Monday, August 22, 2016

Sointula scenes

Ferry from Port McNeill
Deer comes searching for plums

I got them

Sund's lodge scene

Alpacas are very silling looking

Sund's Lodge alpaca farm


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 Göttingen, 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.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Goethe as newspaper reader

My work station
My stay in British Columbia has been a great respite from the febrility of the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I speak of the mood produced during the current political season, which affects New Yorkers excessively and which is an effect of too much newspaper and TV reporting. (And a friend has just written to say that I have missed three weeks of 90 degree weather in New York.) I can't recall now when I ceased to read a newspaper or to consider reading one an important part of life. I do remember many years ago that I was struck by how boring I found The New York Times, at least the life style sections. A feeling of weariness comes over me these days whenever someone passes along to me a book review from the Times. Michiko Kakutani should really get a new job.

But even when it comes to world events, I usually avoid the opinions that flow forth from the press. Again, the sight of rush hour travelers on the subway reading the opinion pages of the Times induces the same weariness as I feel about the arts pages. The past two years have been full of world events that, however horrible, are nevertheless, when viewed historically, not really out of character (so to speak) for humankind. Have we become so secure in our way of life that we can no longer fathom that there are bad people out in the world, especially bad people who want to destroy it?

I did follow the coverage of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in 2015 because of my interest in the issue of freedom of speech. (See my volume on the history of this right in the West: Freedom of Speech: The History of An Idea.) Otherwise, however, the reporting, along with the opinon-mongering, following such events is tendentious and finger-pointing. And everyone, literally everyone, in New York always has an opinion, especially on the causes. After the Orlando shootings, I vowed never to utter my opinion on events that dominate the news cycle. And from what I have observed, simply from glancing at headlines in passing or when I open my internet browser, the press, including newspapers, has really been disgustingly tendentious in its current political coverage. It is all opinion, all the time.

Eisert at home
Thus, I was pleased to discover that my views on newspaper reading coincide with Goethe's. Again, how foresighted he was, which I have gleaned from a publication encountered this past week. So many fine publications on aspects of Goethe's life and work, and so easy to miss their appearance. I speak of an edited volume, the motto of which is „Göthe ist schon mehrere Tage hier, warum weiß Gott und Göthe.“ The quote is from Clemens Brentano, who was a student in Göttingen during Goethe's visit there in 1801. The volume appeared in 2000, produced in conjunction with an exhibition at the University Library in Göttingen in 1999: „Der gute Kopf leuchtet überall hervor“ – Goethe, Göttingen und die Wissenschaft. It was edited by Elmar Mittler.

The volume includes several fascinating pieces, but the one that most caught my attention at the moment is by Hansjürgen Koschwitz, “Sag’ mir, warum dich keine Zeitung freut? Goethe als Kritiker und Leser der Presse.” Herewith a few observations.

Goethe Girl takes a break
Goethe considered daily reading of the newspaper, especially "Tageslektüre an vorderster Stelle," was designed to nourish "Illusionäres in den Köpfen der Menschen." Its gravest blemish was to estrange people from reality, "sie hinzuhalten und über den Augenblick zu verblenden." Spending time with newspapers directed readers' attention to what was trivial, while distracting them from what was meaningful. He also saw in newspapers the source of tendentiousness, the advance of opinion ("des Meinens") and the retreat of knowledge ("des Wissens").

Freedom of the press does not mean simple reporting of the news; it is the freedom to publish "opinions," to "speak truth to power." Goethe held, however, that such freedom of the press would lead to everyone having the same opinion (Gleichschaltung der Meinungen) and thus a  collective state of mind, the end result a kind of repressive purpose. As for the first, keep it in mind the next time you read about the "97 percent consensus of scientists" on global warming.

Nevertheless, Goethe did read newspapers regularly, for "the news." As Professor Koschwitz writes, newspapers informed him about foreign affairs, especially politics, and kept him in touch with "das Wogen der Welthändel." Many entries in his diaries indicate that he read newspapers daily. In the 1820s one of his favorite newspapers was a French one, Le Globe.

Yet, even in the most volatile of times, Goethe could put the newspaper aside. Koschwitz points out that he gave up reading them, even Le Globe, in the months before the July Revolution of 1830 that would lead to the end of the Bourbon Restoration. Goethe told Eckermann that he did not want to be distracted while writing the Walpurgis Night scene. He added something that coincides with what I feel and why I have withdrawn from observing world events. There is simply nothing I can do about things, while opining about them is a waste of time: „Da ich aber darauf keinen Einfluß habe, so will ich es ruhig abwarten, ohne mich von dem spannenden Gang des Dramas unnützerweise täglich aufregen zu lassen.“ Aufregen zu lassen is the operative expression: "to be upset," "to be irritated." To what purpose?

Goethe wrote in a similar vein to Zelter at the time of the Parisian events, namely, that knowing what is going on does not make one smarter or better ("man [wird] durch die Kenntnis dessen, was der Tag bringt, nicht klüger und nicht besser").

Friday, July 29, 2016

More Sointula days

Today I was able to download recent pictures. So here are a few. Click to enlarge.

First, beach scenes:

Next, some street scenes:

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Sointula Days

Bere Point, Malcolm Island, photo by Dan Herlihy
Although I have been here a month, it has not been particularly sunny, which means I have not taken many pictures. Finally, a week of sun, and I try to download my photos today –– without success. I don't know what this means, but it may mean I need a new camera. In the meantime, I will post photos that I have taken in the last month. Click to enlarge.

The first are from a short visit I made down island to visit my old friend Frieda Werden from University of Texas Press days. She now lives on Denman Island.

Morning stroll with Frieda on Denman beach

Found art on Denman Island

The Sixties live on on Denman

Cafe gone, but sign remains

Suzette gives moral instruction

The following are from Sointula, except for the photo at the top of this post, by local photographer Dan Herlihy. I plan to purchase it, so expect to see it in my apartment this fall.

Well-maintained Finnish house

Another lovely house

Poorly maintained house

Mitchell Bay house under construction
Goethe Girl (2nd right) on dragon boat crew

Grass cutting
Sunset in my window
Here is Sointula

How Did They Manage to Do so Much?

The Night Bookmobile (detail), by Audrey Niffenegger
I asked myself this question while reading the biography of Goethe by the Scottish historian Peter Hume Brown (1849–1914). Keep in mind that Brown was not a Germanist, not even a literary scholar. Between 1898 and 1912, however, he made annual trips with Richard Haldane to Weimar, the two sharing an enthusiasm for Goethe's work and German literature in general, and collecting materials for a life of Goethe. In 1913 Brown brought out the first half of the biography; the second volume would appear posthumously, nearly complete in 1918, but edited by Richard and Elizabeth Haldane who also published a collection of Brown’s lectures.

Biographies, even the longest ones, give only a partial view of their subject, and Brown's is no exception. The inner life is not part of his remit, insofar as that refers to Goethe’s private emotions, but the extent of Brown’s knowledge of Goethe’s outward life and his works is pretty staggering. One small detail: noting that Carlsbad replaced Jena for Goethe after Schiller’s death, how did Brown come up with such details as that Goethe was among “about 650 visitors in Carlsbad”? Sigrid Damm, in Christiane and Goethe, devotes space to Goethe’s visits to the spa, including the one undertaken with Christiane, noting some of the well-known personalities at the watering hole, but she doesn’t mention how many visitors were actually partaking of the waters.

M.M. Prechtl, Goethe in Farbenkreis
Well, in answer to my question about how earlier writers managed to do so much, clearly they had someone like Christiane taking care of the household, from ceiling to cellar which included managing household accounts and servants, receiving visitors, generally isolating the master from distractions, and assuring that he had his favorite foods, even when he was in a town six hours a way by carriage. In “the troubled year of 1806,” according to Brown, Goethe was “assiduously  pursuing his own pursuits. In April he finished the first part of Faust, in December the didactic part of the Farbenlehre, and he was at the same time engaged on the edition of his collective [sic?] works.” He also assisted in restoring “the ordinary life” in Weimar and Jena after the French incursion. With the help of the commandant of the French soldiery quartered in Weimar, lectures were recommenced at the university of Jena on November 3; on December 5 the Institute of Drawing in Weimar was reopened; and also in December the theater in Weimar. “Goethe, in spite of conditions that would have arrested the productiveness of most men, turned out a considerable tale of literary work between 1805 and 1809.”

Does anyone care about the role of Christiane in all of this? Was she just a little nobody, an ordinary person, like many other women in Weimar, who would otherwise not attract any interest had she not been associated with Goethe? Marius Fränzel clearly thinks she does not merit a role in a double biography. Here is his judgment of Damm's study, summarized: Taken by herself, this woman is in no way interesting. Without her connection with Goethe, she remains ordinary, one among many contemporary women with an ordinary life. One should not be surprised to discover that she was no Simone de Beauvoir. Christiane herself simply does not interest us, despite the over 500 pages of this volume.

Moreover, Fränzel asserts, Damm knows this as well,  yet she seems to have set her self the task of pleading for this person, of making Christiane interesting — without success. 600 letters were exchanged between Goethe and Christiane, yet at the end of this book the relationship between Goethe and Christiane has not been illuminated. Fränzel  nsists that we know only what we can see from the outside, that they apparently loved each other — insofar as that can be explained — that they succeeded in establishing a way of life that was beneficial to Goethe’s productivity, and that was probably pragmatically accepted and maintained.  In sum: “Liebe und Alltag einer Lebensgemeinschaft.”

Fränzel does give Damm credit for the amount of archival research she has undertaken, which supports her narrative style, which he calls the  “Ich stelle mir vor” method. As he writes, “‘Ich stelle mir vor’ erscheint in diesem Blick nur als die reflektierte Variante dessen, was Biographik in wesentlichen Teilen immer schon war: Vergegenwärtigung des Undokumentierten.” Damm belongs to the school of biographers who rely on their imagination to effectuate a portrait, rather than on “the facts.”

Cornelia Goethe, ca. 1770, by J.L.E. Morgenstern
I think he is wrong, however, to condemn this double biography because of the lesser importance Christiane occupies in the world of Goethe studies. I pointed out in my last post Goethe’s failure to educate this “ordinary” woman with whom he lived on intimate terms for 28 years, especially the contrast it represented to the opportunities Marianne von Willemer received from Johann von Willemer. This failure is also of interest because of Goethe’s own pedagogical tendencies, revealed early on in his letters to Cornelia from Leipzig. And one should note the anecdote reported by Bettina Brentano, that the child Goethe had under his bed a stack of papers with lessons and stories in which he had planned to instruct his younger brother. He had once been an enthusiast for Rousseau, remember?

As has been written: "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there." There is no use in speculating on what might have become of Christiane had Goethe devoted more time to her education. Had he done so, we would have had a different Goethe to contend with. But the omission does suggest that Goethe could not combine physical intimacy with a woman with whom he was intellectually or literarily involved (Charlotte von Stein), even had he wished to do so (Marianne v. Willemer, Minna Herzlieb)

Picture credits: The Guardian; Galeria Jacobsa Nürnberg

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Christiane und Marianne

Marianne von Willemer, 1809
Weimar had lain in the path of Napoleon's retreat after the battles between the French army and the Russian-Austrian allies in October 1813. As in 1806, Weimar was threatened, but the early arrival of Russian Cossacks, Prussian and Hungarian Hussars, and Austrian Dragoners had prevented the town from being burned to the ground by the retreating French. Despite uncertainty and fears, Goethe and his household were again spared. They receive a “Sauvegarde” on October 22. The Austrian general Hieronymus von Colloredo was quartered in Goethe's house from October 23, along with 14 officers. Every room in the house was required, and one can imagine the amount of work Christiane had to organize. According to Damm, there was a single "Abtritt" in the house. Despite the tribulations, Goethe made note in his diaries of the “interesting acquaintances” he had made, which to some extent mitigated the evils that he experienced: Metternich, Hardenberg, Prince Paul of Wurttemberg, Prince August of Prussia. At the court in Weimar he met emperor Alexander.

1814, as Sigrid Damm notes, the year of Restoration, was also one of restoration for Goethe. Christiane, however, was not part of what many at the time saw as Goethe's rejuvenation and rebirth. His failure to make her part of his intellectual life continued to deepen the distance them, no more so than in his discovery of the Persian poet Hafiz. A new woman, Marianne Willemer, came into his life. Damm's portrayal of the relationship between Marianne and Goethe, in connection with the composition of the West-East Divan, indicates what Christiane might have been had Goethe nurtured her spiritually and not been solely content for her to serve as his "Hausschatz" or "Bettschatz" (his own terms),

In May 1814, Goethe and Christiane made their final trip together as man and wife, to Bad Berka. While there, Goethe was given a copy of the Divan translation by Joseph von Hammer. Goethe began to make his escape from the risin German patriotism, with which he had no sympathy, and other contemporary political distractions with his "hegira" to the East.  Damm writes: “Gedankliches Auswandern als bewußte Abgrenzung zum Zeitgeschehen.” Throughout 1814 he continued to write poems in emulation of Hafiz. He also traveled in July to the Rhine/Main area. During his absence Christiane experienced the first of what Damm calls "Anfälle."

View of Frankfurt from Gerbermühle, with dedication by Goethe
1815 begins with her illness. Goethe writes to Johann Jacob von Willemer in Frankfurt in April that Christiane had been “two fingers” away from death. Does Goethe stay and attend to his wife, the woman with whom he has lived for 28 years? I am afraid Goethe does not come off well in Damm's account. That summer he is again in the Rhine/Main area, and spends over a month with the Willemers, both at their residence in Frankfurt and at their summer retreat at "Gerbermühle." The influence of Marianne on the further composition of the Goethe's Divan as well as her own contributions have been studied by scholars. (For an overview in English,  especially concerning the "Suleika" cycle, go to this link.) What interests me here, and what Damm contends Goethe must have noticed, were the parallels between Marianne and Christiane. Both were accomplished in the field of "Lebenskunst."

Marianne came from a theatrical background, i.e., her mother was an actress, with father unknown. She made an early appearance on the Frankfurt stage at the age of eleven with a traveling troupe of ballet-dancers. Theatrical notices of the time point out "the gracefulness of her infantine performances." Mignon, anyone? It was at this time that she attracted the notice of the wealthy Frankfurt banker Willemer, who literally purchased the girl from her mother (2,000 gulden) and who thereupon raised her in his own household, educating her with his own daughters. Like Christiane, Marianne was a "creature" of a man, but one who provided her with a many-sided education. For instance, she had had music lessons from Clemens Brentano. In the late summer of 1815, she met Goethe on equal terms.

Christiane, too, was Goethe's "Geschöpf," as Damm writes, but he never gave her the opportunity to rise above her background, which in any case was not lacking in intellectual substance. She went frequently to the theater, evidence of a life-long interest, awakened early in companionship with her brother, who himself was an accomplished writer. In the last year of her life, she attended 43 performances in a five-month period. She was on intimate terms with Weimar's star actress, Caroline Jagemann (also the duke's mistress), and, as Damm notes, had mediated the artistic differences between Goethe as director of the Weimar theater and Jagemann.

One can't help thinking that Christiane might have become a knowledgeable theater critic or even taken a more active role in Weimar theatrical productions had Goethe taken the time to lead her. After their marriage duties were imposed on her from which she had been excluded for 18 years and in which she was not skilled.  There had never been lessons, no training or education at all.  As Damm writes, Christiane did not know "the text." So, while the relationship with Marianne came to be symbolized by the Ginko leaf, with its two-part leaf form representing symmetry and even equal partnership, Goethe's relationship with Christiane is associated with the clinging ivy and strangled tree of the poem "Amyntas."

Despite the number of volumes of Goethe's works devoted to "autobiography," Damm observes that Goethe remained silent about his happiness during the six weeks he spent in Marianne's company. It is only in the Divan that one feels his happiness. And although Goethe lived for sixteen years after Christiane's death in 1816, he likewise never wrote a word about the woman with whom he had lived for twenty-eight years. Goethe never discussed any truly private matters. Damm refers to this reticence as a natural disposition to self-protection. His silence about Christiane, however, has given rise to clichés, legends, and half-truths that have obscured her image for posterity.

Pictures: Willemer portrait by by Johann Jacob de Lose (Freies Dt. Hochstift–Frankfurter Goethe-Museum); Goethe's poem "Ginkgo Biloba," in his handwriting, 1815, with attached Ginkgo leaves