ask a man lying on the street semiconscious and bleeding with a gunshot
wound about “why” they are feeling the way they do or what the “cause” or “reasons” for their
feelings could be. The precondition for any meaningful or helpful response is that you first take in
the full intensity of the psychic trauma that the individual may be experiencing. This is like
acknowledging the existence of a war zone within the psyche — a zone of psychosis in which the
individual is trapped. Nobody can really understand such a zone, whether an actual war zone or
zone of violent psychic conflict, without having been to one — or at least been somewhere near
one. Just having read about it does not suffice — even if this reading has made one an “expert”.
Going to such a zone does not necessarily imply grave danger, however. Not everyone in a war
zone undergoes the same type of experience. Nor are they there for the same reasons.

The term “psychosis” was at first used as a general term for all types of mental illness. Later Freud
distinguished the “neuroses” from the “psychoses”. Interestingly, however, the verb psychein from
which psychosis, like psychology derives, has amongst its original meanings the sense of “to faint or
die”, “become unconscious or powerless”. People suffering from extreme mental states, like those
suffering extreme events such as accidents, wars and natural disasters — induce feelings of
helplessness and powerlessness in others. Often our responses are a defence against such feelings.
The most banal defence is to ask “X” to tell us, preferably in comprehensible and down-to-earth
terms, what is going on or tell us about the background to the problem. Imagine, there you are,
shells exploding all around or persecutors inflicting torture on you — and someone asks you to tell
them all about it — as if you were not actually there or as if it were not really you that this was
happening to. The well-meaning offer to “hear about it” is implicitly a demand that you or “X”
come back from the zone — talk about it as if you were not there, or were merely some sort of

media reporter on the scene. Comparing the zone of psychosis with an actual war zone it would be
as if, trapped on all sides by barbed wire or sniper fire, you radio someone in this emergency and
they tell you to “come over and talk about it”.

Few are prepared to go to, or go near to an actual war zone, even in their emotional imagination.
Many don’t even read the papers or listen to the news, or stop doing so at a certain point. The same
applies to zones of psychosis, whose very reality may be questioned. Why bother to read X’s news,
when it deals with something which is not only far removed but entirely imaginary — an
unfortunate “hallucination”? No doubt one of the problems of people like “X” is that their own
defences are not so strong. They are constantly drawn to reading their own psychic war reports or
watching them on mental TV. Even though they may be living with you they are clearly not at
home. Nor are they merely “out to lunch”. They are in the Zone. You wonder what the hell they are
seeing, hearing or feeling there. They wander in the Zone — “ to wander” being the archaic
meaning of the verb “to hallucinate”. No doubt they have wandered too far, not just with their
“mind” but with a free-roaming emotional and psychic body that goes wherever their mind goes.
“X” is in one sense a “free spirit”, but such wandering spirits can easily lose their way, and find
themselves trapped in mental deserts or psychic war zones.

No, there is no burning house or cold cellar into which you can physically dive to rescue this
person. But nor is it appropriate to tell them that the house isn’t “really” burning and the cellar isn’t
“really” that cold. The psychic reality is that there is nothing you can do in these ways — and yet,
yes — something must be done, the situation really is as dangerous for “X” as it is for those in a
war zone — and as real. It is a defence to diminish the urgency of danger of the situation or
exaggerate what either you or “X” can do about it. Both responses will make “X” feel more alone,
isolated, mad and afraid. But perhaps if you allowed yourself to feel your own powerlessness
(psychein) — feel it in its undiminished intensity, it would bring you closer to where “X” really is.
Then “X” would feel less alone and unheard — less afraid. And if you are to find ways of
unlocking the cellar door or quelling the fire together you must first be with “X” — venture into the

The Mother of Wars

The all-too-visible tragedy of war and the scars and trauma that result from it easily make us lose
sight of the psychological dramas and traumas, dreams and nightmares that precede the outbreak of
war. It is no accident that long before the start of the Second World War the figure at its heart —
Adolf Hitler — wrote a book called “Mein Kampf” — “My struggle”. Wars begin as psychic
struggles. The “mother of wars” is not a historical event but a psychological state — the war zone
that we call psychosis and that has to do with psychein — to feel powerless. Today it may seem
hard for us in retrospect to understand the powerlessness of peoples and politicians to prevent wars
breaking out, and the powerlessness that people feel in the face of war. We can only do so if we
recognise that violence and wars do not only bring about a sense of powerlessness but are also its
result. It is not power that corrupts the soul, but powerlessness. Those who seek power over others
are already engaged in a struggle or “Kampf”. The struggle to overcome their own feeling of
powerlessness. It is this war which precedes all military wars fought for political domination.

Today most civilised people have the good sense to regard war as a form of madness or mass
psychosis. At the same time they do not confuse soldiers with civilians, or confuse dictators,
military torturers and mass murderers with the ordinary soldiers and civilians caught up in a war or
war zone. Unfortunately, however, the same cannot be said of our attitude to the “psychotic” or
“borderline” psychotic: people who find themselves in a psychological war zone, on the borderline
to such a zone, or on the very boundary or border territory that constitutes the heart of the zone —
its front line. The mentally ill tend to be feared as a danger to civil society — all potentially violent

or suicidal. This is rather like lumping the Hitlers of this world — those who act out their psychosis
in a violent struggle for power — with ordinary people who simply find themselves, each for their
own reason, in a pre-war situation, but do not, for that reason, become a danger to others.
Individuals cannot avoid being affected by the political climate of the time but their responses to it
will vary according to their own inner psychological climate. And yet wherever war looms, the
prevailing social and psychological climate of a pre-war country is already a psychic war zone.

In the zone of psychosis, as in physical war zones, we find real individuals — not just “soldiers” or
“civilians”, perpetrators and victims. There are artists and scientists here, as well as farmers and
engineers, plumbers and decorators, teachers and social workers, priests and philosophers, poets
and inventors. They do not suffer under a barrage of guns but a barrage of voices and images,
terrors and anxieties — one that is no less intense or terrible than facing a barrage of guns. The
prisons or camps they find themselves in are the prisons and camps of current values and beliefs.
The conflicts they experience are an expression of warring value and belief systems within society
as a whole, and echoed to some degree in each individual. They may stand in the middle of a
psychic cross-fire of thoughts expressing these warring beliefs and values, or tread permanently on
an emotional minefield which is no less fraught with terror than a real one. Though they may be
victims of mental torment and trauma, none of them are merely victims, and nor does their victim
status help to understand their individual history and needs.

Recently it has become fashionable to decry Freud for treating his patient’s stories of incest as
fantasies of the unconscious mind. Instead we have a new category of victims — the victims of
child abuse — and social workers are required to be fully trained in understanding this particular
form of victimhood. But there is a danger in seeking the cause and meaning of all psychological
suffering in “real” events — as if this somehow legitimised suffering itself and made it more “real”.
In fact it only creates a problem of infinite regress in explaining the supposed causes of
psychological suffering. For if physical or emotional abuse in the family was the cause, what was
the cause of that abuse. We forget that the actions of criminals and abusers, like those of countries
at war, themselves spring essentially from a disturbed psyche and do not need “real” events to
“cause” them. And yet there is a growing tendency to explain every sort of mental disturbance as a
form of “post-traumatic stress”, whether the trauma originates in infancy, childhood or in events of
our adult life. We lump individuals together just because they belong to the same real-life “victim”
or “survivor” category — whether it be torture or child abuse, the Holocaust or AIDS. In the case of
“victims” of psychosis however, the concept of post-traumatic stress, whether presented in
psychoanalytic or behavioural terms, misses the point entirely. Whilst actual war zones generate
many victims of post-traumatic stress, the zone of psychosis as such is essentially not a post-
traumatic zone but a pre-traumatic zone — a pre-war zone where contradictory beliefs and values
already bring about emotional wars. Most people who find themselves in this pre-war zone are
doing their damnedest to pacify it and avoid acting it out through violence — through harm or self-
harm, abuse or self-abuse.

Are zones of psychosis any less real than actual war zones? Or is the truth rather the opposite —
that the human reality of a war zone is not the shelling or cross-fire, the barbed wire or bombed out
buildings, but the psychological trauma induced by war. And is not the zone of psychosis the
original war zone — the zone that nobody wants to hear about until the madness it harbours
materialises in the form of real wars, leaping out from the psyche and into the history books.
Perhaps there is a reason, then, why the strange or “mad” were also soothsayers, the foretellers of
wars and battles. Their precognitions were indeed a fore-knowing. They already knew the events
that were about to unfold, as psychic events, already knew the battles yet to be fought as psychic
battles in a psychic war zone. To speak of psychic war zones is therefore not just a literary
metaphor. Rather it is “real” wars themselves that are the material metaphor of the zone of
psychosis — its historical materialisation. The evident psychic traumas that people suffer in war are

the last result of hidden psychic conflicts out of which these wars emerged in the first place. Let us
therefore put an end to the dichotomy of “real” trauma resulting from historical wars and histories
of abuse and the pre-traumatic zone of psychic conflict which precedes all real wars and acts of
abuse. Let us separate the “madness” that occurs in war zones from the wars that occur in the zone
of psychosis but instead speak simply of The Zone. For if one thing is certain, it is that this is a zone
not only of fear and desperation, but of a psychic endurance and heroism no less remarkable than
that shown by soldiers in combat. The psychic geographies and histories of The Zone do not make
front-page news — for they are intensely personal histories. Nor are the heros of the Zone — who
rarely harm a soul — venerated as military heros are. Ours is a culture which recognises only
physical or intellectual accomplishment. Emotional accomplishment and emotional heroism is only
recognised and respected if it finds expression in physical or intellectual accomplishment.

All who find themselves in the zone find themselves there because of a sense of powerlessness —
either one they have experienced or still are experiencing. But some of the people are there also to
paint it, write poems about it, help rebuild it, care for people or function as roving — wandering —
reporters. Others are there in order to understand friends, partners or relatives who have been there,
or to help people who are still there now. The variety is endless. Let us say that as a potential helper
entering a war zone you come across a shelled and burnt out house miles from any town. Within it
you discover an aging hermit — a painter and art collector with a treasured collection stored in his
cellar. You must understand that for this person, the most important thing in the world is to save his
collection, which includes paintings depicting the war zone itself — with great pathos and vision.
Your responsibility to this man is to share his responsibility — if you want to save his life and not
just “a life”, your responsibility is also a responsibility to the art that he cherishes, and through
which his life finds value fulfilment. Individuals who find themselves in the zone of psychosis also
harbour intellectual, emotional, physical or psychic gifts — gifts that they have found no way to
fulfil or which find no recognition in social culture. War zones are zones of physical destruction.
But psychosis is also a zone of creativity, albeit a creativity that the individual or society may fear
or see as destructive of accepted beliefs and values. The Zone is a zone of creative destruction and
destructive creativity, of creative deconstruction and reconstruction.

Those who remain on the safe side of the borderline to the Zone may ask themselves why their
particular person “X” is there. They look for a simple “ABC” of mental illness and miss its XYZ.
They get stuck in the Y — the “why?”. Was it their childhood? Is it the job they are in, or the job
they lost? Their relationships, or the lack of them? For those on the safe side of the Zone, the latter
does not exist except in the form of war zones they read about in the papers or zones of psychoses
they read about in books on psychology. More importantly, these two types of zone are never
connected in their mind. They may of course explain psychological traumas as a consequence of
violence, abuse or war traumas — but never the other way round.

The Mother of Wars is avoided until military wars bring it home to the psyche. Military wars such
as the Second World War have, thankfully, a beginning and an end. But they continue to have an
impact on the generation that follows them. This is not just because the children of parents from a
war generation are affected by or identify with the experiences of their parents — however
traumatic this experience may have been. The real reason for the often incredible intensity of this
trans-generational “transmission” is quite different. It exists because while historical wars always
end they also always fail. In particular they fail to end the psychic wars — the wars of contradictory
beliefs and values — from which they emerge. The psychic war goes on. It is not “past” but present.
For both the “real” world and people’s inner emotional worlds continue to be created in the image
of confused and contradictory beliefs and values at war with one another. A chaotic confusion of
social beliefs and values can itself create a sense of powerlessness. Alternatively it can lead people
to search for a single narrow set of beliefs and values and resolve the confusion and contradiction
once and for all — a Final Solution. An increasingly competitive global struggle for markets,

wealth and power is capitalism’s only panacea for an underlying sense of powerlessness. Business
is war pursued by other means and each competing corporation is a little army with its own flag —
the company logo. The important thing in economic war is to protect “our profits” and “our jobs”,
just as in war the important thing is to protect the lives of “our boys”. Their jobs, like their products
and their environment — their lives — just haven’t got the same value as “ours”, in business as in

The ongoing psychic war that the Second World War failed to resolve was not begun by Hitler or
by “The Germans”. Nor was it ended by Churchill and the Allies. Hitler was wrong to call his book
“Mein Kampf” for this struggle was not his alone, but his expression of an inherited war of beliefs
and values going back centuries. The Second World War was not “begun” by Hitler except in the
narrowest historical and military sense. Racism, anti-semitism, and eugenics were ideologies the
Nazis shared with the British ruling class and with Churchill himself. Concentration camps were
invented by the British. The Jewish Old Testament, without which Christianity itself would not
have arisen — glorifies bloody and genocidal wars conducted in the name of the Jewish God —
“Jehovah’s Kampf”. Tragic Wagnerian mythology shared common elements with Judaeo-Christian
fatalism. Hitler’s attempt to fulfil the destiny of the German Volk was marked by the sense of
powerlessness induced by this tragic fatalism.

The war that broke out between Germany and the Allies first broke out within Germany itself. It
expressed itself there as a war between Nazism and Communism, Capitalism and Socialism,
International Socialism and “National Socialism”, International Capitalism and “National
Capitalism”. But the war that broke out within Germany and led to the Second World War was not
an exclusively German war. It was itself a “world war”, a world war made manifest in Germany. It
reflected and concentrated in one country a variety of unresolved world questions and conflicts of
belief. The concentration of power in the hands of one ideology, one party and one Leader was the
inverted expression of a sense of national powerlessness — and of international powerlessness. This
global psychein remains with us today.

The Zone of the Question

There are many voices that remain unheard in society, not because they are mute, but because we
have not yet found ways of hearing and heeding their silent message — of entering the Zone from
which they originate. This presents many dangers to the individual and to society, as it did in pre-
war Germany. As a second generation child of German and German-Jewish refugees from Nazi
Germany I am familiar with what it feels like not to be heard. Like many of the Second Generation,
though born after the Second World War and the Holocaust I have felt in a certain sense personally
laden with its unfinished business, that is to say with the unanswered moral and psychological
questions it raised — or which surfaced through it. Communicating this feeling has been difficult, if
not impossible. For it requires the right sort of listening as well as the right sort of words. This
attuned listening was precisely what was missing in the English cultural environment in which I
grew up. Even today this sense of ladenness is seen only as a form of psychological disturbance,
one induced by black parental talk about the war and their holocaust experiences — or by the black
hole of their silence. Many of us feel guilty about an over-identification with the experience of our
parents that the latter neither share, desire nor feel responsible for. To have been brought up in
England, is after all, to have been blessed with a relative haven of safety and sanity. So we become
prey for hungry psychoanalysts and therapists, always eager to explore the intricacies of parent-
child relationships, and hoping in this way to helpfully disentangle first and second generational
experience — to free us of mental and emotional disturbances created by shadows and voices from
the past.

I know what it is like to experience these disturbances. They are part of my daily bread, my journey,
my struggle. And yet I do not regard myself as “identified” with the past or with my parents. Nor do
I regard their source as “in” the past. Instead I see my personal and family history as having given
me an insight into a psychic war zone that existed before the last war and which exists now. One
that manifests still in society and world events, and that will continue to exist and manifest on the
world stage for some time to come. I do not feel myself to be an unwilling inheritor of personal or
historical trauma. I regard myself as having been initiated through my personal and family history
into the true locus of this drama, the Zone: with its dreams and nightmares, its emotional
minefields, ideological and ethical wars, psychic concentration camps, mental tortures and
torments. These are not manifestations of a disturbed individual or even a collective “unconscious”
but of a disturbed social consciousness, with its contradictory but conscious belief and value
systems. They cannot be understood simply with the aid of psychoanalytic theories of generational
transmissions — the sins or guilt of the fathers and mothers visited on their offspring. For behind
these sins or guilt lie unanswered, unspoken and unasked questions — questions that are
meaningful in the present and for me and my children’s future. The responsibility I feel is to these
questions, a responsibility I will not abandon by conveniently regarding them as questions to do
only with the past, whether my past or that of my parents. My second generation life has helped me
feel a profound kinship with all those who are emotionally troubled by questions they experience
but cannot properly formulate. These are often questions which others do not or are not willing to
experience, but instead seek to replace with the comfortable, answerable questions they are familiar
with. The ones they have been brought up to ask or have been trained to ask as counsellors and
psychologist, therapists and psychiatrists.

The “schizophrenia” of belonging or wanting to belong, whilst not really feeling that you do belong,
of being touched by death whilst engaging in life, of talking without feeling able to really
communicate from deep inside, in a word of being troubled by wordless or unspoken questions
without being able to formulate these questions — and without receiving any help in doing so — all
this is my heritage too. But the term “schizophrenia”, though it points to a duality or twoness, a
cultural or genetic, linguistic or behavioural “twoness”, does not really do justice to what I mean by
“experiencing a question”. To experience a question is to be aware of the oscillation between two
distinct but inseparable sides or aspects of something, two sides of a frontier that both distinguishes
and unites these sides. In states that can be called “schizophrenic”, on the other hand, the two poles
are experienced not merely as distinct but as split, separate and unrelated. “Schizophrenia” is in this
sense an experienced absence of relation in which the two sides collapse into a relationless oneness.
Schizophrenic denial is an attempt to negate or abolish one side of the question, one pole of the
relationship, one aspect of ourselves or one part of society. Its basis is fear of experiencing the
question, fear of setting apart both poles of a relation — not as opposite poles but as poles of a

Melanie Klein used the terms “splitting” and “denial” to refer to what she called the “paranoid-
schizoid” position, a way of relating to ourselves and the world that has its roots in early infancy,
but which remains part of us all to some degree and constitutes the unconscious “psychotic”
tendency present in each individual. Its mirror image is the conscious mind, which seeks to “make
connections” between things rationally or from outward observation, but often in order to avoid
having to submit itself to an inner experience of their relation — or absence of relation. Hence the
reliance of the rational mind on language — on explaining relationships with the help of already
established terms and symbols, lines of thinking and lines of questioning. I see psychotic “paranoia”
as a combination of schizoid and rational defences — splitting and connection making — a state of
mind in which the individual is aware of deeper but still obscure relationships between people,
events and phenomena but then desperately seeks to make connections which “answer” the deeper
questions they experience. This can lead to a feeling of “manic” triumph, vision and inspiration at

the connections that have been made, or to a feeling of being overwhelmed by morbid or
persecutory connections, images and feelings.

Psychotic states are an exaggeration of ordinary neurotic defences — schizoid, paranoid and manic
— against experiencing questions. At the same time they may emerge as a consequence of the
breakdown of a particular neurotic defence, leading either to a genuine experience of a question and
relationship or to the replacement of one defence by another. The Zone is the zone of psychosis
within each of us. War is its manifestation. But war experiences do not necessarily turn people
psychotic. More often they create a silent depression — forcing them, perhaps for the first time, to
fully experience and “suffer” their own questions and contradictory feelings. To have to live and
“struggle” with a question internally, without being able to solve or even state it in old ways, is an
enormous challenge, but can also set in train a healing process. Depressive states bring us to a
depressive process, which if followed, can be a healing process that takes us into the Zone — not as
a zone of psychosis but as a zone of experienced questions.

To experience a question is not to make war on it, to collapse its poles into oneness, to absorb one
side of the question into the other, or seek to annihilate it with the other. As the German thinker
Martin Heidegger wrote in 1935 — four years before the outbreak of war — the Greek word
polemos which is used in the oft-misquoted saying of Heraclitus “War is the father of all things”,
could not be translated through as “Krieg” but meant something more akin to the German
“auseinandersetzen” — setting and holding apart. Polemos is not a struggle, conflict or “war” of
opposite poles or camps. It is the struggle to experience the relationship between two things by first
setting them apart — not as opposites but as twin poles of a dynamic relationship. In politics,
however, polemos degenerates into mere polemics — ideological attack and defence. War is the
continuation of this idea of politics by other means — means that never succeed even where “evil”
appears to be defeated by “good”.

Only in the Zone can neurosis and psychosis, conflict and war, politics and polemics give way to
polemos. Only there can people allow their defences to shatter or break down, without this leading
to physical violence and destruction. The Zone may be entered through the experience of being in
an actual geo-political war zone. It is also the site in the individual and mass psyche from which all
geo-political wars break out. They erupt out of a desire to escape the questions that confront us in
the Zone, to break out of it rather than having to stay with and experience these questions. To
aggressively attack each other’s defences militarily rather than dealing with their own defences
psychologically. In this sense the “victors” in war are often the real losers and vice versa. For whilst
their enemies’ military defences may be in ruins, their own defences against experiencing questions
remain intact or even strengthened. Less so for the losers. It is not the dream of winning but the
nightmare of losing the battle or war — of falling into powerlessness and psychosis — that leads
most often to the undoing of these defences. And yet the Zone is not the world of our dreams and
nightmares alone. It is also the threshold to a spiritual world — one pregnant with hitherto undreamt
of possibilities for the joy and creativity of mankind. There is no wisdom in war. There is much
wisdom to be found in The Zone, by experiencing the questions it harbours and contains. In essence
it is not a zone of “psychosis” or “war” but the Zone of the Question. Today the American and
Hollywood dominated media continue to portray violence as a principle and ultimate means — a
Final Solution — to the resolution of basic questions. There is a huge and basic difference between
imagined and real violence. But so long as mankind reduces all human questions to a war between
“good” and “evil”, violence will be used to “solve” them. It will serve as a means both to break out
of the Zone and escape its questions and break into the Zone and begin to experience them. There
will continue to be second generation victims and perpetrators, refugees and survivors, aggressors
and defenders, winners and losers. We live in a culture of technical solutions — of theories,
therapies and treatments, of technologies and techniques applied to everything from genetic
engineering to meditation. We have forgotten that without unresolved questions, questions we live

and experience and not merely ones we pose intellectually, life itself is emptied of meaning and
inner vitality. Such a culture is profoundly anti-philosophical.

What Heidegger understood by “philosophy” is not a search for ultimate solutions to life’s
questions but a capacity to experience and articulate these questions at an ever-deeper level.
Philosophical questioning is not a means to an end, a road to a Final Solution — but an end in itself,
its own most fundamental ground. I am not speaking here of the sort of “cool” intellectual
questioning and philosophising of post-modernism but the deep and warmth-infused thinking that
surfaced in Germany and Austria in the first decades of the twentieth century. It was Martin
Heidegger who, despite being a subversive member of the Nazi party for a time, recognised amidst
the economic and spiritual turmoil of Germany between the wars that philosophy had grown stale
— that it no longer risked entering the zone of fundamental questions, and was therefore in danger
of annihilation by the advocates of racial and ideological, military and technological solutions.

The concentration camps used the technology of death in an attempt to eliminate all fundamental
questions by turning them into questions of race and ideology. It attempted to transform the Zone
from what it most essentially is — a zone of fundamental questions — into the Zone of the Final
Solution. This Solution was directed at what used to be called “The Jewish Question.” But it was no
less an attempt to solve “the German Question”. Goethe had long ago raised this question by
arguing that Germany as a geo-political zone could take two roads. Either it followed the road of
outward expansion — military and/or economic. Or, instead of seeking “Lebensraum” externally
and geo-politically it could follow the path of inward expansion, an expansion of its cultural wealth.
Only the latter path would allow it to fulfil its destiny as the philosophical and spiritual “soul” of
European culture.

As well as Heidegger we must mention Martin Buber, the Austrian Jewish social philosopher whose
ethics of authentic “I-Thou” relating were as subversive of institutional Judaism as Heidegger’s
thinking was of Nazi racial ideology. Preceding them both was Rudolf Steiner — the Austrian seer,
sage and “spiritual scientist” who founded the Christian educational, social and spiritual movement
known as “Anthroposophy”. All three were spiritual thinkers. Which is to say they were capable not
just of writing and speaking about philosophy, but of engaging in deep philosophical listening.
Listening is the most original form of philosophical questioning, a wordless “questing” in which we
allow ourselves to silently experience the questions that others evoke in us with their words.
Listening is the time we grant ourselves to let these questions gather charge within us before posing
and responding to them verbally — and before attempting to “do” anything about them.

Every question, in one way or another, asks about or explores the relation between two things. But
to experience a question is to inwardly set and hold apart the poles of a question, the two sides of
the relation it explores, and to “wait in suspense” (one of the root meanings of “to listen”) for an
inner sense of their relationship to emerge. This is quite different from making mental or emotional
“connections”, ones shaped by a pre-conceived understanding of the poles of the question — the
two things whose relationship we are exploring. The “things” related can be two events or
situations, two points or periods in time, two people or two peoples, two feelings or two moods, two
beliefs or two value systems, two states of being or levels of consciousness.

The original meaning of the word “relate” is “to bear back a message”. It is our inner bearing as
listeners and the locus of our listening that determines what messages we are able to hear and bear
back. The boundary of the Zone is one we draw through our own way of listening. Listening is the
very threshold or “limen” of the Zone, on one side of which are our defences, and on the other side
of which is a descent or “falling” into the Zone. If this falling is an unwilling one, a falling we fight,
we experience it as the powerlessness of “depression” or the “anxiety” of loss of control — and the
subliminal Zone confronts us as a war zone. If our entry into the Zone is a free and willing one, then

the subliminal world of the Zone can be experienced not only as a zone of fundamental questions
but as a Zone of the Sublime. When we allow ourselves to experience the subliminal questions at
the heart of the Zone then the front line that cuts it in half becomes a frontier not of war but of co-
existence; one that both sets apart its two sides and brings them into mutual relation.

The subliminally experienced question is itself a limen — a threshold or frontier of insight into new
countries of the mind, new regions of soul and spirit. But whereas for politicians and generals it is
maps that define territories, frontiers and borders, and talk or military action that redefines them, in
the Zone not even the countries and capitals are clearly named. The locus of the question is not
stated or mapped out in advance. It requires a special type of “subliminal” listening and relating to
take us into the Zone, one that does not state or ask questions but stalks the question. We cannot
begin with an interrogation of “X” but must first join them in the Zone — the Zone of the Question
— remembering that whilst words can be signposts, they may simply represent the trenches or burnt
out buildings where “X” is trapped or sheltering. Only our silence will tell.

For some the Zone is a zone of psychosis. Surrounding it is the zone of normality — or rather of
what Christopher Bollas has called “normosis”. A normotic culture ruled by business —
obsessional busyness — has no time for experiencing questions. Instead they are transformed into
problems to be solved, issues to be resolved, conditions to be treated. The Zone of the Question, the
experienced question, is psychologically and socially quarantined. Yet the questions to be
experienced in the Zone are pressing questions not only for the individuals who wander it, but for
humanity as a whole. It is only by repressing or “de-pressing” these questions — pressing them
down into the Zone and confining them within the Zone that the latter itself comes to be seen as a
narrow, constricted and constricting ghetto of depression and anxiety — a place of confinement
peopled by fellow “victims”, fellow sufferers or fellow travellers.

What we call “anxiety” or Angst is, psychologically and etymologically, an expression of the
enforced narrowness of the Zone — Enge in German. Those who bear the often heavy, “depressive”
and “anxious” weight of the questions lurking in this Zone find themselves quarantined, isolated
and restricted. For they are presented only with two choices — to leave the Zone for the
constricting lands of normosis which surround it — the Engländer — or remain within its
concentrated and constricted territory — its Eng-land. The death camps were an extreme
materialisation of this Eng-land, concentrating in its confines not only Jews but the mentally ill or
handicapped, religious and ethnic minorities — all those whose lives or beliefs posed disturbing
question marks for the rest of society. The question “answered” by the Final Solution was not the
Jewish Question alone but the very existence of the Zone of the Question.

The aim of the Final Solution was to annihilate the Zone of the Question by the murder of all those
“questionable” individuals and races whose very existence was a challenge to the establishment of a
single set of ideological, behavioural and racial norms. A “totalitarian” culture is one that tolerates
no questioning except in its own narrow ideological terms. It is a narrow land or England —
whether a dictatorship or democracy. In the Second World War Germany became the England of
Europe and Europe a German Zone — not the Zone of the Question but the zone of Annihilation of
the Question. The Second Generation survivors or refugees who remain touched by these events are
not necessarily caught in depressing reminiscence and mourning. Their own experienced questions
bear witness to the survival of the Zone as a zone of spiritual questions no less pressing today —
and from which there is no flight. Today the Zone of the Question is no longer threatened by
Nazism or Stalinism. The danger comes from another place — what Heidegger called “the flight
from thinking”. For institutionalised religion, science and psychoanalysis are not any more the
spiritual guardians of the Zone. They have become the Ghettos of the Question, hemmed in on all
sides by their own outworn symbols, rigid languages and fixed terminologies. So long as the

unanswered questions they pose are couched in terms of this symbolism and in these languages,
how can the answers transcend them? First the questions themselves must be newly experienced
and articulated.

The questions that have concerned me most of all — the ones I have experienced and lived, have to
do not only with the relation between present and past, but the communicable and the
incommunicable, and in particular between the values people sense within themselves — the things
they value and find themselves drawn to — and the languages, symbols and belief systems that they
have available to express and represent these values. Many of the Second Generation feel a gap
here, whether through not being fluent in their parents’ native tongue, through separation from the
cultural communities that these languages had their roots in, or through not being able to relate to
post-war and post-modern culture with its purely symbolic and commercial values. A culture in
flight from fundamental questioning. As a British-born member of the Second Generation, of
German and Jewish origin, I have found myself forced painfully to acknowledge, as Heidegger did,
that the Allied victory over Nazi Germany has not altered the global drive to Annihilate the Zone of
the Question. Instead, humanity has redoubled its efforts to find technical solutions, to create an
idealistically “healthy” world through bio-genetic engineering — a modern euphemism for

Only in a fundamentally unhealthy society can health and fitness, physical and mental, become the
sort of moral fetish that it is today. Whilst promoting a culture of psychological victimhood, we
have lost patience with suffering in its original sense of “carrying” or “bearing”. The Second
Generation are asked to free themselves as individuals from the “baggage” of their personal family
history — as if the misguided search for Final Solutions — whether sought through technology or
religious fundamentalism — was no longer a question in the modern world. The personal suffering
of individuals is but the individual’s expression of shared but still unacknowledged questions
meaningful to us all. But because of the flight from thinking people today are unwilling to recognise
the global and historical dimensions of the questions they confront in their personal lives. They
prefer instead to psychologise and privatise these questions, treating them as personal problems.
Believing that they are powerless to change the world, they would rather take these problems into
therapy and find solutions rather than bear this suffering philosophically — using it to acknowledge
the Zone of the Question.

To bear a question philosophically is not the same as to suffer torment or persecution from it. It is to
become pregnant with it, to let it gestate within us. In doing so the question will alter and transform
our whole inner “bearing”. By being the question — fully bearing and embodying it, we become the
answer. For then we allow it to work upon and transform our inner bearing, in much the same way
that being pregnant transforms the inner bearing of a woman — her attitude to life and her way of
relating to herself and others. To relate is “to bear back a message”. It is in the way we listen to
ourselves and others that we show our capacity to relate — to bear and bear back the messages we
get from one another, without aborting or giving forced birth to the questions they contain. To listen
philosophically is to “suffer” what we hear in this sense — to bear to hear the questions pregnant in
our own and in each other’s words, in our own and in each other’s world.

The Mystery of the Zone

All genuine mysticism is at home in the primordial Zone of mystery — the Zone of the Question.
All false mysticism, with its panoplies of occult signs and symbols, of swastikas and six-pointed
stars, with its scientologies and meditational technologies, is at best a pallid and lifeless
representation of the mysteries of the Zone, and at worst an attempt to finally resolve these
mysteries — to announce The Way and The Truth. To achieve certainty. A question, any question is

the oscillation of a relation. The most fundamental question is the oscillation of the most
fundamental relation. Only by bearing the tension of this oscillation does the space in which we
experience the question mysteriously expand its frontiers. This expansion is not an external
territorial expansion, a search for Lebensraum or Global Markets. It is an inward expansion, like the
expansion of a pregnant womb. An inner expansion of soul that comes about when this soul is able
to bear within it the tension of the oscillation of a most fundamental relation — a relation which it
silently experiences but cannot yet represent in words. It does not result in any conquest of outer
space, of peoples or of markets. The mystic’s openness to the Mystery creates a fertile womb of
soul within which he or she can conceive — receive the spiritual seed of the Spirit and thus become
host to an expanding, growing sense of being. A sense of being which is at the same time both a
new relation to Being — to All That Is — and a relation to a being — the innermost Self that is at
home in All That Is. It is when this Self, with its home in the Zone, is denied the possibility of
inward expansion of soul, that its inner vitality either withdraws from the body of the individual and
the community or erupts in a huge cyst — inflating the individual or collective ego.

The Self is grand and expansive, but not grandiose. The inflated ego, with its grandiosity and sense
of omnipotence, results from the denial and restriction of this Self within the ego’s own narrow
ideological boundaries — its territory of thought. When the Zone becomes a prison or quarantined
ghetto of the Self, then Grandiose Ego arises — seeking to be its voice and declaring itself the
Self’s saviour. If this messianic ego identifies the inner Self with something external — with race,
nation, state or Volk, then, like all false messiahs, it mistakes the outer symbols of the Self for its
inner reality.

Long before Hitler declared himself Germany’s messiah, Goethe had warned that the German soul
could take two paths — the path of outward, military and economic expansion or the path of inward
cultural and spiritual expansion. Long before the Second World War, the battle for Germany’s soul
was being fought. German Judaism and Jewish Germanism was an integral part of this soul and of
this battle. The womb of the German soul was long host to the spirit of Judaism before the Hitlerian
Superego declared this spirit to be an alien contamination and strove for a social and biological
abortion of this spirit. In the aftermath of the war the womb became barren. The collective soul
replaced Goetheian spiritual idealism and humanism with consumer materialism, psychosis with
normosis, precision poetry with precision engineering, the fitting word with the fitting part.

Goethe’s view of the German soul was not only philosophical but also geo-political in nature,
seeing Germany as the landlocked hub of central Europe, holding the middle ground between East
and West. The Jewish element in German and Austrian cultures was a vital element in preserving
this middle ground. But Nazi ideology perverted the spiritual and humanist traditions of German
culture under the banner of the Swastika — the Eastern sun-symbol of Indian theosophy. An echo
of this perversion took place in the sixties, when the spiritual and “humanistic psychology” that had
grown up around figures such as Buber, Frankl, Maslow, Perls and Wilhelm Reich — all of them
originally from the German speaking parts of Central Europe and many of them also Jews — was
hijacked by the same Eastern and specifically Indian mysticisms and theosophies with which Nazi
ideologists had identified and drawn their most important symbols. The guru became the new
spiritual “Führer”. As for the realms of “Jewish spirituality” and “Jewish mysticism” that are once
more in vogue today, this “tradition” has become the playground of New Age seekers content to
adorn their intellects with symbolic representations of this spirituality — with the Tree of Life and
the Holy Sephiroth — believing that the Zone of Mystery will open to them through the study of
occult diagrams or the practise of Yoga-style “techniques” of meditation, prayer and visualisation.
To repeat: only in a fundamentally unhealthy society can mental and physical health, become the
fetish that they have become today, promoted by a whole industry of New Age, Alternative or
“Holistic” forms of “healing” and “therapy”. All this has nothing to do with the authentic mystery
of the Zone, which is appreciated more by those able to bear and embody their inner states of being

in listening silence than by those who promote therapies and “talking cures”. The very idea of
getting something disturbing or cancerous “out of our system” through surgical intervention or
therapeutic catharsis bears witness to the fundamental confusion of our age — between bearing and
suffering. Suffering is the incapacity to bear what is pregnant within us without forcing it into the
open. Healing, on the other hand, is an inner bearing that cares for what is pregnant within us and
allows it to bear fruit.

The words mystic, mystical and mysticism are not of Indian or Oriental origin but of Western origin,
deriving from the Greek word mustai. This referred to the “initiates” of the mysteries, but meant
literally the “closed-mouthed ones” — those who bore their inner knowing in silence, their mouths
sealed as if groaning in spiritual labour with the primal syllable mu. This is echoed in the mystical
teachings of Meister Eckhart — “God is bearing”. The racist “Ariosophical” form of mysticism and
occultism inculcated in Hitler by his teacher Dietrich Eckart, Teutonised by Himmler and the SS,
ran counter to an entire spiritual tradition going back to the medieval — and multi-cultural — court
of Frederick the Great, a court through which Jewish and Arab learning entered the heart of Europe.
It was this spiritual tradition which was fostered in the esoteric group of Germans and German Jews
that grew up around the poet Stefan George. Known as “Secret Germany”, its most famous member
was Claus von Stauffenberg, a German aristocrat whose lineage went back to the knights of
Frederick the Great — and who personally planted the bomb at Hitler’s feet.

But the Zone of Mystery cannot essentially be identified with any one spiritual or mystical tradition,
nor with a geographic or geo-political space. It is the quintessential Middle Ground or Middle
Kingdom — not a space but a space between spaces — an inter-space. It holds the middle ground
not only between East and West but between past and future — it is an inter-time as well as an
inter-space. For essentially it is what Martin Buber called the “Zwischenmenschliche” — the “inter-
human” realm that connects man and man, man and woman, parent and child, generation and

Where the paths into and within the Zone are mapped like roads in neat symmetrical patterns there
is no mystery. Where its regions are signposted with colourful archetypal symbols there is no
mystery. The mystic is one who has been shorn of the comfortable symbolic clothing of religion,
exoteric and esoteric, or simply left it behind in a previous incarnation. The mystic is one who has
veered off the multiple sacred paths. Instead he wanders naked in the black forests of the Zone,
peering like an owl into a black and moonless night.

In Tarkovsky’s film “Stalker” we are presented with a haunting image of the true Zone of Mystery.
Sealed off by the army for a reason we do not know, the “zone” into which the stalker guides those
seekers who are willing to risk unauthorised entry appears as an uninhabited area that has become a
soundless natural wilderness. Within it the wreckage of tanks bears witness to the failure of the
military to fathom its secrets — the soldiers who entered it having never returned. Appearances are
deceptive in the Zone, a wilderness in which a seemingly placid nature runs wild. The laws of
nature are suspended, with the elements’ constant and capricious metamorphosis. What was sand or
water becomes snow or lava and then earth or mud. “At each moment it’s just as if we’ve made it
with our state of mind.” The topography of the Zone turns space into a form of time. One can go
backwards in space — returning to a point by the same way one approached it. Attempting to do so
takes one forward not only in time but in space. At its heart is the Room, entry to which, rumour
goes, automatically brings about the fulfilment of one’s deepest — and perhaps most feared —
desires. The Room cannot be approached directly, for in the Zone a straight line is not the shortest
distance between two points.

The stalker himself is committed to taking others to the threshold of the room, but never entering
himself. He is aware however, that it is the beliefs and expectations which one brings to the Zone,

that shape one’s experiences in approaching the Room. One of the stalker’s clients brings a small
nuclear bomb with him, believing that the Room could turn the malicious and evil desires of a
Hitler or Stalin into reality. Another becomes acutely aware of the emptiness of his life. The
hollowness of all his talk about his life finds no echo in the stillness of the Zone, for it responds
only to what communicates from the soul — from the silent core of one’s being.

Tarkovsky’s film leaves the viewer with the same questions that confront the seekers within it. Is
the Zone something like a war zone, a minefield full of booby traps? Is it the site of some
Chernobyl-type disaster? Is the Room a place of death or of rebirth. A cosmic gift, or the centre of a
man-made catastrophe. The focus of religious delusions or a divine magic. A source of healing
epiphanies or a precipitator of bizarre psychoses. Ultimately it is one’s expectations, whether
catastrophic or imbued with deep spiritual faith, that determine the destiny of those who cross its
threshold. In the event, no world-shattering events occur in Tarkovsky’s portrayal of the journey
into the central chamber of the Zone. The film is in this sense anti-climactic. But this very lack of
climax reflects the truth of the Zone, whose central events are not world-events or even word-
events, but events of silence.

                      The Zone of the Divine
                     Is God an ultimate answer
                or is He a living, pulsing question?
              Do we trouble Him with our questions
       or are we the still unfinished answers to his Quest?
            And if we in turn are answerable to Him,
              does that not mean allowing ourselves
                     to bear Him as a question?
         Not the question of whether he is or is not, but
                       the question that He is.
             Is faith an answer to our many questions
                     or is it the sensed pulsation
                         of His divine Quest?

                Is holy vitality to be found in finality
             in the certitude of final or ritual solutions,
                or in the sacred Zone of the Question.
           Is this Zone of unknowing a tomb or womb?
                          Prison or sanctuary?
               Place of torment or temple of worship?
                     Wonder or terror? Barrier or
                  gateway to the countless worlds?
             The Question is ours to open or foreclose,
                      bear with, act out or die to.

             Piety is the silent questioning of thought.
         A wordless Questing that answers only to Him.
                  The Questing soul is a holy soul.
               A soul infused with His inner vitality.
                     A soul at home in the Zone.
          Therefore do not ply Him with your questions,
        but listen to the question that you Are and bear it.
For the question that you are is part of the Question that He is too.
              Be it and you will become the answer.
           One that never ceases to grow nor becomes
        old in its certainties, but is ever refreshed from the
             roots of its unknowing, searching Being.

     What is a question if not the oscillation of a relation?
  And what is this oscillation if not vitality — energy itself?
            And what is the fundamental relation, if not
               the one that matters most to the Spirit?
        And what matters more than the Questing spirit -
            that which matters itself in atoms and stars,
                      and answers itself therein.
   No Big Bang can by itself produce the smallest question.
 Therefore It, and all that follows can be but part of the answer.
           No physics that only seeks ultimate Answers,
       ...that does not recognise Him in its own questions
     can fully comprehend his His dark cosmic matterings.
      No soul content with its own answers can answer to
             his Spirit or reveal the nature of his Quest.


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