Thursday, December 30, 2010

Goethetc. at New Year

The Goethezeitportal issued a New Year's "Greeting," with illustrations and texts, mostly from the 19th century. There were a lot of charming postcards featuring the kinds of graphics associated with "old Germany." As at Christmas, not a single line or feature from Goethe. The drawing above, however, from 1790, struck me as something that could have come from the pen of Goethe. It is identified as by Johann Rudolf Burckhardt (1750-1813) and is entitled "A Boy Presents a New Year's Greeting to His Father."

Burckhardt was a businessman from Basel, specializing in silk manufacture. According to the site of Basel's Institute of Archaeology, he was one of the richest men in the town, commissioning, for instance, the "Stadtpalais," a residence known as "das Haus zum Kirschgarten" (the house at the cherry orchard), which is now part of Basel's Historisches Museum.

The entry on Burkhardt goes on to say that his mansion housed lots of art, including many plaster casts of works of antiquity, and that he was in contact with such eminences as Goethe. I can't find any mention of him in any of my Goethe reference books, but who knows? I wonder if he is related to Johann Ludwig Burckhardt (1784-1817), a famous Swiss Orientalist who discovered the Roman city of Petra.

It's an indication of the fascination of the Middle East for Europeans that this Burckhardt, during his travels in the Middle East, disguised himself as an Arab (as pictured here), calling himself Sheik Ibrahim ibn Abdallah. His writings -- or perhaps news of his travels in the Middle East -- may have been familiar to Goethe. The scene pictured in the drawing at the top of this post, however, of the young boy handing a New Year's card to his father, would certainly have been one familiar to Goethe. The mother looks like Charlotte von Stein.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Peace on Earth

I live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan (or Upper Left Side, as my husband calls it), so it is not surprising that at mass there is, among the intercessions, always a prayer for leaders to "work together to end the violence" in the world. In the eighteenth century, which is my area of research, there were many (the Enlighteners) who began to imagine that perpetual peace could be achieved on earth. There is a great sign on a phone booth on Broadway: "What good is hate?" Indeed. Such a question is what H.L. Mencken would have described as a pompous instance of "the self-evident made horrifying." What makes it worse is that tax dollars have been spent to publicize this phony iconoclasm.

Yet I will make one wish for peace at Christmas, namely, that Christians throughout the world be able to enjoy the freedom to worship. For instance, the Christians in Indonesia pictured above, living in a majority-Muslim nation. For that to happen our leaders need to summon the courage to start speaking out against the intolerance toward Christians worldwide.

Picture credit: Big Picture

Friday, December 24, 2010

Goethe at Christmas

As an indication of how little Christmas meant to Goethe, there is not a single mention of Goethe in the Christmas email of the Goethezeitportal. This is the major website for all kinds of information on Goethe and the era of Goethe, including texts, documentation, and so on. As always, there are lots of cool pictures (including the two posted here) and texts. Even Heinrich Heine, who was not a Christian (despite conversion), has an entry, describing Christmas in Berlin in 1822. Rüdiger Safranski in his book on the friendship between Goethe and Schiller, mentions one Christmas, in 1800, when Karoline Schlegel wrote to Goethe imploring him to invite Schelling for Christmas. It seems that Schelling (whom Karoline would later marry) was depressed. One glance from Goethe, she wrote, would transform him: "If I had a wish that I might dare to express, it is this, that you would lure him from his solitude at Christmas and invite him to be near you."

Goethe did, going so far as to send his own horses to Jena to pick up Schelling and bring him to Weimar on December 26. Schelling stayed until January 4 as a guest in Goethe's house am Frauenplan. Schiller joined them on New Year's Eve, when they engaged in "serious discussions," according to Safranski.

It's unclear to me whether Safranski is making a connection between events, but the next paragraph (p. 263) reports that, three days later, Goethe came down with erysipelas, a horrible bacterial infection, that nearly killed him: "he lost his sight, occasionally consciousness."

Thursday, December 23, 2010

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Well, another Christmas has snuck up on me. Today I am posting a couple of silly pictures. The one at the top (from an Amazon fulfillment center) is not silly, though somewhat sobering, informing us of what Christmas is for most people. At the same time, I am not one to attack the commercialism of this holiday. We live in a capitalist society, and the success of capitalism gives us leisure not only to enjoy ourselves -- and, incidentally, to be wasteful but also to engage in fun things like the Chinese below -- but also to reflect on our good fortune.

What interests me is the complaints against capitalism and the U.S. in particular, not from those who don't share our good fortune, but from those who live in Western society. Here is a comment on the terrific Big Picture site, in response to the Christmas photos there:

"Capitalism takes advantage of the 'specials and religious' days to make people think that giving material stuff will make parents and friends happier. ... I insist, Capitalism is the most dangerous way to human life and the planet, and the american way of living have to be rethought ..."

Imagine someone in Kenya or the Ukraine, not to mention Somalia or Rwanda, expressing such a grinchy sentiment. Wouldn't they love to be out on the ice in costumes, kicking around a ball? Capitalism is obviously being good to the Chinese. I wish that our president and our Congress critters understood how capitalism works, how arugula and a hundred different varieties of cheeses and wines get on the shelves of our grocery stores. Capitalism interests me a lot, tied up as it is with my subject of world literature. In case anyone missed it, my review of Joyce Appleby's book on the history of capitalism recently appeared in The Weekly Standard.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Goethe and Finance

I'm catching up on things, one of which is my mail. Back in June a friend sent me an article from Investor's Business Daily: "Faust Really Sells It." The writer for IBD, Reinhardt Krause, began: "Bankers beware. Heed author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's words of caution." Krause was quoting Jean-Claude Trichet, president of the European Central Bank, who thought that banks could learn from "Goethe's 1830 tome on self-restraint," i.e., Faust. I was expecting much from the piece on what Goethe might tell us about the financial markets. Faust has, of course, been mined for many subjects, including Goethe's views of childbirth, heaven, hell, etc., but, in the event, the piece was very superficial, with Krause leaving out some really important facts.

For starters, Krause might have mentioned that Goethe was also a doctor of law (University of Strassburg, 1771). On his return to Frankfurt, he wrote legal briefs under the direction of his father, after which he spent a few months in Wetzlar interning at the Imperial Cameral Court. Though no legal writing is known from that experience, he was inspired to write The Sorrows of Young Werther. Later, in Weimar, he served as economic and financial minister to Duke Carl August. His legal and other official writings are contained in four volumes.

Krause might also have mentioned that Josef Ackermann, CEO of Deutsche Bank, did his post-doctoral thesis under Hans Christoph Binswanger, the Swiss economic minister, whose Geld und Magie: Eine ökonomische Deutung von Goethes Faust appeared in a revised edition in 205. As the word "magic" in the title indicates, Binswanger, proceeding from the thesis that the Faust of legend was an alchemist, contended that the creation of paper money in part 2 of the drama is a continuation of alchemy by other means. Paper money thus has a magical quality. According to Binswanger, Goethe forecast the potential of the modern economy to create value ex nihilo. (Here is a link to an English-language article, from 1998, by Binswanger on "The Challenge of Faust.") It should be added that money creation likewise stands at the center of things in Ackermann's postdoctoral thesis.

Back in June 2009 the finance section of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung featured an interview with Messrs. Ackermann and Binswanger (pictured above), in which they sought to illuminate what Goethe's Faust had to say bout the financial crisis of the time. In the interview Binswanger contended that Goethe could not have done his job had he not been familiar with "economic literature." In his book he mentions Goethe's acquaintance with leading contemporary German economists, including Justus Moser, Georg Sartorius, and Georg von Buquoy. (Do all these connections, including with Ackermann and Binswanger, indicate a German gene for finance? When I was a student in Germany, Ludwig Erhard had just become chancellor.)

In the painting of Goethe at the top of this post, he looks every bit the finance minister that he was. I can't help thinking that he modeled himself on Prince Metternich (at right), who knew a thing or two about finance and politics.

You can imagine that this subject interests me: in connection with my own work on Goethe's concept of world literature, I have been trying to pin down his knowledge of Scottish economic thinkers, especially the connection they made between the improvement in manners and morals and the advance of commerce. Goethe's views always seem "cutting edge," no more so than in the link he made between the free trade in goods and in ideas. Thus, "world literature," a preoccupation of the last decade of his life, the 1820s, when the different regions of the earth were tightly linked through trade and colonization. He welcomed these links, especially as they brought people into contact with like-minded individuals, but they also produced turbulence. Goethe was well aware of the disquieting effects that material changes had on our spiritual condition: "The world is in such a turbulent state that every individual is in danger of being sucked into its vortex." Sound familiar?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Goethe's Deathbed Portrait

After the last post (see below) concerning the eBay offer of a drawing of Goethe on his deathbed, I started looking for some more information on the artist, Friedrich Preller, and was able to find the original drawing on the Zeno website, a good source for German texts. If you compare it with the eBay drawing, you can see that the latter is not original.

As I wrote in the previous post, Goethe was instrumental in sending Preller to study painting in Italy, but some of the images Wikipedia links to definitely place Preller in the tradition of German Romantic artists, toward whose work Goethe was decidedly unfavorable. For instance, the very moody work below, entitled Storm on the Coast, from 1856. Thus, he headed in the Romantic direction after Goethe's death. Goethe would have turned over in his grave had he known of that.

Goethe and Collecting

Thursday evening I gave my talk at Columbia on "John Milton and the Pre-Kantian Sublime." It went over well, to a great extent because of the "Keynote" (Apple's version of Power Point) presentation. I had some great images to keep people occupied. The next step is to turn the talk into an essay. But, first, time to catch up with a few things, which I was prevented from doing while preparing for my talk.

I received an email from Prudence Crowther, alerting me to an eBay auction of this drawing of Goethe by Friedrich Preller (1804-1878). Goethe is portrayed in death, with a laurel wreath on his head. Preller had been a student of the drawing academy in Weimar. At the age of seventeen, he executed cloud studies for Goethe and was later sent by Carl August to Italy to study painting. He was in Rome in 1830 with Goethe's son August when the latter died, and, in 1832, he was the only artist allowed to sketch Goethe on his deathbed. The laurel wreath was placed on Goethe's head by Coudray, the architect with whom Goethe had a close personal and professional relationship. According to a fascinating site, Recherche, the original drawing is in the Goethemuseum in Dusseldorf. Goethe's family did not wish to have the drawing duplicated, but apparently Preller made copies of which the eBay drawing is one. Since I wasn't able to pull the Preller drawing off of the eBay site, I am including the drawing below from Recherche, namely, of "Goethe auf der Strasse, 1785." I have not seen this image of Goethe previously, and there is no indication of who drew it.

Prudence thought I might like to purchase the Preller drawing, though I am not really a collector, in contrast to Goethe. He began collecting in the 1770s already, with "Schattenrisse," in connection with his work on Lavater's physiognomic studies. He went from there to collecting "autographs" (remember those from your schooldays?). As he later (in 1812) wrote to his friend Jacobi, "Since sensuous intuition is indispensable to me, excellent people are made present in a magical way through their handwriting" (Denn da mir die sinnliche Anschauung durchaus unentbehrlich ist, so werden mir vorzügliche Menschen durch ihre Handschrift auf eine magische Weise vergegenwärtigt).

The extent of his passion can be seen from the size of his collections. Of works of art, these include 2,500 drawings, 50 paintings, over 9,000 copperplate engravings, etchings, and other graphic works, 2,000+ coins, 76 cameos ... Well, I won't go on. He also had almost 18,000 minerals, stones, and fossils.

Back in March of this year, I posted on Goethe and dilettantism, in which I mentioned an essay, The Collector and His Circle, written in 1798. The essay is in the form of an epistolary novel, with the letters written by members of the family of the collector. Among other things, the work concerns the various motives one might have for amassing a collection.

I do collect books, though hardly in a systematic manner, and it is a collection that is not of much interest to anyone but myself. If I were to collect, I might like to own one of the charming watercolors done by Edward Lear when he was in Greece in the 1840s, like the view at the top of this post of the temple of Hephaestus in Athens. In fact, if I had my life to do over again, I would become a watercolorist. What could be more pleasant than sitting out of doors with a sketch pad? And I find such a delight in looking at watercolors.

Picture credits: Golden Age Painting; Recherche

Monday, December 13, 2010

Fritz Strich and Goethe's concept of world literature

Because of my editorial duties in connection with the book on the history of freedom of speech -- the title, by the way, will be Freedom of Speech: The History of an Idea -- I have not been able to get to my real area of scholarly interest for some time, namely, Goethe and world literature. I have also been detoured by another topic, this time at least on a Goethe subject, the sublime. I first began working on the latter when writing on Goethe's geology; the result was an article in the Goethe Yearbook a few years back. And because of that article, I was asked to participate in a panel at the recent German Studies Association conference on the pre-Kantian sublime, which, in turn, took me further away from world literature. Still, as I gradually put the free speech volume and an article on the sublime behind me, I look forward to getting back to world literature in the New Year.

In this connection, I was recently reminded of Fritz Strich, who was the scholar who put world literature on the academic map. A strange aspect of world literature, which Goethe began to speak and write about in the 1820s, was that the idea lay fallow for another half-century. True, since Goethe had utter the oracular words, there was some attention to the concept in the late 19th century, but it wasn't until the discipline of comparative literature began to be established that world literature was drafted to talk about the scope of the new discipline. Still, everyone got it wrong, speaking of world lit as if it stretched back in time, back to Homer or Gilgamesh, or extended to other parts of the world, encompassing, for instance, Chinese or Indian literature. Goethe was speaking of a future phenomenon. More about that at another time.

Before World War II, there were a couple important articles on world literature, but the first major publication on the subject appeared in 1946, with the first edition of Goethe und die Weltliteratur, by Fritz Strich. An academic growth subject was born, and by the 1950s the industry began. The concept of world literature seems to fill a conceptual need, much as did "the sublime" in the 18th century, when that term was drafted to express the new aesthetic consciousness. After all, Longinus's treatise on the sublime (written in ca. 80 A.D.) had been around in Europe since the first editions in the 16th century. It was not until the beginning of the 18th century, however, especially with Joseph Addison's essays on the imagination, that the concept really took off and dominated theoretical discussions through the century, culminating in the works of Schiller and Kant.

A few years ago I placed an inquiry in the Times Literary Supplement concerning Fritz Strich, asking for personal reminiscences of Strich. From a scholarly and an intellectual point of view, Strich has certainly been as important as, say, Erich Auerbach or Ernst Robert Curtius, whose works are familiar to many outside of Germany. Besides his study of world literature, Strich is almost single-handedly responsible for the rediscovery of German Baroque literature, with an essay on that subject in 1916. Nevertheless, aside from a small Festschrift honoring Strich, there has been no work on him as a person. At the time of my TLS inquiry, however, I received no responses.

Much to my surprise I recently received a letter from Switzerland, from Heinz Günter, an English translator who works in Berne. Mr. Günter, who had saved my TLS inquiry, now sent me a speech given by the novelist John Le Carré on the occasion of the 175th anniversary of the University of Berne. Le Carré, it turns out, had as a young Englishman (his name is actually David Cornwell) studied in Berne and had some very kind words to say about Fritz Strich, especially about Strich's encouragement of him. Indeed, Le Carre's tribute to the university and to Strich reminded me very much of my own experience as a student in Germany in the late 1960s. Though I was not so fortunate to have a professor like Fritz Strich take an interest in me, I did have many German friends who initiated me into German ways and also helped me to become a capable speaker of German. Unfortunately, after three-quarters of a century, Le Carré was unable to provide any specific details about the lectures he attended. The impression remains, however, of the kind, polite nature of Fritz Strich. (Here is a link to an article in English, which makes many of the same points as in Le Carré's Berne talk.) I am still hoping for reminiscences from others, though I suspect I may one day have to go to Berne and do some research in the archives that contain Strich's papers.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Franz Messerschmidt's Grimacing Figure Heads

I did a post last November on Franz Messerschmidt. His "heads" have now arrived in New York, at the Neue Galerie. I haven't had a chance to go to the exhibition, but the website of Neue Galerie offers a variety of images.

My favorite is "the Yawner." Actually, Messerschmidt did not provide titles for his works, and it is difficult to say exactly what the grimaces are expressing. Nevertheless, I do think yawning is appropriate here.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Freedom of Speech

The volume on freedom of speech is about ready to be submitted to the publisher. There has been tons of work, in getting the manuscript ready for submission, so I have not been able to post. The image above, by the Austrian painter Maulbertsch, will probably be on the cover of the published volume. It exemplifies the rowdiness of the Viennese stage in the 18th century, which was a forum for social and political commentary. Thus, the threat posed by free speech to the powers that be. Of course, the powers that be in the 21st century are also alarmed by the speech of the masses. A recent episode concerns the protests over the proposed Islamic cultural center at Ground Zero. The American protesters have been routinely characterized as "intolerant," "divisive," "xenophobic," and so on, words that likewise reflect 18th-century debates and anxieties concerning speech. Rousseau, for instance, in his novel Julie, thought that true communication was best achieved through silence! Herder worried about the harm that could result from unconstrained speech. Men like Voltaire were certain that unlimited freedom of expression could harm the masses.

As much as we owe to 18th-century thinkers, we should not forget that they were indebted to intellectual traditions that valorized the pursuit of truth and, ultimately, agreement. Truth, however, is not the standard of liberal democracies, which function not by imposing a few grand ideas handed down from on high, but by encouraging a marketplace of diverse, competing, unrestrained opinions -- as portrayed in the Maulbertsch painting. Lest we forget it, the pursuit of truth in the past also involved the assiduous refutation of error. It has been trial and error, however, not dogma, in whatever form, that created the West. Freedom of speech, if we are serious about it, must also allow for unpopular, even "wrong," opinions.