‘Soul’ is, in my eyes, the most dear, most helpless, most ambiguous, most misused and most ridiculed word in our language. When someone acknowledges the existence of the separate soul, next to and above the body, they’ll probably be met with some skepticism. For we can’t see the soul and what we can’t see, we’re better of doubting or denying, according to a popular way of thinking, even if this denial would only contribute to the bareness of our existence. Then the soul quickly becomes, as a product of systematic and constructive thinking, one of the superfluous hypotheses. But when we call a diligent and enthusiastic person the ‘soul’ of a company, we can count on some understanding. For then we don’t use the word with the crushing literal-mindedness that always instigates some skepticism in thinkers. For they are most critical about anything they suspect they could have come up with themselves and they seem to prefer living with a barren truth than with an illusion. But we can only dream up such a choice.

So in order to be taken seriously ourselves we have to, remarkably, not take the word ‘soul’ too seriously or literally and therefore also distance ourselves a little from the word’s weight and gravity. It means that we in our use of the word already take into account the skepticism that it might incur. So what can this intellectual offer mean, when we don’t regard it as a simple concession to the triumphantly ruling, but on closer inspection arid banality, that without any reflection seems to come to the same findings? Perhaps ‘soul’ is in its literalness too big a word to simply reduce it to worn out coins of change in conversation. But it doesn’t seem too absurd to me to think, that the word precisely in its literalness, as an indication of the core of a person, as a principle of life or even as an immortal element, doesn’t do justice to what we mean when we for example talk about the ‘soul’ of a company or a beloved one, that the word therefore is always an image. It indeed seems too big for literalness, for its meaning always goes royally above and beyond that.

Does this mean, that ‘soul doesn’t denote reality? Thinking in terms of a living core and a separately existing substance, it to me seems fairly dubious. But when we think with the word about the unique character and inconvertibility of every individual person and especially of the fact, that a living being is not just a convertible part of a whole, an item on a long list, but something that exists outside of our thoughts and is a living, unthinkable reality, the case changes and then the emphasis isn’t on the word as a product of thought and order, but on something that evades that, on an element of inconceivability in an existence of which we in the end are merely surprised witnesses. That is pre-eminently what we call existence. There is therefore a lot to say for the thesis that the skepticism surrounding the word ‘soul’ is not based on realism or a desire for reality, however it may turn out to be, but on the contrary on the will to manipulate it and to deny the existence of everything that resists that, first and foremost the soul.

Cornelis Verhoeven


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