Tag Archives: Jean Paul

German Literature Month 2015 – wrap-up


German Literature Month in November was again an extremely interesting event, just like last year. The two unfatigable hosts Caroline (Beauty is a Sleeping Cat) and Lizzy (Lizzy’s Literary Life) once again created an event with plenty of opportunities to join in. In the end 44 bloggers had published 166 posts, mainly about fiction and poetry, but also including some featured articles and several non-fiction reviews.

Over the years, this event has become increasingly popular and the index on the website that links to all articles that were published in all editions of the German Literature Month has become a major resource for anyone who wants to get informed about German literature. Check it out, the variety of authors and opinions is truly amazing! (Thanks, Lizzy!)

Interestingly, the most reviewed author this year was Stefan Zweig (14 reviews of 12 works), followed by Schiller (10 posts related to Schiller’s works and books about Schiller). Goethe on the contrary was ignored by everybody – maybe we should include a Goethe week next year?

After several months of being not very active, this event has brought me back to blogging on a more regular basis. I discovered plenty of new books, got reminded of some others I should re-read again in the future and I also discovered a few book blogs which I hadn’t known before but will follow in the future. It was fun to read the comments and to comment myself sometimes. I read literally all reviews, but time restrictions prevented me so far to comment on all of them.  Just like last year  I thoroughly enjoyed this event, and just like last year, I won a giveaway, Ulrich Plenzdorf’s Werther novel which I will review one day of course. (Thanks, Caroline!)

This year, I published ten posts – compared to eight last year. Beside a featured anecdote about Jean Paul, nine of the posts were reviews:

Veza Canetti: The Tortoises

Thomas Kling: Collected Poems

Schilleriana (9 publications of Deutsche Schillergesellschaft)

Hans Magnus Enzensberger: New Selected Poems

Walther von der Vogelweide: Poems

Detlef Opitz: The Books Murderer

Jean Paul: The strange company at New Year’s Eve

Joseph Roth: Letters from Germany

Gertrud Kolmar: Poems

Several of the books I had intended to read for German Lit Month, I had to postpone for the time being, while others popped up in the last moment. I reviewed/presented more poetry than last years and a bit less prose by contemporary authors. Who knows what I will be up to next year?!

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-5. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Anecdotes about writers: an example


This blog post is part of the German Literature Month, hosted by Lizzie (Lizzies Literary Life) and Caroline (Beauty is a Sleeping Cat)

One of the by-products of my reading experiences is that I am collecting also anecdotes about writers. Good anecdotes can shed a light on certain aspects of the author’s life or work in a very concise, sometimes even funny way. As an example may the following anecdote serve.

1826, one year after the German author Jean Paul had died, the Morning Chronicle, an English newspaper, published an article The Mirror of Fashion from which I take the following quote:

“The works of JOHN PAUL RICHTER are almost uninteresting to any but Germans, and even to some of them. A worthy German, just before RICHTER’S death, edited a complete edition of his works, in which one particular passage puzzled him. Determined to have it explained at the source, he went to JOHN PAUL himself, and asked him what was the meaning of the mysterious passage. JOHN PAUL’S reply was very German and characteristic. “My good friend,” said he, “when I wrote that passage, God and I knew what it meant. It is possible that God knows it still; but as for me, I have totally forgotten.””

The last two sentences can be considered authentic. They definitely sound very much Jean Paul. (But of course I strongly disagree with the first sentence of the quote as you can easily guess when you read my previous short Jean Paul review.)

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-5. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

An early “Dying Earth” scenario


This blog post is part of the German Literature Month, hosted by Lizzie (Lizzies Literary Life) and Caroline (Beauty is a Sleeping Cat)

The narrator of this story, a man with a rich imagination, and prone to both bouts of migraine and frequent visions is walking up and down his study for hours. It is New Year’s Eve of 1799, the last day of the 18th century. The writer waits for the return of his wife who is out for a visit to a sick friend, promising that she will be back “still in this century.”

The last day of a year, and even more so the last day of a century is reason for contemplation, but our narrator has again a terrible migraine attack – and suddenly it happens:

after closing his eyes for a while and upon reopening them again he realizes that there is a group of five people, among them a little child in his room and he has no idea who they are or how they entered. The group’s appearance is rather odd, not so much frightening and a dialogue between the narrator and the group is developing that covers most of the story. This dialogue deals mainly with the prospectives for the future. The tone, partly serious, partly humorous keeps a kind of balance that makes us readers wonder what the author is up to. One of the narrator’s guests gets more and more excited and develops a truly apocalyptic scenario for the future that is the climax of this story:

“Es gibt einmal einen letzten Menschen – er wird auf einem Berg unter dem Äquator stehen und herabschauen auf die Wasser, welche die weite Erde überziehen – festes Eis glänzet an den Polen herauf der Mond und die Sonne hängen ausgebreitet und tief und nur blutig über der kleinen Erde, wie zwei trübe feindliche Augen oder Kometen – das aufgetürmte Gewölke strömet eilig durch den Himmel und stürzet sich ins Meer und fährt wieder empor, und nur der Blitz schwebt mit glühenden Flügeln zwischen Himmel und Meer und scheidet sie – Schau auf zum Himmel, letzter Mensch! Auf deiner Erde ist schon alles vergangen – deine großen Ströme ruhen aufgelöset im Meere.”

“There will one day be a last man – he will stand on a mountain under the Equator, and look down upon the waters which welter over the wide earth – firmly from the poles gleams upward the unchangeable ice – the moon and the sun hang broad and bloody over the little earth, like two eyes full of hate. For the earth’s spiral orbit has brought it nearer and nearer to the sun, and the moon’s spiral has enlarged the face with which it looks ever steadfastly toward our planet, and their strong attraction caused the oceans to roll together round the Equator – and then the whole atmosphere with its vapors rushes up from the poles after the water, and still as the attraction increases, a frightful flood of electric fluid pours and swells over all. The clouds, piled up in mountain-towers stream quickly across the sky, and plunge into the sea, and then rush upward again, while the lightning  on burning wings flashes from Heaven to the Ocean and cleaves them asunder. Look up to the Heaven, thou last man! All on thy earth has disappeared – all its rivers have been swallowed up in its sea.” (translation by J.F.C., The Western Messenger, November 1838) 

Believing that midnight is approaching, the uninvited guests are leaving – but it turns out that when the authors wife comes home from her visit it is one hour before midnight. Remarking her husband’s mood, the wife sings and plays on the piano one of his favourite tunes and the usual order of things is re-established. The vision was most probably something only imagined by her husband. 

This short story by Jean Paul Friedrich Richter – known in Germany as Jean Paul only – Die wunderbare Gesellschaft in der Neujahrsnacht (The strange company at New Year’s Eve) is rather typical for this remarkable and not well-known author who wrote in the traditions of Swift and Laurence Sterne and who had a tremendous influence on authors like Hoffmann, de Quincey (who wrote an essay about him) or Arno Schmidt and among the contemporary German authors I could mention Walter Kappacher and Ludwig Harig (who was by coincidence my teacher when I was a first grader) as examples of novelists that are writing in Jean Paul’s tradition.

The story from which I quoted is witty, well-written and despite the bleak quote very entertaining. And it is according to some SF experts most probably the first literary Dying Earth scenario ever published – and thus a kind of predecessor of a certain category of the Science Fiction genre.

Jean Paul lived most of his life in pre-Wagner Bayreuth, but he paid also longer visits to Weimar (Goethe and Schiller were rather distanced, partly because of literary reasons, partly because of the fact that Jean Paul, then a bachelor had several relationships with women which were considered a scandal; Wieland and Herder on the contrary liked him very much), and to Berlin – here he made friends with the Schlegel brothers, Schleiermacher, Fichte, and other important intellectuals.

Jean Paul is a great master of the German language; and he is also a master of the digression – his novels are usually very long because he is a true follower of Laurence Sterne here.

Who wants to discover this literary giant who was standing between Classicism and Romanticism can start with this rather short work that inspired also many famous illustrators (I have a beautiful edition with sketches by Alfred Kubin.). Unfortunately it seems that there is no collection of stories on the market that contains this story in English translation. Why, dear publishers?

A book I can heartily recommend for those with an interest in Jean Paul is Günter de Bruyn’s biography Das Leben des Jean Paul Friedrich Richter (The Life of Jean Paul Frederick Richter), a beautiful dedication by the novelist de Bruyn to his literary ancestor Jean Paul.  I fell a bit under the spell of Jean Paul after I had read this well-researched and brilliantly written book.

A translation of this book and a recent good edition of Jean Paul’s shorter works in English is missing – but who knows, maybe a publisher is already working on it. That would be a great pleasure!


Jean Paul: Die wunderbare Gesellschaft in der Neujahrsnacht, dtv, München 1979, ill. by Alfred Kubin

de Bruyn

Günter de Bruyn: Das Leben des Jean Paul Friedrich Richter, S. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-5. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Last Days of Immanuel Kant

Thomas De Quincey who wrote arguably the best English prose of the 19th century is known nowadays mainly for his “Confessions of an English Opium-Eater”. But this author that had so manifold interests was writing also about philosophy, history, archaeology, theology, and economics, authored an essay  “On Murder considered as one of the Fine Arts” and a series of articles “Gallery of the German Prose Classics”, in which he presented among others Jean Paul for the first time to an English-speaking public. Another skillful article of this series is on “The Last Days of Immanuel Kant”. This essay was republished in Italy and Germany a few years ago in a nice little volume together with an instructive preface by Giorgio Manganelli and other material. (I read it in the German version, by Matthes & Seitz publishers)

De Quincey who was very interested in German literature and philosophy, started about 20 years after Kant’s death to collect all surviving reports and information related to Kant’s last phase of life. At that time, Kant’s philosophy was not yet very well known outside the German-speaking countries, since he had published almost everything he wrote in German, a language that had until then no tradition as a language of science and that was therefore not very well known in academic circles outside the German-speaking countries. (Leibniz had still published exclusively in Latin or French)

The Kant we meet in De Quincey’s essay – and that is based mainly on the work “Kant in seinen letzten Lebensjahren” (Kant in the last years of his life) of Kant’s pupil and administrator of his household during the last years of his life, Ehrengott Andreas Wasianski – is at the beginning a man at the height of its intellectual abilities and health, a man whose meticulously regulated everyday routine was legendary already at his time, but also a man that liked to socialize at his lunch table with other men from diverse backgrounds.

Kant, who skipped all meals except lunch also invited young people to his table and was thanks to the diverse and ever-changing participants of these meals a man who was always very well-informed about any sphere of life that was interesting to him – and he was a person with a very wide range of interests and a great curiosity. The lunch was taken in a rather informal manner that kept everyone at ease and all participants helped themselves to refill their wine glasses on their own as frequently as they wished. (Women were not admitted at these occasions.) De Quincey’s Kant is a charming and witty host who knows always how to refuel an interesting debate and keep the relaxed but always focused discussions going.

We get to know Kant as a very modest person that secretly took a great interest in the fate of his former students and who used a big part of his income to help poor relatives or other people in need. Altogether we meet a very kind and attractive personality here. But also someone that shows us in some moments that the permanent working on philosophical theories and the publication and revision of his own works and the works of others took a toll on him. Some of Kant’s actions show us that he was not free of some “tics” that were maybe still harmless, but already bordering the pathological. Kant kept himself very busy to invent an extremely complicated device that would keep his socks in place without having a negative impact on his blood circulation and he could only work properly when he was sitting in his study and could see the tip of a nearby tower. When after some years, some trees in a neighbor’s garden had grown so much that Kant had difficulties to see the tower, he was suffering a major crisis and writer’s block – that ended swiftly after his friendly neighbor agreed to cut the tree tops that had such a negative impact on Professor Kant’s creativity.

During the last years in the life of the philosopher, symptoms of physical and mental decline are getting evident, first in a hidden form, then more and more open. Wasianski, since years part of Kant’s household, is the first to remark it: his master is telling the same stories several times on the same day without remembering the fact that he already told them before, his short-term memory is getting worse and worse and the notes he starts to make for these cases, he is losing regularly. The philosopher who is slowly drifting toward dementia is aware of this process and it is very touching to see the slow extinction of this great mind. His arguing with the servants – so untypical for him, but a result of his growing inability to make himself understood properly – his declining interest in the lunch conversations, finally his inability to read or to write his own name – there is not a single painful symptom that De Quincey (and his source Wasianski) spares the reader. We readers of the 21th century may be grateful for the fact that Kant was not bothered very much by his contemporaries and mostly left alone in his suffering. In our times, knowing almost no privacy anymore, we can be almost sure that sensationalist reports about his health and state of mind would be reported in the voyeuristic media on a daily basis, if he would be our contemporary. A kind fate saved Kant (despite Wasianski) at least from these experiences.

The last pages of the essay have something agonizing: every time the reader thinks (and hopes it for Kant’s sake) that it is all over now, a further deterioration is happening, until the poor man can finally die. His wish, voiced in one of his last clear moments before the end, to be kissed one last time by his sister and the loyal Wasianski, is touching even for the cool Englishman De Quincey (who makes it very clear in his meandering annotations that he usually finds the over-exaggerated display of feelings he remarks frequently among Germans as being not appropriate and a sign of weakness – Kant, the descendant of a Scotsman was more to De Quincey’s liking also because he usually abstained from such “French” habits).

Leaving the fact aside that it is always a great pleasure to read the prose of such a master as De Quincey, we learn in this essay a lot about the man Kant (not so much about his philosophy), things that are usually not very well known. But beside from that this essay is particularly moving because we all know that one way or the other we will not evade from the topic ‘dementia’ during our own lifetime – either because we might suffer it ourselves in the future or because someone close to us is spending the last part of his or her journey to the end of night with this diagnosis. That even a great mind like Kant was no exception to this is deeply disturbing but in a strange way also comforting. We cannot run away from our own fate, we can just use the bit of time we have in the best possible way. In this respect Kant set a good example for all of us.

Die letzten Tage des Immanuel Kant

Thomas de Quincey: The Last Days of Immanuel Kant – Die letzten Tage des Immanuel Kant
Aus dem Englischen übersetzt und herausgegeben von Cornelia Langendorf. Mit Beiträgen von Fleur Jaeggy, Giorgio Manganelli und Albert Caraco, Matthes & Seitz

Other interesting reviews:
Justin Erik Halldor Smith


© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.