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Friedrich Hölderlin’s Die Bedeutung Der Tragödien: Paradox as the Foundation of Tragedy

David Alvarado-Archila
p. 29-42

Abstract

In this article, I aim to demonstrate that in Die Bedeutung der Tragödien Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843) takes distance from the Aristotelian interpretation of Tragedy. In this fragment, the poet suggests this literary genre should be understood on the bases of the notion of paradox and on how this concept relates to the tragic hero. In order to prove this, I first clarify what the German poet means when he proposes paradox as the easiest way to understand Tragedy. Second, I highlight the correlations between the assertions of this text and Hölderlin’s former stances about Tragedy in the Grund zum Empedokles, the Anmerkungen zum Oedipus and the Anmerkungen zur Antigonä. Finally, I argue that the approach regarding paradox is evidence of the distance Hölderlin took from the Aristotelian definition of Tragedy as mimesis of an action.

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  • 1 All references to Hölderlin’s texts come from the Müncher Ausgabe, which was edited by Michael Knau (...)

1Friedrich Hölderlin’s theoretical texts comprise reviews, letters and essays regarding the interpretation of a specific concept or character, as well as the relationship between the epic, the lyric and the tragic genres1. But they also included fragments considered by the editors of Hölderlin’s work as poetologische Entwürfe, i. e., drafts in which the poet reflects on his own poetic conception.

2Among these theoretical fragments, one can find the text Die Bedeutung der Tragödien [The Meaning of Tragedies], in which Hölderlin makes a comment about the easiest way to understand Tragedy. The text is written in the form of a paragraph, and it contains the following five assertions:

  • 2 Hölderlin 2019: II, 114 (the Engl. transl. and the numbers within brackets are mine). “Die Bedeutun (...)

3[1] The meaning of Tragedies is most easily understood by way of paradox. [2] For everything that is an origin, because all capacity is just and equal, appears not in its original strength, but, in fact, only in its weakness, so that the light of life and the appearance of weakness belong, quite properly, to every whole. [3] Now, in the tragic, the sign is, in itself, insignificant, ineffective, but the originator is unreserved. [4] Indeed, the originator can appear only in its weakness; yet, inasmuch as the sign in itself is established as insignificant = 0, the originator, the hidden ground of every nature, can also present itself. [5] Actually, if nature presents itself in its weakest gift, then the sign, when it presents itself in the strongest gift of nature, is = 0 2.

  • 3 Beissner 1961: 4,2, 785.
  • 4 Binder 1977: 82. Although he falsely claims that, for Hölderlin, it is not Tragedy, but lyric and e (...)
  • 5 Szondi 2011: I, 162-163.
  • 6 Mögel 1994: 79.

4Regarding the date in which this paragraph was written, the text has been analyzed as part of the theoretical fragments composed by the poet during his stay in Homburg between 1798 and 1800, when he was also working on the play Der Tod des Empedokles [The Death of Empedocles] and on the theoretical remarks about this Tragedy. This is the interpretation of Beissner3, Binder4, and Peter Szondi, who asserts that the concept of Nature and its opposition to mankind are essential to understanding this text5. Ernst Mögel’s perspective is similar6: he considers the fragment as an aphorism and asserts that it is possible to date it at the end of the 1790’s decade, due to a conceptual similarity between the content of the fragment and part of a letter that Hölderlin sent to his brother on November 28, 1798.

  • 7 Kreuzer 2020: 129.
  • 8 Knaupp 2019: 402.
  • 9 Schmidt & Grätz 1994: 1252.

5From a different perspective, there are commentators and editors who believe that this text is an early sketch of the introduction to Hölderlin’s translations of the tragedies of Sophocles, an introduction that Hölderlin mentioned in the letter to his editor Williams on December 8, 1803. According to this perspective, Hölderlin would have written the fragment around 1802, a hypothesis that is supported by Hölderlin’s use of the word Lebenslicht [light of life] in the second sentence. In addition, the German poet also uses this concept in a letter to Böhlendorf from November 1802 and in a variant of the elegy Brod und Wein [Bread and Wine]. This approach is supported by Johann Kreuzer7, Michael Knaupp8 and other editors, such as Jochen Schmidt and Katharina Grätz9, who agree with this late dating and highlight the cryptic style in which the poet wrote the fragment.

  • 10 Lemke 2002: 62.

6However, this late dating does not necessarily mean that the fragment only relates to Hölderlin’s translations of Sophocles. On the contrary, despite the discussion about the year in which Hölderlin drew up this fragment, the text can be seen as an essential part of Hölderlin’s theoretical reflection about Tragedy. In fact, as Anja Lemke asserts, it can be seen as evidence of Hölderlin’s continuous reflection on this subject. Hence, it can be related to the assertions about Tragedy that the poet made during the composition of Der Tod des Empedokles, as well as to the theoretical reflection about Sophocles’ plays10.

  • 11 In this text, I analyze the concept of paradox in relationship with Hölderlin’s notion of Tragedy. (...)

7Regarding the content of the text, this fragment can be read by asking if Hölderlin’s proposal evidences an Aristotelian interpretation of Tragedy. In this article, I propose reading the fragment as a draft, in which Hölderlin not only condenses his former stances about this literary genre, but also prescribes a way to comprehend Tragedy centered on the notion of paradox and the tragic hero rather than on the mimesis of an action. In other words, I aim to demonstrate that this fragment contains evidence of the distance Hölderlin took from the Aristotelian definition of the tragic genre11.

8In order to do this, I will analyze the fragment, pointing out the correlations between the assertions of this text and Hölderlin’s stances about Tragedy in the Grund zum Empedokles [Ground for Empedocles], the Anmerkungen zum Oedipus [Remarks on Oedipus] and the Anmerkungen zur Antigonä [Remarks on Antigone]. By doing so, I will demonstrate that, for Hölderlin, the notion of Paradoxon [paradox] in the fragment implies a fundamental role of the tragic hero.

9When analyzing the first sentence of the fragment, it is necessary to reflect on the concept Paradoxon, as well as on the use of the superlative am leichtesten (which I translate as most easily) within Hölderlin’s prescription for understanding Tragedy. Hölderlin does not provide a definition of the term Paradoxon. Nevertheless, it is possible to find some examples of it in his remarks to Sophocles’ plays.

  • 12 Hölderlin 2019: II, 311 (Engl. transl. Hölderlin 2009: 319). “Die Verständlichkeit des Ganzen beruh (...)
  • 13 Ibidem. (Engl. transl. mine.) “Das konnte heißen: Richtet, allgemein, ein streng und rein Gericht, (...)
  • 14 Ibidem. “So wird der Orakelspruch und die nicht nothwendig darunter gehörige Geschichte von Lajos T (...)

10On the one hand, in the second part of the Anmerkungen zum Oedipus, Hölderlin asserts that “the intelligibility of the whole depends on considering the scene where Oedipus interprets the oracle too infinitely and is tempted to the nefas12. According to the German poet, the oracle reproduced by Creon in the lines 95-105 of the play can be read as advice on how to rule Thebes in a proper way. In Hölderlin’s words: “that could mean: in a general way, lead a strong, pure Government, maintain good civil order”13. But Oedipus is tempted to commit a sacrilege (“to the nefas”) due to his exegesis of the oracle: Hölderlin considers that the king relates the oracle’s content to Laius’ death, although such story “does not necessarily belong here at all”14.

  • 15 Hölderlin 2019: II, 312 (Engl. transl. Hölderlin 2009: 320). “weil das Wissen, wenn es seine Schran (...)

11For Oedipus, the consequence of this interpretation is the paradoxical sentence, in which he condemns himself by banishing Laius’ murderer from Thebes. But this is not the only consequence. Indeed, Hölderlin considers that this paradoxical sentence is what justifies the speech of Tiresias: this is when Hölderlin situates the caesura (the equivalent of the Aristotelian peripeteia) in the play. According to the interpretation of the German poet, Tiresias reveals the sentence that Oedipus has imposed on himself “because knowledge, when it has broken through its limits, as if intoxicated in its own magnificent and harmonious form, which can yet remain, at first, provokes itself to know more than it can bear or grasp”15. Hölderlin situates the caesura in the appearance of Tiresias because he is the first character that unveils the paradox that Oedipus’ sentence implies and, therefore, he provides an initial answer to Oedipus’ search for the truth of Laius’ death.

12After Tiresias’ intervention, this exegesis of the oracle also propitiates Oedipus’ suspicion about Creon, the discussion between Oedipus and Jocasta, and Oedipus’ inquiry with the messenger who reveals to the king his true origin. In short, according to Hölderlin, Oedipus’ interpretation of the oracle and the paradoxical sentence supported by that exegesis give rise to the tragic conflict in the play. In addition, it allows Hölderlin to indicate that the play is structured around this paradox.

  • 16 Hölderlin 2019: II, 370 (Engl. transl. Hölderlin 2009: 326). “Was wagest du, ein solch Gesez zu bre (...)

13In the case of Antigone, the second part of the Anmerkungen zur Antigonä also provides an example of paradox: Hölderlin considers that the paradox can be found in the fact that Antigone preserves the law by breaking the law. The German poet situates this paradox in a dialogue between Creon and Antigone, found in lines 449-51 of the play. In the version provided by Hölderlin, Creon asks: “What, dare you such a law as this to break?” And Antigone replies as follows: “Because my Zeus accounted it to me not; nor here at home the justice of the death-gods”16. To be more precise: when Antigone buries her brother, she breaks a human law in order to guard the divine law. As in the case of Oedipus, this is, for Hölderlin, the origin of the tragic conflict in the play.

14As supported by the evidence presented above, one can infer that, for Hölderlin, paradox is essential to understanding Tragedy due to a thematic and a structural reason: On the one hand, paradox spawns the tragic conflict, and on the other hand, the play is constructed around this paradox. One can assert that paradox is closely related to the tragic hero because this character is its source. Therefore, understanding the meaning of tragedies through the use of paradox implies comprehending the essential role of the tragic hero in the play. In short: according to Hölderlin, the tragic hero and the paradox are the foundations of Tragedy.

  • 17 Lacoue-Labarthe 1998: 47; 57. “Le “retour à Sophocle” ne signifie pas chez Hölderlin on ne sait que (...)

15Besides the notion of Paradoxon, the use of the superlative am leichtesten indicates an implicit comparison made by Hölderlin in this first statement. In order to make the comparison explicit, it is necessary to link the statement to the context in which the fragment was produced: the translations of Sophocles’ plays. For some commentators, such as Lacoue-Labarthe, Hölderlin’s selection of Oedipus and Antigone was not arbitrary. In fact, the French philosopher considers that the translations could be seen not as evidence of Hölderlin’s nostalgia for Greece, but as evidence of Hölderlin’s return to the foundation of drama, which also implies a return to Aristotle, who presents both plays as exemplary tragedies in the Poetics17. Hence, it is possible to compare Hölderlin’s prescription with the Aristotelian characterization of Tragedy in order to determine whether the German poet’s perspective is equivalent to the Aristotelian comprehension of this literary genre.

  • 18 Engl. transl. Aristotle 1995: 49.

16In Poet. VI, 1449b24-28, Aristotle defines Tragedy as a mimesis of a completed action. Later on, in 1450a2-4, he specifies the object of such mimesis, asserting that “the plot [mythos] is the mimesis of the action”18. For the Stagirite, the plot is essential for Tragedy and it is even more important than the characters. As he claims in Poet.VI, 1450a20-26, there cannot be a tragedy without action, while there can be tragedy without characters.

  • 19 Here, I differ from the interpretation of Farrell Krell (2005: 293-297), who analyses the Anmerkung (...)
  • 20 Jörn Etzold (2019: 6) characterizes this moment as a crisis, although he does not highlight the imp (...)

17When contrasting this definition of Tragedy with Hölderlin’s approach, one can assert that they are not equivalent19. In fact, Hölderlin distances himself from this perception of Tragedy for two reasons. In the first place, the German poet does not center his interpretation of Tragedy on the plot. Rather, Hölderlin emphasizes that the plot of Tragedy is based on a paradoxical moment. In the case of Oedipus, it is a paradoxical sentence as a result of Oedipus’ interpretation of the oracle. In the case of Antigone, it is Antigone’s decision to bury her brother, a decision that implies breaking a human law to preserve the divine law20.

18In the second place, it is possible to claim that, for Hölderlin, a Tragedy cannot exist without characters, because the paradox is provided by the main characters in the play. In addition, the interaction among characters is what contributes to the change of action, towards a resolution of the conflict. As indicated previously, Hölderlin highlights the importance of Tiresias’ appearance in Oedipus because it marks the caesura in the play: his revelations make it possible to start resolving the tragic conflict.

  • 21 Schmidt & Grätz 1994: 1253.
  • 22 Hölderlin 2019: I, 868 (Engl. transl. Hölderlin 2009: 261). “Das Extrem [...] des Unbegreiflichen, (...)
  • 23 Geisenhanslüke 2018: 184.
  • 24 Hölderlin 2019: I, 868 (Engl. transl. Hölderlin 2009: 261). “Natur und Kunst sind sich im reinen Le (...)

19Regarding the second assertion of the fragment, Schmidt & Grätz relate the term das Ursprüngliche (which I translate as the originator) with the notion of das Aorgische [the aorgic]21. This concept can be found in the second part of the Anmerkungen zur Antigonä, as well as in the Grund zum Empedokles, in which Hölderlin proposes two extremes. On the one hand, the extreme of das Organische [the organic] and on the other hand, the extreme of das Aorgische, considered as “the extreme of [...] the incomprehensible, the unfeelable, the unlimited”22. In addition, as Geisenhanslüke indicates23, there is a dialectic relation between these two extremes. Indeed, this dialectic relation is expressed in the harmonious opposition24 that Hölderlin perceives between Natur [nature] and Kunst [art] in his theoretical reflection on Empedokles.

  • 25 Alvarado-Archila 2017: 167-169.
  • 26 Hölderlin 2019: I, 868 (Engl. transl. Hölderlin 2009: 261). “das Extrem der Selbstthätigkeit”.

20As indicated in a former article25, at the beginning of the Grund zum Empedokles, Hölderlin links the concept of Natur with the concept of das Aorgische and asserts that Natur becomes divine when it is united with Kunst, because art complements nature and replaces its imperfections. With respect to Kunst, Hölderlin considers it as the perfection of nature, and associates it with the faculty of reflection and “the extreme of the self-activity”26.

  • 27 Ibidem. “Aber dieses Leben ist nur im Gefühle und nicht für Erkenntniß vorhanden”.

21Besides the characterization of these notions, the German poet also refers to his conception of human beings in this essay. For Hölderlin, the human being is organic, artistic (künstlich) and, hence, capable of reflecting. In addition, he considers that human beings have two possible ways of relating with nature: either through the senses or through knowledge. With respect to the first way, Hölderlin asserts that human beings grant das Gefühl der Vollendung [the feeling of perfection] to nature, when nature is considered as merely aorgic in life. But for Hölderlin, this approach to nature is a “life [...] only in feeling and not available to knowledge”27.

  • 28 Hölderlin 2019: I, 869 (Engl. transl. Hölderlin 2009: 262). “Der Tod des Einzelnen”.

22Regarding the second way, the human being can relate to nature through knowledge when there is an excess of intimacy, which Hölderlin calls der Übermaaße der Innigkeit. This excess implies “the death of the individual”28 because it is a:

  • 29 Ibidem.”Kampf [...], indem das besondere auf seinem Extrem gegen das Extrem des aorgischen sich thä (...)

Struggle, in that the particular at its extreme must actively and increasingly universalize itself towards the extreme of the aorgic, must increasingly tear itself from its center, and the aorgic must increasingly concentrate itself towards the extreme of the particular and increasingly gain a center and become the most particular29.

23In other words, nature becomes more organic and art becomes more aorgic in this struggle.

  • 30 Hölderlin 2019: I, 870 (Engl. transl. Hölderlin 2009: 263). “Der Sohn der gewaltigen Entgegensezung (...)
  • 31 Hölderlin 2019: I, 872 (Engl. transl. Hölderlin 2009: 265, I add the text within brackets in order (...)
  • 32 Ibidem. “Wie mehr oder weniger bei allen tragischen Personen”.

24This makes it possible to strengthen the idea of the tragic hero as the foundation of drama, because, for Hölderlin, the main character is the result of this struggle. So, when the German poet refers to Empedocles as a character, he asserts that this figure is the “son of the mighty oppositions of nature and art”30. In other words, Empedocles is the synthesis of the dialectic relation between the aorgic and the organic. This implies the annihilation of individuation, due to the particular attribute that the aorgic acquires, as well as the universal attribute that the organic acquires in this excess. In fact, this also leads to the transformation of that intimacy into what Hölderlin calls a “riper true pure [universal] intimacy”31. In the case of Empedocles, “as more or less with all tragic persons”32, this state implies facing up to the problem of destiny, trying to solve it through the attempt at reconciliation of the oppositions between art and nature.

  • 33 Hölderlin 2019: II, 315. (Engl. transl. mine). “Die Darstellung des Tragischen beruht vorzüglich da (...)

25The previous interpretation can help clarify the concept of das Zeichen [the sign] that Hölderlin mentions in the three final assertions of his fragment. In the third assertion of the text, Hölderlin seems to prescribe the conditions for the appearance of the tragic. One of the conditions is the presence of das Ursprüngliche which can be identified as the aorgic, as indicated in previous lines. The presence of das Zeichen is also necessary. Although the term das Zeichen can be linked to the organic in order to maintain the dialectic relation between extremes, Hölderlin does not provide an explicit explanation of this concept in the fragment. Nevertheless, it is possible to find an equivalent of the sign in Hölderlin’s Anmerkungen zum Oedipus. The German poet starts the third part of these remarks by affirming that “the representation of the tragic is based, especially, on the fact that monstrosity, the way in which God and man unite, and the power of nature and man’s inmost being become, boundlessly, one in rage”33.

  • 34 Here, I dissent from the interpretation of Billings (2014: 189), who asserts that the sign correspo (...)

26On the one hand, God corresponds to das Ursprüngliche in the previous quote, because, as Hölderlin indicates in the fourth assertion of Die Bedeutung der Tragödien, the originator is “the hidden ground of every nature”. On the other hand, if it is possible to associate the term das Zeichen to the organic in order to maintain the dialectic relation between extremes, then it is possible to assert that das Zeichen corresponds to the second element of monstrosity, that is, to the human being34. However, due to Hölderlin’s description of the sign as unbedeutend [insignificant] and wirkungslos [ineffective], this human being cannot be in that state of riper intimacy mentioned above with respect to Empedocles. In fact, “man’s inmost being” indicated in the previous quote seems to refer to a previous state of intimacy. Hence, it is necessary to establish what kind of intimacy it refers to.

  • 35 Hölderlin 2019: I, 865.

27Besides the riper intimacy, Hölderlin characterizes two more types of intimacy in his theoretical reflection about Die tragische Ode [The Tragic Ode]. In the first place, the German poet refers to the reine Innigkeit [pure intimacy] which is related to the divine. In addition, it makes the strife of the tragic ode possible when it unbalances the relation between das Bewusstsein [consciousness], das Nachdenken [reflection] and die physische Synnlichkeit [physical sensuousness]35 during the excess of intimacy.

  • 36 Ibidem (Engl. transl. Hölderlin 2009: 258). Muß aus den extremen des Unterscheidens und der Nicht- (...)

28In the second place, Hölderlin opposes a bescheidenere Innigkeit [more modest intimacy] to this pure intimacy. This more modest intimacy is not related to an excess. Rather, for Hölderlin, it has a task: the more modest intimacy must pass over from the extremes of the differentiation and non-differentiation [of the pure] into that still awareness and feeling, where it must [...] necessarily experience the struggle of the one, more strenuous awareness, that is, its original tone and its own character as an opposite36.

  • 37 Here, I differ from the interpretation of Tambling (2014: 73), who considers that “the insignifican (...)

29When applying this task to the sign presented in Die Bedeutung der Tragödien, it can be asserted that this sign is insignificant because it is in the state of this more modest intimacy37. In other words, the sign refers to the human being who is capable of reflecting and, hence, who is capable of comprehending nature through knowledge. To be more precise, when Hölderlin states that the sign is in itself insignificant and ineffective, he seems to indicate that, for the appearance of the tragic, the human being needs to be in a state of reflection in which dualism can be overcome through the awareness of the dialectic relation between the aorgic and the organic.

  • 38 Hölderlin 2019: I, 868 (Engl. transl. mine). “Der organischere künstlichere Mensch ist der Blüthe d (...)
  • 39 Ernst Mögel (1994: 80) also establishes two states. On the one hand, the state of the Lebenslicht, (...)

30During the resolution of the tragic conflict, this state of reflection leads to a self-awareness, that is, to the annihilation of individuation and the recognition of the human being as a result of this dialectic relation. In other words, the tragic character goes from the state of a more modest intimacy to the state of a riper intimacy in which the human being is organic, artistic, and also, as Hölderlin asserts in the Grund zum Empedokles38, the “blossom of nature”39.

  • 40 Hölderlin 2019: II, 101 (Engl. transl. mine). “[Das tragische Gedicht] ist die Metapher einer intel (...)
  • 41 Waibel 2000: 280 “Das bedeutet, daß das tragische Gedicht, in seiner “Bedeutung idealisch”, die höc (...)
  • 42 Hölderlin 2019: II, 104 (Engl. transl. mine). “das Objective, als solches, so auch das subjective a (...)

31This interpretation can be strengthened through the characterization of the tragic poem that Hölderlin presents in the so-called Über den Unterschied der Dichtarten [On the Difference of Poetic Modes]. In this theoretical draft, the German poet does not address Tragedy in Aristotelian terms, that is, he does not refer to this genre as the mimesis of an action. Rather, Hölderlin defines the tragic poem as “the metaphor of an intellectual intuition”40. According to Violetta Waibel, this means that the tragic poem represents the highest form of self-depiction of the human being41. In Hölderlin’s terminology, as indicated above, the tragic poem represents the way in which the tragic hero tries to reconcile the oppositions between the aorgic and the organic, presenting “the objective [organic] as such and also the subjective [aorgic] as such as a state of the originator united”42, while coping with the problem of destiny.

  • 43 Lewis 2014: 144.
  • 44 Hölderlin 2019: II, 316 (Engl. transl. Hölderlin 2009, 324). <Der Gott, weil er nichts als Zeit ist>.
  • 45 Hölderlin 2019: II, 373 (Engl. transl. mine). “Der Gott, in der Gestalt des Todes, gegenwärtig ist”

32Regarding the notion of Schwäche [weakness] associated with the originator, and as Charles Lewis points out, it does not refer to “a deficient form of Nature”43. Rather, it refers to the state in which the originator appears in the representation of the tragic. As in the case of the sign, it is possible to find evidence of what Hölderlin means by this notion within the Anmerkungen zum Oedipus and zur Antigonä. In the Anmerkungen zum Oedipus, Hölderlin asserts that, in the tragic, God is “nothing else than time”44. In the Anmerkungen zur Antigonä, Hölderlin states that the God is present “in the figure of death”45. Hence, it can be asserted that when the tragic conflict is incited, the dialectic relation occurs between the human being in the state of the “still awareness and feeling” and God as time and death.

  • 46 Hölderlin 2019: II, 315. (Engl. transl. mine). “dadurch sich begreift, daß das gränzenlose Eineswer (...)

33But the latter does not mean that, for Hölderlin, the resolution of the tragic conflict is a mystical union. In other words, the state of riper intimacy or the intellectual intuition does not consist in the mere unification between God and the human being. On the contrary, for the German poet, the resolution of the tragic conflict occurs when “the boundless unification purifies itself through boundless separation”46.

  • 47 Lemke 2004: 413. “Der verzeitlichte Gott reißt den Menschen in die ‘exzentrische Sphäre der Toten’ (...)
  • 48 Hölderlin 2019: II, 316 (Engl. transl. Hölderlin 2009: 324) “In solchem Momente vergißt der Mensch (...)

34The unification between God and the human being is a monstrosity, as Hölderlin asserted. Nevertheless, this unification provides a unique experience to the human being: as Anja Lemke asserts, this God in the figure of death confronts the tragic character with its own finitude47. This is a painful experience for the human being. Hence, after the separation of God and the human being, man forgets both himself and the God and, in a sacred manner, of course, turns himself round like a traitor. - For at the most extreme edge of suffering, nothing survives besides the conditions of time or space48.

  • 49 In the Kritik der reinen Vernunft [Critique of Pure Reason] (1781), Immanuel Kant (1998; Engl. tran (...)
  • 50 Hölderlin 2019: I, 897 (Engl. transl. mine). “Der Herr der Zeit”.

35As a result of this separation, the human being forgets about the monstrous union between God and man, while only time or space remain. However, it is not arbitrary that only the conditions of time or space survive after this separation. On the contrary, for Hölderlin, this means that the Kantian a priori conditions of intuition are what remain49. Hence, the tragic character can attain the highest self-depiction of itself due to the experience of its own mortality as well as to the way in which this character comprehends itself as determined by time or space. In addition, it should be said that, for Hölderlin, these conditions seem not to determine God because, as one of the characters in the third draft of Der Tod des Empedokles mentioned, divinity is the “master of time”50.

36The former interpretation allows one to conclude that Hölderlin distances himself from the Aristotelian conception of Tragedy. The German poet bases his interpretation of this literary genre on how Tragedy is structured around the notion of paradox. In addition, as presented above in the relationship established between Die Bedeutung der Tragödien and other theoretical texts written by the poet, Hölderlin takes a distance from the notion of Tragedy as mimesis of an action, while defining this genre as a metaphor of an intellectual intuition.

  • 51 Here, I dissent from the interpretation of Lewis (2014: 156), who considers that “the theory expoun (...)
  • 52 Marco Castellari (2018: 29) supports a similar perspective. For him, “sowohl das Empedokles-Projekt (...)
  • 53 For Hölderlin’s understanding of the Greek word μηχανή as a mode of procedure, see Knaupp (2019: 43 (...)

37However, this distance does not mean that Hölderlin’s conception only relates to Greek Tragedy51. On the contrary, it can be asserted that, as in the case of the Anmerkungen zum Oedipus and zur Antigonä, Hölderlin attempts to provide rules for modern drama through a reconsideration of the foundations of Tragedy52. In the terminology that the German poet uses at the beginning of the Anmerkungen zum Oedipus, the assertions of Die Bedeutung der Tragödien condenses Hölderlin’s attempt to provide a μηχανή [mechané], that is, a method, a procedure for modern drama53.

  • 54 Schiller, F. 2009: 58. According to this German poet, Tragedy can be understood as a “dichterische (...)

38In fact, Hölderlin’s proposal can be seen as a distancing from the German interpretation of Tragedy in his time. For instance, it could be contrasted with the interpretation of Tragedy stated by Lessing and Mendelssohn in Briefwechsel über das Trauerspiel [Letters on Tragedy] (1756-57) as well as with the interpretation set forth by Lessing in pieces 74 to 83 of the Hamburgische Dramaturgie [Hamburg Dramaturgy] (1768). Moreover, it could be opposed to the notion of Tragedy proposed by Friedrich Schiller in Über die tragische Kunst [On Tragic Art] (1792) as a poetic imitation of an action, which presents human beings in a state of suffering, and which has the intention of provoking pity in spectators54. In other words, Hölderlin’s conception of Tragedy could also be read as a counterproposal to some of his contemporaries’ Aristotelian interpretation of Tragedy.

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Farrell Krell, D. 2005, The Tragic Absolute. German Idealism and the Languish of God, Bloomington, Indiana University Press.

Geisenhanslüke, A. 2018, Poetik. Eine literaturtheoretische Einführung, Bielefeld, Transcript.

Hölderlin, F. 2019, Sämtliche Werke und Briefe in drei Bänden, M. Knaupp (ed.), München, Hanser Verlag.

Kant, I. 1999, Critique of Pure Reason, P. Guyer and A. W. Wood (eds and transl.), Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Kant, I. 1998, Kritik der reinen Vernunft, Jens Timmermann (ed.), Hamburg, Meiner.

Kant, I. 2009, Essays and Letters, J. Adler and C. Louth (transl.), London, Penguin Books.

Knaupp, M. 2019, Kommentar: Aufsätze, in Hölderlin, F., Sämtliche Werke und Briefe in drei Bänden, vol. III, M. Knaupp (ed.), München, Hanser: 402; 437.

Kreuzer, J. 2020, Anmerkungen, in Hölderlin, F., Theoretischen Schriften, J. Kreuzer (ed.), Hamburg, Meiner: 129.

Lacoue-Labarthe, P. 1998, Métaphrasis suivi de Le théâtre de Hölderlin, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France.

Lemke, A. 2004, “Nichts Als Zeit” - Zum Verhältnis von Sprache, Gott und Geschichte in Hölderlins Tragödienkonzeption, in Jamme, C. and Lemke, A. (eds), “Es bleibet aber eine Spur / Doch eines Wortes”. Zur späten Hymnik und Tragödientheorie Friedrich Hölderlins, Paderborn, Fink: 401-418.

Lemke, A. 2002, Konstellation ohne Sterne. Zur poetischen und geschichtlichen Zäsur bei Martin Heidegger und Paul Celan, Paderborn, Fink.

Lewis, C. 2014, Hölderlin on Tragedy and Paradox: ‘Die Bedeutung der Tragödien […]’, “The Modern Language Review”, 109, 1: 139-159.

Mögel, E. 1994, Natur als Revolution: Hölderlins Empedokles-Tragödie. Stuttgart, Springer.

Schiller, F. 2009, Vom Pathetischen und Erhabenen. Schriften und Dramentheorien, K. L. Berghahn (ed.). Stuttgart, Reclam.

Schmidt, J., Grätz, K. 1994, Anmerkungen zum Oedipus. Überblickskommentar, in Hölderlin, F., Hyperion. Empedokles. Aufsätze. Übersetzungen, J. Schmidt and K. Grätz (eds), Ulm, Deutscher Klassiker Verlag, 1376-1382.

Schmidt, J., Grätz, K. 1994, Die Bedeutung der Tragödien, in Hölderlin, F. Hyperion. Empedokles. Aufsätze. Übersetzungen, J. Schmidt and K.Grätz (eds), Ulm, Deutscher Klassiker Verlag. 1252-1253.

Rühle, V. 2020, Geschichtserfahrung und poetische Geschichtsschreibung, “Hölderlin-Handbuch”, J. Kreuzer (ed.): 142-150.

Szondi, P. 2011, Schriften I, C. König (ed.). Berlin, Suhrkamp.

Tambling, J. 2014, Hölderlin and the Poetry of Tragedy, Sussex, Sussex Academic Press.

Waibel, V. 2000, Hölderlin und Fichte. 1794-1800, München, Schöningh.

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Note

1 All references to Hölderlin’s texts come from the Müncher Ausgabe, which was edited by Michael Knaupp during 1992-93 and republished in 2019. Within the quotes, I will follow the German spelling used in this edition of Hölderlin’s works.

2 Hölderlin 2019: II, 114 (the Engl. transl. and the numbers within brackets are mine). “Die Bedeutung der Tragödien ist am leichtesten aus dem Paradoxon zu begreifen. Denn alles Ursprüngliche, weil alles Vermögen gerecht und gleich ist, erscheint zwar nicht in ursprünglicher Stärke nicht wirklich sondern eigentlich nur in seiner Schwäche, so daß rechteigentlich das Lebenslicht und die Erscheinung der Schwäche jedes Ganzen angehört. Im Tragischen nun ist das Zeichen an sich selbst unbedeutend, wirkungslos, aber das Ursprüngliches ist gerade heraus. Eigentlich nemlich kann das Ursprüngliche nur in seiner Schwäche erscheinen, insofern aber das Zeichen an sich selbst als unbedeutend = 0 gesezt wird, kann auch das Ursprüngliche, der verborgene Grund jeder Natur sich darstellen. Stellt die Natur in ihrer schwächsten Gaabe sich eigentlich dar, so ist das Zeichen wenn sie sich in ihrer Stärksten Gaabe darstellt = 0”.

3 Beissner 1961: 4,2, 785.

4 Binder 1977: 82. Although he falsely claims that, for Hölderlin, it is not Tragedy, but lyric and epic poetry that are most easily understood through paradox.

5 Szondi 2011: I, 162-163.

6 Mögel 1994: 79.

7 Kreuzer 2020: 129.

8 Knaupp 2019: 402.

9 Schmidt & Grätz 1994: 1252.

10 Lemke 2002: 62.

11 In this text, I analyze the concept of paradox in relationship with Hölderlin’s notion of Tragedy. An analysis of the presence of paradox in other works written by the poet can be seen, for instance, in Rühle 2020: 142-150.

12 Hölderlin 2019: II, 311 (Engl. transl. Hölderlin 2009: 319). “Die Verständlichkeit des Ganzen beruhet vorzüglich darauf, daß man die Scene ins Auge faßt, wo Oedipus den Orakelspruch zu unendlich deutet, zum nefas versucht wird”.

13 Ibidem. (Engl. transl. mine.) “Das konnte heißen: Richtet, allgemein, ein streng und rein Gericht, haltet gute bürgerliche Ordnung””.

14 Ibidem. “So wird der Orakelspruch und die nicht nothwendig darunter gehörige Geschichte von Lajos Tode zusammengebracht”.

15 Hölderlin 2019: II, 312 (Engl. transl. Hölderlin 2009: 320). “weil das Wissen, wenn es seine Schranke durchrissen hat, wie trunken in seiner herrlichen harmonischen Form, die doch bleiben kann, vorerst, sich selbst reizt, mehr zu wissen, als es tragen oder fassen kann”.

16 Hölderlin 2019: II, 370 (Engl. transl. Hölderlin 2009: 326). “Was wagest du, ein solch Gesez zu brechen? / Darum, mein Zeus berichtete mirs nicht,/ noch hier im Haus das Recht der Todesgötter”.

17 Lacoue-Labarthe 1998: 47; 57. “Le “retour à Sophocle” ne signifie pas chez Hölderlin on ne sait quelle “nostalgie de la Grèce”. Il signifie: retour au fondement de la théâtralité. [...] Le passage à Sophocle est aussi un passage à Aristote”. This perspective is also supported by recent commentators, e. g., Jörn Etzold (2019: 7).

18 Engl. transl. Aristotle 1995: 49.

19 Here, I differ from the interpretation of Farrell Krell (2005: 293-297), who analyses the Anmerkungen zum Oedipus and zur Antigonä, trying to establish the “places in Holderlin’s “Notes” where a kind of tragic Aristotelianism seems to prevail” (293).

20 Jörn Etzold (2019: 6) characterizes this moment as a crisis, although he does not highlight the importance of the tragic hero as I do in this passage. In his own words: For Hölderlin, “die Tragödie stellt also einen Moment der Krise dar [...]- den Einbruch der Potentialität in die Gegenwart und die Genese von Geschichte”.

21 Schmidt & Grätz 1994: 1253.

22 Hölderlin 2019: I, 868 (Engl. transl. Hölderlin 2009: 261). “Das Extrem [...] des Unbegreiflichen, des Unfühlbaren, des Unbegrenzten”.

23 Geisenhanslüke 2018: 184.

24 Hölderlin 2019: I, 868 (Engl. transl. Hölderlin 2009: 261). “Natur und Kunst sind sich im reinen Leben nur harmonisch entgegengesezt” [Nature and art are, in pure life, only opposed harmoniously].

25 Alvarado-Archila 2017: 167-169.

26 Hölderlin 2019: I, 868 (Engl. transl. Hölderlin 2009: 261). “das Extrem der Selbstthätigkeit”.

27 Ibidem. “Aber dieses Leben ist nur im Gefühle und nicht für Erkenntniß vorhanden”.

28 Hölderlin 2019: I, 869 (Engl. transl. Hölderlin 2009: 262). “Der Tod des Einzelnen”.

29 Ibidem.”Kampf [...], indem das besondere auf seinem Extrem gegen das Extrem des aorgischen sich thätig immer mehr verallgemeinern, immer mehr von seinem Mittelpuncte sich reißen muß, das aorgische gegen das Extrem des besonders sich immer mehr concentriren und immer mehr einen Mittelpunct gewinnen und zum besonderen werden muß”.

30 Hölderlin 2019: I, 870 (Engl. transl. Hölderlin 2009: 263). “Der Sohn der gewaltigen Entgegensezungen von Natur und Kunst”.

31 Hölderlin 2019: I, 872 (Engl. transl. Hölderlin 2009: 265, I add the text within brackets in order to fix the gap in the translation). “Eine reifere wahrhafte, reine allgemeine Innigkeit”.

32 Ibidem. “Wie mehr oder weniger bei allen tragischen Personen”.

33 Hölderlin 2019: II, 315. (Engl. transl. mine). “Die Darstellung des Tragischen beruht vorzüglich darauf, daß das Ungeheure, wie der Gott und Mensch sich paart, und gränzenlos die Naturmacht und des Menschen Innerstes im Zorn Eins wird”.

34 Here, I dissent from the interpretation of Billings (2014: 189), who asserts that the sign corresponds to the human world.

35 Hölderlin 2019: I, 865.

36 Ibidem (Engl. transl. Hölderlin 2009: 258). Muß aus den extremen des Unterscheidens und der Nicht-unterschiedenheit [des Reinen] in jene stille Besonnenheit und Empfindung übergehen, wo sie freilich den Kampf der einen angestrengteren Besonnenheit nothwendig, also ihren Anfangston und eigenen Karakter, als Gegensaz, empfinden”.

37 Here, I differ from the interpretation of Tambling (2014: 73), who considers that “the insignificance can be equalized as 0: it signifies nothing, death, the other ‘Hälfte des Lebens’“. Also, I dissent from the theoretical perspective of Bodei (1990: 69). The Italian philosopher asserts that the sign = 0 refers to the sacrifice made by the tragic hero to be able to express nature. For Bodei, this sacrifice could be either the death of the hero (as in the cases of Empedocles and Antigone) or exile, as in the case of Oedipus.

38 Hölderlin 2019: I, 868 (Engl. transl. mine). “Der organischere künstlichere Mensch ist der Blüthe der Natur”.

39 Ernst Mögel (1994: 80) also establishes two states. On the one hand, the state of the Lebenslicht, in which the individual sign and the appearance of the hidden ground “mehr oder weniger in sich selber ruhen und gleichsam in ihrem je eigenen ‘Lebenslicht’ erstrahlen”. On the other hand, the state of the tragic, in which “die Eigenwirklichkeit und Eigenbedeutsamkeit des Zeichens ‘= 0 gesezt’, und insofern, kann hier ‘das Ursprüngliche, der verborgene Grund jeder Natur’ ‘in ursprünglicher Starke’ ‘sich darstellen’ und ‘gerade heraus’ sein”.

40 Hölderlin 2019: II, 101 (Engl. transl. mine). “[Das tragische Gedicht] ist die Metapher einer intellectuellen Anschauung”.

41 Waibel 2000: 280 “Das bedeutet, daß das tragische Gedicht, in seiner “Bedeutung idealisch”, die höchste Form der Selbstdarstellung des Menschen, das heißt, der Darstellung seiner Wahren Natur, repräsentiert”.

42 Hölderlin 2019: II, 104 (Engl. transl. mine). “das Objective, als solches, so auch das subjective als solches, seien nur ein Zustand des Ursprüngliches einigen”.

43 Lewis 2014: 144.

44 Hölderlin 2019: II, 316 (Engl. transl. Hölderlin 2009, 324). <Der Gott, weil er nichts als Zeit ist>.

45 Hölderlin 2019: II, 373 (Engl. transl. mine). “Der Gott, in der Gestalt des Todes, gegenwärtig ist”.

46 Hölderlin 2019: II, 315. (Engl. transl. mine). “dadurch sich begreift, daß das gränzenlose Eineswerden durch gränzenloses Scheiden sich reiniget

47 Lemke 2004: 413. “Der verzeitlichte Gott reißt den Menschen in die ‘exzentrische Sphäre der Toten’ und konfrontiert ihn so mit der eigenen Endlichkeit”-

48 Hölderlin 2019: II, 316 (Engl. transl. Hölderlin 2009: 324) “In solchem Momente vergißt der Mensch sich und den Gott, und kehret, freilich heiliger Weise, wie ein Verräther sich um. – In der äußersten Gränze des Leidens besteht nichts mehr, als die Bedingungen der Zeit oder des Raums”.

49 In the Kritik der reinen Vernunft [Critique of Pure Reason] (1781), Immanuel Kant (1998; Engl. transl., 1999) considers time and space as “zwei reine Formen sinnlicher Anschauung, als Prinzipien der Erkenntnis a priori” [two pure forms of sensible intuition as principles of a priori cognition] (A22). In addition, in A 34, the German philosopher affirms that “die Zeit ist die formale Bedingung a priori aller Erscheinungen überhaupt. Der Raum, als die reine Form aller äußeren Anschauung, ist als Bedingung a priori bloß auf äußere Erscheinungen eingeschränkt” [Time is the a priori formal condition of all appearances in general. Space, as the pure form of all other intuitions, is limited as an apriori condition merely to outer intuitions].

50 Hölderlin 2019: I, 897 (Engl. transl. mine). “Der Herr der Zeit”.

51 Here, I dissent from the interpretation of Lewis (2014: 156), who considers that “the theory expounded in ‘Bedeutung’ is presumably a theory of ancient Greek tragedy”.

52 Marco Castellari (2018: 29) supports a similar perspective. For him, “sowohl das Empedokles-Projekt als auch die Sophokles-Übersetzungen können [...] als Versuche verstanden werden, antike und moderne Dramaturgie und Theatralitätsformen für ein aktuelles, sich ständig fortbildendes Theater zu transformieren”.

53 For Hölderlin’s understanding of the Greek word μηχανή as a mode of procedure, see Knaupp (2019: 437), Kreuzer (2020: 129) as well as Schmidt & Grätz (1994: 1376).

54 Schiller, F. 2009: 58. According to this German poet, Tragedy can be understood as a “dichterische Nachahmung einer zusammenhängenden Reihe von Begebenheiten (einer vollständigen Handlung), welche uns Menschen in einem Zustand des Leidens zeigt und zur Absicht hat, unser Mitleid zu erregen”.

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Notizia bibliografica

David Alvarado-Archila, «Friedrich Hölderlin’s Die Bedeutung Der Tragödien: Paradox as the Foundation of Tragedy»Rivista di estetica, 81 | 2022, 29-42.

Notizia bibliografica digitale

David Alvarado-Archila, «Friedrich Hölderlin’s Die Bedeutung Der Tragödien: Paradox as the Foundation of Tragedy»Rivista di estetica [Online], 81 | 2022, online dal 01 février 2024, consultato il 22 juin 2024. URL: http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/estetica/12235; DOI: https://0-doi-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/10.4000/estetica.12235

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