Monday, January 12, 2004


A slow night at the Bookery. Browsing through various Germans. A quote of Walter Benjamin's that deserves to be more famous: "Boredom is the dream bird that hatches the egg of experience."

This blog turned one year old yesterday.

Here are some bits of Novalis' "Misecellaneous Remarks":
6. We will never understand ourselves entirely, but we are capable of perceptions of ourselves which far surpass understanding.

9. Our entire perceptive faculty resembles the eye. The objects must pass through contrary media in order to appear correctly on the pupil.

10. Experience is the test of the rational—and the other way round.

16. We are near to waking, when we dream we dream.

25. Modesty is very likely a feeling of profanation. Friendship, love and piety should be treated secretly. We should speak of them only in rare and intimate moments, and reach a silent understanding on them—there is much which is too fragile to be thought, and still more too delicate for discussion.

29. I cannot show that I have understood a writer until I am able to act in his spirit, until, without diminishing his individuality, I am able to translate, vary and change him.

70. Our language is either—mechanical—atomistic—or dynamic. But true poetic language should be organic and alive. How often one feels the poverty of words to express several ideas at a blow.

86. We usually understand the artificial better than the natural.

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 seed-houses. True, there may be a barren grain among them. But meanwhile, if only a few germinate . . .
The end of his "Monologue":
But what if I were compelled to speak? What if this urge to speak were the mark of the inspiration of langauge, the working of language within me? And my will only wanted to do what I had to do? Could this in the end, without my knowing or believing, be poetry? Could it make a mystery comprehensible to language? If so, would I be a writer by vocation, for after all, a writer is only someone inspired by language?
From his "Studies in the Visual Arts" (1799):
475. On the sensation of thinking in the body.

477. The poet borrows all his materials, except images. . . .

481. Everything visible cleaves to the Invisible—the Audible to the Inaudible—the Palpable to the Impalpable. Perhaps the Thinkable to the Unthinkable—. The telescope is an artificial, invisible organ. / Vessel. The imagination is the marvellous sense which can replace all senses for us—and which is so much ours to command. If the outward senses seem to be ruled entirely by mechanical laws—the imagination is obviously not bound to the present and to contact with external stimuli.

485. Our body is part of the world—or better, a member: it already expresses the independence, the analogy with the whole—in short the concept of the microcosm. This member must correspond to the whole. So many senses, so many modi of the universe—the universe entirely an analogy of the human being in body, soul and spirit. The former the abbreviated form, the latter the extended form of the same substance.
     I should not and will not on the whole act arbitrarily on the world—that is why I have a body. By modifying my body, I modify my world. By not acting upon the vessel of my existence, I likewise indirectly shape my world.

486. The tree can turn for me into a flame burgeoning—man into a flame speaking—beast into a flame walking.

487. Everything perceived is perceived in proportion to its repulsive power. Explanation of the Visible and the Illuminated—by analogy to sensible warmth. Likewise with sounds. Perhaps also with thoughts
Friedrich Schlegel now. "Critical Fragments" (1797):
4. There is so much poetry and yet there is nothing more rare than a poem! This is due to the vast quantity of poetical sketches, studies, fragments, tendencies, ruins and raw materials.

16. Just as a child is only a thing which wants to become a human being, so a poem is only a product of natrue which wants to become a work of art.

27. The critic is a reader who ruminates. Therefore he ought to have more than one stomach.

33. The overriding disposition of every writer is almost always to lean in one of two directions: either not to say a number of things that absolutely need saying, or else to say a great many things that absolutely ought to be left unsaid. The former is the original sin of synthetic, the latter of analytic minds.

57. If some mystical art lovers who think of every criticism as a dissection and every dissection as a destruction of pleasure were to think logically, then "wow" would be the best criticism of the greatest work of art. To be sure, there are critiques which say nothing more, but only take much longer to say it. [Someone please tell me the German for "wow."]

65. Poetry is republican speech: a speech which is its own law and end unto itself, and in which al the parts are free citizens and have the right to vote.

85. Every honest author writes for nobody or everybody. Whoever writes for some particular group does not deserve to be read.

89. Isn't it unnecessary to write more than one novel, unless the artist has become a new man? It's obvious that frequently all the novels of a particualr author belong together and in a sense make up only one novel.

100. The poetry of one writer is termed philosophical, of another philological, or a third, rhetorical, etc. But what then is poetical poetry?
Finally the last sentences of Benjamin's essay, "The Storyteller":
For he is granted the ability to reach back through a whole lifetime (a life, incidentally, that comprises not only his own experience but much of the experience of others; what the storyteller knows from hearsay is added to what is most his own). His gift is the ability to relate his life; his distinction, to be able to relate his entire life. The storyteller: he is the man who could let the wick of his life be consumed completely by the gentle flame of his story. This is the basis of the incomparable aura that surrounds the storyteller, in Leskov as in Hauff, in Poe as in Stevenson. The storyteller is the figure in which the righteous man encounters himself.

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