Monday, January 27, 2014

Writers' homes

For the German translation of Carlyle's Life of Schiller, Goethe included in the book an image of Carlyle's Craigenputtock cottage. He writes in the introduction:

Gebildete Geister, zartfühlende Gemüther, welche nach fernem Gutem sich bestreben, in die Ferne Gutes zu wirken geneigt sind, erwehren sich kaum des Wunsches, von geehrten, geliebten, weit abgesonderten Personen das Porträt, sodann die Abbildung ihrer Wohnung so wie der nächsten Zustände sich vor Augen gebracht zu sehen.

Wie oft wiederholt man noch heutigen Tags die Abbildung von Petrarchs Aufenthalt in Vaucluse, Tassos Wohnung in Sorent! ...

In eben diesem Sinne hab' ich mir die Umgebungen meiner entfernten Freunde im Bilde zu verschaffen gesucht, und ich war um so mehr auf die Wohnung Hernn Thomas Carlyle begierig, als er seinen Aufenthalt in einer fast rauhen Gebirgsgegend unter dem 55. Grade gewählt hatte.

George Moir was the a Scottish lawyer who was a friend of the Carlyles. While visiting them at their cottage, he made the drawing that Goethe included as the frontispiece.

I find especially pleasing the fact that George Moir was the great-grandfather of Sylvia Townsend Warner, one of my favorite writers. In a volume of her collected letters she writes of him and the drawing, saying that it was afterward sent to Goethe: "He [Moir] gives me this small link with Goethe, and another with Coleridge -- not so direct but much more interesting and creditable. He was a German scholar like all the fashionable intellectuals of his date, and had made a translation of Wallenstein, which was actually at the printers, when he heard that Coleridge was translating Wallenstein and withdrew it."

Saturday, January 25, 2014

How to talk about world literature

World trade
Reading scholarship on world literature, one encounters over and over the same attempts, in practically the same words, to come to grips with what world literature means. Nowadays, some writers dispense with Goethe entirely, e.g., a recent online article by Caroline Levine, chair of the English department at U. Wisconsin-Madison, reviewing new books by Emily Apter, Franco Moretti, and Eric Hayot. Whatever merits there may be in Levine's review, the general failure in world lit scholarship to define the parameters of the discipline means that Levine is simply reiterating what has been written ad infinitum about world literature. Such articles are like physical training; they keep the muscles active.

It may be that world lit is simply "untranslatable." Fritz Strich in the opening pages of Goethe und die Weltliteratur discusses the importance of translation in the world lit "enterprise" He also writes over and over again, with a certain sadness, that Goethe's vision has not been realized: "Trauer … wenn wir von Goethes hoffnungsreicher Verkündigung hören und immer daran denken müssen, wie ja doch niemals die Verwirklichung geschah" However, it seems to me that the case is the opposite. We have plenty of literary "Verkehr," at least in the "Greater Western" world. All of what Goethe envisioned has come to pass: foreign travels among intellectuals, journals, conferences, etc. As Strich writes: "Weltliteratur ist ja der geistige Raum, in welchem die Zeitgenossen, welcher Nationalität sie auch angehören, sich begegnen, zusammengehen u. gesellig wirken." Does that not sound like an MLA conference or a TED symposium?

Winckelmann colorized
Of course, Strich and others, though not Goethe, envisioned more far-reaching results from the enterprise (world harmony, peace among the nations, etc), to which I will return to in a later post. But just now I would like to mention something about the language in which Goethe expressed himself when he spoke about world literature. As he himself said, world literature is in the process of becoming. How, then, do you talk about something that is still in flux, in Bewegung, so to speak? Goethe, of course, was enamored of what was in motion. He appreciated what he saw at the perfection of certain Greek art, but the perfection was achieved through a process of growth. When he wrote about the art of antiquity, as in the essay on Winckelmann that I discussed in my last post, his prose is exquisite, commensurate to the subject. I find myself going back over individual sentences trying to pin down the structure.

The glories of ancient art, however, were unrepeatable. The past and the world view that was "complete" in itself were no more. The social and political configurations of the 19th century, however, were volatile, in flux, and literature of the future would necessarily reflect such movement. One might imagine that, had Goethe lived another decade, he would have arrived at a language in which to talk about world literature, as he had achieved a "classical" mode of expression after Rome. But perhaps it is simply the case that world literature, as he conceived it, a process of exchange and commerce, needed no further articulation. But what he has envisioned has certainly come to pass, and I share in the disappointment of those who react against the eroding effect of the process, what goes by the name of "globalization." But on that, too, I will write later.

Picture credits: The Great Immensity; Rutzen Verlag

Thursday, January 23, 2014

"Die ganze Kunst als ein Lebendiges"

The above quote is from Goethe's essay on Winckelmann. Every morning I try to read something of Goethe's that doesn't necessarily have to do with the subject I am currently at work on, right now world literature. Yet I always seem to see connections. The section of the essay in which the above quote appears is headed "Mengs," in which the German artist makes the newly arrived Winckelman conversant with the things that deserved his attention in Rome. This leads Goethe to discourse on the history of art.

The Roman historian Vellejus Paterculus (b. ca. 19 B.C.), he writes, had observed the "rise and decline" of the arts and noticed that they could maintain their highest excellence only for a short while before declining. Goethe goes on to say that it was not possible for Vellejus to recognize the arts as living ("als ein Lebendiges") and, like every other organic being, having an indeterminate origin, a slow period of growth, a radiant moment of perfection (Vollendung), and a stepwise descent from this height. From Vellejus Goethe moves on to a long quotation from Quintilian describing the arc of Greek genius, from Polygnotos, Zeuxis, and Parrhasius to Polykletos, Lysippus, and Praxiteles.

For Goethe Greece represented the epitome to which there was no return. This preoccupation with the classical past seemed to be a way of coming to terms with the present: how to talk about art in an era in which "vollkommene Werke" were no longer possible. Thus it was that he began to think of world literature.

Picture credits: Wyngman; Arte Spain

Monday, January 13, 2014

Fritz Strich at the MLA (in absentia)

Nordic elf
Until I hear from Na'ama Rokem, I will not know what transpired at our MLA session. I sent my paper, which was to be read by either her or John Noyes, who was also on the panel.

Here I would like to add something to that paper, which I only discovered yesterday. It does not affect my argument, but it helps to complete the picture I am attempting to create about the intellectual background of Strich's work on world literature.

In my paper I mentioned that Strich seldom footnoted or referred directly or even indirectly to his sources. Benjamin Bennett mentioned this "unscholarly" practice in a review on the reissuance of Strich's 1910 book Die Mythologie in der deutschen Literatur von Klopstock bis Wagner, which appeared in The German Quarterly in 1972. Bennett found a "disturbing element" in Die Mythologie, namely, "a tendency to mix criticism and paraphrase." Thus, it is frequently unclear "whether the point of view expressed is that of the author or that of the text under discussion." We modern scholars, writes Bennett, expect a writer to "quote a text and then talk about it, rather than attempt to talk from within the mind of the author being treated." Bennett thinks that Strich abandoned this approach in Deutsche Klassik und Romantik (1922), but my impression is different. In an earlier post I wrote that Strich is not so much talking within the mind of a writer as writing within the literary tradition itself. Goethe, after all, never footnoted his literary predecessors, but simply merged their influence into his writings. Similarly for all writers before the anxiety of influence.

In his 1932 article on world literature and comparative literary history, however, Strich did include a short bibliography, which for the most part references such early comparatists as Ferdinand Brunetière and Joseph Texte. It was only yesterday, however, that I was able to run down at 1928 article by the Romance scholar Karl Voßler on "Nationalliteratur und Weltliteratur" (Zeitwende, vol. 4, pp. 193-204). Voßler, by the way, was not only a major academic but also a friend and colleague of Heinrich Wölfflin, an important influence on Strich.

Voßler does not discuss Goethe's concept as such. He asserts that no one can tell us "wer denn eigentlich zur Weltliteratur gehöre, ... es sei denn, daß man ausweichend antwortet und auf eine Art unsichtbarer Kirche oder Gemeinde der Weltliteratur hinweist, auf einige wenige große Begnadete oder Auserwählte," and so on. Goethe, he writes, meant "eine stille, fast gedrückte Kirche" not a "steile" one, over which reigned a "hohepriesterliches Wesen."

Translation by Karl Voßler
So, not very much about Goethe's concept in Voßler's essay, but he had some interesting observations on what constitutes a national literature. Referring to Shakespeare, Dante, and Goethe, this is what Voßler writes about "national literatures":

Diese bieten Schonung, Nachsicht und traulichen Schutz für menschliche und poetische Schwächen und ein Gehege, wo ungeübte Kunst und halbflügge Phantasie sich üben dürfen und gutherzigen Beifall und Ermunterung finden, wie das Klavierspiel des Haustöchterchens. Hier dürfen die Anfänger, ja sogar ermüdete Meister sich tragen lassen von der Muttersprache ... Volksgenossen und Landsleute, Stammesgefühl und vaterländische Gesinnungen und Interessen sind hier am Werk und schüren eine dichterische Begeisterung, deren persönliches Eigenfeuer vielleicht unsicher wäre.

There is more here, but I was struck by how much Voßler affirms comments made by Goethe in his 1795 essay "Literarischer Sansculottismus." Goethe, inveighing against a writer who complained about the lack of "classical" literary prose among Germans, wrote the following about the era in which he and his generation came to maturity as a writer:

Nirgends in Deutschland ist ein Mittelpunkt gesellschaftlicher Lebensbildung, wo sich Schriftsteller zusammenfänden und nach einer Art, in einem Sinne, jeder in seinem Fache sich ausbilden könnten. Zerstreut geboren, höchst verschieden erzogen, meist nur sich selbst und den Eindrücken ganz verschiedener Verhältnisse überlassen, von der Vorliebe für dieses oder jenes Beispiel einheimischer oder fremder Literatur hingerissen, zu allerlei Versuchen, ja Pfüschereien genötigt, um ohne Anleitung seine eigenen Krafte zu prüfen. ... Welcher deutsche geschätzte Schriftsteller wird sich nicht in diesem Bilde erkennen, und welcher wird nicht mit gescheidener Trauer gestehen, daß er oft genug nach Gelegenheit geseufzt habe, früher die Eigenheiten seines originellen Genius einer allgemeinen Nationalkultur, die er leider nicht vorfand, zu unterwerfen?

One feels here that Goethe is truly speaking from the heart.

Enough for today.

Picture source: Metro Postcards

Ex post MLA

From Vintage Advertisements
Despite the tidings in my previous post, I did not get to Chicago. Weather was one reason -- the flight I was scheduled to fly on to Chicago on Thursday was canceled -- but more seriously my podiatrist urged me on Wednesday morning not to go to Chicago. The winter weather (and we are only in January!) affected not only airline schedules. I had an awful case of chilblains. (In case you are unfamiliar with that word, think back on 19th-century novels you may have read.) At Christmas I had visited a friend in Hamilton, in central New York, where the weather was Minnesota-like. She and I stood outside for an hour on Christmas Eve listening to carolers. In addition, her house was extremely cold. It's a huge place, and I can see that she wants to save on fuel bills.

The long and short of it, however, is that the podiatrist told me to keep my feet warm. On Thursday, instead of spending hours at Newark airport waiting to board a flight, I was in bed with my feet under the electric blanket. The vintage illustration accurately portrays the pain one experiences with chilblains.

I emailed my paper to the organizer of the panel, Na'ama Rokem. So far I have not heard who read it at the session, but I look forward to hearing her report.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Fritz Strich at the MLA

Dividing up the world
I am flying to Chicago tomorrow (ugh!) for the MLA convention. I suppose my opinion of the generality of the convention will not surprise anyone reading this post. I had agreed to be on a panel on world literature early last year. When I received the convention program in the fall, however, I was shocked at the mediocrity of the panels. I haven't been a member of the MLA for over a decade, but when I would attend conventions previously there were always a number of panels I looked forward to attending, often conflicting time-wise with other panels. I will of course go to hear Birgit Tautz and John Noyes (who, by the way, is chairing the world literature panel in which I am presenting), but there is very little serious 18th-century presence, German or otherwise. Again, readers will surely know what I mean.

Kvetching aside, Fritz Strich is going to make his Chicago debut. Anyone who does research on world literature invariably comes across his name. The status of his 1946 study Goethe und die Weltliteratur is always invoked. John Pizer writes, for instance, that it is "still the most important monograph on the subject."  Yet if you look at historical overviews of world literature, especially recent ones, you will find him overlooked and, indeed, dismissed. This dismissal stems from what is considered the Eurocentric bias of his interpretation of world literature.

Well, I am going to take that issue head-on. Stay tuned.

Picture credit: The Disorder of Things