Departure and return in Friedrich Hölderlin's Hyperion oder der eremit in Griechenenland
Let's begin at the beginning: Es gieht zwei Ideale unseres Daseyns: einen Zustand der höchsten Einfalt. wo unsre Bedürfnisse mit sich selbst, und mit unseren Kräften, und mit allem, womit wir in Verbindung stehen, durch die bloße Organisation der Natur, ohne unser Zuthun, gegenseitig zusammenstimmen, und einen Zustand der höchsten Bildung, wo dasselbe statt finden wiirde bey unendlich vervielfältigten und versärkten Bedürfnissen und Kräften durch die Organisation, die wir uns selbst zu geben im Stande sind. These are the first published words of Hölderlin's Hyperion-Project towards a novel set in the ruins of classical Greece, to which he first alluded in 1792. They preface the 'Fragment von Hyperion' which appeared in Schiller's journal Neuer Thalia in November 1794. It is a beautiful thing to trace how the Hyperion text blooms through various versions into the final novel Hyperion oder der Eremit in Griechenland (2 volumes, 1797-99), gaining in vivacity and colour from lderlin's rather more abstract early formulations. At the same time many of the major themes of Hyperion resound through all the versions, and are represented clearly in the 'Fragment' as well as the so-called 'metrische Fassung' and 'Hyperions Jugend'. The model of two ideals Hölderlin proposes in this first paragraph suggests both a departure from the original "Zustand der höchsten Einfalt" and a progressive return towards the "Zustand der höchsten Bildung ". Between these ideaIs lies thus an elliptical journey. which Hölderlin goes on to characterize as the "exzentrische Bahn". The origins of this term have heen extensively discussed. What intrigues me here is the rnodel of departure and return itself. On the one hand, the Eighteenth Century in Europe experienced itself as an age of departure. Enlightenrnent reason had freed humanity from the tyranny of medieval thought and pointed it towards self-legislative maturity: the method of science had opened up new horizons of discovery in the world at large. From the coasts of western Europe, adventurous spirits departed for some region or other of the new world. However, as the new; brash optimisrn of the European mood conquered all without, it seerned to crumple from within. Dissenting voices at home questioned the Enlightentnent project and hinted darkly that something was rotten in the modern edifice of reason. For every departure, there tnust be a return. Rousseau's somewhat shrill cries for a return to nature are well-known, but an uneasiness ahout the suitability of reason to replace faith was widespread. and manifested itself in subtle ways. In his Über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen ( 1795) Hölderlin's sometime mentor Schiller argued thnt the individual's reliance on reason must be tempered with a cultivation of feeling and a receptivity to the outer world. These forces could best be harmonized in the aesthetic. lt is of course the early romantic writers who best evoke the spectre of return, which is often associated with reactionary political forces. Novalis gave some idea of what he meant by his aphorism Die Welt muß romantisirt werden. So findet man den snspt. [ünglichen] Sinn wieder. in his essay 'Die Christenheit oder Europa' of 1799. He here write's wistfully of a return to the perceived unity of belief and intuition of the Christian rniddle ages. The nostalgic irnage of medieval Europe which permeated so much romantic art at times displayed a distrust of reason and a desire to return to the overtly hierarchical values of yesteryear, and as such shared some aspects of what L. Jordanova has termed the "authoritarian response" to the Enlightenment. Friedrich Schlegel found Novalis' essay unsuitable for printing in his journal Athenaeum, though he too recognized the need for some kind of mythology or system of belief in European civilisation. Like Schiller, he turns to the aesthetic when discussing this need. Schlegel's famous definition of mental activity in terms of departure and return in his 'Rede über die Mythologie' (1800) echoes to a striking degree one of Hölderlin's formulations in Hyperion three years earlier: Wie es das Wesen des Geistes ist, sich selbst zu bestimmen und im ewigen Wechsel aus sich heraus zu gehen und in sich zurückzukehren ... Bestehet ja das Leben der Welt im Wechsel des Entfaltens und Versehließens. in Ausflug und in Rükkehr zu sich selbst, warum nicht auch das Herz des Menschen? Significantly. these passages do not evoke a return to some kind of hierarchical order, but rather a return of the experiencing subject into itself. So departure and return, while meaning different things to different people, are prevalent categories in the thought of the German lands in the late Eighteenth Century. As a dialectic they echo the discrepancy between Europe's material outer confidence and almost secret inner uncertainty about the direction civilisation seemed to be taking. The Enlightenment step out of the medieval mind-set typified in Kant occasioned both empirical progress and a powerful urge to return to more intuitive, organic relation between self and world. The problematic of departure and return, which Hölderlin had conjured in the very first paragraph of his Hyperion Project, remained with it both thematically and formally into the final version.