Tuesday, December 16, 2014

"es wird sich auch kristallisiern!"

Charlotte von Kalb by Johann Heinrich Schmidt
Herewith another nice anecdote from Biedermann's Goethes Gespräche. It is from the pen of Charlotte von Kalb (1761–1843), describing a social gathering in 1788 in Weimar:

Einen Tag verlebten wir bei Frau v. Stein zu einer Kollation. Goethe stand am Fenster, hatte eine Glasscheibe in der Hand und einen Bogen, zeigte, wie bei jeder Bewegung des Bogens der Sand auf dem Glase verschiedene Figuren bildete. Das Geringste war ihm bedeutend, was zum Gesetz der Ordnung gehörte, und so interessierte ihn dies wunderbare Spiel lebhaft; und wie unzerstörbar die geheimnisvolle Ordung der Natur, konnte wohl auch dies Experiment beweisen; die Winde zerstreuen den feinen Sand, doch der leise Strich des Bogens zwingt die Körnchen zu bestimmten schönen Formen. Es beschäftigten uns seine Versuche in lebendig angeregter Teilnahme mit ihm ... Goethes prägnanter Ausdruck bezeichnete zuweilen wie vorausschreitend und voraussagend: es wird sich auch kristallisiern! –– O wohl uns, wenn wir einst nur schöne Strahlen darin zu erkennen vermögen.

The recollection is evidence of the way Goethe dominated such social gatherings. I imagine by this time, however, that Frau von Stein found little interest in Goethe's Glasscheibe and his esoteric experimenting –– although isn't it the case that she was greatly responsible for transforming him from a person who dominated by a sparkling personality (as pre-Weimar accounts inform us) into this "frosty" presence?

Charlotte von Kalb's ironic tone is of interest, indicating perhaps that she did not take Goethe as seriously as he took himself. A New York Times article from 1883 describes her as a person who was warmly admired by men ("she fascinated nearly all the men she ever knew"), less so by women! Of her relationship with Schiller, the article goes on: "She loved Schiller and although he ultimately persuaded himself that she had not exercised a wholesome influence over him, there can be doubt that for several years he had as strong a passion for her as she for him." For more on that relationship, go here, a tale written in 1850.

The article also mentions that she excited "the passionate enthusiasm of the unfortunate poet Hölderlin." Her husband killed himself in 1806.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

"Against World Literature"

Collage by Maureen Mullarkey
I am finishing up my essay on Fritz Strich –– oh, how bedeviling are the footnotes! I find myself in opposition to almost every scholarly approach to world literature since it has become such a scholarly industry –– since Strich's Goethe und die Weltliteratur, first published in 1946. The term was of course in circulation already in Goethe's lifetime, as it first appeared in 1827 in volume 6, no. 1 of Ueber Kunst und Altertum. Peter Goßens' study (discussed here by me) has detailed the afterlife of the concept in the period immediately after Goethe's death. For instance, its political and ethical ramifications were seized on by Karl August Varnhagen and other Goethe admirers in Varnhagen’s Berlin circle, among whom the ideas of the followers of Saint-Simon had taken root. Goßens quotes Cyrus Hamlin on Varnhagen’s reading of the Wanderjahre as “Gebrauchsanweisung für die zukünftige soziale Ordnung Europas in 19. Jahrhundert,” thereby forming, in Goßens’ words, “der Grundstein einer sozialistischen Goethedeutung.”

Marx and Engels blew that interpretation out of the water, and after 1848 "world literature" came more and more to be identified with comparative literature, which began to establish itself as a scholarly discipline. Not that everyone agreed with that conflation, and in the decades before the appearance of Goethe und die Weltliteratur there occasionally appeared an essay or a book that sought to rescue the concept from the comparatists.

Since at least the 1980s, the concept of "Eurocentrism" has been intimately linked to the world literature industry. It is true that Europe and its offshoots have dominated the rest of the world in economic terms, to the extent of producing inequalities in respect of “marginalized peripheries.” (That's from Samir Amin, the guy who invented the term "Eurocentrism.") And in a burst of 19th-century overreach, they sought to "export" their institutions to non-Europe, with not such great results. In my essay on Strich, however, I seek to distinguish "Europe" as an economic product from "European" literature. The former is in about progress, which means rejecting what was loved only yesterday. In non-material terms, this has given rise to one of the most characteristic features of Western life of the past several centuries, namely, the rejection of the intellectual and cultural authority of the past (the battle of ancients and moderns marking a milestone in this rejection). The latter, however, from the Greeks to the 18th century, valued the past and transmitted it.

"Using Literature to Teach Global Citizenship"
The provocative title of this post is also that of a new book by NYU professor of French Emily Apter. The TLS reviewed the book, providing a clear summary of Apter's critique: world literature, according to Apter (but in the words of the reviewer), is "the handmaiden to a late-capitalist moment that transforms all cultural idioms into easily digestible products for an expanded global marketplace." I agree with this sentiment. One only has to consider those ghastly anthologies of world literature foisted off on high school and college students. Not to mention the cloying, dumbed-down multicultural programs. Apter's fight "against" world literature seems to concern the issue of "untranslatability" (as per her subtitle). I say "seems," for frankly it is hard to know what she is talking about. The following is exemplary of her terrible writing:

"[I]n translation studies, the limits of sayability and expressibility are increasingly a focus, conjugating logic and philology, with the latter understood in Werner Hamacher's ascription as an 'inclination' (or disinclination) to that which is 'said and not said.'"

Why the weird use of "conjugate" and "ascription" here? And how does the second half of the sentence follow on the first? And why are the writings of full professors so offputting?

Proudhon and His Children by Gustave Courbet (1853)
It strikes me that Apter is a 21st-century version of the proto-socialist enthusiasts of Goethe's day. Her wish, like those proto-socialists, is the formation of non-national, emancipated, cosmopolitan literary communities. But that is exactly what the market creates. One only has to read a contemporary English-language novel coming out of India or Pakistan or an African country to understand that the writers of these novels are repeating the experience of Europe, namely, rejecting their own traditions, literary and otherwise, and becoming "cosmopolitan." Such has been the arc of the novel in the West, namely, to portray individuals contending with a non-traditional world, one in which the old sureties have been destroyed in the name of "progress."

I am beginning to find something weird about the world literature movement. Besides the endless numbers of conferences, I just came across an announcement for a "Four-Day Vacation School" on the topic of "World Literature: Theories, Practice, Pegagogy." Held in September at the University of Warwick, it was sponsored by "the Connecting Cultures Grp." Need I say more?

Picture credit: Vamos a leer; Encyclopedia Britannica

Goethe in Silesia 1820

Stamps commemorating the pilgrimage site at Wartha
It is quite amazing how many people had something to say about Goethe. I was looking through the first volume (1749–1805) of Goethes Gespräche by Flodoard Freiherrn von Biedermann, in which I found the following from a letter written by Carl August to his mother, dated August 15, 1820:

Beschwerliche Soupers, böses Steinpflaster, häßliche Weiber, weitläufige Verlegung derer Truppen und vieler Staub sind unsere angenehmsten Zugaben. Goethe isset und trinket stark, bloß seinetwegen steigt die Teuerung in hiesiger Gegend. Er wird ehstens ins Glatzer Gebirge reisen.

Goethe somewhat unwillingly –– he had recently returned from Venice –– joined Carl August and his troops in Breslau. Nicholas Boyle mentions (vol. 2, p. 78) that Goethe's tour of Silesia is underdocumented, but that he spent the week "under canvas"; thus, the duke's complaint about food and other travel trials. Festivities were going on in Breslau. The Prussian king was there, as August 17 was the fourth anniversary of his succession. It was apparently very hot that summer (thus, the dust). Boyle speaks of Goethe's discomfort in the "crowded, ill-drained, riverside town," especially in "close proximity to the Duke of Brunswick, who had never been well disposed toward him" (p. 82).

Wartha (Bardo)
Goethe took his leave from Carl August on the 26th and set off for the county of Glatz, which was annexed by the Prussians during the Silesian wars. His destination was the mountain known in German as "Heuscheuer" (Table Mountain in English). Thus, he left unvisited, according to Boyle, the pilgrimage center of Wartha (Bardo), with "its miraculous image of the Virgin and replicas of the holy places in Jerusalem." As Boyle writes, "Goethe was certainly on the Heuscheuer on either the 28th or the 29th, and it seems likely that once again he had chosen to mark his birthday by an act that lifted him, both really and symbolically, above the confusion and frustration of his ordinary existence" (p. 83)

Picture credits: Swistak.pl; Fryderyk Bernard Wernher

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Goethe letters at auction

On November 20 Sotheby's London will be offering a cache of 42 letters from Goethe to Joseph Sebastian Grüner (1780-1864), a "Kriminalrat" in Eger (now Cheb, in the Czech Republic), whom Goethe met in 1820 on the way to Karlsbad. On May 28 he and Grüner climbed the Cammersberg together and engaged, according to Goethe's diary, in "belehrende Unterhaltung." According to the Wikipedia article on Cheb, "attractions near the Bavarian border include the Komorní hůrka and Železná hůrka. These are remains of the most recent Czech volcanoes, which now form the basis of a nature reserve. This area was researched by Goethe."

Goethe and Grüner met again in the summer of 1821 when Goethe was on route to and from Marienbad and again in 1822. On September 1, 1825, Grüner visited Weimar and stayed as Goethe's guest for 10 days.

It was because of Goethe that Grüner became interested in mineralogy. They went together in search of mineralogical deposits, and Grüner began assembling his own collection of minerals. According to the auction catalogue the 39 letters are about mineralogy, paleontology, and literature, and include one to Grüner on March 15, 1832, a week before Goethe's death, when Goethe wrote "a summary of his philosophy of science." In that letter Goethe thanks Grüner for sending him a copy of a "dissertation" by "Professor Dietrich," in which "meine Farbenlehre" was favorably discussed. He then goes on:

[D]enn die Natur wird allein verständlich, wenn man die verschiedensten isolirt scheinenden Phänomene in methodischer Folge darzustellen bemüht ist; da man denn wohl begreifen lernt, daß es kein Erstes und Letztes gibt, sondern daß alles, in einem lebendigen Kreis eingeschlossen, anstatt sich zu widersprechen, sich aufklärt und die zartesten Bezüge dem forschenden Geiste darlegt. Möge mir ein solcher Antheil auch bey Ihnen und den werthen geistesverwandten Männern immerfort lebendig und wirksam verbleiben.

It seems to have been a profitable and enjoyable relationship, for Goethe also recalls an earlier outing:

Andalousite Tyrol
Die Zeiten waren gar zu schön wo wir dem Andalusit auf die Spur kamen und den pseudovulkanischen Problemen eifrigst nachgingen.

Grüner published their correspondence in 1853: J.S. Grüner, Briefwechsel und mündlicher Verkehr zwischen Goethe und dem Rathe Grüner. Two of the thirty-nine letters are "autograph," meaning, I guess, that Goethe wrote them himself. Thirty-eight are signed by Goethe. Original envelopes are also included.

The letters, according to Sotheby's, "were acquired by the Austrian National Library in 1944, and have recently been restituted to the Heirs of Rudolf von Gutmann." I see that Sotheby's previously auctioned items, in 1993, from the Guttmann collection.

The Goethe letters can be yours for an estimated 80,000-100,000 British Pounds (U.S. $132,632 to $165,790).

Photo credit: Didier Descouens

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Extension and enclosure in the Goethezeit

Mural by Dan; photo by Justin Staple
Anthony Mahler and I organized two panels for the 2014 Atkins Goethe conference in Pittsburgh. As we wrote in the proposal: "Two polar responses to space are representative of aesthetic experience in the Goethezeit: limitless extension characterizes the sublime, the perception of a spatial magnitude so great that it thwarts sensory and imaginative comprehension; and delimited enclosure frames the autonomy and free play of the beautiful. The papers on these two panels explore various spaces of extension and expansion from Goethe’s writings and the Goethezeit."

At the conference at least three panels ran concurrently at one time, so one had to make some choices about which to attend. For those who missed ours, I herewith attach a synopsis of each speaker's presentation:

John H. Smith, University of California, Irvine
“Paradoxes of Infinite Spaces in the Goethezeit”
    Leibnizian metaphysics opened up the realm of the infinite in radical ways. In terms of space, the world as a continuous plenum full of monads extended outwards without limits and inwards into the infinitesimal. In mathematics, this discovery of the infinite allowed for the development of differential calculus, even as it led to deep problems of representation and the imagination, for just what are the infinitely large and infinitesimally small? Beginning with Kant’s “cosmological antinomies,” this paper explores some of the ways the (mathematical) infinite disrupted conceptions of space.

Anthony Mahler, University of Chicago
“Desirous Enclosures: The Topography and Topoi of Goethe’s Narrated Childhood”
    Enclosures compose the story and discourse of the opening three books of Goethe’s Dichtung und Wahrheit. The story follows the child’s desire to procure the hidden contents of ever multiplying and expanding enclosures, from the rooms of the domestic home to the boxed-in city of Frankfurt and the hortus conclusus of “Der neue Paris.” This nested topography of desire serves on the level of discourse as the topoi (places) for autobiographical narration. The paper will thus argue that as a spatial feature of the home and city enclosures also structure desire, the imagination, and autobiography.

The Eternal Silence of Space (2013), by Carolyn Porras
Gloria Colombo, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milan
“Phenomenologies of Space: Goethe and Man’s Place in the Cosmos”
    Goethe’s writings and conversations often refer to the idea of the soul’s cosmic voyage and to the existence of many inhabited worlds from which our souls may descend or at which they may one day arrive. More than any other Goethean character, Helena expresses the relationship described by the poet between Man and the universe. As will be explored in this paper, the deep sense of harmony between Man and the universe is particularly well expressed by the meters used by Helena when speaking with Faust in the inner court of the castle (III,2).

Vance Byrd, Grinnell College
“A Domestic Spectacle: Breysig’s German Panorama and Bertuch’s Modejournal”
    Panoramas were the nineteenth-century’s signature popular entertainment. Invented in 1787, they catered to contemporary desire for immersive entertainment and to a longing for being transported to another space in time. Germans became acquainted with panoramas for the first time via the imagination in descriptions of them found in fashion journals, advertisements, personal letters, short stories, and novels. This paper will explore the way in which Bertuch's journal attuned the panorama to German debates on aesthetic discourse and commodity culture. Panoramas appeared as part of a network of social practices and representational techniques that reconciled leisure and the sacrosanct bourgeois home—transparency projections, interior design, and the private garden.

Elizabeth Powers, New York City
“Goethe and World Literature: Today Europe, Tomorrow the World”
    This paper will discuss the peaceful literary commerce that, by the early 19th century, had contributed to a unified cultural space, i.e., “Europe,” and that gave rise to Goethe's conception of world literature. All of the communicative practices that he mentioned in this connection were in full flower by then: translations, correspondence, foreign travel and travel literature, literary journals, and even conferences. He foresaw the universal spread of such practices. And since they had been achieved, as he imagined, without national frictions, his hope was that their spread would unite the nations of the world in amity. This presentation will consider the failure to transplant this cultural product beyond its “natural” constituency.

Picture credits: Bristol Street Art; Carolyn Porras

Friday, October 31, 2014

Scenes from the Andy Warhol Museum

Goethe Girl
The report on the 2014 Atkins Goethe Conference would not be complete without a few photos from our finale at the Warhol Museum. I am sorry that I did not get a photo of Clark Muenzer, who was a great host, or of Heather Sullivan and Horst Lange, his co-conspirators.

Simon Richter

Dennis Mahoney and Beate Allert

Christina Weiler and Joseph Rockelmann

Sean Hughes and Peter Schwartz

Anne Bohnenkamp warholized

Sue Gustafson, Eleanor ter Horst, Fred Amrine


Birgit Tautz and Hans Vaget

Goethe Conference keynote speakers

Jane Brown and Anne Bohnenkamp-Renken
As a finale of the 2014 Atkins Goethe Conference in Pittsburgh, we enjoyed dinner at the Andy Warhol Museum. Standing next to the serigraphs Warhol did of one of Europe's first celebrities are Jane Brown and Anne Bohnenkamp-Renken. A few hours previously Anne had given a keynote address on the work of the Freies Deutsches Hochstift, of which she is the director, and of the exhibition strategies of the Frankfurt Goethe-Museum (ditto director). It was an exciting and fast-paced presentation, one of those occasions when I feel so happy to be associated with such splendid scholars and, of course, with Goethe. Although there are many small and regional museums throughout Germany devoted to different Romantic personalities, the Hochstift's present goal is to make Frankfurt the center of Romanticism in Europe with a new museum of Romanticism. They are in the position to do this after having acquired adjoining property formerly occupied by the German Börsenverein.

Ernst Beutler vor dem Goethe Haus, 1944
Anne's talk was accompanied by slides showing the history of the Goethe's birth house since its acquisition by Otto Volger in 1859 and the simultaneous founding of the Hochstift. One was a touching photo of Ernst Beutler, director of the Hochstift from 1925 until 1960, sitting with his son amid the bombed ruins of the Goethe family home in 1944. During the Second World War, besides photographing the interior of the home, Beutler also succeeded in transferring many of its contents, including the library, to safe locations. These efforts were essential in the house's rebuilding after the war. I have always treasured his Goethe essays; now another reason to treasure Beutler.

As for Anne Bohnenkamp-Renken, I have long been a fan. In my research I have read tons of articles and books on world literature, but it is only occasionally that I come across one that enlightens my understanding of what Goethe might have had in mind. Her article, "Rezeption der Rezeption: Goethes Entwurf einer 'Weltliteratur' im Kontext seiner Zeitschrift 'Über Kunst und Altertum'" (included in this volume), is not part of the endless discussions of what world literature "means," but concerns what she calls the "weitgehend vernachlässigten Entstehungs- und Publikationskontext des Goetheschen Ausdrucks."

Heinzelmännchenbrunnen in Cologne
On this side of the Atlantic we Germanists also have a stellar Goethe scholar, Jane K. Brown, who delivered the first keynote of the conference. Goethe studies in the U.S. have been much enriched in the past half-century by such native American talent, as is demonstrated by a recent volume in her honor, Goethe's Ghosts: Reading and the Persistence of Literature. This volume, edited by Simon Richter and Richard Block, indicates by its title an appreciation for Jane's deep explorations of the European literary heritage as it was transmitted and transformed by Goethe, especially the continuance of the allegorical tradition. Her method of close reading of literary texts -- combining erudition with deft analyses of passages, plots, and plays, once the heart of literary scholarship -- occurred during the period when "theory" insinuated itself in the field of German studies. All the more reason to be a fan of Jane's.

Her keynote concerned Goethe's "Das Märchen" and what she called the "paradigmatic status of fairy tales for Goethe's works." I suspect that this exploration of the fairy tale is related to her longstanding work on allegory.