Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Hermann Hesse said...

"He left behind the most marvelous and mysterious work in the intellectual history of Germany."

He said that about Novalis (or Georg Philipp Friedrich von Hardenberg, 1772  -- 1801).

Hesse also said:

"His poetry remains, still read by only a few, still signifying to those few a gate into the realm of magic, yes, almost the gift of a new dimension."'s the deal. Several years ago, I read Novalis's Hymns to the Night. Hesse is not mistaken, and I suspect he is not overstating the case.

Hymns to the Night, in the version above, was translated into English by George MacDonald, author of Phantastes (which I've read several times) and has a foreword by Sergei Prokofiev (whose music is important to me). These connections are things I find interesting and pleasing.

I might come back to this post later and edit in some of my own thoughts about Hymns to the Night. For now, I'll just make a brief general statement about German Romanticism.

When I read Kant, Schelling, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche, that stuff is like a waking dream to me. Yes, even the dry expressions of Kant. Beneath this philosophizing, I suspect a haunting of consciousness, something at least vaguely connected to the spirit of German Romanticism. The problem with modern analytic philosophy is that the waking dream has been replaced with forms of spiritual banality. World as a kind of dark poem has become a mere flat surface where insects tap out their dead codes. Ontology has been shoved aside by tiny scratchy mental legs. Musing has been replaced by formulaic intellection.

Think about poetry written without any affiliation to German Romanticism. At least an unconscious irradiation. Oh, my. How dry. How dull and unhaunted.

Coleridge, had he not been influenced by Kant's and Schelling's opening up of world to the uncanny, would have produced a rather bland Kubla Khan, I think. If the young De Quincey had not dogged the heels of his idol Coleridge, he most likely would not have dreamed so deeply. And not fallen so wondrously and morbidly under the spell of his idol's preferred phantasmal analgesic.

Think about poems being written by people who have not been touched and wounded implicitly by the ghost of Novalis or the uncanny of Hesse. In other words, people who have not become strange. Poets for whom life and world are not textured with a burnished surrealism and a mourning sublimation. Could there have been a Tranströmer without a Hölderlin or Schopenhauer? Possibly not. 

Time moves on. We think we are advancing and that the old stuff can be discarded. But maybe the old stuff is still younger and wilder than the being of our present time.

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