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Philosophical Interlude

No portrait of 19th century Germany can be complete without taking a stroll through the philosophic aura of the times. A lot has happened on the front of Philosophy, from Kant's Metaphysics and onward... As the rigid constraints of Enlightenment's scientific view of Life have been shattered by the new generation of Transcendental Idealists of the Romantic Movement, philosophical discourse was at the forefront of the storm, and laid many crucial foundations for Romanticism and beyond. This I think is the greatest difference between the German Romanticism and the Romanticism in other European countries... In other countries, it was just a movement of literature and art, but in Germany, Romanticism resonated through all cultural manifestations, from literature to art to philosophy. That old national stereotype proved itself true after all: Germans really do love to think. And it was philosophical thought that shaped the cultural outlook of the age of Romanticism, and beyond. The First Wave of Romanticism in Germany started with the "Jena Group" in early 1790s, the city of Jena being an intellectual forum and meeting-place of forward-thinking minds. The group consisted of the two Schlegel brothers, a young genius of a poet who went by the name of Novalis (really he was Friedrich von Hardenberg, and he really deserves a separate page here... German Romanticism's first poetic voice, from whose works comes the concept of "Die Blaue Blume", the ever-haunting, unattainable Ideal that came to symbolize the entire movement as a whole.. He suffered a tragic early death, barely out of his teens. Young as he was, he had already eclipsed many with his poetic gift...), also there were Friedrich Schelling (who wrote the seminal text "The Theory of Transcendental Idealism"), and Ludwig Tieck, a great early Romantic writer who was the first to reach back through the mists of time for Germany's own folk identity, setting his novellas in the distant 'Golden Age' of the middle ages, when master artists and their apprentices and traveling musicians and poets walked from town to town through the great German woods, reveling in the freedom of the wilderness and unrestrained creativity... Eichendorff would later take that further, and imbue this imagery with profound and hauntingly moving emotional tenderness.
The Second Wave of German Romanticism came in the early 1800, in the turbulent climate of the rise of Napoleon and the subsequent Napoleonic Wars, when it was a very realistic fear that Germany would be taken over by the French. This Second Wave of creative German minds were avowed patriots and nationalists, and their urgent need to create art that is distinctly German (that would serve as motivation/inspiration for the German people to come together, for Germany was not a unified country yet) was evident in their fervent love of the native folk spirit, and they sought to bring it out in their own works. Lost was the more sophisticated tone of Goethe and Schiller and other 18 century giants; instead it was replaced by folk simplicity, a natural, even naive and open-hearted expression of feelings and thoughts, uninhibited and free. But even as Schiller once said, true Genius ought to be naive and simple. This second wave of writers and philosophers included Johann Gottlieb Fichte (whose philosophical ideas were very laden with patriotic spirit, but he also continued exploring Schelling's theories of Idealism too), Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano (both of whom collaborated on collecting and gathering authentic German oral folk poetry and songs, which were then published under the name Des Knabens Wunderhorn), the Grimm brothers (who were also folklorists and scholars, and who did the same gathering for German folk fairy tales), Heinrich von Kleist, Adelbert von Chamisso, and to some extent Joseph von Eichendorff. It's important to remember that there were never official "circles" of activity with "members", people named above came and went as was their wont, but mostly they were familiar with each other's writings and indeed used to meet and share/discuss ideas, some did it more than others, but all were active around the same time. It's also important to keep in mind how crucial German Universities were to the dissemination of these and other ideas, with great impact on culture and politics of the 19th century. Some of these writers, like Schegels and Fichte and Grimm brothers, were also professors, and taught courses and brought these ideas to life in their classrooms... Other people, like Chamisso and Kleist and Eichendorff, were no strangers to military service and were small aristocrats with their own private lives, being less active in the tumultuous wormholes (Kleist was actually kind of active, but then again it's better not to generalize at all).
Romanticism as a movement was coming to an end in the mid-1800s... Eichendorff, who died in 1857, was fondly called even in his lifetime "the Last Knight of Romanticism". The political turbulence of the post-Napoleonic times pierced Germany with a harsh dose of reality. The young revolutionary idealist spirit that seemed so fresh and promising in the 1790s did after all usher in a newer age, but it was far from pretty... More corruption among German authorities, oppressive political regime that was distrustful of individual expression and prone to censuring new writings, and the ideological turmoil boiling in the German universities, as a generation that grew in the Romantic age and was fed Kant and Fichte and now Hegel clamored for some kind of progress or action or change from the status quo.
Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) enters the scene... Rather, he has already entered it long ago, he has been standing on the side all this while and observing, and getting utterly sick of it. He is credited sometimes with being the founding grandfather of Existentialism - a spirit disillusioned with the times, seeing regression instead of evolution in society all around, and attempting to deconstruct ideas and assumptions that have too long been considered as self-evident. As Romanticism was the voice of optimism in the great tomorrow, Schopenhauer was the voice of pessimism, his realistic reaction coming from watching society all around him not lining up to the ideals that Romanticism strived for. His philosophy bore the brunt of his bitter disillusionment, but at the same time he seemed to transcend it... reaching greater clarity.
Fichte's metaphysical thesis (with which Schopenhauer was familiar) stated basically thus - We know that we exist and that the world and all those things are there because we experience them through our senses. Therefore, our existence is the sum of our perceptions that we get from our five senses. We don't know what's REALLY out there... or if there's even ANYTHING out there at all... because we're trapped within our physical sensual perceptions, so to speak, it is through them that we get information of things around us, and we'll never know the actual TRUTH. - And yes, you guessed it, this metaphysical reasoning by Fichte (he came up with it in 1820s) was used as the premise in the Matrix movies.
And now, Schopenhauer took Fichte's reasoning one step further. He published a monumental work called "The World as Will and Representation", where he explored a theme that would have a profound influence on the lives of both Wagner and Nietzsche. Schopenhauer took Fichte's reasoning further, and said - Yes, in fact there is NOTHING out there, beyond our own perceptions... we live in the utter emptiness, and the only thing that drives us through this emptiness is the WILL... - Schopenhauer saw this Will as a universal life force within every person, it is what drives one onward and ever onward, the sole animator and motivator. But for this very reason, Will is also the cause of suffering in life, because it carries the person ever onward, never allowing him to stop and find peace in one spot, but forcing him to carry on, from one thing to the next - a never satiated thirst for something, a striving for something that never can be seized... the Will for life, in emptiness of life. How, then, can one minimize the suffering of life? Schopenhauer answers - through the power of Music. Of all the different arts, Music is the most direct, Schopenhauer says. Other arts rely more on our physical senses - we look at painting and it takes time to interpret it, we read text and must interpret it, our senses become the mediators through which art travels. But when we hear music, it ENTERS us directly and affects us immediately just the way it IS: our senses do not obscure its essence. It goes directly to our bloodstream, needing no conscious effort to process it at all. According to Schopenhauer, the spirit of Music really DOES exist out there, in that emptiness where nothing else exists... it is Real, it transcends physical limiting perceptions and we have direct access to it. That is why it affects us so... like nothing else does, like nothing else can. Schopenhauer says that Music and the Will are closely related... Music speaks to the Will, soothes it and attaches itself to it, and they are indeed connected and are parts of the one and the same Essence that transcends emptiness... Music gives Will the power to transcend emptiness.

This philosophy of Schopenhauer changed the lives of Richard Wagner and Friedrich Nietzsche, both of whom were deeply moved by it and inspired to create their own art that would push those ideas even further, towards a global awareness. Wagner and Nietzsche were friends for many years (they ended up having a falling out later though), and what Wagner did in the realm of musical art, Nietzsche did in the realm of philosophy. Namely, a complete overhaul of pre-established conventions and clearing the centuries' old ideological clutter for a newer, braver truth.
Nietzsche was not satisfied with the dualistic worldview that persisted all the way from Christian times - that everything is either good or evil. Nietzsche saw it as a stale doctrine that has long outstayed its welcome, and wanted to transcend it - overcome it - cross over and leave it behind in favor of something better suited for the time and age he lived in. Nietzsche's ideas speak plainly in the very titles of his works - "Beyond Good and Evil", "On the Genealogy of Morals", and are immortalized in the one single most evocative word of the past two hundred years: Übermensch. It is noteworthy that Nietzsche never does really say HOW the ideological overhaul ought to be achieved... nor does he actually offer his own suggestion of what should replace the stale black-and-white morality that he calls to be torn down. I think the absence of any concrete "recipe" for a new morality/ideology/system is the very testament to Nietzsche's great character. He speaks out vehemently and fervently against "herd mentality", and urges his readers to use their own head instead of simply absorbing other's thoughts and becoming zombies. It would be very hypocritical indeed if he would then actually offer his own opinion on what ought to be done for the philosophy of tomorrow! - he knew only too well that sooner or later, his opinion would be indoctrinated as yet another religion and people would simply read his books instead of thinking for themselves. This was exactly what he wanted to avoid! So instead of shelling out clear-cut means of achieving that which he preaches, Nietzsche instead cloaks his writings into a mantle of mystery. In the true spirit of Self Reliance that Nietzsche values so much, he wants his readers to use their own heads to try to decipher the riddles with which Nietzsche conveys his messages. If someone doesn't get him and throws the book across the room in contempt, all the better! Only a careful reader will truly benefit and be able to unearth the wealth of wisdom from the hidden messages. Because there is no "one" single way of achieving what Nietzsche calls for. Every reader will have to interpret it for himself, and achieve the transcendence in his own way with his own experiences. There is not one "correct" way - leave that kind of dogma to obsolete religions that must be overcome! As Nietzsche said: "You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist."

(Below, in the two columns, I posted selections from Nietzsche's "Thus Spoke Zarathustra": on the left is a section about Ubermensch, on the right is a section on Friendship and some great Nietzsche quotes that I like. In the bottom column, there is a selection of quotations from Arthur Schopenhauer. I would have loved to post some selections from his works about Music and the Will, but his book is like a thousand pages long and it's hard to choose one passage from the next because they are all so good!)

Behold, I teach you the Ubermensch (overman). Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?

All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man? What is the ape to man? A laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. And man shall be just that for the overman: a laughingstock or a painful embarrassment...

Behold, I teach you the overman. The overman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the overman shall be the meaning of the earth! I beseech you, my brothers, remain faithful to the earth, and do not believe those who speak to you of otherworldly hopes! Poison-mixers are they, whether they know it or not. Despisers of life are they, decaying and poisoned themselves, of whom the earth is weary: so let them go.

Once the sin against God was the greatest sin; but God died, and these sinners died with him. To sin against the earth is now the most dreadful thing, and to esteem the entrails of the unknowable higher than the meaning of the earth...

What is the greatest experience you can have? It is the hour of the great contempt. The hour when your happiness, too, arouses your disgust, and even your reason and your virtue.

The hour when you say, 'What matters my happiness? It is poverty and filth and wretched contentment. But my happiness ought to justify existence itself.'

The hour when you say, 'What matters my reason? Does it crave knowledge as the lion his food? It is poverty and filth and wretched contentment.'

The hour when you say, 'What matters my virtue? As yet it has not made me rage. How weary I am of my good and my evil! All that is poverty and filth and wretched contentment.'

The hour when you say, 'What matters my pity? Is pity not the cross on which he is nailed who loves humans? But my pity is no crucifixion.'

Have you yet spoken thus? Have you yet cried out thus? Oh that I may have heard you cry out thus!

Not your sin - your modesty cries out to high heaven, your stinginess even in sinning cries out to hight heaven!

Where is the lightning that would lick you with its tongue? Where is the madness with which you should be cured?

Behold, I teach you the Overman - he is this lightning, he is this madness!

Now Zarathustra looked at the people and he was amazed. And he sopke thus:

Mankind is a rope fastened between animal and overman--a rope over an abyss.

A dangerous crossing, a dangerous on-the-way, a dangerous looking back, a dangerous shuddering and standing still.

What is great about human beings is that they are a bridge and not a purpose: what is lovable about human beings is that they are a Crossing Over and a Going Under.

I love those who do not know how to live but by going under, for they are the ones who cross over.

I say unto you: one must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star. I say unto you: you still have chaos in yourselves.

Alas, the time is coming when man will no longer give birth to a star. Alas, the time of the most despicable man is coming, he that is no longer able to despise himself. Behold, I show you the last man.

'What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?' thus asks the last man, and blinks.

The earth has become small, and on it hops the last man, who makes everything small. His race is as ineradicable as the flea; the last man lives longest.

'We have invented happiness,'say the last men, and they blink. They have left the regions where it was hard to live, for one needs warmth. One still loves one's neighbor and rubs against him, for one needs warmth...

One still works, for work is a form of entertainment. But one is careful lest the entertainment be too harrowing. One no longer becomes poor or rich: both require too much exertion. Who still wants to rule? Who obey? Both require too much exertion.

No shepherd and one herd! Everybody wants the same, everybody is the same: whoever feels different goes voluntarily into a madhouse.

'Formerly, all the world was mad,' say the most refined, and they blink...

One has one's little pleasure for the day and one's little pleasure for the night: but one has a regard for health.

'We have invented happiness,' say the last men, and they blink."

On the Friend

"One is always too many around me" - thus thinks the hermit. "Always one times one - in the long run, that makes two!"
I and me are always too eager in conversation: how could I stand it if there were no friend?
For the hermit, the friend is always a third - the third is the cork that prevents the conversation between the two from sinking into the depths.
Oh, there are too many depths for hermits. That is why they long for a friend and his height.
Our faith in others betrays areas in which we would like to have faith in ourselves. Our longing for a friend is our betrayer.
And often one uses love merely to leap over envy. And often one attacks and makes an enemy in order to conceal that one is open for attack.
"At least be my enemy!" - Thus speaks true respect that does not dare to ask for friendship.
If one wants a friend, then one must also want to wage war for him: and in order to wage war, one must be able to be an enemy.
One should honor the enemy even in one's friend. Can you step up to your friend without stepping over to him?
In one's friend one should have one's best enemy. You should be closest to him in heart when you resist him.
For your friend you cannot groom yourself beautifully enough, for you should be his arrow and longing for the Ubermensch.
Have you ever seen your friend sleeping - so that you discover how he really looks? What after all is the face of your friend? It is your own face, in a rough and imperfect mirror.
Have you ever seen your friend sleeping? Weren't you startled that your friend looks as he does? Oh my friend, human being is something that must be overcome.
The friend should be a master of guessing and keeping silent: you must not want to see everything. Your dream should reveal to you what your friend does while waking.
Let your compassion be a guessing, so that you might first know whether your friend wants compassion. Perhaps what he loves in you is your unbroken eye and the look of eternity.
Let compassion for your friend conceal itself beneath a hard shell, so that in biting on it you lose a tooth! That way it will have its delicacy and sweetness.
Are you pure air an solitude and bread and medicine to your friend? Many cannot loosen their own chains and yet they are a redeemer for their friend.
Are you a slave? Then you cannot be a friend. Are you a tyrant? Then you cannot have friends.

(Nietzsche in his youth)

Some great quotes by him:

"It is hard enough to remember my opinions, without also remembering my reasons for them!"

"The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself."

"The irrationality of a thing is no argument against its existence, rather a condition of it."

"He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."

"What is done out of love always takes place beyond good and evil."

"The Christian resolution to find the world ugly and bad has made the world ugly and bad."

"Out of life's school of war: What does not destroy me, makes me stronger."

“Out of damp and gloomy days, out of solitude, out of loveless words directed at us, conclusions grow up in us like fungus: one morning they are there, we know not how, and they gaze upon us, morose and gray. Woe to the thinker who is not the gardener but only the soil of the plants that grow in him.”

Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, von Arthur Schopenhauer. First printing, title page.

Summoning the Will through the spirit of Music... Der Meister in action: the silhouette of Richard Wagner conducting an orchestra.


"Buying books would be a good thing if one could also buy the time to read them in: but as a rule the purchase of books is mistaken for the appropriation of their contents."

"Every person takes the limits of their own field of vision for the limits of the world."

"Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see."

"Honor means that a man is not exceptional; fame, that he is. Fame is something which must be won; honor, only something which must not be lost."

"It is only a man's own fundamental thoughts that have truth and life in them. For it is these that he really and completely understands. To read the thoughts of others is like taking the remains of someone else's meal, like putting on the discarded clothes of a stranger."

"Music is the melody whose text is the world."

"Nature shows that with the growth of intelligence comes increased capacity for pain, and it is only with the highest degree of intelligence that suffering reaches its supreme point."

"The discovery of truth is prevented more effectively, not by the false appearance things present and which mislead into error, not directly by weakness of the reasoning powers, but by preconceived opinion, by prejudice. "

"The greatest of follies is to sacrifice health for any other kind of happiness. The two enemies of human happiness are pain and boredom. "

"To find out your real opinion of someone, judge the impression you have when you first see a letter from them."

"With people of limited ability, modesty is merely honesty. But with those who possess great talent, it is hypocrisy."

"Because people have no thoughts to deal in, they deal cards, and try and win one another's money. Idiots!"

"A man's face as a rule says more, and more interesting things, than his mouth, for it is a compendium of everything his mouth will ever say, in that it is the monogram of all this man's thoughts and aspirations. "

"A man can do what he wants, but not want what he wants."