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


Thursday, August 18, 2016

While I was not watching ....

Laser show of destroyed Bamiyan Buddhas
Somewhere between the Upper West Side of New York and Sointula, British Columbia, this blog passed the 250,000 page view mark and stands now at 260,000. As I mentioned when the 200,000 mark was attained, I cannot brag solely about my stellar posts. It is Goethe that people are looking for when they surf the internet, and many of them find me.

Truth be told, I miss a lot of things, for instance, the publication that I mentioned in my previous post, on Goethe and Göttingen, which appeared in 2000. So, let me acknowledge here a couple of recent books concerning Goethe, both discussed in a recent issue of the Times Literary Supplement: Ritchie Robertson, Goethe: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford UP) and The Essential Goethe, edited by Matthew Bell (Princeton UP). The first is 142 pages; the second is 1,007 pages. I have already noted Adam Kirsch's New Yorker review of the Bell volume in an earlier post.

The reviewer is Osman Durrani, who begins with something obvious to those of us who have taught Goethe: access can be arduous, and tools that facilitate it are welcome. The two works reviewed "reduce a prolific life’s work to manageable proportions," but neither can give us "the whole Goethe." Like Adam Kirsch in The New Yorker, Professor Durrani drags out all the old platitudes about Goethe: "the young genius who, in those heady days, took the literary world by storm with what looked like the outpourings of a frenzied iconoclast." His summary of the "action" of Tasso and Iphigenia omits what is most artistic about those plays: "The 'classical' Iphigenia may achieve her mission and impose restraint on homicidal barbarians, but the more 'modern' poet Tasso, stifled by court etiquette and reduced to a performing lackey, lashes out at his perceived tormentors in various tragicomic ways."

That said, such reviews are not written for Goethe scholars, yet Professor Durrani mentioned something very interesting. Goethe's abhorrence for Christian certain imagery "inclined [him] sympathetically towards Judaism and Islam, which refrain from depicting the deity in visual terms. For the same reason he condemned the lavish temples of India and, provocatively, praised the general who defaced the colossal statue of Buddha at Bamiyan centuries before it was dynamited by the Taliban."

That is the first I have heard of Goethe's knowledge about the Bamiyan Buddhas, and it led me to Google the representative terms and, then, to a book entitled The Buddhas of Bamiyan: The Wonders of the World by Llewelyn Morgan. According to Morgan, in inveighing against idols, "Goethe is stereotyping what was in actual fact a complex and diverse set of attitudes held by Muslims throughout history to figurative representations in general, and the Buddhas of Bamiyan in particular." He continues to say that "iconoclasm plays a larger role in caricatures of Islam than it ever has in the real thing." Fascinating stuff.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Goethe as newspaper reader

My work station
My stay in British Columbia has been a great respite from the febrility of the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I speak of the mood produced during the current political season, which affects New Yorkers excessively and which is an effect of too much newspaper and TV reporting. (And a friend has just written to say that I have missed three weeks of 90 degree weather in New York.) I can't recall now when I ceased to read a newspaper or to consider reading one an important part of life. I do remember many years ago that I was struck by how boring I found The New York Times, at least the life style sections. A feeling of weariness comes over me these days whenever someone passes along to me a book review from the Times. Michiko Kakutani should really get a new job.

But even when it comes to world events, I usually avoid the opinions that flow forth from the press. Again, the sight of rush hour travelers on the subway reading the opinion pages of the Times induces the same weariness as I feel about the arts pages. The past two years have been full of world events that, however horrible, are nevertheless, when viewed historically, not really out of character (so to speak) for humankind. Have we become so secure in our way of life that we can no longer fathom that there are bad people out in the world, especially bad people who want to destroy it?

I did follow the coverage of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in 2015 because of my interest in the issue of freedom of speech. (See my volume on the history of this right in the West: Freedom of Speech: The History of An Idea.) Otherwise, however, the reporting, along with the opinon-mongering, following such events is tendentious and finger-pointing. And everyone, literally everyone, in New York always has an opinion, especially on the causes. After the Orlando shootings, I vowed never to utter my opinion on events that dominate the news cycle. And from what I have observed, simply from glancing at headlines in passing or when I open my internet browser, the press, including newspapers, has really been disgustingly tendentious in its current political coverage. It is all opinion, all the time.

Eisert at home
Thus, I was pleased to discover that my views on newspaper reading coincide with Goethe's. Again, how foresighted he was, which I have gleaned from a publication encountered this past week. So many fine publications on aspects of Goethe's life and work, and so easy to miss their appearance. I speak of an edited volume, the motto of which is „Göthe ist schon mehrere Tage hier, warum weiß Gott und Göthe.“ The quote is from Clemens Brentano, who was a student in Göttingen during Goethe's visit there in 1801. The volume appeared in 2000, produced in conjunction with an exhibition at the University Library in Göttingen in 1999: „Der gute Kopf leuchtet überall hervor“ – Goethe, Göttingen und die Wissenschaft. It was edited by Elmar Mittler.

The volume includes several fascinating pieces, but the one that most caught my attention at the moment is by Hansjürgen Koschwitz, “Sag’ mir, warum dich keine Zeitung freut? Goethe als Kritiker und Leser der Presse.” Herewith a few observations.

Goethe Girl takes a break
Goethe considered daily reading of the newspaper, especially "Tageslektüre an vorderster Stelle," was designed to nourish "Illusionäres in den Köpfen der Menschen." Its gravest blemish was to estrange people from reality, "sie hinzuhalten und über den Augenblick zu verblenden." Spending time with newspapers directed readers' attention to what was trivial, while distracting them from what was meaningful. He also saw in newspapers the source of tendentiousness, the advance of opinion ("des Meinens") and the retreat of knowledge ("des Wissens").

Freedom of the press does not mean simple reporting of the news; it is the freedom to publish "opinions," to "speak truth to power." Goethe held, however, that such freedom of the press would lead to everyone having the same opinion (Gleichschaltung der Meinungen) and thus a  collective state of mind, the end result a kind of repressive purpose. As for the first, keep it in mind the next time you read about the "97 percent consensus of scientists" on global warming.

Nevertheless, Goethe did read newspapers regularly, for "the news." As Professor Koschwitz writes, newspapers informed him about foreign affairs, especially politics, and kept him in touch with "das Wogen der Welthändel." Many entries in his diaries indicate that he read newspapers daily. In the 1820s one of his favorite newspapers was a French one, Le Globe.

Yet, even in the most volatile of times, Goethe could put the newspaper aside. Koschwitz points out that he gave up reading them, even Le Globe, in the months before the July Revolution of 1830 that would lead to the end of the Bourbon Restoration. Goethe told Eckermann that he did not want to be distracted while writing the Walpurgis Night scene. He added something that coincides with what I feel and why I have withdrawn from observing world events. There is simply nothing I can do about things, while opining about them is a waste of time: „Da ich aber darauf keinen Einfluß habe, so will ich es ruhig abwarten, ohne mich von dem spannenden Gang des Dramas unnützerweise täglich aufregen zu lassen.“ Aufregen zu lassen is the operative expression: "to be upset," "to be irritated." To what purpose?

Goethe wrote in a similar vein to Zelter at the time of the Parisian events, namely, that knowing what is going on does not make one smarter or better ("man [wird] durch die Kenntnis dessen, was der Tag bringt, nicht klüger und nicht besser").