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Wandering and Spilled Theology in Literary Criticism

Wandering and Spilled Theology in Literary Criticism

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Published by Julian Scutts

A Close Look at Various Critical Attitudes to the Works of Goethe and the Romantics with Regard to Themes Identified by Words Based on the Verbs "Wandern" and "to Wander"

A Close Look at Various Critical Attitudes to the Works of Goethe and the Romantics with Regard to Themes Identified by Words Based on the Verbs "Wandern" and "to Wander"

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Published by: Julian Scutts on Jan 23, 2013
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By Julian Scutts
 
Interesting Parallels between Critical and Theological Positions
A SURVEY OF WHAT LITERARY CRITICS MEAN BY "WANDERING"
My way is to begin with the beginning;The regularity of my designForbids all wandering as the worst of sinning.
Lord Byron: Don Juan, Canto The First, VII 
Even if all wandering is the worst of sinning ("wandering" has yet to be established as a recognised field of learning), literary critics occasionally refer to "wandering" and "wanderers" in their articles and books. Inthis chapter we consider and compare four critical studies, noting different, even conflicting, attitudes to"wandering". We may then inquire how such differences might be resolved.
 
I: A Comparison of Articles by Professor L.A. Willoughby and Geoffrey H. Hartman with Referenceto their Attitudes to "the Wanderer" as poetic Motif 
 While Professor Willoughby's article "The Image of the 'Wanderer' and the 'Hut' in Goethe's Poetry" isexclusively concerned with Goethe's literary works (not only poetry), G.H. Hartman's study "Romanticismand 'Anti-Self-Consciousness'" ( both cited in the first chapter of this study) focuses on English Romanticpoetry with the occasional reference to Goethe and his literary works. The scholars predicate theirarguments on
what they take to be the shared identity of the “Wanderer“ and “the Poet“ in German and
English poetry during the age of Goethe and the Romantic movement. G.H. Hartman discusses the status of the "Poet" at the historical juncture when religious assumptions about the nature of poetry and poeticinspiration were being superseded by secular theories on the nature of the human consciousness. I begin byrecapitulating the basic positions adopted by Professor Willoughby and G. H. Hartman and will then proceedto a fuller discussion of issues arising from them.
 
Professor Willoughby bases his discussions on the recognition that the images of "Wanderer" and "hut" occurso frequently in Goethe's writings that they must be attributable to factors lying deep in the collectiveunconscious. According to C.G. Jung the libido is engaged in a quest to achieve a perfect union with itsfemale counterpart within the human personality. In terms of Goethe's imagery, the "Wanderer" representsthe male questing impulse, while the "hut" represents the object of that quest, the domain of femaleinfluence, the family hearth. These images well up from the collective unconscious, and are not, therefore,only of poetic interest. However, Goethe as a poet moulded these and other images into constructs andpatterns of aesthetic value. The image of the "Wanderer" presented the young Goethe of the early 1770s avery considerable problem. Being significant to him on both a General psychological and an aesthetic level,the "Wanderer" image poses a central ambiguity which his early writings reflect. This ambiguity first
emerges in the “Speech on Shakespeare Day“, an anti
-Aristotelian polemic praising Shakespeare as thegreatest "Wanderer". The image lends force to the idea of the vast range of Shakespeare's dramatic andpoetic genius. However, Goethe was well aware that his choice of word would be understood by hisimmediate audience, fellow-members of the Darmstadt literary circle, as an allusion to himself (his renownas a "Wanderer" was attributable to his habit of taking long country walks). In two poems written about ayear after the "Speech", Goethe adopted contrasting strategies to surmount the difficulties bound up withthe "Wanderer" image. "Wandrers Sturmlied" ("Wanderer's Storm-Song") is a semi-confessional poeticoutpouring telling of the poet's bold but futile attempt to ascend Mount Parnassus, the seat of the gods andMuses. The poet uses humour and self-Irony as a means of psychological self-defence evident in the closingscene depicted by the poem. This shows the Wanderer wading through mud towards a wayfarers' hut afterhis inglorious descent from the sublime heights of Parnassus and his return to a chill northern landscape onthe plane of personally experienced reality. "Der Wandrer" is a dialogue between a wanderer, a cross-country walker, touring the mountains near Cuma in Italy and a young woman who inhabits a mountain-hutin the region visited. This level-headed young woman counters the Wanderer's verbal rhapsodies excited bythe sight of ancient temples now in ruins. It is only in "Der Wandrer" that Goethe succeeded in objectifyingthe image of the Wanderer to his own satisfaction. 1
 
In his article "Romanticism and 'Anti-Self-Consciousness'" Geoffrey H. Hartman argues that the EnglishRomantics were beset by an acute self-consciousness and attendant feelings of being isolated from theirroots in society and from established literary tradition. I summarise his main propositions as follows:The Romantics' traumatised state of consciousness finds quintessential expression in the nightmarishexperiences of the Mariner as described by the speaker in
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner 
by T. S.Coleridge. The Mariner is a "Wanderer" or transfiguration of the figure of the Wandering Jew. An affinitybetween the Mariner and the true Poet is inferable from their common compulsive need to communicateverbally. The Mariner's voyage symbolically records a transition from a state comparable to death to one of 
 
blessing, and at the deepest level, liberation from a false understanding of the self. The religiousconnotations of the Mariner's voyage reflect a Romantic tendency to reveal psychological and aestheticprocesses in terms of religious allegories and figures. In the place of the traditional triad of Eden, the Falland Redemption, "a new triad" of nature, self-consciousness and the imagination underlies Romantic poetry.Romantic descriptions of journeys finally represent a purely inward process of the imagination deriving itsdynamic from the libidinal striving to achieve union with the object of its desire. Thus, the use of images andallegories based on the material of religious tradition could no longer point to a religious truth or correspondto realities outside the domain of art in any manner that should interest scholars in literary criticism. In hisEssay "The Internalization of Quest-Romance" (2) Harold Bloom defends essentially the same thesis as thatadopted by G. H. Hartman when denying a vital connection in Romantic poetry between references andallusions to religious motifs and any objective truth of a religious or philosophical nature.Although G. H. Hartman does not refer to the term "internalization" in the article we are considering, he infact pleads that the same process H. Bloom describes as "internalization" deeply and irrevocable affectedRomantic poetry, indeed modern poetry in its entirety.
 
Having outlined the positions taken by Professor Willoughby and G. H. Hartman with respect to thesignificance of the :Wanderer: in poetry, I now examine differences in their attitudes and conclusions whichemerge from inferences drawn from their shared recognition of the close relationship between the"Wanderer" and the nature of poetry in the age of Goethe and the Romantics. I discuss these differencesunder three headings.The first of these,
Wiederspiegelung
, may require a short explanation. It literally means "reflection" or"mirroring" and in the context of Professor Willoughby's discussion concerns the reciprocal relationshipbetween Goethe's literary activity and the course of his life.
Wiederspiegelung
 Both Professor Willoughby and G. H. Hartman refer in their articles to a basic psychological principle as theultimate foundation of phenomenon they identify by their use of the word "Wanderer". While G. H. Hartmanuses a Freudian frame of reference in this regard, Professor Willoughby bases his suppositions on a Jungianpremise. Both concur that the Wanderer's quest ultimately derives from the libidinal urge. While in G. H.Hartman's view the Wanderer's quest is fully internalized, for Professor Willoughby the polarity of the"Wanderer" and the "hut" has very concrete connections with the realities of common life. The "hut" is notonly a figment of the mind, it also stands for the family hearth - commitment to a social and communalideal. Professor Willoughby stresses the reciprocal nature of influences between Goethe's life and work,particularly with regard to his friendship with Frau von Stein. Professor Willoughby also stresses that there isanother area in which Goethe's life and work cannot be considered in isolation from each other: - travel.Goethe's philosophic outlook rejected abstractions without a basis in firsthand experience, and the bestantidote to abstraction he found in travel and the traveller's enhanced perception of previously unexploredsurroundings. According to Professor Willoughby, Goethe's Period of residence in Italy between 1786 and1789 induced a fundamental change in Goethe's outlook on life, which he came to understand as a"pilgrimage". Seeing Italy's town architecture, its inhabitants and works of art meant more than recordingsurface features. It meant imbibing an entire culture and its history. Professor Willoughby also claims thatthe polarity of "Wanderer" and "hut" leaves a trace in the biblical Festival of Tabernacles commemoratingthe wanderings of the Israelites through the wilderness of Sinai and the booth-like dwellings in which theylived during that time. If we compare Professor Willoughby's opinion on Wiederspiegelung with those of G.H. Hartman on the purely aesthetic function of allegorical motifs derived from the Bible, we might concludethat they entertain diametrically opposed views on the poetry of the Romantic era and its relationship to thecontemporary world. However, their views are not divergent in every respect.In Professor Willoughby's view, Goethe was constrained to objectify the image of the "Wanderer" in hisearliest poems bearing the word "Wanderer" in their titles. Did this process of objectification imply a totaland irreversible internalization of the "Wanderer" image? In Hartman's opinion, internalization spelt not onlythe end of poetry's living connection with life and society, but also the end of poetry itself, a logical outcomeon the supposition that poetry reached a steady state in which progressive development would lose force.
 
According to this analysis, internalization signalled not only the imminent death of Romantic poetry, forHartman argues that Goethe invested his major efforts in his prose works in anticipation of the demise of allpoetry. Only "progressive" literary genres could survive in the future. There are serious objections to theidea of the absolute kind of internalization posited by Hartman. Within the scope of this discussion I allowmyself the bare comment that poetry is still alive and well at the end of the twentieth century. This is not todeny that Hartman makes a valid point in stressing the element of anxiety that traumatised poets in theRomantic age, an anxiety rooted in a fear that they might be deserted by the inspirational force that hadsustained poetry in earlier ages. Without any reference to Goethe's historical context, Willoughby stresses
 
that Goethe underwent a period of uncertainty and anxiety when he first contended with the problem of representing the figure of the Wanderer in poetry. One important consequence of Professor Willoughby's
lack of regard for the wider historical context framing Goethe’s life and works is the absence of any specific
reference to the German Romantics, whose use of the word "Wanderer" as a central word and image was just as prominent as Goethe's. Professor L. A. Willoughby does make passing reference to what he sees asGoethe's low "romantic" wanderers (that is "romantic" with a small "r"). In Goethe's novel
Wilhelm MeistersLehrjahre
Professor Willoughby finds two antithetical kinds of "Wanderer". One the one side, there areMignon, a girl troubadour of Italian origin, and the Harper, a figure somewhat reminiscent of a bard orbiblical prophet. Professor Willoughby emphasises their "negative" characteristics, their erratic andundisciplined life-styles which are partly responsible for their early and tragic deaths. One the other, there isWilhelm Meister, a member of a wandering troupe of actors whose errant life prepares him a sociallyconstructive rle in the medical profession. Professor Willoughby seems to suggest that Mignon and theHarper convey a warning against tendencies that were soon to culminate in the Romantic movement. If Goethe did intend to signal such a warning, he must have possessed vatic powers, as the Romanticmovement did not arise until after the publication of 
Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre
(1795). Indeed, Friedrich
 
Schlegel cited the novel as one of the main factors that gave an initial impulse to the Romantic movement.In view of Goethe's later altercations with the Romantics, it might seem paradoxical that he should havebeen one of its chief instigators, unless one takes account of the phenomenon called "introversion".Introversion results from a selective assimilation of certain elements that one author finds in the work of another, and the exclusion of others. In accord with this principle the Romantics avidly accepted Mignon andthe Harper as models to emulate but rejected Wilhelm, for they saw in him one who embodied Goethe'sassertion of the principle that it is incumbent on artists to pursue a useful and socially beneficial goal.
Joseph von Eichendorff’s celebrated novelle:
 Aus dem Leben eines Taugenichts
(
From the Life of a
 
Good-for-Nothing
) expresses a rejection of Goethe's belief in the necessity of combining art and social or utilitarianpriorities.
Logocentricity
 A definition of the logocentric method to be applied in this study has already been outlined. ThoughProfessor Willoughby refers to the images of the "Wanderer" and "hut", his basic approach can be construedas logocentric in view of the fact that the "images" he refers to coincide in most cases with occurrences of the words "Wanderer" and "Hütte". His vacillation between references to "hut" and "Hütte" points to anambiguity. Is Willoughby primarily concerned with a theme identified by a word having a merely designatingfunction, or does he interpret words in the light of their textual settings with thus allow himself to considerthe possibility of their having a wide range of meanings? Professor Willoughby begins his article with theobservation that the "images" of the "Wanderer" and the "hut" occur so frequently, both separately and incombination, that they must result from some pattern-forming propensity in the author's mind. He applies,in effect, the statistical criteria favoured by linguists and textual critics who find language theories relevantto problems encountered in literary studies. Professor Willougby assumes that a single principle of unity andcoherence transcends all differences in Goethe's literary works, affecting even the choice of individual wordsand their location in a text. The organising effect of this principle is so far-reaching as to lie beyond the fullconscious control of the author.A number of scholars have attempted to map an author's mind by noting idiosyncrasies of language andword use that emerge from a study of his or her literary works. In her monograph Browning's Poetry of Reticence, for example, Barbara Melchiori observes that the word "gold" is the most frequently usedsubstantive in Robert Browning's poetic works (occurring altogether about 390 times), and mustconsequently be regarded as a word of special significance to Browning at a deep unconscious level. 3Though I consider Professor Willoughby's approach to the phenomenon of the "Wanderer" to be essentially
logocentric, his article entitled "The Image of the 'Wanderer' and the 'Hut' in Goethe's Poetry“ contains
references to the "image" of the "Wanderer", and not specifically to "the word" as such. The term "image"has gained much favour in twentieth-century criticism. When referring to an "image" in poetry, one is usinga metaphor rather than a precise definition. This metaphor is particularly apt when it directs attention to thespontaneous and incandescent effects of poetic language. Professor Willoughby sometimes gives the terman altogether different significance when he suggests that the image of the "Wanderer" informs not onlymetaphors contained by a literary work, but also entire literary works themselves (cf. Faust), to which it
 
furnishes a comprehensive sustained metaphor, i.e. an allegorical frame. Perhaps there is one way of understanding the connection between the vagaries of wandering and the creation of vivid imagery if werecognize that "wandering" essentially does not concern the wanderer's itinery, his initial purposes andgoals. Rather, what interests us about wandering is the wanderer's mentality, even his psychologicalvulnerability giving rise to his experience of moments of intense awareness in encountering the unexpected,host of golden daffodils or the sea-serpents seen by the ancient mariner at a juncture that can be welldescribed as the turning-point of Coleridge's famous and enigmatic balad. In this case the vision istantamount to a conversion experience.

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