Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Goethe's "bildhafte Sprache"

The 3 Fates, by Hans Vischer, ca. 1530
I was reading through Über Kunst und Altertum and discovered (vol. 5, no. 1) the following in the opening of the section "Einzelnes." It is succinct, as in required with aphorisms, but I was struck anew by Goethe's employment of a structure of imagery, drawn from nature but also, as here, from mythology, in the process embedding human life and activity in a larger context:

Indem ich mich zeither mit der Lebensgeschichte wenig und viel bedeutender Menschen anhaltender beschäftigte, kam ich auf den Gedanken: es möchten sich wohl die einen in dem Weltgewebe als Zettel, die andern als Einschlag betrachen lassen; jene gäben eigentlich die Breite des Gewebes an, diese dessen Halt, Festigkeit, vielleicht auch mit Zuthat irgend eines Gebildes. Die Scheere der Parze hingegen bestimmt die Länge, dem sich denn das Übrige alles zusammen unterwerfen muß. Weiter wollen wir das Gleichniß nicht verfolgen.

By reference to the Fates, Goethe also suggests the role of chance in the success or failure of human activity, which accords with his belief that Nature is amoral: "Die Natur versteht gar keinen Spaß, sie ist immer wahr ... sie hat immer Recht, und die Fehler und Irrtümer sind immer des Menschen." Nature does not play favorites: that is a thought that sounds like the rationalizing of a man whom life has bitterly disappointed, although in Goethe's case one might think that he was mightily fortunate.

The "weighing of the heart" from the Egyptian Book of the Dead
This is one of those times when I sense what seems like a chink of glass in Goethe's heart. But maybe it is I who has the blind spot. I much prefer the notion contained in this Egyptian image, in which one's actions are being evaluated posthumously.

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 an early milestone in this rejection).

"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.

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.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

World literature and progress

Several posts on this blog have discussed Peter Goßens book, which concerns the reception of Goethe's concept of world literature already in Goethe's lifetime and in the decades following his death. World literature was appropriated in the context of social and political reform. For instance, prominent in Goßens’ treatment is the influence of Karl August Varnhagen and the penetration of the ideas of the followers of Saint-Simon, especially among Goethe admirers in Varnhagen’s Berlin circle. Cyrus Hamlin has written that Varnhagen’s reading of the Wanderjahre was a “Gebrauchsanweisung für die zukünftige soziale Ordnung Europas in 19. Jahrhundert,” thereby forming, in Goßens’ words, “der Grundstein einer sozialistischen Goethedeutung.”

So "progessive Universalpoesie," although not in the sense in which Friedrich Schlegel meant. World literature was the inspiration for reformers, not only of their own society, but also of the world. The project was utopian: formal analysis was set aside, and aesthetics was subsumed into ethics.  It was this utopian vision that drew Marx’s ironic response to world literature in The Communist Manifesto and to the more scathing ridicule in Engels’ Anti-Dühring.

Goethe himself had of course asserted that literary exchange among the European nations would erode the prejudices that existed among them and, in the future, extend beyond Europe to encompass the world. Echoing Goethe, if not in his own words, the German-American comparatist Louis-Paul Betz (for Betz, see my earlier post) wrote the following in 1903:

 "Comparative literature not only creates new and more liberal insights into  both national literature and foreign literature, it not only reveals errors and corrects traditions, but it also achieves useful, ideal, and ethical purposes: world peace, mediation between peoples, a humanity that, regardless of the inner life of a nation, also has heart and feeling for that which takes place on the other side of the boundary post. … it leads to the recognition that the concord of peoples and progressive national development are based on an continuously growing consciousness of the richness of all peoples and of their universal unity and on the principle of being forever true to oneself and of joining with the Other."

French soldier and Indian bride return from Paris, 1720
In an essay in 1924 ("Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown") Virginia Woolf claimed that "on or about December 1910 human character changed." She was not saying that literature produced this change, but that literature began to record or reflect changes on the ground. In my last post, I suggested that commerce and trade, beginning in 16th century already, was the major factor in diminishing enmity among the people of the various countries, if not among their rulers. Trade produced a need for new products and inventions. The result was "progress," at first of a material nature. Such progress, however, would upend the the traditional order of life, open people's horizons, and and make them codependent on others for their comforts and their way of life. This term, however, came to be moralized: progress meant an advance on the past, which began to be considered retrograde. As the painting above shows (click to enlarge), Europeans also sought to improve the conditions of non-Europeans, to help them to "advance," which meant becoming European.

Picture credit: Anglais pour le Bac

Monday, October 13, 2014

World literature and trade and commerce

In my paper on the construction of Europe as a cultural space, I am drawing attention to three thinkers who stressed the connection between trade and commerce, on the one hand; and the "advance" of manners and customs and the amity among nations, on the other. These are Voltaire, Montesquieu, and Nicholas Barban.

First, Voltaire, in his 1736 work Le Mondaine (The Worldling):

See how that fleet, with canvas wings,
From Texel, Bordeaux, London brings,
By happy commerce to our shores,
All Indus, and all Ganges stores;
Whilst France, that pierced the Turkish lines,
Sutans make drunk with rich French wines.
Just as the time of Nature’s birth,
Dark ignorance o’erspread the earth;
None then in wealth surpassed the rest,
For naught the human race possessed.
Of clothes, their bodies then were bare,
They nothing had, and could not share:
Then too they sober were and sage,
Martialo lived not in that age.
Eve, first formed by the hand divine,
Never so much as tasted wine.
Do you our ancestors admire,
Because they wore no rich attire?
Ease was like wealth to them uknown,
Was’t virtue? Ignorance alone.
Would any fool, had he a bed,
On the bare ground have laid his head?

Next, Montesqieu, from Spirit of the Laws (1748):

“Commerce cures destructive prejudices, and it is an almost general rule that everywhere there are gentle mores, there is commerce and that everywhere there is commerce, there are gentle mores. ... Commerce has spread knowledge of the mores of all nations everywhere; they have been compared to each other, and good things have resulted from this.” (ch. 1)

“The natural effect of commerce is to lead to peace. Two nations that trade with each other become reciprocally dependent; if one has an interest in buying, the other has an interest in selling, and all unions are founded on mutual needs.” (ch. 2)

“It is the nature of commerce to make superfluous things useful, and useful things necessary.” (ch. 23)

Finally, the interesting figure of Barban, one of the earliest exponents of free trade, who makes concrete a point made by Goethe in his comments on world literature, namely, that commerce with other nations lessens our prejudices toward our neighbors. From A Discourse of Trade (1790):

"Nature may be satisfied with little; but it is the wants of the Mind, Fashion, and desire of Novelities, and Things scarce, that causeth Trade. A Person may have English-Lace, Gloves, or Silk, as much as he wants, and will Buy no more such; and yet, lay out his Money on a Point of Venice, Jessimine-Gloves, or French-Silks; he may desire to Eat Westphalian-Bacon, when he will not English ...”

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Goethe and Europe

Jean Cousin the Elder, The Abduction of Europa (1550)
 I am preparing my presentation for the Goethe Society of North America conference, which takes place in Pittsburgh from October 23 to 26. The panel I am on concerns "space": domestic spaces and cosmic space in the papers of my co-panelists. My paper concerns Europe, its construction as a unified cultural space by the 19th century and the implications of that unity, in particular universalist aspirations.

As is usual in my presentations, I come equipped with a "slide show." Herewith some opening images. (Click to enlarge.)

As Anthony Pagden has written (among his publications are The Idea of Europe: From Antiquity to the European Union), "Europe" is an ambiguous place. As the painting by Jean Cousin indicates, the origins of Europe are not in geography, but in myth. The abducted Europa was a Phoenician, thus an "Asian." As Pagden writes, "An abducted Asian woman gave Europe her name; a vagrant Asian exile [i.e., Aeneis from Troy] gave Europe its political and finally its cultural identity; and an Asian prophet gave Europe its religion." Frankly, I find this "Asian" emphasis a bit thick. What, after all, constitutes "Asia," everything south and east of the Aegean Sea?

In connection with my presentation, however, this assimilationist tendency is characteristic of what has become "Europe." More postings on this subject follow.

Picture credit: Counter-Currents Publishing

Friday, September 26, 2014

Goethe and the mines

Clausthal (click to enlarge)
 Goethe's "first" Harz journey began at the end of November 1777, the culmination of which was his ascent of the Brocken on December 10. While on this trip, undertaken on horseback, Goethe also visited several working mines in the region, perhaps as part of informing himself about mining matters in connection with the Ilmenau project. The Rammelsberg mine, south of Goslar, was open to visitors, and he wrote in the visitors' book on December 5: "Den ganzen Berg bis ins Tiefste befahren."

He was also writing letters to Charlotte von Stein during this journey; unfortunately he provides no details in these letters, nor mentions anything of his observations or of conversations with mining officials.

Model of a 16C mine, from G. E. von Löhneyss' Bericht vom Bergwerck, 1690
The next day he rode to Clausthal, pictured at the top of this post, site of the most productive mine in the entire Harz, producing silver, copper, tin, and "Zinkblende." He spent the night in Clausthal, and on the morning of December 8, he traveled to the nearby Dorothea, Caroline, and Benedict mines (the mines were first worked by Benedictine monks) and inscribed his name in the guest book as “Johann Wilhelm Weber aus Darmstadt.” Again he descended into the mines, apparently without any fear of the depths or the poor illumination. It was not an entirely danger-free thing, as the miner who accompanied him, walking in front of him, was injured by a large block of falling debris. According to Wolf von Engelhardt, the Clausthal mines extended to a depth of 520 meters (1,700 feet), but we don't know far into the depths Goethe descended. We know, however, that he went down by ladders, as are pictured in the above illustration from a 16th-century mine.

Picture sources: GeoMuseum Clausthal; Robert M. Vogel

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Goethe and geology

From The New Yorker (click to enlarge)
A friend reminds me that I have not posted much lately. True: most of my time is devoted to the book I am trying to finish, which is not directly about Goethe, but I came across something yesterday that gave me an opportunity to think about him.

I was at the M.D., one who has copies of The New Yorker, and an issue from earlier this year had a rather thrilling piece by Hector Tobar on the Chilean miners who were trapped 69 days at 2,3000 feet below the earth — and survived. The piece contains some factoids about the geology of the mining environment, which reminded me that I have been asked to prepare 100 words on “Goethe and Geology” in connection with a book exhibit for the forthcoming conference of the Goethe Society of North America.

For those unfamiliar with the subject, Goethe was a member of a commission in the duchy of Weimar that investigated the possibility of re-opening the mine at Ilmenau as a way of producing revenue for the duchy. The venture eventually came to nought, but Goethe struggled with it for a decade. He also familiarized himself with the mineralogy of the region and with "geology," a subject that was not yet known as such, as it was then a field only coming into being. The first scientific writing he produced was on granite, which was believed at the time to constitute the earliest building block of the earth. (See my essay in the Goethe Yearbook.)

Goethe went on to pursue other scientific areas, perhaps because they were more easily accessible: for instance, botany, anatomy, and colors. In retrospect, it might seem that to theorize about geology took a leap of the imagination that was nigh impossible for people, even for Goethe. James Hutton’s revolutionary insight into the age of the earth was something hard to wrap your mind around. Here is Hutton, a Scottish farmer who is known as "the father" of modern geology (emphasis added):

James Hutton, by Sir Henry Raeburn (1775)
"As there is not in human observation proper means for measuring the waste of land upon the globe, it is hence inferred, that we cannot estimate the duration of what we see at present, nor calculate the period at which it had begun; so that, with respect to human observation, this world has neither a beginning nor an end."

The above is from 1785, from a "dissertation" Concerning the System of the Earth, its Duration, and Stability. Hutton's point was that the earth was continually being formed, a process that we could not observe because it took place over such a vast extent of time.

In the early years in Weimar, when Goethe was studying mineralogy, there were certainly writers who already estimated that the earth was much older than the Biblical account would suggest. I believe Buffon thought in terms of 75,000 years. If Goethe been able to visualize millions of years, he might have come to accept the concept of a dynamic planet, especially the massive forces of volcanoes and hot springs in the formation of the earth.

So, what about the Chilean miners? As for the age of the stone forming the mountains in which they worked, it was “born of the earth’s magma more than 140 million years ago. For aeons, a mineral-rich broth rose up through the fissures of the Atacama Fault System. Eventually, the broth solidified, becoming ore layered with interlocking veins of quartz, chalcopyrite, and other minerals.”

And as for the slab that blocked their escape? “It was later estimated to weigh seven hundred thousand tons, twice the weight of the Empire State Building."

Such figures are something that we moderns have come rationally to assimilate. Ah, yes: twice the weight of the ESB. Of course! Yet, confined as we are to our tiny place on the earth and in the universe, do we really understand the infinity of time or the enormous weight of the earth? As the author of The New Yorker piece writes: "The men couldn’t see the extent of the slab, but one could sense the enormity of the disaster.”

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Tieck visits Goethe in Weimar

On this date in 1817 Ludwig Tieck visited Goethe in Weimar after his return from England, where he had ventured in order to collect materials for a work on Shakespeare, which he did not complete.

Goethe wrote in his diary: "Besuch von Dr. Ludwig Tieck, welcher aus England zurückkam und von Shakespeare, Theater und sonstiger dortiger Literatur erzählte."

Friday, August 29, 2014

Last days in Sointula

The deer outside my window
I finished my review of the Goßens book on world literature and sent it off this morning. Since world lit is also my area of research, I read the book very carefully, all 470+ pages. Goßens includes well-chosen passages from many 19th-century writers, men (entirely) whose names one encountered very briefly in one's graduate studies, but about whom one now learned a bit more: Karl August Varnhagen, Moritz Veit, Theodore Mundt, Hermann Hettner, Johannes Scherr, Adolf Stern, Moriz Carriere.

On Sunday morning I return to New York. End of summer.

The deer was outside again this morning, under the plum tree at my neighbor's house. Below is what he was looking for. I shook a few out of the tree for him.

This is what the deer was after

The rocks are from Bere Point. I thought about Goethe when I saw them. I wondered whether he, with his interest in geology, had ever seen or desired to collect such specimens. For those who are interested, you can read my article on Goethe and geology here.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

World literature post-Goethe

Gillnet fishing at Bere Point
In his book on world literature, Peter Goßens discusses the reinterpretation of the concept in the years after Goethe's death, especially under the influence of Karl August Varnhagen, who saw in Goethe's last Wilhelm Meister novel a prefiguration of the doctrines of Saint-Simon. Varnhagen was a strong influence on other admirers of Goethe in Varnhagen's Berlin circle and had an effect on pre-1848 proposals for societal reform, which were strongly utopian. Thus, Marx's reference in The Communist Manifesto to world literature and Engels' ridicule of utopian socialists in Anti-Dühring (1878) were reckonings with such "amateur" socialists. In some earlier posts, I had doubted that Goethe had any utopian inclinations, in contrast to many of the thinkers of the 18th century, particularly in France. According to Cyrus Hamlin (quoted by Goßens), Varnhagen’s reading of the Wanderjahre are a “Gebrauchsanweisung für die zukünftige soziale Ordung Europas in 19. Jahrhundert,”

Mounty and Goethe Girl
The term was already widespread after Goethe's first reference in print in Über Kunst und Alterthum in 1828 and subject to discussion in European periodicals. Theodor Mundt, one of the writers influenced by Varnhagen,  mentions that knowledge of Goethe's term was so widespread in England in 1837 that he feared it would be brought up in conversation:

Auf allen meinen Reisen, wo ich mit geistreichen Menschen in irgend ein Gespräch gerathen, habe ich stets große Furcht gehabt, daß Einer von der sogenannten Weltliteraturidee, die durch Goethe in die Mode gekommen zu sprechen anfangen könnte, und meide dies Thema, zu dem man auf Reisen so leicht veranlaßt werden mag, immer mit sichtlicher Angst.

At the Sointula Salmon Days parade
The pictures here are some scenes and people from the past week or so. Only three more days before I return to New York.

Leaving Telegraph Cove in search of whales
On the lookout

With Heather and Joe

I was envious of these kayakers also on the lookout