“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Sunday, September 09, 2007


At what point in time--a line always continuing in the same direction, from the past to the future--does the zero occur which denotes the boundary between the positive and the negative? – Unamuno

In Claudio Magris’ Danube, there is a discussion, early in the book, about nature and artifice. The occasion is a proposed hydro-electric plant which would require damming the Danube. The Greens were protesting against this as a crime against nature. One of Magris’ friends uses Goethe to point to the fact that nature cannot be the victim of a crime – for all things are enfolded in nature.

“But, around the table at the inn near Breg, someone is inclined to be doubtful. That second nature which surrounds us – the jungle of symbols, of intermediaries, of constructions – arouses the suspicion that there is no longer any primal nature behind it, and that artifice and various kinds of bio-engineering have counterfeited and supplanted her supposedly eternal laws. Austrian culture, in fact, born in the homespace of the Danube, has with disillusioned clarity denounced the falsity of postmodernism, discarding it as stupid nonsense while accepting it as inevitable.”

For Magris, the place to look to understand this retreat from the inevitable, this denunciation of our artificial condition upon which we are wholly dependent, is in the second part of Faust, specifically in the creation of the Humunculus.

“Indeed, even Goethe in his late, more enigmatical work, did not overlook that fear: in the Second Part of Faust he not only tells the story of the Humunculus, the man created in a laboratory, but he conjures up a vision of a total triumph of the unnatural and the defeat and disappearance of the ancient Mother, mimicked and replaced by fashion, artificial products, and false appearances.”

LI is not exactly an expert on Goethe’s Faust, Part II. This comment of Magris’ made me feel like I should check it out, however. And low and behold, when Wagner succeeds in creating a little man in a vial, here is one of the first things the Humunculus says:

Das ist die Eigenschaft der Dinge:
Natürlichem genügt das Weltall kaum,
Was künstlich ist, verlangt geschloßnen Raum.

- This is the essence of things:
Nature finds the limits of the world hard to bear
while for the artificial, closed spaces are de rigeur.

or - what is artificial requires closed space (sorry, that is a bit clumsy). It occurs to me that the humunculus might be a great symbol of the dialectic of vulnerability, which I have yammered on about here and there over the past couple of years. So I’m going to give another post to him this curious grotesque.


roger said...

I do everything I can to lure a response from North - but North has no time for my humunculi, since she has become enraptured by intergalactic travel. Sigh.

northanger said...

oh sorry! i was looking at that tuning fork thingy.

northanger said...

hey. moveon.org's in the congressional record.

roger said...

North! You are back on earth again!
I thought about you when I was in atlanta. I went to the Fernbank science center and saw one of the old Apollo nine test capsules, fired up and recovered in 1968 - the same day, the little sign said, that MLK was assassinated. A battered, muddy, and rickety thing it looked. I couldn't imagine trusting myself to it.

northanger said...

hey, you missed seeing that new chinese made statue of MLK.

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