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Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.

— Sir Francis Bacon

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Friday, August 24th, 2007

🦋 Two new books

I went to the bookstore yesterday and got two new books: My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk, and The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald, she whose name is at the top of this blog. (The latter I got on the recommendation of Matt Weiner, the former on that of Dr. Snarkout.)

posted evening of August 24th, 2007: Respond
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Sunday, October 14th, 2007

🦋 There is no such concept as a thing in itself!

We can sing beneath his window, "We know what is wrong with your system....There is no place in it, no place for love."

I seem to have a poor memory for schools of thought. Like right now I am reading The Blue Flower, about the life of German Romantic poet Novalis; and I find that I can summon up only a very hazy memory of the history of German Romanticism, which I know I studied in two classes in college; and furthermore that I don't even really know what kind of thinking "Romanticism" is. (I think it must be similar to "Idealism" which I have a little bit of a handle on, but I'm not sure how they differ.*) I remember when I was 18, that my sort-of-mentor Jim Higgs told me I was a romantic thinker, and that I read some Romantics to try and grasp what he was telling me about myself. But if I ever was successful in that it has escaped me in the meantime.

So probably I should school myself a bit in the meanings of terms, as I approach this book. The book seems like a lot of fun. I am liking the descriptions of Friedrich's family and school life, and nodding and smiling with recognition at certain passages -- notably the youthful Fritz's insistence that "the body is not flesh, but the same stuff as the soul," and later his statement to Schlegel that "the golden age would return, and that there was nothing evil in the world."

*Interestingly Novalis is the top hit that comes back from a Wiki search for "Romantic idealism"...

posted evening of October 14th, 2007: 3 responses
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Monday, October 15th, 2007

🦋 Venus in Exile

Beginning on page 207, Wendy Steiner's Venus in Exile: The Rejection of Beauty in 20th-Century Art features some discussion of the philosophy of being in The Blue Flower.

posted afternoon of October 15th, 2007: Respond

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007

🦋 Nonsense is only another language

"Words are given us to understand each other, even if not completely," Fritz went on in great excitement.

"And to write poetry."

"Yes, that's so, Justen, but you mustn't ask too much of language. Language refers only to itself, it is not the key to anything higher. Language speaks, because speaking is its pleasure and it can do nothing else."

"In that case, it might as well be nonsense," objected Karoline.

"Why not? Nonsense is only another language."

Now I want to read some of Novalis' writing and see how (if) the sentiment Fitzgerald has him expressing here is played out in his poetry. I'm pretty sure I have a book of his work upstairs with the other remnants of my ill-remembered days spent studying German literature.

The sentence, "Nonsense is only another language," seems interesting to me. On one hand it is obviously incorrect -- I think a root characteristic of language is, that it can "make sense", whereas clearly nonsense does not "make sense", not if it is doing its job properly. Meaningful nonsense is not nonsense in any fully realized sense of the word. (grin.) But, but, it is good fun to babble incoherently, recording the words and then poring over them trying to divine the meaning.

Michael Hofman uses this same phrase as the title for his NY Times review of The Blue Flower.

posted morning of October 16th, 2007: Respond

🦋 Novalis links

Hm, no, no Novalis among my dusty German books. Leave us Google.

Note: just starting to look at the Logopœic translation of Hymns to the Night. And wow! What living, sentient thing loves not the all-joyous light -- with its colors, its rays and undulations, its gentle omnipresence in the form of the wakening Day? This is amazing, wonderful! It is going to take a long time to understand though.

posted evening of October 16th, 2007: Respond

Wednesday, October 17th, 2007

🦋 Homely detail

I really enjoyed chapter 26 ("The Mandelsloh") of The Blue Flower this afternoon -- I will try to communicate what I liked about it. This chapter had in common with the passage LanguageHat quoted, a keenly accurate eye for the domestic details of the characters' lives, combined with an eloquent tongue to bring these details to life -- a common thread through Fitzgerald's writing. Friederike's question "What is wrong with particulars? Someone has to look after them", has the sound of the author's voice about it.

Writing this post brings up an uncertainty of mine about the writing I do here -- I have mentioned it before and have no resolution to bring now, but I will repeat myself. I am not writing criticism, largely because I don't know how to -- I have not read very much criticism, certainly not of the written word, and I just wouldn't have a clue how to put it together. I think what I am writing, or trying to write, is appreciations of my reading (and listening, and watching); and hoping I can do that without coming off as a buffoon.

posted evening of October 17th, 2007: Respond

🦋 Hymns to the Night

Here are some different editions of Novalis' Hymns to the Night:

The first sentence: Before all the wondrous shows of the widespread space around him, what living, sentient thing loves not the all-joyous light, with its colors, its rays and undulations, its gentle omnipresence in the form of the wakening Day? is in praise of the light and the Day when I am expecting to find praise of Night. The opposition between the two will make up the body of this poem.

I dig the sound of the poem and am intending to spend some time in the coming days thinking about its meaning, anyway if I can do so without having it sound too much like I'm writing an essay for my freshman English class. Otherwise I will just focus on the sounds.

Update: In comments, Gary posts his own translation of the poem.

Update: For the sake of completeness, another translation, this one by Henry Morley. (At the very end of the page.) Dick Higgins also has done a translation, but it is not accessible online.

posted evening of October 17th, 2007: 10 responses
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Saturday, October 20th, 2007

I had been a little confused by the chronology of The Blue Flower, particularly as regards the first two chapters and the area right around chapter 11 or 12 -- a reference in chapter 33 to Dietmahler's visit cleared up the first thing, but I'm still a little confused by things like Fritz's time at his primary school -- letting it ride for now as the kind of thing I'll probably pick up on better if I reread the book.

I love the book but I have to say, Fritz's involvement with Sophie does not strike me as the most interesting thing in the book.

posted evening of October 20th, 2007: Respond

Monday, October 22nd, 2007

🦋 Idealism and alienation

I was thinking about Romanticism today and what it might mean in the context of Fritz's life, and in the context of Hymns to Night -- Jerry was telling me he thought the poem (of which I had read him about the first paragraph) sounded profoundly connected to being in the world, and I said well, there's a lot of alienation in the poem as well -- I was talking about the suggestions throughout the poem (as much of it as I have read), that the Night and unconsciousness are a higher, more true reality than day, because in sleep the poet can clearly see his beloved free of the trappings of the earthly. This seemed to me like a pretty clear-cut Idealist metaphysics, that the realm of thought is more real than the shadows of the outside world -- I had a go at explaining Plato's allegory of the cave to Jerry -- it's hard for me to see how such a metaphysics could be anything besides alienating of the thinker from the world, which seems like a bad thing to me. And, this ties in with the perception I have that Romantic thinking (on which I have only the vaguest of a grasp) and Idealism are somehow decadent -- which is just something I dimly remember hearing somewhere but has become sort of an article of faith.

(Dumb typo corrected, and it occurs to me that "Allegory of the Café" would be an awesome name for a restaurant.)

posted evening of October 22nd, 2007: Respond
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Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

🦋 Speech is its Delight and Essence

We do not understand speech, because speech does not understand itself, nor wish to; the true Sanskrit* would speak in order to speak, because speech is its delight and essence.

This line is from Novalis' The Novices of Sais, newly reprinted in a translation by Ralph Manheim. (Thanks to Conrad and Forrest, for pointing it out to me.) It strikes me as so similar to Fritz' speech to Karoline about Language, that I think Fitzgerald must have used it as source material. (It is also, I think, quintessentially stoner.)

Another great line from The Novices of Sais, from the chapter titled "Nature":

It must have been a long time before men thought of giving a common name to the manifold objects of their senses, and of placing themselves in opposition to them.

It suddenly occurs to me that "manifold" might be a good translation of vielgestaltete in the first paragraph of Hymns to Night.

*This word is kind of bugging me, because when I read it I see the name of a language, not a type of philosophy. My suspicion is that Novalis intends it to mean "mystic", so I am making that substitution when I read.

posted evening of October 31st, 2007: 4 responses
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