Chapter 4

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Jan de Vries

Apr 24, 2022, 6:40:46 AM4/24/22
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Chapter 4 describes Charlotte’s conversation with Mademoiselle Adele Schopenhauer, another Goethe acolyte. It raises the same question as chapter 3 (the conversation with Dr. Riemer) : “How does this chapter fit in the narrative of the novel?”  However, that question is beside the point.  There is no narrative.  Reading this novel is like listening to music. The language is a pleasure to read, just as music is a pleasure to hear. Although the translation creates false notes.

I like to see a book as a discussion with the author but Mann remains an enigma to me.


Nori Geary

Apr 25, 2022, 8:32:20 AM4/25/22
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Ch 4 of Lotte is a continuation of Ch 3. It proceeds like a comic opera, but not an especially funny one. A few more comparisons of “Goethe now” and “Goethe then” emerge. 

Lotte still fails to escape her hotel room to go visit her sister, as Mager shows up with another guest, Adele Schopenhauer. Adele is a very young woman who is part of Weimar’s cultured society and whose mother had a literary salon frequented by Goethe. She and others of these women consider themselves muses, which immediately seems ridiculous as Adele is described as having very unfortunate looks and her mouth waters when she speaks. Further the artistic talents they possess seem modest; Adele has brought Charlotte a silhouette as a gift; she misuses some words. But she is intelligent and Lotte enjoys the conversation. The cultured group seems friendly enough. Adele address all the literati as “Uncle”, with the exception of Goethe himself. There are a few word plays – at one point Lotte says she understands that Goethe is old Goethe, meaning the young one.

Lotte and Adele fall into gossip about Goethe’s wife, whom they call by her maiden name Vulpius and who has died the year before (possibly a reason for the timing of Lotte’s visit?). They then discuss Goethe himself, whom Adele describes as sometimes overbearing and dominating in conversations and engaging in often mean humor. At the same time she praises his ability to turn overly serious conversations to very funny themes; Lotte recognizes this from the past as well. 

Adele also mentions that Goethe is impatient with newer developments in art and literature, which she attributes to Goethe’s growing old. Lotte is not pleased and changes the subject. Adele informs Lotte that Goethe’s son August  is engaged to a Fräulein Ottilie von Pogwash. The complications related to that are apparently worth another chapter. Hopefully that chapter will be more interesting that this one...


Apr 26, 2022, 12:19:45 PM4/26/22
to Lotte in Weimar; book discussion
I have been reading Latte in Weimar by T. Mann, it is a Alfred Aknopf New York 1940 edition in English, translated by H. T. Lowe-Porter, and it is on interlibrary loan from Middlebury College.  Of note that was last taken out by a student on 3/2/1971, and then me this Spring I 2022.  Of note that “Merding” singed it out in written script pencil, and odd markings on the text in chapter 5 and the notes circle words like in and on, etc.  and then actual corrections…after several pages of this I realized the notes were correcting the English translation and that they were fluent in German.  You are not the only one confused Jan!  At least it is funny.

Jan de Vries

Apr 26, 2022, 2:02:06 PM4/26/22
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So no one asked the Vermont inter-library for this book in fifty years! We are odd.


Apr 26, 2022, 3:43:53 PM4/26/22
to Lotte in Weimar; book discussion
The Jericho library here near the junction with Underhill did not have it, the only VT library they found was Middlebury College.  So the irony and humor is that so few libraries in vt have this early translatin, AND the fact that has not been checked out of the College library in 50 + years.  I wonder about some of Mann’s other books.  It is a challenging read in so many ways but I love the challenge.  I look forward to a continued conversation with our group.  The historical events covered in the next chapter as well as exposing another aspect of Goethe covering the prior 40years.  Chapter 4 gives us a peek into Goethe in regard to poetic and philosophical trends changing around him..anticipating the wars trough this time frame and German culture and identity changes to…with Goethe we can anticipate de still thinks in terms of mind not culture.  This and Goethe’s politics we anticipate to see, as well as his manipulation of his fame/power…and how he engages in nepotism for his son repeatedly and more.  


Apr 28, 2022, 9:35:30 AM4/28/22
to Lotte in Weimar; book discussion
Hi Nori,
I do agree with the “comic opera” but also find it has structure and context and content that both intrigues and engages me.

Nori Geary

May 1, 2022, 1:47:04 PM5/1/22
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Lotte, ch 5 – Comments by Nori

 In ch 5 Adele describes the engagement of Goethe’s son August to Ottilie von Pogwisch, another member of the circle of muses, and segues to describes the Weimar elite’s, in particular Goethe’s, views of the Napoleonic age. Recall that the Lotte’s visit to Weimar occurred in 1816, just a year after Napoleon’s final defeat. For me, this was the most interesting chapter so far. It has two interwoven themes, how Ottilie became betrothed to August, which seems to involve her affection for Goethe himself, and Goethe’s view of the Napoleonic era. The chapter stands out in style. The comic, ironic tone is dropped in favor of Ottilie’s sober exposition. The conversation is wholly one sided – Lotte utters not a word in the whole chapter. It is also, again, too long. 

Ottilie is from a Prussian family and was aware of, and an ardent supporter of, the secret Prussian planning to free Prussia from Napoleon during the years of French occupation after 1806. Adele then relates a story that must have occurred around 1813, during the last part of the occupation, when Weimar was in French hands but lay very close to the front with the Prussians and Russians. One day while walking in the woods, Ottilie and Adele came across a Prussian solder who was severely wounded in a some sort of raid. The two women organized a secret rescue and helped hide and nurse him in Weimar. He rejoins his army and participates in driving the French southward out of Prussia and Saxony, wins an Iron Cross, and returns to Weimar. Ottalie falls in love with him, but he is betrothed at home in Silesia. He is also a commoner, and the entire chapter again and again emphasized class differences. She is torn between simple values of the common, but pure and virtuous Prussian and the German elite intellectual. 

When the French leave, there is of course great rejoicing, but Goethe remained aloof. In part he seems to admire Napoleon for his enlightenment ideas, and he continued to wear the Legion of Merit award that Napoleon had bestowed on him. Goethe also found the exaggerated vilification of the enemy repugnant to his humanist and universal philosophy. As well, Goethe seems to share the view that the nobility need not fight as common soldiers; that’s for the peasants. That hundreds of thousands of soldiers died in the Napoleonic wars seems to matter little; Napoleon may have built a better world order. For me strange sort of humanism, but consistent with Goethe’s detachment from and indifference toward from mundane human existence. 

At one point Goethe gives his view of the German character. He says, first, that Germans must look beyond themselves to the wider world in order to influence the wider world, and this requires embracing other peoples, without insisting on inherent feelings of pride as Germans. He goes on to state that there is a danger that such natural feelings of national pride in defeating Napoleon will lead Germans one day to the crassest of follies. That seems to presage Germany’s two historical “crass follies”, the imperialism of the 2nd Reich and WW I, and the racial insanity of the 3rd Reich and WW II. Will this theme be picked up later when we her Goethe speak directly to Lotte? 

Goethe especially disliked the “volunteer” movement in which many students and academics joined the armies fighting for Napoleon’s final defeat. Goethe’s son August joined the volunteers, leaving him without a secretary. Goethe enjoined the Duke to help get August a safe, staff position in Weimar, so both of them are criticized by the common folk for avoiding participation. One officer challenges August to a duel, but again Goethe intercedes via the Duke. August, without friends, falls into a melancholy, and begins to drink and womanize. He breaks his friendship with Ottilie, which everyone thought might end in marriage, and has an affair with the wife of a soldier – and again the class distinctions are prominent. August gradually regains his spirits, becomes friendly with Ottalie and the muses, and asks her to marry him. Why Ottalie agrees escapes me; perhaps she thinks it is her duty to anything that would please Goethe.

Some historical context

 Quite a bit of history is referenced in ch 5. I had to refresh my knowledge of the main events of the era for context. Perhaps it’s useful for you as well. 

The German-speaking world of 1800 was divided into the Holy Roman Empire (HRE). At that time the HRE was ruled by the Hapsburgs from in Vienna and consisted of Austria and a more-or-less loose confederation of principalities, duchies, and city states that cover most of what is today the western ~2/3 of Germany (The Hapsburgs were also kings of Hungary, but I believe that did not count as HRE; hence their “double monarchy’). Weimar was one of these duchies, the Duchy of Saxe-Weimar. The rest of the Germanic lands was Prussia, which included the area around Berlin and stretched eastward to include most of what is now Poland. Prussia had risen to a major European power under the kings Frederick I and II in the mid-1700s.

 By ~1800 Napoleon’s armies had beaten most of the western European European powers, leaving only Britain and Russia as major foes. Napoleon did not, however, take over government of all the counties. In 1805 Britain allied with the HRE and Russia to try again to defeat him. In Dec 1805 Napoleon’s army defeated the armies of the HRE and Russia in Austerlitz in what is now the Czech Republic. This is considered his greatest single battle victory. The same year, however, his navy lost the battle of Trafalgar to Britain, so Britain remained relatively safe. 

After Austerlitz Napoleon set up puppet governments in most of the territories he took over. He dissolved the HRE, setting up the “Rhenisch confederation” in western Germany and left Austria as an entity. The Rhenish Confederation included Weimar. The Prussians, allied with Sweden, Russia and Saxony, continued to fight, but were defeated soundly in Oct 1806 at Jena, which is only ~10 miles from Weimar. Napoleon then occupied Prussia, but not Russia. The battle of Jena is considered a major point in Prussian and German history. The Prussians realized that they had let their country slip into decline and re-built it along the traditional Prussian virtues, as described by Ottilie.

In 1808 Napoleon defeated Spain and Portugal. This was the high point of his power. In 1812 Napoleon invaded Russia, in what was a complete strategic disaster. Napoleon entered Russia in June 1812 with an army of ~450,000, but the Russian army held Moscow and an early winter set in, forcing Napoleon to retreat. He left Russia in Dec 1812 with ~35,000 men. A graphic of the campaign done by Charles Minard in 1869 is considered one of the best graphics ever made; it is worth a look -

After this defeat, Prussia, Sweden and Austria switched from their forced alliance with Napoleon to join Britain and Russia against him. Although Napoleon organized another huge army, the allies had more soldiers and this time had better leadership. The turning point in the Germany was the battle of Leipzig, in Saxony, in 1813, which forced the French out of Germany. By April 1814 Napoleon had abdicted and was exiled to Elba (in school we were taught the palindrome, “able was I ere I saw Elba”). He escaped in 1815 and tried to take on the allies again, but was ultimately defeated at Waterloo by the British under Wellington and the Prussians under Blücher, whom Ottilie mentions. This time he was exiled much further away, to St Helen’s Island in the S Atlantic and never came back. After the Congress of Vienna, Prussia again became a great power. Weimar, however, was just south of its borders, in Saxony, part of the German Confederation, another rather loose bunch of semi-independent entities. 

The Prussians gradually got control of the entire German Confederation in the mid 19th C and became the 2ndGerman Reich. From there is a straight line to 1914 and 1939.

Jan de Vries

May 1, 2022, 4:05:52 PM5/1/22
to Lotte in Weimar; book discussion
Nori, thanks for your comments and your recapitulation of Napoleon's battles. All that remained from my history lessons in high school was Napoleon's defeat by the cold and expanse of Russia and his final defeat at Waterloo. Remarkable that you found so much of that history in Adele's report of Ottilie in these years. 

Nori Geary

May 8, 2022, 4:39:56 PM5/8/22
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Ch 5 was more-or-less an uninterrupted monologue from Adele Schopenhauer. Ch 6 begins with the admission that Adele was indeed interrupted, twice, by Mager. The first was to relay an enquiry from Lotte’s sister whether she would still come for dinner. Lotte decides no, she will visit, but dinner should not wait, as “important responsibilities” detain her –  we are back to comic opera; what responsibilities, other than her curiosity about others’ views of Goethe? Mager’s second interruption is to announce a call by August Goethe. Adele says of this, “speak of the devil and he comes” and soon takes her leave, and the balance of ch 6 described August’s visit.

Lotte draws August out about his own life and his relationship with his father, for whom he is acting as an assistant in some of Goethe’s official responsibilities. As we have learned August is a defender of Napoleon and easily becomes angry if his views are even doubted, which Lotte seems to do. August is not described in complimentary terms, except perhaps that like his father he has deep dark brown eyes (eyes again!). Lotte finds his speech stilted and affected, but his descriptions of his father’s work, travels, and illnesses interest her.

One interesting detail is that there is a current opinion much of Goethe’s work is coarse. August attributes that to veiled criticisms of Goethe’s affair with his mother – if the artist is himself not of the highest deportment, then so must his work be questionable. August feels that this sort of criticism should have evaporated when the two finally married and the Duke made August legitimate and heir to Goethe’s noble title, but of course they did not evaporate. 

August describes two stays by his father in Frankfurt at the Gerbermühle, the estate of friends. This name means the tanners’ mill, which seemed unusual name, so I looked it up. The mill building dates from the early 15th C and was put to many uses, including as a tannery, and it is now a fancy restaurant. Back to Lotte. August attitude about his father’s visits to the Gerbermühle is a bit conflicted. It seems that Goethe became infatuated with the young wife of his friend, a woman 35 y younger than he and, of course, in a rival of August’s mother for Goethe’s affections. So it is hard for August to tell the story calmly. His woman was also something of a muse for some poetry by Goethe. Lotte points out that this muse had not led Goethe to any creation of the importance of Werther. In fact, earlier in the chapter she said the same about some woman who was an earlier muse, but the product, the novel Elective Affinities, was also not the equal of Werther. So Lotte is proud and perhaps jealous of her stature as the most important muse. These passages were mildly amusing.

August seems quite a bitter person. An exception is an acquaintance, Achim von Arnim, with whom he spent many pleasant hours. In 1808, however, August went to Heidelberg to study law and stayed with a friend of Goethe’s named Voss. Achim was there as well and had earned Voss’s enmity because of his overly romantic and old-fashioned notions of Germany. Voss made it clear to August that his position as Goethe’s aide made friendship with Achim poorly advised, so August dropped Achim. More bitterness, or does August repress such thoughts if the concern the great man?

In the final part of the chapter August tells Lotte that he is betrothed to Ottalie von Pogwisch, at least is almost betrothed, as it seems Ottalie has not explicitly agreed. Of course, Lotte does not let on that Adele has already told her. Lotte gently brings up th fact that Ottalie is a loyal Prussian, wondering if that will be a problem for August. He brushes that off. I wonder if what he means is essentially that he cares not at all what a mere female thinks about such matters. Lotte then discusses Ottalie’s devotion to Goethe and wonders if this is behind her affections – that is, whether August is in a way Goethe’s representative in Ottalie’s eyes. But Lotte backs off when August does not answer and wishes him and her all the best. August delivers an invitation from Goethe that dine with him in a couple of days, on Friday. So ends another long and not very informative chapter. Perhaps some of what we learned becomes more significant later. 

Nori Geary

May 21, 2022, 9:19:29 AM5/21/22
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Lotte ch 8 -comments by Nori


Ch 8 is unlike any other so far. First, finally Goethe comes to the word. Second, the narration is Goethe’s stream of consciousness, not a conversation. So the comic opera-scenes are gone, and there are many serious themes. These are not presented one at a time, however, but in a recuring fashion, with a lot of allusions and shorthand. I had little frame of reference for a lot of it, so did not understand many points. In addition, the chapter was long, so a difficult read, but for the first time I recognized the seriousness of the book.


I find the most important aspect of ch 7 to be Mann’s estimation of Goethe, in particular what Mann thought Goethe idealism in relation to the German character.  To portray this as Goethe’s thoughts, rather than a public statement of any kind is an interesting device. Perhaps the whole structure of the book, the endless farcical conversations and half-baked thinking, was to get readers to think the book was something harmless until out of nowhere some very serious thoughts were dropped. Boom! This of course is parallel the history of Nazism – it’s harmless and has some advantages, many thought, but soon it was too late to rectify the error. 


These are only a few paragraphs on the German character, but to be offered to the German public (at least in smuggle books) in 1939 was a momentous move.  


As we discussed when picking this book, Goethe’s thought on the German character (as channeled by Mann) were quoted in the Nuremberg war-crime trials. You can read about the incident here


I was quite engaged by the chapter. Here are some of my thoughts.


Stream of consciousness


Ch 7 describes Goethe’s stream of consciousness from awakening through the morning. The beginning seems to be a half-awake state in which the thoughts are fragmentary and the association unclear. This is difficult reading. Nevertheless, despite the jumping around, Goethe he thinks cohesively – in fact, surprisingly so. Did Goethe think in complete sentences? Does anyone? My stream of consciousness is more images, or a mix of images and jumbled, disjointed phrases rather than complete sentences. But of course, Goethe was a genius and i am not.


I found Mann’s depiction of Goethe’s stream of consciousness  to be quite convincing. One nice example (p 308) is on water and its mystical properties, and then on to sponges! The section on kissing (p 316) is wonderful (“the kiss is joy. Procreation is lust – God gave it to the worm. Well, in my time I have wormed it enough too.”). Thinking of kissing reminds him of Lotte. This brings him to his own literary works and some of their inter-relationships  (on p 319, Goethe refers to four of his works in a single paragraph). On p 319 Goethe refers to the Willemer’s tannery – this is the Gerbermühle from ch 5 or 6). Later, Mann tries to imagine how Goethe began the construction of a poem, with themes coming to him in rhyming words (p 335). That is quite an achievement. Robert Musil, in The Man Without Qualities, one of my favorite books, wrote “nothing is so difficult in literature as to depict a man in thought.” So my compliments to Mann for this chapter.


Goethe’s thoughts provide Mann the opportunity to describe how Goethe thought of himself and the world. Thoughts on various topics occupy him for a bit, then he moves on, but often comes back to the same themes repeatedly, for example his attitudes toward “the Germans.” This style makes the chapter very difficult, as it is long and a lot of ground is covered. 


The unconscious


I was struck by the use of the concept of the unconscious. It is mentioned a few times. A passage on p 285 describes the unconscious in a modern way: “Man cannot tarry long in his conscious mind; must take from time to time refuge in his unconscious, there his being has its roots.” I wondered that Mann would have Goethe think that, as I understood the concept of the unconscious mind to have arisen in the mid-19th C (well before Freud). I was wrong. It seems (form Wiki) that the term was coined (das Unbewusste) by a German philosopher named Friedrich Schelling in 1800 and later taken into English. Schelling was then a professor at the University of Jena, where he had been appointed by Goethe, who was impressed with this thought and visited him often in his trips to Jena! So Mann was correct, Goethe thought about the unconscious in a way similar to the modern idea (i.e., as mental processing below the level of consciousness; without the now discredited notion of battling psychodynamic entities á la Freud).   




Goethe was incredibly learned (Mann as well), so his thoughts contain allusions to his life, literature, art, politics, natural history, etc. I am sure I missed most of these, and his mind jumps from association to association, so the chapter was difficult. A few allusions I got.

·      “Go ahead, children, take it, I need not present it to you, as I did Schiller the Tell” (p 282). Goethe is thinking of material for literature. He  claims to have given Schiller the idea for Wilhelm Tell, one of Schiller’s most famous plays, a work about social justice centering on the mythic Swiss hero. The play includes the oath taken by Tell and other Swiss rebels against the Hapsburg in 1307, which is re-enacted every year by the Swiss. This oath is the source of Switzerland’s official name, Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft (Swiss confederacy of the oath).

·      "The man I met at Erfurt” (p 290) – Napoleon, as we learned in a previous chapter.

·      “shoemaker, stick to your last” (p 289) Goethe is thinking of his frustration with critics who thought he should continue to write lyric poetry as he did earlier in his career rather than novels, plays, etc. He says “shoemaker, stick to your last – yes, if you are a shoemaker.”  “Shoemaker, stick to your last” (the last is the thing shoes are built around) is a familiar aphorism that goes back to ancient Greece. It is used frequently in Germany and is associated with the poet Hans Sachs (1494 – 1576), the most famous of the Nuremberg Meistersinger, a sort of minstrel. Sachs was actually a trained shoemaker and did that for money his entire life. Sachs epitomized common-sense wisdom. He is the main character In Richard Wagner’s opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, and much of the time he sings while hammering on a last in the beat of the music. Goethe also appreciated Sachs and wrote a poem about him. But notice in this passage Mann has Goethe turn the aphorism on its head – for Goethe the advice to stick to what you know, shoemaking, applies only if you are a shoemaker, and as Goethe is much more than a one-trick pony, it does not apply to him. In German this is clearer. Goethe thinks “if one were a shoemaker”, with the subjunctive mood indicating a situation that is not the case.

·      The elemental four (p308). These are the Greeks’ elements, earth, water, air, and fire. 


“The Germans”


Given when Lotte was written, Goethe’s views of the Germans (Goethe of course sets himself apart from any comparison to the mass of humanity) is the most important theme of the chapter, and for that matter the book so far. 


On p 329-331 Goethe thinks about his relationship with Germans. “How could I appease them … I would do so gladly … it should be possible … for in their marrow just as in mine  there is so much Sachs and Luther (the paradigmatic old Germans)   … yet your mind forces you to elevate it with your gifts of irony and style …”  (The underlined phrase, which is key, is not translated well; the German very clearly says theirs and mine, the English does not).Then comes a damning indictment  “that they hate clarity is not right … that they love every fanatic scoundrel who … teaches them nationality means barbarism and isolation” and “They think they are Germany – but I am.” Finally, Goethe foresees “his” Germany, a nation of freedom, enlightenment, universality, love” (the German is Bildung, which is education; I thin enlightenment fits, but our translations has culture which I think misses the point a bit; Goethe valued all education, not just humanities). 


There is a similar passage on p 338. The first part is translated badly. The German is clear, if not easily rendered 1:1 into English (it says, “so should the Germans be, receiving from the world and giving to it, its heart open to every fruitful source of wonder, …”  - the translator omitted “wonder” and for “fruitful” said “fructified”, which I had to look up). Then more criticism, which also is clearer in German. Goethe deplores the Germans tendency (I would translate) “to make themselves stupid through self-glorification and in stupidity and through stupidity to rule the world. Unfortunate folk; it will not end well.” The translator writes “they will end in a smash;” that seemed off to. me; perhaps it was mor apt in 1940 when the translation was published. In any event, the prognostication was certainly accurate.


One thing was curious about this. Earlier parts of the book had a lot concerning Prussian – German differences in character, but this is entirely absent here. That is a bit clumsy. Or was Mann telling us that Goethe did not find the Prussians and other Germans to be so different after all?


Class and sex.


Twice Goethe is interrupted by servants entering and banters with them. It is clear that he finds the strict class order of German society correct. One is born into one’s station in life. Why did so few people of the enlightenment age and after, in particular people of Goethe’s genius, not see the injustice of that? Did the excesses of the French Revolution set back human rights generations? Similarly for women. Goethe seems to think only of young attractive women.  Mary Wollstonecraft wrote “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” in 1792, arguing that women have a right to education and would be men’s equals if only they were educated. It seems Goethe must have known of it this work. Was it an aha moment, or were his views too calcified to change?  Maybe “the Germans” would have a different character if only wmen had more voice. 


Thomas Mann must have thought about these issues. His daughter Erika was very successful for a time as an author and lecturer (although she seems to have burned out). It seems that would have helped wake Mann up.




Some examples

P 292 – “Once I used to yearn for Italy, now I yearn for hot water to loosen my stiffening joints.”

P 310 – “I could like piety, if it were not for the pious” 

P 315 – “My pagans here are often too much even for me, who am myself a pagan.”




Goethe thinks about structuring Faust (p 352). This fits the timeline of the play.  He had already published Faust Part 1 (1808), but continued to work on Faust Part 2 until 1831. His stream of consciousness in this section is impossible to follow.


He mentions “the classical Walpurgis night” (p 355) (also on p 308). This is the Catholic feast day of a Saint Walpurgis who lived around the time when German pagans were converting to Christianity (8-9th C). It is just about now, late May. One of the things this saint did was drive away witches. But the witches never disappeared from German folklore, and they are said to meet on Walpurgis night on the top of Mt Brocken, the high point of the Harz mountains, and plan their uprising against Christianity, so people are warned to be careful that night, according to some of my German friends.   


West-East Diwan


Goethe’s work the West-East Divan is mentioned many times. I am not familiar with it, so looked it up. From Wiki: “West–östlicher Divan (West–Eastern Diwan) is a diwan, or collection of lyrical poems… West–Eastern Diwan was written between 1814 and 1819, the year when it was first published. It was inspired by Goethe's correspondence with Marianne von Willemer and the translation of Hafez' poems by the orientalist Joseph von Hammer.” The latter is mentined on p 315.


So Goethe was working on it at the time of Lotte’s visit (this is mentioned on p 348).  Marianne, of course, is one of Goethe’s lesser muses, a girl he met at the Gerbermühle on a trip to the Rhineland, as described both by Adele and later by August. 


Interruptions and Lotte’s visit


There are some interruptions, first from Carl the butler, whom Goethe likes, and then John the secretary, whom Goethe does not like. John asks Goethe for a letter of recommendation to a person who he thinks might help him fulfill his ambition to become a Prussian censor. No need to say what Goethe thinks of that occupation! But Goethe does not like John so agrees, and dictates a note that says basically nothing. The letter is to a Dr Verlohren. “Verloren” means lost in German. 


Near the end of the chapter (p 360), August appears and delivers Lotte’s note. Goethe reads it, says “how curious” and immediately switches topics to show August a crystal that he has just received. Goethe opines that the molecular structure of a crystal is somehow duplicated in the Egyptian pyramids. Talk turns to business, then to the court, which dances should be done at the coming ball, and what fantastic entertainments should be contrived (an elephant!). From that, August brings Goethe’s attention back to Lotte’s note. Goethe is not at all pleased by the prospect but agrees to a “small dinner” of 16, in formal attire. He can’t be bothered to write, so send August off with the message. This does not bode well for poor Lotte.




The word “Lindheymer” appears in ch 8 a few times. I didn’t find it in the dictionary, so googled it and came across a chapter in Poetic Process (1953) by an academic critic George Whalley (1915-1983), called, “Introduction to Poetic Process”  According to Wiki, Whalley’s idea was that “poetry and science are two different modes of knowing that make use of language and know reality in distinct, opposing ways. Whalley calls the poetic mind (contemplative) and the scientific mind (technical), a key distinction throughout the book.” I would say that this statement misses a critical point. The reality that (experimental) science produces is objective – it can be observed by anyone who follows the same procedure. In contrast, the reality of poetry is subjective – poems speak to many people, but it is never clear if it a poem produces the same thoughts and feelings in different people. Put another way, this passage uses the term “reality” in different ways that may mean quite different things. 


Anyway, Whalley discusses Mann’s Lotte in his essay (and his thinking is clearly more differentiated and subtle than the Wiki passage). Whalley wrote:


“… It is a shadow of emphasis that stands between the priest and the ruthless man of power — both in their own ways sincere, devoted to the point of self-destruction, convinced to the point of destroying others. The artist's position can be very similar.


Thomas Mann has rendered the mature form of this crisis with appalling directness in his portrait of Goethe in Lotte in Weimar.'[8] The artist, he says, may be illumined, but not inspired. “Can you imagine”, he continues, “the Lord God being inspired?” “One ascribes to Him a peculiar coldness, a destructive equanimity. For what should He feel enthusiasm, on whose side should he stand? For He is the whole, He is His own side. He stands on His side. His attitude is one of all-embracing irony.” Goethe's God here is the projection of Goethe, of Goethe's conception of the artist, the man who exerts “the gaze of absolute art, which is at once absolute love and absolute nihilism and indifference and implies that horrifying approach to the godlike-diabolic which we call genius.” The “neutrality of absolute art” is a unity of allness and nihilism “having nothing to do with gentleness, and amounting to a most peculiar coldness, a crushing indifference”. That neutrality arises from the artist's double nature, at once willing and suffering. “What I am after is the productive, male-female force, conceiving and procreating, susceptible in the highest degree. I am the Lindheymer [female ancestor] in male form, womb and seed, androgynous art, quick to receive, yet myself begetting, enriching the world with that I have received.” Androgynous the great artist certainly is, but in respect of consciousness and not of creativity. When Goethe conceives the double nature of the artist as concentrating in one person the double function of creation, he justifies his shocking cruelty to Lotte, his crushing insensitiveness, by supposing himself God, omnipotent, amoral, impervious. This is the pinnacle of temptation that the artist is led to: he can create, he knows he can create, he is God. Goethe is not an isolated instance: any powerful heresy is at least half true. But between this attitude and the attitude of a brutal and self-deceiving autocrat there is no difference. The difference, it might seem, is that the one attitude produces abiding works of art, and the other manifests itself in mass graves and the shattered conscience. The paradox is only verbal; for no abiding work of art can grow out of a lust for power, but only out of the humility of the craftsman who can be perpetually surprised that his work can at times transcend and redeem the limits of his own power and his own weakness. The artist is not absolved from the moral order of man's universe of value; only his position is more hazardous, more solitary, more desolating.”


Given Mann’s own sexual nature, it is interesting that he chooses an androgynous image!

Nori Geary

May 24, 2022, 11:12:35 AM5/24/22
to Lotte in Weimar; book discussion


Thank you for another interesting comment, Sarah.

 Here are some responses to it. I will also post your email and this response on the google groups site. 

 You wrote “Goethe seems to be on the cusp of modernism and also the end of the Renaissance” I agree that the stream of consciousness in Ch 7 of Lotte is a modernist touch, but don’t foregt it is mann who wrote this, not Goete. Goethe is usually considered to be an figure of the enlightenment. Around his time one response to enlightenment rationalism was “romanticism,” and Goethe was something of a romantic, especially early on. But he was too convinced of idealism in art and philosophy, so was not a typical romantic. 

 Here is a quote from an obituary of Isaiah Berlin in the NY Times (  that provides some context. 

''The Hedgehog and the Fox,'' the essay perhaps best known to American students of philosophy, is a study of Tolstoy's view of history as embodied in ''War and Peace.'' Written in 1953, it is regarded as a classic of political inquiry and literary criticism. Taking his title from the Greek poet Archilochus (''The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing''), Sir Isaiah's essay was a study of the mind and the work of Tolstoy but went beyond that to become an exploration of his own central themes about the place of the individual in the historical process and the struggle between monism and pluralism. In this essay, which became part of a great body of work by Sir Isaiah on Russian thinkers of the 19th century, he drew a distinction between two human types: those, like the fox, who pursue many ends, often unrelated, even contradictory, and those, like the hedgehog, who relate everything to a single universal organizing principle. He saw Tolstoy as a fox who wanted to be a hedgehog. He considered Aristotle, Goethe, Pushkin, Balzac, Joyce and Turgenev foxes. Plato, Dante, Pascal, Proust and Dostoyevsky were counted among the hedgehogs. 

 I agree that “metamorphosis is a central theme for Goethe” I didn’t know that that book is used in ecology classes! Thanks for pointing that out.. Also in Ch 7 Goethe mentions his discovery of the intermaxillare, bone (the premaxilla or premaxillary bone) in humans, which was thought not to exist as it does on monkeys and apes. Goethe thought that the species of plants and animals were closely related in structure, but as you say, he did not make the leap to positing evolution. 

 Here is a really nice article that discussed Goethe in the context of evolution. It goes over the maxillary bone and plant structure in detail, with wonderful illustrations.

 You wrote, “…(this reminds me of the novel I read in college about how scientific change must be and is revolutionary…the structure of scientific Revolution.” Do you mean perhaps Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolution ? An amazing book, but not a novel. Scientist love to argue about who “innovated new paradigms” vs. those who merely “articulated the old.”

 Goethe’s theory of colors had to do with harmony of various colors with each other. Newton’s observations on physical optics and visual perception began a separate branch, as did studies of the perception of light intensity. Interrelationships among colors is another branch. Unlike the first one, the neural mediation of  the perceptual relationships among colors is poorly understood, but some very famous people have worked on the problem at the perceptual level.  My wife just saw an article on this (abstract below). You might know that Riemann geometry is the geometry that Einstein used in his theory of general relativity (speaking of scientific revolutions!).

Why do I know anything about vision? I have a PhD in behavioral neuroscience. The biggest group in the department where I studied was a vision group, so they taught as much as they could using examples from vision science. So I knew quite a bit about vision research up to the 1970s, at least for non-vision scientist. 

Best wishes,  Nori


The non-Riemannian nature of perceptual color space

Roxana Bujack , Emily TetiJonah Miller, +1 , Elektra Caffrey, and Terece L. Turton 

April 29, 2022

PNAS 119 (18) e2119753119



For over 100 y, the scientific community has adhered to a paradigm, introduced by Riemann and furthered by Helmholtz and Schrodinger, where perceptual color space is a three-dimensional Riemannian space. This implies that the distance between two colors is the length of the shortest path that connects them. We show that a Riemannian metric overestimates the perception of large color differences because large color differences are perceived as less than the sum of small differences. This effect, called diminishing returns, cannot exist in a Riemannian geometry. Consequently, we need to adapt how we model color differences, as the current standard, Δ𝐸

, recognized by the International Commission for Weights and Measures, does not account for diminishing returns in color difference perception.


The scientific community generally agrees on the theory, introduced by Riemann and furthered by Helmholtz and Schrödinger, that perceived color space is not Euclidean but rather, a three-dimensional Riemannian space. We show that the principle of diminishing returns applies to human color perception. This means that large color differences cannot be derived by adding a series of small steps, and therefore, perceptual color space cannot be described by a Riemannian geometry. This finding is inconsistent with the current approaches to modeling perceptual color space. Therefore, the assumed shape of color space requires a paradigm shift. Consequences of this apply to color metrics that are currently used in image and video processing, color mapping, and the paint and textile industries. These metrics are valid only for small differences. Rethinking them outside of a Riemannian setting could provide a path to extending them to large differences. This finding further hints at the existence of a second-order Weber–Fechner law describing perceived differences.


 Goethe seems to be on the cusp of modernism and also the end of the Renaissance.  He is in my eye a public intellectual in a time when performance and story telling were essential with few peasants being literate (but not stupid), that he was able to connect with his wider culture…lacking the changes in education in the coming century and in this one the internet.  He earned his title and power from his early romantic novel about his love of Latte that was unrequited, but not without a KISS.  In Goethe’s novel his character commits suicide, in Mann’s novel Latte returns 40 years later.

Metamorphosis is a central theme for Goethe, and we should focus on this in the coming two chapters.  I will address this here to a point, but emphasize its central role in this novel.  And point out that there is a spiritual aspect to Goethe’s concept of this, but also his observations of life/nature/even evolution written about the time Darwin was an infant.

Chapter 7 creates a setting for the following two, and also resonates with the prior 6 to give them more context.  

Goethe’s conversation with his note-taker/scribe he dictates to from his bed we find him talking about the SPONGE and he discusses it as a paleontologist and an “Evolutionist” (pre-Darwin), and influenced by Francis Bacon’s “Natural History.”  Also his “scribe who does not do well in dictation for him, turns to his glass bottle experiment with the emerging butterfly crystals building its web, and tells the scribe it does not need more food this morning he is weaving.  (Metamorphose observation). Then he in another discussion/stream of consciousness he points to the Quartz same he has found for his collection and how they are formed and shaped, and how light through them is like a prison, etc.  These conversations point to (i think intentionally by Mann) to Goethe’s engagement in so many disciplines that take him far beyond being a poet.  

An artist, a poet, a writer, can see and process what they see and create.  A scientist observes and measures what they observe in a disciplines manner.  Goethe does both. While he is not an historian technology he draws from history in his works, inspired by oral traditions, as well as earlier medieval writers in his works.  I refer to his Faustian work as well as his reaching back to the early Persian romantic poet translated into German in his lifetime. (Note that it was not translated into English until Gertrude Bell, the first female Oxford student to get a PHD), about 100 years later.

I point to Hafiz now because his poetry describes the yearning of the beloved that filled the vacuum between the profane and the divine.  When applying Metamorphosis to humans, Goethe sees the divine as a crucial stage in the process beyond death.  There are also sexual connotations here worth exploring with the “kiss” v.s. “Carnal knowledge” and experience and desire.  

Goethe’s voice via Mann in this chapter also has him rant about his critics, that Mann researched deeply.  First some critics attacked him for going beyond poetry which his success earned him his title and Power.  When he turns to plays, and novels, and science the complaints in the equivalent of social media explode, especially with his publication of his essays and then his book on “the theory of Color or also known as the doctrine of colors”.   Goethe addresses and changes the the physics of light and color with the “laws of chromatic harmony”.  There were several attacks. First that how dare he challenge Newton’s work on this subject which was in his time established science (physics), which much later Goethe’s works on this topic were honored…too he did not attack Newton…(this reminds me of the novel I read in college about how scientific change must be and is revolutionary..the structure of scientific Revolution” because attachment to a given belief system when changed cannot change without a revolution).  Goethe did use the scientific method for this work and published it, but it was after his lifetime that it was adopted.

There was less controversy on his publication of the”Metamorphosis of Plants” which is taught today in major colleges on the subject of ecology.

Goethe also played a role in appointing brilliant cohorts with his titled power into university positions and in museums and on planning programs for architecture and more.

Goethe in his lifetime engaged not only as a literary artist but also in paleontology, geomorphology, physics, ecology, biology, science, evolution, geology, and more.  Yes Mann has him bemoan his critics how push that he is “just a poet” too in love with himself.

 I have reflected and decided that Metamorphosis should be discussed more in depth in the following chapters, it is a deep dive to make sense of it, and the last two chapters give us a context.

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