Monday, July 12, 2004


I promised to say a bit more about Novalis, so after a brief refresher, here goes. Novalis was born Friedrich von Hardenberg in 1772; he became a major figure in the German Romantic movement in the 1790s; and he died young of tuberculosis in 1801. His most famous works are his poetic cycle, Hymns to the Night, and the fictional works, The Apprentices at Sais and Heinrich von Ofterdingen. Hymns to the Night can be found here; it's an updated version of George MacDonald's 1897 translation, which would make it worth reading on its own; the unmodified version can be found at The Golden Key, one of the best on-line sites about George MacDonald, here. The most famous passage from Heinrich von Ofterdingen, on the Blue Flower, can be found here. The Blue Flower became an extemely important symbol in the Romantic movement. (The same site is slowly building up the only on-line translation of Heinrich von Ofterdingen here.) The penname 'Novalis', which means something like 'breaker of new ground', was first used, as near as I can tell in his collection of fragments, Pollen, also called Miscellaneous Observations (which, besides Hymns to the Night, a few other of the fragmentary works, and excerpts from the others, is the only Novalis I've actually managed to read). Thomas Carlyle's 1829 essay on Novalis is here.

The Romantics saw themselves as engaged in what they called Symphilosophie, i.e., philosophy as a genuinely collaborative enterprise. The fragmentary genre was, particularly by Novalis, seen as a way of engaging in symphilosophy; he saw the fragments in his fragment-collections as 'literary seedings' (hence the name Pollen for one of them).

The following are some fragments from his various fragmentary collections that I found especially of interest. The translations are those of Margaret Mahony Stoljar, in her edition of Novalis: Philosophical Writings, SUNY Press, 1997.

From Miscellaneous Observations

16. We are close to waking when we dream that we are dreaming.

19. How can a person have a sense of something if he does not have the germ of it within himself. What I am to understand must develop organically within me--and what I seem to learn is only nourishment--stimulation of the organism.

38. Man has his being in truth--if he sacrifices truth he sacrifices himself. Whoever betrays truth betrays himself. It is not a question of lying--but of acting against one's conviction.

50. Every beloved object is the center of a paradise.

62. Humanity is a cosmic role.

84. The most intimate community of all knowledge--the republic of learning is the high purpose of scholars.

92. The historian endows historical beings with living form. The data of history are the mass which the historian shapes--giving it life. It follows that history also obeys all the principles of animation and of all living form, and until these principles are in place there are also no real products of the historian's art--but only traces here and there of chance animations, where involuntary genius was active.

96. Where children are, there is a golden age.

100. The wisdom of story-telling contains the history of the archetypal world--it embraces times past, present, and future.
The human world is the common instrument of the gods. Poetry unites them as it does us.

104. The art of writing books has not yet been invented. But it is on the point of being invented. Fragments of this kind are literary seedings. Many among them may indeed be steril--still, if only some grow....

125. The true reader must be an extension of the author. He is the higher court tha treceives the case already prepared by the lower court. The feeling by means of which the author has separated out the materials of his work, during reading separates out again the unformed and the formed aspects of the book--and if the reader were to work through the book according to his own idea, a second reader would refine it still more, with the result that, since the mass that had been worked through would constantly be poured into fresh vessels, the mass would finally become an essential component--a part of the active spirit.
Through impartial rereading of his book the author can refine his book himself. With strangers the particular character is usually lost, because the talent of ully entering into another person's idea is so rare. Often even in the author himself. It is not a sign of superior education and greater powers to justifiably find fault with a book. When receiving new impressions, greater sharpness of mind is quite natural.

From Logological Fragments I

7. When one begins to reflect on philosophy--then philosophy seems to us to be everything, like God, and love. It is a mystical, highly potent, penetrating idea--which ceaselessly drives us inward from all directions. The decision to do philosophy--to seek philosophy is the act of self-liberation--the thrust toward ourselves.

12. In the truest sense doing philosophy is--a caress. It bears witness to the deepest love of reflection, to absolute delight in wisdom.

14. Sophists are people who, alert to the weakness and errors of philosophers, seek to use these to their advantage or generally for certain unphilosophical, unworthy purposes--often philosophy itself. Thus they actually have nothing to do with philosophy....

24. The poem of the understanding is philosophy. It is the greatest impetus tha thte understanding gives itself about itself--union of the understanding and the imagination. Without philosophy a person remains divided in his most essential powers. He is two people--one who has understanding--and one who is a poet.
Without philosophy a poet is incomplete. Without philosophy a thinker--or a judge--is incomplete.

31. Poetry is the basis of society as virtue is the basis of the state. Religion is a mixture of poetry and virtue--can you guess, then--what it is the basis of?

43. Genius in general is poetic. Where genius has been active it has been poetically active. The truly moral person is a poet.

87. To become a human being is an art.

99. Whoever sees life other than as a self-destroying illusion is himself still preoccupied with life.
Life must not be a novel that is given to us, but one that is made by us.

100. Everything is seed.

From the Teplitz Fragments

25. The world is a universal trope of the spirit--a symbolic picture of it.

41. Our whole life is divine service.

From the General Draft of an Encyclopedia

28. My book is to become a scientific bible--a real, and ideal model--and seed of all books.

35. Every branch of learning becomes poetry--after it has become philosophy.

45. Philosophy is actually homesickness--the urge to be everywhere at home.

48. A fairy tale is actually like a dream image--without context. An ensemble of marvelous things and incidents--for example, a musical fantasy--the harmonic products of an Aeolian harp--nature itself.
If a story is brought into the fairy talke, this is already an alien interference.

From the Last Fragments

12. Doing philosophy is only a threefold or double kind of waking--being awake--consciousness.

15. What is it that shapes a person if it is not his life history? And in the same way a splendid person is shaped by nothing other than world history.
Many people live better in the past and the future than in the present.
Even th epresent cannot at all be understood without the past and without a high degree of education--saturation with the highest products, the purest spirit of the age and of the past, and a digestion of this, from what source the human prophetic view arises, which the historian, the active, idealistic person who works with the data of history can as little do without as the grammatical and rhetorical storyteller.
In his discourse the historian must often become an orator. Indeed he speaks gospels, fo rthe whole of history is gospel.

26. Poetry is true idealism--contemplation of the world as one would contemplate a great mind--self-consciousness of the universe.

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