Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Goethe, Voltaire, and Friedrich the Great

Frederick Strolls with Voltaire at San Souci
 Yesterday I picked up a small volume entitled Memoirs of the Life of Monsieur de Voltaire. Its opening sounded almost like that of a novel:  “I was weary of the idle, noisy life of Paris, with all its fops and coxcombs; tired of the dreadful books published with royal approval, the cabals of writers, the low tricks and highway robberies committed by those wretches who dishonored literature.” The year was 1733, and Voltaire had gone to live with Mme de Chȃtelet at her chateau on the borders of Champagne and Lorraine, where they lived an idyll, studying Leibniz and Newton, one result of which was the translation by the brilliant lady of Newton’s Principia. In 1740 they traveled to Brussels to settle a de Chȃtelet family lawsuit. It was while they were there that King Friedrich William of Prussia died, and his son became Frederick II.

And so begins the true subject of The Memoirs, Voltaire’s relationship with Friedrich II. Andrew Brown, the translator, notes that The Memoirs were probably written in 1758-59, at the same time as Candide, but not published in Voltaire’s lifetime. It has been ages since I have read anything that offered such a glimpse of the malignant society of the ancien regime. It was a time when literally everyone except the king was on the make, jockeying for position, for favor, for wealth, all the while using their wits to destroy rivals. Voltaire fell under the spell of power, in the person of Frederick. As Thomas Babington Macaulay wrote in his own essay on Frederick, Voltaire became “one of the most illustrious inmates” at the court in Potsdam, … the most remarkable of all who entered the enchanted garden in the inebriation of delight, and quitted it in agonies of rage and shame.” Macaulay goes one to say that “Never had there met two persons so exquisitely fitted to plague each other.”

Macaulay’s essay throws some light on Frederick’s disdain for German literature. “He had German enough to scold his servants or to give the word of command to his grenadiers; but his grammar and pronunciation were extremely bad. He found it difficult to make out the meaning even of the simplest German poetry.” The monarchs of Europe spoke French, and so, too, Frederick. And, as “a young man devoted to literature, and acquainted only with the literature of France,” it was not surprising that “he should have looked with  profound veneration on the genius of Voltaire.” It seems that Frederick apparently had no Latin or Greek, had never read Homer or Virgil or Tasso, and thus was unable to discern the inferiority of Voltaire’s Henriade in comparison. Macaulay quotes Calderon: “A man who has never seen the sun cannot be blamed for thinking that no glory can exceed that of the moon. A man who has seen neither moon nor sun, cannot be blamed for talking of the unrivaled brightness of the morning star.”

It is interesting to read Goethe’s comments on Frederick in Dichtung und Wahrheit. The first appear in Book 2, with the outbreak of the Seven Years War in 1763, when factional differences divided families in Frankfurt, including Goethe’s own. On one side was his grandfather, who was on the side of the empress Maria Theresa, from whom he had received a pendant containing her portrait during the coronation of Francis I. On the other was his father, whose sympathies were Prussian. The young Goethe became a “Fritzian” — “what did we care about Prussia?” Book 3 relates the billeting of the French count Thoranc in the family home from 1759 and the agitation this produced in his father. The presence of the French lieutenant in his house meant that Goethe saw some of the important military figures of the war, including the Prince de Soubise and Marshal de Broglie. And in Easter week of 1759, French troops marched in great numbers through Frankfurt on their way to Berlin.

In Book 7, Goethe is now a student in Leipzig and beginning to doubt the authority of all the individuals he had formerly admired. And these included Frederick, under whom Leipzig had suffered massively in the war: 

Frederick II, in my estimation, still outranked all the prominent men of the century, and therefore I found it very perplexing when my praise of him turned out to be just as unacceptable to the inhabitants of Leipzig as it had been in my grandfather’s house. … They agreed that he was certainly a remarkable man, but by no means a great one. They said it did not take much skill to accomplish something if one had great resources, and if one spared neither lands, nor money, nor blood, then one’s project could eventually be carried out. … In proclaiming these sentiments they had endless details to cite that I could not gainsay, and gradually I felt that the implicit respect I had paid this remarkable sovereign from childhood was cooling off.

Voltaire in his Memoirs also finds that Frederick had a pernicious effect on the destiny of Europe, beginning with his invasion of Silesia in 1740, while the invasion of Saxony, at the beginning of the Seven Years War, “changed the whole system of Europe single-handedly.” Macaulay says of this 18th-century world war: “On the head of Frederick is all the blood which was shed in a war which raged during many years and in every quarter of the globe … The evils produced by his wickedness were felt in lands where the name of Prussia was unknown; and, in order that he might rob a neighbor who he had promised to defend, black men fought on the coast of Coromandel, and red men scalped each other by the Great Lakes of North America.”

Contemporary painting of the battle of Roßbach
To complete the circle and to return to Goethe: Macaulay also claims that this war, especially after Frederick’s victory at Roßbach in 1757, began to free Germany from French taste, from “the foreign yoke. … in the act of vanquishing Soubise, he was, unintentionally, rousing the spirit which soon began to question the literary precedence of Boileau and Voltaire. … A prince who read only French, who wrote only French, who aspired to rank as a French classic, became, quite unconsciously, the means of liberating half the Continent from the dominion of that criticism of which he was himself, to the end of his life, a slave.”

One of the case studies in Albrecht Schöne’s new book on Goethe as a letter writer (Der Briefschreiber Goethe) is a letter addressed to Carl August, dated September 9–10, 1779, regarding action to take in response to a letter from Prussian cousin Frederick (amounting to a “diplomatisch höfliche Androhung der Okkupation”) demanding that Weimar contribute soldiers for his ongoing quarrel with Austria. As Macaulay writes, Frederick’s army at the end of the Seven Years War had been depleted: “Some great generals, and a crowd of excellent officers had fallen, and it had been impossible to supply their place. The difficulty of finding recruits had, towards the close of the war, been so great, that selection and rejection were impossible. Whole battalions were composed of deserters or prisoners. It was hardly to be hoped that thirty years of repose and industry would repair the ruin produced by seven years of havoc.”

According to Schöne, Goethe’s response (“der 7seitige, in gleichmäßig-sorgfältiger Handschrift gehaltene Text”), written within a day of Carl August’s request for advice, was “ein meisterliches Lehrstück strategischen Denkens.” Schöne calls it “ein Paradenbeispiel politischer Beratung überhaupt,” and indeed, we must gather, an example of why the duke prized Goethe:

So gründlich durchdacht und auf den Punkt genau formuliert, von solcher Stringenz nicht nur seiner kritischen Darstellung der Ausgangslage, sondern auch der vorausgreifenden Gedankenzüge, wie sich das gewiß nicht aus dem Stegreif aufs Papier bringen ließ.”

To end this overly long post, let me mention that a new biography of Frederick has appeared, written by Tim Blanning, a scholar who has written much on German history. The reviewer in the Spectator, Peter Mansel, notes that Frederick “could be more radical than most leaders today.” He is referring of course to Frederick’s atheism and homosexuality. Blanning, however, seems to consider that Frederick’s reign, in the long term, was “a poisoned chalice.” Here is meant, among other things, the effect of the elevation of the Prussian army and the inculcation of military spirit in the population as well as Frederick's contempt for Poles and Russians. “Annexed in 1871 without the presence of consultation, Alsace-Lorraine became another source of wars and tension— the Silesia of the late 19th century.”

Images: The Spectator; Total War Center

Friday, December 25, 2015

“Ein Held solle geboren werden”

 Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, ca. 565

It’s hard to write about Goethe and Christmas. One has the feeling that he seldom celebrated it, certainly not as a religious feast. But there is one lovely discussion (in Kunst und Altherum) of the origins of the story of the Three Wise Men (WA 41,1). It is from that piece that the above post title comes. The essay describes a Latin ms. from the 15th century of Historia trium regum, ca. 1390, by Johannes von Hildesheim.

 Goethe seems fascinated with the long-standing astronomical prophecies in the East concerning the hero to be born and the star that will appear. He writes factually, as if summarizing a historical account. The world awaits the birth of the "hero." Finally the time arrives. God has mercy on the sinful world. “Die Fülle der Zeit erscheint; ein Gebot des römischen Kaisers geht aus; Joseph und Maria kommen in Bethlehem an; eine zur Stallung benutzte Höhle nimmt sie kümmerlich auf … Christus wird geboren und den Hirten verkündigt.”

The star has also appeared in the East, competing in splendor during the day with the sun. It is accompanied by other strange phenomena. Without knowledge of one another, three kings make plans for departure. One, Kaspar, is even English. A path is cleared for them: “Berg und Thal, Sumpf und Wüste gleichen sich vor ihen aus; ohne Speis’ und Trank kommen sie und die Ihrigen in dreizehn Tagen nach Judäa.” The star leads them through Bethelehem, “eine lange bazarähnliche Straße hin,” and comes to rest over the inn. The splendor of the star increases, permeates the darkness with glorious phophoresence. “Die Höhle gleicht einem glühenden Ofen.”

They present their fabulous gifts. They are, after all, carrying nothing less than Alexander’s entire treasure. Warned in a dream to avoid Herod, they depart for their own countries by a different route. The return journey takes two years, during which time the great wonder that they had seen is announced to the entire world.

It is a lovely story, and one understands Goethe’s fascination with it.

The pictures with the lovely star-like ornaments were sent to me by friends this Christmas.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Der Dichterfürst

I have got to know some new (to me, that is) Goethe scholars recently, not in the actual sense, but in a documentary on Bavarian TV, Goethe, oder das Glück ist immer anderswo, by Meinhard Prill. It opens with a scene in the very state-of-the-art archives of the Klassik Stiftung Weimar, in which Katharina Krügler, curator of the sculpture collection of the KSW, unveils a life mask of Goethe from 1807. As the narrator says: "Wirklich fröhlich blickt er nicht."

Other scholars active in Goethe research include Gisela Maul, curator of the science collection, and archivist Ursula Müller-Harang. Wearing white gloves, the latter reads aloud from Goethe's accounts book for July 14, 1789, from which we learn of payments for, among other things, the ironing of four shirts.

After viewing this program, I would not mind an entire documentary on the KSW. I wonder if I will get to visit it in this lifetime.

Goethe's spying on Jena students is discussed, as is the 1783 death sentence of Johanna Catharina Höhn. We get to see the original document with Goethe's recommendation and signature. According to historian Katja Deinhardt, Carl August asked his advisors to consider the options in her case, and it was apparently believed that the death sentence was preferable to lifelong imprisonment as well as enduring public pillorying ("vor dem Pranger ausgesetzt") on feast days.

Rejuvenated Faust and Gretchen with Mephisto
The title of the documentary corresponds to an approach that concentrates on the meaning of Faust and on Goethe as a prognosticator. Rüdiger Safranski, for instance, stresses Goethes "Verbindung mit vielen Epochen. ... Die Eisenbahn war schon ein Gespräch." Indeed, Goethe had a small model of a train in his home. For Safranski, Goethe had in Faust foreseen, "mit gespenstiger Klarheit," where the future was heading.

Emil Jannings as Mephisto
Michael Jaeger (interviewed against a modern Berlin background in which an elevator constantly travels up and down) spoke on the same theme of "Geschwindigkeit," of the permanent devaluation of the present. Philomen and Baucis, at the end of Faust, decline Fausts offer of what Jaeger calls a "Neubauwohnung," satisfied as they are with their unchanging circumstances.   There is wonderful footage from Murnau's 1926 film version of Faust. "D i e deutsche Liebesgeschichte," intones the narrator, "und sie endet übel."

The documentary also features early historical film footage of a religious procession in Rome. There is nothing Downton Abbey-like about the scenes. There is no self-consciousness about the participants in the procession, no attempt by anyone to be what he is not. The priests are a motley bunch. Everyone is firmly planted in the world they occupy. They don't imagine they are being judged. It is very different from most non-Western places nowadays, where the "natives" have lost the complete sense of rootedness in a traditional order of life.

Image credit: Listal

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Goethe ascends the Brocken

Goethe, Brocken im Mondlicht
At the end of November 1777 Goethe undertook his 500 km Harz journey, traveling on foot and on horseback. He had been in Weimar two years by then, and was uncertain whether he should stay or leave. What was his life supposed to be about, anyway? He was in his superstitious phase and was looking for “a sign.” Even though it was winter, and even though everyone advised against attempting to climb the mountain, he believed that a successful ascent of the Brocken would be such a sign.

So it transpired that on this day in 1777 Goethe became the first person to climb the Brocken in winter. As he wrote in his diary: “d. 10. früh nach dem Torfhause in tiefem Schnee. 1 viertel nach 10 aufgebrochen von da auf den Brocken. Schnee eine Elle tief, der aber trug.” In his travel diary for Charlotte von Stein he wrote (in N. Boyle’s translation): “The goal of my longing has been reached, it hangs by many threads and many hang from it; you know how symbolical my existence is.” He interpreted his success as confirmation of his new existence in Weimar.

As Boyle writes, “the biblical tone and language that permeate G’s account of this day in his diary, and in his letters to Charlotte von Stein, show the religious significance that the ascent had acquired for him and had indeed always been intended to have.”

Hexenexperiment auf dem Brocken, 1932
The black and white photo depicts an experiment atop the Brocken on Goethe’s birthday in 1932, conducted by a British ghost hunter named Harry Price. The goal was to transform a goat into a young man, to be accomplished by the invocation of maiden. Unsuccessful, Price claimed that he was only seeking to prove “the fallacy of transcendental magic.”

Georg Melchior Kraus, Hexenaltar
The winter ascent of the Brocken occurred on what is called the first Harz journey, during which Goethe also visited several mines, indeed even descending into one. See an earlier post on this subject. Goethe climbed the mountain again, twice, first, with Heinrich von Trebra and Fritz von Stein in September 1783, then with Georg Melchior Kraus in September 1784. Both journeys were devoted to "geology."  As Goethe wrote to Herder at the time: “Krause ist also mit mir alleine, und wir sind den ganzen Tag unter freiem Himmel, hämmern und zeichnen.” The trip inspired his essay “Über den Granit."

The Goethezeitportal offers an account of all three of Goethe's Brocken ascents, with illustrations.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Goethe as collector 3

J.H. Tischbein der Ältere, Gamblers at the "Ridotto"
Nietzsche: “It is the work of the artist that invents the man who created it. ‘Great men’ as they are venerated are subsequent pieces of minor fiction.”

Some additional thoughts re Goethe as a collector and about Der Sammler und die Seinigen. The DKV commentary notes that Goethe’s journey to Italy, with the opportunity to view works of classical sculpture, was prefaced already by his father’s journey there as a young man. In that sense, Goethe and his father, like the English cognoscenti in Ruth Guilding's book, were representatives of a class of men who found inspiration in Italy.

Goethe reports in Dichtung und Wahrheit of his father’s patronage of local artists whose works hung on the walls of the home in Frankfurt. In this connection, Ernst Beutler mentions in his commentary (Gedenkausgabe, vol. 13) that there were few public galleries in German lands: in Dusseldorf, Dresden, Kassel, Pommersfelden. Even in Leipzig and Frankfurt, one’s access to paintings required a visit to the many private galleries, as the one depicted in Der Sammler. Interestingly, these private collections, including that of Goethe’s father, were  listed among the notable sights in travel guides.

What struck me in particular about Der Sammler was the emphasis on taste. The “rubrics” that I mentioned in the first post were a summation of what the “small academy” had perceived among the reactions of visitors to the collection. In the Fourth Letter, the collector wrote of the spontaneity of such reactions: “Kunstwerke reizen auf und vor ihnen genirt sich niemand, niemand zweifelt an seiner eignen Empfindung, und daran hat man nicht Unrecht, niemand zweifelt an der Richtigkeit seines Urteils …” Each of the one-sided tendencies of viewers and of collectors speaks to individual subjectivity. Goethe did not want to leave the matter there. Our appreciation of art should go beyond our own subjective reaction. It was necessary to leave aside the “insouciant Woosterism” of the English cognoscenti of whom Guilding writes. To do so clearly required study.

The DKV commentary notes that though Goethe saw quite a bit of art in his life, his viewing experience was actually quite limited. He even avoided informing himself of the large “Academy” exhibitions in Berlin and Dresden, while the exhibitions he curated in Weimar lacked an overview of the larger German artistic production of his time. In Goethe’s defense, however, I would say that it is not necessary to know all the instances in order to get an impression of what all the instances “express.”
Giulio Romano, The Fall of the Giants (1532-34)
For instance, I have not read a newspaper for years (or, similarly, followed the news on the internet), for which I am often criticized by friends. “How do you know what is going on in the world?” they ask. In general, however, I am quite aware what is going on in the world, simply by a quick glance at the headlines, but more important is an assessment of what the news "means." For instance, Turkey shot down a Russian jet the other day; but Russia, although Putin is angry, does not attack Turkey. I understand that for Russia to have acted (e.g., to have shot down a Turkish plane in retalliation) would have been “one-sided.” A lack of response may anger some Russians, but Putin is in this for the long run. He is playing a larger game. The incident itself is simply one of many incidents that fall under the rubric of “international affairs,” an abstract category under which can be subsumed many particulars. One cannot let oneself be distracted by the particulars but, instead, try to interpret their meaning within the larger international context.

So, the fact that Goethe did not have the knowledge of art works possessed by even a university graduate in art history does not vitiate his interpretation. Even miniature works sufficed. His mineralogical collection replicated the same purpose: small specimens as representatives of an “integral” idea and as avenues of  intuition, of “Anschauung.” Goethe, in contrast to the English collectors, was indeed a “library mouse.”

Johann Heinrich Lips, Portrait of Lavater
Der Sammler requires more study than I have given to it in these posts. I was initially attracted by the seeming abstractness of the discussions and sought to add a little flesh to my understanding. Thus, the images I have posted. The long second letter in Der Sammler concerns the length to which an obsession with exacting naturalism leads, and at one point Goethe appears to mock the life-size family portraits by Johann Heinrich Tischbein, father of Goethe's friend. The collector mentions in his own collection a portrait of his parents that is concealed behind a “blind” door that, when opened would cause the viewer some consternation.

Mein Vater trat mit meiner Mutter am Arme gleichsam heraus und erschreckte durch die Wirklichkeit, welche theils durch die Umstände, theils durch die Kunst hervorgebracht war. Er war abgebildet, wie er, gewöhnlich gekleidet, von einem Gastmahl, aus einer Gesellschaft, nach Hause kam. Das Bild ward an dem Orte, zu dem Orte, mit aller Sorgfalt gemahlt, die Figuren aus einem gewissen Standpuncte genau perspectivisch gehalten und die Kleidungen, mit der größten Sorgfalt, zum enschiedensten Effecte gebracht.

Apparently Tischbein's painting still survives. Such a perspectival treatment is also seen in the same artist's painting of gamblers in Venice, in which Tischbein also placed himself. In the letter to Schiller concerning Der Sammler, Goethe mentions Giulio Romano as belonging to the category of "Skizzisten," which seems somewhat at odds with the naturalism of the painting of The Fall of the Giants above, from Sala dei Giganti in the Palazzo del Te, in Mantua. And I had to wonder whether Goethe had seen Lips' portrait of Lavater.

Picture credits: Galerie Neuse

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Goethe as collector 2

Kleinkünstler: Marie Sibylla Merian (ca. 1705)
The English had collected so much Classical statuary that by the late 19th century a German scholar, Adolf Michaelis, traveled to England and wrote a catalogue entitled Ancient Marbles in Great Britain (1882). As Nigel Spivey writes in his review of Ruth Guilding’s book, most of what Michaelis documented in private collections has now been disbursed, and Michaelis recommended back then already that private collections be nationalized. He was also disturbed at the sad state of many of the ancient works. For instance, those that were outdoors were covered with lichen and other undergrowth.

As I wrote in my previous post, the 18th-century collectors were Woosterish in their enthusiasm for Classical sculpture, and documentary assessment was left to such “foreign boffins” as Michaelis. As Spivey writes of the collectors in Guilding’s study, “the gentleman is not a library mouse.” Which brings me to Goethe’s Der Sammler und die Seinigen. Can there be another more exemplary “library mouse” than the collector in this short work of Goethe’s, who, after all, refers to the setting of the discussions that take place as “unsere kleine Akademie”? And to what extent does the collector and his attitudes correspond to Goethe?
Charakteristiker: Raffael, Adam and Eve
When I turned to Der Sammler recently (WA I, 47, pp. 121–227), I discovered that it was well marked up, indicating that I had read it carefully at one time. Clearly it had not stuck with me, and I attribute this fault in myself  to Goethe’s abstract language when talking about art (which contrasts with the immensely visual comparisons that characterize his poetic oeuvre).

I notice that I underlined the following comment of the collector on the viewer’s response to a work of art: “Das Höhere was in uns liegt will erweckt sein, wir wollen verehren und uns selbst verehrungswürdig fühlen.” Goethe scholars have encountered endlessly such apercus. One gets the point, but one can't quite see what is meant, and Goethe doesn’t help matters by neglecting to give examples.

Interestingly, there is very little scholarly commentary on Der Sammler, but the DKV edition notes the influence of Schiller in the argument for “eine integrale Betrachtung der sichtbaren Gestalt des Kunstwerks.” Thus, “the small academy” draws up rubrics that address the one-sidedness  (Einseitigkeiten) with which artists create and viewers respond to works of art and which ultimately fail to produce “the integral” or “the ideal,” in the work or in the imagination. The different varieties of one-sided practice or appreciation correspond to subjective tendencies of individuals (here is the influence of Kant’s aesthetics). It is only by combining two or more such tendencies that “ein Werk höherer Art” can be produced, one that unites both “Ernst” and “Spiel.”

Undulisten: Corregio, Jesus
Since Goethe gives no examples, the pictures here are meant to supply what he meant by the following: “Nachahmer” (“es fehlt ihm die Kunstwahrheit als schöner Schein”); “Imaginanten” (“Der Imaginant schadet die Kunst unendlich, weil er sie über all Gränzen hinausjagt”); “Charakteristiker”; “Undulisten” (prefers “das Weichere und Gefällige ohne Charakter und Bedeutung”) ;”Kleinkünstler” “Skizzisten” ("Der Skizzist spricht aber unmittelbar zum Geiste …  Der Geist spricht zum Geiste, und das Mittel wodurch es geschehen sollte, wird zu nichte"). Except for the “Imaginant,” I did not make up these examples; they are taken from a letter to Schiller of June 22, 1799. Of course, none of these are examples of statuary, but the rubrics are applicable to painting.

Imaginant: Henry Fuseli, The Nightmare

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Goethe as collector

Philipp Hackert, Feuerwerk auf der Engelsburg in Rom, 1775
Most Goethe fans have had the experience of encountering Goethe in unexpected places. I wrote previously that I usually go to the index of books to see if his name is listed, whatever the subject matter of the book. So it was, while I was perusing a review in an old issue (Feb. 13, 2015) of the Times Literary Supplement that Goethe popped up. The book concerned the 18th-century English "marble mania," namely, the collecting of Greek statuary during the 18th century, when many northern Europeans ventured south of the Alps. As the reviewer Nigel Spivey writes: “The Rome of the Grand Tourists has not vanished. The houses where Goethe gazed ecstatically out of a window and where Keats breathed his last are both kept as shrines.”

But the book under review, Owning the Past: Why the English Collected Antique Sculpture, 1640–1840, by Ruth Guilding, also prompted considerations about Goethe as a collector, in comparison with the English variety examined by Guilding in the same period. These considerations in turn led me to look anew at his short “letter-novel” Der Sammler und die Seinigen, first published in the Propyläen in 1799.

The collecting of ancient works, regarded almost as heirlooms, was widespread among a certain class of men (for the most part), but Goethe’s concerns, as portrayed in Der Sammler und die Seinigen, were different from those of his English contemporaries. The difference is illuminating.
The Newby Venus
First to the English collectors. Unlike modern collectors, who pay huge sums of money for works of art (the Emir of Qatar paid 8 million English pounds for the so-called Newby Venus), for 18th-century aesthetes collecting was more than a capital investment. “Gentlemen," writes Guilding, "do no buy a statue in order to make a commercial profit.” She argues that the English collector collected Classical sculptures, in particular, “in order to transform  and define himself — as an English gentleman.” The development of what she calls a “nexus between aristocratic virtue and Classical sculpture” begins after the Tudors. And whether it was a bust of Seneca or a portrait of a gladiator, these were “monuments demanding display and personal emulation.”

Richard Payne Knight, a libertine?
By the way, it seems that not all reactions to Classical sculpture were devout in character, but were indeed carnal in appreciation, e.g., as attested in tales of the well-known antiquarian and numismatist Richard Payne Knight, who was known as a “libertine.” Knight traveled in Sicily in 1777 with Goethe’s friend Philipp Hackert, during which journey he kept a journal. It was not published, but Goethe was familiar with it when he traveled to Sicily, and he translated and included it in his biography of Hackert.

So, Goethe would have been acquainted with the collecting activities of English cognoscenti of Classical sculpture, but we can definitely say that he did not share the “Woosterish insouciance” that characterized the relation of the English collectors to their objects. Der Sammler is testimony to a very different mentality. The commentary on this work in the DKV edition of Goethe's aesthetic writings quotes Goethe, in a conversation with Kanzler Müller in 1830, about his collecting activity: "Ich habe mich nicht nach Laune oder Willkur, sondern jedesmal mit Plan und Absicht zu meiner eigenen folgerechten Bildung gesammelt und an jedem Stück meines Besitzes etwas gelernt."

Next up: Der Sammler und die Seinigen. Stay tuned

Picture credits: Klassik Stiftung Weimar; BBC

Saturday, November 21, 2015

German Literature Month

Scrolling around the internet for interesting images or items about Goethe and his circle, I came across an announcement of German Literature Month, now about three-quarters into the month. It is the undertaking of a consortium of bloggers, and this is the fifth iteration. I was particularly struck that one of the bloggers selected Schiller as the writer she would report on. If you go to the link for Lizzy Siddal, you will find her reports on, among other plays, The Robbers. One reader's comment included Goethe's reaction to the play:  “I return from Italy and find some completely repulsive literary works held in high regard.”

The image above is the cover of a version of the play for children, "neu erzählt," of course. I love the description of the book:

"Karl Moor, der kluge und eigentlich tugendsame Sohn eines fränkischen Grafen begeht während seiner Studienzeit aus Leichtsinn ein paar Dummheiten. Bald jedoch bereut er diese und bittet seinen Vater in einem Brief um Erlaubnis, zu ihm und seiner Geliebten Amalia aufs Schloss zurückkehren zu dürfen. Doch der Brief erreicht den Vater nicht: Karls neidischer, missgünstiger Bruder Franz fängt ihn ab. Durch bösartige Lügen und Intrigen bringt er den Vater sogar dazu, den geliebten Sohn Karl zu verstoßen. Verbittert zieht Karl daraufhin mit einigen Kameraden in die böhmischen Wälder, um als Räuberhauptmann das erfahrene Unrecht zu rächen. Wird es ihm gelingen, auf den rechten Weg zurück zu finden …?"

Gee, why wouldn't our students love such a story?

Friday, November 6, 2015

Katharina Mommsen at 90

Katharina Mommsen at home (photo: Norbert von der Groeben)
Gads, I should have posted about the above two months ago, when I first came across it at The Book Haven: Cynthia Haven's Blog for the Written Word. Cynthia is in the very enviable position of living and working at Stanford University, and her postings on visiting and local writers reduce me to envy. Her post today concerned the death at the age of 91 of René Girard, a faculty member at Stanford since 1981.

In the Goethe Society of North America we  have our own eminence. Back on September 19 Professor Mommsen, who lives in Palo Alto, enjoyed "an intimate birthday celebration at her home" with a circle of friends and students, according to The Book Haven. (The photo above, from The Book Haven site, was taken on that occasion.) The highlight of the day was a visit to Palo Alto by the German consul in San  Francisco and the bestowal of "Germany's highest honor for a lifetime of cultural service." (Does anyone know what this is called?) The Book Haven's report quotes Gerald Gillespie, emeritus professor of German and Comparative Lit at Stanford, on Katharina: “She is still plugging away fourteen hour days on the ‘monster’ international project of dozens of volume on the genesis of the works of Goethe.”

In elaborating on Professor Mommsen's career, The Book Haven explains the "monster project": Die Entstehung von Goethes Werken in Dokumenten, which according to de Gruyter's website now consists of eight volumes, the last being "Hackert -- Indische Dichtungen." Ten to go. May she live to be at least 100. And of course we owe to her early and continuing publications on Goethe and Islam.

Some years back I reviewed Katharina Mommsen's Goethe's Art of Living for the Goethe Yearbook. I began my review as follows: "There are a number of scholars for whom not only Goethe's works but also his person are something like second nature. Katharina Mommsen is one of these, and it is always of interest to fledgling scholars like myself to contemplate their enthusiasm and erudition."

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

John Le Carré speaks German

And quite good German at that.

I was going back through some videocasts of Druckfrisch, a German TV show devoted to contemporary literature, hosted by the genial Dennis Scheck. I came across his interview with John Le Carré on the occasion of the publication of the German translation of Our Kind of Traitor (Verräter wie wir). The interview took place in Bern, Switzerland, in October 2010, and for those who would like to watch. it can be found at ARD until November 1; but if you miss it there, a site called "" (great name!) has the interview available at an time.

Dennis Scheck
Scheck goes on location often, even to the U.S. : the most recent program is his interview with Salman Rushdie in New York. On these occasions he speaks English with his guests (Kinky Friedman!), with voice over in German, but no translation was necessary for Le Carré's. His German was very good, and he had no trouble discussing his career and his books.

Just the other day on one of my German podcasts, I heard an interview with the former director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, who is now in Berlin, where is playing a major role in the "Humboldt Forum." He was interviewed on the podcast about an exhibition he had organized at the British Museum: Germany: Memories of a Nation -- A 600-Year History in Objects. He too spoke German, and well he might, as he will be living in Berlin. But, although he understood the interviewer's questions perfectly, his German was not as fluent as Le Carré's. Still, I am sure he will get the hang of it.

Two posts on this blog (see here and here) have mentioned Le Carré in connection with Fritz Strich, with whom the very young Le Carré (actually David Cornwell) studied in Bern when he was still a teenager. Deutschlandfunk has the written text of the interview with Dennis Scheck, which includes a portion of text that does not appear in the videocast. Here is that text, which tells how important German was to him, even for his novels. Imagine: he is familiar with Wolfram von Eschenbach!

Ich war damals 16 Jahre alt und war seit meinem fünften Lebensjahr in Internaten und Institutionen. Meine Mutter war verschwunden und mein Vater war ein komplizierter Mann, manchmal im Gefängnis, manchmal nicht. Dann kam ich praktisch als Flüchtling hierher und wollte Deutsch lernen. Ich hatte einen sehr guten Deutschlehrer in meiner Schule in England und ich dachte, als guter rebellischer Halbstarker, wenn die ganze Welt die Deutschen hassten, müssen sie auch anständig sein, irgendwo. Und dann habe ich mich, wahrscheinlich sehr naive und einfache Art, in deutsche Kultur eingetieft. Man könnte fast mit dem Nibelungenlied von Wolfram von Eschenbach auch beginnen. Die haben auf mich einen großen Eindruck gemacht in meinem Roman. Wenn es eine Formel gibt: "Take somebody, who knows nothing", und dann: "teach him something." Sogar im "Spion, der aus der Kälte kam: Er lernt am Ende, auch wenn es ihn das Leben kostet, die Menschlichkeit. Ich erinnere mich, ich glaube, das war in Parzival von Wolfram von Eschenbach. Es gibt einen Augenblick, wo er diesen alten Mann Anfortas wiedertrifft und er sieht ihn, das ist das zweite oder dritte Mal, dass er ihn sieht, und er hat inzwischen furchtbare Erfahrungen gemacht, Parzival, und er sagt, wie ist es mit dir, wie geht es dir, und dazu Anfortas, jetzt lernst du die Menschlichkeit, das ist das erste Mal sozusagen, dass du nach meiner Gesundheit gefragt hast.

Picture credits: ARD;

Monday, October 19, 2015

Goethe and Christiane wed on this day

"Why did Goethe marry Christiane Vulpius," asks Peter Schwartz in an article in volume 15 (2008) of Goethe Yearbook, "his companion of 18 years, on 19 October 1806, five days after Napoleon's victory over Prussia at the battle of Jena-Auerstedt?" Marriage is also the subject of Peter's book After Jena: Goethe's Elective Affinities and the End of the Old Regime, in which appeared the chapter "When Did Goethe Marry When He Did?"

An early legend grew up around the event, namely, that Goethe was grateful to Christiana for her fierceness in the face of plundering by French soldiers, who entered their house in Weimar, raided their larder, and barged into Goethe's bedroom. There is, however, as Peter points out, already a precedent in Goethe's own ouevre, namely, Hermann und Dorothea. The events in the epic concern refugees fleeing the western side of the Rhine, occupied by French Revolutionary armies, and seeking refuge on the eastern side. In this small work the "outsider" Dorothea, defending "home and hearth" (as Peter writes) from French incursion, becomes worthy of an "insider's" marriage and acceptance by Hermann's parents.

More likely, it was precisely Napoleon's incursion into the heart of German lands that prompted the wedding ceremony, performed by Wilhelm Christoph Günther, who was court chaplain of the Jakobskirche in Weimar. As several contemporaries noted, it was a time when the foundations of the old order had been sent trembling. Besides worrying about the fate of all of his papers, documents, art collections, and so on, Goethe now had to be concerned, in the event of his death, with the legal consequences that would arrive should the French Civil Code be enacted in German territories. According to Napoleon, it was not in society's interest to recognize bastards, which was the status of Goethe's "natural son," August. Under the French code, inheritance rights of illegitimate children were not recognized. Thus, although Goethe had named August as his heir in his will of 1797, his ability to do so and to guarantee August's inheritance depended on Carl August's dispensation. Although in the end the duchy retained its own legal system, it was not certain in October 1806 "what sort of laws would obtain in Weimar from that time forward."

Battle of Jena-Auerstädt, October 14, 1806, at 10 a.m.
In part, Goethe's earlier hesitation in marrying Christiana was related to the court's censure of a marriage between a nobleman (Goethe) and a nobody (Christiane). Living together out of wedlock was provocative enough. Friedrich Riemer, Goethe's friend, alluded afterward to Goethe's gift of knowing when to seize the right moment, and their marriage certainly took place at such a moment. As Johann Heinrich Voss wrote in a letter shortly afterward, the moment was one when people were distracted -- many in Weimar had lost everything they owned through the French plundering -- that they would hardly be aware of such a "Kleinigkeit"; and when they did notice, it would already be old news.

Still, Goethe seems to have been hesitant. As Peter writes, it may have been the advice of a French general billeted in Goethe's home who convinced Goethe to marry, enumerating the liabilities that would be in store under Napoleonic law. After finally taking the big step, Goethe rapidly moved on to solidify his affairs. "In the days and weeks after Jena, Goethe was working to set his entire civil estate onto solid legal ground." Thus, he wrote to Carl August in January of 1807 requesting legal title to the house in which he .had been living He also revised his will in early 1807.

All the privileges Goethe enjoyed as a favorite of Carl August would have evaporated under the French Civil Code. As Peter writes: "A legal and political climate more hostile to the feudal state of exception within which Goethe had lived until then could hardly be imagined. His marriage normalized this state of exception to such a degree that Goethe was able to revoke his will and rely on the normal order of inheritance -- on the laws of the land, whatever they were to be -- without fear of untoward consequences."

Picture credits: Emerson Kent

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

"Zum Schäckespears Tag"

Domenico Remps, A Cabinet of Curiosity (1675)
"Schäkespears Theater ist ein schöner Raritäten Kasten, in dem die Geschichte der Welt vor unsern Augen an die unsichtbaren Faden der Zeit vorbeiwallt ..."

October 14, 1771

Monday, October 5, 2015

Goethe meets Napoleon

I should have posted on this subject on October 2, but I was in Virginia attending the German Studies Association conference. So, here a few days late, is a small post on the encounter in Erfurt in 1808, described by Talleyrand in his memoirs as "a policy of imperial seduction to rally great German intellectuals" and "to give Napoleon a literary and cultural guarantee on a European scale." This last was important since Napoleon had lost the support of such eminences as Madame de Stael and Chateaubriand. (This site has more information on the meeting.)

Talleyrand did not record the famous "Voila un homme!" comment. Wieland, who also met the emperor and who wrote down his own recollections on the very evening, mentions that Napoleon had called him "Germany's Voltaire."

 (Am I being cynical to suggest that many intellectuals and writers today would feel profoundly flattered, as did Wieland and Goethe, to be so distinguished? And to receive the Légion d'honneur? Yes, I am being cynical.)

Napoleon receives the Austrian ambassador, October 1808
Talleyrand was present at the meeting between Goethe and the emperor. In the picture above, in which Napoleon is shown receiving the Austrian ambassador later in the same month, Talleyrand stands behind the table, between Baron Vincent and the emperor, while the Russian czar is seen in profile on the right. Although Talleyrand's memoirs must be read with some caution, he recounts that the emperor recommended that Goethe attend some historical plays that were being performed in Erfurt, asserting that the "dramatic art' was higher than history: "A good tragedy should be seen as the worthiest school for superior men."

Picture credit: Fondation Napoleon

Saturday, September 26, 2015

International literature

I am finally beginning to understand what Dieter Lamping is talking about. (See previous post on this subject.) Once, not so long ago, “German” literature was identified with certain writers — H. Böll, G. Grass, etc. — who not only wrote in German but also on German themes. But increasingly the “book market” is international, and Germans write novels that, even in translation, even with a German theme, e.g., Grass’s Crabgang, enjoy international repute. Another phenomenon is writers who write in German, but not on German themes. Their novels, although set in Germany or Switzerland or Austria, could be set anywhere. Peter Stamm seems to be doing well in this regard. Lamping mentions Peter Handke, whose novel Mein Jahr in der Niemandsbucht has a mixed cast and is set in various non-German locales, although I don’t how much international success Peter Handke enjoys, if one is talking about book sales. I don’t know a single American who reads Handke who doesn’t also know German.

According to Lamping it is this very internationality of literature is what comparative literature is all about these days. It no longer concerns itself solely with comparison: e.g., Racine vs. Shakespeare. It investigates literary forms, structures, subjects, and so on that may originate in one country but that travel. E.g., some German poets write haikus. Comp lit investigates not the national characteristics of literature, but the internationality of these characteristics. This reminds me a bit of Franco Moretti, who has done interesting work on such subjects as the detective genre, with maps, graphs, and trees.

Félicien Rops, Pornokratès (1878)
The 19th century would seem exemplary of the kind of process he is writing about. In fact, I am pretty sure that Moretti has concentrated on that century. Writers from one country after the other picked up on the subjects and forms of writers of other countries. For instance, drama. At the beginning of the century, dramatists still employed historical figures: Hebbel, Hugo; by the end they were all writing about bourgeois subjects. And then they were all subjecting the bourgeoisie to critical analysis, dissecting its hypocrisies and so on: Zola, Ibsen, Strindberg. So, I guess this would be “international” or at least a European movement. Decadence flourished in France, but had its adherents in Germany, Italy, and England. I would say that the novel is the international form par excellence. And its subject since its origins is about individual breaking free of the traditional bonds of society. So it re-creates in its form the break as well.

 This kind of literary commerce seems a function of trade in the modern period, as writers are more frequently and more quickly in contact with one another. There is an element of fashion about it, as one movement arises and then is succeeded by another. Boredom sets in, and, 100 years later, it is  hard to believe that the audience actually threw shoes at the stage during the premier of Afternoon of a Fawn.

Earlier literary commerce (one cannot avoid that word), however, was additive. The literary inheritance was passed down through the generations. There was a conscious process of absorption of a culturally privileged and traditional literary idiom. Literary works reflected the constructing of the present from the past, and suggested approval and identification.

International literature is competitive, like all products of the market. It does not build on what went before, but, by its nature, is dismissive of what went before. This dismissal is even its subject: “old” attitudes, “old” practices are constantly being scrutinized and found wanting. It is about process. Of course, every modern or contemporary writer hopes to be “lasting,” to leave a mark on literature, but he can’t expect to know in his own lifetime whether he has made such a mark. Modernity, as Lamping writes, puts tradition in question.

Picture credit: Matt Bromley

Friday, September 18, 2015

The internationalization of literature

Dieter Lamping's book on Goethe and world literature, although small (138 pp. plus bibliography), is a very good survey of the "career" of the concept. Nevertheless, there are a couple places where I find some conceptual confusion on Lamping's part. That was especially the case in the fifth chapter, "Deutsche Literature um 1800," which begins with a discussion of the "internationality" of German literature at that point.

But what exactly is "internationality"?

Among other things he mentions the growing interest of German writers in non-German literary products, beginning, e.g., with Lessing or Wieland. Lamping contrasts the interest of Goethe in contemporary foreign writers with the more historical appropriation by the Romantic writers. The increase in translations, or "Verdeutschung," of foreign works is part of internationality, as is a rise in theorizing the practice of translation. Friedrich Schleiermacher, in a lecture in 1813 already at the Berlin Academy of Sciences, emphasized the importance of translation for German literature and sounded very much like Goethe speaking about world literature a decade or so later.:

Eine innere Nothwendigkeit, in der sich ein eigenthümlicher Beruf unseres Volkes deutlich genug ausspricht, hat uns auf das Uebersezen in Masse getrieben; wir können nicht zurükk und müssen durch.

German writers had of course been absorbing foreign influences for centuries, as Fritz Strich pointed out in his many articles and his book on Goethe and world literature. Clearly late eighteenth-century translations of classical and foreign works also enriched the capacities of the German language.  German writers were encouraged to undertake their own versions of ancient genres. Goethe's Hermann und Dorothea would be an example. Writers also accumulated a store of new motifs and themes.

But what is "international" about such literary commerce? When we use the word international in connection with literature, is there an analogy with its use in other contexts, e.g., as in "International Court of Justice" or "International Space Station," even international driver's license? More to come on this subject, as I have just turned to another small volume by Lamping: Internationale Literature.

Picture credit: Adobe Blog; Texas A&M International University

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Summer is almost over

These are the last days in Sointula. I managed in August to accomplish the three projects I worked on, including writing a review of Jane K. Brown's Goethe's Allegories of Identity. Stay tuned for it in the Lessing Yearbook.

Today there was a cow in the backyard. These big guys really walk fast, but I managed a few shots.

Yesterday was the last day of dragon-boating for the season.

I also went out to Beare Point with Robin.

The weather is turning autumnal here.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Happy Birthday, Goethe!

Am 28. August 1749, mittags mit dem Glockenschlage zwölf, kam ich in Frankfurt am Main auf die Welt. Die Konstellation war glücklich; die Sonne stand im Zeichen der Jungfrau, und kulminierte für den Tag; Jupiter und Venus blickten sie freundlich an, Merkur nicht widerwärtig; Saturn und Mars verhielten sich gleichgültig: nur der Mond, der soeben voll ward, übte die Kraft seines Gegenscheins um so mehr, als zugleich seine Planetenstunde eingetreten war. Er widersetzte sich daher meiner Geburt, die nicht eher erfolgen konnte, als bis diese Stunde vorübergegangen.

Image credit: Auckland Goethe Society; Thaumazein

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Goethe and the Gothic novel

Sunset at Wendy's house
Heather and I took the ferry yesterday afternoon to Vancouver Island and spent the day shopping, mostly for groceries, of which there is a much greater selection than on Malcolm Island. My cooking experimentation continues, with mixed results. Heather likes to go to used book shops, so we stopped at one in Port McNeill, at the church of Saint John Gaulbert (985–1073), the patron saint of forest workers (forestry being a traditional occupation of this region).

Roasted peppers with pine nuts
I did not intend to buy any books here, but the first one, literally, that my eyes fell on at the bookshop was The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole. Just that morning I had read Jane Brown's discussion of that novel in Goethe's Allegories of Identity. In discussing the influence of Goethe on Romantic-period tales and, subsequently, on Freud's "depth psychology," Brown mentions that the former incorporate elements of "the newly popular gothic novel," a genre that began "quite suddenly in 1764" with the appearance of Walpole's novel and went on to greater acclaim with Ann Radcliffe. As Brown writes, Goethe's "Märchen" shares Otranto's interest "in family curses, mysterious ceremonies, and a vaguely Italian setting, but it [also] uses two striking motifs ... underground vaults and dangerous giants." Furthermore, Mignon's ancestry has much in common with such gothic elements: "Italy, monks, stubborn fathers, and incest." Similarly, Elective Affinities, for instance, with its preoccupation with death and places of burial.

From 1794 German translation of Otranto
So, I laid down $2.00 and brought The Castle of Otranto home. I was surprised at how readable it was, despite the outlandish events. Partly this derives from the amount of "low comedy" in the novel, especially when the noble figures interact with the domestics. Matilda and Bianca's discussion of the perfect lover would seem to come straight out of Shakespeare, as does especially Manfred's long exchange with two domestics about the "terrible sight" that has terrified them.

"Sot! cried Manfred, in a rage, "is it only a ghost then, that thou hast seen?"
"Oh, worse! worse! my lord," cried Diego: "I had rather have seen ten whole ghosts."

The terrible sight turns out to be a "great giant" hiding in the "chamber next to the gallery."

Image credit: Houghton Library, Harvard University

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Goethe and world literature

Obviously I am obsessed with the deer in the back yard. Occasionally there are two of them. I have discovered that if I throw some plums from my balcony, one will approach. I am beginning to think the deer here are a bit like the squirrels in New York City parks: you can be sitting on a bench, and they come right up to you and beg. This is a fishing island; I don't know of any hunting going on. The deer seem to wander around as if they weren't worried. In any case, from the picture it appears that the deer is thin, although maybe deer are always thin.

Searching for plums
When I am not working on my own book or reading Jane Brown's book on Goethe and allegory, I take some time out to read Dieter Lamping's short survey, Die Idee der Weltliteratur: Ein Konzept Goethes und seine Karriere. I carry it with me when I take the ferry over to Port McNeill to do some shopping or when I walk down to what is called "Graveyard Point," after the Finnish cemetery there. It is also the only nearby place on the island where I can get cell phone reception. Not that I have anyone I need to call, but sometimes I do so just to use the darn phone.

Does she look thin?
When I get back to New York, having finished my book and my review, I will turn back to an essay on world literature on which I have been working for way too long. I generally hop around in Lamping's book, to keep in touch with the issues. Today was a really lovely day, and I sat on a bench at the beach reading the chapter "Nationalliteratur und Weltliteratur." Lamping mentions that very few scholars follow Dieter Borchmeyer, who sees Goethe, Marx, and Nietzsche anticipating the replacement of national literature by world literature because of the development of "modern civilization" and more open societies. No, everyone seems agreed that Goethe did not envision the end of the individual national literatures. World literature, Lamping writes, is always national literature, as is national literature world literature, when it participates in the kind of international exchange (Austausch) that Goethe had in mind.

Yet, he goes on to say something that I don't agree with. He writes that the distinctiveness of literature is not due to its language, but rather to its poetic "Verfastheit," from which emerges a store of forms, themes, subjects, motifs, and the like, which all literatures share. But what would be "national" about a particular literary work simply by participating in "sprachübergreifende Beziehungen"? And what does that mean, anyway?

If I can make a comparison with the visual arts, I suppose there is, for instance, a Japanese style of modernist architecture, just as there is a Swedish and a Brazilian style. And I suppose one might identify certain details as "Japanese" or "Swedish" or "Brazilian." Yet each is participating in an international idiom, just as are playwrights who write in the idiom of Harold Pinter or Tom Stoppard or even Andrew Lloyd Weber. Can one really describe any of these by nationality? It's all one big melting pot, as Erich Auerbach rightly wrote in his essay on world literature.