5 March 2012

Psychedelic socialism in a moment of pause and reflection

"Curiously, my thoughts now shifted from Spadolini to Goethe, the German patrician whom his countrymen have adapted and adopted as their very own literary prince, as I had observed to Gambetti when we last met. Goethe, the honest burgher, the collector of insects and aphorisms, with his philosophical mishmash. (Gambetti did not know the meaning of mishmash and I had to explain it to him.) Goethe, the petit bourgeois of philosophy, the man on the make, of whom Maria once observed that he did not turn the world on its head but buried his own in German parochialism. Goethe, the classifier of stones, the stargazer, the philosophical thumbsucker of the Germans, who ladled their spiritual jam into household canning jars, to be consumed at any time and for any purpose. Goethe, who assembled commonplaces for the Germans, to be published by the house of Cotta and rubbed into their ears by schoolmasters until they were completely blocked. Goethe, who betrayed the German mind more or less for centuries, paring it down to the German average with what I had described to Gambetti, in our last meeting, as Goethean assiduity. Goethe is the philosophical pied piper, the German for all seasons, I told him. The Germans take their Goethe like medicine, believing in its efficacy, its health-giving properties. Goethe is nothing other than Germany's foremost intellectual quack. I told Gambetti, her first intellectual homeopath. The Germans swallow their Goethe, as it were, and are healthy. The whole German nation ingests its Goethe and feels better. But Goethe is a charlatan, I told gambetti; Goethe's writings are the acme of German charlatanry. Be careful, Gambetti, I said, beware of Goethe. He gives everyone indigestion, except the Germans. They believe in Goethe and revere him as one of the wonders of the world. Yet all the time this wonder of the world is a philosophical truck farmer. (Gambetti did not know what a truck farmer was and laughed loudly when I told him.) Goethe's work as a whole is a philosophical truck farm. Goethe never reached the heights in any sphere, I said. He never rose above the mediocre in anything he attempted. He isn't the greatest lyric poet, he isn't the greatest prose writer, and to compare his plays with Shakespeare's is like comparing a stunted dachshund from the Frankfurt suburbs with a tall Pyrenean mountain dog. Take Faust, I said—what megalomania! A totally unsuccessful experiment by a megalomaniac whose ambition went to his head and who imagined that his head could encompass the world. Goethe, the Frankfurter with big ideas who moved to Weimar, the megalomaniac patrician in the world of women. Goethe, who turned the Germans' heads and made fools of them and has had them on his conscience for a hundred fifty years. Goethe is the gravedigger of the German mind, I told Gambetti. Compared with Voltaire, Descartes or Pascal, for instance, and of course with Shakespeare, Goethe is an alarmingly small figure. The prince of poets—what a ridiculous notion! Yet how utterly German! Hölderlin is the great lyricist, Musil the great prose writer, and Kleist the great dramatist. Goethe fails on all three counts. But now my thoughts returned to what Spadolini had said about my mother's being a special person."

– Thomas Bernhard, Extinction

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