Raum and Rome: The Phonetics of the Word Raum. [1]

translated from the original german by:

James L. Kelley
Independent scholar

Volume 14, 2020

The word Raum (Space) is an instance of language that turns out to be Ur-language. It is an Ur-word and thus a part of the Ur-language.[2]

Etymological elucidations of an Ur-word are based upon connections and references of uneven evidential value. The compelling and the absurd tremble together in juxtaposition. Indeed, philological explanations are seldom accompanied by compelling evidence, and it is unreasonable to require such of them. This obtains also in the article “Raum” in Jacob Grimm’s Deutschen Wörterbuch (1883; VIII, pp. 275-284). Nevertheless, this article deserves our attention and remains a rich source of innumerable insights. According to Grimm, Raum is a word common to all Germanic languages, having an Old Norse root rum, which recurs in Slavic words like ruvati and in the Latin e-ru-ere. In terms of content, rum, as opposed to rauh (rough), denotes a cleared, arable site. Raum is an ancient Germanic term for wilderness brought under cultivation; it is a division of land made fit for human Daseins (existence). I am certain that Raum and Rom (Rome) are the same word.[3]

From Raum‘s basic meaning bloom further connotations, partly objective and neutral, but often also exalted and sublime. Luther’s language reflects the endpoint of this conceptual unfolding, an endpoint that is also the pivot point or crux of the whole development. In its more sober and factual usage, this word [Raum] sounds very modern. The diphthongal nexus of A and U does not convey ambiguity, but seems almost technical and factual. In the Lutheran translation of the Bible, one Volk says to another: “The Raum is too narrow for me; give place to me that I may live.”[4] The sense of Raum as a nexus of its two connotations of 1) compelling force [Kraft], and 2) technical objectivity [technishe Sachlichkeit] is revealed in Luther’s coming to grips with the physical presence of God Incarnate: God became man, materially and corporeally, having “taken Raum and given Raum“. Taken in isolation, “taking Raum” and “giving Raum” may sound like phrases lifted out of an abstract discussion of Raum-problems. However, Luther allows nothing casual to seep into his expressions. His incisive Abendmahlschrift of 1528 is concerned with the Mystery of the Real Presence of the Incarnate God in the forms of bread and wine. He took [Raum] and gave Raum. Ultimately, this sums up all that pertains to earthly life and to man’s field of activity. Luther’s language has become the Real Language of the German people, a Holy Language of substantial words.

But an Ur-word’s mystery goes far beyond that of even the most pertinent philological word-history, beyond that of even the most ingenious of etymologies. Its transcendence depends upon its immediate phonetics, upon its sound and tone taken together. Indeed, in phonetic analyses and interpretations one finds the most profound truths alongside the most specious coincidences. Error and arbitrariness threaten always and everywhere; they in fact belong to the uniquely human character of our mind and our language. It even seems to be a law [Gesetz] that the possibility of error, lies and deceit increases to the degree that one draws near to the innermost mystery of Truth. Still, it is not futile to attempt a purely phonetic interpretation, for it can only be through its sound that a word attains material and corporeal reality. A word inhabits its first meaningful Raum through timbre, loudness, and tone, and only its subsequent or secondary “Raums” are of a spiritual and intellectual nature. A word belongs primarily to an acoustic Raum. A word’s primary acoustic (and secondarily intellectual and spiritual) existence does not operate in a visual Raum or some other Raum (as in a motion picture with an audio track, that is, in a spatial-illusionistic manner), but as a measure of the word’s own vigor or force. Therefore, the subject calls for a further meditation on the phonetics of today’s conception of Word-Raum.

Raum contains in its monosyllabic simplicity the world of vowels between two particular consonants. It combines two different components in two different sound-elements. The word’s vocalic center is supported by a diphthong formed from A and U. Notwithstanding the historical question of when the diphthongs came into our language and what they mean in general, we can state that it is here, through A and U, that the first and last vowels of our vocal series interact and span the tension of the entire range of vowels. The Greek language has another vowel-based Ur-word: AION, in which the vowels AI, and O sound in succession. These vowels constitute a series, because I and E, and O and U merge into each other. From the succession of the entire series of vowels, a sound emerges that finds its sublime analogue in the whole, self-contained temporal sequence, that is, in the overall definition of Aeon. But the German word Raum behaves in the following manner: the vocal center of RAUM provides a diphthong of the first and the last vowel, A and U, and thereby carves out an arc from Alpha to Omega, beginning and end. This vocalic A-U realm is surrounded by the two liquids R and M. These latter keep taut the internal and external tension between themselves and the vowels; they rush around the vocalic center, as in the ancient tradition that the ocean flows around the human-inhabited, solid earth. But though they stand as the beginning and the end of the Raum, they do not constitute incisive or decisive borderlines. Such liquids cannot be considered beginning and ending points; they are not striations nor are they lines of demarcation. Neither do these consonantal elements erect any walls or structures for the man in need of security, for whom the verse applies: “He shut himself in and God out.” The R is the beginning-active aspect, and M is the terminating-diffused aspect, the latter coalescing and merging with the horizon. So, Raum is neither a closed circle nor a locality, but rather a world; moreover, it is not empty, but is on the contrary pervaded by the tension held within and between its elements.

The etymological interpretation in the Deutschen Worterbuch by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm is not in conflict with what we have just outlined. Rather, the Grimms’ fact-based analysis of the phonetics of Raum is also based around the tension between its vocalic and consonantal components. The ordered clearing hewn out of the primeval forest is the Raum fashioned and inhabited by man, encircled by non- or not-yet-ordered Raum. The surrounding primeval forest or Ur-world corresponds to the capricious ocean that flows around the man-inhabited earth, as in the previously mentioned ancient worldview. This interpretation of the Grimms’ is not only applicable to cleared forests, to the telluric, and to the inland milieu. It applies just as much, even more so, to land that is being threatened by a rising sea [Meer]. What’s more, the phonetics of the word “Meer,” as Wilhelm Ahlmann pointed out to me in conversation, contains a possible analogue to the phonetics of the word RAUM: In MEER we find the liquids R and M of RAUM reversed, and owing to the repeated E, we find no vowel, but rather a void at its core.[5]

A comparison with the Latin word spatium (espace in Frence, spazio in Italian, espacio in Spanish) further underscores the numinous power of the German Ur-word. Spatium is a compound word. The letter S in s-patium is not an arbitrary consonant. S functions as a prefix, more specifically an incisive, piercing, and dividing prefix, an in se-carese-parerese-carnerese-gregarese-lectio [cut-in-twain, pull-apart, reject, separate, decide]. Many thanks to my beloved old Latin teacher Prof. Hiltenkamp for recognizing the syllabic meaning of consonants in general and the letter S in particular. The prefix S brings about a specific alteration and reformation of the meaning of “patium,” which probably goes back to patere, “to be open.” Spatium, in addition to this patium-openness meaning, now also denotes something akin to Einschnitt [incision], Abschnitt [division], and Ausschnitt [cut-off]. Among the various etymological analyses that correspond to the foregoing, a salient one asserts spatium to have been originally synonymous with stadium, a mere abstract unit of measurement. This is a horizon and a world foreign to that of Raum, with the latter’s cosmic tension between land and sea. The difficulty of translating Raum in the Romance tongues is therefore quite formidable, since we are dealing with more than empty, mathematically-abstracted space. A formulation such as Großraum, meaning “a large-scale spatial order,” which is readily comprehensible in German, can only be correctly represented in Romance languages through paraphrase, rather than simple translation. Julius Evola has translated the German word Großraum into Italian with spazio imperiale, and thus has transposed its meaning to a different register.[6] In Slavic languages Pro-stor conveys something unbounded and infinite, and thus involves quite a different kind of connection between sound and meaning.

It may be the case that the word Raum has become so widely and disparately used that boundaries for its proper use can no longer be set. The antithesis Raum-Zeit (space-time) allows for endless speculations, so that, before long, Raum is construed as, at the same time, both hell and paradise, eventually Zeit becoming hell and Raum paradise. For Otto Weininger, Raum was paradise, and Zeit was hell.[7] No wonder that some critics have taken offense and would even place this word under quarantine. It is especially understandable that many educated people recoil from blustery trivializations of it. As long as Raum only resounded metaphorically and metaphysically in Rilke’s beautiful verses, and Räume (spaces) were birthed only by poetic beings (“Behold, the angels sense through the entirety of Raum[8]), those sensitive of palette found it congenial to conceive of Raum as a neutral sphere of physico-mathematical abstraction in which the concrete is arranged. Today, however, it echoes around us as a buzzword common to each and every mundane, practical discourse.

We need not concern ourselves with these trends, nor should we become disturbed by them. The German word Raum is unzerstörbar [incorruptible].[9] Before anyone spoke it, it was. It retained its force even when it was deposed in favor of Zeit and “duration” in the Lebensphilosophie of Bergson that was so highly fashionable some fifty years ago, and became the epitome of all things lifeless and mechanical. Its overuse will not cause it to perish. The word will retain its essence [Kern]. Though it be proclaimed loudly in every one of life’s marketplaces, and though it be pursued through the entire globe’s archives, it will nonetheless find asylum. Dum clamant tacet.[10] Popular or unpopular, fashionable or unfashionable, honored or reviled, it remains an Ur-word and thus integral in its innermost essence. Moreover, our meditation on its phonetic characteristics can only amplify its power, even while preserving its arcanum.


01. [Tr.: This essay originally appeared as “Zur Phonetic des Wortes Raum” in Tymbos für Wilhelm Alhmann: Ein Gedenkbuch. Herausgegeben von seinen Freunden (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1951), pp. 241-244. It was reprinted as “Raum und Rom: Zur Phonetic des Wortes Raum,” in Universitas (Sept. 1951), pp. 963-967, and in Carl Schmitt, Staat, Großraum, Nomos: Arbeiten aus den Jahren 1916-1969 (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1995), pp. 491-495. The latter was the text used for the present translation.]

02. [Tr.: The German words ‘Ursprache” and “Urwort” have been translated “Ur-language” and “Ur-word,” but could have just as easily been rendered “primal language” and “primal word.”]

03. Albert Blumenthal, “Roma quadrata,” Klio 35 (1942), pp. 184-185.

04. [Tr.: Isaiah 49:20]

05. [Tr.: C.S. is not asserting that E is not a vowel, but rather that the vowel E is made to function like a consonant, by its duplication therein. Vowels, in Schmitt’s philological theory, function as vowels only when they unite disparate vocalic elements into a single expression, as in Raum’s “AU” or Aion’s “AIO.”]

05. [Tr.: See Julius Evola, Pagan Imperialism, trans. Cologero Salvo (Gornahoor Press, 2017), p. 116.]

06. [Tr.: See Otto Weininger, Über die letzten Dinge (Wien and Leipzig: Wilhelm Braumüller, 1907), p. 107f.]

07. [Tr.: The reference is to Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem “Siehe, Engel fühlen durch den Raum,” SW II.69.]

08. The unzerstörbar quality of Raum is breathtakingly expressed in this passage from Nietzsche: “With firm shoulders, the Raum is separated from nothingness (das Nichts). Where there is Raum, there is Being (Sein). (Kröner Ed., volume 7, II, p. 58).

10. [Tr.: “He speaks, though silent.”]