theodor w. adorno - stefan george

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„George“, Deutschlandfunk , 23. IV 1967. Noten zur Literatur IV, Bibliothek Suhrkamp, Frankfurt, 1974, str. 45–62. „Stefan George“, Notes to Literature II, 1992, str. 178–192.


  • IIIII Stefan George

    TXT hen forced to speak briefly about V V a difficult and complex subject, I usually select one l imited aspect of it , in keeping with the philosophical motif of renouncing the totali ty and hoping for insight into the whole from the fragment rather than directly from the whole itself. Hence I will imagine something in fact unthinkable, namely that I have to produce a selection from the work of Stefan George and must explain the criteria governing my method of selection. I do not mean to imply that I would presume to judge what will survive in George's work and what will not. So-called historical distance does not empower me to do thisall the less, in that in the decades since George's death , confidence in a historical continuity that would of itself reveal the truth content of an oeuvre has been completely shattered . If I tell you something about the rules I would follow in this imaginary selection , it may also shed some l ight on the immanent h istorical transformation of the work. With George it would not be appropriate to dismiss the concrete with a historico-philosophical gesture and submit to the repulsive custom he himself denounced in his poem "Die Schwelle" ["Beyond"] -that of seeing the particular and its historical moment only as a preliminary stage of something else rather than dwell ing on it for its own sake. The pompous question, what happens next ?, what does that lead to?, which is quite compatible with praise of days gone by, wreaks havoc on art.

    The official canonization that befell George more than thi rty years ago, prohibi ting free criticism of his work, no longer intimidates us. Since then his work has been almost completely repressed, not only from official consciousness but from literary awareness as well. Some signifi-


    cant members of the younger generation experience such as intense revulsion to it that they will not go near it, while for many Hugo von Hofmannsthal , George's contemporary and adversary, has acquired more of a halo. This change is porportional to the authority George once wielded, through a technique of domination Rudolf Borchardt euphemistically called "a significant degree of sophistication." To the force with which George wanted to engrave his image on his contemporaries there responds an equivalent force of forgetting, as though the mythical will to survive in his work drove the work , mythically, to its own destruction . It befits everything mythical to arouse resistance, George's temperament no less than his spiritual destiny. His will to domination links him with a significant German tradition, to which Richard Wagner belongs as do Heidegger and Brecht; with Hitler it underwent a gruesome transformation into pol itics. What would need to be eliminated in my selection would be the aspect of the work that contributes to the sphere of the catastrophe. Despite, or because of, the pathos of distance, George's covenantal liturgies seem compatible with the solstice celebrations and campfires of the Youth Movement hordes and thei r fearsome successors. The slick "we" of those poems is as fictitious, and therefore as deadly, as the kind of Volk the advocates of the viilkisch envisioned . Where George descends to praise of Ftihrerdom, he shares in the guilt and cannot be resurrected. To be sure-and this points to the abyssal quality in his work-it was precisely the most artistically questionable aspect of his work, the ideological element in it, that was in a certain sense expiated in reality. Count Klaus Stauffenberg, who attempted tyrannicide and sacrificed himself, may have had George's poem about the doer in mind, a poem which captures the image of the doer at the moment before such an action; granted , it presents it apolitically or as taking place within rul ing cliques:

    Der Tater Ich lasse mich hin vorm vergessenen fenster: nun tu Die fh.lgel wie immer mir auf und hulle hienieden Du stets mir ersehnte du segnende dammrung mich zu Heut will ich noch ganz mich ergeben dem lindernden frieden. Denn morgen bei m schragen der strahlen ist es geschehn Was unentrinnbar in hemmenden stunden mich peinigt Dann werden verfolger als schatten hinter mir stehn Und suchen wird mich die wahllose menge die steinigt.


    Wer niemals am bruder den fleck fur den do1chstoss bemass Wie leicht ist sein leben und wie dUnn das gedachte Oem der von der schierli ngs betaubenden kornern nicht ass! o wUsstet ihr wie ich euch aile ein wenig verachte ! Denn auch ihr freunde redet morgen: so schwand Ein ganzes leben voll hoffnung und ehre hienieden . Wie wiegt micht heute so mild das entschlummernde land Wie fi.ihl ich sanft um mich des abends frieden ! ' [The Doer I sit at the window I slighted so long. Now unfold Your wings, as so often before, and scatter my way With blessings, 0 twilight, I always have yearned for, now hold Me close while I yield to the solace and peace of today. Tomorrow, when slant falls the l ight , it will all come true What haunts me in hours that shackle and stretch on the rack , Then rising like shadows behind me are those who pursue And mobs ever ready to stone will be hot on my track.

    Who never has measured his brother for gauging a blow, How si mple his l ife must be! And who never knew The hemlock that deadens, how thinly his thi nking must flow! If only you guessed how I mock at the best among you! For even my friends will say on the morrow: "Here ends A l ife in which promise and glory ennobled the way:" How gently I swing in the somnolent drean of the land, How drowned I am in peace of parting day!]

    But a view of George that tried to make a sharp distinction between his actual poetic work and his ideological excursions would be naive. George's violent will reaches even into the works that are intended to be purely lyrical . The lack of congruence between willful intervention and the semblance of relaxed spontaneous language is so ubiquitous that it confirms Borchardt's suspicion that there is hardly a poem by George in which violence is not manifested in self-destructive form. George, the man who demanded the perfection of the poem with a forcefulness previously unknown in Germany, and who worked for it as no one else had , through rigorous criticism of the linguistic material that was still lyrically viable after the disintegration of the German linguistic tadit ion -


    that man left behind hardly a single unalloyed poem, thereby also raising the question of what German poet had ever succeeded in doing so. Even in the famous stanzas liEs lacht in dem steigenden Jahr dir" [liThe hours of August still wind youn] ( 1 531 r 49), from "Traurige Tanze" ["Mournful Dances"] in Das Jahr der Seele [The Year of the So,,/] , a song which the young Lukacs aptly described as playing its own accompani ment, the words at the end , "Geloben wir glUcklich zu sein" [l iterally, "Let us vow to be happyn] , wreak havoc with what has come before , subjecting something utterly spontaneous to the will .

    There is no doubt that in various ways George made a habit of the esoteric gesture, first the gesture of an aesthetic claim that excluded anyone who was not , in his words, will ing or able to understand the poetic work as a literary image ; later, that of a cultural-political league of renewal loosely grouped around him and allegedly embodying a secret Germany. Despite this, he spoke from the soul of groups of the preHitlerian reactionary German bourgeoisie that were quantitatively insignificant. His esoteric tone and his narcissistically hermetic naturewhich according to Freud's theory gives political FUhrer-figures their mass-psychological impact-contributed to this. It is an embarrassingly self-proclai med doctrine of aristocracy, born of a will to style and visibly lacking in tradition , confidence, and taste . It is already manifest, crudely and vulgarly, in the lines in his early book Algabal in which the lateRoman emperor, seeing on a marble stai rcase the corpse of someone beheaded at his command, merely l ifts his purple train a little (" 0 mutter meiner mutter und Erlauchte" ["0 mother of my mother, long reveredn] , 50/50). Although the rough-and-ready indignation about George's posing is ph ilistine , it registers the pretentiousness of a dignity bestowed upon oneself like a fantasy uniform. English has the unsurpassable and untranslatable expression "self-styled" for it. In this regard , George's habit of doing without capital letters and punctuation marks, once shocking, can be interpreted as a clever camouflage maneuver; made remote by the small letters, his stubborn banality eludes one's grasp. Theodor Haecker found that there are numerous lines in George that if printed in the ordinary manner would bear a deadly resemblance to verses in souvenir albums; even the highly charged final poem of Das Neue Reich [The Kingdom Come] is of this type.

    Du schlank und rein wie eine flamme Du wie der morgen zart und l icht


    Du bli.lhend reis vom edJen stamme Du wie ein quell geheim und schlicht Bcgleitest mich auf sonnigen manen Umschauerst mich im abendrauch Erleuchtest meinen weg im schanen Du ki.lhler wind du heisser hauch Du bist mein wunsch und mein gedanke Ich atme d ich mit jeder luft Ich schli.1rfe dich mit jedem tranke Ich ki.lssc dich mit jedem duft Du bli.lhend reis vom edlen stamme Du wie ein quell geheim und schlicht Du schlank und rein wie eine Ramme Du wie der morgen zart und licht. (469) [You like a flame, unAawed and slender, You Rower sprung from Crown and Spear, You l ike the morning, light and tender, You l ike a spring, withdrawn and clear, Companion me in sunny meadows, Encompass me in evening haze, And where I go, you shine through shadows, You cool of wind, you breath of blaze. You ar