Showing posts with label Romanticism and the Recovery of Narrative. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Romanticism and the Recovery of Narrative. Show all posts


Tanner and Poet


It is comic for an over-80 to be reading systematic theology, as it not likely to be on the final exam.  It has more to say to those who are responsible for the Christian witness to the world, pastors, preachers. Teachers and even poets.  Still, since the middle of the summer I have reading Tanner, and find myself in kind of rear-guard movement, wanting to witness to the importance of her systematic theology.  Thus, we have this Face Book page, “Tanner Talk of Omaha,” a sister page to “On Giving My Word Tancreti.”   The two pages might seem unrelated, but they do bare on one another.  Retrospectively, I recognize that the theology that underlies the poetic of On Giving My Word is similar to Tanner’s and gains clarity from it.  It is similar because my reading in the Seventies and Eighties, Rahner, Schleiermacher and Bart, was similar to Tanner’s.  Had I been aware of it at the timeing I was writing that poetry, it would have served as useful guide to the coherent God talk I was attempting, now can gain by being judged by it. 

I would illustrate this with a quick reference to a short poem you will find in On Giving My Word, page 248, “As God Will’s.”  One of Tanner’s principles of coherent God talk, is that God’s agency does not compete with human (creaturely) efficacy.   I wrote:

                               It is God’s will that I chose.

                                             I would like God to tell me

                                             If I should go to the right or the left.

                                             If God did, then I would not have to choose,

                                             Which is not God’s will for me.

                                . . . . 

                              So, I shall choose, which is God’s will for me,

                                             and if I prosper and live, I shall be a communion for God.

                                             And if I dimmish and die, God will be a communion for me.

                              As God wills.

 God’s will does not trump human will, because God’s will works in a different plane than human will. We might try to imagine that by drawing a line on a paper, make a diagonal from one side to another.  This line represents God will, agency.   Everywhere an act of human will is possible, God is will it.  So, at any point on the paper draw a short line.  That represents an act of human will.  Save for a parallel, line they will intersect, share a point, which the possibility of communion.

 For me “Tanner Talk” will not be so much a guide to the future, as a reflection of the past.


The Procedure for Writing a Poem According to Hölderlin, Made Simple

On or about the end of 1799, Friedrich Hölderlin worked on an essay in which he was attempting to philosophize on the procedure or method of writing poetry.1  This was no small undertaking for he, like many Romantics of the time, thought of poetry as the foundation of human thought, so in reality he is undertaking a essay on the very foundation of being!  He never finished the essay.  The existing text is a difficult read even for scholars of German literature, partly because it never reaches the stage of final draft and partly because Hölderlin was stressed at the time from the on set of mental issues that ultimately end his serious work.  As one is laboring at grasping its meaning, the question occurs as to whether anything so complicated could have ever led to a poem.  So well you might ask, what sort of fool would dare to promise his readers a simplified form of Hölderlin’s method? Bear with my foolishness for a moment. 

Step One:  the poet is to locate himself or herself in the ‘unity-of-opposites’ which constitutes reality.

Hölderlin would have disliked this translation of his term which is Harmonischentgegengesetztem.  Jeremy Adler, translates this compound German word as “the harmoniously opposed”in his English translation of Hölderlin’s essays and letters.2  In Stephen Pricket’s discussion of a similar concept used by the English Romantics, Coleridge, Wordsworth and Maurice, speaks of “unity-intension.”  The reason for this difficulty is that Hölderlin, Coleridge, Wordsworth and Maurice as well, thought that one of the major errors made by philosophers of their times was an appeal to unity which meant that the oppositions would some how be dissolved.  If we use black and white as examples of opposites, then unity seems to imply that (a.) The black covers the white, (b.)  The white overcomes the black, or (c.) the black and white become gray.  These are all false unities, for a true unity would hold the opposites together, black remains black and white remains white.  Reality is the an endless interplay of the one with the other.  A perfect world is not imagined as black or not white, but a kaleidoscopic interplay of black and white.  

Step two: poets must practice the ‘unity of opposites’ in their daily life.  

Much of Hölderlin’s essay is a demonstration on how one makes this a way of life.  In this demonstration he makes the point that the “I” (the Poetic I) is not an absolute “I,” but that the “I” that arises from relating to its opposite.  This relating includes a naive encounter with its opposite, childhood, in which one identifies with the object, a heroic encounter with its opposite, youth, in which one struggles with the object, and an idealic encounter, maturity, in which one contemplates the unity of what is not “I” and what is “I.”  Life is according to Hölderlin triadic, and therefore the types of poetry are triadic as well, being naive, heroic or idealic.  Most important, Hölderlin insists that there is no end to this as long as we exist.  The idealic must return to the naive and so on. Step three: The poet lays hold of the matter.  The matter of a poem might be a thought, an emotion, or an object.  The choice of the subject will produce a poem which will be respectively, idealic, heroic or naive.   The subject matter needs to be grasped in a way that is open and/or ready for transition.  By transition, Hölderlin means the movement which will connect it with the other modes of reality.
Let us take a Robert Frost poem for an example to see how this would work.   His poem “Tree at my Window” is an example of a poem in which an object, a particular tree, is chosen as the subject of the poem.  Thus we could say that in Höderlin’s view it is a naive poem.  But if it is poetic, it must be ready to move to its opposition which in this case is the author of the poem observing it though his window.    In the Frost poem, we are suddenly dealing with the emotion of the poet, his anxiety, his fear, and his courage.  Thus, the poem becomes heroic as well as naive.   Yet to be truly poetic, it must move yet one more step which is the movement to the idealic, to the uniting idea.   The full sense of Frost’s poem is to be found in the thought that there is some kind of relationship which exists between the poet and tree.  There is a communion that is evoked which is beyond the naive sense, I am the tree, or the heroic sense, the tree is a metaphor for my struggles.  With this thought, the poem becomes idealic.  Now Hölderlin will insist that it ought to return to its beginning and re-engage with the naive joy in the physical tree.  The motion should not stop, because it is in the motion that we find the meaning of the poem for us and it is ability to actually represent reality.
This exercise, it seems to me, to illustrate that Hölderlin philosophical description of the poetic process actually works.  It is an open question about who would be more surprised by this result, Hölderlin or Frost.

Step four: The poet can still any doubt whether he or she has grasped the reality of unityin-opposites, by reference to interior intuitive feeling.  This that transcendental that allows for the recognition of the unity-of-opposites.   Hölderlin reminds the would-be poet that his grasp of the unity-in-opposites is based on this intuition saying: “For this is only possible in a beautiful holy, divine feeling.”3

In the essay this sentence identifies what seems to come as a side track.  It is as if Hölderlin looked back on his argument for the possibility of the poetic life and decided that it needed to be reinforced.  Indeed this section interrupted his work on the essay to the extent that he left essay unfinished, not taking up previously announced topic “(b) . . . poetic representation.”  Moreover the tone of this section seems to be not so much philosophical discourse as it does a theological one.

Outside of the back and forth of everything, stands an intuitive feeling which gives one the ability to grasp that the back and the forth are nested in a unity.   This is similar to the assertion of a mystic or of his contemporary German theologian, Friedrich Schleiermacher, whose theological method rest on a transcendental which he identifies as “the feeling of absolute dependence.” Hölderlin was not by any means an orthodox Christian and he thought that the institutional church of his day had become irrelevant.   He was, however, trained as a theologian in the Lutheran Seminary at Tübingen, and he believed that he had not lost his faith.  He thought that there would be a rebirth of the church largely thorough being poeticized.  He was in a sense religious and he rather implies that making of a poem is an essentially religious act.

It remains to be seen if Hölderlin’s philosophy of poetic method, can shed light on our own ability to experience one of his own mature poems?  Suppose we take, for our example,  a quintessential poem like “Ister.”  Like the poet who wrote, it we should prepare ourselves by locating ourselves in that sense of reality that Hölderlin called the “unity of opposites.”  Once we are confident that we are aware of reality in this way, we can ask ourselves what is the subject matter of this poem?

Our first thought might be that “Ister” is a poem about a river, but that would be a mistake.  It is not clear that Hölderlin ever visited the Danube, but even more to the point there is in the poem no location or moment, real or imagined, when the poet is observing the river.  Even the fact that the river goes by its ancient name in the poem is a clue that the physical river is not the first moment of the poem.  That moment is a thought, making this, in Hölderlin’s terms, an idealic poem.  Accordingly, this thought was taken as subject matter in a manner in which it could make a transition to a river.  The idealic moves to the naive.  Thought moves to the sensuous opposite.

The river, that is, the particular river known in modernity as the Danube, becomes the poem’s lead metaphor.  This is, however, more than a literary devise, for the poet encounters the river in a vivid sensuous manner.  “It dwells in beauty, garland pillar burn and stir, lining wildly its banks.”  This is the naive aspect of the poem.  Having fulfilled this part of the transition, Hölderlin’s poetic method requires the poet to discover the energetic opposite.

The poet finds the energetic opposite in human action, first represented in the poem by the human resolve, “Here we will build.”  This brief statement is fraught with emotions, desire, courage, and fear.  Building stands for the whole human enterprise. This, then, is the heroic aspect of the poem.  The story of Hercules’s mythic visit to the upper Danube on a hunting expedition, follows this reference for the parent purpose of underlining that this will to build is to be taken as heroic action.
According to Hölderlin’s poetic method the dynamic now requires a return to the third,  originating aspect, the idealic.  The idealic in this case is an idea which we can now better identify.  Hölderlin’s initial thought must have been centered on the migrative/journeying-nature of humanity, humanity on the move, which can also be understood as human progress, with the caveat that for Hölderlin this progress is a continuing activity to the end of time.    In this thought which grasps the progressive nature of human life, is united with the sensuous identity with nature, the river, and is united with the elan of the human spirit to building.

The discovery of the triad gives the poem its dynamic character which explains why we keep reading and rereading it.   We feel that in it lies a clue to our own destiny.  The poem is not an artifact, to be observed, but it is a process in to which the reader is to be drawn.

        While this exploration is hardly an adequate discussion of this splendid poem, it suffices as a demonstration the Hölderlin actually employed his poetic method which described in this essay and that we, as readers, might usefully employ to better understand Hölderlin’s poetry and, indeed, poetry in general.

1.  While the text of the essay is without a title, the Groddeck and Sattler German edition of Hölderlin’s works supplied the title “Über die Verfahrungsweise des poetisichen Geister,” which they lifted from a sentence of Hölderlin that occurs in the essay.  Verfahrungsweise is translated “procedure” or “method,” hence my title for this essay.
2.  Friedrich Hölderlin Essays and Letters, Penguin Books, Jeremy Adler, “When the poet is once in command of the spirit. . .” page 277-294.  Adler identifies Hölderin’s essay by means of the opening words, instead of the titles created by Groddeck and Sattler.
3.  Ibid., page 293

Romanticism and the Recovery of Narrative

Romanticism and the Recovery of Narrative

Romanticism, the cultural movement that attempted to succeed the Enlightenment has claimed my attention for a very long time.   The beginning of this movement was the last decade of the 18th century, somewhat in reaction to the exhilaration of the promise of the French Revolution  and revulsion of its execution.  It continued on, long into the 19th century, despite serious restraints in Germany in 1830 and England 1848, two more revolutionary years, that darkened the cultural horizons of those respective nations.  Early romanticism is quite different from late Romanticism, fact that has made the definition of Romanticism problematic.  Of all the aspects of Romanticism that changed with time, the most enduring was the attempt to recover the role of narrative in the establishment of community, be it sacred or secular.  The interest of this blog, is to better identify how narrative works by looking at early romantics of the English and German schools.

Why Hölderlin?

 I had an inkling of the importance Romanticism might play in my thinking when I was first introduced to Frederick Dennison Maurice in my seminary education.  This  19th century Anglican theologian, who  saw himself indebted to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, clearly had ties to romantic culture, as did the broader Anglo-Catholic movement.  His theology was, of course, presented to us as throughly English and distinctly not Germanic!  In post graduate studies, where I initially thought I would be championing his Anglican uniqueness, I found his connections with the  German theological moments of the 19th century, particularly,  Friedrich Schleiermacher and Johan Adam Möhler and the Roman Catholic faculty at Tübingen.  That study contributed to a better definition of their common methodology.  So it came as surprise to find a 19th century German poet, of whom I had only the vaguest awareness until this past year, belonged in the midst of the cultural milieu and offered to reopen the relevance of romanticism, not only to ecumenism, but to whole culture crisis of our present times.  So I would hope with this blog to draw out what others know about Hölderlin and to lead other to know what Hölderlin might cause them to understand.

“Hölderlin Hermeneutic,”

I am presently working on the identification of a “Hölderlin Hermeneutic,” that is ona point of view which would allow that poet’s message to be properly discerned. The poetry of  Friedrich Hölderlin, 1770-1843, all but lost in the 19th Century, has since it recovery at the beginning of the 20th Century, has suffer a great deal of misinterpretation, not least of which was Martin Heidegger making it the topic of 1942 lecture-series.  In general, it has been read as a call for German nationalism and as a defense of the strong state along with the general perception that romanticism in general has led to fascism.   This fails to recognize the difference in early German and English romanticism and in particular Hölderlin’s liberal optimism.
       I have found a recently publish book by Hannah Vandergrift Eldridge, Lyric Orientations,  Hölderlin, Rilke and the Poetics of Community, most helpful in consolidating my own thoughts and highly recommend it to you.   Clearly, community is for the early romantics a central concern and their efforts can generally be view as  seeking for a poetic which would make for an authentic community of individuals who at the same time would remain marvelously diverse. 
       I think that the key for understanding Hölderlin can be found in a careful reading of his early bildungs novel, Hyperion or the Hermit in Greece, publish in 1797 and 1799.  The novel is in the form of letters from Hyperion, a contemporary Greek national, to a friend in Germany know as Bellarmine.  In the sixth of the letters, Hyperion is describing his deep friendship with a fellow who goes by the name of Alabanda.  The two are twins like the Castor and Pollux of the constellation and recapitulates a conversation that has lead, in part, to their separation.

 “We spent our bridegroom days together.  I cried exhilarated  . . .  But to return to our earlier conversation.  You concede too much power to the state.  It may not demand what it cannot coerce.  But what love and spirit gives, cannot be coerced.  Either the state leaves that untouched, or we take its law and nail it the pillory!   By heaven!  He who would make the state into a school of mores does not know his sin. (F. D. Maurice, the Anglican Theologian, makes the same point in England, suggest the his romanticism has a common ground with that of Hölderlin.)  Hölderlin goes on to say:
The State has always been made into hell because man wanted to make it into his heaven!”

 “The coarse husk around the kernel of life and nothing more that is the state.  It is the wall around the garden of human fruits and flowers.”

 “O rain from heaven!  Enthusiasm!  You bring us again the springtime of peoples.  The state cannot command you to come.”

 “Do you ask me when this will be?  It will be when the darling of time, the youngest, most beautiful daughter of time, the new church, will emerge out of these besmirched, antiquated forms, when the awakened feeling of the divine will bring man his divinity again, and restore beautiful youth to his breast, when I cannot herald it, for I have only a vague presentiment of it, but it will come surely, surely.    Death is a messenger of life, and that we now sleep in our hospitals testifies to imminent healthy awakening.”     (Pages 43-44 Archipelago 2008)

      While this is a conversation between two fictional characters, it is clear that it has a clear reference to a conversation between himself and one of his close friend of this student .   They included  Hegel and Schelling and Sinclair, each of whom could have been the model for Alabanda.  Much is left to be seen in this passage.
      It might be tempting to say that this passage belongs to the beginning of Höderlin career and is likely to have lost its hold on him as his work matured.  It should be remembered that his career was rather brief, ending 1806 when he hospitalized for mental illness, and that on of the last of his major poems, was “Remembrance,” in which he laments the absence of Bellarmine.   Clearly, Hyperion still has a vital place in his poetic.
      In the end, the appropriation of Hölderlin by the early right leaning nationalists and Heidegger in particular was content to over look passages which seem to be distinctly differ from their own perception.

 The Role of Hyperion in Understanding Hölderlin

 It was common among the Romantics to write a novel, Maurice, Charles Kingsley, Disraeli, who didn’t.  These novels were not solely driven of artistic vision, but were used to make an argument, not unlike the masterful classic of Jane Austen, in which she argues that polarities reason and feeling, sense and sensibility are united by a common ground!  Hölderlin’s bildungsroman, is a methodological statement, in which he explores the relationship between the polarities of  his intellectual project.  The foundation is Adamas, “his father,” who has a “peculiar longing to penetrate inner Asia” and who  summons Hyperion, his alter ego, to join him in building a world.  The metaphor for this world is a liberated-modern Greece.  The world that Hölderlin hopes to build is based on this foundation, and driven to action by the counter  pole represented by Alabanda, Hyperion’s soul mate.  Alabanda speaks of the boredom of the centuries and of its many strange, crooked paths, which at some point took leave of life’s “straight path” which has been obstructed.  Diotima, Hyperion’s beloved, represents the third mediating aspect of his thinking.  In her mysterious silence, she contains the seminal image of the whole, of the world, and thus she unites the opposing poles of foundation and action.

        This make clear that Book One of the novel was intended to lay out these three aspects of his identity which would in Book Two be explored as a Peloponnesian Campaign, a metaphorical foreshadowing of the intellectual combat to which Hölderlin expected to find in the execution of his own life project.  If we remain a little vague about how he envisions this project, perhaps he is himself, we can certainly grasp its outline!  

        In the novel the campaign ends in failure.  Hyperion’s army betrays him by attacking Mistra, the reputed capital of ancient Sparta, thieving and murdering, bringing disgrace to Hyperion.  Now in flight, Hyperion’s  suffering is compounded by the death of Diotima.   Susette Gontard, who would indeed die in 1802, disliked the fact that Hölderlin had made Diotima die in the novel.  It was hardly his wish in 1797 that Susette would die or even that illicit relationship would really end, but in terms of the novel it was a way for him to immortalize her so that she would remain the mediating principle of his thought and be muddled in any future history of his relationship with Susette.
 It would be interesting to see in what way this might be represented in “The Oldest Systematic Program of German Idealism" (German: Das älteste Systemprogramm des deutschen Idealismus), 1796/97, which was said to have been coauthored by Shelling, Hegel and Hölderlin.

The Oddity of Hyperion

       Invariably Hyperion is praised for its lyrical prose.  Plot and character development is certainly not its long suit.  What is most striking about it is the vivid physical description of location to which Hölderlin had never been, beginning with standing on heights of the Corinthian Isthmus where like a bee among flowers, his “soul often flies back and forth between the seas that to the right and left cool the feet of my glowing mountains.”  It is not unlike in this manner the late poem “Patmos,” “Hospitable nonetheless, in her poor house, she is”  Both are masterpieces of transmigration, and in the end they form what we might call the bookends of Hölderlin’s literary corpus. 
 How this could come about, one has to imagine the student Hölderlin sitting through the endless lectures on Greek words that played such a prominent role in German education of his time.  What this or that commander had said to his troops, what a lover had sung to his beloved, what a leader had charged his people, what a master had replied to his critics, these words were repeated and memorized.  All of which would have become quite boring to this quirky and gifted student, who would have already mastered the words.  Had not Alabanda, his soul mate, called the “the boredom of the centuries?”  One might imagine that he had begun to imagine in his own mind where the commander had stood when he issued his command, or the lover knelt when he composed his song, at what hills the leader gazed when he spoke to the people, or how the sky had appeared when the master formed his reply to his critics.
 Had he asked the lecturer, where the commander was standing the day that he spoke, the lecturer would have surly quipped with masterly sarcasm: “What difference would the make?”  But then this student would have already become convinced that words were not separate from nature, nor nature from words.  It was precisely upon that very point that he would build his poetic and on which with his friends he would make a revolution.
Michael Tan Creti July 21, 2018.   

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