Monday, December 28, 2015

Julia Manzano Arjona

1 Sobreabundancia del poeta, indigencia del pensador.
1.1 Inmersión y distancia: La Poesía como bálsamo
2 Actitudes ante la obra de arte.
2.1 La estética como mediadora
2.2 Escisión y reconciliación: una polémica entre ilustrados y románticos
2.3 Las bodas románticas entre Filosofía y Poesía: una religión estética [Schlegel y Novalis]
3 La estética idealista como paradigma de la unidad reconciliada.
3.1 Primer programa para un ensayo del idealismo alemán: una nueva mitología [Schelling, Hegel, Hölderlin]
3.2 La “intuición intelectual” [Schelling] Propuesta de una religión estética
4 Teorías de la interpretación.
4.1 Los avatares de la hermenéutica [Herder, Schleiermacher, Dilthey]
4.2 Hermenéutica [Heidegger y Gadamer] “Comprensión” y “sentido”
4.3 Estética de la negatividad.: [Valéry, “péndulo poético” y Adorno, “disonancia y enigma”]
5 HOMERO, como educador.
5.1 La tradición homérica, ¿modelos ideales?
5.2 Religión olímpica: un mundo de dioses intervencionistas en los asuntos humanos: ºøp¡± [“lote que corresponde en un reparto”] =<¡p¬ [“pasarse de los límites”]; ±ƒS [“ceguera”, “ofuscación”]
5.3 La inocencia del poeta
6 SAFO, o el amor de las muchachas.
6.1 'Ideales superiores' masculinos y la diferencia de ser mujer
6.2 Canciones de amor: las tribulaciones del corazón
7 HÖLDERLIN, el emisario de los “celestes”.
7.2 La poesía como vocación: “fuego del cielo”
7.3 Entusiasmo y melancolía. Reconciliación y escisión
7.4 Poesía y filosofía: una religión estética
8 NOVALIS, el poeta como “egregio Extranjero”.
8.1 “Idealismo mágico”: microcosmos y macroanthropos
8.2 El Evangelio de la Noche: reconciliación vida-muerte
8.3 Heinrich von Ofterdingen: ¿inversión de la “novela de formación”?
9 BAUDELAIRE, el poeta de la ciudad.
9.1 El artista como flàneur
9.2 “Hay que ser absolutamente moderno”
9.3 El Spleen, el 'malditismo' del dandy y la muerte
10 RIMBAUD o el malditismo.
10.1 Rebelión, nihilismo activo [Nietzsche] y silencio
10.2 En tránsito hacia el silencio: Iluminaciones y Una temporada en el infierno
11 RILKE, desamparo y cobijo.
11.1 La vida como tarea poética y mística del trabajo
11.2 Figuras de creación; el monje, el ángel y el poeta
11.3 Orfeo, símbolo de las metamorfosis
12 AJMÁTOVA, una voz de la memoria.
12.1 Rusia o la poesía
12.2 Modernidad y movimientos poéticos
12.3 El mito de “Ana de todas las Rusias”
12.4 Requiem: memoria y dolor
12.5 Poema sin héroe: enigma y palimpsesto
13 TSVIETÁIEVA: la poesía como vocación y destino.
13.1 Creación poética: la naturaleza sensitiva, la vida y el alma
13.2 Correspondencia con Rilke (el “Orfeo alemán”). La 'lírica epistolar' como género
13.3 Poema del fin, o la muerte del amor
14 MARÇAL, de las luces y sombras del amor.
14.1 Las metáforas del cuerpo, una vía epistemológica
14.2 La passió segons René Vivien: genealogías femeninas y juegos


On ‘Translating’ Hölderlin

As a graduate student in comparative literature, I was warned, at times strenuously, about the philological and moral dangers of reading literature in translation. Even in the poststructuralist academy the text was still the text, suffused with a Benjaminian ‘aura.’ There was no substitute for the spiritual substance (what Muslim scholars call baraka) to be gained from contact with an author’s original words. But in the heedlessness of youth I read a lot of translations, and some of my favorite writers, from Tolstoy, to Lermontov, to Yasunari Kawabata and WG Sebald, wrote in languages of which I know little or nothing.

My favorite poet in any language, Friedrich Hölderlin, I know almost exclusively through translations—-albeit excellent ones—-by Michael Hamburger, David Constantine, Christopher Middleton, Nick Hoff, and others. Hölderlin wrote in German, of course, and not just any German but a formidable, syntactically contorted idiom barbed with Swabian regionalisms, recondite classical and biblical references, and an esoteric vocabulary of quasi-philosophical terms that often seem to have no fixed or definite meaning. To make matters worse, he became schizophrenic in his early thirties while he was writing his most ambitious work. Understanding Hölderlin, therefore, poses considerable challenges even to the educated native speaker. So it was the height of folly and want of scholarly tact that led me to undertake to translate even a few of his poems, yet that is what I did.

My familiarity with German is admittedly slightly better than the average tourist’s. I can read a newspaper with the help of a dictionary, order a meal, and follow conversations on everyday topics as long as I am not called on to contribute much. I know how to ask for directions. I can usually get to the Bahnhof, and, usually, when I get there, I can buy a ticket without lapsing into English more than half a dozen times. The post office, with its more complex bureaucracy, exceeds my competence. When reading poetry in German I can often decipher a few stanzas without referring to the English on the facing page. This gives me an illusion of greater fluency than I really possess, the way one can imagine that one understands the dialogue in a foreign film while reading the subtitles. For a few years in high school I enjoyed an undeserved reputation for being good at languages because of my knowledge of French and Spanish. But this ability apparently stops at the Rhine. I have struggled with German for years. My one attempt to learn a nonwestern language, Arabic, was a decisive checkmate. My attainments as a linguist are, in a word, modest.

My ambitions, however, were not. The first poem by Hölderlin I attempted to translate was ‘Patmos,’ which is not only one of his longest and most difficult but shows clear signs of incipient madness. The ostensible subject of the poem is the Apocalypse of John, whose visionary experience took place on the island that gives the poem its title—-an opaque enough choice in its own right, and Hölderlin weaves such an impenetrable tangle of theological and mythological associations around this source material that no commentary that I know of has been able to fully unravel it. ‘Patmos’ meanders through an imaginative geography that spans from Germany to the Greek islands to the Holy Land.

The poem’s diction is densely metaphorical; images spin wildly into one another in a kaleidoscopic confusion. Its religious syncretism is similarly baffling. For Hölderlin, Christ was ‘the son of the highest…the storm-bearer’: Zeus, in other words. He was therefore ‘Heracles’ brother’ and also Dionysus’s. Indeed these three ‘demigods’ tend to fuse into a trinity that is both imitation and parody of the orthodox Christian trinity. Yet one should not be led to think that Hölderlin saw any irony in his conception of this ‘lower’ trinity. Christ, like the Greek demigods, is for him a mediating figure whose direct contact with mortals is a token of divine concern for human existence and whose death and disappearance is evidence of a great religious catastrophe in man’s historical existence, one from which we have not emerged.

For Hölderlin, historically speaking, the present is fallow time, a hiatus between the ideal society of the past (Greece) and its anticipated future reestablishment. Hölderlin called this long-awaited rebirth the Hesperidian age (a term derived from Virgil’s ‘Hesperia,’ the western paradise in the Aeneid). His vision in ‘Patmos’ is a Christian-romantic challenge to the contemporary order issued in a spirit of radical disaffection. In the great elegy ‘Bread and Wine’ he expresses the situation of lost immanence with greater clarity:

My friends we have come too late. Though the gods are living,
Over our heads they live, up in a different world.
Endlessly they act and, such is their wish to spare us,
Little they seem to care whether we live or do not.
The gods, and the full existence their presence permits, have vanished. ‘Patmos,’ then, is a visionary work in the deepest sense. What it describes is a dream of returning to the great moment of crisis when man and divinity were severed, the final moment of the gods’ direct appearance among mortals.
I did not so much translate this complex work as rebuild it, following plans laid out by earlier architects and my own intuition. To my mind this is neither an act of creative plagiarism nor an anti-aesthetic reproduction (such as homophonic translation) though it has affinities with both. Readers will note many borrowings from Christopher Middleton’s masterful rendition of the poem. I openly acknowledge my debt to the better craftsman. Yet as the saying goes, copying one book is plagiarism, copying several is research. My appropriation of Middleton’s phrasings, where I deemed appropriate, was based on a sense that they could not be improved upon, a conclusion I arrived at after comparing all the extant English translations I could find (those of Christopher Middleton, Michael Hamburger, Richard Sieburth, David Constantine, and Scott Horton) with my own results arrived at independently based on my own knowledge of German, the use of a dictionary, and occasional consultation with a native German speaker.

The end result is a synthetic and critical retranslation of a poem that has received original renderings, in part or in whole, by hands no doubt more capable than mine. Yet I do not disclaim the results. Many translators ‘translate’ works with less knowledge of the original language and texts. Nearly all collaborative translations rely on some version of the method I used: when two translators work together, one is typically a native speaker who produces a rough and ready paraphrase of the original, while the other renders it into polished and idiomatic prose or verse in the target language. There are also translators who collaborate more indirectly: Pound muddled through Cathay with hardly any knowledge of Chinese using notes prepared by the Sinologist Ernest Fenellosa. My version of “Patmos” thus draws on a familiar practice.

In producing translations of poems by Baudelaire and Paul Éluard, both of whom wrote in French (the one foreign language in which I can claim expertise), I followed a more ‘authentic’ or conventional practice of writing early drafts without referring to existing English versions. But even here purity was not the ideal solution. I revised my translations after comparing them with published versions by Samuel Beckett, Mary Ann Caws, and others. I find my current versions satisfying in part because they incorporate a critical knowledge of the work of other translators.

No translator works in a void, especially in our time—-even less so when translating well-known poems from western languages into English. To invoke Schiller’s categories, no translator at this point can affect to rely on ‘naïve’ genius; we are all practitioners of a ‘sentimental’ art that requires us to take account of history and precedent. I use sentimental in the same sense as Schiller to denote a purposeful striving after artistic effect, as opposed to the naïve poet (such as Homer, in Schiller’s view) whose art is arrived at unreflectively and spontaneously. Hölderin too was in this sense a follower of the ‘sentimental’ school who deliberately imitated the Alcaic and Asclepiadic meters of Greek verse. My translation is thus, after a fashion, also a tribute.

(Above excerpts from Hölderlin, Friedrich. Poems and Fragments. Trans. Michael Hamburger. London: Anvil, 2004.)

*  *  *


For the Landgrave of Homburg

Near and
Hard to grasp is the God.
But where danger is,
Deliverance also beckons.
Eagles dwell in darkness
And across chasms go
The fearless sons of the Alps,
On bridges lightly built.
Wherefore, since the peaks of time
Cluster high all around
And loved ones dwell near,
Languishing on most distant
Mountains, give us pure water,
O give us wings and a true mind,
That we may venture out and return.
Thus I spoke
And a spirit fast beyond all measure
Carried me far from my own house
To where I never thought to go.
The forest shadows lengthened
And in the twilight as I went
Over rivers of my homeland
Yearning, countries there were
I never knew; but soon
In the first sheen rose
Mysterious in golden haze,
Then rapidly full-grown
With sunlight’s paces, fragrant
With a thousand peaks,
Asia, before my vision, all in bloom
And dazzled I peered to find
One thing I knew, being not
Familiar with the spacious lanes down which
Pactolus travels gold-besmirched
From Tmolus,
And where Tauros stands,
And Messogis, and
The garden full of flowers,
A calm fire, but in the light
Higher up the blush of silver
Snow and, stuff of life immortal
On walls unapproachable,
Primordial the ivy grows,
And borne aloft
By living columns of cedar and laurel
The solemn god-built palaces.
But round the gates of Asia
Murmur, passing this way and that
On the sea’s uncertain plain
Shadowless roads enough
Though my seafarer knows
The islands. And since I had heard,
That among
Those near at hand
Was Patmos,
Much I desired to put in there
And be close to its dark cave.
For not like lordly Cyprus,
With its abounding waters,
Nor like any other island
Does Patmos dwell,
But still hospitable
In her poorer house is she,
And if a stranger comes
From shipwreck or grieving
For his lost homeland or
Distant friend
She listens, and her children,
Voices of the hot thicket,
A trickle of sand, earth
Splitting in a field, her sounds,
They hear him and a loving echo
Flows from his lament. Thus did
She care once for the god-beloved
Seer who in his blessed youth
Had walked
With the Son of the Highest, inseparably,
For the storm-bearer loved the simplicity
Of the boy and he, that very one,
Saw the God’s face clearly
When at supper they sat assembled
And it was the mystery of the vine,
And the Lord in his great soul
Calmly foreknowing, spoke of his death
And of all-surpassing love.
Of goodness abounding and more
He spoke enough, and of joy,
Seeing how the world rages.
For all is good. Whereupon he died.
Much might be said of that.
And they saw his triumphant look,
They, his friends, saw him most glad
At the end,
Yet they mourned, now
That night had fallen, and were astonished
At the great destiny they harbored
In their souls, these men
Who loved to live in the sun
And wished not to leave
The sight of their Lord
Or their native land. It was driven
Down deep, this was, like fire
In iron, and beside them walked
The shadow of him they loved.
So he sent them strength
Of spirit, and the house shook
And the storms of god thundered
Above their heads, all-knowing,
Where they gathered, heavy-hearted
Heroes of death,
And in valediction
He appeared to them once more.
Then the sun, in his majesty,
Went out, and he himself broke
The straight-shining scepter in holy agony
Knowing all should come round again
In good time.
For it would not have been
Well to break off then, or later,
The work of men; and bliss it was
To live in the now,
In the loving night, and keep eyes humbly fixed upon
The abyss of wisdom. And deep in the mountains
Now the living images come to fruition,
Though it is also terrible, how far and wide
God unendingly scatters all that lives.
And from his dear friends
How he, the holy spirit,
Turned his face away
And went alone, far over the mountains,
Once twice known; and it was not foretold, but
There, that very moment, the distant, vanishing God suddenly
Looked back, seized them by the hair
As they begged him to stop; as though with golden ropes
Bound now henceforth
They joined hands with one another
In naming evil—-
But when he dies then
To whom beauty most clung, making
This fleshly form a miracle, to whom the heavenly ones
Pointed, and when, a riddle ever after to each other,
They cannot embrace
Who once lived as one
In memory, and when not only the sand or only the willow
Is taken away but the temple
Pulled down, when the
Demigod himself and his disciples
Are scattered like dust
And even the Highest
Averts his gaze, when not a shred
Of immortality is seen in heaven or upon
This green earth—-what then?
It is the cast made by the sower
When he scoops wheat into the shovel
And sweeps it in an arc clear over the threshing floor.
If the husk falls at his feet, and
The grain does not reach its goal,
It is no bad thing if some is lost,
The live sound of voices fades.
Divine work is just like ours, the Highest does not want
All things at once.
True, the shaft bears iron
As Aetna glowing resins,
So might I have the means
To make an image, and likewise
To show Christ as he was.
But suppose someone spurring himself on,
And on the road, morosely babbling, set upon me
Defenseless, amazed at this fool,
A mere stool trying his hand at figuring God—-
In visible wrath I once saw the Lord of heaven,
Not that I am anything special but
Could still learn. They are kindly but hate most,
As long as they reign, falseness which
Nullifies our shared bond of humanity.
For even they do not rule; it is fate
That rules, and their wheels take fire
Of their own motion, now speeding to an end.
When heaven’s parade passes on exultant,
Even strong men call to the son of the Highest,
A beacon like the sun, and here is the trumpet
Of song pointing downward;
Nothing is what it seems. It wakes the dead
Who are not yet rotten. But many timid
Hoot owls still lurk about in the dark,
Wanting to avoid the piercing ray,
Not wanting to bloom,
But a golden halter curbs their mettle
In any case. But when,
As from darkly arched brows,
Forgetful of the world,
A glowing power seeps from the Book,
They may yet learn to be glad of grace
To come in that quiet gaze.
And if the gods of heaven now
Love me well as I believe,
How much greater is their love
For you, because
One thing I know is that the will
Of the eternal father means
Much to you. His sign is silent
In the thundering sky. And one stands underneath it
His life long. For still Christ lives.
But the heroes came, his sons, all,
And the Book came from him,
And the lightning stroke illuminates
The acts of the earth, even now,
In a ceaseless race. He is yet there. For known to him
Are all his works
From the beginning and for all time.
Too long, too long indeed
Have the gifts of the gods remained invisible.
For they must nearly guide our fingers,
And shamefully we give up the ghost.
For they clamor for a sacrifice, every one,
And if one be omitted
Good never came of it.
We have served our mother Earth
And lately, even the sunlight, unwittingly,
But the father, who rules,
Loves most of all that care be taken
In wielding of the pen, and speaking words
That endure. This end my song pursues.

Friedrich Hölderlin (1803), trans. Robert Huddleston

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Imagining The Great War, Part Two

Imagining The Great War, Part Two

The Coming Apocalypse: Ludwig Meidner and the Poets
In the winter of 1912, the German poet Georg Heym fell through a hole in the ice and drowned. The strange death of the twenty-four year of poet was surrounded by an odd mixture of conjecture and fact. It was thought that on January 16th, he was attempting to rescue his friend, Ernst Balcke, also a poet, who had plunged into the icy waters of the river. This assumption was based upon the apparent fact that Heym was able to hang on to the edge of the ice and shout for help, his cries reaching foresters working at the banks of the Havel. For some reason, the woodsmen were unwilling to lend their ropes or ladders to help one of the poetic geniuses of twentieth century poetry. Eventually Heym’s fingers slipped off the ice and he sank to his death. When the two bodies were recovered two days later, it was unclear whether Blaeke and Heym, two poets on a skating trip, died from drowning or hypothermia. In his 1971 article,”Ogling through Ice: The Sullen Lyricism of Georg Heym,” one of Heym’s English translators, Peter Viereck reported that when his friends saw Heym in his coffin, he was still frozen enough for his features to have retained “The bitter expression of his lips, twisted by the horror of fifteen minutes of continuous screaming for help to onlookers.” What makes the death of Heym even more eerie is that he dreamed that he would die by falling through the ice and in 1910 wrote down his dream, a dream that horribly came true, but without the happy ending:
I found myself standing on the banks of a great lake which seemed to be covered with a type of stone coating. It struck me as a sort of frozen water. On occasion it seemed to be like the sort of skin that forms on top of milk. Some people were moving on the lake, people with bags or baskets, perhaps they were going to market. I ventured a couple of steps, and the plates held. I felt that they were very thin, since as I stepped upon them they swayed back and forth. I had gone for some time and then a woman encountered me, who cautioned me to turn back, the plates would soon break. But I persisted. And suddenly I felt that the plates were dissolving beneath me, but I did not fall. I proceeded further, walking upon the water. Then the thought occurred to me that I might fall. In that moment, I sank into green, slimy, kelp-infested waters. Still, I did not feel lost, I began to swim. As though by a miracle, the shore, though first distant, drew closer and closer, and with a few strokes I landed in a sandy, sunny harbor.
Georg Heym (1887-1912) wasn’t the only prophet who was having dreams. A year later, Carl Jung (1875-1961) also had a prophetic dream, one he dreamed three times. In October 1913, a year after the death of Heym, Jung reported in his book, Memories, Dreams, Reflections,
..while I was alone on a journey, I was suddenly seized by an overpowering vision: I saw a monstrous flood covering all the northern and low-lying lands between the North Sea and the Alps. When it came up to Switzerland I saw that the mountains grew higher and higher to protect our country. I realized that a frightful catastrophe was in progress. I saw the mighty yellow waves, the floating rubble of civilization, and the drowned bodies of uncounted thousands. Then the whole sea turned to blood. This vision last about one hour. I was perplexed and nauseated, and ashamed of my weakness.
Two weeks passed; then the vision recurred, under the same conditions, even more vividly than before, and the blood was more emphasized. An inner voice spoke. “Look at it well; it is wholly real and it will be so. You cannot doubt it.” That winter someone asked me what I thought were the political prospects of the world in the near future. I replied that I had no thoughts on the matter, but that I saw rivers of blood.
I asked myself whether these visions pointed to a revolution, but could not really imagine anything of the sort. And so I drew the conclusion that they had to do with me myself, and decided that I was menaced by a psychosis. The idea of war did not occur to me at all.
Soon afterward, in the spring and early summer of 1914, I had a thrice-repeated dream that in the middle of summer an Arctic cold wave descended and froze the land to ice. I saw, for example, the whole of Lorraine and its canals frozen and the entire region totally deserted by human beings. All living green things were killed by frost. This dream came in April and May, and for the last time in June, 1914.
In the third dream frightful cold had again descended from out of the cosmos. This dream, however, had an unexpected end. There stood a leaf-bearing tree, but without fruit (my tree of life, I thought), whose leaves had been transformed by the effects of the frost into sweet grapes full of healing juices. I plucked the grapes and gave them to a large, waiting crowd…
On August 1 the world war broke out.
Ludwig Meidner. Apocalyptic Landscape (1913)
The coming of the war, known later as the “Great War,” had been foretold by astrology, Biblical prophecies, individual dreams, art and poetry. Georg Heym wrote his best poetry in the year of his death and these poems of a few months reflected the apocalyptic mood that had descended over Germany just before the Great War. He was part of a group of like-minded young poets, seething with rebellion and disgust for the bourgeois life in the “miserable Prussian shitstate.” He longed, as did many of his generation for a war, complaining, “If only someone would start a war, it needn’t even be a just one.” He was part of the loosely organized group of Expressionists who drifted in and out of Berlin, writers, poets and artists, all of whom were questioning the stultifying Wilhemine society in the famous Neue Club, a quarrelsome group of new poets who met at the avant-garde gathering place, Café des Westens. The 2012 article, “Apocalypse Then: Georg Heym & the Art of Cultural Divination,” noted that Heym was one of an even smaller and more radical splinter of the Club that broke and became part of Neopathetische Cabaret, more or less organized by Jakob Van Hoddis (1887-1942). Heym, fascinated with the doomed French Revolutionaries, Robespierre and Danton, was remembered by Dada artist, Emmy Hennings as “half bandit… half angel.” The poet Alfred Lichenstein (1889-1914) was also a member of this loosely composed group of Expressionists, transfixed by a somewhat undigested stew of Nietzsche, Vincent van Gogh, Edvard Munch, Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud, and even the writings of Sigmund Freud, all overseen by the overarching patronage of Herwarth Walden’s gallery and journal, Der Stürm. Heym, Van Hoddis and Lichtenstein all wrote poems, half-mad with tormented dreams of disaster, and all came to tragic ends. Lichenstein died in the second month of the First World War he had foreseen, Van Hoddis, a friend of the artist, Ludwig Meidner, went mad, was placed in a Jewish care home, from which he and his fellow inmates were taken and put to death by the Nazis at Sobibor in 1942, and Heym was quite forgotten until someone one noticed, after the Second World War, that he may have predicted the carpet bombing of cities.
Ludwig Meidner. Burning City (reverse) (1913)
One of the problems of translation–whether of poems or paintings–is interpretation. Choosing the right words or the precise turn of phrase to create  a consistency of meaning between languages is one thing, but understanding the work of art in its own context is yet another necessary element in comprehending its original meaning. The apocalyptic paintings of Ludwig Meidner (1884-1966) imagined the destruction of the city, probably the city of Berlin, where he lived..uneasily. His works precisely parallel the poems of the poets who mingled freely with the artists at Café des Westens. It is no coincidence that he formed the counterpoint of the poets’ Neopathetische Cabaret, Die Pathetiker, for visual artists. What makes these two linked and distinct bodies of art particularly complex is that their meanings were historically divided. Before the war, the paintings of Meidner were commentaries on the rapidly changing city of Berlin, newly modern and oppressively modern. After the “Great War,” such works became retroactively apocalyptic, predictive of things to come, of events that arrived. During the same years as Heym, Van Hoddis and Litchenstein were writing their apocalyptic poems, Meidner was painting his apocalyptic landscapes. Van Hoddis’ poem End of the World (1911) is often credited with setting off a series of powerful and extremely visual poems, but what did they mean? Imagining the destruction of what–the cramped middle class world the poets protested against–the newly crowded and modern Berlin–the aging civilization of the Belle Epoch, the lingering decadence of the nineteenth century? In its eight lines, Weltende called for an end, a deluge, a destruction of anything and everything.
World’s End
Whisked from the Bourgeois’ pointy head hat flies,
Throughout the heavens, reverberating screams,
Down tumble roofers, shattered ‘cross roof beams
And on the coast – one reads – floodwaters rise.
The storm is here, rough seas come merrily skipping
Upon the land, thick dams to rudely crush.
Most people suffer colds, their noses dripping
While railroad trains from bridges headlong rush.
Translated by Richard John Ascárate
Written two years later, Litchenstein’s Prophecy, a bit longer and no less violent, appeared. The young poet would be killed a year later, early in the war, as his poem seems to predict. Ironically he died on a piece of land that would be retaken by British troops, a company which included the poet Wilfred Owen, fighting for the soil where Litchenstein had fallen. What is clear, in reading these foretelling poems, is the difference between Expressionism in Berlin and that of Murnau, where Vassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) and Franz Marc (1880-1916) were exploring a very different version of this broad movement. Kandinsky and Marc both painted the end of the world and even wrote poetry about the end of time, but their end is more of a spiritual apocalypse, a collapse of a psychological state of yearning for a better world. Their paintings, rendered on the verge of a conflict, reflected the social uneasiness and cultural impetus towards an event or events that would end the ordered world of international exchange among the artistic fraternity. In Berlin, the dis-ease was more related to the social, cultural and political changes rippling across the capital. The “apocalypse” in all of these poems was material and real, just as Meidner’s landscapes were illustrative and representative of imagined horrors to come–the destruction of cities (Berlin) and perhaps the future to come.
Alfred Litchtenstein
Some day – I have signs – a mortal storm
Is coming from the far north.
Everywhere is the smell of corpses.
The great killing begins.
The lump of sky grows dark,
Storm-death lifts its clawed paws;
All the lumps fall down,
Mimes burst. Girls explode.
Horses’ stables crash to the ground.
Not a fly can ecape.
Handsome homosexuals roll
Out of their beds.
The walls of houses develop fissures.
Fish rot in the stream.
Everything meets its own disgusting end.
Groaning buses tip over.

Einmal kommt - ich habe Zeichen -
Sterbesturm aus fernem Norden.
Überall stinkt es nach Leichen.
Es beginnt das große Morden.
Finster wird der Himmelsklumpen.
Sturmtod hebt die Klauentatzen:
Nieder stürzen alle Lumpen.
Mimen bersten. Mädchen platzen.
Polternd fallen Pferdeställe.
Keine Fliege kann sich retten.
Schöne homosexuelle
Männer kullern aus den Betten.
Rissig werden Häuserwände.
Fische faulen in dem Flusse.
Alles nimmt sein ekles Ende.
Krächzend kippen Omnibusse.
Of course, whether referring to poetry or painting, the term “Expressionism” is a highly problematic one and is especially confusing when it is recalled that manifestations of the movement in Germany differed from city to city, from region to region, and from artist to artist. It is safe to say that in Berlin, the ideas of Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) were appropriated by the artists and poets for their own purposes, while in Dresden his ideas were seized upon for very different reasons. And as has been seen, the situation among artists in Munich was unique to southern Germany. The contrasts were one of political revolution where the Übermensch would overthrow tradition and the elevation of Dionysus, where the irrational and the emotional would overthrow the reasonable and logical, existing among the many interpretations of the writer in a relatively new nation, composed of many principalities. The philosopher was, for the artists in general, a renegade voice, one of the many critical tools that they could pick up in their generational war with the conventional. In its own way, Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family (1901) was as powerful an indictment of German society–not to mention a more recent and pertinent critique–as the clarion calls of Nietzsche for an overthrow of the old order.  But, according to Neil H. Donahue in his 2005 book A Companion to the Literature of German Expressionism, Mann disapproved of Expressionism: “We should recognize however that inherent to the Expressionist tendency in the arts there is an intellectual impetus to do violence to life.”
Ludwig Meidner. Apocalyptic Landscape (1913)
Given the fragmentation of “expressionism” in Germany, the term has limited use. Expressionism, essentially an art dealer designation, today refers to the pre-war period in art and literature. Expressionism in Berlin was more linked to “modernism” than the version of Expressionism in either Dresden or Munich. Modernism, in Berlin, was Janus-faced, both utopian and destructive, laden with the fin-de-siècle pessimism and despair that was an international response to industrialization and the new technology that was both the beginning and end of a new era, the shape of which could not be foreseen–except as struggle and dark madness. Poetry and the paintings of slice of time before the world tilted into the abyss were full of violent forebodings. The posthumously famous poem, War, by Georg Heym became the hallmark of these years of nervousness.
Georg Heym
He is risen now that was so long asleep
Risen out of vaulted places dark and deep.
In the growing dusk the faceless demon stands,
And the moon he crushes in his strong black hands.

In the nightfall noises of great cities fall
Frost and shadow of unfamiliar pall.
And the maelstrom of the markets turns to ice.
Silence grows. They look around. And no one knows.

Something touching them in side-streets makes them quail
Questions. There’s on answer. Someone’s face turns pale.
Far away a peal of church-bells trembles, thin,
Causes beards to tremble around their pointed chins.

On the mountains he’s begun his battle-dance,
Calling: Warriors, up and at them, now’s your chance!
There’s a rattling when he shakes his brute black head
Round which crudely hang the skulls of countless dead.

Like a tower he tramples out the dying light.
Rivers are brim-full of blood by fall of night.
Legion are the bodies laid out in the reeds,
Covered white with the strong birds of death.

Ever on he drives the fire and nightward-bound,
To the screams that come from wild mouths, a red hound.
Out of darkness springs the black domain of Nights,
Edges weirdly lit up by volcanic lights.

Pointed caps unnumbered, flickering, extend
Over the satanic plains from end to end.
And he casts allfleeing things down on the roads
Into fiery forests where the swift flame roars.

Forests fall to the consuming flames in sheaves,
Yellow bats whose jagged fangs claw at the leaves.
Like a charcoal burner in the trees he turns
His great poker, making them more fiercely burn.

A great city quietly sank in yellow smoke,
Hurled itself down into that abysmal womb.
But gigantic over glowing ruins stands
He who thrice at angry heavens shakes his brand.

Over storm-torn clouds’ reflected livid glow
At cold wastelands of dead darkness down below.
That his hellfire may consumer this night of horror
He pours pitch and brimstone down on their Gomorrha.

Translated by Patrick Bridgwater
It would be Ludwig Meidner who would bring these poetic visions of death and destruction to material life in painting over the few years that were left before an actual war made the violence very real.
If you have found this material useful, please give credit to
Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed.   Thank you.
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Ernst Balcke (1887-1912)

Ernst Balcke (1887-1912) 
No. 85 / Diciembre 2015 - Enero 2016

Expresionistas alemanes núm. 85:
Ernst Balcke
Paula Ludwig
Franz Werfel
Poetas alemanes núm. 85:
Julia Engelmann
Odile Kennel
Traducción de S.W. Artur Beyer

Die Selbstmörderin

Auf ihrer Brust klebt eine gelbe Kröte;
die regt sich nicht; ihr Purpurauge droht
voll Angst und Eifersucht tief durch die Röte
des schwülen Abends, der im West verloht.

Zwischen den schlanken, weißen Fingern blinken
die Kelche kaum entkeimter Wasserrosen,
grüngelbe Tange hängen in den losen,
aschblonden Haaren, die zum Grunde sinken.

Die kalten, blauen Lippen legen sich
wie Lapislazuli um ihre Zähne;
der scharfe Kiel eines der vielen Kähne
riss, rot wie Karmosin, tief einen Strich

Durch ihre Stirn. Schwer, langsam gleitet sie,
nicht Wind noch Welle sind da, die sie rühren.
Vom schlanken Halse bis herab zum Kinn
des Froschlaichs schwarze Fäden sie umschnüren.

Sie treibt zur Stadt. Gelbgraue Dünste kauern
wie fahle Hunde um des Himmels Rund.
Ein Dampfer rauscht; von ölig-schmutzigen Schauern
wird überschüttet ihr sehnsüchtiger Mund.

Zwischen verfallenen Häuserfronten windet
hindurch sich ihr einst heiß geliebter Leib.
Durchs Dunkel, horch, von höchsten Wonnen kündet
leis singend, irgend ein glückseliges Weib ––

Das Licht auf ihrer Haut erlischt. –– Den Nebel
wälzt aus den Brückenlöchern vor der Wind.
Von einem Dampferdeck bespeit ein Flegel
ihr süßes Antlitz, das im Grau zerrinnt.

La suicida

Pegado a su pecho un sapo amarillo
que no se mueve, su ojo púrpura amenaza
lleno de angustia y celos en el rojo oscuro
de la tarde bochornosa que se consume en el oeste.

En sus delgados dedos blancos brillan
los cálices de unos nenúfares apenas purificados,
algas de un verde amarillento cuelgan de su cabello
rubio ceniza que desciende suelto hacia el fondo.

Los labios fríos y azules enmarcan
los dientes como lapislázuli;
la quilla aguda de algún barco
pintó en su frente una honda línea roja

como el carmín. Flota pesada, despacio,
no hay ni viento ni ola que la mueva.
Del esbelto cuello para abajo hasta el mentón
la ciñen los hilos negros de las huevas de rana.

Flota hacia la ciudad. Humos amarillentos al acecho
como perros pálidos rodean el cielo.
Un barco pasa murmurando; sucios chubascos
aceitosos llenan su boca anhelante.

Entre fachadas desmoronadas se desliza
su cuerpo antes tan ardientemente deseado.
¡Escucha!, en la oscuridad una mujer canta bajito
y recuerda feliz placeres supremos.

La luz se extingue en su piel. El viento
empuja la neblina por los hoyos del puente.
Un joven vulgar, desde la cubierta de un barco,
le escupe en su dulce rostro derritiéndose en el gris.


Und plötzlich ist in einer Nacht des Winters
endloses Lilienfeld emporgesprossen,
wie Riesenmohn hängt rot die Sonne drüber,

Wie eine süße Nymphe in Narzissen,
auf die verliebt der dicke, rote Schädel
sich des vernarrten Faun herniederneigt.

Gleich einem Schwan, der auf dem breiten Rücken
die rote Rose trägt der Königin
als Zeichen ihrer Liebe dem Geliebten.

Wie ein Gemach, darin die weißen Kleider
der Braut am Boden keusch und einsam ruhn,
indes die rote Ampel träumt und lächelt. –

Wie eine Mutter, fiebernd, aus den Kissen
die Arme schlohweiß, starr emporgereckt,
das Neugeborne auf den Händen wiegt.


Y de repente, en una noche de invierno
creció un campo interminable de azucenas,
con el sol colgado encima como amapola gigante,

Como una dulce ninfa entre narcisos,
contemplada desde arriba por la testa
gorda y roja de un fauno amoroso.

Cual un cisne que en su ancha espalda
lleva la rosa roja de la reina
al amante como prueba de amor.

Como un aposento donde el vestido
de la novia descansa solo en el suelo castamente,
mientras el farol rojo sueña sonriendo.

Como una madre que temblando en las almohadas,
estirando sus entumecidos brazos canos,
mece al recién nacido en sus manos.

Angenehme Gesellschafter

Die Teufel rannten mit ihm, Schritt für Schritt,
so sehr er lief, er konnte sie nicht meiden,
er musste Schmutz und Stank der Eklen leiden.
Sie liefen mit, sie liefen mit, mit, mit.

Sie rülpsten in der Morgensonne Röte,
mit ihren Schwänzen schlugen die Reflexe
des Lichts sie aus, und fette, schwarze Klexe
von dickem Schleim spieen sie in die Beete.

Das Frühlingslaub zerrieben sie zu dürren,
staubgrauen Pulvern, in den Abend glotzten,
den seligen, sie wie Ferkel, und sie kotzten
in Weiher, welche Glanz und Traum umschwirren.

Sie trieben programmatisch die Entweihung,
all Übles stopften sie in seinen Schlund,
bis er, mit jäher Geste der Befreiung,
des Gifts Erlösung warf in seinen Mund.

Acompañantes agradables

Los diablos corrían con él, paso a paso,
por mucho que corría, no podía evitarlos,
tenía que soportar de los asquerosos la mugre y la peste.
Con él corrían, con él, con él, con él.

Eructaban en el rojo sol matinal,
con golpes de sus colas extinguían los reflejos
de la luz y escupían gordas manchas negras
de flema espesa en los canteros.

Molían el follaje primaveral en polvos
áridos y grises; a la beata tarde mironeaban
como puercos; y vomitaban
en estanques donde revolotean sueños y resplandor.

Se dedicaron de manera sistemática a la profanación,
atiborraron de maldad su garganta,
hasta que, con un gesto brusco de liberación
se echó a la boca el veneno redentor.

Monday, November 23, 2015

“There Is No God” by Percy Bysshe Shelley

[This essay is a redaction of Shelley's first pamphlet, The Necessity of Atheism (1811) to serve as a note to the line in Queen Mab, "There is no God" (1813). The Necessity of Atheism is greatly expanded and considerably modified in thought and style. A careful study of the two essays will throw some light on Shelley's developing mind during the two crowded years between them. Locke's influence dominates The Necessity while Hume and Holbach are the important sources of the Note.]
This negation must be understood solely to affect a creative Deity. The hypothesis of a pervading Spirit co‑eternal with the universe remains unshaken.

A close examination of the validity of the proofs adduced to support any proposition is the only secure way of attaining truth, on the advantages of which it is unnecessary to descant; our knowledge of the existence of a Deity is a subject of such importance that it cannot be too minutely investigated; in consequence of this conviction we proceed briefly and impartially to examine the proofs which have been adduced. It is necessary first to consider the nature of belief.
When a proposition is offered to the mind, it perceives the agreement or disagreement of the ideas of which it is composed. A perception of their agreement is termed belief. Many obstacles frequently prevent this perception from being immediate; these the mind attempts to remove in order that the perception may be distinct. The mind is active in the investigation in order to perfect the state of perception of the relation which the component ideas of the proposition bear to each, which is passive. The investigation being confused with the perception has induced many falsely to imagine that the mind is active in belief—that belief is an act of volition—in consequence of which it may be regulated by the mind. Pursuing, continuing this mistake, they have attached a degree of criminality to disbelief; of which, in its nature, it is incapable; it is equally incapable of merit.
Belief, then, is a passion the strength of which, like every other passion, is in precise proportion to the degrees of excitement.
The degrees of excitement are three:
The senses are the sources of all knowledge to the mind; consequently their evidence claims the strongest assent.
The decision of the mind, founded upon our own experience, derived from these sources, claims the next degree.
The experience of others, which addresses itself to the former one, occupies the lowest degree.
(A graduated scale, on which should be marked the capabilities of propositions to approach to the test of the senses, would be a just barometer of the belief which ought to be attached to them.)
Consequently no testimony can be admitted which is contrary to reason; reason is founded on the evidence of our senses.
Every proof may be referred to one of these three divisions: it is to be considered what arguments we receive from each of them, which should convince us of the existence of a Deity.
lst. The evidence of the senses. If the Deity should appear to us, if He should convince our senses of His existence, this revelation would necessarily command belief. Those to whom the Deity has thus appeared have the strongest possible conviction of His existence. But the God of theologians is incapable of local visibility.
2nd. Reason. It is urged that man knows that whatever is must either have had a beginning, or have existed from all eternity; he also knows that whatever is not eternal must have had a cause. When this reasoning is applied to the universe, it is necessary to prove that it was created—until that is clearly demonstrated we may reasonably suppose that it has endured from all eternity. We must prove design before we can infer a designer. The only idea which we can form of causation is derivable from the constant conjunction of objects, and the consequent inference of one from the other. In a case where two propositions are diametrically opposite, the mind believes that which is least incomprehensible; it is easier to suppose that the universe has existed from all eternity than to conceive a being beyond its limits capable of creating it; if the mind sinks beneath the weight of one, is it an alleviation to increase the intolerability of the burden? [1]
The other argument, which is founded on a man's knowledge of his own existence, stands thus: A man knows not only that he now is, but that once he was not; consequently there must have been a cause. But our idea of causation is alone derivable from the constant conjunction of objects and the consequent inference of one from the other; and, reasoning experimentally, we can only infer from effects causes exactly adequate to those effects. But there certainly is a generative power which is effected by certain instruments; we cannot prove that it is inherent in these instruments; nor is the contrary hypothesis capable of demonstration. We admit that the generative power is incomprehensible; but to suppose that the same effect is produced by an eternal, omniscient, omnipotent being leaves the cause in the same obscurity, but renders it more incomprehensible.
3rd. Testimony. It is required that testimony should not be contrary to reason. The testimony that the Deity convinces the senses of men of His existence can only be admitted by us if our mind considers it less probable that these men should have been deceived than that the Deity should have appeared to them. Our reason can never admit the testimony of men who not only declare that they were eye‑witnesses of miracles but that the Deity was irrational; for He commanded that He should be believed; He proposed the highest rewards for faith, eternal punishments for disbelief. We can only command voluntary actions; belief is not an act of volition; the mind is even passive, or involuntarily active; from this it is evident that we have no sufficient testimony, or rather that testimony is insufficient, to prove the being of a God. It has been before shown that it cannot be deduced from reason. They alone, then, who have been convinced by the evidence of the senses can believe it.
Hence it is evident that, having no proofs from either of the three sources of conviction, the mind cannot believe the existence of a creative God; it is also evident, that, as belief is a passion of the mind, no degree of criminality is attachable to disbelief; and that they only are reprehensible who neglect to remove the false medium through which their mind views any subject of discussion. Every reflecting mind must acknowledge that there is no proof of the existence of a Deity.
God is an hypothesis and, as such, stands in need of proof: the onus probandi rests on the theist. Sir Isaac Newton says: Hypotheses non fingo, quicquid enim ex phaenomenis non deducitur hypothesis vocanda est , et hypothesis vel metaphysicae, vel physicae, vel qualitatum occultarum, son mechanicae, in philosophia locum non habent. [2] To all proofs of the existence of a creative God apply this valuable rule. We see a variety of bodies possessing a variety of powers; we merely know their effects; we are in a state of ignorance with respect to their essences and causes. These Newton calls the phenomena of things; but the pride of philosophy is unwilling to admit its ignorance of their causes. From the phenomena, which are the objects of our senses, we attempt to infer a cause, which we call God, and gratuitously endow it with all negative and contradictory qualities. From this hypothesis we invent this general name to conceal our ignorance of causes and essences. The being called God by no means answers with the conditions prescribed by Newton; it bears every mark of a veil woven by philosophical conceit to hide the ignorance of philosophers even from themselves. They borrow the threads of its texture from the anthropomorphism of the vulgar. Words have been used by sophists for the same purposes, from the occult qualities of the peripatetics to the effluvium of Boyle and crinities or nebulae of Herschel. God is represented as infinite, eternal, incomprehensible; He is contained under every predicate in non that the logic of ignorance could fabricate. Even His worshippers allow that it is impossible to form any idea of Him; they exclaim with the French poet,
Pour dire ce qu'il est, il faut être lui‑même. [3]
Lord Bacon says that atheism leaves to man reason, philosophy, natural piety, laws, reputation, and everything that can serve to conduct him to virtue; but superstition destroys all these, and erects itself into a tyranny over the understandings of men; hence atheism never disturbs the government, but renders man more clear‑sighted, since he sees nothing beyond the boundaries of the present life.
Bacon's Moral Essays [A paraphrase from "Of Superstition."]
La première théologie de l'homme lui fit d'abord craindre et adorer les élémens même, des objets matériels et grossiers; il rendit ensuite ses hommages a des agens présidens aux elémens, à des génies inférieurs, à des héros, ou à des hommes doués de grands qualités. A force de réfléchir il crut simplifier les choses en soumettant la nature entière à un seul agent, a un esprit, à une âme universelle, qui mettoit cette nature et ses parties en mouvement. En remontant des causes en causes, les mortels ont fini par ne rien voir; et c'est dans cette obscurité qu'ils ont place leur Dieu; c'est dans cette obscurité qu'ils ont placé leur Dieu; c'est dans cette abîme ténébreux que leur imagination inquiète travaille toujours à se fabriquer des chimères, qui les affligeront jusqu'à ce que la connoissance de la nature les détrompe des fantômes qu'ils ont toujours si vainement adorés.
Si nous voulons nous rendre compte de nos idées sur la Divinité, nous serons obligés de convenir que, par le mot Dieu, les hommes n'ont jamais pu désigner que la cause la plus cachée, la plus éloignée, la plus inconnue des effets qu'ils voyoient: ils ne font usage de ce mot, que lorsque le jeu des causes naturelles et connues cesse d'être visible pour eux; dès qu'ils perdent le fil de ces causes, ou dès que leur esprit ne peut plus en suivre le chaîne, ils tranchent leur difficulté, et terminent leur recherches en appellant Dieu la dernière des causes, c'est‑à‑dire celle qui est audelà de toutes les causes qu'ils connoissent; ainsi ils ne font qu'assigner une dénomination vague à une cause ignorée, à laquelle leur paresse ou les bornes de leurs connoissances les forcent de s'arrêter. Toutes les fois qu'on nous dit que Dieu est l'auteur de quelque phénomène, cela signifie qu'on ignore comment un tel phénomène a pu s'opérer par le sécours des forces ou des causes que nous connoissons dans la nature. C'est ainsi que le commun des hommes, dont l'ignorance est le partage, attribue à la Divinité non seulement les effets inusités qui les frappent, mais encore les événemens les plus simples, dont les causes sont les plus faciles à connôitre pour quiconque a pu les méditer. En un mot, l'homme a toujours respecté les causes inconnues des effets surprenans, que son ignorance l'empêchoit de démêler. Ce fut sur les débris de la nature que les hommes élevèrent le colosse imaginaire de la Divinité.
Si l'ignorance de la nature donna la naissance aux dieux, la connoissance de la nature est faite pour les detruire. A mésure que l'homme s'instruit, ses forces et ses ressources augmentent avec ses lumières; les sciences, les arts conservateurs, l'industrie, lui fournissent des secours; l'expérience le rassûre, ou lui procure des moyens de résister aux efforts de bien des causes qui cessent de l'alarmer dès qu'il les a connues. En un mot, ses terreurs se dissipent dans la même proportion que son esprit s'éclaire. L'homme instruit cesse d'être superstitieux.
Ce n'est jamais que sur parole que des peuples entiers adorent le Dieu de leurs pères et de leurs prêtres: l'autorité, la confiance, la soumission, et l'habitude leur tiennent lieu de conviction et de preuves; ils se prosternent et prient, parce que leurs pères leur ont appris àse prosterner et à prier: mais pourquoi ceux‑ci se sont‑ils mis à genoux? C'est que dans les temps éloignés leurs legislateurs et leurs guides leur en ont fait un devoir. "Adorez et croyez," ont‑ils dit, "des dieux que vous ne pouvez comprendre; rapportez‑vous en a notre sagesse profonde; nous en savons plus que vous sur la divinité." "Mais pourquoi m'en rapporterai‑je àvous?" "C'est que Dieu le veut ainsi; c'est que Dieu vous punira si vous osez résister:" "Mais ce Dieu n'est‑il donc pas la chose en question?" Cependant les hommes se sont toujours payés de ce cercle vicieux; la paresse de leur esprit leur fit trouver plus court de s'en rapporter au jugement des autres. Toutes les notions religieuses sont fondées uniquement sur l'autorite; toutes les religions du monde défendent l'examen et ne veulent pas que l'on raisonne; c'est l'autorité qui veut qu'on croie en Dieu; ce Dieu n'est lui­même fondé que sur l'autorité de quelques hommes qui prétendent le connoître, et venir de sa part pour l'annoncer à la terre. Un Dieu fait par les hommes a sans doute besoin des hommes pour se faire connoître au monde.
Ne seroit‑ce donc que pour des prêtres, des inspirés, des métaphysiciens que seroit reservée la conviction de l'existence d'un Dieu, que l'on dit neanmoins si necessaire à toute le genre humain? Mais trouvons‑nous de l'harmonie entre les opinions théologiques des différens inspirés, ou des penseurs répandus sur la terre? Ceux même qui font profession d'adorer le même Dieu, sont‑ils d'accord sur son compte? sont'ils contents des preuves que leurs collègues apportent de son existence? Souscrivent‑ils unanimement aux idées qu'ils présentent sur sa nature, sur sa conduite, sur la façon d'entendre ses prétendus oracles? Est‑il une contrée sur la terre où la science de Dieu se soit réellement perfectionnée? A‑t‑elle pris quelque part la consistance et l'uniformité que nous voyons prendre aux connoissances humaines, aux arts les plus futiles, aux métiers les plus meprisés? les mots d'esprit, d'immatérialité, de création, de prédestination, de grace; cette foule de distinctions subtiles dont la théologie s'est partout remplie; dans quelques pays, ces inventions si ingénieuses, imaginées par des penseurs qui se sont succédés depuis tant de siècles, n'ont fait, helas! qu'embrouiller les choses, et jamais la science la plus nécessaire aux hommes n'a jusqu' ici pu acquérir la moindre fixité. Depuis des milliers d'années des rêveurs oisifs se sont perpétuellement relayés pour méditer la Divinité, pour deviner ses voies cachées, pour inventer des hypothèses propres à développer cette énigme importante. Leur peu de succès n'a point découragé la vanité théologique; toujours on a parlé de Dieu: on s'est disputé, l'on s'est égorgé pour lui, et cet être sublime demeure toujours le plus ignoré et le plus discuté.
Les hommes auroient été trop heureux, si se bornant aux objets visibles qui les intéressent, ils eussent employé à perfectionner leurs sciences réelles, leurs lois, leur morale, leur éducation, la moitié des efforts qu'ils ont mis dans leurs recherches sur la Divinité. Ils auroient été bien plus sages encore, et plus fortunés, s'ils eussent pu consentir à laisser leurs guides désoeuvres se quereller entre eux, et sonder des profondeurs capables de les étourdir, sans se mêler de leurs disputes insensées. Mais il est de l'essence de l'ignorance d'attacher de l'importance à ce qu'elle ne comprend pas. La vanité humaine fait que l'esprit se roidit contre les difficultés. Plus un objet se dérobe à nos yeux, plus nous faisons d'efforts pour le saisir, parce que dès‑lors il aiguillone notre orgueil, il irrite notre curiosite, il nous paroît intéressant. En combattant pour son Dieu, chacun ne combattit en effet que pour les intérêts de sa propre vanité, qui de toutes les passions humaines est la plus prompte a s'alarmer, et la plus propre à produire de très grandes folies.
Si, écartant pour un moment les idées fâcheuses que la théologie nous donne d'un Dieu capricieux, dont les décrets partiaux et despotiques décident du sort des humains, nous ne voulons fixer nos yeux que sur la bonté prétendue, que tous les hommes, même en tremblant devant ce Dieu, s'accordent à lui donner; si nous lui supposons le project qu'on lui prête, de n'avoir travaillé que pour sa propre gloire, d'exiger les hommages des êtres intelligens; de ne chercher dans ses oeuvres que le bien‑être du genre humain; comment concilier ces vues et ces dispositions avec l'ignorance vraiment invincible dans laquelle ce Dieu, si glorieux et si bon, laisse la plupart des hommes sur son compte? Si Dieu veut être connu, chéri, remercié, que ne se montre‑t‑il sous des traits favorables à tous ces êtres intelligens dont il veut être aimé et adoré? Pourquoi ne point se manifester à toute la terre d'une façon non équivoque, bien plus capable de nous convaincre, que ces révélations particulières qui semblent accuser la Divinité d'une partialité fâcheuse pour quelques‑unes de ses créatures? Le toutpuissant n'auroit‑il pas donc des moyens plus convaincans de se montrer aux hommes, que ces métamorphoses ridicules, ces incarnations prétendues, qui nous sont attestées par des écrivains si peu d'accord entre eux dans les récits qu'ils en font? Au lieu de tant de miracles, inventés pour prouver la mission divine de tant de législateurs, revérés par les différens peuples du monde, le souverain des esprits ne pouvoit‑il pas convaincre tout d'un coup l'esprit humain des choses qu'il vouloit lui faire connôitre? Au lieu de suspendre un soleil dans la voùte du firmament; au lieu de répandre sans ordre les étoiles, et les constellations qui remplissent l'espace, n'eut‑il pas été plus conforme aux vues d'un Dieu si jaloux de sa gloire et si bien intentionné pour l'homme; d'écrire d'une façon non sujette à dispute, son nom, ses attributs, ses volontés permanentes, en caractères ineffaçables, et lisibles également pour tous les habitants de la terre? Personne alors n'auroit pu douter de l'existence d'un Dieu, de ses volontés claires, de ses intentions visibles. Sous les yeux de ce Dieu si sensible, personne n'auroit eu l'audace de violer ses ordonnances; nul mortel n'eût osé se mettre dans le cas d'attirer sa colère: enfin nul homme n'eût eu le front d'en imposer en son nom, ou d'interpréter ses volontés suivant ses propres fantaisies.
En effet, quand même on supposeroit l'existence du Dieu théologique, et la réalité des attributs si discordans qu'on lui donne, l'on ne peut en rien conclure, pour autoriser la conduite ou les cultes qu'on prescrit de lui rendre. La théologie est vraiment le tonneau des Danaïdes. A force de qualités contradictoires et d'assertions hazardées, elle a, pour ainsi dire, tellement garroté son Dieu qu'elle l'a mis dans l'impossibilité d'agir. S'il est infiniment bon, quelle raison aurions‑nous de le craindre? S'il est infiniment sage, de quoi nous inquiéter sur notre sort? S'il sait tout, pourquoi l'avertir de nos besoins, et le fatiguer de nos prières? S'il est partout, pourquoi lui élever des temples? S'il est le maître de tout, pourquoi lui faire des sacrifices et des offrandes? S'il est juste, comment croire qu'il punisse des créatures qu'il a remplies de foiblesses? Si la grace fait tout en elles, quelle raison auroit‑il de les récompenser? S'il est tout‑puissant, comment l'offenser, comment lui résister? S'il est raisonnable, comment se mettroit‑il en colère contre des aveugles, à qui il a laissé la liberté de déraisonner? S'il est immuable, de quel droit prétendrions­nous faire changer ses décrets? S'il est inconcevable, pourquoi nous en occuper? S'IL A PARLÉ, POURQUOI L'UNIVERS N'EST‑IL PAS CONVAINCU? Si la connoissance d'un Dieu est la plus nécessaire, pourquoi n'est‑elle pas la plus évidente, et la plus claire. —Système de la Nature, London, 1781. [4] [Shelley quotes verbatim, errors and all, scattered paragraphs from Volume Two, London edition (1771), principally from pages 16‑18, 27, 319‑326, as though they were consecutive. ]
The enlightened and benevolent Pliny thus publicly professes himself an atheist: Quapropter effigiem Dei formamque quaerere inbecillitatis humanae reor. Quisquis est Deus (si modo est alius) et qua cunque in parte, totus est sensus, totus est visus, totus auditus, totus animae, totus animi, totus sui. . . . Imperfectae vero in homine naturae praecipua solatia ne deum quidem posse omnia. Namque nec sibi potest mortent consciscere, si velit, quod homini dedit optimum in tantis vitae poenis: nec mortales aeternitate donare, aut revocare defunctos; nec facere ut qui vixit non vixerit, qui honores gessit non gesserit, nullumque habere in praete­riturn ius, praeterquarn oblivionis, atque (ut facetis quoque argumentis societas haec cum deo copuletur) ut his dena viginti non Sint, et multa similiter efficere non posse. Per quae declaratur haud dubie naturae potentiam id quoque esse quod Deum vocamus. [5]
            Plin. Nat. Hist., cap. de Deo.
The consistent Newtonian is necessarily an atheist. See Sir Mr. Drummond's Academical Questions, Chapter iii.
Sir W. seems to consider the atheism to which it leads as a sufficient presumption of the falsehood of the system of gravitation; but surely it is more consistent with the good faith of philosophy to admit a deduction from facts than an hypothesis incapable of proof, although it might militate with the obstinate preconceptions of the mob. Had this author, instead of inveighing against the guilt and absurdity of atheism, demonstrated its falsehood, his conduct would have been more suited to the modesty of the sceptic and the toleration of the philosopher.
Omnia enim per Dei potentiam facta sunt: imo quia naturae potentia nulla est nisi ipsa Dei potentia. Certurn est nos eatenus Dei potentiam non intelligere, quatenus causas naturales ignoramus; adeoque stulte ad eandem Dei potentiam recurritur, quando rei alicuius causam naturalem, sive est, ipsam Dei potentiam ignoramus. [6] Spinoza, Tract. Theologico‑Pol. chap. i, p. 14. [Shelley's Note.]
1.  See Holbach's Système, 1.31‑39, for a similar argument.
2.  "I do not invent hypotheses, for whatever is not deduced from phenomena should be called an hypothesis; and a hypothesis, whether of metaphysics, or physics, or occult qualities, or mechanics, have [sic] no place in philosophy.
3. "To say what he is, one would have to be he."
4. For a translation of this quotation see Appendix D(a).
5. For the translation of the quotation see Appendix D(b). Shelley's text differs slightly from the Loeb. This quotation, lacking the first sentence, is given in A Refutation of Deism.
6. For a collation of Shelley's text with that of Spinoza and translation see Appendix D(c).

SOURCE: Shelley, Percy Bysshe. “There Is No God” (1813), in: Shelley's Prose, edited by David Lee Clark (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1954), pp. 97-102.

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“I Will Beget a Son” by Percy Bysshe Shelley
A Fragment of A Refutation of Deism by Percy Bysshe Shelley
[A Refutation of the Christian Religion] (1814?) by Percy Bysshe Shelley
A Fragment on Miracles (1813-1815) by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Essay on the Devil and Devils by Percy Bysshe Shelley
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[Song to the Men of England] de Percy Bysshe Shelley
[To—, 1821] de Percy Bysshe Shelley
Odo al la Okcidenta Vento
[Ode to the West Wind] de Percy Bysshe Shelley
The Necessity of Atheism by Percy Bysshe Shelley
A Defence of Poetry and Other Essays by Percy Bysshe Shelley

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