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What Saved Goethe?


I'm such a slow thinker, even if not particularly methodical. Just slow. I can think on something like a dog worrying a bone for years before finally coming to some sort of clearsight. (That's a word I haven't used in a long time.) I know the Goethe case pretty well. I know his biography and, at least in catalogue, if not having read everything he wrote, I know his vitae curriculum. I know him well enough so that I could offer an insight or two to any Goethe biographer or scholar. Let me put it this way. I know the case well enough to know that almost every intellectual, thinker, and writer in the West to come after him acknowledged him as the single greatest influence on their way of proceeding. This from Ralph Emerson to Andre Gide. Goethe is the one culture hero who has passed all my rather rigorous tests, which is maybe something I need to explain in post-modernist, self-critical fashion.

It amounts to a classic case of transference. My father was on the far side of gone from the first time he set eyes on me and all but denied his patrimony. For him my mother was a Florida season's f**k. For her he was the perfect prince she would adore until the day she died, age 71. For me, after maybe 2 decades of anguish, self-loathing, and hoping I could find my father, he became a man I rejected forthright, not so much for abandoning me, but for destroying my mother's hope for true love. After him she turned to drink and drugs. Because of him she never could let herself relax and love his son. After a few years of trying to find him the decision came clear and simple. I decided a man of his character had to be trash. I decided that if one day our paths crossed it would be because he sought me out and that, on that day, I would punch him once. Just once. I am reasonably sure this circumstance accounts for my search for a father figure, a culture hero. Only, he had to be the perfect man. Thus my rigorous testing. Constituted differently, maybe I would have sought him out in the military, in corporation, in organized sports. But, when you think about it, those are possibilities delimiting a human being. Now that I think on it, same can be said of philosophy and science. All delimiting. All dehumanizing. All depersonalizing. And, again, if you're going to commit to the business of transference, your father figure can be nothing less than perfect. Otherwise you're headed for disappointment. Now that I really think on it, mine has been a luxury not available to men who have a father. In one of his novels Gide said something that still makes me smile. The man born without a father is the luckiest of men, since, he gets to be himself. In my case I figure I got to pick and choose, find the perfect, spiritual father figure.

I'm really wanting to get to my question, what saved Goethe? 100 years ago, and speaking to an educated folk, I could dispense with the intro and explanation, get to the question. Not anymore, which is a circumstance that signals to me a cultural diminishment. One I've grown to accept. I mean why should the question have any currency at all? The answer is simple. Goethe was the last universal man, the last whole, complete, in Jungian terms, the first and last centroverted personality, a personality completely, perfectly integrated. In comparison Shakespeare was a partial man, pretty much good at one thing and one thing only. I could go through the list of culture heroes and still come up with the same estimation: partially accomplished. It's as true of Martin Luther King as it is of Thomas Jefferson, Montaigne, Abelard, Michelangelo, Dante, or any tribal leader, by which I mean politician or militarist, you can call up. No one like him since. No one like him before until you get back to Sophocles. A scientist who made as many as 3 original discoveries. An educator. A goverment minister. A painter. A dramatic poet as great as Shakespeare and Moliere. And Europe's greatest lyric poet. None of which are claims, just facts in the canon. Then this: an unapologetic mystic and devotee of the Feminine. But think on that for a moment please. To call a scientist a scientist, a poet a poet, is less a categorical definition than it is a pointer to a capacity for taking in life. To have the kind of capacity Goethe had for taking in all of life isn't just unusual, it's unheard of, and not much humanly possible. The same Jungian who called Goethe's personality centroversive also said the man was Osirian like, referring to the Egyptian god of vegetation who gets born, who lives, maturates, dies, and gets regenerated. That was Goethe until the day he said "I need more light" and breathed his last.

I have figured out why Napolean Bonaparte, a military engineer by training, a poet by vocation, and, by dire necessity, the best military strategist since Alexander the Great, said what he said when he met Goethe in Wiemar. Vous etes un homme, he said when the poet entered his private room where he was at breakfast, having to be called in twice before he would pass through the door. At first glance, without interrogation, Bonaparte got, and I bet for the first time in his career, a man was standing before him he could not use, manipulate, bend, sway, or, if all else failed, destroy. Of course, Bonaparte's advantage is that he had read and followed Goethe's career. I suspect Goethe's advantage was that, by the age of 62, he was easy with himself even in the company of a man who had conquered.

I realize my question, what saved Goethe, begs another question: saved him from what? I think I know how it is with women, what they need to be saved from, but it is not my place to opine. But I do know how it is with men. They need to be saved from themselves and for good reason. In every man there is the automatic trigger to self-destruct. Goethe could not have created his Faust, who, when you think on it, is nothing but a cowboy and a gun slinger bent on pushing the envelope, had he not been Faustian. Nor could he have created Mephistopheles, his own daemon, worst nightmare, purest, instinctively animal self, had he not been Mephistophelian. Goethe was both. Supremely restless, supremely bent on self-destruction. No acccident that his first success in literature involved the protaginist's suicide.

Now I get to what I should have been able to say without explanation. Almost 2 decades ago I read a Goethe editor who wrote that what saved Goethe was his "willingness to love." I've gone with that, guess because I figured the editor amounted to authority. Let me see if I remember rightly and counting. Right. In his 80 plus years Goethe had, got to count again, 6 great loves. Oops. 7 great loves. Of the 7 only one was a certifiable !@#$, and that might have been because she was an aristocrat who couldn't help but look down on the bourgeois son of a Frankfurt lawyer. 5 of the other 6 would have run away with him had such been a posssibility in 18th C German society. (Elvira Madigan story all too real.) But I don't think Goethe's willingness to love is what saved him, at least, not wholly. I think he said it best in his dramatic poem, Faust Part 2 which ends with this mystical chorus: "All transient things are but a parable; the inaccessible here becomes actuality; here the ineffable is achieved; the Eternal Feminine draws us onward." God didn't save Faust from the devil.

That's what saved Goethe's Teutonic, cowboy ass, the Eternal Feminine.

Tere

Last edited by Terreson, Jan/4/2014, 8:01 pm
Jan/4/2014, 7:52 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
Katlin Profile
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Re: What Saved Goethe?


Hi Tere,

I don't know much about Goethe so was much interested in your personal as well as intellectual take on him. Thanks for this.

BTW, it's great to see you posting in Field Notes again!
Jan/6/2014, 4:24 pm Link to this post Send Email to Katlin   Send PM to Katlin
 
Terreson Profile
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Glad if you found the info interesting, Kat. Guess I'll always be fascinated by the Goethe lore. If I could I would effect a renascence in interest in him. And, yes, about the forum. It is the perfect spot for someone like me. Years ago, and for almost 3 decades, I kept a journal/workbook. Field Notes is a forum that satisfies this restrless brain of mine similarly.

Tere
Jan/11/2014, 4:17 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 


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