Monday, July 17, 2017

Sointula days

At the other end of Malcolm island, reached after travel on a logging road, is Mitchell Bay. Back in the Sixties, some folks from the U.S. settled this part of the island, living, as we now say, "off the grid." (It is amazing how interminable the road to Mitchell Bay is when you are driving in second gear.) In the meantime, some beautiful houses have been built, as exemplified by that of Thelma and Murray, who invited me to go out in their boat to look for whales. (Click on pictures to enlarge.)

The best part of the excursion was the sight of a huge pod of dolphins. They came close to the boat, swam and dived under it, but mostly they were in search of herring. They travel fast. I could not help thinking at the time how mysterious they seemed and that they would find a prominent place in Greek mythology. It just so happened that yesterday a correspondent of this blog wrote to me about the frequent appearance of dolphins in Greek mythology. He mentioned a depiction of them, dated 1600 B.C., on the walls of a bathroom in the palace at Knossos. The picture here shows these marvelous water creatures.

Whales were seen as well. Afterward, Thelma showed me her beautiful quilts.

Goethe Girl is also working while here, as will be revealed in further posts.

Departing Mitchell Bay to view whales

White-sided dolphins too fast to photograph

Goethe Girl enjoys the ride

The ocean

Thelma's quilt reminded me of Goethe's color wheels

Thelma herself

Photograph credit (Knossos): Te Ara

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Gone fishing

I am back in Sointula for my summer sojourn. It has been a busy first week, with a day trip to northwest Vancouver Island. The painting of the logger (detail only) was taken at the Scarlet Ibis Pub in Holberg on the way to Grant Bay, where the beach pictures were taken. Goethe Girl can be seen standing in front of a wonderful outcropping of basalt. Click on photos to enlarge.

Going on 10 p.m. it is 12.3 Celsius. More news to follow.






Saturday, June 17, 2017

Goethe and the Cult of Personality in 19th-Century Britain

Female preacher at a Quaker meeting
My friend and colleague Gregory Maertz, professor of English at Saint John’s University, reminds me of the men and women interviewed on HR2 “Doppelkopf,” one of my favorite German podcasts. Alongside his expertise in 19th-century British literature, he has recently published a volume of essays on the influence of Goethe in Britain in the late 18th–early 19th century. The title of the volume, Literature and the Cult of Personality, is a hint of the importance of Goethe, especially for Thomas Carlyle, at a time that the latter referred to as “these hard unbelieving utilitarian days.” In an age bereft of spiritual certainties, literature replaced the role of religion for Carlyle, and it was Goethe who became the prophet of the new dispensation, with his texts comparable to the Acts of the Apostles for people of faith. Thus, Goethe became “the Uniter and Reconciler” of “the inward spiritual chaos” of “the most distracted and divided age .. since the introduction of the Christian religion.”

It has been pointed out that Carlyle’s criticism is decidedly lacking in formal evaluation of Goethe’s works.  Instead, Goethe’s “oracular significance” was based to the greatest extent on what Carlyle perceived as his “sincerity” (or maybe “authenticity” as per Lionel Trilling?): Goethe was not simply some painter of words or imitator of poetic formulas. He lived what he wrote, which was suggested to Carlyle by Goethe’s own oracular pronouncement in Dichtung und Wahrheit: "Everything that I have published previously consists of fragments of a great confession."

While Carlyle is the best-known mediator of Goethe’s influence in Britain, the first chapter of Literature and the Cult of Personality concerns the first translators of German literature, writers loosely identified with the Godwin circle. They were among the earliest and most fervent supporters of the French Revolution, which very quickly made them marginal, not only with respect to the dominant politics (which were anti-Jacobin). The stance of being ideological outsiders may have been second nature to them, as many were Dissenters (e.g., Quakers, Methodists) or female, thus, with little access to what Greg calls the Oxbridge or public school education based on Latin and Greek.
Thomas Holcroft

A member of this circle, Thomas Holcroft, was so sympathetic to the French Revolution that he was effectively banished from publishing under his own name, even after his acquittal for treason in 1794. The appeal to him of Goethe’s Hermann und Dorothea is not surprising, and he  produced the first translation to appear in Britain.  As Greg writes, the text allowed Holcroft to center himself “in a foreign otherness,” while the conflict within Hermann’s family mirrored that of the Godwin circle “in the wake of war hysteria and government reaction.” Goethe himself praised Holcroft for his translation in a letter of May 29, 1801, in which he distinguished two approaches to translation.

Because of my own work on the reception of Milton in Germany in the early 18th century, I was interested to learn of the many contacts of Germans in Britain already by then. Several German scientists and Enlightenment figures became members of the Royal Society on its founding in 1663, and throughout the following century German musicians and painters worked in England. The youngest Bach son, Johann Christian, organized concerts of Mozart’s music in London and arranged his appearance at court in 1764. John Wesley transmitted many German hymns into the Methodist musical inventory.

Thus, Goethe was not the first or only German writer whose works appeared in translation. Fuseli, who arrived in England from Zurich in 1760, produced the first translation of Winckelmann in English, and Henry  Hudson’s translation of Lavater’s Physiological Fragments appeared in a lavish edition of three volumes (1789, 1792, 1798). The plays of Kotzebue were wildly popular on the London stage (in contrast to those of Lessing or Goethe). Indeed, as Greg writes, the dominant literary public felt “nearly universal antipathy toward Goethe,” precisely for the lack of moralism in his works. In the words of the Anti-Jacobin Review, “he has attained that divine morality which looks down on all forms of human conduct, with equal eye, and sees in the lewdness of Faustus, or the purity of Iphigenie, but that exact adaptation of effect and cause of conduct and motive, which he characterizes the constitution of things.”

There is much of interest here. I liked William Taylor's characterization of Dichtung und Wahrheit (Poetry and Truth) as a "biographical novel," revealing (quoting here Schopenhauer) the inner significance of everyday life, in contrast to the outer significance. Further chapters discuss the reception of Kant, Henry Crabb Robinson, the Romantic idealization of the artist, the influence of Goethe in New England, and Goethe’s role in the literary formation of George Eliot.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Safranksi biography of Goethe in English

A reader of this blog wrote to inform me of the appearance of the English translation of Goethe: Life as a Work of Art by Rüdiger Safranski. I wrote a review of Safranski's book for the Goethe Yearbook when it appeared in German a few years ago and even devoted a few posts to it, including this one.

The translation is by David Dollenmayer, a professor of German at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. I do not know Professor Dollenmayer, but a little internet research has turned up quite a bit of praise for his translations from German. The Other Press features several of these translations on its website. In 2010 he was the receipient of an Austrian Cultural Forum in New York award for his "translation-in-progress" of Michael Köhlmeier's Idyll With Drowning Dog (Idylle mit ertrinkendem Hund), first published in 2008.

In a statement regarding NEA funding in 2014, for Michael Kleeberg's A Garden in the North (Ein Garten im Norden), Dollenmayer wrote that, in a career of teaching German language and literature, translation seemed like an extension of close reading.

The review of Goethe: Life as a Work of Art by Ben Hutchinson appeared in the above-pictured June issue of The Literary Review. According to Hutchinson, Dollmayer "has boldly decided to translate all quotations from Goethe’s works and letters himself, rather than use existing translations. Occasional anachronisms aside – Goethe the ‘whiz kid’ – this works surprisingly well, giving a single, unified voice to a diverse body of work."

Congratulations to David Dollenmayer on this publication and for its contribution to wider acquaintance with Goethe in the English-speaking world.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Goethe's Lotte in Seoul

Lotte adored by Goethe, Lotte Hotel Seoul
Global Goethe is a site recently inaugurated by the Goethe Society of North America to serve (as per the website) "not just as a repository of translations, adaptations, performances, and visualizations of Goethe and his works from around the world, but also as a place for collaborative scholarship that examines the many representations of Goethe across languages and cultures." One of its first features concerned a Korean company, Lotte Co. Ltd., which was founded in 1948 by the South Korean businessman Shin Kyuk-Ho, who had a fondness for Goethe's novel The Sorrows of Young Werther. (Go here for Global Goethe's first post on the Lotte company.)

Lotte is a major manufacturer of sweets, and its corporate message, "Sweetheart in Your Mouth," is resonant in connection with Charlotte. According to a Wall Street Journal article of April 17 (behind a paywall) on the Lotte company, the founder was struck by the intensity of the passion Werther felt for Lotte. In the words of one of Lotte's directors: "We want Lotte to be beloved by everyone, like Lotte was."

This link to the Lotte group indicates that the company is much larger than chocolates. It is involved in the chemical and construction industries, and there are baseball teams bearing Lotte's name, in Korea and in Japan, not to forget a chain of luxury hotels around the world. According to the WSJ article, a copy of Goethe's novel is placed in each room of the hotels. The 123-floor Lotte World Tower in Seoul boasts a 17-foot statue of Goethe, a replica of the marble one in Berlin's Tiergarten.

As soon as I read that there was also a two-story-tall illuminated gold-hued statue of Lotte at the Lotte Department Store in downtown Seoul, I got in touch with the New York City publicist for the Lotte Group, asking if she could obtain a photo of the statue for me. After weeks of back and forth emails, a photo arrived today, for which I am most grateful. The statue, pictured at the top of this post (click to enlarge), is located on the rooftop park of the department store. I think this statue of Lotte must be a first.

Also posted here is the photo of the statue of Goethe, situated in Arena Square of Lotte World Tower in Seoul, which was also sent to me by the Lotte publicist. I wonder how many Goethe statues there are around the world, erected because someone felt a passionate attachment to Goethe's work. I would be interested in hearing from anyone (with photos, please) concerning Goethe statues worldwide. With thanks for this first installment from the Seoul and New York City representatives of Lotte.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Homeopathy and German Romanticism

The same issue in which Tim Parks' essay on Victor Hugo appeared (see my earlier post) also featured a quarter-page ad from the University of Toronto Press announcing the publication of several new books, including one by Alice A. Kuzniar, who is a member of the Goethe Society of North America. The new book is The Birth of Homeopathy out of the Spirit of Romanticism. It seems that homeopathy is of German origin,  founded in 1796 by the German physician Samuel Hahnemann. According to the publisher's description, Hahnemann "ardently proposed that like cures like, counter to the conventional treatment of prescribing drugs that have the opposite effect to symptoms." Alice, who teaches in Canada at the University of Waterloo, can be seen in a YouTube video discussing the controversial medical treatment. The book's focus is the intellectual culture circa 1800, including among German Romantics. I have not yet seen the book, but I have a feeling that Goethe features in it.




Saturday, May 20, 2017

"World Literature" can evidently be about anything

Princess Xquic
Okay, I am going to vent here, but please excuse me. After all, how many times have you patiently listened to people venting about Donald Trump?

My breath is sometimes taken away when I have occasion to read contemporary literary "scholarship." Take the following sentence from the conclusion of an article appearing in PMLA in 2016 (vol. 131.5). The "Xquic" in the quote concerns a short story from 1990 by the Guatemalan writer Rodrigo Rey Rosa. Apparently Xquic is a Mayan mythological figure.

"Reading 'Xquic' proleptically sheds light on our institutional moment in which the proliferation of the world and the global across our increasingly Byzantine (and often, as in Rey Rosa's story, suspiciously funded) administrative landscapes is indelibly linked to the simultaneous but distant scenes of transnational corporations that continually shadow intellectual life at universities in the United States."

Got that?

Under most circumstances I would not be reading the PMLA, and in truth I was not actually reading the issue. I am finishing a scholarly article for a journal that turns out to follow the MLA style manual for its Works Cited. I don't have any copies of the PMLA on my shelves at home, nor a copy of the MLA Style Manual. I was surprised to discover that no local New York Public Library branch has a copy on its Reserve shelves. So, I traveled to JSTOR in order to consult recent issues of PMLA to make sure that all my references matched the MLA style. The most recent issue of PMLA online included the article from which I quoted above. The article is entitled "Unsettling World Literature." Since the article I am writing concerns the subject of world literature, I downloaded the piece. The execrable sentence quoted above appears shortly before the Works Cited. The author is Anna Brickhouse, not only a professor of English and American Studies at the University of Virginia, but also at work on "a project on translation and catastrophe."

Can anyone really read such articles, if one is not among those "initiated" in the jargon? At one of the last MLA conferences at which I made an appearance, I attended a talk by a graduate student who read a paper that was filled with such deadening verbiage. At one point in the talk, he looked up from his paper. When he went back to it, he had lost his place, and it took about a minute to figure out where he was. It was very amusing. Apparently he couldn't figure out what he was saying either.

And what, one may ask, does Professor Brickhouse's article have to do with world literature, anyway? I have to confess, as with the young "scholar" at the MLA conference, that I get the point. In fact, one doesn't need to read the ten pages of Brickhouse's article to get the point. All the talk about comity among the nations, tolerance, universal values, etc. that can be discerned in Goethe's comments on the subject simply provided intellectual cover for predatory capitalism. We all get the point. But spare us your cynical hypocrisy. What I would like to hear about is how Brickhouse's own intellectual life is "shadowed" by transnational corporations. Isn't she compromised by teaching at the University of Virginia, whose sturdy endowment is certainly buttressed by said corporations? Come on. Let's have some mea culpa.

Picture credit: Deviant Art