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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

imitatio Goethe

One of the most puzzling parts of my happiness thesis is that dealing with age. I’ve been fumbling around, looking for ways to express my instinctive feeling that the extinction of certain age defining roles within the economy of the Great Transformation was the result of the rise of the happiness norm. Say, there’s a crafty mouthful for ya! Last year, LI was all about the persistant coupling of the sage and the buffoon and its variants, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza traipsing across the interior landscapes of Western history, figures that figured a dialectic as surely as Peter Piper picked a peck of peppers.

So imagine my joy, yesterday, as I was hunting and pecking about, looking for stuff on Goethe, to find this:

In his 1936 essay, Freud and the Future, Thomas Mann wrote: “… the father play [Vaterspiel] and its transference to father substitutes of a higher and spiritual type – how much this form of infantalism determines, seals and educates [bildend] the individual life. I say develops: for the most genial, joyful specification of that which one names ‘education’ [Bildung] is to me, in all seriousness, this formation and marking through the admired and beloved one, though the childish identification with some one father imaged chosen out of one’s deepest sympathy. The artist, this ludic and passionately childish person, could very well sing a song of the seacret and yet public influences of such infantile imitation in his biography, in his productive life performance, which is so often nothing more than the revival of some hero’s vita under very different conditions of time and personality and with very other – we’d even say childish – means. So the imitatio Goethe starts with memories on Werther, the Meister stage and the olderphase of Faust and the Divan can still, today, lead the experience of a writer unconsciously, and determine him mythically – I mean, from his unconsious, although in the artist the unconscious of every moment tends to play over the happy object of his consciousness and his childishly profound attention.”

I love this. I love the idea of the imitatio Goethe. Imitatio of that kind is exactly how the sage (and the buffoon) ended up as a mad knight and his peasant page, or a social parasite and a philosophe. LI is busy today, but we must return to this soon. With, of course, the appropriate questions, among them: whether the father in this fatherplay doesn’t bring with him that fatal inauthenticity of all substitutes. Or whether, at the end of the imitatio, I have to look at Dad’s face in the mirror. Me, a child of the homunculus, like all the rest of us.