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.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Space and memory in "Dichtung und Wahrheit"

Goethe-Haus Smart Guide
Gärten, Höfe, Hintergebäude ziehen sich bis an den Zwinger heran; man sieht mehrere tausend Menschen in ihren häuslichen, kleinen, abgeschlossenen, verborgenen Zustände.

The above is the description of the view from Goethe's childhood home in Frankfurt, to be found near the beginning of Dichtung und Wahrheit. It is illustrative of what Anthony Mahler called, in his paper at the Atkins Goethe conference, "desirous spaces," which form the structural principle of the autobiography. Its chronology, as Anthony pointed out, is difficult to follow, with events seemingly disconnected. Instead of the narrative being defined by the passage of events in time, it progresses via a series of "enclosed spaces," as "topoi of narration." Goethe is specific in his description of the house's compartmentalized rooms: "unzusammenhangende Zimmer," for instance, reached via a "turmartige Treppe."

Anthony characterized the multitude of enclosures as exciting the child's imagination by making him desirous to enter such spaces. In turn, growth in the poet's consciousness is achieved "through a narrative chain of border crossings in which the child either gains permission to enter or exit an enclosure or transgresses the border against some authority."

As I listened to his paper, a number of vignettes or stories that are lovingly detailed in the autobiography came to mind, e.g., the Gretchen story; the Sesenheim idyll; the Melusine story to which reference is made in that idyll; the imperial coronation ceremony; and so on. These, too, concern enclosures, but I had not previously related these vignettes to the structure of the autobiography. My own interpretation (in an essay that appeared in the Goethe Yearbook) was that the vignettes represented traditional poetic forms that the poet had to escape if he were to supersede them.

Something of the same flavor informed a second paper at the conference, by Steve Martinson. Steve presented Goethe as a "memory collector," with the autobiography representing a collection of memories. We all know that Goethe's avidity for collecting began in childhood already. According to Steve, the autobiography was an "aesthetically rich museum populated by living memories that inform and shape it: "Erinnerungsräume." Again, space, in which the individuals described take on a  statue-like character.

Both papers give me a new way of investigating Goethe's prose, especially the novels, which indeed seem to be structured by "set pieces."


Sunday, October 26, 2014

GSNA conference: Romantic tendencies in art

The conference is over. I am heading back to NYC in a few hours. I'll try to do a wrap-up of the conference in the days ahead, but I'd like to highlight a couple of presentations, because they allow me to add lovely pictures to the post.

Catriona McLeod's subject was the illustrations of German Märchen in the early 19th century. Only slowly were the Grimm brothers open to including illustrations with their tales. They were, after all, scholars, but they became convinced that they were losing a lucrative publishing opportunity, not to mention that the English had already begun publishing translations of fairy tales with their own illustrations. The brothers kept the business in the family, commissioning Ludwig Emil Grimm. The paternal Grimms monitored Ludwig Emil's drawings, which led to Christianizing the reception of the tales. For instance, in an illustration of "Red Riding Hood" (Rotkäpchen), a Bible appears on the table in the room where Grandmother lies in bed. Another instance can be observed in the lovely illustration above of the tale about the boy who is turned into a fawn. The sister and the deadly river are of course part of the original tale, but not the angel who watches over the pair. I learned a new phrase in Catriona's talk: "discursive interventions," i.e., which describes the function of frontispieces.

Spring Landscape in Rosenthal near Leipzig by C.G. Carus, 1814
Beate Allert organized a session on painting and visual aesthetics focused on Goethe, Carl Gustav Carus, and Ludwig Tieck.  Carus (1789-1869) has been described by Peter Berglar as the "geniale Polyhistor und Polypragmatiker," who was also a medical doctor and psychologist, a "Naturwissenschaftler" and philosopher, painter, aesthetician, and writer, with over 200 writings to his name. (See the Goethe-Handbuch entry on Carus by Anton Philipp Knittel.) Their shared interest in the natural world and in art led to a correspondence between Carus and Goethe in 1818. Goethe had been enthusiastic about a book by Carus on animal anatomy, and the correspondence continued for a decade, during which time Carus sent many of his paintings to Goethe. The letters suddenly stopped three years before Goethe's death. Why is uncertain. Goethe drafted a letter to Carus in late 1831, but it was not sent.

Beate suggested some differences between the two men that may have played a role. Carus had worked on the front during the Napoleonic wars, an experience that left him with many psychic wounds, but that also led to his profound interest in "das unbewusste Seelenleben," a subject about which Goethe was very cautious and that explains much about his aversion to aspects of Romanticism. Carus seems to have been "purposive" in his life, both in medicine, in which he sought to help others, and in art, the practice of which served a therapeutic function for him. Goethe was antipathetic to art serving as therapy or, indeed, for any other purpose.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Atkins Goethe conference in Pittsburgh

The first visit I made after my arrival in Pittsburgh was the University of Pittsburgh's Hillman Library, site of a very impressive exhibit of rare materials, including early editions of Goethe's own works or of works that he might have known and that served as sources of poetic inspiration, and of works by contemporaries. There were also some manuscripts, coins, drawings, and etching, and paintings. Here is the flyer from the event, with a contemporary watercolor satirizing the reception of Werther among readers in England, in this case a servant girl.

Friday, the first morning of the conference (here is a link), was opened by current president of the Goethe Society of North America, Clark Muenzer, who humorously detailed Goethe "connections" in the Pittsburgh environment. The closest contact Goethe had with this area was via his familiarity with the travels of Prince Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach who visited the state during his travels in the U.S. in 1825-26. In his account of his American travels, the prince described the Rappite community of German pietists who made their final home in the New World in a place they names "Economy," now Ambridge, Pennsylvania.

Clark's lightheartedness was followed by a panel of three previous presidents speaking on a serious topic: "Goethe and the Humanities." They were Ellis Dye, Simon Richter, and Astrida Orle Tantillo. I am not going to add my two cents to that subject here, although I did address it in my own presentation in the afternoon.

More later.