2024 – Another Day.

Saturday, I’m still in love.

Still suffering mildly from whatever this winter bug is, I’m continuing my reading of Andrea Wulf’s “Magnificent Rebels, lazing around the house. It continues to be inspiring, deeply affecting and full of surprising and important content.

I’m allowing the reading to flow, making only mental notes – so we’ll mostly never see them again – allowing myself only occasionally to break off to make a note like this one. I’m about half way through the 350 page text (plus another 140 pages of end matter) as I type.

A whole chapter on the overlap of Alexander von Humboldt with Goethe doing proper empirical science with whatever was to hand in Jena – including their own bodies, but mostly frogs – before Humboldt’s globetrotting and the demands of the great and the good, which forms the subject of Wulf’s earlier “The Invention of Science” already much loved, so enough of that here.

And another on Fichte’s teaching methods – put me in mind of Pirsig, focussing on the stones in a stone wall in front of his students. Subject, meet object, then focus on subject, what you – your Ich / Self – see. (“The Invention of the Self” is Wulf’s subtitle to this work.)

For now, I am – wishfully, obviously – that man. Pirsig’s Phaedrus when I first expressed that thought  – or T E Lawrence when I first thought but never expressed it and at least a dozen more since – and in this case I’m Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg).

But first Shakespeare, who knew? Shakespeare was, and still is, much more important in German(y) than in English. August Wilhelm and Caroline Schlegel creating the translations that maintained the intended rhythm and meter of the original poetry – tapping out the rhythm on the table as they worked. August Wilhelm Schlegel’s “Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature” contrasting the old classical rules with the new romantic art:

Shakespeare “closer to the secret of the universe …  the expression of original love … the quintessential romantic writer” [creative, rule-breaking writing which Voltaire considered ungrammatical and vulgar, the work of a drunken savage].

The German romantics – the Jena Set – were ahead of the British romantics who all read Schlegel. Coleridge lectured using him, and Wordsworth

[Schlegel] first taught us to think correctly concerning Shakespeare“. A neutral (American) commentator “[Schlegel] even for the English … was nothing less than … the discoverer of Shakespeare“.

Love is central, and rule breaking too, even both at the same time.

Schlegel also commented on Novalis – eventually recovering from the grief of lost love Sophie 110 days earlier – herself the subject of a whole chapter on surviving multiple gruesome anaesthetic-free liver surgeries and appearing to be on the road to recovery – Novalis slowly returning to reality:

His style of writing had changed – His sentences became shorter and more aphoristic, He replaced commas, semicolons and full stops with em-dashes – lines for thinking – pauses for breath and thought – He thinks elemental – His sentences are atoms.

One of my (annoying) writing affectations too, em-dashes ignoring the proper rules of punctuation, and use of scare quotes mixed with italic and bold emphases to highlight key objects (and subjects). The atoms are simply network nodes or vertices, the relations, the em-dashes, the edges are where all the action is. The life, loves and death.

More writing inspiration to add to that from Rushdie yesterday [Post Note] and – oh look – his next, second chapter “Proteus” is about … Shakespeare.

Reading on, Napoleon permitting.

[Final Round-up of Wulf’s Magnificent Rebels here.]


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