Dreaming with Goethe

Welcome, fellow travelers, to the Goethe Fractal Holographic Dream Gallery! I riff upon Goethe’s erotica in search for his resurrections in our own loud, stuttering, cognitive empire. I quote from the master and then do my own thing. May your indulgence set me free!

From Venetian Epigrams

Tight little alleyway – no room
to squeeze between its walls –
a young girl blocks my way,
my rambles around Venice
knocks me off my feet,
the place, the come-on
to a stranger’s eye,
a wide canal my drifting
takes me to. If you
had girls like your canals,
o Venice, cunts
like little alleyways, you’d be
the greatest city in the world.

what bothers me is this:
the way Bettina gets to be so skillful
every limb in her body
grows looser & looser
till she can stick her own little tongue
up her own little cunt
a charmer who tastes her own charms
will soon loose all interest in men
Is it so big a mystery
what god and man and world are?
No! but nobody knows how to solve it
so the mystery hangs on.
Doesn’t surprise me that Christ our Lord
preferred to live with whores
& sinners, seeing
I go in for that myself.

I could have made it just as well with boys
although my thing has always been with girls.
And once I get my satisfaction with a girl
I can turn her around & have her as a boy.

translation from German by Jerome Rothenberg

Big Daddy’s Sex Traffic Ring
in memory of Ghislaine and Jeffrey

When he enters now
That other half he was
He seems empty

They searched for simple
Idiots around the rich sodomy
circle and the out and out stupid
or fuck?

That slut he entered tightly
Sloppily inside loosely
envied never a tomorrow

But tantalized the
horror over
unto God
He today
gives again

tough bastard
earnest bitch

oriental visions
but not for
on time

When she grows up
the child will speak

Winter solstice
insights sensitive
etheric eternal
kept us warm
until we could lay
our eggs
in forgetful

I loved not wisely
but too well

bastard upstart
tyrant swelling
and withstand
our etherized

And tenderly
Herr Goethe
can you
our outraged organs of

-John Noah Davis, Jr. 3/30/2021


Oh my Goethe—
Already, this is no normal day, and it is good

Thank you, John Noah Davis, Jr,
for keeping memory alive

Big daddy’s in the grave, but his sperm spasms
spawned our elite neural networks

And his money’s funding orgies of cognitive research
into the eternal quest for sex on demand, the automation everyday life

And it is bad, and it is good, and it is both good
and bad, and it is neither good nor bad, and it was—

And Hallelujah for the acid rain of justice! And it will be,
and it is not…



As expected
(from our revered Noah’s hark)
a twist and a turn.
A poem with a knife through its core.
Twisted and turn-ned
Envelops pushed
Words sliced and diced
Cheeks a-red
In tight alleys

1. Seeking Entry

Goethe has no beginning and
As we reveal,
Has no end

Penetration into his ouevre
His life as a work of art
A part apart from the whole

Where to find this Goethe?
In his sex poetry?
Nature-color theory?
His light-dark dichotomy?

2. Absolutely Relative (relatively absolute)

Bergson writes in the essay “Introduction to Metaphysics” of the revealing of the character:

…take a character whose adventures make up the subject of a novel. The novelist may multiply traits of character, make his hero speak and act as much as he likes; all this has not the same value as the simple and indivisible feeling I should experience if I were to coincide for a single moment with the personage himself. The actions, gestures and words would then appear to flow naturally, as though from their source… the character would be given to me all at once in its entirety , and the thousand and one incidents which make it manifest, instead of adding to the idea and enriching it, would, on the contrary, seem to me to fall away from it without in any way exhausting or impoverishing its essence.

3. The Mann Demanded

Thomas Mann is my author of (mostly) fiction in the yearly fiction/non-fiction mega-reading contest for myself [2019: Hesse/Jung; 2020: Dostoevsky/Bergson; 2021 was planned to be Mann/Whitehead but now aiming for Mann/Goethe]. This rolling project often gathers moss through secondary readings, historical accounts, reading groups, thousand-mile stares of contemplation.

Thomas Mann, from my limited understanding, loved him some Goethe. Lotte in Weimar takes a mundane event, that of Charlotte (the inspiration of Sorrows) visiting Goethe in Weimar long after their initial triangular love affair, and reshapes it through his literary charm. Schopenhauer even makes a cameo appearance. Mann enchants what has been considered a dry encounter between the two. Goethe is depicted as an eccentric demanding cosmopolitan codger with a circle of admirers. Charlotte comes to see the visit as a trip to some strange circus or hell.

4. “Speculate the Elements”

In Doctor Faustus Mann depicts the German spirit through the character Jonathan who plays the role of Adrian Leverkuhn’s father. Adrian is the Faustian lead. The tale is told by a childhood friend (the narrator of the passage below) Jonathan (I believe) is Mann’s ode to the Goethian spirit. Mann demands a re-enchantment of Goethe’s nature.

5. Spectacles of Life

I am interested in what was interesting before the onset of the world in your pocket. Glass prisms, spectacles, magnifying glasses, chronophotography.

Newton, it is said, obtained a prism at a local fair.
Goethe seemed somewhat disinterested in the prism.
I ordered four prisms from Amazon.

Jonathan in Mann’s tale performs visual acoustics experiments and looks at life through a revered magnifying glass.
My sons have two very cheap plastic magnifying glasses from who knows where that are tossed about the house like any other little plastic throwaway object. My wife and I collect these forgotten plastic relics for donation ony to find that the children really do have an interest in these objects and must keep them to repeat the cycle.

Miles, age 7 and hoping to cash in on his screen time for the day, is impatient as I perform a prism experiment akin to how Goethe examined his colors upon light and dark surfaces.

Later we go outside on the front steps, a bright sunny spring day, and demonstrate the powers of light through the magnifying glass, burning a last year’s helpless brown and brittle leaf.


Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann Chapter III (sans first two paragraphs); from the 1947 translation)

This is not required reading. I post a lengthy (8 pages) of this novel as supplementary material towards understanding Goethe. A ‘thousand and one incidents’ that ‘fall away’ as the character of Jonathan manifests into the Goethian spirit in his love affair with nature. Which reveals his love affair with life.

(I provide italics for the more revealing passages; bold italics for a quick glance at phrases that may reveal more than the passages . . . Take a pass if feelings of indulgence or indolence permit)

Jonathan Leverkühn was a man of the best German type, such as one seldom sees now in our towns and cities, certainly not among those who today, often with blatant exaggeration, represent our German manhood. He had a cast of features stamped as it were in an earlier age, stored up in the country and come down from the time before the Thirty Years’ War. That idea came into my head when as a growing lad I looked at him with eyes already halfway trained for seeing. Unkempt ash-blond hair fell on a domed brow strongly marked in two distinct parts, with prominent veins on the temples; hung unfashionably long and thick in his neck and round the small, well-shaped ears, to mingle with the curling blond beard that covered the chin and the hollow under the lip. This lower lip came out rather strong and full under the short, slightly drooping moustache, with a smile which made a most charming harmony with the blue eyes, a little severe, but a little smiling too, their gaze half absent and half shy. The bridge of the nose was thin and finely hooked, the unbearded part of the cheeks under the cheekbones shadowed and even rather gaunt. He wore his sinewy throat uncovered and had no love for “city clothes,” which did not suit his looks, particularly not his hands, those powerful, browned and parched, rather freckled hands, one of which grasped the crook of his stick when he went into the village to town meeting.

A physician might have ascribed the veiled effort in his gaze, a certain sensitiveness at the temples, to migraine; and Jonathan did in fact suffer from headaches, though moderately, not oftener than once a month and almost without hindrance to his work. He loved his pipe, a half-length porcelain one with a lid, whose odour of pipe tobacco, peculiar to itself and far pleasanter than the stale smoke of cigar or cigarette, pervaded the atmosphere of the lower rooms. He loved too as a night-cap a good mug of Merseburg beer. On winter evenings, when the land of his fathers lay under snow, you saw him reading, preferably in a bulky family Bible, bound in pressed pigskin and closed with leather clasps; it had been printed about 1700 under the ducal licence in Brunswick, and included not only the “Geist-reichen” prefaces and marginal comments of Dr. Martin Luther but also all sorts of summaries, locos parallelos, and historical-moralizing verses by a Herr David von Schweinitz explaining each chapter. There was a legend about this volume; or rather the definite information about it was handed down, that it had been the property of that Princess of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel who married the son of Peter the Great. Afterwards they gave out that she had died, and her funeral took place, but actually she escaped to Martinique and there married a Frenchman. How often did Adrian, with his keen sense of the ridiculous, laugh with me later over this tale, which his father, lifting his head from his book, would relate with his mild, penetrating look and then, obviously unperturbed by the slightly scandalous provenance of the sacred text, return to the versified commentaries of Herr von Schweinitz or the “Wisdom of Solomon to the Tyrants.”

But alongside the religious cast his reading took another direction, which in certain times would have been characterized as wanting to “speculate the elements.” In other words, to a limited extent and with limited means, he carried on studies in natural science, biology, even perhaps in chemistry and physics, helped out occasionally by my father with material from our laboratory. But I have chosen that antiquated and not irreproachable description for such practices because a tinge of mysticism was perceptible in them, which would once have been suspect as a leaning to the black arts (translated as sorcery in a later edition). But I will add, too, that I have never misunderstood this distrust felt by a religious and spiritual-minded epoch for the rising passion to investigate the mysteries of nature. Godly fear must see in it a libertine traffic with forbidden things, despite the obvious contradiction involved in regarding the Creation, God, Nature and Life as a morally depraved field. Nature itself is too full of obscure phenomena not altogether remote from magic-equivocal moods, weird, half-hidden associations pointing to the unknown—for a disciplined piety not to see therein a rash overstepping of ordained limits.

When Adrian’s father opened certain books with illustrations in colour of exotic lepidoptera and sea creatures, we looked at them, his sons and I, Frau Leverkühn as well, over the back of his leather-cushioned chair with the ear-rests; and he pointed with his forefinger at the freaks and fascinations there displayed in all the colours of the spectrum, from dark to light, mustered and modelled with the highest technical skill: genus Papilio and genus Morpho, tropical insects which enjoyed a brief existence in fantastically exaggerated beauty, some of them regarded by the natives as evil spirits bringing malaria. The most splendid colour they displayed, a dreamlike lovely azure, was, so Jonathan instructed us, no true colour at all, but produced by fine little furrows and other surface configurations of the scales on their wings, a miniature construction resulting from artificial refraction of the light rays and exclusion of most of them so that only the purest blue light reached the eyes.

“Just think,” I can still hear Frau Leverkühn say, “so it is all a cheat?”

“Do you call the blue sky a cheat?” answered her husband looking up backwards at her. “You cannot tell me the pigment it comes from.”

I seem as I write to be standing with Frau Elsbeth, George, and Adrian behind their father’s chair, following his finger across the pictured pages. Clearwings were there depicted which had no scales on their wings, so that they seemed delicately glassy and only shot through with a net of dark veins. One such butterfly, in transparent nudity, loving the duskiness of heavy leafage, was called Hetaera esmeralda. Hetaera had on her wings only a dark spot of violet and rose; one could see nothing else of her, and when she flew she was like a petal blown by the wind. Then there was the leaf butterfly, whose wings on top are a triple chord of colour, while underneath with insane exactitude they resemble a leaf, not only in shape and veining but in the minute reproduction of small imperfections, imitation drops of water, little warts and fungus growths and more of the like. When this clever creature alights among the leaves and folds its wings, it disappears by adaptation so entirely that the hungriest enemy cannot make it out.

Not without success did Jonathan seek to communicate to us his delight in this protective imitation that went so far as to copy blemishes. “How has the creature done it?” he would ask. “How does Nature do it through the creature? For one cannot ascribe the trick to its own observation and calculation. Yes, yes, Nature knows her leaf precisely: knows not only its perfection but also its small usual blunders and blemishes; mischievously or benevolently she repeats its outward appearance in another sphere, on the under side of this her butterfly, to baffle others of her creatures. But why is it just this one that profits by the cunning? And if it is actually on purpose that when resting it looks just like a leaf, what is the advantage, looked at from the point of view of its hungry pursuers, the lizards, birds, and spiders, for which surely it is meant for food? Yet when it so wills, however keen their sight they cannot make it out. I am asking that in order that you may not ask me.”

This butterfly, then, protected itself by becoming invisible. But one only needed to look further on in the book to find others which attained the same end by being strikingly, far-reachingly visible. Not only were they exceptionally large but also coloured and patterned with unusual gorgeousness; and Father Leverkühn told us that in this apparently challenging garb they flew about in perfect security. You could not call them cheeky, there was something almost pathetic about them; for they never hid, yet never an animal—not ape or bird or lizard—turned its head to look at them. Why? Because they were revolting. And because they advertised the fact by their striking beauty and the sluggishness of their flight. Their secretions were so foul to taste and smell that if ever any creature mistakenly thought one of them would do him good he soon spat it out with every sign of disgust. But all nature knows they are inedible, so they are safe—tragically safe. We at least, behind Jonathan’s chair, asked ourselves whether this security had not something disgraceful about it, rather than being a cause for rejoicing. And what was the consequence? That other kinds of butterfly tricked themselves out in the same forbidding splendour and flew with the same heavy flight, untouchable although perfectly edible.

I was infected by Adrian’s mirth over this information; he laughed till he shook his sides, and tears squeezed out of his eyes, and I had to laugh too, right heartily. But Father Leverkühn hushed us; he wished all these matters to be regarded with reverence, the same awe, and sense, of mystery with which he looked at the unreadable writing on the shells of certain mussels, taking his great square reading-glass to help him and letting us try too. Certainly the look of these creatures, the sea-snails and salt-water mussels, was equally remarkable, at least when one looked at their pictures under Jonathan’s guidance. All these windings and vaultings, executed in splendid perfection, with a sense of form as bold as it was delicate, these rosy openings, these iridescent faience splendours—all these were the work of their own jellylike proprietors. At least on the theory that Nature makes itself, and leaving the Creator out. The conception of Him as an inspired craftsman and ambitious artist of the original pottery works is so fantastic that the temptation lies close to hand—nowhere closer—to introduce an intermediate deity, the Demiurge. Well, as I was saying, the fact that these priceless habitations were the work of the very mollusc which they sheltered was the most astonishing thing about them.

“As you grew,” said Jonathan to us, “and you can easily prove it by feeling your elbows and ribs, you formed in your insides a solid structure, a skeleton which gives your flesh and muscles stability, and which you carry round inside you—unless it be more correct to say it carries you around. Here it is just the other way: these creatures have put their solid structure outside, not as framework but as house, and that it is an outside and not an inside must be the very reason for its beauty.”

We boys, Adrian and I, looked at each other, half-smiling, half taken aback at such remarks from his father as this about the vanity of appearances.

Sometimes it was even malignant, this outward beauty: certain conical snails, charmingly asymmetric specimens bathed in a veined pale rose or white-spotted honey brown, had a notoriously poisonous sting. Altogether, according to the master of Buchel, a certain ill fame, a fantastic ambiguity, attached to this whole extraordinary field. A strange ambivalence of opinion had always betrayed itself in the very various uses to which the finest specimens were put. In the Middle Ages they had belonged to the standing inventory of the witches’ kitchen and alchemist’s vault: they were considered the proper vessels for poisons and love potions. On the other hand, and at the same time, they had served as shrines and reliquaries and even for the Eucharist. What a confrontation was there!—poison and beauty, poison and magic, even magic and ritual. If we did not think of all that ourselves, yet Jonathan’s comments gave us a vague sense of it.

As for the hieroglyphs which so puzzled him, these were on a middle-sized shell, a mussel from New Caledonia: slightly reddish-brown characters on a white ground. They looked as though they were made with a brush, and round the rim became purely ornamental strokes; but on the larger part of the curved surface their careful complexity had the most distinct look of explanatory remarks. In my recollection they showed strong resemblance to ancient Oriental writings, for instance the old Aramaic ductus. My father had actually brought archaeological works from the not ill-provided town library of Kaisersaschern to give his friend the opportunity for comparison and study. There had been, of course, no result, or only such confusion and absurdity as came to nothing. With a certain melancholy Jonathan admitted it when he showed us the riddling reproduction. “It has turned out to be impossible,” he said, “to get at the meaning of these marks. Unfortunately, my dears, such is the case. They refuse themselves to our understanding, and will, painfully enough, continue to do so. But when I say refuse, that is merely the negative of reveal—and that Nature painted these ciphers, to which we lack the key, merely for ornament on the shell of her creature, nobody can persuade me. Ornament and meaning always run alongside each other; the old writings too served for both ornament and communication. Nobody can tell me that there is nothing communicated here. That it is an inaccessible communication, to plunge into this contradiction, is also a pleasure.”

Did he think, if it were really a case of secret writing, that Nature must command a language born and organized out of her own self? For what man—invented one should she choose, to express herself in? But even as a boy I clearly understood that Nature, outside of the human race, is fundamentally illiterate—that in my eyes is precisely what makes her uncanny.

Yes, Father Leverkühn was a dreamer and speculator, and I have already said that his taste for research—if one can speak of research instead of mere dreamy contemplation—always leaned in a certain direction—namely, the mystical or an intuitive half-mystical, into which, as it seems to me, human thinking in pursuit of Nature is almost of necessity led. But the enterprise of experimenting on Nature, of teasing her into manifestations, “tempting” her, in the sense of laying bare her workings by experiment; that all this had quite close relations with witchcraft, yes, belonged in that realm and was itself a work of the “Tempter,” such was the conviction of earlier epochs. It was a decent conviction, if you were to ask me. I should like to know with what eyes one would have looked on the man from Wittenberg who, as we heard from Jonathan, a hundred and some years before had invented the experiment of visible music, which we were sometimes permitted to see. To the small amount of physical apparatus which Adrian’s father had at his command belonged a round glass plate, resting only on a peg in the centre and revolving freely. On this glass plate the miracle took place. It was strewn with fine sand, and Jonathan, by means of an old cello bow which he drew up and down the edge from top to bottom made it vibrate, and according to its motion the excited sand grouped and arranged itself in astonishingly precise and varied figures and arabesques. This visible acoustic, wherein the simple and the mysterious, law and miracle, so charmingly mingled, pleased us lads exceedingly; we often asked to see it, and not least to give the experimenter pleasure.

A similar pleasure he found in ice crystals; and on winter days when the little peasant windows of the farmhouse were frosted, he would be absorbed in their structure for half an hour, looking at them both with the naked eye and with his magnifying glass. I should like to say that all that would have been good and belonging to the regular order of things if only the phenomena had kept to a symmetrical pattern, as they ought, strictly regular and mathematical. But that they did not. Impudently, deceptively, they imitated the vegetable kingdom: most prettily of all, fern fronds, grasses, the calyxes and corollas of flowers. To the utmost of their icy ability they dabbled in the organic; and that Jonathan could never get over, nor cease his more or less disapproving but also admiring shakes of the head. Did, he inquired, these phantasmagorias prefigure the forms of the vegetable world, or did they imitate them? Neither one nor the other, he answered himself; they were parallel phenomena. Creatively dreaming Nature dreamed here and there the. same dream: if there could be a thought of imitation, then surely it was reciprocal. Should one put down the actual children of the field as the pattern because they possessed organic actuality, while the snow crystals were mere show? But their appearance was the result of no smaller complexity of the action of matter than was that of the plants. If I understood my host aright, then what occupied him was the essential unity of animate and so-called inanimate nature, it was the thought that we sin against the latter when we draw too hard and fast a line between the two fields, since in reality it is pervious and there is no elementary capacity which is reserved entirely to the living creature and which the biologist could not also study on an inanimate subject.

We learned how bewilderingly the two kingdoms mimic each other, when Father Leverkühn showed us the “devouring drop,” more than once giving it its meal before our eyes. A drop of any kind, paraffin, volatile oil—I no longer feel sure what it was, it may have been chloroform—a drop, I say, is not animal, not even of the most primitive type, not even an amoeba; one does not suppose that it feels appetite, seizes nourishment, keeps what suits it, rejects what does not. But just this was what our drop did. It hung by itself in a glass of water, wherein Jonathan had sub merged it, probably with a dropper. What he did was as follows: he took a tiny glass stick, just a glass thread, which he had coated with shellac, between the prongs of a little pair of pincers and brought it close to the drop. That was all he did; the rest the drop did itself. It threw up on its surface a little protuberance, something like a mount of conception, through which it took the stick into itself, lengthwise. At the same time it got longer, became pear-shaped in order to get its prey all in, so that it should not stick out beyond, and began, I give you my word for it, gradually growing round again, first by taking on an egg-shape, to eat off the shellac and distribute it in its body. This done, and returned to its round shape, it moved the stick, licked clean, crosswise to its own surface and ejected it into the water.

I cannot say that I enjoyed seeing this, but I confess that I was fascinated, and Adrian probably was too, though he was always sorely tempted to laugh at such displays and suppressed his laughter only out of respect for his father’s gravity. The devouring drop might conceivably strike one as funny. But no one, certainly not myself, could have laughed at certain other phenomena, “natural,” yet incredible and uncanny, displayed by Father Lever-kiihn. He had succeeded in making a most singular culture; I shall never forget the sight. The vessel of crystallization was three-quarters full of slightly muddy water—that is, dilute water-glass—and from the sandy bottom there strove upwards a grotesque little landscape of variously coloured growths: a confused vegetation of blue, green, and brown shoots which reminded one of algaj, mushrooms, attached polyps, also moss, then mussels, fruit pods, little trees or twigs from trees, here and there of limbs. It was the most remarkable sight I ever saw, and remarkable not so much for its appearance, strange and amazing though that was, as on account of its profoundly melancholy nature. For when Father Leverkühn asked us what we thought of it and we timidly answered him that they might be plants: “No,” he replied, “they are not, they only act that way. But do not think the less of them. Precisely because they do, because they try to as hard as they can, they are worthy of all respect.”

It turned out that these growths were entirely unorganic in their origin; they existed by virtue of chemicals from the apothecary’s shop, the “Blessed Messengers.” Before pouring the water-glass, Jonathan had sprinkled the sand at the bottom with various crystals; if I mistake not potassium chromate and sulphate of copper. From this sowing, as the result of a physical process called “osmotic pressure,” there sprang the pathetic crop for which their producer at once and urgently claimed our sympathy. He showed us that these pathetic imitations of life were light-seeking, heliotropic, as science calls it. He exposed the aquarium to the sunlight, shading three sides against it, and behold, toward that one pane through which the light fell, thither straightway slanted the whole equivocal kith and kin: mushrooms, phallic polyp-stalks, little trees, algae, half-formed limbs. Indeed, they so yearned after warmth and joy that they actually clung to the pane and stuck fast there.

“And even so they are dead,” said Jonathan, and tears came in his eyes, while Adrian, as of course I saw, was shaken with suppressed laughter.

For my part, I must leave it to the reader’s judgment whether that sort of thing is matter for laughter or tears. But one thing I will say: such weirdnesses are exclusively Nature’s own affair, and particularly of nature arrogantly tempted by man. In the high-minded realms of the humaniora one is safe from such impish phenomena.


Excellent, Doug, and you have stimulated my imagination. In the live call today I hope to re-organize some strong thought/feels that are emerging from this blast from our collective pasts. We need to honor Goethe, Mann and the many literary giants who loved culture and book knowledge. They tried to harmonize their split brains as the Industrial Age fragmented Nature/Human. We are still in the battlefield of that great war that had already begun and these great writers and poets tried to make sense just as we are trying to do with our accelerating tech run amok. The odds are against us but that was true in Goethe’s age as well. He predicted an advanced age would get what he was trying to get at. We would flatter ourselves enormously if we thought we were anywhere near that kind of intelligence. But we do the best we can with what we’ve got-and we have a lot actually if we could figure out what the hell we wanted to have happen. Post modern drift is often mistaken for the Ever-Present Origin. I sense that you sense, Doug, that their spirits are sharing their spectral meta-attentions with us. My evidence for this hunch comes with the intense burst for a desired reciprocity your contribution has stirred up, and a pleasure for your keen sense of wonder. Let’s do more of this.


As you are working with the little black boy in your psychic landscape and in the riff you recited, I remember our group reading of another visionary poet, a contemporary of Goethe.

The Little Black Boy


My mother bore me in the southern wild,
And I am black, but O! my soul is white;
White as an angel is the English child:
But I am black as if bereav’d of light.

My mother taught me underneath a tree
And sitting down before the heat of day,
She took me on her lap and kissed me,
And pointing to the east began to say.

Look on the rising sun: there God does live
And gives his light, and gives his heat away.
And flowers and trees and beasts and men receive
Comfort in morning joy in the noonday.

And we are put on earth a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams of love,
And these black bodies and this sun-burnt face
Is but a cloud, and like a shady grove.

For when our souls have learn’d the heat to bear
The cloud will vanish we shall hear his voice.
Saying: come out from the grove my love & care,
And round my golden tent like lambs rejoice.

Thus did my mother say and kissed me,
And thus I say to little English boy.
When I from black and he from white cloud free,
And round the tent of God like lambs we joy:

Ill shade him from the heat till he can bear,
To lean in joy upon our fathers knee.
And then I’ll stand and stroke his silver hair,
And be like him and he will then love me.

How can we, who live under the shadow of George Floyd’s current murder trial, hold this tension?

Notice how Blake avoids cheap sentiment by the use of “as if” in the first stanza. This is an enticing clue.

I really like that you recited your riff and avoided declaiming. Your voice had more color and registers vulnerability that is absent when you use your declamatory voice. The declamatory asserts in a brash, left hemispheric style, it is a hammer and everything is a nail. The right hemisphere has a more vibratory, ambiguous, shy style . You showed that you can create a smooth crescendo, that you can hold the tension in between without falling into one without the other. It isn’t a duck or a rabbit it is a duck/rabbit. Thanks for making good use of our previous vocal studies.


" I have the power to kill-
but not the power to die."
Emily Dickinson.

Everything important happens at a bookstore. At the Strand, the biggest used bookstore in Manhattan, I was told where to find one of those old fashioned, hard copy versions of Dr. Faustus.

It was not on the shelf, so, feeling frustrated, I asked another clerk who told me if it was not there that it was probably on one of the dozen carts that were in the middle of the fiction area. I thanked the rude clerk and tried to curb my petulance, as I know what a dreary job it is to work in a bookstore, with all of these masked persons, restless, left brained New Yorkers, who can’t get no satisfaction and are starved for attention.

As I squat down to look at the bottom of the stack, nothing I realize is in alphabetical order, and letting go of all hope of finding what I was looking for, I hear a voice above me say," Don’t read John Woods translation." I looked up, stood, felt slightly dizzy and searched for the voice. A man in his 60s, long gray hair, hippie type, spoke through his mask, in a soft, erudite voice," I would recommend the earlier translations of Helen Lowe Porter."

" Excuse me?" I was not sure of what he was talking about.

" Dr. Faustus." He continued talking, his voice muffled, through the mask, I turned my good ear towards him, and noticed the dance of intelligence in his gray eyes, the atmosphere around him of a suppressed connoisseur, a lean, and hungry look, often seen around intellectual types, and alert for a clearing in my tower of Babel, I felt receptive to this odd fellow’s Borgesian aura. He smelled of gin and tobacco.

" I read Thomas Mann in my youth," I said, " but recently thought about reading Dr. Faustus. An old man, who had read everything, told me it was a young man’s book. I thought I better read it before I get too old."

" I don’t know," he replied, puzzled, “what that means.”

" Nor do I," I felt I might be giving this stranger a bad impression, and tried to stay upbeat, " who knows what a man close to ninety, who has read too much, thinks about anything-"

" That’s true," I could sense a slight smile was beneath the mask, as he relished my effort to capture a shared sense of irony, " Mann had a hard time with Dr. Faustus, he couldn’t write it the way he did his other novels, he felt after the war, that there may be something in his culture, the German high culture that he loved, that was actually dangerous-" He went on to say about the translators," Helen Lowe-Porter is an older translation but she knows how to tell the story. John Woods is popular for his accuracy. I prefer her to him." We were talking to each other as if we had known each other for years.

" Funny," I said, " I love the early Schoenberg but the late Schoenberg with all of that twelve tone business actually makes me feel nauseous-" I felt how over eager I was to talk about German high culture." When will this civilization finally collapse?" That was not just a rhetorical question. And I felt that I needed attention, but also had a desire to give my attention to someone smart. And there were so many people demanding attention who were stupid.

" Then you will like Dr. Faustus." he nodded. Perhaps we were aware that we had both said enough. Why get to know anyone better? We talked a little bit about current politics and agreed that humans seem to have have learned nothing from history. We both felt that we had said enough and turned politely to our private search for the book.

I gave up on finding the right translation on this day and postponed it for another time, when I might get lucky. Used bookstores are my passion. There are only four left in walking distance, and I try to visit at least one of them each day. I try to find a bargain on the street rather than throw away more money making Amazon richer. To my delight, I found a cheap copy, $5, of Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley Underground. A serendipity, as I was waiting for another novel by her to arrive at my library soon. The direction my literary fancy was taking had changed.

While I walk homeward, a chill drizzle in the air, I take down my mask, and breathe deeper, and with the book in my hand, I anticipate entering Highsmith’s psychotic mindstream once again. Why am I so drawn to reading her? Recently, I came across a critical study of Highsmith’s late stage capitalist night mare novels, and got interested. I had read one of her short stories and seen lots of movies made of her fiction. The young Matt Damon played the young Tom Ripley in an early success, John Malkovich, a heavier character actor, played the same character in his middle age. Ripley is an actor’s dream, a bisexual sociopath, who ages well and makes me aware of how much I, the amoral reader, loves the fact that the queer Ripley character, gets away with murder because the people he kills are rich snobs, conforming to compulsory heterosexual norms. He is an authentic sociopath. He steals from the rich, murders them and gives the wealth to himself.

Ruminating upon this character, feeling the hard, gray, concrete, flecked with shards of broken glass, crunch beneath my feet, trapped in shoes, like dead things in a coffin, cut off from the earth, I opened the door to my apartment building, climbed the five flights, opened the door to my narrow, rectangular apartment, with high ceilings, stacked with books and papers. I took off my mask, washed my hands, and was aware that the depression I feared, especially around sunset, doesn’t show up. I am not so fragile after all.

This persistent elevated mood has continued to amaze me. The t the depression, the existential angst, that many people complain about has not happened to me. I feel rather cheerful most of the time. Maybe it’s the breathwork? the meditation? the dreamwork? The cold baths? Or maybe it’s because I have nothing left to lose?

And with so many books and plenty of time on my hands, I can afford for the first time in my life, to find my own rhythm. Strange, that I never feel lonely. But I do confess to an occasional wave of paranoia. It rarely lasts for more than a minute. Then fades away, like most bad moods, into a mysterious background noise, a faint buzzing sensation, a mild case of tinnitus that I rather enjoy. It is not an irritating noise but sounds like a faraway, delicate wind chime. It fades quickly into a neutral zone.

And later, that night, after my emails, I stayed up late, enjoying how Highsmith subtly draws me into this sociopath’s world, which feels, oddly, quite familiar…

And I wonder what if civilization doesn’t collapse? That the vaccine inoculates everyone, we conquer the microbes, that we find the right kind of AI, send people to Mars, a sharp rise in stock market…now that proposed scenario, in wide circulation among many groups, made me feel deeply disappointed, even bored. How dreary. I note that I am an optimistic pessimist or perhaps a pessimistic optimist. Reading about Ripley bring attention to my own split personality.

I had stopped reading and turned off the light. Sat in the dark, looking at the windows from other apartments, some were dark, some with lights still on, some people are having a party somewhere. I can hear voices, left brained chatter, feeling soothed rather than annoyed with them, waiting to feel sleepy,

Charles. I thought about Charles, who died so long ago, killed by a Mack truck, his beautiful brains, splattered across the street, at Lispenard and Walker, down in Soho, riding his bike, one bright morning, when he was too hung over.

I have mourned for that man for four decades, the man I loved more than anyone. And he reminds me a lot of Tom Ripley. Charles, I have to admit was a bit of a sociopath. He was certainly bisexual. Charles. Good old Chuck. He got me to do things I should not have done. He did that to everyone. Maybe it was a blessing that he died so young. If he had lived longer he may have destroyed more lives. I can still hear his voice.

And this reminds me of a story I have wanted to tell for a long time, a horror story, something that I have never told anyone before. Maybe it is time to write it down before the cobwebs in the apartment get too thick, the mice who come out at night, who I am starting to grow fond of and can no longer bare to put out traps for, completely take over. I am getting old and will no doubt get older, for I am still strong, I can climb trees, take cold baths, young men, on the street, try to catch my attention. That amuses me a great deal.

I remember once again the film of Death in Venice. Aushenbach, the aging, famous writer, gets infatuated with the pretty boy, Tadzio. And that long Mahler adagietto, and that famous film of the Mann’s short novel, became a cult classic. I saw it once, in high school, by myself, in an empty theater. In those days, I often went to movies by myself. That was when I was a troubled teen. Right around the time I met Charles. And Charles died so young. I need to find a role model, someone who has already done this, someone I can be like, but can’t think of one.

Shall I change the names to protect the innocent? But there is no one who is innocent. No one.

Maybe I am ready to investigate this material further as it was one of the weirdest relationships I have ever had.

Am I mature enough to handle the truth? No. I don’t believe that I am mature at all. I have learned too little, too late. I need someone to hold my hand. I raise my hand in the dark and look into the open palm of my hand and touch the cold air against my too, too solid flesh . Late night thoughts. Late stage capitalism.


Speaking of our reading histories, I have mentioned in our Wholeness of Nature talks that even though we are talking and reading about Goethe, I have read very little of the man himself (let alone the Mann on the man), including his most famous work, the epic poem Faust—which I believe is likely required reading for me in this lifetime, and probably sooner rather than later.

I said that I consider myself a remedial student in the academy of the Cosmos; I am trying to make up for lost time. I imagine we could do with Faust what we did with Paradise Lost, i.e., read it aloud, discuss salient themes, and connect the poet’s concerns and strange language with our contemporary weirdness.

Epic times (such as we are living through) call for epic poetry. We must re-read and recover the great epics—and write new epics!—I believe. How fortunate that we also have some German-speaking potential readers among us. One of the issues I’ve already run into with Faust has to do with the translations; various commentators say it translates poorly. I have heard, however, that the Walter Kauffman and David Luke translations are good.

Caveat: A Faust reading group is an idea I’ve been toying with in my mind. I have shared it so the universe will give me feedback—and to continue dreaming with Goethe. In actuality, the timing for another event is not yet right for me, but it could be in a month or two, or later this year… so why not (with the birdsong of the month) plant a seed?


Walter Kauffman is also a well known philosopher so I trust he would do a good job, I don’t know David Luke. I have looked at some translations that rhyme and some do not, some are for the theater, some are meant to be read in the library. Stage productions of this play are rarely done in English speaking world so I know little of its theater history except for the spectacular opera which it has inspired. Reading it aloud as if in rehearsal could be be fun. We need to take it out of the museum as much as possible. I am curious how influenced Goethe was by Milton or Marlowe? He certainly knew about alchemy and the occult. ** We should do Part 1 and 2… The last part explores the mystical stuff. As a self appointed dramaturg I should try to figure all of this out.


I have affection for Kauffman, whose translations of Nietzsche I think did a lot to help English readers understand some of what Nietzsche was doing with German with his word choice and wordplay, and other rhetorical moves. He also strove to correct misapprehensions readers might have based on Nietzsche’s reputation as a “philosopher of power” and subsequent German history.

The only issue I’ve heard of with Kaufmann’s translation of Faust is that he abridges Part 2. However, his edition provides the German original on facing pages, which would favor a bilingual reading. I recall that @achronon had been reading Young Werther some time ago. Maybe I should even start there…


I heard a bit of a rhymed couplet version of Faust on Librivox by a solo speaker. It quickly became soporific. I think the rhymed couplets require a tutorial as they are not easy to keep interesting. I am glad to find that Goethe was also an actor and played in Moliere which is all done in rhymed couplets. I had the luck to play in Richard Wilber’s classic translation of The Misathrope and learned a lot. It took a lot of work to make this artifice sound natural and must be done with lots of speed and energy. We could have a pre-rehearsal zoom call about translations and styles of performance. As we are in a new age of techno gadgetry we may need to find a new kind of performance space for creating rapport with these great dramatic texts when taken out of the library and into an embodied vocalizing collaboration. We could try out a scene from different translations and try to figure out how it sounds/feels. This could be a very useful exercise. I wonder how we can shift our attention away from the pressure to readapt complex human communiques to what over simple information generating tech will allow . More and more people are starting to look and sound like gadgets. We have learned really well how to mute ourselves and live in a virtual no man’s land., a sterile space without a cough, yawn , gesture or a giggle. We live from the neck up on line. On the street we wear masks and stand far apart. This is a great tragedy. As we practiced in Milton we can find surprising freedom by catching the rhythm but that was blank verse and in English. I would welcome a chance to consider these weirder aesthetic dimensions we are waking up to.


Umberto Eco once said that translation is the art of failure. He has a point, even if it isn’t a whole one. Some translations are better than others, no doubt about it, but if you don’t read the original language, how would you know? I think it’s important to remember when reading a translation that it is in fact a translation and accept that something’s missing. For those of us brought up on the King James translation, I can assure you, from personal experience, that we read a very different book from the one the Hebrews wrote. Barstad (with Mikunas)'s translation of Gebser’s Ever-present Origin is very good, but it still misses important nuances. Translations of Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb” have unleashed a bit of a shitstorm here in Europe, inciting a rabid back-and-forth about who’s even eligible (notice I did not say “capable”) to do the translation.

The hermeneutics of translation informs us that you’re always going to end up with some of the translator’s bias and you’re going to miss some things period. I’m not sure there is any way around that; it’s just something we have to live with. But, let’s face it: we don’t have time to read multiple translations of anything to maybe better zero in on what the author was saying. So, I think a bit of directed attention and awareness can be very helpful.

I think what I’m saying is that we probably need to read translations differently than we do things in our mother tongues … whereby I need to add that we also need to recognize that English is not just English either. Rushdie’s Indian English in Midnight’s Children is not the American English of Infinite Jest, nor is Jest’s American English even the American English of Moby Dick, which is getting close to unreadable for a growing number of (even American) English speakers.

But, Bortoft (our starting point) is, I think, aware of these limitations. He’s not a German speaker nor reader, and his two primary influences, Goethe and Steiner (not to mention his secondary sources, such as Lehrs, Proskauer, Schad, Kühlewind, Heidegger, Gadamer, etc.) wrote originally in German. I get the impression, though, that he’s being careful in his choices. He also relies a good deal on Barfield, who did read German and who is a competent interpreter of Steiner. So similarly, I think Bortoft is also a competent interpreter of Goethe because he worked through the experience of Goethe’s way of science, not just his texts. But there are still certain notions, like Bildung which he very often leaves untranslated because it’s a lot more than what we understand by “development”, even when we think the term generously.

Having said that, I would still suggest Werther (which I highly recommend anyway) before Faust. Werther made an impact, even in translation, so some of them at any rate must have captured something essential. Besides, it was written in prose (it consists primarily of letters – speech substitutes – not narrative per sé). Verse is much more dicey to deal with, especially since most of Goethe’s poetry is rhymed and chock full of feminine meter, to which the German language simply lends itself. In other words, the tonality and rhythm are tough to capture in English. (I mean, even if the German is written on the facing page, if you knew how it even sounded you probably have an idea of what is being said, generally speaking, which makes a lot of difference in how one reads the translation even.) What I think is needed, even in reading Goethe’s literary texts is that “active seeing”, that “attention to process” so to speak, that Bortoft says we need in approaching his scientific texts.

Just a thought.


I’m interested in getting out of the library and onto the stage. And so was Goethe. He was not a philosopher, he was a scientist, theater practitioner, poet. Marco was referencing Faust to do as a recitation the way did with Milton. Once again we are moving between close reading and distant reading. We are faraway from the people who wrote the Bible or translated it but we still speak just as they did, we have the same structure and neurology and the voice, though it varies from person to person, has a range. That is where dreaming with Goethe is a slightly different but related initiative than the Bortoft scientific initiative. I wanted to sponsor an artistic study. It isn’t a duck or a rabbit it is a duck/rabbit.

Vocalizing and gesturing is primary, information gathering is secondary. Dictionaries are created to freeze a word into a meaning that can be stabilized. As Barfield and many others have noted this is not possible. Communication is too complex to be reduced to information.

How would non speakers or readers of a language approach working with such an odd thing as dramatic poetry? Faust is designed for the stage. Sitting in a library and reading translations is like studying a manual to try to learn how to swim. Eventually, you are going to have to throw away the manual and get into the water. Philosophy, though necessary, is insufficient. There is more in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in propositional language. There is a big split in our psychic worlds.

And the ancients believed words were magic. And what happened when print appeared? A great split happened as words that were spoken became words that could be written down. In our day the spoken word can be recorded. Everyone can hear George Floyd’s recorded voice," I can’t breathe." We can see the face of the man who stood upon his neck.

None of this complexity can be captured in a dictionary definition. Speech is thawing out, through rhythm and rime, song and dance, the definition of definitions.

Polonius asks Hamlet, What do you read, my lord? Hamlet replies, Words, words, words.

Hamlet couldn’t find the felt sense of the words on the page. We have as a culture lost the capacity for a felt sense, and starving for contact with the Imaginal realms, people act out violently. The people perish without a vision.

There is a difference in a bird on a branch that the little girl flaps her wings to imitate and the b-i-r-d that the little girl reads in a book. There is an invariance between visual and acoustic and this can be studied directly in dream practices and in literature recited or voices heard on a podcast. Some of this paradox, produced by synesthetic overlapping, I have tried to give attention to in our groups but this is highly verboten as most of us are trained to not notice cross-sensory transformative abstractions. Gebser was a master of this kind of transformative abstraction. He was also a poet. As a gay man, living in a very hostile social world, I had to learn how to register these invisible cultural taboos in order to survive.

Goethe thought as was quoted previously in this thread that another more advanced age than his would figure all of this out. Are we there yet?

As our civilization collapses, I sense that some of us are trying to get away from the dying center and work from the edges. At the edges there may be a small chance that a few groups can withstand digital fatigue and do something different than fragment further. I imagine a vocal lab, ( which is where we embodied the Milton experiment) could bring to life Faust? Maybe not. It would be doing something different, and self differencing is what Goethe was tracking in morphology, botany, and theater.

Just a few thoughts, Ed.


Thanks, John. I got flagged to the post only because I was mentioned. I didn’t mean to butt into a different conversation.

But, since I have you on the line, so to speak. Which Venetian Epigram was that you posted at the beginning? I’m having trouble locating the German. Thanks.


You weren’t butting in, Ed, I enjoyed your stimulating comments. And I liked that novel and would welcome a reading of it but Faust needs the human voice I think in a way that fiction does not. I got the Goethe erotica, translated by Jerome Rothenberg, from Volume 2 of Poems of the Millennium. I didn’t quote the entire poem nor does Rothenberg. I am not able to comment on faithfulness to the original but Rothenberg catches a thought style. And how does one capture a thought style? This is why we have so much static and noise when we enter this troubled area of hermeneutics and semiotics and translation. Dream work involves translation into language from the ineffable. Poetry, when it loses an original audience, may get another kind of audience centuries later. And some poets like Dickinson and Pessoa never had an original audience. My feeling is that attempting to create conditions for the scholar/activists of the future will require a felt sense of genre and style. I consider myself a dramaturg but sometimes that just means the guy who mops the floor after the show is over.


Not having the book you referenced, I went looking on the internet and found the lines you quote on a blog by Rothenberg, albeit typeset a bit differently and following an initial section which is, in fact, a translation of Epigram 1 from Goethe; everything else, however, may perhaps have been (for Rothenberg) inspired by Goethe, but none of it is to be found in the Epigrams themselves.

Given the title of the blog, I don’t know what to make of it all. I find it very confusing, but I guess I don’t have to understand everything. Sorry, again, for the interruption.


" Understanding is the booby prize." -Werner Erhard

Walter Benjamin and his Angel of History claimed that the Critic is equal to the Artist, that they have a symbiotic relationship. I think this is a pretty interesting idea. I feel we are becoming Janus faced in our non linear, liminal escapades, scrambling our sensoriums , one foot in the grave, the other foot in the garden. Rimbaud believed this is where poetry starts.

Critic/Artist? Who decides? Rothenberg is a case example. He is all over the place. I never read a critic for his opinions but for his style. Style is similar to personality. I think that comes from Oscar Wilde but I am not sure. Douglas Hofstadter said style is synonymous with spirit. That seems right to me, even if I don’t quite understand. But then no one does.

J. F Martell says the age of criticism is over. The response to a poem is another poem. We have been playing with that here. And some poems are in prose.


The plot thickens with another curdle of the conversational thread.

I have mentioned previously that a women‚ whose name I don’t remember offhand—though I would likely recognize it if I saw it—a woman on Facebook (who may also have an account here) who frequented one of the Integral groups there—private messaged me, if I remember correctly, and in the course of other comments said that something about me or my writing style reminded her of Goethe.

I don’t think this was a flirtatious comment, but I took it to be affectionate and impressionistic. I did not dare to be flattered. Not really having read Goethe before (as I’ve mentioned), I didn’t really know what she meant. But that seeded my curiosity. Since then, I’ve come to understand the nature of my own life and project better, and it makes sense to me, what she said: of course I must to connect with and study Herr Goethe as part of my poetic formation… which perhaps could be a translation of Bildung?

What I want to have happen: I want to write an epic poem that is true to myself, true to our times, and is the site of a conversation between the cosmic history and unknown future of a literary tradition and practice which must reinvent itself. I believe I already have an inner sense or feeling, and psychic GPS, for the structure, frequency, and aesthetic arc of my own particular poem—but if I were only focused on the whole within myself, this would give me a very low-definition sense of inner being and possibilities of the work. I also recognize how woefully unprepared I am for the task of writing epic poetry; the odds are stacked against me!

So my guiding metaphor has become: education. I am a student of the Cosmos, and what zhe puts before me I know I must encounter and absorb in some intensive way. I am especially interested in the epic poets because of the role they’ve played and continue to play in the deep structure of our language, which enables the formation and perpetuation of cultural memory.

What do we remember and how do we remember it? And do we really want to be tied at the umbilical to Google or Netflix (or any big corporation) for our most important knowledge and mythic self-sense, or can we conjure it up within ourselves using nothing but the human voice? This to me would be an indication of a person being “educated,” still for me a desirable quality to cultivate in oneself.

So when I reading someone like Milton or Goethe or Aurobindo who somehow managed to grow the scope and scale of their inner lives to encompass vast histories, cosmic paradoxes, the travails of souls, the drama of their times on earth, the deeds and sufferings of light, and tell it in a way that’s memorable, that’s worth dwelling with and reviving centuries later, my underlying inquiry is, How did he do it? I want to learn by example from the greats, see what I can adapt and recombine to meet my own creative challenges. What’s Goethe got that we ain’t got? is another kind of question that might be worth asking.

I want to be influenced and informed by the past, while giving form to the voice(s) coming through my own text; thus I can inform and influence it back. As I am learning (is being reinforced) already from Goethe via Bortoft, there is an inner way of knowing something—of experiencing literature—which we do not come by through the machine learning method of algorithmic abstraction, but rather through being, dwelling, and staying with the trouble of the text.

I think probably the thing for me to do is read Werther on my own. That will give me a touchstone, and some background which may be valuable for Faust. Perhaps then we can organize a date just to talk about the novel, kind of like with did with Marilyn Robinson’s Gilead, which I remember was time well spent and a nourishing event? Sometimes it’s good to work through a novel incrementally with a group, but I also think it can be worthwhile to start the conversation from the perspective of everyone having already read the novel, having the whole fresh in mind.

For me it is just a matter of time…

Regarding translation, I agree with you, Ed—something is always lost… but then it again, sometimes, something can be gained. At their best, a good translator is writing new poetry, introducing new possibilities into the language; thought-forms, feeling tones, syntactical disruptions, image juxtapositions which were not there before. To John’s suggestion, I would definitely be up for a exploratory vocal session to see how a translation-performance of Faust could work. That first scene where he calls up the spirits would sure be interesting to work/play with.

Ed, what translations would you recommend for the Sorrows (or Sufferings, or Miseries, or…) of Werther, and for Faust?


Just a little etymological-linguistic background: One of the current, contemporary meanings of Bildung is in fact “education”. (You certainly picked up on that, Marco!). The common word for the “system of education” is Bildungssystem. The word is fundamentally related of course to Bild, which most often translates as “image, picture”. Originally, it was more general in meaning, namely “form, gestalt” (and notice how we borrow a later German word to help describe the notion). German being the basic language that it is allows for lots of word formations from basic words. Add the prefix ab- ("from, away, …) and you get abbilden, “to copy, make a picture of”, ausbilden (lit. “to form (or picture) out”) means “to train, to provide with skills”, but einbilden (lit. “to form (or picture) in”) means “to fancy, presume, have a false impression of”. The verb bilden is a very versatile word. Of course, these days it resonates somewhat sonorously with the English word “building” as well, which in its gerund form at least gives us the sense of putting something together or giving something form.

As for translations, knowing full well, as you also note, every translation is an interpretation, my immediate reaction would be “older is probably better”, but that idea has problems all its own. It would appear that Stanley Corngold’s more recent translation of Werther may be a good one (whereby I’ve only read about it) as he tries not to use any English words that were not in use at the time of the original’s writing. I know there are those who think older works need be carried over into a more modern idiom, but that’s too much distortion for me. As you noted, the past is worth engaging in its own right and even works that have become “timeless” originated at some point in history which is also worthy of our attention. A similar case obtains for Faust (both parts I and II). David Luke’s translation, which appeared in the Oxford World’s Classics series got good reviews (Part I won the European Poetry Translation Prize … for what it’s worth); he tries to capture Goethe’s complex rhyming scheme and in that sense stay as close as possible to the original. Just some unqualified thoughts on my part.

I would like to point out that all my remarks on translation were in no way intended to imply that we should not read things in translation. That’s the only way for most of us to get into something “foreign” (temporally, linguistically …). But as long as we stay aware of what the translator was trying to do, and if we agree with the approach they take, and we are sensitive to the possibility, as you put it, of an “inner way of knowing something” which Goethe has made visible, then we stand to gain a lot.

Both of your suggestions for reading resonate well with me. A Gilead-like conversation (which I also remember quite fondly) for Werther and an active, oral, reading of parts of Faust could be very rewarding.


I don’t know if this could work but I have given voice before to a proposed aesthetic experiment that I made last year. I imagined that several speakers with access to different languages could speak a poem in the original and then have another speaker speak the same poem in English translation. I have read a half dozen translations of Rilke ( without any knowledge of German) and feel I know that poet well through translation. I can say the same for many other poets and writers that I consider foundational. Poetry is for the voice, a hangover from the oral tradition, when words still had magical properties. I am not against the library but I am for the idea of a performance lab where there are no footnotes to consider or alternative readings that can distract. The difference between a critic of Hamlet and a performer of Hamlet is that the critic never has to make up her mind. The performer has to figure it out, make a commitment, and actually do it. This is also a very different kind of activity than most philosophy, In my forays into philosophy I have tried to stress a lyric approach. This lyric approach seems to be what Gebser, Goethe, Steiner, and their cohorts imagined would go beyond the quantitative Academic , analytical, atomistic, dominant voice, that is never friendly to the lyrical. That antagonism is probably why the humanities who modeled themselves after a positivist science have put themselves out of business. With the AI invasion in the ascendant, and education in decline, we need a new kind of orientation for life long learners, who may, if they live long enough, continue to bring something to the table that cannot be delivered by a smart phone. If there is anything we have learned during the closing of schools, restaurants, bars, theaters, libraries, lectures, rallies, is how easy it is to become a Guinea pig for Big Science. Culture workers will probably have to work at the margins as the Big City is not offering much these days during lock down. Keeping the lyric voice alive is possible and desirable and these fragile networks we are co-evolving at the periphery is where the action will come from to stabilize a new kind of mind. It is the interplay between voice, hand, and minds that interest me the most. The world is a resonant whole. The whole is experienced through the particular parts, because all parts are connected. The voice is primary carrier of meaning and we don’t need to understand the language of the singer to catch the meaning. There is considerable evidence that we sang before we learned how to speak.

I would suggest, dear Marco, that you work from a lyric voice before you try to catch the heroic epic which easily becomes bombast. If you try for example to sing Bach’s Passion, without proper training, you will tear out your vocal cords. Milton’s and Shakespeare’s sonnets, Blake’s songs of innocence, are preludes to the giant dramatic, epic works they created.

The purpose of aesthetic discussions, according to Wittgenstein, (a great practitioner of gestalts), is to bring attention to a thing, and then to place things side by side.

And what do I mean by the lyric voice? Let me show you an example of the lyric voice in action. Notice how the man uses his voice/hand to touch the tormented animal.

“Aesthetic discussions are like discussions in a court of law when you try to clean up the circumstances and then appeal to the judge”.-G. E. Moore attributed this to Wittgenstein from a private conversation they had. It rings true.

By the way, I once worked in a dog shelter. The more I get to know people the better I like dogs.