Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Jena anew: Novalis

The Blue Flower
My previous post was all over the place. As I wrote, the Jena circle and its influence is a complex story. The cast in the opening paragraph of the post includes people whose names are unfamiliar to most of us today, but whose works, as I wrote, had major influence on writers outside of Germany. Today, I want to draw attention to Novalis, whose real name, Friedrich von Hardenberg, shows his aristocratic background. Had he lived longer (he died at not even thirty years of age in 1801), he might have become a serious rival to Goethe in his influence. (Although he lived a longer life, the same might be said of Friedrich H├Âlderlin, who in 1806, at the age of thirty-six, succumbed to mental illness.) Among other things, Novalis is associated with the image of the "blue flower," and it is this image on which Penelope Fitzgerald drew in The Blue Flower, a novel about Novalis's life.

I won't go into the details here, but there is much about Novalis's work and life that would appeal to "young" people. The image below, for instance, apparently an album cover, is a perfect one for the inspiration felt by a German "romantic rock band" from Hamburg, who (according to Amazon) "specialized in taking romantic, atmospheric symphonic rock pieces and interspersing them with harder rocking material, dynamic keyboard flourishes, and harmonic guitar interplay."

But I have just come across a New York writer named Matthew Gasda who is inspired by another aspect of Novalis's legacy. I leave it to readers of this post to do their own research on Gadsa, but he seems to be well known among theater folks in New York. My interest here is his Substack, which goes by the title "Novalis." The contents of "Novalis" are what the Romantic writers called "fragments." The journal I mentioned in the earlier post, Atheneaum, published numerous fragments by Novalis who said, according to Andrea Wulf, that his "nature" consisted of "moments." It was (again per Wulf) Novalis and Friedrich Schlegel who elevated the fragment to a literary genre, and the Jena writers deployed them in order "to publish the greatest variety of ideas in a very few pages" -- and, moreover, in succinct and efficient form. Here is Novalis: "Friends, the soil is poor; we must scatter seed abundantly for even a modest harvest."

With that said, let me quote a few of Matthew Gasda's very pithy "fragments" from a recent entry on his Substack. In the second one, in particular, I hear echoes of Fichte:

Effectively, what people want out of supposedly transgressive downtown New York in 2024 is Disneyland for bored adults. Lights up early. Not much drinking or smoking, just stimulants. The vague possibility of sex and a lot of gossip and self-promotion.

The clout economy incentivizes laziness. You become an entrepreneur of the self rather than a committed artist, a craftsperson. The temptation is to produce one, maybe two things, get enough of a reputation (clout) and then produce memes and gossip and derivative products of the self associated with the original works.

Image credits: Das Goetheanum


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