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Monday, January 30, 2006

A Genius of Clarity - Friedrich Schiller


(This was an article I had posted elsewhere that has ceased to exist. So just updating my web-presence with this and some other articles from past. Upon approaching the 200th anniversary of Schiller...)

Friedrich Schiller - the flamboyant heart and soul of German Literature!
Well, there was this article in Der Spiegel of 18th Oct. 2004. The title is as above. It's about Schiller and is about time we started taking stock of this flamboyant contemporary of Goethe. It's such a sin that we need to know of Schiller today in the context of Goethe, made an iconoclaustic better-known of the former's times. And I love the way Ruediger Safranski (59), a Schiller Biographer goes about how Schiller has been underestimated as a poet, dramatist, writer and most of all philosopher. He is the Poet as Philosopher.
Schiller, for the lay-men/women to German Literature, was a writer very popular in his time (aren't all geniuses and recognised writers so?). Today unfortunately Schiller is known more as a contemporary of Goethe and as a man mostly known to contemporary international audience through his stage plays such as Die Räuber (The Robbers) and Don Carlos. It doesn't say all. The man himself and his personality and his women and the sleaze that sorrounded him and his casual attitude to everything makes him more fascinating (why does an artist's sordid life attract people more than art itself? Remember Mozart? Monroe? Wilde? Oh, all you artist- and art-tits lovers, do you hear me?) and is made of stuff that makes biographies worth writing.
The first time we come to know of Schiller... So goes Volker Hage in his cover story on Schiller ('course am juicing it up a bit): "The first audience had come already about 1 pm to the theatre. They were told they were to wait for a Genius whose genius is much talked about and raved and touted about in Mannheim and the sorrounding art-circles. The 22 year old author, who was all the same at that time travelling from Stuttgart with his friend, just ran into a very buxom serving-lady of a tavern, whose company assumed more importance that he stayed behind in preference to a Performance that was supposed to start at 5 pm and expected to run for 5 hrs." What do we say? what do we assume?
And on 13 January 1782, his The Robbers opened. There was total chaos and the world broke loose and the foyer and balconies were straight out of Hell upon inhabitation by all the Fallen Angels floating about in the Phosporous Sea after being chucked out by God! The Myth has it so! The theatre was like a madhouse - rolling eyes, fiery faces, rolled fists, stamping feet, crescendoing cries of disgust in the audience area... That was Schiller's entry into the world of Theatre. Now, how dare one calls him Goethe's contemporary. Goethe never incited people to set fire... he may have set a few more hearts a-fire. But Schiller was better with his women as well! Schiller was a veritable Dantonian figure... the type of hero in real life that Büchner would have loved to immortalise.
But getting back to the Poet as a Philosopher... Schiller's idealism is all about how one continues to live longer through his power to impress, than through one's physical life on earth. Schiller achieves this through his capability to be playful with what he calls as 'perishable material'. How does one take inane stuff and make eternity out of it? To rephrase and vice-versa a statement by a Neil Simon character, the trick is in making a Goose-liver paté out of a Hero-sandwich. Consequently, we understand that we all do go down, but how much one extracts from life - without being competitive and getting motivation from outside, out of winning, doing everything to the best of enjoyment - well, Schiller's success as a writer comes from this. Is there a better ground-zero philosophy possible? Hegel and Fichte and Hölderlin held him in awe. He is compared with Sartre. Not that he needs a Sartre to compare against. But his existentialism smacked of the quintessential Sartrian hero who takes things by their balls and owns up the responsibility of success or failure thereof! And a man who explored (ask Safranski please!) more areas - poetry, literature, art, philosophy, politics and history... well what about science! - than Goethe ever did. Oh yes, he came very handy for some of the 19th century political movements, not to mention radicals, to quote from. How about this: his 100th birthday was celebrated as a national event in Germany by BOTH the Liberals and the commoners. He belonged to all. That probably was his weakness... exposing and keeping himself fundamentally accessible to all and sundry. He could never be a Goethe you see, elitism was not in him! Am I eulogising him? You bet, if you don't believe what am saying, listen to the man himself: "A Person is a whole person only where he plays." Like his Marquis Posa says, "Sire, give Freedom of Thought". Well, therein lies the core of a writer, the Might of the Word as against the Words of the Mighty!
We are around the bend at marking his 200th death anniversary. For a detailed celebration of this genius of freedom, hang in there till 9th May 2005. Oh, shall provide a timeline of his life, shortly. Until then... Vive la Freedom!

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