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Erik

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PostSubject: Weimar Classicism    Thu Feb 12, 2015 5:18 pm

Quote :
WEIMAR CLASSICISM (roughly the period from Johann Wolfgang von
Goethe’s return to Germany from Italy in 1788 to the death of his
friend and collaborator Friedrich Schiller in 1805) is widely regarded as an
apogee of literary art, the brief historical moment when a handful of
German writers seemed to rival Homer, Virgil, and Dante, and a small
duchy in Germany vied with the glory of Athens, Rome, and Florence.
Although many scholars dispute the legitimacy of regarding Weimar
Classicism as a distinct period, arguing that it is a species of European
Romanticism, there is no disputing the significance of many works produced
during this time. The present volume offers readers a major reference
work characterized by new approaches to the key figures, literary
works, and cultural contexts of Weimar. Contributions from leading
German, British, and North American scholars open up multiple interdisciplinary
perspectives on the period. Major essays on drama, poetry, and
the novel are joined by accounts of the role of antiquity, politics, philosophy,
aesthetics, visual culture, women writers, and science. Readers are
introduced to the full panoply of cultural life in Weimar, its groundbreaking
accomplishments as well as its excesses and follies. Sympathetic and
critical at the same time, this volume identifies in Weimar Classicism an
aspiration to wholeness of life that, however problematic, still warrants the
attention of the educated world.

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PostSubject: Re: Weimar Classicism    Thu Feb 12, 2015 5:18 pm

Simon Richter wrote:
If literary historians agree on anything, it is that Weimar Classicism
as a distinct literary period ought not to exist. And of course they are
right. Literary periodization is heuristic and even arbitrary under the best
of circumstances. But to assert that the efforts of two men, Johann
Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) and Friedrich Schiller (1759–1805),
from the time of the former’s eye-opening journey to Italy in 1786 to the
death of the latter in 1805, constitute a literary period in its own right
seems excessive. Not only is the membership of the putative period so
small (we could and will add lesser known names to the list) and so local
(confined to those residing or sojourning in the small duchy of Saxe-
Weimar, or wishing they did), the major problem, as many critics have
shown, is that the characteristics of Weimar Classicism are perfectly consistent
with those of European Romanticism, a bona fide literary period that
easily embraces the phenomenon under discussion.1 Indeed, as twentiethcentury
scholars have never tired of pointing out, from the perspective of
English and French literary history, Goethe and Schiller are among
Germany’s premiere Romantic writers. Only nineteenth-century German
nationalism thought to exalt them to the level of the classical.2 Even
Goethe himself can readily be enlisted in the effort to debunk the myth of
Weimar Classicism. In an essay written at the height of Weimar Classicism
and published in Die Horen, Schiller’s journal for the propagation of classical
aesthetics and literature, Goethe categorically dismisses the possibility
of a German classicism on the grounds that the requisite political and cultural
conditions for the Bildung (formation or education) of classical
authors simply were not given.3 Whether he leaves the door open for individual
writers to achieve a status comparable to the classical is another
question. Nor should we ignore the fact that Schiller often and flatteringly
stylized Goethe as a classic in modern times.

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PostSubject: Re: Weimar Classicism    Thu Feb 12, 2015 5:26 pm

Simon Richter wrote:
In both this introduction and the essays that follow, Weimar Classicism
is understood as explicitly offering an aesthetic solution to troubled times.
Numerous political, social, and cultural factors and events coincide to make
up the fragmented, stultifying, and occasionally terrifying world in which
Goethe and Schiller lived, while others enabled their aesthetic response.
Many of them are obvious: the ongoing French Revolution, the splintered
nature of Germany, vexed relations between the nobility and rising middle
class, the contrast of modern European culture with that of the ancient
Greeks, advances in aesthetics beginning with Alexander Baumgarten
(1714–62) and culminating in Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) and the
beginnings of idealist philosophy. Others are less so: for example, new conceptions
of the physiology of the human body, a new morality and pedagogy
founded on the notion of controlling sexual drives, new
developments in the field of classical philology, a new concept of education
and specialized knowledge that would result in the founding of the
Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin in 1810, new business ventures of
an international scope involving the commodification of art. In other
words, Weimar Classicism arises at a time of great complexity, ferment, and
even violence. As a project with utopian tendencies, it necessarily overreaches
itself, strains under its own impossibility, collides and colludes with
the dominant discourses of its times. No account of Weimar Classicism
should be satisfied with a survey of the project’s successes, its literary triumphs
uncritically rendered. We must be prepared to confront its internal
contradictions, its excesses and follies, its moments both sublime and —
readers will forgive me — ridiculous. Emancipatory and doctrinaire by
turns, the project of Weimar Classicism is best approached as a complex
whole, a cultural, and not only a literary phenomenon. We may best
remember Goethe’s novel Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (Wilhelm Meister’s
Apprenticeship, 1795–96) and Faust (1808), Schiller’s plays Maria Stuart
(1800) and Wilhelm Tell (1804), not to mention his essays Über die
ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen (On the Aesthetic Education of Man,
1795) and Über naive und sentimentalische Dichtung (On Naive and
Sentimental Poetry, 1795/96) — the key aesthetic treatises of the project.
These works and many others (for example, Goethe’s Römische Elegien
[Roman Elegies, 1795] and Hermann und Dorothea [1797], Schiller’s
“Die Götter Griechenlands” [The Gods of Greece; 1788] and “Die
Künstler” [The Artists,”1789]) must be seen in proximity to other lesser
known, blithely ignored, even happily forgotten efforts in literature, the
visual arts, architecture, art history, classical philology, theater, politics,
cultural critique, science, and medicine. What we aim to capture is the
unique cultural imprint of Weimar Classicism that distinguishes it from the
overarching literary trends in which it participated.

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PostSubject: Re: Weimar Classicism    Thu Feb 12, 2015 5:26 pm

Simon Richter wrote:
One thing should be stated from the outset: the desire that lurks behind
the Classical project is gargantuan, excessive, and, as such, thoroughly
unclassical. The sharpest indicator of this is Goethe’s Faust as Goethe was
working on it around 1800. Reluctantly returning to the fragments he had
written in his Sturm und Drang days, the so-called Urfaust, Goethe completed
Faust I in response to Schiller’s prodding and his own reading of
the philosophy and aesthetics of Immanuel Kant.6 On the face of it there
is nothing classical about Faust: he is, after all, based on an actual historical
figure, a shady, Reformation-era teacher and magician who reputedly
made a pact with the devil. Certainly no one would be tempted to include
the chapbook containing the Damnable Adventures of Doctor Johann Faust
in the same breath with Homer or Sophocles. Nor does Goethe’s Faust,
Part the First with its Knittelvers (rhyming couplets), the Walpurgis Night
scene, Witch’s Kitchen, and other demonic shenanigans strike one as the
least bit classical. Of course, Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, the other major
publication of the Classical period, set in eighteenth-century Germany,
does not at first glance seem classical either. But as Schiller’s effusive
response to the latter indicates, what is classical about Meister is the
author’s sovereign touch, his ability to construct a self-contained world
with deft, restrained strokes of language. In other words, the serenity of
Goethe’s masterful prose as it renders the plot satisfies the requirements of
aesthetic autonomy and thus is comparable in a broad sense to the works
of Greek antiquity — in a word, classical. But we would be hard-pressed
to make the same argument about the rather amorphous Faust, Part One.
Part Two, completed decades later, would prove even more ungainly. Yet,
it is precisely in that huge work that we find the Helena act and the phantasmagorical
classical Walpurgisnacht. Among the sections Goethe composed
for Part One around 1800 is the pact scene portraying the
protracted negotiation between Faust and Mephistopheles that finally, as if
by accident (Irrtum), leads to the wager. And it is here, in the formulation
of the wager, in this apparently most unclassical of literary texts, that classical
desire achieves one of its signature formulations:

Werd ich zum Augenblicke sagen:
Verweile doch! Du bist so schön!
Dann magst Du mich in Fesseln schlagen,
Dann will ich gern zugrunde gehn! (1699–1702)

[If to the moment I should say:
Abide, you are so beautiful —
Put me in fetters on that day,
I wish to perish then, I swear.7]

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PostSubject: Re: Weimar Classicism    Fri Feb 13, 2015 7:09 am

Winckelmann, Goethe, and Classical Antiquity:

Simon Richter wrote:
Schiller was convinced that the answer, if there was one, lay in his companion
and their mutual friendship and alliance. From the beginning of
their acquaintance in the late 1780s, both had been keenly aware of the
fundamental difference in their characters. A retrospective memoir of their
first substantial encounter written by Goethe laid the groundwork for the
mythologization of their friendship.9 A dispute over Goethe’s notion of
the Urpflanze (archetypal plant) was the occasion for laying bare the
apparently insurmountable difference between them: Schiller maintained it
was an idea, Goethe insisted it was a matter of empirical experience.
Against the odds, certainly counter to Goethe’s expectation, a mutually
beneficial and respectful friendship flourished between them. In this
friendship between the philosophical idealist and the intuitive realist one of
the major oppositions appeared to be bridged for all to see. As the project’s
theorist, it fell to Schiller to stylize Goethe as a genius who in accordance
with inner laws gave renewed birth to Greece in modern times and northern
climes. He did so in flattering letters early in their correspondence (in
particular, in the famous birthday letter of 23 August 1794), as well as in
barely veiled portraits of Goethe in his aesthetic treatises as the exemplar
of the artist and man who succeeds in overcoming the fragmentation of
modern life. “Sie werden,” Schiller writes in a letter of 20 October 1794
about the Aesthetische Briefe, “in diesen Briefen Ihr Porträt finden” (In
these letters you will find your portrait). And on 2 July 1796, as he enthusiastically
responds to Goethe’s Meister, he writes: “Wie rührt es mich,
wenn ich denke, [daß,] was wir sonst nur in der weiten Ferne eines begünstigten
Altertums suchen und kaum finden, mir in Ihnen so nahe ist”
(How it moves me, when I contemplate that I can discover in you what we
otherwise seek and barely find in the far distance of blessed antiquity).
Even as a local phenomenon, confined to the efforts of two writers
and several others around them, Weimar Classicism — however we choose
to think about it — has a unique ability to draw us in, to absorb us in
its depths, and blind us to the world around. We easily lose a comparative
perspective. The nineteenth-century adjective “German” still silently
underlies the “Weimar” that replaced it. We forget to ask if there are similar
fixations on antiquity in other European countries at that time.
Expanding our gaze to include phenomena in England, France, Denmark,
and Italy, we have to concede: yes, sporadically. In fact, we could argue that
Weimar Classicism is a piece with a transnational, if dispersed neo-Hellenic
or neoclassical movement with its occasional headquarters in Rome.
Antiquarians, scholars, sculptors, art historians, and sexual adventurers
from various European countries participated in an alternately real and virtual
multi-national community with an enthusiastic reverence for the
grandeur that was Greece. The founding member of the community, and
of European neo-Hellenism, was Johann Joachim Winckelmann, a selftaught
German antiquarian, whose powerful vision of an enchanted antiquity
captured the attention of many.10 Born in Stendahl in northern
Germany, Winckelmann was initially drawn by the Greek textual corpus, by
Homer and the tragic poets, but perhaps even more by the accounts and
descriptions of Greek artists and works of art. He made his way to Dresden
as a librarian under the patronage of nobility where he for the first time
encountered plaster casts of famed sculptures, among them the Laocoön
group, the original of which dated from around 40–20 B.C. He conjured
an artistic and cultural universe in radical contrast with his own baroque
times and uttered a challenge in what would become the manifesto of eighteenth-
century neo-Hellenism. In his Gedanken über die Nachahmung der
griechischen Werke in der Malerei und Bildhauerkunst (Reflections on the
Imitation of Greek Works of Art in Painting and Sculpture, 1755) he programmatically
states: “Der einzige Weg für uns, groß, ja, wenn es möglich
ist, unnachahmlich zu werden ist Nachahmung der Alten”11 (The only way
for us to become great, indeed, if possible, to become inimitable, is
through imitation of the ancients). Soon after, he converted to Catholicism
and gratefully left Germany for Rome, where he joined his friend the neoclassical
artist Anton Rafael Mengs (1728–1779).

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PostSubject: Re: Weimar Classicism    Sat Feb 14, 2015 8:23 am

The Emblem of Classicism: Laocoön and the Aesthetics of Containment

Simon Richter wrote:
The importance of the Laocoön statue for Weimar Classicism cannot be
overestimated. Already in Winckelmann’s manifesto, the statue holds
pride of place as the exemplar of what he called “edle Einfalt” (noble simplicity)
and “stille Größe” (quiet grandeur). The famous statue, still standing
in a courtyard in the Vatican museum where Winckelmann and Goethe
saw it too, represents the Trojan priest Laocoön and his two sons as they
are being attacked by two serpents — the story is familiar to readers of
Virgil’s Aeneid. What particularly appealed to Winckelmann about the
statue was the balance the artist struck between the pain inflicted on
Laocoön’s body and the hero’s ability to withstand the pain, almost
entirely to contain it: “Dieser Schmerz, sage ich, äußert sich dennoch mit
keiner Wut in dem Gesicht und in der ganzen Stellung. Er erhebet kein
schreckliches Geschrei” (Gedanken, 20; This pain, I maintain, expresses
itself with no sign of rage in his face or in his entire bearing. He emits no
terrible screams). This image of the containment of pain would become
the predominant figure of much of the literary and aesthetic production of
Weimar Classicism. We will encounter versions of the Laocoön statue in
numerous and unlikely places.
When Goethe saw the Laocoön statue in Rome some thirty years later,
he had the words of Winckelmann in mind. In 1798, as he launched
the Propyläen, his own short-lived journal that sought to foster neoclassical
values in the arts, he published his reflections on the statue in an
essay entitled “Über Laokoon” (On the Laocoön, 1798). Goethe takes
Winckelmann’s analysis and that of others who had written authoritatively
on the statue in the meantime (Gotthold Ephraim Lessing [1729–1781]
and Johann Gottfried Herder [1744–1803], for example) and focuses
intently on the moment of containment, essentially rewriting eighteenthcentury
aesthetics in the direction of an extreme form of aesthetic autonomy.
Because this essay contains key concepts of Weimar Classicism and
locates them in the Laocoön statue, it will be worth our while to engage
in a more detailed analysis.
For Goethe, the Laocoön is constituted by the same dynamic
Winckelmann had identified: pain and its containment. But Goethe is
more rigorous in regarding the statue as a work of art. The key question
for Goethe is how the containment is accomplished. He begins his analysis
by abstracting the “story” or narrative of the statue from its context.
Putting Virgil aside, he calls the statue a tragic idyll, even suppressing the
hero’s name in the anonymity of a role: “Ein Vater schlief neben seinen
beiden Söhnen, sie wurden von Schlangen umwunden und streben nun,
erwachend, sich aus dem lebendigen Netze loszureissen” (MA 4.2:81; a
father was sleeping next to his two sons; they were attacked by two snakes,
and, now awake, they are trying to extricate themselves from this reptilian
net). One way of understanding Goethe’s first move is to associate it
with what is often called aesthetic autonomy: on a basic level, aesthetic
autonomy means that a work of art is sufficient in itself. By reducing the
plot to a structural minimum and stripping it of narrative and mythological
context, Goethe asserts that it stands on its own legs. A total stranger
to western culture could approach the Laocoön and understand the
statue. Of course, as we shall see, aesthetic autonomy implies a great deal
more than that.

Simon Richter wrote:
In a second move, Goethe isolates the moment of pain and relates it
to Lessing’s concept of the pregnant or fertile moment (der fruchtbare
Moment) as the ideal moment for visual representation. It should be a
moment of transition. Goethe provides several examples: a child happily
skipping along is suddenly struck hard by a playmate; Eurydice strolls
through the woods with freshly picked flowers and a snake bites her
heel. He compares such moments to an electric shock that suddenly runs
through the whole body. Happiness is abruptly disturbed by pain. Both
conditions of the body are still evident as one gives way to the other. We
readily see how these two examples are variations of the rudimentary
Laocoön narrative. Goethe subjects the statue to an almost medical analysis:
“Der Punkt des Bisses, ich wiederhole es, bestimmt die gegenwärtigen
Bewegungen der Glieder: das Fliehen des Unterkörpers, das Einziehen des
Leibes, das Hervorstreben der Brust, das Niederzücken der Ächsel und des
Hauptes, ja alle Züge des Angesichts seh ich durch diesen augenblicklichen,
schmerzlichen, unerwarteten Reiz entschieden” (MA 4.2:82; The
location of the bite determines the present movements of the body: the
evading motion of its lower part, the contraction of the abdominal muscles,
the outward thrust of the chest, the lowering of the shoulder and the
head. Even the facial expression is determined by this momentary, painful,
unexpected stimulus). One can imagine that Winckelmann would not have
been pleased with this elaboration of his description of the statue. Where
is the great-souled hero in all of this? Is his body merely a medium for the
detailed expression of physical pain? Perhaps the effort to contain the pain
will restore Laocoön’s dignity and set humanists at ease.
Remarkably, this is not the case. Having established the moment of
pain as the statue’s center, a perfect instance of impact and violent change,
Goethe proceeds to a discussion of “containment,” but once again his
interest is deflected from the hero. What contains the pain, what makes it
presentable to the human eye, is the aesthetic composition of the artwork.
In words that resonate with many similar passages in Goethe, Schiller, and
Karl Philipp Moritz (1756–93), Goethe offers a programmatic statement
concerning aesthetic autonomy:

Jedes Kunstwerk muß sich als ein solches anzeigen, und das kann es allein
durch das, was wir sinnliche Schönheit oder Anmut nennen. Die Alten,
weit entfernt von dem modernen Wahne, daß ein Kunstwerk dem Scheine
nach wieder ein Naturwerk werden müsse, bezeichneten ihre Kunstwerke
als solche durch gewählte Ordnung der Teile, sie erleichterten dem Auge
die Einsicht in die Verhältnisse durch Symmetrie und so ward ein verwickeltes
Werk faßlich. Durch ebendiese Symmetrie und durch
Gegenstellungen wurden in leisen Abweichungen die höchsten Kontraste
möglich. Die Sorgfalt der Künstler, mannigfältige Massen gegeneinander
in eine regelmäßige Lage zu bringen, war äußerst überlegt und glücklich,
so daß ein jedes Kunstwerk, wenn man auch von dem Inhalt abstrahiert,
wenn man in der Entfernung auch nur die allgemeinsten Umrisse sieht,
noch immer dem Auge als ein Zierat erscheint. (MA 4.2:77)

[Every work of art must be identifiable as such; this is only possible if it
exhibits what we call physical beauty, or grace. The artists of antiquity were
not laboring under our present-day misconception that a work of art must
appear to be a work of nature; rather, they identified their works of art as
such by a conscious arrangement of components, employed symmetry to
clarify the relationship among these components, and thus made a work of
art comprehensible. Through slight variations in symmetry and positioning
the most effective contrasts became possible, and their careful efforts
to juxtapose diverse subjects and particularly to achieve harmonious positioning
of the extremities in groups were most judicious and successful,
with the result that, even if one abstracts from the content, even if one
were to see only the most general outlines from a distance, it would still
appear to the eye as an ornament.]

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PostSubject: Re: Weimar Classicism    Wed Feb 18, 2015 12:41 pm

Simon Richter wrote:
In a second move, Goethe isolates the moment of pain and relates it
to Lessing’s concept of the pregnant or fertile moment (der fruchtbare
Moment) as the ideal moment for visual representation. It should be a
moment of transition. Goethe provides several examples: a child happily
skipping along is suddenly struck hard by a playmate; Eurydice strolls
through the woods with freshly picked flowers and a snake bites her
heel. He compares such moments to an electric shock that suddenly runs
through the whole body. Happiness is abruptly disturbed by pain. Both
conditions of the body are still evident as one gives way to the other. We
readily see how these two examples are variations of the rudimentary
Laocoön narrative. Goethe subjects the statue to an almost medical analysis:
“Der Punkt des Bisses, ich wiederhole es, bestimmt die gegenwärtigen
Bewegungen der Glieder: das Fliehen des Unterkörpers, das Einziehen des
Leibes, das Hervorstreben der Brust, das Niederzücken der Ächsel und des
Hauptes, ja alle Züge des Angesichts seh ich durch diesen augenblicklichen,
schmerzlichen, unerwarteten Reiz entschieden” (MA 4.2:82; The
location of the bite determines the present movements of the body: the
evading motion of its lower part, the contraction of the abdominal muscles,
the outward thrust of the chest, the lowering of the shoulder and the
head. Even the facial expression is determined by this momentary, painful,
unexpected stimulus). One can imagine that Winckelmann would not have
been pleased with this elaboration of his description of the statue. Where
is the great-souled hero in all of this? Is his body merely a medium for the
detailed expression of physical pain? Perhaps the effort to contain the pain
will restore Laocoön’s dignity and set humanists at ease.
Remarkably, this is not the case. Having established the moment of
pain as the statue’s center, a perfect instance of impact and violent change,
Goethe proceeds to a discussion of “containment,” but once again his
interest is deflected from the hero. What contains the pain, what makes it
presentable to the human eye, is the aesthetic composition of the artwork.
In words that resonate with many similar passages in Goethe, Schiller, and
Karl Philipp Moritz (1756–93), Goethe offers a programmatic statement
concerning aesthetic autonomy:

Jedes Kunstwerk muß sich als ein solches anzeigen, und das kann es allein
durch das, was wir sinnliche Schönheit oder Anmut nennen. Die Alten,
weit entfernt von dem modernen Wahne, daß ein Kunstwerk dem Scheine
nach wieder ein Naturwerk werden müsse, bezeichneten ihre Kunstwerke
als solche durch gewählte Ordnung der Teile, sie erleichterten dem Auge
die Einsicht in die Verhältnisse durch Symmetrie und so ward ein verwickeltes
Werk faßlich. Durch ebendiese Symmetrie und durch
Gegenstellungen wurden in leisen Abweichungen die höchsten Kontraste
möglich. Die Sorgfalt der Künstler, mannigfältige Massen gegeneinander
in eine regelmäßige Lage zu bringen, war äußerst überlegt und glücklich,
so daß ein jedes Kunstwerk, wenn man auch von dem Inhalt abstrahiert,
wenn man in der Entfernung auch nur die allgemeinsten Umrisse sieht,
noch immer dem Auge als ein Zierat erscheint. (MA 4.2:77)

[Every work of art must be identifiable as such; this is only possible if it
exhibits what we call physical beauty, or grace. The artists of antiquity were
not laboring under our present-day misconception that a work of art must
appear to be a work of nature; rather, they identified their works of art as
such by a conscious arrangement of components, employed symmetry to
clarify the relationship among these components, and thus made a work of
art comprehensible. Through slight variations in symmetry and positioning
the most effective contrasts became possible, and their careful efforts
to juxtapose diverse subjects and particularly to achieve harmonious positioning
of the extremities in groups were most judicious and successful,
with the result that, even if one abstracts from the content, even if one
were to see only the most general outlines from a distance, it would still
appear to the eye as an ornament.]

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PostSubject: Re: Weimar Classicism    Fri Feb 20, 2015 7:46 am

Simon Richter wrote:
The statue as a work of art does not require its narrative context, nor even
the diminished content Goethe had summed up in the phrase “tragic
idyll.” It stands alone and appeals to the eye as an ornament. I hope that
readers fully register the momentousness of this pronouncement.14 On the
face of it, the notion of ornament is fully incompatible with conventional
understandings of classicism. The latter idealizes and privileges the human
being — body and soul. Ornament, by contrast, is superficial, devoid of
content and depth. Nonetheless, there is something in the idea of aesthetic
autonomy that occasionally pushes Weimar Classicism into this extreme
and virtually anti-humanist position. As we stated at the outset, Weimar
Classicism is a project with numerous irresolvable contradictions.
In the case of the Laocoön in particular, it is not the great-souled hero
who contains the pain — it is the snakes. Even as the one snake bites the
hero’s side and creates the pain at the center of the statue, the two snakes
together through their extension, looping and coiling around the figures,
render the hero and his sons immobile. “Durch dieses Mittel der Lähmung
wird, bei der großen Bewegung, über das Ganze schon eine gewisse Ruhe
und Einheit verbreitet” (MA 4.2:84; Through this medium of paralysis, a
certain sense of tranquility and unity pervades the group despite all movement).
The snakes are the means through which the artist transforms the
pain into a work of art. “Es ist,” writes Goethe, “ein grosser Vorteil für ein
Kunstwerk, wenn es selbständig, wenn es geschlossen ist” (MA 4.2:78; it
is a great advantage for a work of art to be autonomous, closed in itself).
Following Goethe’s example, we may push his abstraction one step
further and state hypothetically that according to the classicism instantiated
in his essay on the Laocoön, a work of art achieves self-sufficiency and
closure — its aesthetic autonomy — if it involves both inflicting pain and
containing it through artistic means. Suddenly, Weimar Classicism assumes
another aspect. We imagine a Goethe, a Schiller, drawn to a tragic theme
precisely because it affords them an opportunity, indeed a challenge, to
attempt to fashion an aesthetic containment. Once one begins to read the
works of Weimar Classicism through the lens of the Laocoön, one begins to
encounter snakes everywhere, often as metaphorical insertions that nonetheless
refer self-reflexively to the Laocoön-based aesthetics of their setting. In
Wallensteins Tod (Wallenstein’s Death, 1799), the concluding play of
Schiller’s Wallenstein trilogy, for example, Max Piccolomini laments his
tragic situation: “Warum muß / Der Väter Doppelschuld und Freveltat /
Uns gräßlich wie ein Schlangenpaar umwinden?” (2137–39; Why must the
double fault and blasphemy of our fathers encircle us horribly like a pair of
snakes?). Even in such an unlikely place as the Roman Elegies, Goethe’s
poems of classical and erotic contentment, the snakes rear their ugly heads:

Eines ist mir verdrießlich vor allen Dingen, ein andres
Bleibt mir abscheulich, empört jegliche Faser in mir,
Nur der bloße Gedanke. Ich will es euch, Freunde, gestehen:
Gar verdrießlich ist mir einsam das Lager zu Nacht.
Aber ganze abscheulich ist’s, auf dem Wege der Liebe
Schlangen zu fürchten und Gift unter den Rosen der Lust,
Wenn im schönsten Moment der hin sich gebenden Freude
Deinem sinkenden Haupt lispelnde Sorge sich naht. (FA 1.1:429)

[One thing I find more irksome than anything else, and another
/ Thing I supremely abhor — it really curdles my blood, / Even
the thought of it does. Let me tell you, my friends, what these two
are: / First, to sleep by myself irks me, I truly confess. / But what
I utterly loathe is the fear that on pathways of pleasure, / Under
the roses of love, serpents and poison may lurk.15]

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PostSubject: Re: Weimar Classicism    Sat Feb 21, 2015 7:36 am

Simon Richter wrote:
In this case, the snakes that threaten to destroy the most beautiful moment,
the moment of classical fulfillment (we must recall Faust’s wager), stand for
venereal disease. Pain comes in many guises.
Perhaps the most explicit formulation of aesthetic containment as a
motivating factor in artistic production in Classical Weimar comes in the
foreword of one of Schiller’s last plays, Die Braut von Messina (The Bride
of Messina, 1803). Entitled “Über den Gebrauch des Chors in der
Tragödie” (On the Use of the Chorus in Tragedy), here Schiller famously
defends his seemingly anachronistic reintroduction of the ancient chorus in
an early nineteenth-century play. The chorus, he argues, heightens the artificiality
of the play so that no one might mistake it for nature — in other
words, it has been placed in the service of aesthetic autonomy: “So sollte er
[the chorus] uns eine lebendige Mauer sein, die die Tragödie um sich
herumzieht, um sich von der wirklichen Welt rein abzuschließen, und sich
ihren idealen Boden, ihre poetische Freiheit zu bewahren” (NA 10:11; the
chorus should be a living wall that the tragedy draws around itself in order
to cut itself off completely from the real world and to preserve its ideal
ground, its ideal freedom). The chorus, like the snakes in the statue, encircles
and contains the tragic plot and the passions it arouses: “So wie der
Chor in die Sprache Leben bringt, so bringt er Ruhe in die Handlung —
aber die schöne und hohe Ruhe, die der Charakter eines edeln Kunstwerkes
sein muß” (NA 10:14; Just as the chorus brings life to the language, it also
brings tranquility to the plot — but the beautiful and grand tranquility,
which must be the character of a noble artwork). There is no question that
the plot of Schiller’s play cries out for aesthetic containment. Although
Schiller preferred to render historical material in aesthetic form (hence his
Wilhelm Tell, Maria Stuart, Wallenstein, and Die Jungfrau von Orleans
[The Maid of Orleans, 1801]), for Die Braut von Messina he contrived a
brutally tragic plot of Oedipal proportions containing scenes of fratricide
and incest. Repeating the very word Goethe had used to identify the
moment of pain (Schlag), Schiller associates the chorus with the idea of
catharsis: “Der Chor reinigt also das tragische Gedicht” (NA 10:13; The
chorus thus purifies the tragic poem). It makes pain bearable for the viewer,
even as it abstracts the play and the viewer from the real world.
Readers will undoubtedly have noticed that Schiller introduces a third
sense of containment and abstraction. For Goethe it is a matter of the containment
of pain and establishment of the difference between the work of
art and nature. For Schiller, retreat from the real world means more than
aesthetic abstraction. It is also a matter of flight and escape from oppressive
circumstances. Although one searches in vain for similar expressions in
Goethe’s classical corpus (duly mindful of the fact that it is present in earlier
works right up to his precipitous “flight” to Italy), in Schiller’s work it
is a frequent and distinctive refrain. A number of programmatic poems written
during the Classical period counsel flight from the dross and pain of
sensate life into the pure realm of the ideal. In “Das Ideal und das Leben,”
we read: “Wollt ihr hoch auf ihren Flügeln schweben, / Werft die Angst des
Irdischen von euch, / Fliehet aus dem engen, dumpfen Leben / In des
Ideales Reich!” (27–30; If you want to fly high on the wings of form / Cast
off the anxiety of earthly existence, / Flee from narrow, stifling life / Into
the realm of the ideal!). Such moments deny the Faustian wager as well as
the enabling role of pain that Schiller recognizes in other places (for example,
in the foreword to Die Braut von Messina). In this poem, the Laocoön
statue becomes an allegory of the suffering that is human life (111–13;
“Wenn der Menschheit Leiden euch umfangen, / Wenn dort Priams Sohn
der Schlangen / Sich erwehrt mit namenlosem Schmerz” [When human
suffering encircles you, / When the son of Priam defends himself, / Against
the snakes with unspeakable pain]), a stark contrast to a higher region of
pure forms: “Hier darf Schmerz die Seele nicht durchschneiden, / Keine
Träne fließt hier mehr dem Leiden” (124–25; Here no pain may cut
through the soul, / Here no tears of suffering flow).

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PostSubject: Re: Weimar Classicism    Tue Feb 24, 2015 7:52 am

Die Horen and Aesthetic Education:

Simon Richter wrote:
Schiller’s journal embodies the Classical project. In the brief letter dated
13 June 1794 that initiated the famous correspondence between them,
Schiller approached Goethe with a humble request for his participation in
an effort that had already won the assent of several Jena luminaries, among
them the philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814) and linguist
Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767–1835). The letter was accompanied by the
announcement from which we quoted above. Goethe obliged: “Ich werde
mit Freuden und von ganzem Herzen von der Gesellschaft sein” (24 June
1794; I will participate with pleasure and my whole heart). Not only
would Goethe provide essays, poems, and stories, he essentially became
Schiller’s co-editor, evaluating manuscripts and discussing editorial policy.
Although the journal was relatively short-lived (twelve issues in three years
from 1795 to 1797), their congenial cooperation set the pattern for many
subsequent projects. Schiller and Goethe both understood that Die Horen
was not meant to be just another literary journal. On the contrary, the
ambition of the journal, like that of Classicism itself, was gargantuan, nothing
less than the transformation of German culture through aesthetic
means. Thus, the appearance of flight and escape from intolerable political
circumstances that might be awakened by Schiller’s announcement of the
new journal is deceiving. Certainly in his mind and to some extent in
Goethe’s, Die Horen was conceived as a necessary and essential political
intervention, possibly the only salvation for Germans and humanity from
the extreme violence of the Revolution, on the one hand, and extreme
repression of arbitrary forms of government on the other. A Weimar oldtimer
and peripheral Classicist, Christoph Martin Wieland (1733–1813),
duly registered the investment, even if he did not share it: “Anfänglich sei
es [Die Horen] eine Bundeslade geweßen, die niemand habe anrühren dürfen,
ohne das Feuer daraus hervorgegangen sei, und die Frevler zu
verzehren gedroht habe”17 (In the beginning it was a holy ark that no one
could touch without fire proceeding from it, threatening to consume the
blasphemers). It undoubtedly had not escaped Wieland that Schiller’s
enterprise was also meant to eclipse an array of other journals, not least
among them Wieland’s own Teutscher Merkur (German Mercury).
Of the many significant articles and prose pieces that appeared in Die
Horen, Schiller’s Über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen stands out. In
a series of letters (often called the Aesthetische Briefe [Aesthetic Letters])
published over the course of several issues, Schiller attempts to address the
fundamental dilemma of his times: As tyrannies and monarchies are threatened
and collapse under the violent pressure of democratic insurgency,
how do we reconcile law and desire? The clean moral lines of a government
rationally conceived will not win the acclamation and consent of a long
repressed mob suddenly able to act on its desires. What could possibly
mediate between the two? The answer, writes Schiller, is art. Humanity is
in need of aesthetic education, of training and acculturation, as it were, in
a parallel and virtual realm, freed of the constraints and violence of the real
world. Grounded psychologically and anthropologically in something
Schiller notably called the “Spieltrieb” (play drive), the beautiful in art is
offered as the only possible means to school humanity in the virtues of balance,
harmony, and the greater good. In art one could encounter an
apprehensible vision of what it might mean to be human and to live in a
human society. In theory, a spillover effect should result in the un-coerced
transfer of civil virtue from the aesthetic realm to the political. As Schiller’s
conclusion after prodigious dialectical efforts to marshal all the pieces indicates,
success is far from assured. The “aesthetic state” exists primarily as a
need in every sensitive individual. In reality, however, one finds it only in
“einigen wenigen auserlesenen Zirkeln”18 (very few select circles) —
hardly a state in other words, and probably not a city, but perhaps a few
select intellectuals in a small town in Thuringia known as Weimar.

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