Thursday, January 29, 2009

New Biography of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

The Times Literary Supplement reviews in its current issue (1/23/09) Hugh Nisbet's biography of Lessing (unfortunately not yet published in English). For a person of his stature in German letters, it is hard to get a picture of Lessing the person. As Ritchie Robertson mentions in the TLS review, it would have been fascinating to have "Boswellian records of Lessing's conversations with friends in coffee-houses in Leipzig, Berlin, Hamburg and Brunswick." Unfortunately, Lessing's day-to-day life has passed "into oblivion," which leads a biographer to concentrate on his writings. Fortunately, those writings give a picture of a very attractive human being. You see the mind working, and you tend to like what you see, whether or not you agree with what is being said. This respect for Lessing the person seems to have moderated Goethe's response to Lessing the writer.

Lessing (1729-1781) was only in his forties, thus at the height of his game, when the so-called Storm and Stress (Sturm und Drang) generation erupted in the realm of German literature. Lessing's first play (Der junge Gelehrte, or The Young Scholar) had appeared in 1748, the year before Goethe's birth; the drama Miß Sara Sampson in 1755; and Laokoon, his treatise on the differences between painting and poetry, in 1766. While the Storm and Stress writers rebelled against standards of French taste that had been imported into German literature, Lessing had already been there, in his drama criticism, known as Hamburgische Dramaturgie (1767-69).

Goethe had what today would be called "issues" with his poetic precursors, with writers who influenced his own work. (The famous statue of Laocoon suggests something of his struggle.) There is a charming instance of this in The Sorrows of Young Werther, as Werther and Lotte, enraptured, watch a thunderstorm. Lotte, in a flood of emotion, suddenly utters the word "Klopstock!" which causes them both to explode in a flood of tears. (The heightened emotionality portrayed here is characteristic of the temper of the Storm and Stress movement.) Lotte was referring to the famous ode by that poet, "Frühlingsfeier" (Celebration of Spring). Werther's response: "Divine Klopstock! If only you could have seen your apotheosis in those eyes. And your name, so often profaned, may I never hear it uttered again!"

There are instances in Goethe's writing that likewise suggest thinly veiled jealousy toward Lessing. These can be found in the letters Goethe wrote in Leipzig to his friend Behrisch, in which he portrayed his emotions concerning his relationship with Käthchen Schönkopf. In the most famous of these letters, dated October (but really written November) 10, 1767, he describes his jealousy at seeing Käthchen in the theater with a man whom he imagines to be his rival. As he stands in the balcony and watches with feverish agitation, Goethe unobtrusively drops the name of the play being performed: Lessing's Miß Sara Sampson. He claims to notice nothing of the play because of the distraction caused by the other scene, Käthchen being courted by another man. Lessing the writer was also a poetic rival, however, as is clear in the continuation of the letter to Behrisch: "Es schlägt neune, nun wird sie aus seyn, die verdammte Comoedie. Fluch auf sie." It's 9 p.m., that's clear, but when he says "sie" will soon be out, he does not mean "she" (i.e., Käthchen), but the play (with the feminine pronoun for "Comoedie"). Then: Curses on it. The next installment of the letter continues in this febrile vein: "Ich habe eine schröckliche Nacht gehabt. Es träumte mir von der Sara" (I had a terrible night. I dreamed of the Sara).

And, of course, much has been written about the volume of Lessing's Emilia Galotti found in Werther's room after his suicide.

Aside from his scientific pursuits, Goethe's ouevre has the same range as Lessing's, and includes reflections on many of the same subjects, from the aesthetic to the political and religious. Both were men of the Enlightenment, in different ways, with Goethe more inclined to sensuous appreciation. Both men are also characterized by important friendships, Goethe with Schiller and Lessing with Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786). 
Robertson reports that Mendelssohn wrote, after Lessing's death, that Lessing was the only person who in thirty years had never made him unwanted as a Jew. In the portrait by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim, Lessing stand in the center between Mendelssohn and Johann Kaspar Lavater, a Swiss theologian who attempted to convert Mendelssohn to Christianity.

Indeed, Lessing's third play was Die Juden (1749), about a Jew who looks like a gentile and who saves a baron from two highwaymen who are gentiles disguised as Jews! His most famous play in this regard is Nathan der Weise (Nathan the Wise), a portrait of enlightened religious tolerance among Christians, Jews, and Muslims. It even takes place in the Middle East, though I have a feeling one will not find it performed there today, outside of Israel.

Among the statements that Goethe made about Lessing, two stand out as expressing important aspects of the character of both men. In conversation with Eckermann on October 15, 1825, he said: "A man like Lessing is what we need now. For why was he so great but through his character, through his tenacity! There are plenty of clever, educated men, but where is a man of such character?" In a later conversation (on April 11, 1827) he addressed differences between himself and Lessing: "Because of his polemical nature, Lessing prefers to inhabit the region of contradiction and doubt; his strength is in making distinctions, for which a his great intellect [Verstand] came to his aid. You will find that I am completely different. I have never involved myself in  contradictions. I always tried to reconcile doubts inwardly and only expressed the results of that process."

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Goethe and Religion

I am always looking for contemporary angles with which to talk about Goethe, mostly to make clear to myself who he was. It is very difficult to get a handle on people from the past. Sometimes it is easier to discuss what they were like by looking at what they were NOT like. Goethe was certainly not religious in a conventional sense. When Gretchen asked, "How do you stand with religion?" (Nun sag, wie hast du's mit der Religion?), Faust prevaricated. Still, Goethe took religion very seriously, as can be seen, at a minimum, in his autobiography. He has been called a "non-Christian humanitarian." What does that mean exactly?

I got some insight this past Sunday, on learning that January 25 is now the feast of the conversion of Saint Paul. A jubilee year, from 28 June 2008 to 29 June 2009, on the occasion of the bi-millennium of Paul's birth (placed by historians between 7 and 10 A.D.), has also been declared by Pope Benedict XVI. (The stained glass image is from the parish church of Melton Mowbray, in Leicestershire. It was taken by a wonderful photographer, whom I know only as Lawrence OP and who has a site dedicated to the year of Saint Paul.)

As far as I know Goethe made no pronouncements concerning Saint Paul and didn't even see while in Rome the famous painting by Caravaggio (in Santa Maria del Popolo) portraying Paul's conversion. Conversion itself is not something I have come across in Goethe's writings. It strikes me that conversion -- a radical turnaround in one's life and the emergence of a new self -- would have been alien to Goethe's notion of "Bildung," which was not a transformative event but a life-long process. Not for Goethe what Tolstoy described, when writing of his own religious conversion: "Everything that was on the right hand of the journey is now on the left."

We do know, however, Goethe's views on original sin. He didn't think much of it. Coincidentally, on Sunday evening I came across a book review of a new book by Alan Jacobs, entitled Original Sin: A Cultural History. The book of Genesis sets the scene for the disobedience of Adam and Eve (as portrayed in this 1909 painting by Suzanne Valadon), but it was only in Christianity -- not in Judaism -- that there developed the doctrine of original sin.

And it was Paul who first enunciated the doctrine: "Wherefore as by one man sin entered this world, and by sin death; and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned" (Romans 5, 12). In his book Jacobs is not so much interested in the development of the doctrine in Christian history (e.g., in Augustine) as he is (per the subtitle) in its role in our identity as humans. Jacobs is a professor of literature, and the examples he cites range from high literature (Shakespeare, Milton, Bunyan, and so on, but also from Confucius and Rousseau) to popular culture (movies like Animal House!)

It is not surprising that Goethe, as a man of the Enlightenment, would not agree with words spoken by the pope during a December address at the Vatican: "The existence of the power of evil in the human heart and in human history is an undeniable fact." On the contrary. In 1822, responding to a review of the "Pedagogical Province" of Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre, Goethe wrote, "Il y a une fibre adorative dans le coeur humain." Of course, Goethe was aware that bad things happen in the world, and he does not condone them. From early on, however, he was on the side of those who might be called law-breakers: Prometheus, Mahomet, Faust.

The notion of original sin is radically democratic: all humans come into the world stained with it. Goethe was a democratic person; he thought highly of "brotherly love." But he was also a spiritual elitist. Like many in the Enlightenment, Goethe would have believed that humans had the moral ability not to do evil, though this ability was something that had to be nourished and cultivated, perhaps supplementing that innate "fibre adorative." Thus the importance of education.

The supreme quality of Goethe's faith was "reverence" (Ehrfurcht). There were many strands in his thinking here. An important one was Spinoza; another was his scientific studies. Both gave him a view of humans and nature that was radically different from the Christian view of a world created for man and over which he was to have dominion. Goethe, however, departed from the strict instrumentalist view of the Enlightenment, namely, that humans could manipulate nature for their own advantage. Goethe thought nature mysterious; thus, his reverence for it.

As is well known, he parted ways with Newton. It was Newton's discoveries that had opened men's eyes to the power of intellect and reason: "Nature and nature's laws lay hid in night/ God said, 'Let Newton be' and all was light" (Alexander Pope). Many Enlightenment thinkers thus imagined that humans, through their rational capacities, could ensure that bad things would no longer happen to good people. Goethe was not so sanguine. While activity was important, the potential destructiveness of "do good-ism" can be seen in the fateful consequences of Faust's schemes for worldly improvement. Goethe had a sense of man's limits, but it was in the act of striving and of doing that man (and woman, too, though he was not so "enlightened" as we!) would redeem himself.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Poems on Paintings (Bildgedichte)

My previous posting drew attention to Rilke's poem on the archaic sculpture of Apollo. Like John Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn," the poem is an example of the Greek rhetorical device known as ekphrasis, by which one medium of art seeks to describe a work in another medium. One of the most famous examples in literature is Homer's description in the Iliad (book 18) of the making of the shield of Achilles by Hephaestus. Pictures at an Exhibition is another well-known example, a suite of piano pieces by Mussorgsky.

Margot Scharpenberg, the most important exponent in contemporary German poetry of the Bildgedicht, thus stands in a long poetic tradition. Margot is an American of German background (from Cologne), and I have known her for many years in connection with German writing. Last night I got to hear her read from her most recent volume Verwandeln (her twenty-seventh!) at Deutsches Haus at New York University. Peter Beicken, of the German department at the University of Maryland, offered an informative introduction to the special qualities of Margot's work. Though I am a great reader of literary works, I seldom like to hear authors read from their works. Such readings are usually occasions for celebrity-watching, and I much prefer to hear "professional readers" of poetry and prose on my iPod. Then, I can listen again and again. In a live reading so much flies right past me, especially poetry and especially poetry in a foreign language.

Margot, however, is an excellent reader of her own work. She began with a poem called "Verwandeln" (change or transform), which I won't even try to translate. It is based on a painting by the Cologne artist Elke Imhof, which is also reproduced on the title page of the volume. There were also poems on paintings from Dutch collections, including Rembrandt's Nightwatch and Vermeer's Milkmaid and Woman in Blue Reading a Letter. Margot refers to these poems as "Bildgespräche" (conversations with poems). My favorite concerned Van Gogh's Sower (in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam; click on above image to enlarge). After a description of the piety of the sower at his task (there are references to the Lord's Prayer), it compares the poet's work with that of the sower, casting his seeds into an unknown future while praying for a good harvest. Here is Margot's poem:

Der alte Anfang ist schon da
Es werde Licht
als gelbe Scheibe steht
die Sonne auf der Erde
groß hinter einem Kopf

der alte Bitte
wird schon nachgeholfen
Gib
uns unser täglich Brot

ein Säamann geht
mit ruhigem Schritt
und scheinbar blindlings
wird die Saat geworfen
Er hat das Maß
im Weitwurf seiner Hand
die Richtung heißt
in gleichem Rhythmus weiter

den Säman treibt
das Pendel seines Arms
zur Zukunft hin
er wirft die Körner aus
daß sie im Dunklen
für sich selber fechten

was wird zur Ernte reif
wer Körner sät
der meint als Nahurung Sprache
ein weites Feld
so weit man sieht
ich sehe letzten Endes
noch kein Ende

Very simple but, again, a translation can hardly transmit the lyrical and visual qualities. I particularly like the image of the "pendulum of the arm" that drove the sower forward.

As seen in this picture by Hannelore Roston, the poet enjoyed some refreshments after the reading with friends and admirers. As so often happens on these occasions, the publishers of Margot's book (Gilles & Francke) failed to get copies of it to the reading for purchase and signing. Peter Beicken, however, had brought along copies of a small anthology of poems drawn from Margot's many collections that had been prepared for a celebration at the Goethe Institute in New York for her 80th birthday in 2005.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Hope and Change

Wir kannten nicht sein unerhörtes Haupt,
darin die Augenäpfel reiften. Aber
sein Torso glüht noch wie ein Kandelaber,
in dem sein Schauen, nur zurückgeschraubt,

sich hält und glänzt. Sonst könnte nicht der Bug
der Brust dich blenden, und im leisen Drehen
der Lenden könnte nicht ein Lächeln gehen
zu jener Mitte, die die Zeugung trug.

Sonst stünde dieser Stein entstellt und kurz
unter der Schultern durchsichtigen Sturz
und flimmerte nicht so wie Raubtierfelle;

und brächt nicht aus allen seine Rändern
aus wie ein Stern: denn da ist keine Stelle,
die dich nicht sieht. Du mußt dein Leben ändern.

When I first encountered Rilke's poem (English translation below) at about the age of 18, its meaning, particularly the last sentence, was totally lost on me. Poetry is hard; it takes work to understand it. Changing your life, as the poem admonishes, requires real work, too.

At 18 I wanted to change my life, break out of the provincial background in which I had grown up. I went to college and studied German, never having heard of Rilke or Goethe or even knowing a thing about Germany. I think it was the funny letters in the textbooks that intrigued me, what we used to call "Gothic" script. My life certainly changed because of that decision, though not in any way I could have imagined. And it has been work, all along the way. One works to make some change, and the achievement -- sometimes good, sometimes not -- is often unexpected. It is a risk one takes. 

There is of course the kind of change that one experiences simply by living. We are born, we immediately begin to change. We move from infant to toddler to pre-schooler and so on. In traditional society the change in one's outward condition may have been more a function of outside forces: parents, caste, class, and so on. One didn't even have the opportunity to be different from the situation into which one was born. Something like fate operated.

In modern secular society it is easy enough to go along with what are more or less traditional expectations, but should you wish something out of the ordinary -- should you wish to change yourself and your condition -- you will discover yourself on a long, hard road. Others may travel on it with you, but you are the one who will have to do the hard work of change.

Doug Van Benthuysen, to whom I owe the above image of Apollo, has many translations of Rilke's poem at his website. My favorite is this one by Stephen Mitchell:

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, or could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast's fur;

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

Picture: MySpace Impact

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

V.S. Naipaul on Elections


"Democracy had come to Elvira four years before, in 1946; but it had taken nearly everybody by surprise and it wasn't until 1950, a few months before the second general election under universal adult franchise, that people began to see the possibilities."

So begins V.S. Naipaul's 1958 novel, The Suffrage of Elvira, Elvira in this case being a small town in Trinidad that Naipaul situates in the far northeastern corner of the island. The Trinidadian economist and politician Lloyd Best recommended the novel to his students, calling it the most important of Naipaul's novels in that "he saw how the society worked, as distinct from how people thought it ought to work. ... he was absolutely lucid as to how the political system really worked, and how people actually behaved" (from an interview in Patrick French's Naipaul biography, The World Is What It Is).

I reread The Suffrage of Elvira a few weeks ago, just as the political scandals in Chicago and the Minnesota senatorial recount were entering their most ludicrous stage. If you want to understand the kinds of political shenanigans going on in those Midwestern states, read Naipaul's novel. It concerns a Mr Surujpat Harbans, who wishes to run in the general election to represent Elvira. He is not your typical Jaycee. The roads of Elvira are in terrible shape, full of potholes, but he is not running in order to improve the roads. Indeed, for years he had been able to persuade the chief engineer of the county to keep his hands off the roads, so that big repairs were never made. In this way, Harbans Transport Service made lots of money year after year transporting gravel and stone from his quarry to fill in the holes.

At first Harbans' path to victory looks like a done deal, as he recruits the leading men of Elvira to form a committee to run his campaign. These include the goldsmith Chittaranjan, who controls 3,000 Hindu votes and 1,000 Spanish votes, and the Muslim tailor Baksh, who "found himself the leader of the Muslims in Elvira and thus in control of 1,000 Muslim votes in a county of 8,000." A very heady position for Baksh to be in, one that eventually goes to his head. As someone says: "Everyone else in Elvira just asking for one little piece of help before they vote for any particular body. Baksh is the only man who wants three." Yes, as Harbans hears over and over when soliciting votes: "It go take some money." At every turn, he is donating to sick Hindus or pulling out his checkbook to rebuild a goal post so that the "boys from Pueblo Road" can play football this season. And if there is going to be sport, it would be nice to give out prizes. In the end the man who runs the campaign for Harbans' opponent offers to turn over 800 votes for a dollar a vote.

And there are less predictable events, over which money may have no influence. For instance, the Jehovah's Witnesses have convinced the Spanish to sit out the election since politics is not a divine thing. Then, there is the matter of a scrawny dog named Tiger, who, so people believe, is a bringer of bad magic, or obeah. When things get contentious, every statement is twisted out of recognition. Rumors fly. Poll takers are bribed. Chittaranjan hopes for rain (mud will keep people from getting out to vote). Each side has its own person to oversee fair voting. The process gets Harbans down, and "with his moods and exaltations, depressions and rages," he became an embarrassment to his committee, who wished him out of the way so that they could run things for themselves. The process takes over. Harbans is told by Pundit Dhaniram that he could stay in Port of Spain and win the election in Elvira. "'Just leave everything to your party machine,' he added, savouring the words. 'Party machine.'" He would have a future in Chicago.

The high point of the novel is the death and funeral of Mr. Cuffy, a respectable elderly Negro, which Chittaranjan stage manages as an election event, with Harbans paying for the Chinese undertaker, the expensive coffin, quantities of rum, coffee, and biscuits for those who gathered when the news got out. "Harbans mingled with the mourners as though they were his guests; and everyone knew, and was grateful, that Harbans had taken all the expenses of the wake upon himself."

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Countess Auguste Louise Stolberg

On this day in 1775 Goethe began a correspondence with a woman whose identity, initially, remained unknown to him. She had written to him of her enthusiasm for his novel The Sorrows of Young Werther, and her letter had been sent to Goethe by her brothers, who were studying in Göttingen. None of the letters she wrote to Goethe have survived, but the first one impressed him enough that he immediately replied. The small correspondence between the two in the following year (Goethe's responses survive), forms a small footnote in Goethe studies. The letters he wrote to her from Frankfurt, however, reveal much about his state of mind during the period when he was courting Lili Schönemann.

The lady in question was Auguste Louise Gräfin zu Stolberg (1753-1835), and she seems to have been urged to the bold step of writing to Goethe by Metta von Oberg, a German baronness, with whom she lived in a cloister for noble ladies in a place called Uetersen, in Schleswig-Holstein, which was then part of Denmark.

Her brothers were Friedrich Leopold and Christian. They too were Werther enthusiasts, and, on their way to Switzerland, in May 1775,  the young nobles stopped in Frankfurt and convinced Goethe to join them on their journey. Desiring to escape his entanglement with Lili, he did so. For the trip to Switzerland the brothers had clothes made to match the dress made famous by Werther: a blue frock coat, yellow leather knee breeches, and boots. Not only in their dress did the brothers cause a stir. 

They were adherents of what was called the cult of nature and, near Darmstadt, took the opportunity to swim naked in a pond. 
As Goethe wrote later of this episode in his autobiography: the sight of naked youths in the sunshine was no doubt a novelty but also caused a scandal. Well, we live in more enlightened times now. (Irony meter registering.)

Auguste fades out of Goethe's story in 1776, when he was becoming entrenched in Weimar and found in Frau von Stein a recipient for his outpourings. Auguste moved to Copenhagen in 1783 and married Andreas Peter von Bernstorff, an important government minister. The German-Danish writer Friederike Brun has many complimentary things to say about Bernstorff in her autobiography Wahrheit aus Morgenträumen. Brun's father, Balthasar Münter, was the Evangelical pastor at the court in Copenhagen, and it was he, along with Bernstorff, who accompanied Johann Friedrich Struensee on his ascent to the scaffold in 1772. Goethe, by the way, was one of the prominent European intellectuals of the time who wrote letters protesting Struensee's death sentence. An interesting portrait of this period in Denmark can be found in the novel The Royal Physician's Visit by Per Olov Enquist. Bruce Bawer, in his review of the novel, has a full account of what he calls "one of the strangest chapters in all of Scandinavian history."

The portrait of Auguste (now in the Goethe Nationalmuseum in Weimar) is by the contemporary Danish painter Jens Juelle, whose portrait of Klopstock is one of the most celebrated of that poet.

Friday, January 16, 2009

More Elective Affinities

The painting of a girl reading, by Joseph Wright of Derby, is reproduced on the cover of Lee Morrissey's recent book The Constitution of Literature: Literacy, Democracy, and Early English Literary Criticism. Lee spoke last evening at the Columbia University Seminar on 18th-Century European Culture (of which I am chair) on various topics, including the adequacy of Jürgen Habermas' concept of "public sphere" to describe the emancipatory potential of literacy during the Enlightenment. An alternative model for talking about the Enlightenment and democracy, according to Lee, was that of Slavoj Žižek, a "post-Marxist" sociologist, philosopher, and cultural critic. (The last is tautological: everyone in academia is a cultural critic.) Žižek represents a clever (one might say "disingenuous") move on the part of the Left to counter conservatives on the hot political and cultural issues of the day. Though living in Slovenia, he has managed to make a fine career for himself  as a visiting professor at major U.S. universities. The more obscure a European intellectual, the more Americans go for it. Still, one should attempt to get through his prose -- and Lee is to be commended for doing so -- if only in order to understand his hatred for the liberal-democratic order. As Žižek writes in a recent work, Violence, "Everything [in resistance to this order] is to be endorsed here, up to an including 'religious fanaticism.'" Got that, Al Qaeda?

But let me get back to the cover of Lee's book (which has to do with reading and literacy and their relationship to the "constitution" of democracy in the West). I was reminded of a scene in Goethe's Elective Affinities, right before Charlotte, Eduard, and the Captain begin to discuss the mysterious subject of "affinities." It is an 18th-century evening, and one of the things people did back then was read aloud. Eduard, indeed, liked to do so, for, as Goethe wrote, he had an agreeable deep voice and had once been very much in demand for such readings, especially of poetry. Of late, however, he had preferred to read from works on physics, chemistry, and technology.

Joseph Wright Derby (1734-1797) is the painter par excellence of this interest in the natural sciences during the Enlightenment. In his scenes of scientific experiment, Wright combines experimenter with the ordinary people whose world would be transformed by science and technology. The candlelit scene of An Experiment on a Bird with an Air Pump is one of his most famous. Through the spread of literacy (the subject of Lee's book) and knowledge of science the world was being led from darkness. (I'm being slightly ironic.)

So, imagine the candlelit scene in Charlotte and Eduard's drawing room. One of Eduard's idiosyncrasies, however, was a dislike of people reading over his shoulder, which ruins the dramatic effect of reading aloud. Thus, he usually made it a point to sit where no one could peer over his shoulder. On this occasion he noticed that Charlotte was staring at the pages of the book. He expressed his irritation in a "rather unfriendly tone" (in the translation by Judith Ryan):

If I read to someone, isn't it just the same as if I were explaining something orally? The written or printed words take the place of my own feelings and intentions, and do you think I would take the trouble to talk intelligibly if there were a window in my forehead or my breast so that the person to whom I wish to relate my thoughts and feelings one by one would know in advance what I'm aiming at? When someone reads over my shoulder I always feel as if I were split in two.

In the picture on Lee's book, the young reader is so absorbed in what is probably a letter that she doesn't notice the old gent peering over her shoulder. (One of Goethe's idiosyncrasies was his dislike for spectacles, such as the man is wearing.) She seems utterly absorbed in her reading, and she might indeed be engaged in private study. In contrast is another painting by Wright; in this case it is the young man peering over the girl's shoulder who is irritated. From the dreamy smile on her face, we can assume she is beyond irritation.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Elective Affinities


It is 2009, so that means it is the 200th anniversary of the publication of Goethe's novel Wahlverwandschaften. Expect plenty of events to commemorate the anniversary. Klassik Stiftung Weimar will hold readings of the novel in October, in the Festsaal of the Stadtschloss in Weimar, by actors Jutta Lampe and Hanns Zischler and theater director Peter Stein. How cool is that? For those who can't make the trip to Germany (and that will probably include me), there are some good movie versions. I was in Germany in 1999 (on the 250th anniversary of Goethe's birth!) and was able to see many films based on Goethe novels.

One of the best versions of Elective Affinities is Italian, by the team of Paolo and Victor Taviani. It stars Isabelle Huppert as Charlotte. Huppert has been my least favored actress of all time, but she is excellent at conveying Charlotte's coldness. She was also excellent as the horrible woman at the center of Elfriede Jelinek's Piano Teacher: that role fit Huppert to a "T." Come to think of it, Huppert even looks like Jelinek. That's an affinity for you.

Best of all, however, is the novel itself. I plan to read deeply in Elective Affinities this year. More on that later.

The wonderful painting at the top of this post, Elective Affinities (click to enlarge) is by a Colombian artist, Nohra Barros.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Goethe and Colors

"Can you lend me the Theory of Colors for a few weeks? It is an important work. His last things are insipid." So, Ludwig van Beethoven, in 1820 (Converation Book), on Die Farbenlehre by Goethe, published in 1810. Like many Goethe scholars, I know basically two things about Goethe's work on color and optics generally: that he got the physics wrong and that he considered his work on the subject more important than his literary work. Or so he told Eckermann.

As a young man, even after the success of The Sorrows of Young Werther, Goethe thought he might become an artist. It was in Rome (in 1786-88), after working very hard to improve his craft skills, that he gave up that idea, but he became intrigued by the aesthetic effect produced by colors in art. Neither painters nor, later, physicists could give him a satisfactory explanation. About 1790, with limited knowledge of Newton's work on optics, he looked through the prism the way one might look through a magnifying glass (instead of projecting an image of the spectrum on a wall or screen). Obviously he did not see what Newton had seen with his experiments and decided Newton was wrong. In his autobiography Goethe mentions the revulsion he had felt in his youth toward the mechanistic philosophy of Holbach; later he spent time with Romantic writers and philosophers in Jena, who also had an an extreme bias against mechanical science. Thus, his animus against Newton and solely material explanations of phenomena was of long standing. The measurement of physical phenomena by instruments could tell us nothing about the aesthetic and moral (sittlich) effect of colors. Goethe's concern was how we perceive color in various situations.

If the scientists declared Goethe wrong, artists were drawn to his work on color. Early on it was studied by the English painter J.M.W. Turner, who even made reference to it in his paintings. Clearly, Wassily Kandinsky was influenced by it. 
Because of Goethe I tend now to see his influence on painters who may or may not have known of his work, as in this painting by Emil Nolde (1867-1956). As in so many ways, Goethe anticipated everything!

The supposed moral effect of colors is something I have not thought much about. What can one say, for instance, about the fact that black is the New York "color"? Black has never had much charm for me, which may be why I have never felt like a New Yorker, even after living here 25 years. Again, Kandinsky, in a small treatise called On the Spiritual in Art, did discourse on this subject. While waiting in a doctor's office recently, I found among the 1000-year-old magazines an article discussing the subject of "emergenetics." It is a tool by which a profile of a person's behavioral and thinking characteristics can be drawn.
 
The "theory" behind emergenetics is that these characteristics are innate, but can be modified by environment and society. (This reminds me of what I learned in high school psychology: nature and nurture, all over again.) In case you are interested, the emergenetics self-assessment questionnaire will give you a picture of your thinking and behavioral traits. The result looks a bit like Goethe's color wheel. Goethe could have improved on this rather rudimentary scheme. I think he might have been delighted by the colors of the ice sculptures (click to enlarge) this winter in Harbin, China.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Carl Friedrich Zelter

The current exhibition at the Goethe-Museum in Düsseldorf (until January 18) honors Carl Friedrich Zelter (1758-1832), well known in his lifetime as composer and musical impresario in Berlin but since his death primarily as Goethe's friend and correspondent.

Zelter was born in Berlin during what was called the "Seven Years' War" (which plays a role in Lessing's drama Minna von Barnhelm), went to school (the Gymasium) for a while until financial circumstances forced him to take up his father's trade as a mason and builder. The industriousness that characterized Zelter's later musical career is evident in his early years. While apprenticing as a mason, working his way to becoming a master in the trade, and finally taking over the family business on his father's death in 1787, he also traveled once a week from Berlin to Potsdam to receive instruction in composition from Carl Friedrich Christian Fasch, harpsichordist at the court of Frederick the Great. Not an easy journey in 1784. (Remember those stories about people walking 5 miles to school. Well, it really happened!)

In his "idle hours" he began composing music to contemporary poetry, and seven of these "Vertonungen" (musical settings) were published by Schiller in Musen-Almanach für das Jahr 1797. Zelter began making his way in the musical world, becoming director of the Berlin Sing-Akademie after the death of Fasch. In his autobiography Zelter described the origins of the Sing-Akademie as a gathering of people, both men and women, for drinking tea and singing contemporary music. (Yes, people actually created their own entertainment before the advent of the electrical age!) Fasch, however, who had been a pupil of C.P.E. Bach, was also devoted to reviving music of the past. Thus, the Akademie often performed works of Johann Sebastian Bach and Baroque-era composers. The most famous of its public concerts was the performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion in 1829, directed by Moses Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Zelter's pupil. All the many aspects of Zelter's many-sided musical career can be seen in the exhibition at the Goethe-Museum.

But it was his relationship with Goethe for which Zelter is best known today. The relationship began with letters from Zelter in 1799 and 1800 that included musical arrangements of Goethe's poems. During the next 30 years Zelter composed settings for almost 100 poems. Goethe was not at all impressed with those arrangements with which most of us are familiar today (and, indeed, fond of), those by Beethoven and Schubert. Too Romantic! It was Zelter's " radical reproduction of poetic intentions" (eine radicale Reproduction der poetischen Intentionen) that Goethe approved of. Goethe reciprocated with songs for Zelter's "Liedertafel" (male chorus): "Ergo bibamus," "Gewohnt, gethan," and "Frisch! Der Wein soll reichlich fließen."

Annus mirabilis for Zelter was 1802, when he met Goethe for the first time. Besides almost 900 letters between them, there were many meetings in the following three decades, in Weimar and in Bohemian spas. Goethe never visited Berlin. By the early 19th century he was too famous for a trip to the Prussian capital, which would have involved him in endless ceremonial activities. He sent his son August and daughter-in-law Ottilie in his stead in 1819. Zelter was their host, and August's diary of that journey mentions the many personalities he met as well as hearing on May 19 Cherubini's "great Credo" at the Sing-Akademie. The diary, recently edited by Gabriele Radecke, is a rather prosaic account, recording, as Wilhelm Bode put it (Der Sohn Goethes, 1918), "the purely factual, so that with these notes in hand 'der Papa,' later in conversation [bei mündlicher Unterhaltung], could follow the journey step by step and experience it in his powerful imagination."

On learning of Goethe's death, Zelter supposedly said: "His Excellency naturally has precedence, but I will soon follow" (Exzellenz hatten natürlich den Vortritt; aber ich folge bald nach). Indeed, Zelter died a few weeks later.

Picture credit: OTA-Berlin Constituency

Friday, January 9, 2009

End of Christmas Season


I thought this picture would grab people's attention. Note the gal (click on image to enlarge) who has slipped in among the divers hoping to grab the cross in the icy waters on Epiphany Day in Sofia, Bulgaria.

January 8 was the day on which my parents traditionally took down our Christmas tree, marking the end of the holidays. For those of you who can't get enough of the season -- and I certainly did not hear enough caroling this year -- the "Big Picture" has more great photographs. Strange how few are from the U.S. Does this lack say something about our vexed relationship with religion these days?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Goethe's Working Method

Reviews reveal that Heinrich Meyer's "inner biography" of Goethe, subtitled Das Leben im Werk (the life in the work), provoked intensely negative as well as admiring responses on its publication in 1949, but I always find something of interest in it and dip into it as the mood strikes me. In a chapter of Goethe's poetic circle, he draws attention to a difference between Goethe and Schiller that gave me a new glimpse of Goethe.

According to Meyer, Schiller was so communicative about whatever he was working on that Goethe knew the plan of Demetrius so well that he probably could have completed it after Schiller's death in 1805. For Goethe, however, a work that had been communicated or discussed with another person was "finished" (erledigt); he wouldn't bother then to write it down.

Goethe's poetic memory was "determined by motif and mood" (motivisch und stimmungsmäßig bestimmt): he carried with him a theme for years, for half a century, reworked it in his mind, somewhat like a lawyer contemplating all possible questions and objections of an opponent and meeting them in advance. Once the matter, the scene, the person, the language had achieved form in his mind (I am paraphrasing Meyer here), then it was finished and had to be communicated. If it was not immediately dictated, Goethe lost the desire to carry it out. In Meyer's view Goethe could conceive a plan for a work, but it was impossible to reconceive it, to begin anew, which can be seen in his reworking of Götz.

Goethe did not like writing by hand. In his autobiography he describes how he began dictating already in his Frankfurt youth, taking advantage of the skills of a young man living in the Goethe family household. In Weimar he dictated his prose and his correspondence to servants, secretaries, friends. This method required immense discipline and concentration and tended to dampen expressions of intimacy. What about inspiration? In my view, Goethe had such "acoustic memory" that what he wanted to say was always at the tip of his tongue, so to speak, waiting to come together with the idea he carried around in his head. 

These two views of poets dictating -- Goethe with Johann August Friedrich John (1794-1854),  and John Milton with his daughters -- show very different temperaments. The drawing of Goethe and his amanuensis, however, by J.J. Schmeller, is contemporary, while that of the blind Milton dictating to his daughters (now in the New York Public Library) is by the Hungarian artist Mihály Munkácsy ( 1844-1900)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Sylvia Townsend Warner -- and Goethe!

When the house has cleaned itself at last
Of its diurnal human,
When the black man and the blind woman
Both have groped their way into the dark
And the dwindling watchman has gone by,
I have heard him waken, and sigh.

I have heard the bedstead twang and creak,
And the bed-curtains swaying,
And he sprawled down on his knees, praying:
O Jesu pie, salvum me fac!
Whether that same Jesu heard him or no,
My ears attended to his woe.

The above poem, "Dr. Johnson's Cat," is by Sylvia Townsend Warner (b. 1893), a writer who has long intrigued me. It is not untypical of Warner to write from the point of view of an animal or even a witch, as in her first novel, Lolly Willowes, when, Lolly, to escape the importuning of a well-meaning relative, turns herself into one. The opportunity to post something about Warner arrived with the current issue (January 2, 2009) of the Times Literary Supplement, in which Ali Smith, an English novelist and short story writer, reviews new editions of poems by STW. (Come to think of it, Ali Smith also writes from unexpected points of view, for instance, that of a dead person in Hotel World.)

There is often a hint of maliciousness in Warner's short stories, which can be delicious or off-putting. Suffice it to say that she is not predictable. One of my favorite stories is "A Widow's Quilt," in which a married woman begins making one while her husband is very much alive. On the other hand, I find Warner's stories about "fairy life," Kingdoms of Elfin, too whimsical for this Enlightenment scholar. Penelope Fitzgerald (who wrote a wonderful novel about Novalis, The Blue Flower) spoke of Warner's "affinity with whatever it is that defies control." Fitzgerald went on to say that she did not mean sin or magic, "for she [STW] regarded both of these as perfectly amenable, but what she liked to call 'the undesigned.'" Warner belongs in Thomas Hardy country, which I suppose has quite disappeared in England. As a young woman she worked as a musicologist, part of a committee that was searching and editing Tudor music, and she traveled alone throughout England collecting this manuscript material.

After reading Ali Smith's review, I went back to the letters between STW and the novelist William Maxwell, who had been her editor at the New Yorker, the magazine that published many of her short stories. Here is a short example of Warner's writing that is so appealing, from a report on a visit to the Villa d'Este:

We got there so early in the morning that we had it all to ourselves, painted rooms, and cypresses and fountains, and gardeners snipping at box-hedges. I realised that such fountains come out of the same vein of Italian genius as the immense crystal chandeliers that fly like swans in the roofs of baroque churches and hang in a ladder all the way up the transepts of St Peter's. The water that falls in a fringed curtain from the goblet fountain is not so much water-works as water-sculpture.

I never fail to check indexes for Goethe in whatever book I am reading, and, lo and behold, there were several entries. Here is what she writes, in November 1973:

What I love about Wilhelm Meister is what I loved about Werther and Elective Affinities -- that what seems like historical reconstruction is really just ordinary social detail to Goethe. Scenes, pictures, costumes, that remind me of paintings were to him simply the way things were. The beginning drags -- perhaps because I am reading it in the evening before bedtime, and I am not fond of Goethe's sermonizing [!], but I do like the people. I am at the place where he finds (Oh most unlikely device!) in the scarf that he tore from Marianne's neck the note from her elderly protector -- in short not very far along. Faust and the novels are the only works I haven't read in German, way back in my youth. Dichtung und Wahrheit was what I loved, though I also liked the plays. The eighteenth century love of generalities I find rather tedious unless they are Gibbon's generalities, in which case I have to lie down on the floor so I can laugh more comfortably. But I wouldn't dream of not finding out what happens to Wilhelm.

By the way, "the black man" in the poem about Dr. Johnson was Francis Barber, a Jamaican boy adopted by Samuel Johnson in the 1750s and to whom he, indeed, felt like a father. A novelistic account of their relationship can be found in Caryl Phillips Foreigners, which does a pretty good job of re-creating the 18th century.

Monday, January 5, 2009

New York Public Library

I am not a native New Yorker, but I try to make the best of it, living here. That's a joke! But in truth there are several places in the U.S. that I can imagine myself in. Mostly this has to do with domestic realities: large supermarkets! dishwashers! yards planted with flowers! barbecues on the patio! the sound of birds outside your window when you wake up in the morning!

But here I am, married to a real New Yorker (from the Bronx, at that). It's not bad at all.

We live half a city block from Riverside Park and the Hudson River, which is our back yard, particularly in summer, when we kayak a lot. (Central Park, says Rick, is for tourists, though we spend a lot of time there, too.) We are volunteers at the Downtown Boathouse Organization, which puts the public into kayaks on the Hudson in the summer. Yes, it really is clean enough to kayak. Last year, I even did a circumnavigation of Manhattan.

One of my favorite hangouts, however, is the New York Public Library, where I do most of my research on world literature. I have my own shelf and quiet work space in the Wertheim Room, named by Barbara Tuchman, who was a scholar at the Library, in honor of her father. The Library also holds exhibitions, including one last year on "John Milton at 400." I gave a talk in the accompanying lecture series, on the subject of Milton in Germany in the 18th century. 

So, whenever I want to take a break from work in the Wertheim Room, I wander down to one of the exhibitions, all of which draw on the rich resources of the Library. These days I am captivated by "Art Deco Design: Rhythm and Verve." The image above of the lady in the gorgeous evening dress, a photomechanical print by Paul Poiret from 1924, is from that exhibit. The intense colors of many Art Deco prints derived from a painstaking hand-applied technique, called pochoir, which used stencil plates. The hues were added separately until the composition attained the highly tactile look we associate with these prints. Interestingly, the term "Art Deco" was only coined in 1968. Manhattan of course is the city of Deco architecture, as in this decoration from Radio City Music Hall.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Ephiphany


A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices ringing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

No, that is not by Goethe, though he did write a poem, not his most inspired, on the subject of the Epiphany, today's feast in the Western and Eastern Catholic churches. For those who are interested, Goethe's poem is called "Epiphanias" and can be found here. Goethe did write about the three kings, "Die heiligen drei Könige," in another context, and on the occasion of today's feast I have looked into the background of that seemingly strange text, which appeared in Kunst und Alterthum in 1820 (see WA I, 41.1, 168-82 and 194). Goethe describes there in great detail a Latin  manuscript, dedicated to a bishop, "probably in Cologne." Goethe estimated that the manuscript was from the 15th century, but later discovered that it was by Johannes von Hildesheim, a Carmelite monk who died in 1372. John wrote on philosophical, theological, and literary subjects, but his 1364 Historia trium regum represented in the Middle Ages one of the major strands of the magi legend.  Goethe also later discovered that the Historia was executed at the behest of Domherr Florentius von Wevelinghoven on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the transposition of the relics of the three kings to Cologne from Milan in 1164.

Goethe obviously read the text very carefully, for in Kunst und Alterthum he describes the narrative in great detail. We get an indication of his interest in a letter to Sulpiz Boisserée on October 22, 1819:

Ich erwerbe zufällig ein altes Manuscript, klein Quart, 84 Blätter, mit Abbreviaturen, consequent und also leserlich geschrieben, wenn es mir glecih stellenweise noch Mühe macht. Es enthält die Legende der heiligen drey Könige und ihres Sternes, vom Ausgang der Kinder Israel aus Aegypten an bis zur fortwährenden Verehrung ihrer Reste in Cöln.

He goes on to describe his fascination with the contents of the manuscript:

Geschichte, Überlieferung, Mögliches, Unwahrscheinliches, Fabelhaftes mit Natürlichem, Wahrscheinlichem, Wirklichem bis zur letzten und individuellsten Schilderung zusammen geschmolzen, entwaffnet wie ein Mährchen alle Kritik. ... Weder Pfaffthum noch Philisterey noch Beschränktheit [important categories for Goethe!] ist zu spüren, die Art, wie der Verfasser sich Glauben zu verschaffen sucht und dann doch auf eine mässige Weise das Zutrauen seiner Hörer [!] missbraucht, ohne dass man ihn geradezu für einen Schelm halten kann, ist allerliebst; genug ich wüßte kein Volksbuch neben dem dieses Büchlein nicht stehen könnte.

Goethe's enthusiasm was merited, for it turns out that the Historia trium regum, with its fantastic, detailed, and expansive narrative was indeed one of the most widespread legends of the Middle Ages, becoming the model for the Legenda aurea. According to John of Hildesheim's account, the star of Bethlehem was first sighted in the forty-second year of the reign of Augustus from "Mount Vaus." An observatory had been built there by heathen astrologers, because of the Old Testament prophecy of Balaam, and for generations they had watched for a sign of the Messiah.

Unlike in accounts familiar to me, after reports of the star the three magi departed from different lands to follow it. Caspar, for instance, was the king of Tarsis; Balthasar was king of "Godolia and Saba"; while Melchior was king of Nubia and Arabia. (Is this why Melchior was frequently portrayed as black in medieval and Renaissance art, as in this painting by Jan Gossaert in the National Gallery in London? Certainly art historical research has revealed this already.) Each following his own path, they arrived at the outskirts of Bethlehem in thirteen days and were able to understand each other's language (a foreshadowing of Pentecost?). All this and more can be found in Goethe's summary of the manuscript. He also speculates that Mount Vaus should be Mount Kaus, perhaps referring to the Caucasus.

Despite the fame of the manuscript, it had been forgotten by the time Goethe came across it. He was responsible for the publication by Cotta in 1822 of an edition of with a translation by Gustav Schwab. This University of Cologne site details its transmission and publication history. Also of interest is the material provided by the Dutch Institute for "Natuur- en Sterrenkunde" (from which comes the image -- click to enlarge -- at the head of this post).

Let me allow T.S. Eliot to have the final word on the journey of the magi:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Death in Venice etc.

My 2009 desk calendar is rapidly filling up with appointments and events. First among them in January is a series of lectures at Columbia University named in honor of Leonard Hastings Schoff. The speaker is Philip Kitcher, professor of philosophy at Columbia, who will give three lectures on the theme "Death in Venice: The Case(s) of Gustav (von) Aschenbach." (The parens in "Case" I understand, but am puzzled about the (von) before Aschenbach.) In the announcement for the series, Professor Kitcher writes that he wants "to examine Mann's intriguing novella (and to a lesser extent the opera and the film) from a philosophical perspective." He goes on to say:

It has always been clear to Mann's readers that there is a philosophical backdrop to the story -- the echoes and citations of Plato, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche are unmistakable. Nevertheless, critics have not taken Mann sufficiently seriously as a philosopher. I shall try to show that he (and Britten, and Mahler, whose music Visconti uses) addresses deep issues about the values central to human lives, the kinds of questions raised by Plato, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche. Those questions focus on the role of discipline in the life of citizens and of artists, the potential seductions and corruption of beauty, and the shadows cast by awareness of one's own, possibly imminent death.

Professor Kitcher, who has specialized in the history of science, was a 2008 Lannan Notable Book Award recipient for his work Living with Darwin: Evolution, Design, and the Future of Faith. The lectures take place on January 26, February 2, and February 8 (all Mondays) at 8 p.m. in the Kellogg Center, International Affairs Building, Room 1501. Follow this link for the location of IAB on Columbia's East Campus.

Also of interest re Thomas Mann is the movie Buddenbrooks, which opened on Christmas Day in Germany. Reactions are mixed, although the story of the merchant family, according to newspaper headlines, struck a nerve in "recession-hit Germany." Stefan Falke, a German photographer living in Brooklyn, is responsible for most of the photographs in a recent book documenting the sumptuous costume drama. See his recent posting on the book published by S. Fischer. Until the movie appears stateside, you can sate yourself on images from it at Stefan's website.

Friday, January 2, 2009

World Literature

My world literature project has several aspects, one of which is  a series of essays on writers whose work elucidates Goethe's concept. The first of these, on the American poet Phillis Wheatley (ca. 1753-1784), the first black woman to publish a book of poetry, appeared in the fall 2008 issue of The Yale Review.  (If you have access to a university or public library, you can read this electronically.)

My next essay in this series is on V.S. Naipaul, whose works I have read over the years, but, now that the New Year has arrived, it is time to get serious. Yesterday I began at the beginning, rereading Naipaul's first novel (though the third to be published, in 1959), Miguel Street, which is more a sequence of portraits, from the point of view of a boy living on that street in Trinidad. What astonished me was to find that everything that characterizes Naipaul's later work is laid down in Miguel Street: the mixture of races, the disillusionment, the desire to escape a small setting, the large ambitions, the outsized but ultimately absurd heroes, the men who beat women, the corruption. In the later works, there is little sentimentality in the portrayals, but in Miguel Street Naipaul still shows a certain fondness for his flawed figures.

One in particular is very touching. In Miguel Street a man arrives one day at the narrator's house asking to come into the yard and "watch your bees." The narrator's mother is suspicious, but since the man's English is so good she allows him to do so, but makes her son stay and watch him watching the bees. Here is the initial conversation between the boy and the man:

I said, "What you does do, mister?"
He got up and said, "I am a poet."
I said, "A good poet?"
He said, "The greatest in the world."
"What your name, mister?"
"B. Wordsworth."
"B for Bill?"
"Black. Black Wordsworth. White Wordsworth was my brother. We share one heart. I can watch a small flower like the morning glory and cry."

A later scene between the poet and the boy reminds me of the moment of Wilhelm Meister's encounter with the stars, mentioned in my New Year's posting. B. Wordsworth has treated the boy to the yellow mangoes that grow in his own yard. The boy eats six, staining his shirt in the process. When he returns home, his mother beats him badly for staining his shirt, and he runs away, vowing never to come back. When he arrives at B. Wordsworth's house again, he is so angry that his nose is bleeding. He and the poet go for a walk to the race course.

B. Wordsworth said, "Now, let us lie on the grass and look up at the sky, and I want you to think how far those stars are from us."
I did as he told me, and I saw what he meant. I felt like nothing, and at the same time I had never felt so big and great in all my life. I forgot all my anger and all my tears and all the blows.
When I said I was better, he began telling me the names of stars, and I particularly remembered the constellation of Orion the Hunter, though I don't really know why. I can spot Orion even today, but I have forgotten the rest.

Naipaul has been accused of condescension in his portraits of people in the Third World. It strikes me that it is less condescension than it is his bitter understanding of a milieu so narrow that people are incapable of realizing their ambitions. Imagine Wilhelm Meister in Pakistan, and he would appear even more ridiculous and absurd.