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This coming week will be the last of the spring semester and Monday will be my last lecture in what has been, for me, a wonderful exploration of German thought in the 18th Century. We have just read Goethe’s Faust and although I studied it in graduate school and have taught it to various of students in both German and English, this reading was surprisingly new for me, largely, I think, because of our focus throughout on the concept of knowledge.
Early this morning, in search of more space on my bookshelves, I moved some books and stumbled on a book I had forgotten I had and which I had never read:
It’s a short book, just under 100 pages. In the preface, written at Columbia University, Cassirer thanks Princeton University Press for deciding “to publish this English edition under the present difficult circumstances.”
18th-century ideas still important in the heat of WWII, even if they are German!
I read the book this afternoon and a summary tomorrow will be the perfect conclusion for the class.
A couple of the somewhat surprising affinities Cassierer finds between the two men (surprising because of Kant’s insistence that “any theory of nature will contain only so much of real science as it permits the application of mathematics” and Goethe’s belief that explorations of nature “must be divorced from mathematics, . . . must be completely independent, and try to penetrate with all its loving, reverent, pious force into nature and its holy life, quite regardless of what mathematics accomplishes and does”) are the following:
Goethe coined the word “morphology,” Cassierer writes, interested in the “formation and transformation of organic natures,” and with this created a “new ideal of knowledge.” A twentieth-century botanist, Adolf Hansen, wrote that the period of botany beginning with Goethe is related to the preceding one as chemistry to alchemy.” “To put it briefly and clearly,” Cassierer says, “Goethe completed the transition from the previous generic view to the modern genetic view of organic nature.” Rather than the rigid prevailing view that “nothing can come to be except what already is,” Goethe sought to “reveal the eternal in the transitory.”
Kant too wanted to explain the genesis of matter and was, according to Cassierer, “one of the first to offer a theory of the evolution of the material world from the original nebulae to its present form.” Kant also “envisioned the task and the goal of a general theory of evolution”: “Here the archaeologist of nature is at liberty to go back to the traces that remain of nature’s earliest revolutions, and, appealing to all he knows of or can conjecture about its mechanism, to trace the genesis of that great family of living things (for it must be pictured as a family if there is to be any foundation for the consistently coherent affinity mentioned.”
Cassierer points out that Goethe “had no desire to lay bare the secret of life; he rejoiced in life’s infinitely rich surface. It was enough for him to describe life in symbols. The original plant became one more such symbol for him. ‘The True, which is one with the Divine,’ writes Goethe in his Versuch einer Witterungslehre, ‘never permits itself to be known directly; we look upon it only in reflection, in example, symbol, in particular and related appearances; we become aware of it as incomprehensible life and still cannot renounce the desire to comprehend it.’ Here is a point on which there was no conflict between the views of Goethe and Kant.”
Further: “This is Goethe’s sense of humility and limitation. But it never led him to become a pessimist. For the insight into the finitude of human existence is not identical with the idea of the nothingness of that existence. Similarly Kant, the critic of pure reason, never became a sceptic. ‘The first step in matters of pure reason,’ says Kant, ‘which marks its childhood, is dogmatic. The . . . second step is sceptical and gives evidence of the caution of a judgment grown shrewd through experience. But a third step is still necessary, which belongs only to the matured and manly judgment founded on firm maxims whose universality is assured. . . . Through it . . . the very limits of reason . . . [are] not only assumed but proved from first principles.'”
The little book is powerful in its clarity.
addendum: from Goethe’s introduction to his new journal Propyläen, a disavowal of mystical truth:
“The youth, when drawn by nature and art, feels capable of entering soon, with a lively effort, into the inner sanctum; the man notices, after long travels, that he still finds himself in the outer courtyards. Such an observation gave rise to our title. Stair, gate, entrance, vestibule, the space between the inner and outer, between the sacred and profane — only this can be the place where we and our friends will dwell.”
So now he’s gone. The German author who — along with Thomas Mann and Bertolt Brecht — drew me into what became a part of my life’s work, died today at the age of 87.
I published articles about the dialectical use of myth in the second novel in Grass’ Danzig Trilogy, Hundejahre / Dog Years, and about Levi Strauss’s The Raw and the Cooked in the novel Der Butt / The Flounder. Wrestling with the complex and massive novels I learned a lot about language, about dialectical thinking, and about myself.
Copies of the articles are posted here:
Thoughts about the poem criticizing Israel for its nuclear armament and its hypocritical stance in regard to Iran’s nuclear ambitions are HERE.
Another gift of a notebook by/from Alex Caldiero. He calls it Among the Many Things Dreamed. Two of the pages to represent the rest of the thoughtful and colorful text:
Sam’s and my book has been named a finalist for Forward Reviews’ 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award. Click HERE for the announcement.
Lance Olson’s Nietzsche’s kisses begins . . . well, after two epigraphs it begins, and for that matter the epigraphs follow the title of the book and, I should note: the title of the first part—on the despisers of the body—precedes this beginning . . . Lance Olson’s book begins, then, with a kiss: Every sentence is a kiss.
“And next you are wandering the aisles of a secondhand bookstore.”
I have opened the book randomly to pages 42-43. Somewhat randomly. A sales receipt from Ken Sanders Rare Books is lodged here. Before I bought Nietzsche’s kisses I wandered the aisles of a rare and secondhand bookstore and now I am wandering the pages of, it says inside the cover, in pencil, by hand, a
edition of Lance Olson’s book Nietzsche’s kisses, a brilliant book that ends with the word “Again.” With the sentence “Again.” With an eternally recurring kiss.
Alex just gave me a disc titled “THREE (holograph) BOOKS.” It contains (does that metaphor still work digitally?) digital reproductions of three notebooks, 2004, 2005, and 2006. The gift of an author’s notebooks is almost beyond comprehension, possible only in my wildest dreams, as this image from the first notebook proclaims (click on the image for a larger version):
“I will do what I can,” Schiller wrote to Goethe in 1794, “and when the building collapses I will perhaps have rescued what is worth preserving from the fire.”
Despite the fragility of his health, Schiller produced most of his best work over the course of the following nine years. Or should I say because of the fragility of his health?
Why mention that in a response to new books by Alex Caldiero? Because after losing 12 inches of his colon last year (which left him, I told Alex, a semi-colon), Alex has been increasingly aware of his mortality. And that awareness has pushed him to finish projects he has had working on for years.
When Alex’s book Some Love is published by Signature Press next month, it will be the latest in a most remarkable series of recent publications, including sonosuono (Elik Press, 2013), a series of chapbooks, some of which I have written about (click HERE for one example) and the new books pictured here.
Alex Caldiero, A. F. Caldiero, A. A. F. Caldiero, and A. (A.) F. Caldiero, and Alissandru (Alex) F. Caldiero — these are the various appellations asserted by my dear friend Alex on the covers or title pages of these ten new (old) books. New because they have been created in the last few months. Old because they have not been created ex nihilo but ex notebookio. They bear double dates: 1991, 2014; 1989, 2014; 2008, 2014; 2004, 2015; 2007, 2014; 2006, 2015; and so on. Small editions, they are rarities from the moment of creation. My copy of Island Soul (Part One), for instance, is the 5th of 8 copies. The books have passed so quickly from Alex’s hand to mine (and they run from 16 to 120 pages) that I haven’t read them all yet. But I couldn’t help but peek into them. Here some first reports from those initial explorations. First the titles (I love Alex’s titles, once wrote a poem of his titles):
BAWDY RIDDLES AND TONGUE TWISTERS OF THE SICILIAN FOLK (Collected & Translated by A. A. F. Caldiero
anthem to no flag
ISLAND SOUL (Part One)
TEXTSPIRE “the heartbeats of sleep”
[the title of this little book is two Hebrew letters]
2004 / 2005 / 2006 (a grid book)
X-ing the Calendar [I wrote about this in an earlier post]
In his foreword to the Bawdy Riddles Alex writes that “The riddles and tongue twisters here collected were gathered in the late 60’s and early 70’s. They were all uttered by women — beautiful, old women who got a kick out of seeing the expression on my face as I sought to unravel their riddles. For the most part, I could not solve a riddle, because my mind was so prejudiced by the content that only obscene replies suggested themselves. This, of course, was the intent of telling these earthy riddles.”
Men with men can do it; Men with women also; But women with women, no. – Holy Communion –
Five little pricks / And one big cock; / Bumpitibump, / Into the twat. – Toes and foot going into the sock –
It goes in hard / And comes out soft. – Pasta –
The book titled bed is a series of poems about experiences in bed. It is printed on long sheets of off-white paper. Two of the more religious of them:
BED PRAYER lord, lead us lovingly onto our mattresses
BED CONFESSION bless me father for I have slept.
next you should
write the word fuck
but you don’t want little
children to read it
and you don’t want
certain sensitive or
to read it or hear it
said and have them
get upset and get nauseous
& have nightmares and
get urges they don’t
understand but which
could lead to random acts
of sex or god forbid
self abuse that’s how
it happens that’s how
that thing & things like
it happen and it’s
not worth the risk &
it don’t justify
saying it not fo’
KINESTHESIA3a is, in some ways, the oddest of the books, a book from Alex’s past, a mystical book growing out of a poet’s use and creative misuse of the Hebrew language. Facing pages from the little volume: Island Soul (Part One), printed on 8X10 paper, the largest of these books, if not the longest, contains several self portraits, of which this is my favorite:
Mind/body problem posed. Mind/body problem illustrated. Mind/body problem no problem.