Sunday, February 28, 2010

Reading Questions, 5 (Mill and Zola)

First, some discussion questions from Group 3:

1. What does Mill believe the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community against his/her will? (pg.9)

2. What may occur to the human race, according to Mill, if authority suppresses opinion? (p.16)

3. Mill states that if authority does silence opinion/expression then they are summing two things, what are they? (p.16/17)

4. Why does Mill believe that government by a democracy ever did or could, rise above mediocrity? What is at the heart of this problem? (p.63)

5. When does society have jurisdiction over a person’s conduct? Then what is the question to do with that authority? (p.73)

6. The Golden Rule is that we should treat others the way we want to be treated. What would Mill have to say about this rule? (Chapter 1)

7. What does Mill think about Christianity and religion in general?

8. How do Mill’s ideas of individualism and liberty relate to the Zola’s Preface?

9. How does The Ladies’ Paradise (the actual store) hurting business for all of the local shops relate to the idea of majority rule over minority rights?

Here are my questions, below. As usual, you may respond to any of the questions (from the group or from me).

1. Mill's book is called On Liberty; so what kind of liberty? Physical or mental? Positive or negative? Whose liberty is Mill concerned with? How does Mill’s concept of liberty compare or contrast to those of the French Revolutionaries, Burke, or Marx?

2. By what principle should freedom be limited, according to Mill? How does this look in practice? Discuss one contemporary moral or political debate where this principle might be applied -- the more provocative the better. (For his examples see Ch. 5; do these work?)

3. His basic argument is simple enough. But what sorts of arguments does he offer to support it? What is wrong with preventing liberty of thought and expression, for example? Why does society constantly need opposition, even after a good system has been discovered (see Book II)? Does Mill’s theory depend on an idea of progress, or even providence, underneath the apparently simple appeal to utility?

4. Is Mill especially concerned with Rights? What does he think of natural rights or of social rights, and why? If he disagrees with natural rights theory, does he do so in the same way as Burke or Fichte?

5. In Book III, Mill introduces his readers to Wilhelm von Humboldt, the founder of the university of Berlin; what does Mill want us to take from German philosophy for his argument? Is this ecstatic, almost religious celebration of individuality really an argument about human nature?

6. But Book III also shows us Mill’s more elitist side: Why is he against the tyranny of the majority? How does he feel equality is to be balanced with liberty? Does the special status of the original individual or “genius” necessarily come at the expense of everybody else?

7. Who is left out, or denied liberty, in Mill’s argument? Why aren’t certain groups entitled to liberty? Do you agree with the ways he limits liberty, or do these limitations, especially those regarding “barbarians,” undermine the validity of his argument?

Regarding Zola, The Ladies' Paradise:

8. Make a list of the metaphors used to describe the big department store. What ideas or feelings about it does Zola want to create? Does Zola's description of the store's effect on the neighborhood reflect a theory of progress, or modernization? That is, are we meant to view the store positively, or negatively, or somehow both?

9. Note the description of the mannequins (dummies) on p. 6. Is there some larger message about women in late-nineteenth-century French society that Zola is getting at here? What does Zola suggest is the relationship between semi-sexual "seduction" and the store's commercial success?

10. Zola also carefully contrasts the Baudus and other keepers of small shops to the new department store. How does Zola use description, detail, metaphor, and dialogue to communicate this difference? What broader historical and social trends is he outlining here? (See especially Baudu's rant on 23-26.)

11. In Zola's statement of his theory of writing novels (Preface to second edition of Thérèse Raquin, in the reader) he claims his goals were "scientific." What does he seem to mean by this?

12. How does Zola's statement of novel-writing theory help you interpret the portion we've read from The Ladies' Paradise?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Reading Questions, 4 (Nationalism), part II

Here are more questions on our reading for Wednesday, courtesy of Group 2:

- How does Fichte define what a nation is? How is it similar to Renan's definition of "a nation"?

- Jose de Larra claims that literature is one of the defining characteristics of nationhood. Do you agree or disagree?

- Arnim and Brentano (The Boy's Magic Horn) claim that the rediscovery of German folk culture and literature would help unify the German people and give Germans their own consciousness. How is this similar or dissimilar to de Larra's views on literature?

- In Fichte's call "To the German Nation", his idea of Germany, as a nation, changed after Napoleon invaded. How did Germany, as a nation, change?

- According to Renan, what are the influence of race and language in nation-making?

- In Renan's "What is a Nation?," he gives the formula for a nation. What are the key ingredients to a Nation, and what confusions may lead to mistakes in the formation of the Nation? Do you agree with his formula?

- Refer to the articles and find examples of what factors help create a national identity. (Factors such as language, culture, art, music, history, etc...)

(Extra question for people to ponder..... What is Europe? Is there an European culture? Is there an European identity separate from a national identity?)

- How does one's mother tongue play a role in Wagner's "Jews and Music" and how may one's language play into nationalism itself?

- Throughout the course we have been traveling from empires with monarchs to current nations. What key differences have shaped these two words?

- How does music and poetry aid in the creation of a nation and nationalism?

- How does Wagner justify his claim that Jewish musicians are not capable or worthy of producing works of musical merit?

- How does Wagner define music as a characteristic that defines a nation? What makes music important to a national character?

National Characters: Maps and Stereotypes (1869)

The text and image source for this entry is

Here is a series of anthropomorphic (humanoid) maps of the various nations of mid-19th C. Europe. As the idea of nationhood develops it employs the stereotype: the abstracted or idealized person representing the characteristics accepted as typical of a certain nationality.
This particular series was created in England in 1869. Can we learn anything about the "English point of view" regarding the continental peoples?

Geographical Fun: Being Humourous Outlines of Various Countries was first published in London by the firm of Hodder and Stoughton in 1869. The atlas consists of twelve maps of European countries; each with a unique national stereotype created by the author based on the outline and shape of the country. Each image is accompanied by a short verse describing the authors creation.
In the introduction to the atlas, the author, William Harvey, writing under the pseudonym Aleph, described his intention in creating the atlas: "It is believed that illustrations of Geography may be rendered educational, and prove of service to young Scholars who commonly think Globes and Maps but wearisome aids to knowledge...... If these geographical puzzles excite the mirth of children, the amusement of the moment may lead to the profitable curiosity of youthful students and embue the mind with a healthful taste for foreign lands."To read the full introduction, please click here
The resulting fanciful caricatures include England in the form of Queen Victoria; Scotland as a gallant Piper struggling through the bogs; Wales in the form of Owen Glendowr; Ireland as a Peasant, happy in her baby's smile; France as an Empress of cooks, fashions, and the dance; Spain and Portugal joined in lasting amity; Italy as a revolutionary figure complete with liberty cap; Prussia in the personages of Friedrich Wilhelm and Prime Minister Bismarck; Germany as a lady dancing; Holland and Belgium as female figures who represent perfect art made grand; Denmark as a female figure with ice skates; and Russia as the classic bear.


For Shakespeare's Prince, and the Princess of wales,
To England dear. Her royal spirit quails;
From skating faint, she rests upon the snow;
Shrinking from unclean beasts that grin below.


Beautiful England, - on her Island throne,
Grandly she rules, - with half the world her own;
From her vast empire the sun ne'er departs:
She reigns a Queen - Victoria, Queen of Hearts.

A hook-nosed lady represents fair France,
Empress of cooks, of fashions, and the dance.
Her flatt'ring glass declares that vict'ry pwer,
Beauty, wealth, arts, are her imperial dower.


Lo! studious Germany, in her delight,
At coming glories, shewn by second sight,
And on her visioned future proudly glancing,
Her joy expresses by a lady dancing.

Dame Holland, trick'd out in her gala clothes,
And Master Belgium, with a punchy nose;
Seem on the map to represent a land,
By patriot worth, and perfect art made grand.

Thou model chieftain - born in modern days
Well may thy gallant acts claim classic praise.
Uncompromising friend of liberty!
Thy photograph ennobles Italy!

His Majesty of Prussia - grim and old
Sadowa's King - by needle guns made bold;
With Bismark of the royal conscience, keeper,
In dreams political none wiser - deeper


Peter, and Catherine, and Alexander,
Mad Paul, and Nicholas, poor shadows wander
Out in the cold; while Emperor A. the Second
In Eagles, Priests, and Bears supreme is reckoned.

A gallant piper, stuggling through the bogs,
His wind bag broken, wearing his clay clogs;
Yet, strong of heart, a fitting emblem makes
For Scotland - land of heroes and of cakes.

These long divided nations soon may be,
By Prim's grace, joined in lasting amity.
And ladies fair - if King Fernando rules,
Grow grapes in peace, and fatten their pet mules.

Geography bewitch'd - Owen Glendowr,
In Bardic grandeur, looks from shore to shore,
And sings King Arthur's long, long pedigree,
And cheese and leks, and knights of high degree.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Reading Questions, 4 (Nationalism)

Here are questions to guide your reading (and to answer for your one-page paper):

1. What do Larra, Arnim and Brentano, and Mickiewicz, see as the relationship between literature and political or social life? (If answering this for your short paper, choose one of these three.)

2. How do these writers imagine the relationship between the individual writer and "the people"? What are the people supposed to do for literature, and what is literature supposed to do for the people? Where does that leave the writer?

3. How does Wagner's assault on the ability of Jews to produce culture relate to the views of the earlier German thinkers on nationalism (Fichte and Arnim and Brentano)?

4. What does Renan mean when he writes, " a crucial factor in the creation of a nation" (p. 45)?

5. After listing what a nation is not, Renan offers a theory of what a nation is. What is this argument? Does it fit with your experience or feeling on the matter?

6. Compare Renan and Pearson. Can you identify one or two key ideas that help explain their different views?

7. Paying attention to the dates of these texts, do you notice any change over time? If so, what characterizes that change?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Finding HER Life, Telling HER Story

Mary Wollstonecraft, John Opie, oil on canvas, 1790/1, Tate Gallery London

One of things that pleases me so much about Prof. Martin's syllabus is that gender is examined as an underlying social construction across multiple weeks. On March 3rd we'll be looking at Zola's novel The Ladies' Paradise. Prof. Martin will be introducing us to the rise of shopping and consumer culture. This is a highly gendered realm and we'll begin to see how buying and displaying material goods gets entangled in issues of femininity and feminine social presentation. On April 14th he'll be introducing us to that powerful modern archetype "the New Woman"-which means many different things to many different people. I'm especially excited to see we'll be watching some of the film Pandora's Box. Click here for an exciting preview!

For the past week I've begun to realize how everything I've been writing about in this blog is almost, without exception from the male point of view- male philosophers, male artists, male composers, male scientists, male poets etc. Well, surprise, surprise... after all, women haven't even had suffrage in the U.S. for a hundred years (we can ring that centenary in in 2020) and in France, well, they won't be able to celebrate a hundred years of women's suffrage until 2044! Shocking- yes? So what do we do as students of history? How do we get to HER VOICE, HER LIFE when all we have are HIS STORIES and HIS IMAGES about HER? This isn't a blog on feminism and women's history per se and yet- why do these things still have to be separate? Why is the male point of view still the default? When I say "this isn't a blog about women's history" am I implicitly saying "this is a blog about MEN'S HISTORY." This is confusing to me.
I believe confusion is GOOD. It shows that the poor little mind- so eager for answers- so hungry for solidity has none of these in the moment. To really feel like you don't know, may be the beginning of the path to knowing.

Getting back to the question of "why is history usually Men's History": the sheer volume of historical texts, artifacts, discourses- which are important to understand the consciousness of the times that we're studying- are 99% MALE both in their origination and in their points-of-view. Women are present, always of course, but they are like the stratum just below the surface of the visible- obviously there, but hidden, silent, waiting for an archaeologist, a mindful excavator.

Keep this in mind when I do my lecture on "Dangerous Sexuality" on March 17th. Women take on some very specific qualities in the male imagination. WOMAN is not just woman... she becomes a whole universe of symbols within the male interpretation of biological-social-cultural reality.

As students of history we must be conscious of the fact that history as a discipline came of age in a time when it was rare for women to be involved in the public discourse on anything! There are always exceptions of course, we have people like Mary Wollstonecraft and John Stuart Mill writing about what seems so obvious to us now- that women's inferiority to men is a cultural idea that has been mistaken and perpetuated as a natural fact and that it must not only be addressed it must be changed.

We have great female authors rising to real positions of acclaim as the novel becomes the penultimate form of 19th C. literature: Mary Shelley, Elizabeth Gaskill, Jane Austin, Charlotte and Emily Bronte, George Sand (took a male name), George Eliot (took a male name) etc. I've noticed that most of the female authors (and poets) that I can bring up in my mind are either English or American. Is this merely because I'm Anglo-American? Or is the feminist tradition strongest in these two English speaking nations?

Is there something about the novel that lends itself to the female voice? Is there something sociological that allows women to find power in this space of story-making and of early mass communication? Of course what women could write novels? Upper and middle class of course. So the class issue becomes a part of the question... as does race and ethnicity.

Here are some links to very basic info on Feminism in 19th C. Europe & beyond:

Friday, February 19, 2010

Haeckel "Sees" the Art and Soul of Nature

"To him who looks upon the world rationally, the world in its turn
presents a rational aspect. The relation is mutual."
"Truth in philosophy means that concept and external reality correspond."
~ Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, philosopher (1770-1831)

"Beauty is a manifestation of secret natural laws,
which otherwise would have been hidden from us forever."
"Nature knows no pause in progress and development,
and attaches her curse on all inaction."
~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, poet & philosopher (1749-1832)

Their philosophical views were inflected in a deeply metaphysical and poetic tone. The idea that things are "becoming" extended to all of creation- including human beings. Hegel and Goethe's ideas are idealistic as well as deeply Romantic. Each was attempting to bridge the gulf between a purely materialistic description of nature and the intuitive experience of the human spirit in relationship to nature. Both men believed that Spirit (Geist) -or the Life Force- was manifesting through the material world, ever-changing, ever-moving toward a place of greater wisdom, higher perfection. Little wonder than that this highly spiritualized philosophy of life would culminate in the work of a German scientist, eager to show that Nature herself was the greatest artisan.
Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) would not only be the great popularizer of Darwin in his nation, he would present his voluminous discoveries of new species and his deeply spiritual ideas about nature and evolution in beautiful volumes of incredibly detailed illustrations. Haeckel was both a sensitive scientist and an exacting artist. These richly illustrated books showcased natural forms as exquisite works of aesthetic contemplation.

Ernst Haeckel (seated) with his assistant Nikolaus Miclucho-Maclay
in Canary Islands, 1866 photograph.
Click here to see an entire slide-show essay on Haeckel from

The stages of evolution as mirrored in the stages of the foetus.
Haeckel is famous for coining the phrase "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny".
This is a summation of his recapitulation theory: during embryonic development, a foetus will manifest earlier traits associated with its specie-ancestors. Although discredited as an accurate description of the developmental process in relationship to evolution, it persists as a popular scientific idea. We also know that Haeckel fudged some of his illustrations to make the recapitulation process appear more prominent in his foetus subjects.

The following images are from Haeckel's seminal text Kunstformen von der Natur (Art Forms of Nature). Originally published in sets of ten between 1899 and 1904 and as a complete volume in 1904, it consists of 100 prints of various organisms, many of which were first described and drawn/painted by Haeckel himself. It's easy to see why these prints have never lost their popular appeal.

Below: Trailer for Proteus: A Nineteenth Century Vision (2004) a documentary film on Ernst Haeckel and his nature imagery. The film focuses on how the human representation of nature is embedded in larger patterns of culture, belief and artistic standards.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

What is Society?: Alan Macfarlane Lectures at Cambridge

Alan Macfarlane is a famous anthropologist/historian at Cambridge University in the UK. I discovered his lectures on the great social thinkers two years ago and have returned to them several times. As we now know, big-picture-types Marx and Darwin shook up not only their respective fields (economics, biology) but had an impact on the way ordinary people looked at the world around them.

In our own day the terms "Marxism" and "Darwinism" encompass vast constellations of meanings, are applied to an enormous number of phenomena and fall off the lips of people who know little about these men's original theories. As often as not, this specific ignorance is accompanied by general ignorance of the historic contexts in which these "isms" came into being. Having had little education on the subject of formal social thought, I can certainly say I was someone ignorant of the far-reaching ideas proposed by these men.
Macfarlane's lectures helped! They are quite brief and very rich. In nine one hour episodes you'll get a juicy introduction to the major social theorists from the French Revolution to the 20th C.
But this is a history class! Who cares about sociology and social theory? YOU SHOULD- for the simple fact is that how we currently imagine history comes out of how we imagine society. And these men gave us the language that we use to do that. Knowing more about them and their key ideas is an excellent way to enter into a deeper understanding of the ideologies of modern Europe (and America).

Cambridge University, Department of Anthropology

Monday, February 15, 2010

Reading Questions, 3: Marx and Darwin

Here are questions to guide your reading (and to answer for your one-page paper) from your fellow students in Group 1:

1.) Why do Marx and Engels think that the bourgeoisie is a revolutionary class (pg. 127)? Do you agree?

2.) What do Marx and Engels mean when they state that the bourgeoisie produces its own grave diggers (pg. 135)? Do you think that the capitalist system is ultimately doomed to be overthrown by the proletariat?

3.) Read the list of measures needed to move a society toward socialism (pg. 141). Which of these, if any, do you agree with? Why?

4.) In what ways can Darwinism be seen as similar to the theories of capitalism?

5.) In what ways can Darwinism be seen as similar to the theories of communism?

6.) Is the concept of Social Darwinism an inevitable result of Darwinism?

Here, also, are some from me:

7.) Darwin finds "gradeur in this view of life" described by the theory of evolution. But there is also fear: what about his theory might be upsetting for Enlightenment rationalists, or for Romantic nature-worshippers?

8.) Do Marx and Darwin have anything in common? Do they share a view of process in history, or of a certain pattern of transformations over time? If so, what is, roughly speaking, the (r)evolutionary vision they share?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Be Italian! (Even if you're really German or English)

Italy has held a significant place in the collective imagination of other European nations for centuries. In the Renaissance the reappraisal/rediscovery of classical antiquity included new translations of Greek and Latin texts and the excavation and study of classical material culture, especially that of the Romans. Italian Renaissance learning and the understanding of perspective in the visual arts filtered into the rest of Europe transforming intellectual and visual culture.

In the 18th C. what was known as the "the Grand Tour" became a critical element in the education of every young upper-class English gentlemen. Italy was at the center of this new cultural tourism. Chaperoned by a wiser, older man (often a tutor or trusted family retainer) the young man would set out to explore the high culture of cities, the private art and scientific collections of nobles and royal courts and the ruins of classical civilization. It was hoped that exposure to the picturesque landscape, the environment of classical traditions and the vitality of colorful, "less civilized" peoples of Europe, would quicken the traveler's intellect and turn him into a cultivated, worldly being. Jeremy Black's book explores the Grand Tour, the British aristocracy and their relationship to Italy in great detail.

Two groups of Romantic artists who idolized and appropriated themes of Renaissance Italy are the German Nazarenes and English Preraphaelites. Johann Friedrich Overbeck (1789-1865) and Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) are representative painters of the two schools. Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) (Dante G's sister) was a well-known poet.

Italia and Germani, Johann Friedrich Overbeck, oil on canvas, 1815-1828, Neue Pinakothek, Munich
Here the spirits of the two peoples are personified as Renaissance women (they actually had earlier identites as characters in a novel). Notice the architecture in the background, the plants making up the women's wreaths, and their facial features- all signs to point out (sum up) the "natures" of the two peoples. Who seems to be dominating this conversation? What do you think this imagined conversation between the two personified nations is about?

The Salutation of Beatrice, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, oil on panels, 1859, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
Rossetti created numerous paintings of his namesake the great Renaissance poet Dante Alighieri and that poet's great love the noblewoman Beatrice Portinari. This was a chaste love that would fuel the poet's imagination. Beatrice as Muse and as spiritual teacher would be central to Dante's greatest achievement The Divine Comedy.

Renaissance and Enlightenment intellectuals had imagined Greece and Rome as the fountain-head of artistic genius, using ancient aesthetics as the measuring stick for art, poetry, drama and architecture. The Romantics looked to the Renaissance, especially the early Renaissance, as inspiration for their own creative output. The Renaissance poets Petrarch and Dante became touchstones for those Romantics interested in recapturing the spirit and inspiration which they saw as having reached a zenith in a premodern (early modern?) Italy

Dante and Beatrice, Henry Holiday, 1883, oil on canvas,
National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside, Liverpool.

Dante and Beatrice Behold the Beatific Vision, Gustave Dore, 1867,
etching (illustration for The Divine Comedy)
See this and many of Dore's other amazing illustrations here

Roderick Cavaliero's book Italia Romantica, explores the relationship between Italian independence in the 19th C. and the English Romantic imagination. Like the Romantic poet Lord Byron (who had died after going off to fight the Turks for Greek independence in 1824), other poets and artists became obsessed with Italy as a vehicle for their own pre-conceived notions about liberty, nationhood and artistic passions.

Overview from Google Books: "In the eyes of the English Romantics, Italy was not a nation but "Italia," a place inhabited by the ancient. Theirs was a view shaped by the eighteenth century, the age of the Grand Tour, when no future nobleman's education was complete without a visit to Venice's carnival, the majestic ruins of the Forum in Rome, or the legendary Mount Vesuvius. Italia Romantica is a vivid history of the English Romantics' love affair with Italy. Through the eyes of Romantic travellers and poets such as Byron, Keats and Shelley, a fascinating picture of pre-unification Italy emerges, struggling to recover after Napoleon and edging towards the Risorgimento. Here is the Italy of idealized antiquity, magnificent but crumbling, somewhat like a gigantic and rather run-down living museum. It is full of bandits, unreformed Catholicism, vignettes of urban and pastoral life, of memorable characters and anecdote."

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Romantic Site II: The Cave

In 1797 the English Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote (under the influence of opium) one of the most famous and mysterious works of his career Kubla Kahn.

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree :
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground

With walls and towers were girdled round :
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree ;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
But oh ! that deep romantic chasm which slanted

Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover !
A savage place ! as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover !
(click here for rest of the poem)

The images of a cave and of magical powers emanating from the earth are ones repeated throughout the aesthetics of Romanticism. I would argue that there are two reasons for this. First, the cave represents the hidden, dark and irrational forces of life. The words chthonic and telluric are sometimes used by literary critics to describe this sense of the undergound as a source/site of hidden power. Chthonic means relating to the gods of the underworld and telluric relating to the earth. Second, the cave is a passage-way into the earth and, for the Romantics, the earth takes on a special meaning in terms of creativity and also nationalism. In this period the Germans begin to use the phrase "blood and soil" to describe their spiritual connection to the land. Following Goethe's lead, Wagner creates a singing role for Erda, the earth goddess, in his Ring Cycle. As nationalism becomes an increasingly important component of 19th C. politics, poets, artists and passionate patriots employ Romantic tropes of all kinds to show how "their folk" are authentically related to the land they occupy. The term autochthonic is used to describe this particular sort of appeal to being "native sons".

Take a peek at these caverns related to Romanticism.
Tanhausser Grotto in Neuschwanstein Castle.

Mad King Ludwig was so in love with Wagner's opera Tannhausser he had a grotto similar to the one in the opera created inside the castle itself. Here he could float around in a giant swan boat by candle-light, lost in his dreams and fantasies.

This is a clip from the film Ludwig (1972) by Luchino Visconti, showing the Mad King hovering in a rather fevered state about his magic grotto.

The Venusberg is a magic mountain (with an underground grotto) in German folklore. Here mortal men cavort with sensuous water nymphs reigned over by Venus herself. The story is an amalgamation of Teutonic legend and Roman myth. The Venusberg is a major focal point of Wagner's opera Tannhauser. Above is a 1990's Metropolitan Opera production of the opera. The Venusberg and other episodes featuring the femme fatale are found throughout Romantic litertaure and art. As we will see this image of dangerous female sexuality becomes a dominant theme in the late 19th and early 20th C. Female power gets identified with the Freudian unconscious and the inhuman forces of nature, sex and death.

Cave and Bridge in the Moonlight, oil on canvas, Joseph Wright of Derby, late 18th C.
Wright of Derby is one of the forefathers of Romantic painting. His pictures feature all of the themes we have come to identify with the movement: the wildness of nature, ruins and medievalism, the sublime and the magical, the hero and the maiden.
Exploration of the wonders both on and under the earth becomes a major theme of 19th C. literature. Darwin's voyages and the fantastic travelogues of Jules Verne's fiction are just two examples. The image of the explorer standing in front of some spectacular natural wonder (as we saw in C. D. Friedrich's paintings) is also widely seen in Romantic representation.

An excellent new book which thoroughly explores this is Richard Holmes'
The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science.

One of the most famous sites of the Romantic period is Fingal's cave in the Scottish Hebrides.
It became a popular tourist attraction in the Victorian period. Romantics made much of its spectacular natural beauty and its frequent appearance as a site of magical happenings in the myths of Scotland. The most famous Romantic incarnation of this site is musical: Felix Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture Op. 26, popularly known as The Fingal's Cave Overture. I've included a recording of it below, as well as actual footage of the cave.

Postcards of Fingal's cave, English, mid 19th C.

The Ghost of a Murdered Scottish Thane Appears in Fingal's Cave, print, 1840's

Photograph of Fingal's Cave

Romantic Site I: The Castle

Romanticism (or the Romantic movement) is a catch-all term for multiple currents in the arts and the cultural life of post French Revolutionary Europe. One of the strongest traits of Romanticism is a nostalgia for an idealized pre-Enlightenment world. I wish to look at two of the most famous examples of Romantic architecture- both have their roots in what many 19th C. people believed about the Middle Ages. This "medievalism" is still pervasive. In fact most of our ideas about the middle ages are Romantic, and come to us from the 19th C. and its artists and authors who wished to re-enchant their own experiences by recreating the world of chivalry and courtly love.

Our first example is Neuschwanstein, a magnificent castle built by Ludwig II, King of Bavaria (1845-1886). Ludwig was nicknamed "the mad" and his erratic behavior, inneptitude as a ruler and extravagent life-style may have led to his being murdered by his own government. His life is fascinating and if we have him to thank for anything, it is his complete and total support for Richard Wagner, whom he worshipped and protected for many years. With Ludwig's support Wagner was able to find space and time to complete many of his major operas. Neuschwanstein is an homage to the idealized, folkloric medievalism that is found in so many of Wagner's operas.

Neuschwanstein castle, begun 1869

Ludwig II, King of Bavaria, about 1865

Late 19th C. illustration of Wagner at the piano (that may be Ludwig in the background)
Our second (and much earlier) example of Romantic medievalism is the home of the English eccentric, diplomat and author Horace Walpole (1717-1797). Called "Strawberry Hill", this castle-like country house is an example of the Gothic Revival, the name of a movement which began in the 18th C. but which continued in various ways to influence architecture, art and decorative objects into the Victorian period. It's important to note that though the Gothic revival was well underway before 1789, this important trend of idealizing a medieval past fed into the Romantic movement as nostalgia for a simpler, more ordered way of life seized much of Europe.
Take a look at the fan-vaulting of the ceiling of Strawberry Hill's main gallery, then compare it to the ceiling of Westminster Abbey's Lady Chapel, bulilt during the reign of the first Tudor Monarch Henry VII. The Gothic Revivalists and, later, the Romantics were looking to the pre-industrial, chivalric past for clues as to how to approach both aesthetic and social issues.
The exterior of Strawberry Hill, built/rebuilt from 1748-1771

19th C. illustration of the interior of Strawberry Hill, note the fan-vaulting

Fan-vaulted ceiling of Henry VII's chapel, Westminster Abbey, 18th C. painting,
the chapel itself was begun 1503.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

FAUST- Why is he such a big deal?

Dr. Faustus Summoning the Devil, 17th C. Woodcut, English.
Notice the magic circle.
This is a major component of Renaissance and Elizabethan ritual magic. The names of the Christian God (in Hebrew, Greek etc.), angels and other spirits (overseeing different aspects of space like the directions) were written in chalk and other substances on the floor. As long as the magus stood within the circle he was (hopefully) protected from the supernatural forces that he was summoning.
There is a complicated history about how magic gets classified in Christian Europe. By the time of the Renaissance magic was split into natural magic and supernatural (demonic/angelic) magic. There was lots of overlap. Here's the difference. The first, natural, had to do with learning how to control occult (hidden) forces which animate all of nature. Men who studied natural philosophy (what would become science) often practiced natural magic. They had to be very very careful though because supernatural entities (like angels and demons) knew how to manipulate these forces too- as historian of science Lorraine Daston has put it: the demons were the natural magicians par excellence! Thus learning how to work in tandem with supernatural forces could be a short cut to learning the occult secrets of nature. For those of you interested in this drop me an email and I can recommend some good introductory books. The Renaissance is the period when the classifications of science, magic, religion gets very complex and very interesting!

OK gang I went a little bonkers with Faust postings but there's a method to my madness.

One of the things that really gets me going is finding patters of repetition within cultural history- especially a single image, story or motif. Why does this happen? Is it because a particular character, symbol or concept really appeals to people? Or is it just that those within a particular culture are so used to a certain something that they use it as a part of their expressive language without even thinking about it? What is it about the man who makes a pact with the devil that seems to fascinate people so much? Someone told em yesterday that it is Mephistopheles and not Faust that is the really interesting character. Would you agree?

If you're as interested as I am in Faust's artistic manifestations across the last several centuries take a look at Wikipedia's Faust related pages:

FAUST and Opera

The Faust story has inspired opera composers as well. Gounod's opera Faust is the most famous, but my personal favorite is Boito's Mephistofele. Busoni's Doktor Faust is based on Marlowe's earlier play. Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress combines the Faust story with inspiration from William Hogarth's famous paintings/prints about a man who wastes his life on fast living. Dusapin's Faustus, the Last Night is a completely new imagining of the Faust legend- focusing on the theme of time and how human beings attempt to control it.

Charles Gounod's Faust (1859)

Arrigo Boito's Mefistofele (1868)

Ferruccio Busoni's Doktor Faust (1916-25)

Igor Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress (1951)

Pascal Dusapin's Faustus, the Last Night (2006)

FAUST and Cinema

F. W. Murnau (1888-1931) is considered one of the greatest film directors who ever lived. The last film he made in his native Germany was FAUST (1926). Murnau's film does not follow Goethe scene for scene. It also draws on older versions of the story including Marlowe and the early-modern German chapbooks about Doktor Faustus.

A youthful Faust seduces the Duchess of Parma

Mephistopheles pust Gretchen's mother into an enchanted slumber.

An aged Faust invokes the servant of Satan, Mephistopheles, at the crossroads.
There's that magic circle again. This scene is one of the creepiest ever put on film.

The aged Faust espouses philosophy to his eager students. Dig that luminescent globe!

The archangel Michael and Mephistopheles make a bet.

Mephistopheles descends on the town, spreading plague from his cloak-like wings.

German poster for the film, done in the style of a 16th C. woodcut

A more traditional poster

Quite frankly Murnau's FAUST is one of the most glorious things I've ever seen on film- utterly breathtaking and full of references to art history. At moments one feels one has entered into a living painting by Bosch, Bruegel or Rembrandt- or perhaps a lavishly illustrated children's book- except without color. Someone has put the entire film in several parts on Youtube. It is the beautiful restored print by Kino and is in high definition. I post parts 1-3 here- you can see the rest on Youtube. You can also rent it easily through Netflix or a good local outlet. FAUST is truly a MUST see for all you film buffs. Enjoy!