Friday, June 10, 2005

preemptive strike

In which he responded with yet another apposite quote to the perception of a vaguely sniggering silence elsewhere.
But 'reality' is now something different from what it was in Holderlin's day, and it may well be asked whether he would have been able to find his way in the present great age. 'I do not know,' said Friedrich Vischer, 'whether his gentle soul could have endured all the harshness involved in any war or all the rottenness we have seen advancing since the war in every sphere of life. Perhaps he would again have sunk back into despair. He was one of the unarmed souls, he was the Werther of Greece, a lover without hope; his was a life full of gentleness and desire, but there was also strength and substance in his will, and greatnesss, richness and life in his style, which now and then reminds us of Aeschylus. Only his spirit had too little of hardness in it; he lacked the weapon of humour; he could not admit that one can be a philistine without being a barbarian.' It is this last confession, and not the sugary condolences of the after-dinner speaker, that concerns us. Yes, one admits to being a philistine—but a barbarian! Not at any price. Poor Holderlin was, alas, incapable of drawing such fine distinctions. If, to be sure, one understands by the word barbarian the opposite of civilization, or even equates it with such things as piracy and cannibalism, then the distinction is justified; but what the aesthetician is plainly trying to say is that one can be a philistine and at the same time a man of culture—this is the joke that poor Holderlin had not the humour to see and the lack of which destroyed him. (Untimely Meditations)

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