Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Goethe in Gotha

Lucas Cranach the Elder, Christ and Mary, ca. 1516-20
This summer I wrote a review of Sigrid Damm's book on the above subject for the Goethe Yearbook. I was reminded of the book this afternoon on my visit to the Morgan Library for the exhibition Word and Image: Martin Luther's Reformation at the Morgan Library. Most of the objects in the exhibition come from collections formerly in "East Germany," which I guess is an example of the enlarging compass of the transversal world (see previous posts). Several of the most beautiful objects come from Schloss Friedenstein, including the above painting by Louis Cranach the Elder.  Goethe passed many happy hours at Friedenheim, according to Sigrid Damm's account. The exhibition at the Morgan is one of a number of exhibitions (see list here) in connection with Luther Year 2017. The focus is the "media revolution" that powered the spread of the Reformation.

Damm's book is entitled Goethes Freunde in Gotha and opens by asking us to imagine what Goethe’s life might have been like had he gone to Gotha on his return from Italy, as was rumored he might do, rather than to Weimar. Goethe had been presented at the Gotha court during Carl August’s visit at Christmas 1775, apparently to satisfy curiosity about the Werther author, but the impression he made on that visit was summed up by the duke's brother, Prince August, in a letter written at the time: “Stolz und Mißgeschick macht Goethe wild und driest.” In the succeeding three and a half years, Charlotte von Stein’s remolding appears to have made Goethe “salonfähig,” and there occurred increasingly cordial relations between Goethe and Duke Ernst II (1745–1804) and Prince August (1774–1825), later Duke Friedrich IV. The Gotha Fourierbuch documents frequent visits, during which Goethe lodged at Friedenheim castle itself, in Suites 5 and 6. As Damm writes: Goethe was “ein gern gesehener und umworbener Gast und Gesprächspartner.”

Goethe and the duke shared scientific interests, for instance, a mutual interest in geology, and Ernst would be a shareholder in the Ilmenau mine. During research for his optical studies, Goethe also had the run of the laboratories and equipment in the astronomical observatory at Gotha, built under the aegis of Ernst. In the 1809–10 publication of the Farbenlehre Goethe expressed his gratitude for the support of the duke and the prince.

Seeberg Observatory in Gotha
Because of the observatory, Gotha had a reputation as a scientific center of European rank. In 1798, Ernst organized a congress of European luminaries in Gotha that included the doyen of astronomers, Joseph Jerome de Lalande, along with “Himmelskundler” from England, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. The only exception was Friedrich Wilhelm Herschel, who was absent, due to the tensions between France and England. Damm asks whether the congress represented “der Keim einer europaischen “Gelehrtenrepublik.” Goethe's absence indicates that he would not be part of  this particular republic of letters. The congress in any case reflected the divide between his own scientific approach and the coming mathematization of science.

In August 1801 Goethe spent eight days in Gotha, residing with Prince August. Here is the prince’s account of Goethe’s birthday celebration: “Mein Bruder bat mich soeben, zu Ehren des Herrn Goethe und des Herrn [Heinrich] Meyer ein Mittagessen zu geben. Er nahm an diesem selbst teil, ebenso seine Exzellenz und Lady Fifry. Wir waren nur sechs Personen zu Tische. Der Abend verlief in derselben Weise.” Lady Fifry refers to Friederike von Frankenberg, wife of the privy councilor Sylvius Friedrich von Frankenberg. The day afterward, the same party was guests at lunch with Lady Frifry, after viewing the duke’s paintings in his quarters.

Lucas Cranach, The Young Luther (1520)
Damm does not give any indication of the range of paintings in the duke's collection and ventures only the following concerning the viewing: “Die Gesellschaft, die durch die Räume wandert. Bei welchen Gemälden mag sie länger verweilt haben?”

Indeed, which ones? Damm in uncharacteristiscally hesitant to speculate.

I wonder what Goethe would have thought of the dual portrait of Jesus and "Mary" (perhaps Mary Magdalene). The wall label at the Morgan calls it an "ambiguous" picture, and it does seem so, as far as the face of Jesus is concerned. The woman, however, seems more in the Cranach mode, as in the painting of the young Luther (Luther Memorials Foundation of Saxony- Anhalt) portrayed by the younger Cranach.

"Western culture"

One really should read something new, something different every day. And my book shelves offer plenty of choice, often of books that I will never read again or have not ever read. Thus, they are ripe for de-accessioning, my unending task. A small pile grows that will go to the Salvation Army, but when I pull one off for the pile I first read a bit to see if there is anything that might inspire me. The Complete Prose of Marianne Moore quickly went into the pile.

I will probably not keep Lyrical and Critical Essays by Albert Camus, but one of the essays inspires this morning's post, which indirectly concerns the subject of world literature, especially the way in which modern cultural and material exchanges have created a kind of "one-world thinking" or a "traversal space" in the words of Aamir Mufti. (See previous post.)

Written in 1937, Camus's essay is entitled "The New Mediterranean Culture" and represents a talk he gave at the opening of La Maison de Culture in that year. Because of the subject of the essay, I am assuming that the house of culture is in Marseilles. I also assume it is partly in response to the rise of National Socialism.

Camus begins by wondering if the establishment of this cultural center is a gesture toward restoring an empty traditionalism and celebrating cultural superiority. To do that, however, would be a nationalistic gesture, and the Mediterranean is not a nation. It is a civilization that is not to be identified with a nation, but with the land itself, a sea basin linking about ten countries. What characterizes this "land" is the fact of the sun. Thus, according to Camus, "the men whose voices boom in the singing cafes of Spain, who wander in the port of Genoa, along the docks in Marseilles, the strange, strong race that lives along our coasts, all belong to the same family."

He mentions the feeling he has when traveling in Germany and Austria, of encountering people "who are always buttoned right up to the neck" and who, in his opinion, do not know how to relax. What a sigh of relief one breathes when one travels down to Provence, where you discover "casually dressed men," not weighed down by muffled anxiety. And here, in the south, one feel closer to citizens of Genoa than to those of Normandy. Something of the sun, of this "Mediterranean culture," probably drove Goethe to Italy, where, so it was imagined, life that could be lived more lightly than in the northern reaches of Europe.

Contemporary lodgings for tourists in the Gobi Desert
It strikes me that nowadays we all live, so to speak, in the sun, even if our home is in the northern latitudes. Our homes are built with central heating; if we venture outdoors in winter, our lightweight clothes keep us warm and, nowadays, are wonderfully lightweight. The tastes and smells of Mediterranean cuisine are available in New York, even perhaps in Calgary. Is this the goal of the West? To inhabit a Mediterranean-type culture?

Tourist travel since the 18th century has been toward the South. Explorers and adventurers may have gone to hard lands -- across the Gobi Desert, to the Arctic -- but these were generally people from lands that were also hard. How many Italians or Algerians have been to Antarctica? Of course, the modern history of exploration was initiated by the Portuguese, but their caravels also traveled south, and the lands they encountered offered riches that were easy picking.

Of course, today you can experience the Gobi Desert without becoming cold. Such is progress.

Friday, December 16, 2016

World literature and "Orientalism"

Osman Hamdi Bey, A Young Emir Studying (1878) (Louvre Abu Dhabi)
The title of this post is provoked by a book that I am now reading: Forget English! Orientalisms and World Literature by Aamir R. Mufti. Edward Said is an important presence in Forget English!, but Said's Orientalism and the claims made by Said in that study have been altered by Mufti. The issue here is not Said's claim of ideological prejudice on the part of scholars of Eastern languages or of artists presenting false views of Eastern subjects. Instead, in Mufti's view (if I understand the author correctly), Orientalism “consists of those Western knowledge practices of the modern era whose emergence made possible for the first time a notion of a single world as a space populated by distinct civilizational complexes, each in possession of its own tradition, the unique expression of its own forms of national ‘genius.’” And, ergo, world literature.

Mufti draws on various writings by Herder, for whom "humanity" was "an irreducible concert of peoples," each representing discrete national and ethnic characteristics. It was a time when "nation-thinking" was being elaborated, when societies were increasingly viewed in national-cultural terms. Herder was responding to the bloodless and relentless universalism of the philosophes with a defense of “particular, local, historically established, and communal ways of life, such as in the ancient Germanic world — organic ‘communities of brothers living beside one another.’” Scholarship on languages of the "East" -- Persia, India, the Arab lands, maybe China (Mufti doesn't mention it) -- resulted in the creation of such cultural categories. This version of “Orientalism” produced a conception of the world as “an assemblage of civilizational entities, each in possession of its own textual and/or expressive traditions.”

Yet, as Mufti writes, even if world literature is conceptualized as "one-world thinking," not all literatures or literary traditions occupy prime real estate, so to speak, in the space of the world, even as the “international geography of academic conferences, literature festivals, literary prize competitions, and other similar practice of contemporary literature surely facilitates such ‘beyond borders’ perceptions for those of us who participate in them in some way.”

There is much to agree with in Forget English!, but it is obsessed (as was Said) with “the asymmetries and inequalities of the institutions and practices of world literature.” In other words, we are back to Marxism again.

More later.

Picture credit: Khan Academy

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

"China in the German Enlightenment"

Have I mentioned this before? Some of you know that I was chair of the Columbia University Seminar on Eighteenth-Century European Culture for seven years. During that time we had a wonderful variety of scholars speaking on many aspects of this subject. In the wake of the debates over freedom of speech during the year of protests over the "Mohammed cartoons," I organized a series of talks on freedom of speech in the 18th century. The results appeared in a volume published by Bucknell University Press.

I have recently been anointed co-chair of another Columbia seminar, Religion and Writing, with my term officially beginning in the academic year 2017-2018. This is a two-year gig, as one of the present co-chairs has accepted an EU fellowship. This Thursday, one of the most notable members of the Goethe Society of North America, and indeed the president of our organization, Daniel Purdy will be speaking on "Publishing over Preaching: Jesuit Missionaries and Chinese Print Culture in the Seventeenth Century." (If you would like to attend, please contact the Seminar's rapporteur, Deborah Shulevitz. Her email is on the Seminar's website.)

In preparation for my introduction of Daniel on Thursday, I have taken a look at a recently published volume that he edited: China in the German Enlightenment. Very many interesting subjects are contained in its pages, including the fascinating-sounding “Leibniz on the Existence of Philosophy in China,” by Franklin Perkins. However, the one that caught my eye in particular is the chapter by John K. Noyes entitled “Eradicating the Orientalists: Goethe’s Chinesisch-deutsche Jahres- und Tageszeiten.” Unfortunately the Amazon preview only allowed me to see two pages, but in those two pages I noticed that John referred to the Wolfgang Schadewaldt essay that I discussed in a post recently on "reflections in a watery medium." I look forward to reading more.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Goethe's rainy days in 1816

Thomas Jefferson's temperature notes, 1810–1816
It was in the summer of rain of 1816 that Goethe mentioned in a letter to the classical scholar Heinrich Karl Eichstadt of his interest in Lord Byron, which was also the summer in which Byron and his friends were in residence on the shores off Lake Geneva, also rained in. As in previous years, Goethe planned a stay at a spa in the hopes of physical “Linderung,” e.g., from his rheumatoid “Übel,” which caused him on occasion to be bed ridden. Nevertheless, as he wrote to Zelter on June 8, the “cimmerian” summer was standing in his way. Since we know that Germany can be cold in summer, it must have been really cold. Like many learned people, he made notes in his diary about the weather, although perhaps not so consistently as did our third president.

The above account is from Wolfgang Berhringer's Tambora und das Jahr ohne Sommer. According to Behringer, Goethe planned to  to travel to Wiesbaden, then to Baden-Baden. Without being aware of it, he was planning to travel to the center of the European hunger crisis, caused by the massive amounts of material erupted into the atmosphere the year before and producing the worst harvest since the 1770s. He had not got far in his journey to Wiesbaden, however, when, on July 20, the wagon in which he was traveling broke an axle, and Meyer, his traveling companion, suffered a head injury. Since he was in  his own coach, he could not exchange it for another. He returned to Weimar, where he spent the night and had dinner with the physicist Ernst Florens Friedrich Chladni. According to his diary they talked about meteors. Chladni was among the first to identify the phenomenon of meteors. (Wikipedia identifies Chladni as "physicist and musician." Was he hearing the "music of the spheres"?) Behringer assumes they also talked about the continuing unusual weather, which was then occupying the thoughts of scientists. Chladni would publish an article, in 1819, with his own theories: "Über die Ursachen der naßkalten Kälte des Jahres 1816."

On July 24, Goethe journeyed instead to the Tennstedt sulfur springs. It took eight hours to reach Tennstedt from Weimar, as he reported in a letter to Meyer, writing that he had never seen "soviel Noth und Qual auf einem Weg von acht Stunden." He ended up not being very happy with the conditions there: the spa was a barely tolerable place to be and he frequently mentions the terrible weather, not to mention that neither the guests nor the facilities could compare with Carlsbad or Baden-Baden. Even simple walks were impossible. On his return to Weimar he was sunk in what Behringer calls “winter blues.” Throughout December, e.g., he suffered from an evil “catarrh.” Not until the new year was he again on his feet.

As I mentioned in my last post, it was not until February 1817 that he read a report in Cotta’s Morgenblatt about the Tambora eruption. Yet he seems not to have made a connection between the cold summer temperatures, the constant rain, and the bad agricultural yields of 1816. At the same time, as minister he was responsible for the mines and for the natural sciences in general. Thus, it is not surprising that he would notice the weather, and not simply because of his desire to go to spas, or to engage in conversations with Döbereiner on the oxygen content of the atmosphere and on sun spots. He was also occupied with the local consequences of flooding because of the constant rain. His observation about “Gewitterwolken” on July 21 fit his interest in cloud theory; since December of 1815 he had been occupied with Luke Howard’s  essay on clouds. There was lots of weather collecting at the time, people knew that something irregular was going on, but they didn't have the physics, especially the idea of global circulation.

Byron’s Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake Geneva
So, the weather was just one of many things occupying Goethe in these crisis years. In fact, in April 1815, when Tambora started erupting, Napoleon was re-erupting, raising an army in Paris, but the Battle of Waterloo would soon follow. Afterward, the nations of Europe, struggling from the effects of so many years of continental warfare, were not in good shape to deal with the environmental crisis. There were the problems of reintegrating trade after the wars, getting people to work in peacetime, reorganizing international trade, high unemployment. And then, in 1816, the growing season was reduced, and there was snowfall in summer in central Europe. England did not have a subsistence crisis because of its maritime trade and its imports from America. Half a million barrels of flour arrived in the ports of Liverpool in 1818. In central Europe, with rudimentary transportation systems, it was difficult to get food.

Landscape and weather were the base of much poetry at the time: doing weather though the lens of the theory of the sublime.The English writers living in Geneva that summer could not go boating, so they sat inside and talked. They enjoy watching the thunderstorms over the lake: aesthetic spectacle. Byron’s “Darkness” emerge from this time, as did Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Goethe and the Year Without Summer

People eating grass in Switzerland in 1816
A few posts ago I mentioned Goethe's diary entries during the summer of 1816, when the climatic effects of the 1815 eruption of the Indonesian volcano Tambora began to make themselves felt in Europe. I now have Wolfgang Behringer's new book about the eruption, which fills in a few things. Behringer mentions a poem written at the death of Christiane that connects Goethe's mood with the current weather:

Den 6. Juni 1816
Du versuchst, o Sonne vergebens,
Durch die düstren Wolken zu scheinen!
Der ganze Gewinn meines Lebens
Ist, ihren Verlust zu beweinen.

As Behringer writes, the "Tambora crisis," especially the devastating atmospheric effects on agriculture for several years running, occurred in a "modern, media environment," thus differentiating our understanding of these effects from that of all previous climatic or subsistence crises. At the beginning of the 19th century, as European global expansion was at its height, there were already "worldwide" newspapers and journals. And everywhere we encounter educated, curious administrators, truly competent ones, communicating about what was going on around them.

The first example, and the most proximate one, was Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, governor of British Java, who immediately began commissioning reports from the local population about the eruption itself. During the first phase of the eruption, on April 5, 1815, the explosions were so intense that they could be heard throughout the Indonesian archipelago. They sounded like mortor fire, perhaps signs of a French sea invasion. Troops were called up in Yogjakarta to prevent a foreign attack. Raffles, however, recognized that it was an eruption. But, as Behringer writes, where was this volcano? By May of 1815 a circular had gone to all British who were residence in Indonesia with three questions.

The first concerned the chronology and the physical conditions. What day and at what hour was the ash rain noticeable, its duration, and its chemical composition?

The second question concerned the medical and economic consequences, in particular the effects on the health of humans and livestock and harvest.

The third question remained: where was the volcano?
Aerial view of the caldera of Mt Tambora at the island of Sumbawa
 The worst phase of the eruption occurred on April 10. Besides the considerable amount of material that it released into the atmosphere, the eruption was so strong that it blew off the top part of the volcano, reducing its height from 4,200 to 2,850 meters and leaving a six-meter wide "caldera" with a lake in the middle. It wasn't until 1847 that the first European, the botanist Heinrich Zollinger, climbed the still smoking volcano and thus made the first report on the recovery of plant life.

As for Goethe, it was not until February 20, 1817, that he first read a report, in Cotta's Morgenblatt für die gebildeten Stände (note "gebildet" in the title of the Cotta publication, pointing to the media  culture noted by Behringer), about the eruption in Tambora. In his diary Goethe wrote: "Zeitungen. Morgenblatt gelesen. Geschichte eines neuentstandenen Vulcans auf Sumbawa." But, writes Behringer, like others among his contemporaries, he did not draw a connection between the cold temperatures, the constant rain, and the bad harvests of 1816.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Reflections in watery medium

Sanford Gifford, Twilight at Lago Maggiore (1871)
As the past few posts indicate, I have been obsessed with imagery concerning atmospheric effects and reflections, following on the mention in Goethe's diary of June 30, 1816: "Wiederschein der Bäume im trüben Wasser." Since that posting, I am constantly coming across such imagery in paintings, and this morning's reading was an article by Wolfgang Schadewaldt discussing such imagery in a Goethe poem. It begins "Dämmrung senkte sich von oben," and is the eighth poem in the 1827 collection Chinese-German Hours and Seasons (Chinesisch-deutsche Tages- und Jahreszeiten). Here is the poem in English translation by David Luke:

Dusk has fallen, and already
All that’s near grows faint and far;
But the first to rise has risen,
High it shines, the evening star!
All is in uncertain motion,
Creeping mists enshroud the sky;
Gulfs of night as deep as ocean
Mirrored on the dark lake lie.

Now I sense the gleam and glowing
Of the moonlight’s eastering day;
Slender willow-tresses flowing
With the nearby waters play.
Through the flickering shadows lunar
Magic dances, coolness seems
To have touched my eyes and soothes me,
Steals into my inmost dreams

Wolfgang Schadewaldt was an awesomely erudite and far-reaching scholar such as are few and far between today. Besides being the foremost Homer expert in modern times, he was also quite well versed in Goethe, Winckelmann, and Hölderlin. I have on my desk the volume Goethe Studien: Natur und Altertum, a collection published in 1963 that contains the essay "Zur Entstehung der Elfenszene im 2. Teil des Faust" (from Dvjs 29 [1955]). The essay is an example of philology at its best, in which Schadewaldt deduces the date of composition of the "elves chorus" scene at the beginning of the second part of Faust by comparing it with the above "Chinese" poem. Here, again in Luke's translation, are the relevant verses from Faust (Anmutige Gegend, 4634f.):

When a fragrance has descended
All about the green-girt plain,
Richer air with mist-clouds blended,
Evening dusk comes down again;
Lulls to infant-sweet reposing,
Rocks the heat with whispering sighs,
And this wanderer feels it closing
On his daylight-weary eyes.

Now to night the world surrenders,
Sacred love joins star to star;
Little sparkles, greater splendors,
Glitter near and gleam from far,
Glitter in the lake reflecting,
Gleam against the clear night sky;
Deepest seals of rest protecting
Glows the full moon strong and high.

Soon the hours have slipped away,
Pain and happiness are past;
Trust the light of the new day,
Feel your sickness will not last!
Green the valleys, hillsides swelling,
Bushing thick to restful shade,
And the fields, their wealth foretelling,
Rippling ripe and silver-swayed!

Have you wishes without number?
Watch the promise of the dawn!
Lightly you are wrapped in slumber:
Shed this husk and be reborn!
Venture boldly; hesitation
Is for lesser men — when deeds
Are a noble mind’s creation,
All his enterprise succeeds.

It is via a comparison of the two poems that Schadewaldt sets the date of composition of the elves chorus in 1827, when we know from his correspondence, diary entries, and conversations with Eckermann that Goethe was occupied with Chinese literature. On February 5, 1827, he published a small piece in volume 6 of Kunst und Altertum entitled "Chinesisches," which included a translation of verses from a Chinese collection translated in 1824 by an Englishman named Peter Perring Thomas. This new "East-West" encounter, introducing Goethe to a remote and exotic world as well as new poetic forms and motifs, led to increased productivity on his part, especially in connection with Faust.

Wang Wei poem on painting by Xin Tian
Luke also mentions in the notes to his translations the similarity in meter and mood of the two poems. Schadewaldt goes further, noting the common musicality, as well as the identical setting (moon rising over a body of water), and imagery (Dämmrung, Nebel, See, with variations on nah/fern, Licht, Spiegel, Glanz). Both are also "times of day" (Tageszeiten) poems, with day understood as including both day and night. Finally, both concern the soothing effect of nature on the human soul, especially the delight in repose produced by the approaching quiet of evening.

For Schadewaldt, the correspondences suggest that the two poems have their origins in a similar sort of epiphany, but he then proceeds to the differences. The first poem is "experienced" nature (aus unmittelbarer Naturnähe gedichtet), while the latter represents a more structured form (mehr versammelter Gestaltung). In the first, every two lines represent an addition of the details concerning the event -- the emergence of twilight -- with the effect tiptoeing, so to speak, into the observer's soul and registered in the final two lines: "Und durchs Auge schleicht die Kühle/ Sänftigend ins Herz hinein." In contrast, in the elves chorus scene, the effect on Faust comes from outside. Ariel has already instructed the elves to soothe Faust's turmoil (des Herzens grimmen Strauß) and, thus, Faust is enveloped in a healing sleep that will allow him to forget the past and restore him to new life. Nature is still the mediator, but the images of nature extend beyond the immediate experience into the future, into the light of day itself: "Fühl' es vor! Du wirst gesunden;/ Traue neuem Tagesblick."

This turn in conception is for Schadewaldt evidence of the date of composition of the opening scenes of the second part of Faust. In 1816, when Goethe was writing down ideas about the second part of Faust, he had intended, according to Schadewaldt, a "Geisterchor" to open that part as a parallel to the chorus of spirits in part 1. This time around, Faust would be lulled with ironic visions of power, fame, and worldly honor. His work on the "Chinese" collection, however, led to a different conception. Through the healing sleep mediated by nature, Faust is not reformed or bettered or purified, but he is relieved of the sensuousness and passions that dominated in the first part. Moreover, what Schadewaldt calls the Volksbuch's "temptation structure" is abandoned. Faust will now go on to work in lofty regions of purposeful activity, still making mistakes, still deluded, still mistaken, but not on the lower, sensuous level of the first part.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Trees reflected in watery medium

Gerhard Richter, Abstract Painting 780-1 (1992)
In an earlier post I mentioned that Goethe commented frequently on the rainy weather during the summer of 1816, an effect of the eruption of the Tambora volcano in the previous year. I was struck by the cryptic note concerning the reflection of trees in water. I keep trying to imagine which trees he was talking about and what it was about the sight that caused him to mention it. Was it trees in the park in Weimar?

I have not been able to get the image out of my head. I was in Washington, D.C. this past weekend and saw a painting by Gerhard Richter that seemed to suggest the reflection of trees in a watery medium.  It hangs in the newly restored East Building of the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Goethe marries

"I want to sleep with you!"

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Christiane Vulpius were married on this day in 1806 in the Jacobskirche in Weimar. Like other official buildings in Weimar, it was also serving as an infirmary for the wounded. This was five days after the Battle of Jena and Auerstadt, in which the Prussian forces were defeated by Napoleon's troops. The reasons for Goethe's marriage to his long-time companion have been much studied. See, for instance, the essay by Peter Schwartz, "Why Did Goethe Marry When He Did?", which appeared in volume 15 (2008) of the Goethe Yearbook. The reason had much to do with the European-wide wars.

Sigrid Damm in Christiane und Goethe: eine Recherche poses the interesting question: how did "die kleine Freundin" (as Goethe referred to her), known for eighteen years as Demoiselle Vulpius, feel at this overnight change in her status. From one day to the next she inherited Goethe's name, his title of nobility, as well as his official title: suddenly she became "Frau Geheime Räthin von Goethe.

The photo above comes from a production that was supposed to take place in Istanbul in 2014, but that seems to have been canceled. The play dealt with Goethe's relationship with "a working woman from a lower class." It had to be canceled (I have this from the newspaper report in the English-language newspaper Hurriyet Daily News) because of the line "I want to sleep with you." I have not been able to find any other information on this play, not even the name of the writer of the play. According to the caption on the photo, the director was Kazım Akşar.

Monday, October 17, 2016

"A hard rains gonna fall"

Goethe must have been thinking along the lines of Bob Dylan's song (note the apocalyptic imagery: e.g., "a wave that could drown the whole world") in the summer of 1816. Christiane died on June 6. It was not a good time, and then there was all that rain, which he noted in his diary. I referred in an earlier post to the effects of the Tambora volcano eruption, which made themselves felt in Europe in the summer of 1816. As Wolfgang Behringer notes in his book on the eruption, Goethe made many references to the rain in his diary that summer.

The first mention occurs on June 23: "Schrecklich durchwässerter Zustand des Gartens." There continue, until October, notations about the weather conditions. For instance, on July 3: "Um 7 Uhr von Jena ausgefahren. Schlimmer Weg durchs Mühlthal." Or, on July 9: "Spazierfahrt mit Meyer wegen dem Regen abgekürzt." Or, regarding his visit to the court: "Durch kalte Witterung aus dem Park geschreckt." On July 29, he noted that it had rained the entire night and was continuing. There are entries along these lines: "Anhaltendes Regenwetter." Attempts to take a walk were interrupted by rain. He also noted good weather. June 29: "Erster schöner Tag." On the same day he also drove "am Neuthor" in order to view the flooding.

It is unclear from these entries how much he knew about the cause, but on June 28 he notes a visit of Johann Wolfgang Döbereiner, followed by "Gespräch über die Sonnenflecken. Sauerstoffgehalt der Atmosphäre" (conversation about sun spots; oxygen content of the atmosphere), which suggests that he was being informed about the atmospheric effects of the eruption.

Constable, Flatford Mill on the River Stour (detail)
There were two interesting entries about other effects, for instance, on June 21 he noted that thunder clouds had broken up into sheet lightning. And he also noted, on June 30, the reflection of trees in cloudy water (im trübem Wasser). Does he mean in puddles? Or in a river? This reference caused me to look up some contemporary artists who might have painted such reflections. I turned to John Constable, the notable English landscape painter. Constable painted a lot of English water -- lakes, canals, locks, etc. -- and in many case there are trees on the water's edge, yet he seems not to have dealt much with this aspect. I am not a Constable expert, so there may be examples in his oeuvre, but I include here the one that I found, from 1816. But I also noted that, even though he was painting in the very period in which Friedrich and Turner had documented the red skies, his skies do not reflect the new pollution.

By September there occur more mentions of good weather, and, finally, on October 7: "Schöner Tag. Im Garten."

Friday, October 14, 2016

"Da warst du chic angezogen ..."; Addendum on 12/4/16

So begins Helmut Winkelmann's reading of a German translation of "Like a Rolling Stone" by Bob Dylan. The Germans are taking Dylan as a poet seriously, which indeed he is. Mark Polizzotti, a colleague of mine and Editor at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, also wrote a piece ("Dylan's Appropriations") in Parnassus about the literary allusions in Dylan's lyrics.

Seemingly a Goethe-unrelated post, but one of our very own Goethe scholars, Heinrich Detering, wrote a book on Bob Dylan a few years ago, and he was interviewed on "3sat" (identified onscreen as president of the Akademie der Sprache und Dichtung!) regarding the Nobel announcement. Here is a link to the video interview. I liked the part where he referred to Brecht in connection with "It Ain't Me, Babe." We have some very interesting people among Goethe scholars.

I wrote an article that appeared in the Goethe Yearbook years ago (indeed, it was my first publication there) on Goethe's play Die Laune des Verliebten. At the time, Tom Saine, the editor of the Yearbook criticized me for the lack of current scholarship on the play. As I mentioned to Tom, practically the only recent scholarship on the play at that time was an article by Heinrich Detering entitled “Die Heilung des Verliebten: Pathologie and  Poetologie in Goethes Schäferspiel,” which appeared in 1991 in the Jahrbuch des Freien Deutschen Hochstifts. It is good to be in such company.

ADDENDUM: I forgot to mention Professor Detering's later book on Dylan: Die Stimmen aus der Unterwelt: Dylans Mysterienspiele

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Goethe and the year without summer

Caspar David Friedrich, Der Himmel glüht (1818)
I have really been falling behind in my posting. There has been so much to do in connection with the book I have been writing, which has left little time for anything else. I am resolved now, however, to do better (thereby sounding like Emma Woodhouse, with her list of 101 important books to read). A few days ago I came across an article in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung concerning the above topic. The year without a summer occurred a century ago, in 1816, and was an effect of the eruption of the Tamboro volcano on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa in April 1815. Among other things, the eruption launched enormous volumes of volcanic rock and gases more than 25 miles into the stratosphere and "volcanic aerosoles" that then began to circle the planet at the equator. Within five months of what has been called a "slow-moving sabotage of the global climate system at all latitudes," a meteorological enthusiast named Thomas Forster observed strange, spectacular sunsets over Tunbridge Wells near London. “Fair dry day,” he wrote in his weather diary—but “at sunset a fine red blush marked by diverging red and blue bars.”

The article in FAZ by Rose-Maria Gropp concerned some of the artists who observed this effect. These included Caspar David Friedrich and William Turner, whose paintings described a new color in the sky.

William Turner, Dido Builds Carthage (1815)
Naturally I was interested in Goethe's response to this climate event, as it adversely affected agriculture in Germany, leading to crop failures and mass starvation in 1816. Carl von Clausewitz, traveling through the Rhine region in the spring of 1816, wrote that he saw "decimated people, barely human, prowling the fields for half-rotten potatoes.” According to Wolfgang Behringer, it rained without stop in Thuringen that summer, making the streets impassable and preventing Goethe from traveling to Karlsbad. His diary of that summer records his observations. In the following posts I will discuss those entries and Goethe's response.

Readers of this blog who are members of the Goethe Society of North America know of my interest in the subject of Goethe and science generally. I have posted on that subject in past posts, but going forward I would like to devote more space to the subject, as it is a "relatively" under-researched area of Goethe scholarship. In particular, I would like to situate Goethe within the science of his time. If anyone has any suggestions on this topic, please get in touch.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Stephen Spender on Faust

Faust and Marguerite in the Garden by James Tissot (1861)
I have posted on this subject before, but I have recently been engaged in "de-accessioning" many of my old research files and came across notes that I had made on Spender's essay "Goethe and the English Mind." Spender was interested in the differences between Shakespeare's characters and those in Goethe's plays, especially Faust. What follows is a paraphrase:

In Goethe's plays there is not the complete identity of the real with the symbolic which makes Shakespeare's characters seem both real and unreal at one and the same moment. Faust, for instance, is a poetic symbol of overwhelming significance. One does not question his psychology, history, or background, yet they do not arouse one's curiosity in the way that one is interested in Hamlet.

Gretchen and Martha, on the other hand, have a reality that outweighs their poetic significance. They seem people introduced into a world of high poetic symbols. As poetry, Gretchen's existence is an inadequate fantasy within the poetry of the drama. She and Faust are brought together by their dramatic situation, but their poetic worlds do not really meet. Faust, according to Spender, has an "immense poetic superiority" over Gretchen.

I think that something similar occurs in Goethe's Egmont, in which there is not only immense social, but also poetic, disparity between Egmont and Klärchen.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

"After the Avant-Gardes"

The Southern Cross, Milky Way and Carina Nebula, viewed from Kenya
Yes, I am here, back from the Northwest, but I have been occupied these few weeks since my return to New York with several writing projects, including a book review that had to be turned around in one week. Amid the stack of mail on my return was a book that my Goethe colleague Elizabeth Millán very generously sent me. Elizabeth, who teaches in the philosophy department at De Paul University in Chicago, edited the volume After the Avant-Gardes: Reflections on the Future of the Fine Arts. It contains ten essays. I have not yet had a chance to immerse myself in the volume although I have the feeling that the "fallen" status of art weighs heavily. I notice that Elizabeth's essay, which I have only scanned, is hopeful in its predictions, particularly concerning art's humanizing power.

In this connection, I noticed that she quoted Alexander von Humboldt. It is not surprising, as she has done considerable scholarly work on Humboldt. Humboldt traveled in Latin America between 1799 and 1804. The results of his immense scientific research there appeared in the multi-volume Kosmos. Upon first seeing the Southern Cross in the night sky as he approached the South American continent, however, he did not think about measuring the sky in order to advance our knowledge of the constellations: a scientific enterprise that would in turn help us in predicting weather patterns. Humboldt's first thought was the lines of a poet:

"Impatient to explore the equatorial regions, I could not raise my eyes to the sky without dreaming of the Southern Cross and remembering a passage from Dante."

Humboldt goes on to quote the relevant passage, in Italian (see Purgatory, canto 1, 22–27).

As Professor Millán writes: "Dante's work made a mark so strong in the mind of Humboldt that lines from his poetry became part of the experience of seeing the night sky and understanding the meaning of the Southern Cross for the human observer gazing upon its brilliant light."

(Click photo at the top to enlarge.)

Picture credit: Babak Tafreshi/National Geographic Society, via Corbis

Friday, September 2, 2016

Mood Indigo

Asia, workshop of Jacob van der Borcht, Brussels
Coincidentally (since my previous post was on the "blue Goethe"), I had the occasion to see today the Mood Indigo exhibition at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. (Yes, I am back in the U.S., visiting relatives before returning to New York on Sunday). In the exhibition are 89 textiles from lightest to deepest blue from all over the world. The tapestry at the top, representing "Asia," is one of four monumental Flemish tapestries, with the continents personified by female figures, each wearing blue. The late 17th-century tapestry is the kind that Goethe might have seen, for instance, in Strassburg, as he relates in Book 9 of Poetry and Truth.

The Mysterious Draught of Fishes, studio of Pieter van Aelst
Shortly after his arrival in Strassburg in 1770, Marie Antoinette passed through the city on her bridal journey to Paris. A special hall was raised for her reception in which were hung tapestries based on cartoons by Raffael. They had been commissioned by Pope Leo X in 1515 and were to be hung in the Sistine Chapel. In his autobiography Goethe mentions that he returned on several occasions to see the tapestries. Nicholas Boyle calls Goethe's viewing of them his "first glimpse of Rome." As Goethe wrote: "I became acquainted with the true and the perfect on a large scale, though only in copies." The Vatican tapestries, representing scenes from the lives of Saints Peter and Paul, were woven in the workshop of Pieter van Aelst.

Herewith two others highlights from Mood Indigo.

Yoruban cloth
Japanese kimono

Friday, August 26, 2016

Was Goethe blue?

The Blue Goethe and a herd of imposters
I have frequently mentioned that one comes across Goethe in unexpected places. Today it was a piece on the site The Smart Set by the German writer Bernd Brunner. The title of the piece, “Encyclopedia Blue: A History of What May Be the World’s Most Beloved Color,” overstates things, for the piece itself is (for the internet) remarkably short. Brunner does nod to Goethe’s Farbenlehre, and his reference to the sky's color:

“Johann Wolfgang Goethe, the great German poet-philosopher who couldn’t help also being a natural historian, reminds us in his (otherwise debatable) Theory of Colors (1810) that ‘the highest is to understand that all fact is really theory. The blue of the sky reveals to us the basic law of color. Search nothing beyond the phenomena, they themselves are the theory.”

Following links attached to the piece, I discovered that Brunner has written the book When Winters Were Still Winters: The History of a Season (Als die Winter noch Winter waren: Geschichte einer Jahreszeit). His website has a nice description of the book, along with a quote from a letter of Ivan Turgenev to Gustav Flaubert, written in February 1870, while Turgenev was staying at the Hotel de Russie in Weimar:

I have been here for about ten days and my sole preoccupation is keeping warm. The houses are badly built here, and the iron stoves are useless.”

Clearly, France was a warm place to live in contrast to Germany in the 19th century.

While reading Sigrid Damm’s book Goethes Freunde in Gotha und Weimar, I came across complaints from Goethe about the freezing conditions at Friedenstein castle in Gotha. Goethe was a welcome and frequent guest at the ducal court. In a letter to Carl August in January 1782 he complains how the many court activities in Gotha are a waste of time, before mentioning that reluctance to go there has much to do with the coldness of his quarters:

Bedenk’ ich noch dazu den Zug auf dem Gotischen Schlosse, die Kälte und daß man weder Herr von seinem Rock noch Fußbekleidung bleibt, so schreckt mich das Ganze in mein Dachsloch zurück, wo mich ohnedies eine hypochondrische Vorliebe gefangen hält.”

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Goethe Girl goes to Echo Bay

Goethe Girl aboard the Islay Mist
Yesterday we went on an outing by boat to Echo Bay. When we departed Mitchell Bay at 7:30 a.m., the fog was so thick that we had to rely on the GPS for navigation.

Mitchell Bay fishermen

Jim and Joe plan the route
 It was, however, a typical morning for this part of the world. By 10, the fog began to burn off.
10 a.m.
But it was a glorious day by the time we reached our destination.

Pierre's at Echo Bay
Echo Bay marina
One goes to Echo Bay for the fishing, but also to visit Billy Proctor and his museum. Billy is what is called an inveterate collector, having begun when he was about five years old, to judge by the picture of him below, posted at the entrance to the museum.

As for the contents of this museum, I will let the photos below speak for themselves. Click to enlarge.

Remember the Dionne quints?

And a good time was had by all.
On the lookout for whales
Sighted, but no breaching.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Sointula scenes

Ferry from Port McNeill
Deer comes searching for plums

I got them

Sund's lodge scene

Alpacas are very silly looking

Sund's Lodge alpaca farm