In May 2019 The Monarch Writers were studying the German Author and Poet
And the literary movement he was a part of STURM UND DRANG
(STORM AND DRIVE).
For a good overview discussion of the Sturm Und Drang movement, check out the BBC Radio Four ‘In Our Time’ Podcast about it here.
This was very much a formative German cultural movement that through both the introspective suicidal romantic (Young Werther) and the high magician who makes deals with the Devil (Faust), influenced the emergence of a German spirit with obviously political implications, with the fascist movements in the 20th century and the destruction of modern Germany at the hand of the Nazis. These cultural currents are in play again today, and I’d like to try to have a discussion of what we might learn from these sources of a Romantic styled Violence of Emotion / Individuality and Deeply Introspective View / Libertinism and Libertarianism / A question of What order we follow / Revolt against older formalism. From the movement that rehabilitated Shakespeare as the quintessential unique genius, from out of the hands of people who denigrated him because he didn’t follow ‘the forms’, these treasure-chests of creative energy in various cultures around the world have led to some of the worst of shallow indulgence and bad faith interpretation in our modern day.
As a kind of crux of our current day politics, I want to take the grenade out of the hand of the boys in the Joker Halloween masks, and ask whether the grenade itself has any artistic merit.
GOETHE (one of the main authors of this movement) major works are ‘Faust’, and ‘The Sorrows of Young Werther’, his early novel about a romantic character who committed suicide, which led to people following his footsteps in kind. Also, I can recommend a biography of Goethe by an author who, I’ve read another one of his biographies (of
Nietzsche), which have great insight and lots of awesome material on him and his age.
Goethe’s two major works, ‘Faust’ and ‘The Sorrows of Young Werther’ had some pretty damn intense themes. ‘Faust’, about a scientist and doctor who was weary with worldly knowledge so made a bet with the Devil that he could never be shown enough things by his Demonic tempter to one day be sated and internally say, “enough, I am at peace now and satisfied.” In which instance, his soul would be forfeit! And ‘The Sorrows of Young Werther’, about a young man so enamored with life and nature and the inner churning of his own heart and vision that he commits suicide for the love of a married woman, rather than lose his idealism and that feeling of supernal specialness flowing through everything, rather than.. perhaps… taste of the apple, and fall from the view of the sovereignty of his untouchable… innocence? Of purest feeling?
Consider, that The Sorrows of Young Werther painted so convincing a portrait of the Romantic Heart, that young men in Germany at the time of its release, dressed themselves in an iconic ‘blue tailcoat, yellow waistcoat, trousers, and tall boots, the Werthertracht (Werther costume)’, and paraded around town… and, some of them… also followed through with their imitation to the point of turning up, drowned in rivers or otherwise suicidally committed, with copies of Goethe’s book clutched in their devoted arms.
In the article below, Goethe’s theory of tragedy is described, in which, to sum up in simplest terms, a comedy requires a marriage, whereas a tragedy requires a human sacrifice.
Goethe formed ‘The Sorrows of Young Werther’ out of some real-life letters he wrote to a friend about a relationship he was in, while fully-knowing, and admitting in the letters, ‘this would make great material for a novel one day’. It makes me think of a newspaperman who takes photographs of a person drowning, to make a great headline, while neglecting to help the person. The central thesis of Dave Eggers ‘A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius’, the problem of Irony, Art, and the Media distortions of our broken age. But of course, I’m exaggerating. Faust really was the romantic, of course, and his catharsis wasn’t simply to transfer his pain to the page, giving it to ‘more interested men’ as Bruce Wayne’s father would have it in Batman Begins. But it gives one something to think about, considering that Goethe’s themes gave current to the thrust in German spirit, that arguably gave rise to Germany’s lust for power and the rise of Nazism in the 20th century, outlined in gargantuan complexity in the book The German Genius: Europe’s Third Renaissance, the Second Scientific Revolution, and the Twentieth Century by Peter Watson
Both penchant to tempting the Devil, and feeling too pure for this world, are dangerous things to highlight in one’s résumé.
If, as the article below contends, the human sacrifice in Goethe’s works, is both the author himself, AND the AUDIENCE… Goethe’s feelings of waiting nearly his entire life to complete the second version of Faust were probably correct. That his great allegory for the modernist condition, could not end by declaring that modernism was simply… a MISTAKE. But, oh, could somehow only succeed… with some hand in it, from heaven herself. Who knows, maybe a superhero film. Or some tremendous break in the storm. An ancient radiation, That haunts dismembered constellations… A faintly glimmering radio station…
READ ABOUT GOETHE’S THEORY OF TRAGEDY HERE AT JSTOR.ORG