I’m laptopping you today from Goethe’s chair. I’m in his “poetry room” here in his family home in Frankfurt. The five-story building, leaning out over a street called Grosser Hirschgraben, was restored after WW2. The surrounding buildings are now a museum and one of the main attractions in this city. Here are manuscripts, drawings, paintings, childhood toys — a furnished interior locked into 1749. There’s a library, picture gallery, theatre and conference center. On the third floor I bumped into a shaggy young poet, his eyes on the ceiling, notebook and stubby pencil in hand. In the library I watched Japanese schoolgirls copying his drawings and giggling at his poetry.
Goethe, as you might have guessed, is one of my favorite guys. He is, of course, a universal hero — celebrated in books, festivals, plays, conferences and websites. The artist has superceded himself. This in part because he loved connectivity and understood the viral nature of culture. He cultivated the bright and the influential. He traveled in search of love and beauty — seeking to understand and unveil. He enjoyed writing letters, honing sentences, turning phrases. His life and his life’s work became the kernel of an institution. Like Picasso, Vasarelli, Klee, Wordsworth, Shakespeare and other creators he is now anchored by a piece of real estate. Everyone owns him.
Today, in the surrounding countryside, the Riesling grapes are off the vine and well-dressed strollers pause to take the sun-filled views. Apart from the distant roar of traffic on the autobahn, things are pretty much as they were. Everything, everyone is attractive. Beauty, decency and pleasantness prevail. Children fill the air with laughter. Travellers pose. Lovers kiss. The world is in the business of finding its artists.
PS: “When mortals wander far from home, / Beauty’s web may catch them as they roam.” (Goethe)
Esoterica: According to a recent survey by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Germany tops the nations with 84.7 websites per 1000 people. Denmark and Norway follow with 71.7 and 66.4, while the US, UK, and Canada all hang out pretty close to 60. If he could have, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe would have been online. He is now.
by Antoinette Ledzian, Stonington, CT, USA
I’m packing my bags for Frankfurt! How inspirational! Just yesterday I had breakfast with a dear friend who happens to be German and has just returned from Malta where she experienced a real bonding with the townspeople. Her “soulfelt” experiences in the small villages were something she’d never experienced over here in the States. I’m yearning to go there! Thanks so much for all you contribute to our soulfelt experiences here behind the computer! I’m blessed.
by Yaroslaw Rozputnyak, Russia
The unique feature of Goethe is that in contraversion to Winston Churchill that was politician before and then artist, Goethe was artist in all respections to that degree that it made him close to politicians. Not only universal artist, perhaps, but expressively strong artist. Strong artist must be social parameter, not only art feature. Strong artist is able to make his own art strong.
Be careful with Goethe
by Ellen Smith Fagan, Rockville, CT, USA
I am glad you like Goethe, but our Sherlock Holmes liked him, too… often with his famous “seven percent solution” of cocaine, as a treat after a case well-solved. So be careful with Goethe. I like Goethe, though he is said to be a man’s poet for the power in the words… and Small charming does of him, like your quote at the foot of today’s letter. Enough for me.
Hans Christian Anderson
by Doran William Cannon, California, USA
Love your travels… so as to live through your eyes. We have in Solvang, California only 15 miles from our Circle C Writing Ranch, the Hans Christian Anderson Museum… above a bookstore called the Book Loft. It’s a truly impressive little museum. Just about everyone who lives in Solvang, serving the tourist trade, has the surname of Anderson.
Artists lead the way
by Gertjan Zwiggelaar
Thanks for the letter from Goethe’s place. I agree with you that Goethe would have been on-line, if he were here today. I happen to believe that if Leonardo were still here, indeed all of the great old masters, they would all have embraced computers very early and utilized them to further their artistic ends. Remember, artists are the froth on the wave of civilization. Indeed, artists tend to lead the way toward a more beautiful world, a more harmonious existence in which Love reigns supreme.
Torn between two worlds
by Beate Epp
It brings tears to my eyes to read this week’s letter from Germany… It always happens when I see or hear anything from home. There are so many things that I am missing, the landscape, the culture, the old streets and buildings, the opportunity to just go and in a few hours be in Italy or elsewhere… I could see everything in front of my eyes when I read your letter.
Too bad that so many kids don’t learn about great writers like Goethe, Hesse, Heine or Schiller anymore. Our school system in Germany is not the same as it used to be and I fear, if you don’t know and learn about your culture, you are about to loose your roots. I am happy where I am, but I will always be torn between two worlds — sometimes don’t know where I do belong.
by Ingeborg Raymer
Your letter about Johann Wolfgang von Goethe really touched my heart, especially, as you are one of the few I have met here in Canada who are recognizing the greatness of this man. Everybody in Germany knows Shakespeare as it is required reading in about 8th Grade. And — the Germans erected a statue of Shakespeare in Goethe’s birthplace “Weimar.” Goethe’s play “Faust” has inspired many scholars and was set to music in two great operas. His thinking also is involved in a philosophical movement called “Anthroposophy” on which the Waldorf Schools were founded by Dr. Rudolf Steiner. Thank you for giving recognition to this great, universal man.
Memories of Robert Lenkiewicz
Henryk Ptasiewicz, St Louis, MO, USA
I can vividly recall being in the studio of Robert Lenkiewicz. It was huge and filled with paintings, but I always remember the open toilet door. This little room was somehow more important than it should have been, and I imagine that this was probably the last thing he saw. After 911 I re-read a lot of James Joyce. I have treated Joyce as a father figure, showing me how to navigate through the world. I thought of Robert Lenkiewicz in the same light. He could analyze so much, and he could paint as well. Not everything Robert did was right, but you have to admire him. Robert said that he never got depressed. He saw life in a different way.
Aesthetics of Ugly
Philip Chircop, Pickering, ON, Canada
Have you ever come across anything regarding “the aesthetics of awkward” or “the aesthetics of ugly”? I heard the phrase yesterday, coming from the mouth of a budding artist. I tried to look up the phrase and did a web-search — nothing came up. I would appreciate any information you can share on the topic. I somehow feel the need to delve deeper into the matter and to study more “the aesthetics of ugly/awkward” and contrast it with what we seem to be more familiar with “the aesthetics of beauty.”
(RG note) Ugly is indeed its own aesthetic. The association with awkward is appropriate. Workers in the aesthetic of ugly are often seen to be awkward in their understanding and application of media — hence the connection.
An ugly aesthetic must have its own institution — a party, faculty or clique. It must use proscribed methodology to proliferate. Adolf Hitler mentions in Mein Kampf that if you keep repeating a lie — a percentage of the population will eventually take it for the truth. Repetition is important. “Believers” might even be relatively well educated. One of the current characteristics of ugly is the resort to minimalism. Less is often thought to be more, no matter how ugly, and in a way, it is. Furthermore, ugly requires ballyhoo — it takes ballyhoo to get people to go and look at a one-trick pony. Understandably, the search for and the production of beauty is often more complex than the search for and production of ugly.
Snobbishness, insider mentality and intellectual superiority play their part. Ugly is generally portrayed as “smart.” John Keats said: “Truth is beauty.” Does this mean that ugly is mere falsehood? The important question is how useful is ugly — and when to use it. It is perfectly justified to describe the negative as well as the positive — if indeed ugly is negative. And just as one man’s junk is another’s treasure, one must always be aware of the outside possibility that today’s ugly may turn out to be tomorrow’s beautiful.