Sunday, March 27, 2016

Goethe's discovery

On this day in 1784, Goethe reported to Herder his discovery of the intermaxillary bone in humans:

Ich habe gefunden—weder Gold noch Silber, aber was mir eine unsägliche Freude macht—das os intermaxillare am Menschen! Ich verglich mit Lodern Menschen- und Tierschädel, kam auf die Spur und siehe da ist es. Nur bitt’ ich Dich, laß Dich nichts merken, denn es muß geheim behandelt werden.

He later wrote an essay on his discovery: “Dem Menschen wie den Tieren ist ein Zwischenknochen der obern Kinnlade zuzuschreiben.”

As Karl Fink has written in his book Goethe's History of Science, 1784 marked for Goethe "the beginning of serious writing in the field of comparative anatomy," beginning with the essay on osteology. It was also the first of his scientific writings that he made available to scientists in the field, unlike his earlier writings on geology. Besides Herder, he also wrote to Knebel, Merck, and Justus Loder. It was through Merck, according to Fink, that the essay, in abridged form, became known to Peter Camper, Blumenbach, and Samuel Sömmerring. The full text, however, along with Goethe's illustrations, did not appear in print until 1831. Thus, Goethe only got credit, according to Fink again, for discovering the bone in various animals, including the walrus. As Fink writes: "The thesis of the connecting link was lost in an age not ready for the implications of the anatomical relationship of man and animal."

Picture credit: Bayern2/Angela Smets

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Goethe in The New Yorker: Addendum

I posted already on Adam Kirch's article on Goethe, but The New Yorker has had a follow up, a letter in the magazine (3/7/16) by Carol Sims Prunali, writing from Rome, Italy. She reminds us that we "may may have been exposed to some [of Goethe's poetry] without knowing it: anyone who has seen Disney's Fantasia has seen an enactment of ... 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice.'"

This orchestral work, by the French composer Paul Dukas, was based on Goethe's poem, "Der Zauberlehrling." As Prunali writes, "it is hard to forget the army of brooms, or the eyes of the sorcerer." Mickey, of course, as the apprentice, is wonderfully endearing. Herewith a link to that scene in the movie. Here is also a link to the poem, in German and in English. The translation is by Brigitte Dubiel.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Fritz Strich and world literature, 4

The slogans “We Are All New Yorkers” or “We Are All Charlie” and so on after terrorist attacks, along with the candles and other public signs of mourning, have always made me uncomfortable. My discomfort has to do with the sadness that such expressions represent, whereas anger would seem more fitting. Yet we inhabit a civilized world, and one of the foundation blocks of a civilized world is restraint, along with tolerance, which commands us to repress a martial spirit: “War Is Not Good for Children and Other Living Things.” The enemies of civilization feel no such restraint: they send their children to war, hand out candies to them after successful attacks. And, of course, all around us, at the margins of the civilized world that we inhabit, bubble up anarchy, dissatisfaction, resentments.

As the above cartoon by Ali Dilem demonstrates, it is not just the traditional centers of civilization, “the West,” that are the targets of Islamic terrorists. Ankara, Kenya, Mali, any place with tendencies toward the Western way of life are on the hit list.

For those who are surprised to read of these sentiments in a post on Fritz Strich and world literature, allow me to expand.

The concept of world literature, which Goethe “birthed” in the 19th century, sums up the ideals of a civilized world. Strich took an idea that had been around for a century, namely, that the countries of Europe were manifesting similar tendencies in literature and the arts. They were all “trading” with one another, for instance, sharing literary idioms and forms and motifs. Thus, no European country escaped experiencing a Romantic movement. For Strich, this interchange was evidence of a Hegelian-like Spirit that was blending the different countries into a common humanity. No people is complete in itself, and, ultimately, this succession of styles, according to Strich, represents the striving of the human spirit, through the succeeding manifestations of national spirits, toward perfection of the human Urbild.

To a great extent, this process has indeed taken place in the West. Although we tend nowadays to avoid terms like “common humanity,” we respond similarly to terrorist attacks in other European cities. It could be us, after all. Thus, “Je suis Bruxelles.” In truth, Europeans and Americans are very much alike in their life styles and in their values. We have more in common with each other than we do with non-Westernized folks. Europe and its offshoots represent, to the greatest extent, a cultural product, one that has been achieved over many centuries, the result of intellectual and material commerce among the countries of Europe beginning in the early modern period. Strich’s description of the blending and sharing of literary and artistic styles exemplifies this coming together.

For Strich and the late-19th-century comparatists from whom he drew so much, the development of common cultural ideals was evidence of universal “progress,” but it was only universal to the nations that were connected and enriched through trade and commerce.

It is not surprising that Goethe linked the spread of "Humanität" (or the "European" spirit) with "Verkehr" (commerce; transport) and "Handel" (trade); he saw a connection between the free commerce in material goods and that in ideas ("mehr oder weniger freier geistiger Handelsverkehr," from his introduction to Carlyle's biography of Schiller). That Goethe might have believed this was the case should not be surprising. By the 1820s, Europe was enjoying the benefits of several centuries of growth in scientific and cultural knowledge and was progressing on a path of technological innovation from which it has not retreated. The intellectual exchange that produced these benefits was a facet of European life in which Goethe himself was an active participant. Moreover, international trade was acquainting Europeans with the products of other nations, making them in turn more "worldly." Such changes in material life, as with the exchange of intellectual and cultural products would, so Goethe believed, lead, if not to love, certainly to a tolerant, cosmopolitan, and less ethnocentric attitude among the nations.

John Gast, The Spirit of American Progress, 1832
These issues of material "Verkehr" and "Handel" are the most undeveloped aspects of Strich's work on world literature and of the preceding literary histories of Europe. Aside from a few sentences, his interest is almost totally devoted to the "geistiger Raum" created by world literature. Strich, like Brunetière, was an inheritor of a trend in Enlightenment thinking that viewed historical transformation, according to László Kontler, as "motivated by inner moral-spiritual enlightenment. Both as the medium and as the cause of such transformations, spontaneous intercourse in the socio-economic realm [took] second place.” Perhaps this neglect indicates a Christian substrate, but it shows the power of abstract ideals, especially since the Enlightenment. Therefore, Strich neglected the influence of the rise and fall of national economies not only on artistic production but also on the accompanying transformation of institutions that produced what we now recognize as liberal values, i.e., the Western way of life. In other words, tolerance is a byproduct of the wealth of nations.  Ideas only have real power to influence when they reflect material possibilities, and the emergence of the West and Western values coincided with the rise of the market economy by the late 17th century.

Yet, if Strich vastly underrated the material effects of trade, the language he used to describe the literary commerce are full of metaphors of movement. When he speaks (as mentioned in the previous post) of German 17th-century poetry as expressing a spirit of transience –– “die Klage um den jähen Wechsel aller Dinge” –– he is describing what was occurring on the ground in Europe in the 17th century.

By the 17th century, trade was producing both a movement of men (for the most part) and freeing up massive amounts of human potential, leading in turn to new goods and an acceleration in technological advances. For instance, because of overseas trade there was an increased need for metals –– for coins and for weapons. This led to a huge investments in mining, and the need to go deeper to extract metals required new technology. Among other inventions, the magnetic compass and the telescope expanded the sense of distance. And if poets are not quite the legislators of the world, they are often the first to put such changes into words. They responded, in Germany and elsewhere, many with trepidation, others with delight, to the heretofore-unperceived immensities of the universe and to the new status of the earth, no longer standing still with the planets revolving around it. The earth was in motion. "Bewegtheit" was indeed the driving "spirit" of this era. It was more the spirit of Adam Smith, however, than of Hegel.

Transience is a byproduct of the market: what we loved yesterday is replaced today in favor of new products, new values. It is unsettling, and it is no wonder that people all over the world, even within the West itself, are unhappy when the ground under their feet is constantly shifting. Progress is, indeed “veloziferisch.”

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Goethe dies

Another year has come and gone. Below is an account of Goethe's death as published in a book entitled The Drama: Its History, Literature, and Influence on Civilization, edited by Alfred Bates and published in 1906. Bear in mind, of course, that there was no actual reporter on the scene:

"On Friday, March 16th, 1832, Goethe awoke with a chill, from which he gradually recovered, and was so much better by Monday that he designed to begin his regular work on the following day. But in the middle of the night he woke up with a deathly coldness, which extended from his hands over his body, and which it took many hours to overcome. It then appeared that the lungs were attacked and that there was no possible hope of recovery. Goethe did not anticipate death. He sat fully clothed in his arm-chair, made attempts to reach his study, spoke confidently of his recovery, and of the walks he would take in the fine April days. His daughter-in-law, Ottilie, tended him faithfully. On the morning of the 22nd his strength gradually left him, and he sat slumbering in his arm-chair, holding Ottilie's hand. Her name was constantly on his lips, though his mind occasionally wandered, at one time to his beloved Schiller, at another to a fair female head, with black curls, some passion of his youth. His last words were an order to a servant to open another shutter to let in more light. After this he traced with his forefinger letters in the air. At half-past eleven in the forenoon he drew himself, without any sign of pain, into the left corner of his arm-chair, and went so peacefully to sleep that it was long before the watchers knew that his spirit was fled. He was buried in the grand-ducal vault, where the bones of Schiller were laid, and where Duke Karl August had directed his body be placed, though the request was disregarded as contrary to the etiquette of German courts."

Picture credit: University of Chicago Press

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Fritz Strich and world literature, 3

 Goethe und die Weltliteratur appeared in 1946, the same year as Mimesis: Dargestellte Wirklicheit in der abendländischen Literatur, by Erich Auerbach (1892­–1957), and two years before Europäische Literatur und lateinisches Mittelalter, by Ernst Robert Curtius (1886–1956). Following on World War II, after which Germany’s international stock had reached its nadir, the three works indirectly addressed “the German problem.” Yet, at a moment when Europe seemed irrevocably sundered by perennial animosities, each insisted on the historical continuity and unity of European culture.

An early essay by Strich, a 1916 essay on German Baroque poetry, “Der lyrische Stil des 17. Jahrhunderts,” exemplifies this unity. This long essay is a detailed, example-rich analysis of how German poets created a national style from the imported alexandrine. It was by the naturalizing of a Romance-originated poetic style that German poets began to participate on equal footing in a European-wide style, “the Baroque.”

In 1916, of course, Germany was at  war with the rest of Europe, by the end of which Germany’s standing among the nations had undergone catastrophic decline. It must have been at this point that Strich embarked on what became his vocation, namely, the promoting of world literature as a form of national and international understanding. Thus, Goethe und die Weltliteratur had its genesis twenty years earlier, after the First World War. In a review of Goethe und die Weltliteratur in Publications of the English Goethe Society in 1948, L.A. Willoughby wrote that “English readers will feel a proprietary interest in this book, for its germs were planted in 1924 when Professor Strich delivered a series of lectures on this subject before the University of London.”

"Es ist der Geist, der sich den Körper baut"
Even though he was the first Goethe scholar to publish a major work on the subject, Strich's ideas on world literature were inspired by the works of scholars who already in the early 19th century, recognized that the countries of Europe were coming together in a kind of aesthetic cosmopolitanism. An indication of this coming together was the sharing across borders of literary and artistic phenomena: what began in one country — be it the sonnet, the alexendrine, the novel, or even such themes as adultery –– would be taken up in another country, so that one could speak of “literary movements” (e.g., Baroque, Neo-Classicism, and so on), even as each literary culture had its own “national” characteristics: for instance, you could not mistake the Spanish Baroque for the German.

"Bewegtheit" (Carracci, The Lamentation, 1582)

 For Strich, the literary interchange was a reflection of a profound process, namely, a universal spirit (“Geist”) traveling through history and uniting the different nations into shared amity and tolerance, a view that was at the heart of his interpretation of world literature. The spirit moves; it does not stand still; and Strich constantly uses nouns and verbs expressive of movement in describing the effect of the spirit on literary expression. To return to the 1916 essay on German Baroque poetry, he writes that the most frequent motif of 17th-century poetry is “die Klage um den jähen Wechsel aller Dinge, ... : daß alles auf Erden eitel ist, ein Schatten, ein Wind, ein Rauch, ein verklingender Ton, eine Welle. Man ist ein Ball, den das Verhängnis schlägt, ein Kahn auf dem empörten Meer, ein Rohr, das jeder Wind bewegt.”

He contrasts this “Bewegtheit” with the “epische Ruhe, Gegenständlichkeit und Gebundenheit” of  the poetry of the 16th century, as exemplified in the treatment of the death of Christ in a poem by Hans Sachs. (As in the painting at the left by Guido di Pietro, from 1420-23.) Paul Fleming, in contrast, transforms the event into an “epische[s] Geschehnis.” The principle of movement also characterizes the treatment of homely subjects, of ordinary life, because of the sense of the fleeting nature of all things, which produced a desire to capture an elusive moment. Thus, one reads of  “Als Flavia einsmahls an einem groben Sack arbeitete,” or “Als sie bei trübem Sturmwetter ihre Wäsche bleichete.”

While Strich's formalist approach to describe the “travel” of a literary style from one national literature to another is compelling in its wealth of stylistic detail, he does not offer an explanation for what produced the change in spirit from Hans Sachs to Paul Fleming, from timelessness to time. Of the Thirty Years’ War he writes only that it produced no heroic poetry. In retrospect that war has taken on large contours in explaining the 17th-century “fracturing of the world.” Yet, while Germany and Central Europe were certainly devastated, the fracturing was not restricted to that region. The travel of ideas and intellectual advancement did not require a war to leave behind the old hierarchies behind. The experience of transience expressed in the poetry, “den jähen Wechsel aller Dinge,” also replicated the rapidity with which material changes were transforming Europe by the 17th century.

In my next posts I will discuss the material changes that were giving rise to the idea of the progress of a universal spirit uniting the nations into a common humanity.

Picture credits: Luminous Dark Cloud; Metropolitan Museum of Art; Die Zeit

Monday, March 14, 2016

Fritz Strich and world literature, 2

Fritz Strich’s essays on world literature draw their inspiration from literary exchange among the European vernaculars in the early modern period. Already in the early 19th-century such writers as Friedrich Bouterwek (1766–1828) and the Schlegels had observed that the literary vernaculars, from the Renaissance on, had “traded” among themselves, successively manifesting the same styles (e.g., mannerist vs. classicist), genres (pastorals, tragedies, sonnets), themes, and so on, with local inflection.

Writing in the same vein was the French scholar Ferdinand Brunetière (1849–1906), who sketched the development of what he called "European literature," in particular the way in which the individual nations had developed a European literature on the soil of medieval Christianity and in particular antiquity, which he called "the master of Europe's mind and spirit." The great literatures of Europe developed successively (there are five in Brunetière’s scheme: first, the Italians, followed by the Spanish, then the French, the English, and finally the Germans), with one after another manifesting "what were its most national and particular aspects," and each literature contributing to "the movement of European thought."

European "thought" in this account is simply the literary blending, so to speak, of the literatures of five countries into a common European product: Italy, Spain, France, England, and Germany, each of which successively, beginning with the Italians (Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio), contributed to this "movement" of thought. In Italy's case, for instance, it was as transmitter of the tradition of antiquity, while among Spain's "truly great European creations" can be found the drama.
Ferdinand Brunetière
Brunetière's scheme is replicated by Strich in his writings on world literature. In fact, Strich utilizes the same schema, likewise positing that the dominance of one nation in this literary give-and-take occurred when its literature simultaneously manifested most strongly its own national individuality while preserving a maximum of the common European (i.e., classical and Christian) “spirit.” For instance, the sonnet began in Italy but rapidly made its way through all the lands of western Europe. Anyone who has studied art history recognizes that something similar can be seen in architectural styles: Romanesque, Gothic, and so on, which appear throughout Europe, but each manifesting individual “national” characteristics.

What differentiates Strich’s interpretation of this literary blending from the Schlegels and Brunetière is the motive force that propels the integration.  This motive force is a progressive spirit of history, expressed via a dialectical movement of the spirit of different nationalities. Here is Strich's explanation of how the movement occurs, from the opening of his 1922 study Deutsche Klassik und Romantik:

 “Das große Mysterium der Wiedergeburt, der Renaissance der Stile, muß als innersten Wesenskern eine ewig lebendige Gegenwärtigkeit geistiger Strömungen haben. Es muß in der Geschichte des Geistes etwas geben, was nicht vergeht, sondern immer zur Auferstehung bereit ist, wenn es von brüderlichem Geiste gerufen wird, etwas, das so notwendig menschlich, so ewig gültig sein muß, daß es immer wieder aus dem Strom der Zeiten aufzutauchen vermag.”

To the greatest extent, Strich's interpretation of world literature takes the "Humanitätspathos" of many of Goethe’s utterances to new levels. In 1946, after two world wars, in which Germany’s international stock had reached its nadir, Strich held that the progressive spirit expressed by the idea of world literature was to unite all humans into what he called, in Goethe und die Weltliteratur, "einer übernationalen, allgemein menschlichen, humanen Kultur.”

The process began in Europe, but it would soon encompass the earth. As Strich wrote: “Eine europäische Literatur, also eine zwischen den Literaturen Europas und zwischen den europäischen Völkern vermittelnde und ausgetauschte Literatur, ist die erste Stufe der Weltliteratur, die sich, von hier aus beginnend, zu einem immer weiter um sich greifenden und endlich die Welt umfassenden Komplex erweitern wird.”

This optimistic vision, with its universalist goal, has in the meantime been stained with the epithet of "Eurocentrism," and Europe and its offshoots now stand accused, like monarchs of old, of monopolistic behavior, while its universal values are accused of being an ideological cover for power and for the exploitation by Europeans of the non-European world. In succeeding posts, I will describe how Strich’s earliest essays on world literature shed light on the issue of Eurocentrism.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Fritz Strich and world literature, 1

 Over the years I have posted often on world literature and on Fritz Strich. (For anyone who is interested in these posts, go to the small search window at the top left and add the search term.) My interest in Strich (1882–1963) has to do with the odd position he occupies in world literature scholarship. Or perhaps it is the position he does not occupy. One invariably encounters his name, and the status of his 1946 study Goethe und die Weltliteratur is always invoked. John Pizer has written, for instance, that it is "still the most important monograph on the subject." According to Theo D'haen, Strich is "one of the most perceptive and thorough commentators on Goethe and world literature." Yet if one examines recent historical overviews of world literature, for instance, The Routledge Companion to World Literature (2012), one finds chapters on Hugo Meltzl, Georg Brandes, Rabindranath Tagore, Albert Guérard, Erich Auerbach, Claudio Guillén, Edward Said, Pascale Casanova, Franco Moretti -- but none on Strich.

It might seem that Strich's special contribution to the field was simply to have compiled the scattered Goethean uses of the term “world literature,” twenty-one in total, which appear before the endnotes of Goethe und die Weltliteratur. These have been the starting point for many a work that shows otherwise no extensive knowledge of Goethe's utterances or thinking.

This is a strange fate for Strich, whom Anne Bohnenkamp describes as "der Verfasser der bis heute grundlegenden Monographie zum Thema [Weltliteratur].” To show how foundational this work was, and to indicate the effect of historical conditions on scholarship, let me mention what is the only other significant contribution to theorizing world literature before Goethe und die Weltliteratur. This is a long 1930 article by Victor Klemperer entitled “Weltliteratur und europäische Literatur,” which contains many of the same observations found in articles on world literature written by Strich before 1946. Within four years, however, Klemperer was removed from his teaching position in Dresden, denied access to libraries throughout the National Socialist era, and did not return to the subject after World War II. By 1930, Strich had left Munich and relocated to Switzerland, to Berne, and had the field to himself.

Strich wrote three essays of which the titles refer specifically to world literature (in 1928, 1930, and 1932), along with a number of other essays that reflect the same concerns that will be voiced in all of his succeeding work, namely, the historical exchange among the European literary vernaculars since the Renaissance and the hopeful prospect of amity among the peoples of the world that such an exchange seemed to promise and that for Strich was the central element of Goethe’s concept of world literature.

Moreover, Goethe und die Weltliteratur inaugurated a new field of scholarship, namely, that of “world literature,” even if Strich himself has been left aside in the process. Bohnenkamp is correct to say that it was “grundlegend.”

It is true that Goethe's concept, already in his lifetime and immediately thereafter, was a subject of much interest. But, as Peter Goßens has written (Weltliteratur. Modelle transnationaler Literaturwahrnehmung im 19. Jahrhundert, Stuttgart, 2011) of this afterlife: “Interessant ist dabei, daß und wie sich der Begriff allmählich aus dem direkten Goetheumfeld entfernt und sein Eigenleben in anderen transnational orientierten Kontexten beginnt.” Despite the spread of the term, especially among late-19th-century comparatists, it is surprising how little philology there was on the background or origin of Goethe’s thinking before the appearance of Goethe und die Weltliteratur, even as seemingly every other aspect of his oeuvre was being subjected to examination. After its appearance, however, studies of world literature soon followed, first among them the publication of the Aspen symposium of 1949.

Indeed, I hazard to assert that the initial reception of Strich’s study was a boon to Goethe’s reception and reputation after World War II. Yet it is Strict’s contemporary Erich Auerbach (1892­–1957), who published a single essay on world literature, in a 1952 festschrift for Strich, who is increasingly a touchstone for world literature scholarship.

The following posts will be devoted to this issue of Strich’s absence from the scholarship. It has of course much to do with his interpretation of world literature, which takes the “Humanitätspathos” of many of Goethe’s utterances to new levels. As I will discuss, however, his interpretation sheds light on the issue of “Eurocentrism” and its universalist assumptions.

Picture credits: Dreamstime; Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte