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.