Friday, August 29, 2014

Last days in Sointula

The deer outside my window
I finished my review of the Goßens book on world literature and sent it off this morning. Since world lit is also my area of research, I read the book very carefully, all 470+ pages. Goßens includes well-chosen passages from many 19th-century writers, men (entirely) whose names one encountered very briefly in one's graduate studies, but about whom one now learned a bit more: Karl August Varnhagen, Moritz Veit, Theodore Mundt, Hermann Hettner, Johannes Scherr, Adolf Stern, Moriz Carriere.

On Sunday morning I return to New York. End of summer.

The deer was outside again this morning, under the plum tree at my neighbor's house. Below is what he was looking for. I shook a few out of the tree for him.

This is what the deer was after

The rocks are from Bere Point. I thought about Goethe when I saw them. I wondered whether he, with his interest in geology, had ever seen or desired to collect such specimens. For those who are interested, you can read my article on Goethe and geology here.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

World literature post-Goethe

Gillnet fishing at Bere Point
In his book on world literature, Peter Goßens discusses the reinterpretation of the concept in the years after Goethe's death, especially under the influence of Karl August Varnhagen, who saw in Goethe's last Wilhelm Meister novel a prefiguration of the doctrines of Saint-Simon. Varnhagen was a strong influence on other admirers of Goethe in Varnhagen's Berlin circle and had an effect on pre-1848 proposals for societal reform, which were strongly utopian. Thus, Marx's reference in The Communist Manifesto to world literature and Engels' ridicule of utopian socialists in Anti-Dühring (1878) were reckonings with such "amateur" socialists. In some earlier posts, I had doubted that Goethe had any utopian inclinations, in contrast to many of the thinkers of the 18th century, particularly in France. According to Cyrus Hamlin (quoted by Goßens), Varnhagen’s reading of the Wanderjahre are a “Gebrauchsanweisung für die zukünftige soziale Ordung Europas in 19. Jahrhundert,”

Mounty and Goethe Girl
The term was already widespread after Goethe's first reference in print in Über Kunst und Alterthum in 1828 and subject to discussion in European periodicals. Theodor Mundt, one of the writers influenced by Varnhagen,  mentions that knowledge of Goethe's term was so widespread in England in 1837 that he feared it would be brought up in conversation:

Auf allen meinen Reisen, wo ich mit geistreichen Menschen in irgend ein Gespräch gerathen, habe ich stets große Furcht gehabt, daß Einer von der sogenannten Weltliteraturidee, die durch Goethe in die Mode gekommen zu sprechen anfangen könnte, und meide dies Thema, zu dem man auf Reisen so leicht veranlaßt werden mag, immer mit sichtlicher Angst.

At the Sointula Salmon Days parade
The pictures here are some scenes and people from the past week or so. Only three more days before I return to New York.

Leaving Telegraph Cove in search of whales
On the lookout

With Heather and Joe

I was envious of these kayakers also on the lookout


Friday, August 22, 2014

Gervinus on Goethe

Alert Bay, B.C.
I am still working my way through Peter Goßens' study of 19th-century discussions among German literati concerning Goethe's concept of world literature. Last time I quote Wolfgang Menzel's exceedingly dismissive reaction to Goethe, but for the most part one comes away with the impression of Goethe's centrality and, indeed, of adulation toward him.  Goßens introduces some scholars whom one has heard of in passing (if one is a scholar of German literature, that is), but whom one has never read. One of these is Georg Gottfried Gervinus (1805-1871), a historian and liberal politician. The Wikipedia entry on Gervinus list a slew of publications, including his edition of the Goethe-Schiller correspondence. The following is a quote from that edition, which gives an idea of the Goethe cult in the mid-19th century:

Er hat der Sonne einer neuen Weltweisheit, noch ehe sie aufging, sehnsüchtig entgegen geblickt, und ihre ersten Strahlen begierig eingesogen; er säumt nicht, die wirklich aufgegangene froh zu begrüßen, und die Mitwelt auf sie hinzuweisen, daß sie es ist, die er verkündigt hat, obgleich er zugleich unbefangen zu bekennen sich nicht scheut, daß von dem allzurasch eindringenden Licht sein Auge geblendet ist  und sich von diesem weg, nach dem farbigen Bogen auf dunklem Grunde wenden muß.

The pictures here (click to enlarge) are from Alert Bay, which we visited last week, an island a ferry ride away. It was once the home of a thriving First Nations community, traces of which are in the population of the island and in the cultural center we visited as well as the cemetery with its totems.

At the Alert Bay cultural center

Return to Sointula

Thursday, August 14, 2014

World literature in the 19th century

I continue to make my way through Peter Goßens' books Weltliteratur: Modelle transnationaler Literaturwahrnehmng im 19. Jahrhundert. What I find interesting is the centrality of Goethe in literary and political discussions of the 1830s. The concept of world literature, for instance, in Goethe's lifetime already, played a role in utopian thinking among German writers and among proto-socialists and other sundry spirits hoping to reform society.

Sue admires the tree

Goethe scholar before large tree
 Prominent among these were the so-called "Young German" poets. A critic of Young Germans, because of their cosmopolitan orientation, was the critic Wolfgang Menzel. For Menzel, according to Goßens, Goethe was "eine Macht in Deutschland, eine dem äußern Feind [i.e., the French] in die Hände arbeitende, einer erschlaffende, auflösende Kraft, unser böser Genius, der uns mit einem phantastischen Egoismus, mit den Genüssen des Scheins and der Selbstvergötterung über den Verlust der Religion, des Vaterlands und der Ehre täuschte," and who made Germans to "Schwächligen ... während wir des Heldenmuths an meisten bedurften."

Very strong words

When I got home last evening there were more food gifts from my neighbor Wendy, beets from her garden and blueberries. Today I went out with the ladies for the Thursday morning walk. We went to see the largest tree in Sointula. On the way back, one of the ladies, Yolanna, gave me a bouquet of sweetpeas from her garden.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Sointulan abundance

After a week I am noticing the benefits of a lack of distraction. There is no excuse not to get some work done. Of course, I go out for my kayak paddles and walks and even meet people and have tea or dinner. This afternoon, after a productive morning, I walked down to Heather's. Her house in on the beach, and the kayak I am using is in her back yard The tide was so high went I got there that all I had to do, beside hoisting the boat over a huge log, was throw it in the water and get in. It was another beautiful day on the water. The Sointulans seems somewhat superstitious about the weather. You get the feeling they think they have it too good.Well, they are Scandinavians, sort of.

Yesterday Sue and her husband brought by some salmon they had just caught (and, fortunately for me, fileted). And this morning my neighbor Wendy cut the sunflowers and chard from her own garden and gave me the plums as well from a friend's garden. Sointulans, she said, like to share their abundance.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Utopias, then and now

Dragon boating in Sointula (I'm in the back, in orange life vest)
Sointula, where I am staying this month of August, was founded as a utopian community. As I have posted earlier, it was settled by socialist Finnish laborers at the beginning of the 20th century. According to the website of the Sointula Museum, "Sointula began as the desire of a group of Finnish immigrants working in the Nanaimo area coal mines at the beginning of the 1900’s for a self-sustaining place of their own." They founded the company Kalevala Kansa, and an advance party took possession of Malcolm Island in December 1901 (yes, I know, but they were Finns, right?), 28,000 acres in all. Many of the colony's newcomers were attracted by the ideals of communal ownership, decision making by consensus, equal pay for women and a separate children’s home. Unfortunately, tragedy struck in 1903, when the communal building caught fire. Eleven people died. By 1905 the group was unable to overcome insuperable problems, and the Kalevala Kansa was dissolved, with the island's ownership reverting to British Columbia. Nevertheless, many of the Finns stayed on, and it is from these roots that the present Sointula has developed and grown.

When I left New York I brought along a few old copies of the Times Literary Supplement, which I meant to read on the flight to Vancouver. I only got around today to looking at one of them, in which I found a review of a book entitled Pauperland: Poverty and the Poor in Britain. Its author, Jeremy Seabrook, while exercised by the condition of the poor, is more irate that the poor are attracted by the life styles and habits of the rich and famous. It is not enough that (according to the review) "all wealth, not merely that displayed conspicuously, has been accumulated on the backs of poor people." Worse is that the poor (and all of us, when it comes down to it) "cannot," quoting Seabrook, "get enough of [rich people's] multiple homes, guarded islands,  ... their celestial loves and epic tragedies; even their faliled relationships and expensive divorces, public detox and private rehab," etc., etc.

Empty dragon boat at Sointula marina (click pics to enlarge)
To cure this infatuation, Seabrook proposes that wealth be subjected to contempt, with "the mansions of the wealthy 'mouldering unregarded, the gaze of indifference wandering over their exorbitance'" and all their "jewels, furs, yachts and private islands becoming emblems of dishonour and betrayal, 'their inert beauty being met, not with adulation, but with the careless glance and neutral shrug.'"

Now, where have I heard that before? Yes, in book 2 of Thomas More's Utopia (1516), which describes the contempt of the inhabitants for precious metals. As More writes:

They eat and drink from earthen ware or glass, which make an agreeable appearance though they be of little value; while their chamber-pots and close-stools are made of gold and silver; and this not only in their public halls, but in their private houses. Of the same metals they also make chains and fetters for their slaves; on some of whom, as a badge of infamy, they hang an ear-ring of gold, and make others wear a chain or a coronet of the same metal. And thus they take care, by all possible means, to render gold and silver of no esteem. Hence it is, that while other countries part with these metals as though one tore-out their bowels, the Utopians would look upon giving-in all they had of them, when occasion required, as parting only with a trifle, or as we should esteem the loss of a penny.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Outing to the lighthouse

I have settled in and am getting to know some residents, of which there are about 500. This morning I went out with some ladies who "walk" on Thursday mornings. We went to the lighthouse at Pulteney Point, which involved driving over very rough roads built for loggers. The map above actually indicates how few roads there are here. The walking part was on the beach. When I returned a good fairy had left a bunch of basil for me. Below some more pictures.

Pulteney Point Lighthouse

The Goethe scholar

Beach finds

The cemetery shows Sointula's socialist roots

Monday, August 4, 2014

A working vacation

I have arrived in Sointula (see upper right corner of above map of Vancouver Island), the site of the conference at which I gave a paper last September on 18th-century utopian thinking. Back then I fell in love with a cottage, which I have now rented for the month of August. I have three writing goals: a larger book on which I have been working for some time, and two book reviews, one of the last on a Goethe-period topic. My other reason for picking this location was the kayaking opportunities. Two days ago I also joined a dragon-boating group. So, I am hoping for a productive month. Below are some pictures of my new residence. (Click to enlarge.)

The cottage

View from balcony
Basil on the balcony

The kitchen: so much counter space compared to Manhattan!

Some essentials
More essentials

Another view of the cottage
And not to forget: my work space!