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 G├Âttingen, 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.

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