restricted access Chapter 1: Impracticable Utopias Hofmannsthal, Lukàcs, Benjamin
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c h a p t e r 1 Impracticable Utopias Hofmannsthal, Lukács, Benjamin ‘‘Romània’’ and Calderón Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s work seems to amount to a research project on the languages and forms of ‘‘Romània.’’ But this ‘‘Romània’’ is not at all the stable dwelling that many interpreters have claimed, in the shadow of whose authority Hofmannsthal would overcome the aestheticism of his youthful dramas, of his Loris.1 Loris’s ‘‘great art,’’ as Hermann Bahr would say, ‘‘has no feeling.’’2 Loris belongs to the Jugendstil that reflects upon the formal elements, the style of composition, rather than evoking feelings and moods. It is, after all, Jugendstil that is perfectly suited to its ‘‘problem :’’ transience.3 How can transience be stated and saved at the same time from the pure line of words? What power do words possess, and, therefore, what are their limitations with respect to transience? But transience is also the past. Its problem is also the problem of saving the past. The limitations of language in ‘‘comprehending’’ transience are its limitations in preserving and reliving the past. Hofmannsthal’s uncanny (Unheimliches ), which fascinates and scares, is this ‘‘second being,’’ namely language, where present, every day life relives the past—the transience of words and forms.4 Life itself, here, perceives a substantial continuity, an elective affinity, not beyond but in every contradiction and dissension. PAGE 45 45 ................. 17190$ $CH1 03-20-09 13:46:59 PS 46 Impracticable Utopias Transience returns as present. For the poet ‘‘the dead resuscitate, not when he likes, but when they want—and they resuscitate without respite.’’5 The poet saves the past, as the idea saves the phenomenon. But the present of poetry is not an abstract unity, a meeting as one of primordial, mythical elements so alike as to be bound to meet beyond any separation—destined to meet. This is the literary and conservative image that we often have of Hofmannsthal. His dead, on the contrary, revive with the multiplicity of their voices and, above all, their forms, their questions, their interrupted paths. If ‘‘the invented word’’ is spiritually and morally impossible, if originality betrays the necessary presence of transience in every voice, it is equally impossible—an equally indecent pretension—to believe in the ‘‘word,’’ which eliminates every difference, dissolves every contradiction, gives peace and unity to traditions and reconciles them with the present. The poet ‘‘comprehends’’ the problems, listens to the questions of those traditions, talks about them, since they necessarily speak his language (the dead revive whenever they want), but he does not have at his disposal synthetic Esperantos. The poet is suspicious of profound, substantive truths, according to which we should ‘‘go around naked, as if [we were] wandering abysses and vortices.’’6 ‘‘Romània’’ is the place where Hofmannsthal’s problems and contradictions are located. It is the space of his language. But this space does not represent an abstract totality; it already stems from a choice. It cannot be identified at all with the idea or destiny of Europe or with the intellectual cosmopolitanism of the Enlightenment. Hofmannsthal’s Romanity encompasses the multiplicity of languages that revolve around the great Habsburg Empire. In Hofmannsthal, European history is reshaped around the events of the last universal monarchy instead of the traditional axis: from the Renaissance to the Counterreformation to the French Enlightenment .7 Austria is at the center of this Reich, but not in the sense of supremacy or spiritual synthesis. In Hofmannsthal’s Austria in the Mirror of Its Poetry, only the roots of Austrian culture are discussed. With slight irony, the Magic Flute becomes a child’s fairytale, and Schubert’s Lieder acquire a ‘‘somewhat popular superiority.’’8 The essay, in subdued tonalities difficult to detect, is a critique of the myths of German culture, a search for ‘‘delicate divisions.’’ To distinguish and separate does not amount to provincialism . On the contrary, it means ‘‘letting-through’’ the different. The idea of Austria at the center of the Habsburg universal monarchy turn for Hofmannsthal into a ‘‘letting-through,’’ acceptance, a way of giving-itself to the multiplicity of forms and traditions that make up the Empire. Austrian universalism consists in making room and words for the different, in accepting its problems, in giving itself to it. PAGE 46 ................. 17190$ $CH1 03-20-09 13:47:00 PS 47 Impracticable Utopias Hofmannsthal’s ‘‘Romània,’’ completely alien from Stefan George’s ‘‘magnificent intolerance...


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