Abstract: In his 1911 published essay, The Moral Equivalent of War, William James wrote that “history is a bath of blood.” In my current project, I do not only depart from James’ statement that history is a bath of blood, furthermore I use concepts, ideas, arguments, methods from James’ entire philosophy in order to analyse concrete examples of limit-experiences – by the latter are meant experiences that can be made during war, illness, drug consumption, incarceration, and natural catastrophes, and that expose body and mind to extreme pressure and strain. Thereby, I am not only interested in the individual experience on a microscopic level, but also its relationship to the macroscopic level, i.e. the environment in which that experience is being made, and how individuals try to make sense of both, the singular experience and the whole.
In my talk, I will present three experiences in detail: the work of the Welsh investigative journalist Gareth Jones during the Soviet man-made famine in Ukraine in the 1930’s (also known as Holodomor), and the war experience by the Slovenian partisan, Vitomil Zupan, during WWII. Of interest in these two examples will be James’ concept of truth on the one hand, and on the other hand, the stream of consciousness respectively the stream of pure experience. In a last example, I will discuss William James’ own limit-experience during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.