Friday, February 20, 2009

Goethe in Love 4

I promise this is the last time (for a while, anyway) that I will post on this subject, but I wanted to bring together a couple of things that, superficially, might seem to have nothing to do with one another. First, Goethe in love.

Yesterday while working in the Wertheim Room at the New York Public Library, I took off some time to read another chapter in Heinrich Meyer's book on Goethe, Das Leben im Werk, which always offers interesting insights. On the chapter on Goethe in Leipzig, Meyer makes the same point of my last three postings, about the ideal nature of Goethe and love. Here is what Meyer has to say, in my less than elegant translation:

If Goethe had not constructed (aufgebaut) new passions, year in and year out, mostly with older, already engaged, otherwise not attainable women, even with women unknown to him or even with already married women, then we would perhaps believe his old biographers, namely, that he was really a great lover. But in reality he always loved most passionately when he had created the entire relationship himself and established it, as it were,  in his imagination.

Looking back [in his autobiography] he spoke about this as "moral sensuousness" [sittliche Sinnlichkeit], that is, in Goethe's terminology ... a spiritual [geistige], intellectual sensuousness appropriate to the imagination, thus a one-sided, not really physical sensuousness. This is indeed especially characteristic of poets.

In the next paragraph Meyer also made the troubador comparison:

Jaufre Raudel, the Provencal troubador, fell in love with a princess from Tripoli whom he had never seen, just as Goethe had never seen Gustchen Stolberg, to whom he sent love letters and opened his heart. Petrarch had his Laura, Dante his Beatrice.

Though it is very difficult to get into the mind of people from the 18th century, Goethe's poetic allegiances again reveal something about him and about the "moral" (sittliche) milieu in which he lived, one much different from ours.

The two pictures from Pakistan touched me, showing as they do people venturing out of traditional ways to make a living or to love. They are from Big Picture, and they appeared on the site the same day that the government of Pakistan announced it would accept Islamic sharia law to be implemented in its Swat Valley region. This was part of a truce (i.e., capitulation) with local Taliban leaders, who had been burning scores of girl's schools and banning many forms of entertainment. 

The balloon seller in Islamabad is trying to make a little money by taking advantage of an undoubtedly small market niche. Valentine's Day in Pakistan! Who would have guessed? Of course, this is one livelihood the Taliban will try to do away with and, no doubt, do away with love as well.

(There was a period in my childhood when my family fell on hard times and my father worked as a salesman. He was temperamentally unsuited to the work, but he did it anyway, because it had to be done. Thus I have always had a spot in my heart for small-scale businessmen, whom you can see, if you look around you, even here in Manhattan. They all seem to be middle-aged and have an incipient pot belly and are doing this unforgiving work because there is someone at home with whom they once fell in love and vowed to love and cherish for the rest of their lives.)

The other picture, according to the caption on Big Picture, is of Pervez Chachar and his wife, Humera Kambo, in a makeshift room in police HQ in Karachi: "After falling in love and marrying without their families' permission, the newlyweds (from rival tribes) dare not venture out of the police station as they fear their families will hunt them down and kill them to preserve the families' honor."

The image of Jaufre Raudel is from a site called "Andaluz Cabizbajo." Link to it for some cool music!


Anonymous said...

One wonders what to make of a fellow from the lower gentry, forming close but frustrated relationships with desirable women, having his first physical experiences at age 37 or 38. And then, with women well below him in station: a poor, young widow in Italy followed by Christiane. My students would say, "That guy has issues".
Here on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where it seems half of the local population is heavy into amateur relationship psychobabble , one can only guess at the response to a window sign: educated male (lawyer)-successful author-modestly well to do -late 30s-decent looking-well connected-virgin. Leave your opinion.

Goethe Girl said...

Again, I would have to say that Goethe's relationships with women are evidence that the 18th century is different from the 21st. There was a social prohibition, especially among the lower gentry, against jumping into bed with women. Thus, I would suspect there was a fair amount of frustration if people did not marry early. In Goethe's case, he had poetry.