Thursday, July 17, 2008

Reading Notes - Die Leiden des jungen Werther


Wilhelm – addressee of all the letters

Spatial analysis

Many different aspects of human interaction with landscape: impulse to control the landscape through gardening, desire to reproduce nature in all its glory through painting or writing – compare to Wackenroder’s letter where he despairs of being able to describe the landscape – the insufficiency of human art to do justice to nature. Also, there is a major rift between “culture” and “nature”. This is especially evidenced in the ball scene when Werther and Lotte go onto the balcony to watch the storm. They leave “culture” behind them in the house and enter a kind of liminal space between “tamed” culture and “wild” nature, whose power is represented by the storm’s intensity. However, their understanding of the natural is mediated by their cultural associations. Klopstock is the (human) filter through which they observe and understand nature. Klopstock = Claude glass

Also, this "flight from society" is symptomatic of the larger context of the novel. Werther's entire experience in Wahlheim (hello, placelessness!) is the result of his inability to function in society. Much of his movement is outward - going out to Wahlheim, going out of the ballroom, going out into the woods - and away from civilization. The problem with his experiences in nature, though, is that his experiences are always mediated through someone else's experiences and ideas - first Plato, then Klopstock, then Ossian (whose own writings were fictional, it turned out). There are layers of artificiality in Werther's behavior that make any kind of authentic experience impossible.

Also, Werther’s experience of landscape is marked by his own moods – or his moods are marked by what nature is doing around him. In the letter of 10. Mai, he feels at peace with nature – its peacefulness and happiness mirrors his own. At other points in the novel, though, nature takes on a dangerous, violent force that mirrors changes in his own attitude/experience. Landscapes are specifically created in Werther to mirror and echo his attitudes. Floods –Abgründe, etc.

Formal/stylistic notes

Epistolary Novel – however, also framed by the fictional editor. The reader almost takes the place of Wilhelm, the friend to whom Werther addresses his letters. We only get half of the correspondence which also reflects the entirely self-absorbed nature of the protagonist.

Frequent allusions to other writers assume a reader that is educated and informed in a similar way as Werther and Lotte are. The references don’t mean anything without their context intact in the reader.

Reading Notes - Goethe - Die Wahlverwandtschaften



Spatial analysis

Here the emphasis is almost exclusively on cultivation of nature. There is very little of “wild” nature to be seen, though the castle is situated in a very natural setting. Hills, gardens, surround the castle and there are bits of water here and there, some of which are naturally occurring, but some of which are man-made or manipulated. Created lake eventually causes death of the (UNNATURAL) child. There is much talk of the natural order The cultivation projects undertaken by the Charlotte and her husband are seen as the epitome of the unity of cultivation and nature. Charlotte builds a garden house in just the spot that suits it – there is almost a sense of spatial predetermination in their landscaping projects. They plant/create things just where they ought naturally to have been. Introduction of the notion of elective affinities in Chemistry reflects interest in scientific pursuits, but also seems to predestine the couples to reconfigure themselves. The explanation of the chemical property of elective affinity introduces a geometrical configuration into the non-scientific/mathematical sphere of personal relationships. The scientific principle is explained geometrically, but the geometry (the square with diagonals cutting across it) is superimposed upon the personal relationships at stake.

Also, the interior space is very interesting. The castle itself seems to be partitioned off with feminine and masculine spaces. The unnatural child is conceived when Charlotte’s husband first transgresses those boundaries and enters her (feminine) space. Then there’s the renovation project that Ottilie undertakes with the tutor. They undertake to restore and redecorate the church and churchyard. Ottilie paints a lot of new paintings for the church which clearly weren’t original to the space but seem as if they belonged there – parallel to the gardening pursuits.

Unity between cultivation and nature is introduced right from the start with Wilhelm’s comment that some of his happiest hours were/are spent in his Baumschule. The cultivation of trees has a natural effect but is, in itself not a natural act. He talks about propfen – forced propagation of trees. The word Baumschule itself contains both the height of natural expression – Baum – and the height of sophisticated civilization – schule.

Formal/stylistic notes

Narrated in the 3rd person omniscient.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Die Alte
Der Vogel

Plot points

First of all, I will never understand why this story is called Der Blonde Eckbert. He seems to be definitely a secondary figure to Bertha. We don’t know his back story and we don’t really care. He does spend the last part of the story as the protagonist, but the action of the story is motivated solely by Bertha’s actions as a child. Very strange.

Frame story: Bertha and Eckbert living in bliss, but without children. Walther is the only person who regularly visits them. Eckbert tells Bertha to tell Walther her story one night. Story: Bertha leaves abusive family with the fantasy of returning one day to give them riches. She wanders for a few days, then finds the old woman, who takes her home to her small house in the middle of the woods. Bertha is supposed to feed the bird (which lays eggs with jewels and sings the song Waldseinsamkeit), and the dog as well as spin. She stays there for four years and the old woman leaves her to look after things for weeks at a time. Finally, Bertha steals some of the jewels the old woman had stockpiled over time, takes the bird, leaves the dog, whose name she can never remember, to starve to death, and runs away. She wanders for a while, the bird stops singing, she eventually comes to her hometown, but learns that her parents are dead. She moves on, rents a house, the bird starts singing a new song about missing the woods, Bertha kills it and buries it in the garden. Eventually she meets and marries Eckbert. After hearing the story, Walther mentions the dog’s name which Bertha could never remember. She falls into hysterical breakdown. She tells Eckbert what it’s about and he goes on a ride to clear his head. On the ride he sees Walther and kills him. When he gets back to their castle, Bertha is dead. Eckbert moves to a new town, befriends Hugo, who he eventually confesses his murder to. Hugo seems to suddenly look just like Walther. Eckbert rides all night to get home and meets the old woman after his horse dies. She confesses that she was Walther and Hugo all along. She says that she had warned Bertha all along that she’d be punished for her bad deeds and tells Eckbert that he and Bertha are actually siblings. Random ending.

Spatial analysis

Similar to the Runenberg, the woods function as a kind of adolescent testing ground. They are still associated with threatening, magical powers and mystery. Bertha only gains awareness at the expense of her innocence. Definitely an allegory of adolescence. There is also a lot of emphasis on Einsamkeit as a positive experience. Waldeinsamkeit, obviously, but also the Einsamkeit in which Bertha and Eckbert live together. There is also value placed on the idea of living in harmony with nature, but this isn’t entirely borne out. This story is less interesting landscape-wise, than the Runenberg, for sure.

Formal/stylistic notes

Narrated in the 3rd person, omniscient. Preterite. Also, in many places, subjunctive is used to cause uncertainty in the reader about the reality of what’s happening.

Reading Notes - Tieck: Der Runenberg

Christian’s father
Der Fremde (Wald)
Der Fremde (Dorf)
Die Frau im Berg/die Schöne/das Waldweib

Plot points

Christian leaves home (doesn’t want to be a gardener like his father), planning to be a hunter. Meets der Fremde who tells Christian of treasure to be found in the mountains (in a kind of mine). (Much talk of Bergwerke – technical things, unnatural space, magical potential, downward motion.) He goes into the cave/mine and sees the beautiful woman (she undresses in front of him), singing her song about precious stones and power. He awakes as if from a dream, outside the mine, remembers the Tafel he left behind and begins to wander. Comes to the Dorf where Elisabeth lives, goes into church (holy space, opposite to mine, heavenward motion). He has a spiritual awakening and eventually settles in the village, working as a gardener (taming, organizing nature), marries Elisabeth and establishes a successful life. At some point, he goes on a journey in search of his father, who he meets not far into the forest. He had set out shortly before in search of his son and on the way found a sign of his son’s approach in a flower that he had only seen once before and had always searched for. The two return to the village and continue living peacefully. A stranger comes and stays with them for long enough to be counted as one of the family, then leaves his riches, saying he was going in search of something in the mountains, and if he did not return in a year, then Christian, et al should keep the money. This happens, but Christian becomes obsessed with the money, counting it and worrying about whether he will get to keep it. Onset of sleepwalking, disturbed sleep, dreams, but wild happiness during the days. Elisabeth is freaked out and we learn from Christian’s father that he had always been obsessed with metal (read money?) as a child. More talk of Bergwerke. (opposition of metal and earth, money and nature) Finally, Christian sees an old woman (identified with the beautiful woman from the Bergwerk), who tells him to come back to the woods. He finds the Tafel. He wanders off into the woods in search of the riches promised him by the Waldweib (kind of Gaia/Mother Earth/pagan figure). Father tries to stop him, but fails. Family falls apart, Elisabeth marries a cruel drunk, their money disappears. Father dies. After a few years, Christian comes back, but is not recognized. Reveals himself to Elisabeth and tries to get a kiss from his daughter, who is afraid of him. Leaves them and returns to the Waldweib.

Spatial analysis

The most important contrast here is between the Mountains/Woods and the plain. Christian grew up in the plain and found it unbearable, felt a compulsion to go into the woods (repeatedly). Contrast between relationships to nature: gardener/miner/hunter. There is a push-pull between taming nature and being drawn into its wildness. Seems to be overtones of Christianity vs. paganism (hence also the name Runenberg – Runes being aligned with pagans). Christian descends (down/hell) to meet the Waldweib and be seduced by the riches buried in the earth, but has a spiritual awakening in the Church, which is associated with upward verticality, heavenward motion.

One could also read this in a Freudian manner – Christian goes into the mountain through a tunnel at the end of which he has his first sexual awakening – seeing the Waldweib as a highly sexualized figure. His attempt at becoming a sexual being is aborted, however, and he finds himself back outside and quite disoriented. Also, his leaving the mine through the tunnel, with a powerful female force behind him, could be a scene of rebirth. All in all, the journey into the woods and mountains and exit to the other side seems to be a coming of age allegory. The mountains and his experiences there are meant to stand in for adolescence and sexual maturation.

This is another story that deals with the technical in conjunction with the supernatural. Could be interesting for the potential dissertation project. It doesn’t dwell on the technical, but does mention it enough that it’s noticeable.

Wild nature in general is associated with riches, mystery, and vaguely threatening forces. Ordnung and cultivated nature/civilization is definitely preferred over venturing into the unknown and the wilderness is seen as forbidden to humans. The woods/mountains and Christian’s journey through them are taboo.

Formal/stylistic notes

Narrated in the 3rd person, omniscient. Preterite. Also, in many places, subjunctive is used to cause uncertainty in the reader about the reality of what’s happening. Tieck also does this in Der Blonde Eckbert.

Author notes

Tieck was leader of Romanticism – one of first to show romantic enthusiasm for old german art. Assoc. with Wackenroder, others. Wrote Märchen, poems, dramas, and a few novels.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Googlebooks to read

Hirschfeld, CCL: Theorie der Gartenkunst,M1

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Chicken or egg?

I was searching today for blogs similar to mine... i.e. other blogs where people work out their academic ideas and interests, but it seems that there are only a very few.

Granted, I didn't do an exhaustive search, but all the candidates I ran across seemed to have either given up blogging (ran out of things to say, got jobs and were now too important) or left academia altogether.

So, my question is whether the blogging-inclined among us tend to leave academia or if the field itself makes it less productive/enticing to blog? Is there something incompatible about the worlds of grad school and blogging?

I do know of one academic blogger who does what I want to do in this space, but better. But, she's very deeply ensconced in History, which is not at ALL where my interests lie (yes, yes, important, etc., but it doesn't ring my bell), so I'm still looking for other literature nuts. Any tips? Anyone? Does anyone even read this?

Where are all the bloggers?

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Reading Notes - Storm: Immensee

  • Reinhard – best friend of Elisabeth, five years her senior. The novella is centered on his character and narrated as a flashback to several points in his life. He is already an old man at the beginning of the narrative, and returns to old age at the end, in the quasi-frame story. He is described as a Wanderer and his main physical characteristics are his hat and walking stick, markers of his migrant character. He has a very authoritative tone even as a child talking to Elisabeth. He presumes that one day they will be married and travel together to India (Orientalist fantasy). Their relationship is predicated on this assumption and hope. Reinhard has a taxonomical interest. It is unclear what his specific field of study is, but he dabbles in Botany (and teaches it to Elisabeth), and undertakes a Grimm-style task of collecting Märchen and other linguistic Merkmale of the regions through which he travels. Oddly, as a child and young man, he wrote his own Märchen, though some of them are very reminiscent of other stories (Biblical reference: story of Daniel in the Lion’s den, Classical reference: die drei Spinnerinnen – the fates). Ends up writing verse and his gift of a volume of poems to Elisabeth after his first year of study seems to mark the end of their relationship, although the poems are all clearly dedicated to her. He seems very tuned in to his surroundings, but often finds himself going awry and having surreal, Märchenhafte experiences in nature. He seems placeless, but simultaneously at home everywhere. A typical wanderer figure
  • Elisabeth – best friend, worshiper of Reinhard. Clearly still a child for the first parts of the story, but acts and is portrayed as strangely mature for her age. She also has a very strong attachment to her mother and relies heavily on her mother’s input for decisions – she claims that she will not be allowed to travel to India (Reinhard assures her that by that time they will be married and no one will be able to tell her what to do, although by positioning himself as the authority at that point, he assumes the same power that he begrudges her mother), and it is implied that her mother convinced her to marry Erich instead. While she is not entirely without free will, Elisabeth’s life seems to be largely the result of other people’s actions. Platially, Elisabeth seems very much to rely on others’ directions. The one time that she does wander into nature on her own (as a five year old), Reinhard calls her back into the house (domesticity) that he has finished building for them. She allows herself to be steered spatially and directionally just as much as she allows herself to be steered in her life decisions. Here, her spatial helplessness seems to be a symptom or symbol of her willingness to surrender her own agency.
  • Erich – very much a supporting actor. He assumes the position that Reinhard leaves vacant when he leaves to study. After his third proposal, he convinces (with the help of her mother) Elisabeth to marry him. He notably replaces the bird that Reinhard had given Elisabeth with a more stylish, less wild bird in a golden cage. He brings Elisabeth out of her rustic surroundings into a much more manicured, wealthier lifestyle. He seems to represent civilization/Bourgeoisie/manicured life, whereas Reinhard seems more to represent the wilder, less constrained life they had had as children.
  • Elisabeth’s mother – she only speaks a couple of times, but is a constant presence. She seems to have steered Elisabeth away from Reinhard and toward Erich. However, at a crucial moment (after Reinhard’s recitation of a song about a mother steering her daughter away from the man she loved), she keeps Erich from following the visibly upset Elisabeth into the garden saying “she has things to do in the garden” or similar. She acts as a foil to Reinhard’s mother, whom Elisabeth gives a portrait of herself for Christmas, and who facilitates Elisabeth’s sending letters and gifts to Reinhard, as if she couldn’t send them on her own (was her mother forbidding it?).
  • Die Zigeuner – they appear twice in the novella. Once, when Reinhard is away studying, at Christmas. He sees the woman singing a song about a love affair gone awry, which ends “allein soll ich sterben” or similar. She seems to try to seduce Reinhard, who is, at that moment, told that a Christmas package has arrived from his home. The smell of the Christmas cakes that his mother and Elisabeth have baked him fill his room (she seems to fill the room, in a way) and spill into the hall. The cakes have the letters of his name put on them with sugar – by Elisabeth, who seems to be affirming Reinhard’s identity in lieu of her own – and he gives half of them to a beggar. The second appearance of the Zigeuner is at the very end of his visit to Immensee, when they appear begging at the house as Reinhard and Elisabeth return from rowing on the lake. Elisabeth gives them all her money and Reinhard asks what else they could want. The woman answers that they could want nothing else and then repeats the last line of her song about dying alone. At this, he recognizes the woman (unheimlich) and seems also to realize that he has to leave Immensee.

Plot points

His visit to Immensee to see Elisabeth and Erich is punctuated by a number of experiences in the landscape. He is caught in a rainstorm on his way back to the house and sees a seeming apparition of Elisabeth and is infuriated by her turning her back and going ahead of him back to the house. He goes walking along the banks of the See in the evening and swims out to see a Wasserlilie that seems to recede further away from him as he swims toward it. This results in a terrifying spatial confusion. The combination of his confusion and the belief that he is being pulled under by the water plants around him cause him to panic and head back for the shore, at which point he sees that the flower is exactly as far away as he originally thought it to be. This is a surreal almost Märchenhaft moment in the story. Finally, Elisabeth has been charged by Erich, with the task of showing Reinhard all the most beautiful places on their estate, while Erich and Elisabeth’s mother are mysteriously away on business. On their way back (with him steering, but Elisabeth still in charge of showing him the way – perhaps the only time they’re on equal footing, really), Reinhard has insights into Elisabeth’s character just from looking at her hand resting on the edge of the boat. When she realizes he’s staring at her hand, she lets it trail in the water. Later that night, he retraces their steps and ponders whether or not to leave.

Spatial analysis

Here, the question seems to be not where people are at home or what places seem to have the most importance or symbolic weight, but instead a question of who has authority in space. Reinhard is certainly the most authoritative when it comes to navigating space, doing most of the leading and almost never following. When he is following direction (given by Elisabeth at Immensee), he is still in physical control of their movements, piloting the boat. He also underscores his authority over natural space by undertaking natural historical/botanical categorization. This organizing impulse is carried over and he seems also to take control of language by trying to organize and categorize linguistic patterns and stories. His creative impulse seems to decrease after Elisabeth marries Erich – in the beginning, he composes his own Märchen and verses and clears new paths down which to guide Elisabeth (while they’re looking for strawberries, for instance – in that particular instance, however, his urge to move forward results in him leaving her behind.), whereas he ends by only categorizing others’ Märchen, sayings, and songs, and asks directions while on his approach to Immensee.

Formal/stylistic notes

Narrated in the 3rd person, omniscient, although this seems illogical with the story playing out, as it does, in the context of Reinhard’s memories. He couldn’t know all he seems to remember. The novella is largely realistic, but has some romantic overtones, with a number of unheimlich moments and apparitions. There are many moments where one expects a magical occurrence, but Reinhard always seems to shake off any romantic/magical action.

Temporal tension. Frame narrative takes place in the Present, where Reinhard is an old man. In the space of a few moments, perhaps, of real time, he revisits his ten year old self, his seventeen year old self, and himself as a young-middle-aged man before returning to his present self in old age.

Mix of genres - Lyric moments are very important and take the place of narration for major moments in the story.

A purpose

I need to remember that the generals process, while it is a hoop to jump through, can also be of great use. It's not just an exercise in agony (that was the M.A. exam, ha.), but is instead a first step toward focusing my thoughts for the prospectus and hypothetical dissertation. And I've been clever enough to craft at least one of my lists to play to that particular goal.

In sum, I'd be a fool to not take advantage of this process as best I can.