Saturday, November 26, 2011

Hoelderlin’s Hyperion

The “Real” Greece – Part II: Philosophy and Poetry in Hoelderlin’s Hyperion

Κυριακή, 28 Φεβρουαρίου, 2010

“But then she [Gaia] did couple with Ouranos
to bear deep-eddying Okeanos,
Koios and Kreios, Hyperion and Iapetos,
Theia and Rheia, Themis and Mnemosyne,
as well as gold-wreathed Phoebe and lovely Tethys.”
(Hesiod, Theogony, 132-136)
“Hölderlin is one of our greatest, that is, most impending thinkers,” wrote Heidegger, “because he is our greatest poet. The poetic understanding of his poetry is possible only as a philosophical confrontation with the manifestation of being in his work.”
Today I continue with my quest to discover and present the “real” Greece. I strive to unearth the riches of Greece and Hellenism and based on this to determine what constitutes Greece and the Hellenism! It is a circle pointing to itself, and in order for it not to become a vicious circle, I have to break into it!

(η αποπειρα μου ειναι περισσοτερο να αναδειξω τον πλουτο που ενυπαρχει στην ελλαδα, στον ελληνισμο, και με βαση αυτην την αποπειρα να προσδιορισω και το τι ειναι η ελλαδα και ο ελληνισμος! ειναι μια κυκλοειδης διαδικασια, ειναι μια διαδικασια που για να μη γινει “φαυλος κυκλος” θα πρεπει να εισχωρησουμε στον κυκλο!)
I have chosen Hoelderlin’s Hyperion, as it is the perfect ground where poetry and philosophy cross each other, and because it opens the door to some very interesting considerations regarding the path of life. This topic in my view exemplifies what are some of the elements that constitute the “real” Greece. By necessity, I have used long quotes to get the basics of the story across, and then to convey some thinkers’ views and interpretations.  The reader who endures the difficult read will be rewarded.
“The novel Hyperion presents different practical approaches to dealing with the bi-polarity of the “eccentric path.” This novel is a collection of letters, mostly written by the novel’s modern Greek hero, Hyperion, to his German friend, Bellarmin, in which he recounts his adventures, states of mind, and longings. The original unity which Hyperion was, from the outset, keen to recapture, is understood in different ways by Hyperion at different stages of his life. Ultimately, he will realize that none of these is satisfactory, but that they represented ways of approaching that which is the underlying unity, i.e. Being, throughout the course of his life.
These different representations of unity are of ancient Greece (also reflected in childhood), of modern Greece liberated from Turkish rule, and of aesthetic beauty. This trilogy is not random but corresponds to different temporal understandings of the idea of the fundamental unity of Being. It is first grasped as belonging to the past (Childhood/Ancient Greece), then the future (liberated Greece), and finally the present (immediacy of aesthetic beauty). Each way of life is exemplified by a character with whom Hyperion is connected, respectively through a master-pupil relationship (Adamas), friendship (Alabanda) and love (Diotima).
Symposium, Tomb of the Diver, Paestum
In each case, Hyperion attempts to fully adopt the corresponding way of being only to find its limitations and be confronted with the need to move on. Thus, with Adamas, Hyperion feels compelled to leave his master and seek another way of life because of man’s lack of contentment and constant desire to go beyond his current condition: “We delight in flinging ourselves into the night of the unknown, into the cold strangeness of any other world, and, if we could, we would leave the realm of the sun and rush headlong beyond the comet’s track” (Hölderlin, 1990, p. 10) [“Wir haben unsre Lust daran, uns in die Nacht des Unbekannten, in die kalte Fremde irgend einer andern Welt zu stürzen, und wär’ es möglich, wir verlieβen der Sonne Gebiet und stürmten über des Irrsterns Grenzen hinaus” (Hölderlin, 1999, p.492)]. After leaving home and learning about the world, his encounter with Alabanda is that of a soul-mate who has fought his way to freedom. Together, they plan noble and heroic deeds, but Hyperion’s world crumbles when he realizes the dark side of such purported moral ambition. Alabanda’s friends are ruthless revolutionaries who seek to overthrow the present powers by violent means: “The cold sword is forged from hot metal” (ibid., p.26) [“Aus heiβem Metalle wird das kalte Schwert geschmieden” (ibid., p. 510)]. Through this experience, Hyperion grasps something of the conflictual nature of human life: “If the life of the world consists in an alteration between opening and closing, between going forth and returning, why is it not even so with the heart of man” (ibid., p.29) [“Bestehet ja das Leben der Welt im Wechsel des Entfaltens und Vershlieβens, in Ausflug und in Rückkehr zu sich selbst, warum nicht auch das Herz des Menschen” (ibid., p.514)]? However, it is by encountering beauty in the person and life of Diotima (Book II of Volume I) that Hyperion believes he has found what he is looking for, i.e. the Unity he is after: “I have seen it once, the one thing that my soul sought, and the perfection that we put somewhere far away above the stars, that we put off until the end of time – I have felt it in its living presence” (ibid., p.41) [“Ich habe es Einmal gesehen, das Einzige, das meine Seele suchte, und die Vollendung die wir über die Sterne hinauf entfernen, die wir hinausscheben bis ans Ende der Zeit, die hab’ ich gegenwärtig gefühlt” (ibid., p.529)]. A period of bliss ensues, but Diotima understands that Hyperion is “born for higher things” (ibid., p.72) [“zu höhern Dingen geboren” (ibid., p.566)], that the simple harmony of her life is not for him. He must go out and bring beauty to those places where it is lacking. Having grasped this (Book I of Volume II), Hyperion answers Alabanda’s call to join him in battle to free Greece.

Hyperion’s departure for battle is followed by several letters addressed to Diotima and a couple of her replies. After initial success in the fight against the Turks, Hyperion’s men are delayed by the long siege of Mistra. Nonetheless, as they finally enter the town, they go on a]rampage, pillaging and killing indiscriminately. Rather than face the enemy, Hyperion’s army disperses once its lust for plunder is satisfied. This leads to the death of forty Russian soldiers who stood alone fighting the common foe. Hyperion takes his army’s dishonour to make him unworthy, in his eyes, for Diotima’s love: “I must advise you to give me up, my Diotima” (ibid., p.98) [“ich muβ dir raten, daβ du mich verlässest, meine Diotima” (ibid., p.597)]. In letters to Bellarmin, we discover more details of the battles fought by Hyperion and Alabanda. Their friendship flourished again, but Alabanda’s lust for battle eventually came to an end, thus pointing once more to the limits of his way of life.
In a letter from Diotima that arrives later, it emerges that she lost her will to live as her lover did not return, and she finally let herself die. In a development which reflects Hölderlin’s understanding of human life, the effortless harmony of Diotima’s world of beauty, once disturbed by the fire of Hyperion’s free aspiration to noble deeds, could not simply return to its original form. Rather, it became something to aim for, something Diotima thought Hyperion could achieve for her: “You drew my life away from the Earth, but you would also have had power to bind me to the Earth” (ibid., p.122) [“Du entzogst main Leben der Erde, du hättest auch Macht gehabt, mich an die Erde zu fesseln” (ibid., p.626)]. It is, thus, through its very destruction, that Diotima’s way of life ceases to represent that which Hyperion could have sought to take refuge in. Diotima’s words illustrate the whole problem of life as an “eccentric path,” but her death, apparently, only leaves Hyperion confused: “as I am now, I have no names for things and all before me is uncertainty” (ibid., p.126) [“wie ich jetzt bin, hab ich keinen Namen für die Dinge, und es ist mir alles ungewiβ” (ibid., p.632)]. At the end of the novel, however, the beauty of Nature once again fills Hyperion with joy, and this poetic sense of oneness reaches beyond separation and death to Alabanda and Diotima. Somehow, he has made some sense of his experiences. Thus, after all these tragedies, an overall feeling of unity prevails: “You springs of earth! you flowers! and you woods and you eagles and you brotherly light! how old and new is our love!- We are free, we are not narrowly alike in outward semblance; how should the Mode of life not vary? yet we love the ether, all of us, and in the inmost of our inmost selves we are alike” (ibid., p.133) [“Ihr Quellen der Erd! Ihr Blumen! Und ihr Wälder und ihr Adler und du brüderliches Licht! Wie alt und neu ist unsere Liebe! – Frei sind wir, gleichen uns nicht ängstig von auβen; wie sollte nicht wechseln die Weise des Lebens? Wir lieben den Äther doch all und innigst im Innersten gleichen wir uns” (ibid., p.639-640)]. However, the last words of the novel suggest an open ending: “So I thought. More soon” (ibid., p.133) [“So dacht’ ich. Nächstens mehr” (ibid., p.640)]. Thus, after all the ordeals that he has worked through in these letters, Hyperion’s life goes on. This seems to point to new experiences and the possibility of revisiting his interpretation of his life thus far.”
(Source: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
“…..The main work of this period is the novel
Hyperion oder Der Eremit in Griechenland (2
volumes, 1797-1799; translated as Hyperion; or, The
Hermit in Greece, 1965). Hölderlin had begun the
novel during his student days in Tübingen and
had revised it continually during his stays in
Waltershausen and Jena. In 1794 a preliminary
version was published under the title “Fragment
von Hyperion” (Fragment of Hyperion) in Friedrich
Schiller’s literary journal Neue Thalia. This version
of the novel is cast in the form of letters from
Hyperion, a young late-eighteenth-century Greek,
to his German friend Bellarmin. The letters depict
his constant struggle to attain the moment of
transcendent experience in which all conflict is
resolved and temporality is suspended: “Was mir
nicht Alles, und ewig Alles ist, ist mir Nichts”
(What for me is not All, and eternally All, is
nothing). In nature, in love, in a visit to Homeric
sites, Hyperion experiences momentary
intimations of his ideal, which constantly eludes
him, so that his aspirations remain unfulfilled.
The image of the “exzentrische Bahn” (eccentric
path), which constantly diverges from the center
of Being that it always seeks but can never
permanently attain, becomes a symbol of the
course of human existence.
In Jena Hölderlin had revised this version, partly
in order to take account of his attempt to come to
terms with the philosophy of Fichte. In a metrical
version and a fragment entitled “Hyperions
Jugend” (Hyperion’s Youth), he abandoned the
epistolary format in favor of a retrospective
technique in which the older Hyperion looks back
on his youth. The narrator, relating his story to a
young visitor, acknowledges that the process of
reflection has made him “tyrannisch gegen die
Natur” (tyrannical toward nature), in that he has
reduced nature to the material of selfconsciousness.
This theme echoes Hölderlin’s
criticism of Fichte’s philosophy and its
preoccupation with the autonomy of the “absolute
ego.” Hölderlin’s new orientation finds expression
in the Platonic view of love as the longing of the
imperfect for the ideal, and in a new conception of
beauty, which emerges as the only form in which
the unity of Being, unattainable precisely because
it is the object of striving, is incarnated: “jenes
Sein, im einzigen Sinne des Worts … ist
vorhanden–als Schönheit” (Being, in the unique
sense of the word … is present-as Beauty). With
this subordination of self-consciousness to the
realization of beauty, Hölderlin establishes the
conceptual framework that he follows in
completing the novel.
The final version of the novel, the greater part of
which was completed during the period he was in
Frankfurt am Main, shows Hölderlin’s increasing
stylistic and formal mastery. He returns to the
epistolary form of the first version, but now
endows it with a particularly sophisticated
structure. Hyperion presents a retrospective view
of his life, beginning at the stage at which, after
having lost his beloved and his friends, he returns
bitterly disappointed to his native land, intending
to take up the life of a hermit. The main focus is
not the sequence of events but the act of narration
itself. The seemingly disconnected fragments of
his experience are integrated through the process
of reflective recapitulation and gradually assume
a dialectical structure in which union and
separation, joy and suffering come to be seen as
inseparable parts of a complex unity.
The principle of “das Eine in sich
unterschiedne” (the one that is differentiated
within itself), which Hölderlin adapted from a
formulation of Heraclitus, defines at once the
essence of the Athenian and the nature of beauty–as opposed to the one-sidedness and
fragmentation characteristic of the Egyptians and
the Spartans, and, in Hölderlin’s view, also of
modern times.”
Source: Hoelderlin, Duke University
“Like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Schiller, his older contemporaries, Hölderlin was a fervent admirer of ancient Greek culture, but had a very personal understanding of it. Much later, Friedrich Nietzsche and his followers would recognize in him the poet who first acknowledged the orphic and dionysiac Greece of the mysteries, which he would fuse with the Pietism of his native Swabia in a highly original religious experience. For Hölderlin, the Greek gods were not the plaster figures of conventional classicism, but living, actual presences, wonderfully life-giving and, at the same time, terrifying. He understood and sympathized with the Greek idea of the tragic fall, which he expressed movingly in the last stanza of his Hyperions Schicksalslied “Hyperion’s Song of Destiny”. (Source:  icompositions).
Hyperion’s Song of Destiny
by Fr. Hölderlin
Holy spirits, you walk up there
in the light, on soft earth.
Shining god-like breezes
touch upon you gently,
as a woman’s fingers
play music on holy strings.
Like sleeping infants the gods
breathe without any plan;
the spirit flourishes continually
in them, chastely kept,
as in a small bud,
and their holy eyes
look out in still
eternal clearness.
A place to rest
isn’t given to us.
Suffering humans
decline and blindly fall
from one hour to the next,
like water thrown
from cliff to cliff,
year after year,
down into the Unknown
We have no footing anywhere,
No rest, we topple,
Fall and suffer
Blindly from hour
To hour
like water
Pitched from fall
To fall, year in,
Year out, headlong,
Downward for years to the vague abyss
“Philosophy then, is not born out of the nostalgia for an absent unity, nor out of the exile from the All, but out of an accord with that which is in the difference of its multiplicity. For what is thus achieved is a concept of beauty different from that of Platonism and from that of the classicism of Goethe and Winckelmann: no longer the becoming-visible of the idea, but the harmony of opposites, no longer the static concept of an atemporal beauty, but the dynamic one of a living beauty that Plato himself, citing Heraclitus, has not perhaps ignored, as Hoelderlin implies in the preface to Hyperion, when he exclaims, after having alluded to the already realised presence of being as beauty:
I think that in the end we will all cry out: saint Plato, forgive us! We have gravely sinned against you!
For it is on the basis of such a sensible presence of beauty and of the effective presence of the union of the infinite with the finite that Greece is defined in Hyperion as the homeland of philosophy, in opposition to Egypt and the North:
Do you see now why the Athenians in particular could not but be a philosophical people too? Not so the Egyptian. He who does not live loving Heaven and earth and loved by them in equal measure, he who does not live at one in this sense with the element in which he has his being, is by his very nature not so as one with himself as a Greek, at least he does not expewrience eternal Beauty as easily as a Greek does.
It is, in fact, only Greece that is capable of this harmony with the sensible and with exteriority which procures it the harmony with the intelligible and interiority: neither the Oriental (the Egyptian), subject to an exteriority which appears like a “terrible enigma”, nor the Nordic (the German), enclosed in an interiority without an outside, are capable of such a harmony and can be open to a beauty at the same time “human and divine”. Must Greece, then, be resurrected?” (Source: Francoise Dastur: Hoelderlin and the Orientalisation of Greece)
“Oh! were there a banner … a Thermopylae upon which I could spill my blood with honour, all that solitary love for which I can have no use.”
“Hölderlin’s glory is that he is the poet of Hellenism. Everyone who reads his work senses that his Hellenism is different, more sombre, more tortured by suffering than the radiant Utopia of antiquity envisaged during the Renaissance and Enlightenment. But his vision of Hellas has nothing in common either with the tedious, trivial, academic classicism of the nineteenth century or with the hysterical bestiality with which Nietzsche and the imperialist period envisaged Greece. The key to Hölderlin’s view lies then in the understanding of the specifics of this conception of Hellenism.”
Georg Lukacs, Goethe and His Age, 1934

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