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

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I did not know about this Bavarian TV documentary. Shame on me. Yesterday I watched it – very impressive and well done. Great to see all the original documents. Thanks for the link.