Friday, March 13, 2009

Your starter for ten

How many of us when watching University Challenge (non Brits - it's a quiz knock-out show for university students) and hearing a question about famous German* philosophers or writers know that the answer is going to be either Wittgenstein, Kant or Goethe? Do any of us know anything about these people? Do most of us even care? ...

I've been learning quite a lot about Goethe over the last week or so and what I have learnt is making Lord Byron wobble a bit upon the pedestal on which I have placed him. Okay, Lord B (or George Gordon, to use his proper name) was dashing and exciting but Goethe had so much going for him it is no wonder that his name has a real aura of intellectual superiority around it.

Here is my Goethe for Dummies

In Weimar he was:

  • president of the war commission
  • director of roads and services
  • a theatre director (his stagings for Mozart's operas are still used today)
  • the discoverer 0f the intermaxillary bone in the human jaw (os intermaxillare)
  • a writer of published papers in the field of optics, geology, archaelogy, engineering and economics.
  • a collector of 18,000 stones at the institute of mineralogy
  • a collector of art, numbering 26,500 works in his possession
  • a botanist
  • involved with Montgolfier's attempts at balloon flight
  • involved with construction of the Panama Canal
  • fluent in Greek, Latin, Hebrew, English, French, Spanish and Italian
  • the writer of one of the most marvellous pieces I have ever read - namely, Faust.
There are many things that made this man totally incredible, not just for his time but forever. It is not historical hyperbole that I am reading here - I have a book of primary texts about him, written by those in the know at the time.

George Gordon, you've got Johann Wolfgang Goethe trying to displace you in my affections.

*Okay, I know Weimar was technically not part of Germany at the time - which was actually made up of around 400 separate states. It's nothing to do with present-day Germany.


Dumdad said...

That Goethe fellow, him cleverclogs.

In University Challenge, whenever there's a quotation and I don't know the answer I shout out George Bernard Shaw or Oscar Wilde. It's usually one of them.

Anonymous said...

Crikey! I bet that kept him busy,


French Fancy said...

Dumdad - I bet you're like me; lots of wild guesses that turn out surprisingly to be right. I love that programme, one of the few that I do turn the English tv on for.

NWBD - a Stevie fan I see. Hello there - you can imagine it, a crowd of people planning something saying ' let's not tell old Goethe we're doing this; he'll only want to get involved'

French Fancy said...

ps. to Dumdad with his sub-editor hat on - of course I realise I should not have ended my sentence with *for*. Why is there no edit button on Comments yet?

Mama said...

Hello FF, you do find the most interesting of people this bloke sounds very clever and quite a handsome chap.

The only reason I watched UC was to drool over Mr Paxman and I used to love to repeat the name Bamber Gascoigne. I did get one question right once though.

Hope your studies are going well, I have missed your posts a great deal, hugs, Kathy.

French Fancy said...

The name Bamber Gascoigne is one of the best names evah! I do like Paxman though - I like his put downs, but would not want to be on the end of one.

marc aurel said...

we should definitely have comment edit and, for me, spell check. Today I realised several typo's on an old comment, copied it, corrected it, reposted it and deleted the first one, but then blogger tells my reader that I deleted something, which looks like those war letters with whole sentences blacked out by the censors. It seems to me that blogger changes all the things that are working just fine and ignores our real requirements. Well, I guess they are just gearing up for the time when we are compelled to carry advertising for them. Shudder.

LadyFi said...

Wow - was there anything Goethe couldn't do?

And was he as good-looking as Lord B? (Yes - I know how to cut to the heart of the matter...)

Blu said...

Well his picture looks attractive, so apart from being a clever chap, he probably oozed charm too. Ding Dong!!

Blu said...

PS...Bugga I now have that stupid UChallenge music rattling around my brain box!

Reasons to be Cheerful 1,2,3 said...

Thank you for this, it looks very interesting. I am going to return and read it later, slowly and digest it properly when I have more time. I do like 'dummies' guides.

Larry M. Brow said...

Spell Czech is knot (always) yore friend, though sum mite wish it sew.

Reading things aloud doesn't always work, either.

I'll bet Goethe never changed a diaper, nor did the laundry, nor tidied up after the dog.

Larry M. Brow said...

Or is that, "Reading things allowed doesn't all ways work, either"?

A Woman Of No Importance said...

FF, he was a star, and very romantic like Byron, but maybe not quite as barking!

You can still visit Goethe's house in Frankfurt; It is an oasis of renaissance calm and beauty in a very cosmopolitan city. Mind you, it's a reconstruction, as only the bottom step of the staircase remained after the Allies' bombing of the city during the Second World War...

Glad you're enjoying learning more about that heady period of Sturm und Drang! x

Dumdad said...

French Fancy,

Don't worry about hanging prepositions - Winston Churchill didn't. He famously said:

"Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put."

Anonymous said...

Isn't it all wonderful? I'm wondering if you have a Darcy complex, as do I...they all have dark curly hair, denoting romance, high white forheads :intelligence and long elegant hands: mmmmm!

French Fancy said...

marc - I don't know why Blogger don't charge us all an annual fee. I would. I'd even happily pay say $10 per annum for the pleasure of having my blog here - they'd make a fortune

Ladyfi - he looks pretty good in the picture there. I've only put about 25% of the things he used to do - the man was astonishing, easily Da Vinci's rival in the sheer range of his abilities

Larry - The hands of Goethe clearing up dog poo or doing the washing up - unthinkable sir!

AWONI - Wasn't it a heady period then. I had no idea it was the Germans that began all that Romantic lark. Up till then things were all pro-Enlightenment

Blu - he had it all I think, lucky fellow.

RTBC - This has been my best month yet with this year's OU course. Much better than last month's Humphry Davy segment

Dumdad - if I'd been a sub-editor bad punctuation and grammar would make me very cross. I sometimes have to think twice these days about the English word for something.

Moannie - I think you've hit the proverbial nail on the head. Maybe it's the clothes? The intellect? Their savoir faire?
(although I've got a modern-day version living with me)

Henry the Dog's Mum said...

UHugh and I love UC. We aim to get 10 questions right each time and we generally get there - ha ha! But rarely over that. Just goes to show what dummies we are. This is what blogging should be about from time to time - imparting fabulously interesting info. I thought I knew nothing at all about this guy, and yet when I read your blog I realised that, actually, I did. xxx

Steve said...

Swoon! What a guy! I may even attempt to live my life in emulation of him... starting with sitting with my hand placed mysteriously inside my jacket like I'm flicking through some tracks on my iPod...!

nikkicrumpet said...

My hubby would know this stuff...he sucks it in like a I'm not so into it. I figure one history brain in the family is enough!

Laura said...

I love that it seems so much easier to know the answers while sitting on my couch at home. What it must be like to be on stage with all of that pressure. I love your history lesson. Thank you luv!

david mcmahon said...

Goethe was part of my teenage years. Thank you for reminding me of a wonderful educational experience.

Anonymous said...

George Gordon was much sexier than Goethe, however.

French Fancy said...

Henry - yes, we both shout out our answers at the screen during OU. My course has helped me know the answers to a lot more questions and I'd positively love to appear (if anyone called my bluff I'd run away).

Steve- yep, these old portraits do make one laugh. I wonder how they got the artist to flatter them - maybe coins of gold did the trick.

nikki - yep, one good brain between two is a perfect match. You can borrow it then on alternate days

Laura - some of the maths and science questions leave me almost open-mouthed, especially the thinking on the spot maths ones.

david - reading Goethe as a teenager? Wow, you were advanced. I should have realised though.

Dedene - you reckon? I recently joined the Byron Society and there is someone on there who 'is in love with' (her words) with Polidori - Byron's doctor and apparently his onetime lover. Yes, our George swung both ways.

Stone said...

Errmmm...why are you referring to the Weimar Republic?

Goethe has nothing to do with the Weimarer Republic (1918-1933).
He died in Weimar though :)

claire p said...

I now know something I didn't know this morning, always a good thing I think.

Cynthia said...

When I think of all that broad-based and innovative knowledge that 'thinkers' of old had- there "Goethe" my head. (Sorry!)

Those intellects were overwhelming in their general and specific competence. Imagine one the the historic greats in our contemporary university about OU? Would their insight be rewarded? Would they get points for going deeply off topic...but in an exceptionally skilled manner?

Times have changed, Ms. French Fancy! Thank you for your visits to Oasis...everything is fine and I'm back into the routine of life. <3

French Fancy said...

Stone - Isn't it lucky it's not a history question that I'll be working on then. I have a book on the Weimar Republic and I just think of Weimar as a republic - like bread and water/weimar and republic.

thanks for putting me straight on the matter :)

Clairep - and I've learnt something too - that I should have read the section about Weimar in my Goethe guide, and not just skipped to the bit about his life and his work

Cynthia - welcome back. It is staggering what breadth of knowledge some of these people had.

Stone said...

:-) LOL...bread and water...sounds like *prison food* ;)

Well, the Weimar Republic was a REALLY good republic...unfortunately for us, it was very short-lived...:(

I once saw a very funny version of Goethe's *Faust* in 'Hessisch'...the dialect that is spoken in his native Frankfurt...hilarious to say the least!

French Fancy said...

Stone - I've been reading today about the different translations of Faust and all I've got to say on the matter is how lucky you are to be able to read this masterpiece in the original language. It seems with every different translator there is a differing emphasis - the Open University has used the translation that is supposed to actually get the nuances and rhythm of the German language (the one by Robert Macdonald)

French Fancy said...

I've just seen a good précis of part one of Faust on the OU students forum:

Pact with devil's agent
He becomes a monkey on Faust's back
Fancies a woman - gets her
Kills her mum by mistake
Then some other bloke (not in extract we read) also by mistake
Gets her preggy
She commits infanticide
Decides it's love not lust but she is too religious to escape
Whoosh - chop - end of part one.

bindu said...

I haven't seen this show. Sounds interesting.

Stone said...

***It seems with every different translator there is a differing emphasis***

Translating is a form of's the most difficult thing to do...I know what I'm talking about - I worked as a translator for a few years.
You have to "re-write" the have to be a writer yourself in a way.
I have the UTMOST respect for good translators and good translations (some are very very that translation of the "Gold Bug" into German)...
Every translation is an interpretation, you're perfectly right.

"Habe nun, ach! Philosophie,
Juristerei und Medizin,
Und leider auch Theologie!
Durchaus studiert, mit heißem Bemüh'n.
Da steh ich nun, ich armer Tor!
Und bin so klug als wie zuvor;
Heiße Magister, heiße Doktor gar,
Und ziehe schon an die zehen Jahr
Herauf, herab und quer und krumm
Meine Schüler an der Nase herum -
Und sehe, dass wir nichts wissen können!
Das will mir schier das Herz verbrennen."

This is from my memory...we had to learn this part by heart LOL...20 years ago or so.

It's about the fact that we know very little to nothing, despite all our studies and degrees...
I guess Mr. Goethe is right :-)

lakeviewer said...

Yes. This is rich. What a wonderful way for us to peak at your study guides and learn without the bother of going to the library.

I checked out the book; that's all. I'm unable to stay focused, sleeping when I'm supposed to be alert, and....You get the picture. This excuse will be good for a couple more weeks; at which point I will have to start physical therapy and the attendant housekeeping chores.

Cooking and cleaning and shopping are still distant memories until my bursitis is under control.

French Fancy said...

bindu - you either love the show and try and answer the questions from the armchair or dismiss them all as a lot of clever show-offs.

Stone - I think you'd approve of MacDonald who is the translator of the course book. He was awarded the Goethe Medal for Services to German Literature.

in his own words

* English is comparatively poverty-stricken in feminine terminations, compared with the more heavily-inflected Slavonic andTeutonic languages, let alone much can we afford to lose precision of thought to the advantage of fidelity to form. These things are bound to be a matter of personal taste, and in this version I have preferred to keep the meaning clear, since it was designed to be heard rather than read, at the cost of committing what seemed to me more venial sins against prosody.*

lakeviewer - yes, you need to regain full strength and health before enjoying this marvellous work again. Let's hope it will be a quick recovery for you.

French Fancy said...

Stone - and anyone who is interested - here's an example of what to me is easily a rival to Byron's use of form and meaning

St John:'In the Beginning was the Word'
Can words be as powerful as here inferred?
Words are by Intelligence designed;
it must mean - In the Beginning was the Mind.
No! Mind or Thought alone are not the source
of Life. In the Beginning was the Force.
But even as I say it, I'm aware it's not enough to leave the matter there,
At last! The spirit gives me the exact
translation: In the Beginning was the Act.*

(the layout is more squashed up in this little box - not so in my book)

9:34 AM

Lulu LaBonne said...

That's very interesting, I learned some new things

It did make me think of that story about the Irishman who went for a job as a builder and the foreman asked him if he knew the difference between a joist and a girder

The Irishman was indignant of course I dohe retorted
Joist's the one that wrote Ulysses the other fella wrote Faust

Stone said...


Troy said...

You are all so intellectual on here. There was I wondering whether he had actually initially collected 18,003 stones and then just randomly thrown 3 of them away.

French Fancy said...

Lulu - love it! I never remember jokes

Stone - it's a good joke - in any language

Troy - nah, not intellectual, just curious. Pass it on Hector, pass it on

(how would you even check that there were in fact 18,000- what if someone had nicked one)

The Dotterel said...

I hope Wittgenstein's next. Did you know he once took a poker to Karl Popper?

Henry the Dog's Mum said...

FFancy - nothing to do with Goethe but I just thought I'd let you know that I've ordered The Wire Season 2. I loved Season 1. The best 'detective' type series I've ever seen. I love it. UHugh and I are totally addicted and I'm really excited because a lot of reviews say that Season 2 is better than Season 1. So thank you for telling us about it through your blog:)

French Fancy said...

The Dotterel - I know absolutely nowt about Wittgenstein - couldn't even hazard a guess with an OU question

Henry's mum - oh I am so glad. It's always a bit of a responsibility recommending something one loves so much. I saw 'Stringer Bell' in that No 1 Detective Agency repeat on BBC 4 on Sunday - he always seems to play the baddie. What a fantastic actor he is.

We go to the docks for the next series, but still pop in quite often to the 'Projects'.

Jennysmith said...

Sorry i haven't been on , sweetie. What a lovely intellectual post. Oh Lordy I though Goeth was a prominent Nazi officer! How ignorant is that!!!

love xxxxx

Stone said...

That would be "Ammon Goeth" (Schindler's List?). Johann Wolfgang Goethe is somebody entirely different :)

cheshire wife said...

How did he find the time for all of that? No TV or computers I suppose.

lakeviewer said...

FF. I love what you said about translation and using words to fit precisely.
The example from the Bible, "In the beginning was the word..."

is a beautiful study of word choice and epistemology.

GReat post.

Phil Lowe said...

What a lot of comments. Goethe would have been proud.I would be grateful just to have one of his talents.Multi-lingual - yep that'll do thanks.

Years ago I had a bash at learning basic German and my teacher pulled me up for pronouncing Goethe's name wrong. Instead of Gurter my Derby boy accent called him Gowth. How embarrasing fur mich.

Very interesting blog my friend.

French Fancy said...

Jen - in my book ignorance is not a bad thing at all. It was ignorance that prompted me to begin my OU-ing. Now my curiousity seems to grow all the time.

Stone - thank you my new bloggy friend

cheshire wife - Mr FF said in a dry tone 'well he obviously didn't do them all at the same time' - which is probably true and makes it less unbearable that someone should be so talented

lakeviewer - I'd love to take credit for phrasing things in such an apt fashion but it was MacDonald's(the translator) words, in the preface of the book. Apparently he is the top dog of the translation world.

Phil- yes, I'd pick the linguistic skills he has as opposed to running the road network or being skilled at anatomy.

Re the pronunciation, I think there are many many people who do not know how to pronounce his name. (but then look at the way Van Gogh is sometimes pronounced)

Bess Tester said...

I've never heard of this writer - too busy reading medical journals I suppose

Stone said...

My last name sounds a bit like *Goethe* LOL...the secretaries in France kept calling me *Madame Goeth* ...I guess I should have been flattered :)

French Fancy said...

Bess - put down the Lancet and pick up Faust.Scrub up first though.

Stone - how do the French pronounce Goethe?