|Georg Forster and father in Taihiti|
In the meantime, a short report on two writers, living a century apart, but both involved in radical politics, Georg Forster and Ernst Toller. Radical means active in attempting to establish utopias, one of my research interests. The attraction of utopia remains for me a conundrum. Both were the subject of recent podcasts.
The first podcast introduced a new work by Jürgen Goldstein, Georg Forster: Zwischen Freiheit und Naturgewalt, which traces Forster's trajectory from enthusiast for Taihiti to revolutionary. Affected by what he perceived as Taihiti's harmonious and egalitarian human order, which contrasted so starkly with European social conditions, Forster believed that the laws of nature could be applied to politics. Thus, he threw in his lot with the Jacobin Club in Mainz and the Mainz Republic. He was in Paris in 1793 when the Mainz Republic was overthrown and never returned to Germany, where he had become an outcast. He died alone, neglected, in poor health (probably the enduring effect of his three years at sea with James Cook), and disillusioned by the turn the revolution in France had taken.
|The Tanna ground dove, now extinct, drawn by Forster|
|Ernst Toller, Revolutionär|
For his role in these activities, he served five years in prison, escaping a death sentence through the intercession of Thomas Mann and Max Weber, among others. He wrote some of his well known Expressionist works in prison. He was of course persona non grata to the Nazis and emigrated in 1933 already, first to London, then to the U.S., where he died, a suicide, in May 1937. W.H. Auden wrote the poem "In Memory of Ernst Toller" at that time.
The shining neutral summer has no voice
To judge America, or ask how a man dies;
And the friends who are sad and the enemies who rejoice
Are chased by their shadows lightly away from the grave
Of one who was egotistical and brave,
Lest they should learn without suffering how to forgive.
What was it, Ernst, that your shadow unwittingly said?
O did the child see something horrid in the woodshed
Long ago? Or had the Europe which took refuge in your head
Already been too injured to get well?
O for how long, like the swallows in that other cell,
Had the bright little longings been flying in to tell
About the big friendly death outside,
Where people do not occupy or hide;
No towns like Munich; no need to write?
Dear Ernst, lie shadowless at last among
The other war-horses who existed till they’d done
Something that was an example to the young.
We are lived by powers we pretend to understand:
They arrange our loves; it is they who direct at the end
The enemy bullet, the sickness, or even our hand.
It is their tomorrow hangs over the earth of the living
And all that we wish for our friends; but existing is believing
We know for whom we mourn and who is grieving.
The occasion for the podcast review of Toller is the publication of a 6-volume edition of his works (in bright red binding) by Wallstein Verlag.
Photo of Toller: Der Tagespiegel