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Abstract

In this essay, I aim to examine Hölderlin’s theory of composition according to the thesis on the compatibility of poetic and philosophical practices. I interpret Hölderlin’s poetological fragments as a response to the epistolary exchange he had held with his master Schiller a few years earlier, concerning the dialectic between philosophy and poetry, enthusiasm and sobriety. I argue that Hölderlin’s fragments prompt us to consider poetry and philosophy as poiesis-based practices. Identifying creativity as their common destination allows one to postulate the interaction between the two disciplines. I finally argue that aesthetics could be the place for this interaction. Hölderlin outlines a productive, namely aesthetic, theory of creation, in which boundaries between philosophy and poetry seem to interact rather than exclude.

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  • 1 This essay results from a research period I spent in Fall 2019 at the Deutsches Literaturarchiv in (...)

1This paper aims is to reconstruct F. Hölderlin’s theory of composition and to read it as an attempt to find a solution to the well-known quarrel between philosophy and poetry. I will argue that Hölderlin’s theory of composition, exposed in particular in the poetological fragments, originates from the tormented epistolary exchange our author had with his master, F. Schiller, around 1796-97. In my view, this exchange could be traced back to the “old quarrel,” since the authors discuss the interaction between poetry and philosophy. More specifically, Schiller sees a poet’s assiduity with philosophy as potentially dangerous, as it might damage her ability to compose enjoyable verses. Schiller’s consideration is taken here as a subversion of the terms of the question as Plato professed it. By expressing himself from the point of view of the navigated poet (and not of the philosopher, as in the case of Republic 607b), Schiller puts forward the idea that poetry too can reject its link with philosophy.

  • 2 Rosen 1988: 1 ff., suggests in this regard that the quarrel between philosophy and poetry could be (...)

2I will argue that the “scorn” of poetry towards philosophy may be justified by the most evident dissimilarity between philosophical and poetical procedures: that poetry addresses itself to creating works of art, while philosophy aims to discover the immaterial – ideas, principles, and sorts of mathematical truths. More explicitly, poetry is a productive procedure, while philosophy is an abstract discipline that has recourse only to speculation and thinking2. Dedicating herself to philosophy, a poet could forget that the actual goal of poetry is the production of a creation her own. She could confine herself in a world of abstractness and unproductiveness.

  • 3 On Plato’s understanding of creation, see Benjamin 2015. Like Rosen, Benjamin aims to reconstruct a (...)
  • 4 Sushytska 2012 argues that it was not Plato’s intention to erect such a dispute; she discusses refe (...)

3Therefore, it is no coincidence that Hölderlin, in response to Schiller’s harsh criticism of his works, formulated a dialectic of composition by asking how can a spirit become productive. I claim that this question leads Hölderlin to find that the notion of creation, so crucial for poetry, can be decisive for philosophy as well3. The analysis of Hölderlin’s theory can help us to reconsider the old quarrel from a different point of view; namely, that there may be no incompatibility between poetry and philosophy4. One might compare their origin and their ends: they might be seen as mutually interacting. Through poetry, philosophy can integrate its tendency towards abstraction with the creative practice. By its side, poetry takes on a more universal and significative gaze through philosophy. Hölderlin’s theory of composition, exposed in the poetological fragments from 1799-1800, leads us to consider the hypothesis that philosophy and poetry, given their irreducible differences, could be something other than malicious rivals; instead, they could be staunch allies.

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4F. Hölderlin’s literary works seeming too philosophical to F. Schiller may sound bizarre to a contemporary reader, who is used to considering Hölderlin a poet among philosophers. It is perhaps not redundant to remember that Hölderlin was himself a philosophy student and Fichte’s alumnus. He was a friend and confidant of Hegel in the Frankfurt years, and an author of many philosophical fragments, in which he related the nuclear hypothesis of the nascent German Idealism. To understand the effect that Hölderlin’s assiduity with philosophical practice had on his writing, I turn to the famous letter Schiller sent him at the end of 1796, in which the master shared his valuable suggestions with the pupil.

  • 5 Hölderlin 1794, Engl. transl. 2009: 36.
  • 6 It is impossible to describe the complex relationship between Hölderlin and Schiller here, on which (...)
  • 7 See Hölderlin’s letter to Schiller of November 20th, 1796, Engl. transl. 2009: 80-81, which might b (...)

5Like everything that concerns Schiller’s and Hölderlin’s relationship, this letter has a tormented genesis. Hölderlin had moved to Jena in 1794 in order to follow Fichte’s lessons, Jena’s “life and soul”5, as he writes to Neuffer in the same year, and to spend more time with Schiller. At the end of the 1795 winter semester, Hölderlin’s escape from Jena could be seen as an attempt to free himself from the influence that his masters, and particularly Schiller, were having on his life and work6. After this unexpected and traumatic event, Hölderlin, by now settled in Frankfurt at the home of Jakob and Suzette Gontard, continued to send his works to Schiller, hoping for them to be published in the famous journal Musen Almanach. In summer 1796, Schiller received at least four poems from Hölderlin. Schiller’s answer was late in coming7, writing on November 24:

  • 8 Hölderlin 1992 (hereafter MA) II, 641 (my transl.).

It would be great joy for me to place some of the ripe and consistent fruits of your talent in the next Almanach. I beg you, gather all your force and vigilance, choose a fortunate poetic matter (poetischen Stoff), carry it to your heart by nurturing it with culture and carefulness, and let it quietly ripen for perfection in the most beautiful moments of your existence. Where possible, escape from the philosophical matters (philosophischen Stoffe); they are the most ungrateful, and often the best capacities are consumed by their means. Stay close to the world of the senses; in this way, you will be less in danger to lose your sobriety (Nüchternheit) in the enthusiasm (Begeisterung), or to go astray in an artificial expression8.

6This letter is a good example of the poetic “scorn” toward philosophy summarized above. Schiller, who politely declined Hölderlin’s proposal to publish his poems in the Almanach, shows a certain concern for his pupil’s philosophical tendencies. According to Schiller, philosophy is a sort of dangerous “mania” that might be capable of “consuming” Hölderlin’s poetical capacities. One who chooses a philosophical matter runs the serious risk of losing the “sobriety” needed to compose poetic works in the abstract, “artificial” territory of speculation.

  • 9 See the epilogue of the dialogue: “As a eulogist of Homer you are not skilled but divine”: Plato, I (...)
  • 10 MA II, 641.

7What is surprising here, though, is that philosophers, and not poets, are those who appear to inhabit the realm of enthusiasm. The reader will remember that Plato’s banishment of poets in the Republic was based precisely on their dangerous capacity to make citizens lose their sobriety and self-possession. Moreover, Plato dedicated his dialogue Ion to poetic “mania”9. In the dialogue, the capacity of rhapsodes does not result in intelligible skills, but of a divine possession. However, Schiller’s reversal of the Platonic thesis confirms the fundamental machinery of the old quarrel. Philosophy, as a discipline detached from production, might damage the authentic aim of poetry. The lack of “parsimony” that Hölderlin demonstrates in his poems is produced by his fascination with philosophy and distracts him from the formulation of “a distinct, simple expression”10.

  • 11 It is impossible to condense the complexity with which Schiller tried to combine poetry and philoso (...)
  • 12 See Schiller’s letter to Körner, January 19, 1795.
  • 13 See Schiller’s letters to Goethe, August 23, 1794 (NA XXVII, 24-27), and August 31, 1794 (NA XXVII, (...)
  • 14 Oelman 2005: 98. See also Schiller’s letter to Goethe, June 30, 1797, NA XXIX, 92-93.
  • 15 It might be interesting to note that Schiller had also asked Hölderlin to translate Ovid, who appea (...)
  • 16 NA II, 641.

8Schiller, an exponent of post-Kantian aesthetics and pioneer of the so-called philosophical poetry, had to learn the pitfalls of philosophy for himself11. His friends and detractors all claimed that Schiller’s own attention to philosophy was damaging his verses. Schiller himself had taken the risk of losing his sobriety in abstraction to escape from the lived “experience”12. The encounter with Goethe, then, had shown him that an intuitive and spontaneous approach to composition, not mediated through a speculative attitude, could produce marvelous, timeless artworks13, more similar to Greek harmony and ingenuity than to modern German inner conflict. It is not inconceivable to claim, as Oelman does14, that Hölderlin reminds Schiller of his previous mistakes. Schiller himself had to admit that his enthusiasm for transcendental philosophy had distracted him from productivity and led him to lose himself in the abstract region of subjectivism15. These last qualities were, moreover, typically “German hereditary defects”, which come often with “prolixity”, “infinite explanations” and “a flow of strophes”16.

  • 17 See Hölderlin’s letter to Neuffer: “I write little and hardly do any philosophy anymore. But what d (...)
  • 18 Hölderlin 1797, Engl. transl. 2009: 87. According to Reitani 2019: 1634, this letter might be confr (...)
  • 19 Hölderlin 1797, Engl. transl. 2009: 87.

9This letter presumably generated a crisis for Hölderlin, during which he tried to follow Schiller’s suggestion to eschew philosophical practice17. In an early phase, this seems to have borne fruit. In his first (and late) reply to Schiller, Hölderlin admits suffering from the same deficiency as their contemporaries, and declares that “at any rate” he should “react like those weak-minded gentlemen who in such cases, as you know, tend to take the path of mathematicians and by infinite reduction make infinity and finitude one and the same”18. Even in acknowledging Schiller’s argument about the abstract attitude of the modern Germans, Hölderlin is suggesting something more. It seems here that the German intellectuals’ failing is that they confuse theory with mathematics. In doing so, they embark on an unproductive, formalistic, and tautological path, which leads them to argue that infinity and finitude are the same thing, in order to conclude that “0=0”19. Hölderlin seems to suggest that philosophers of his times (and it is impossible not to think of post-Kantians, and particularly of Fichte) are to blame for making speculation unproductive and tautological.

10In his following letter to Schiller, Hölderlin greeted his master by declaring to have finally understood how to follow his suggestions. Thanks to Schiller, Hölderlin was at last capable of abandoning the “metaphysical mood (metaphysische Stimmung)” and of treating it like a “virginity of the spirit”. The ingenuity that Hölderlin is leaving here was responsible for his previous “being shy of experience (Scheue vor dem Stoffe)”. Scorn for matters is, however,

  • 20 Hölderlin 1797, Engl. transl. 2009: 91-92.

A phase in life perfectly natural and for a time just as beneficial as any other avoidance of particular circumstances because it contains our strength and preserves it, restrains the prodigality of our youthful life until it grows to an abundance that propels it into the diversity of different objects20.

  • 21 Hölderlin’s letter to Hegel, November 20, 1796, supports the thesis that here “metaphysical” is int (...)

11What is worth noticing here is that Hölderlin does not employ the word “philosophy” in this letter. He prefers the adjective “metaphysical”, which designates, though, a certain, specific way to undertake the philosophical practice, which must be located in his times and particularly in Jena21. The “mood” that accompanies this kind of philosophy is, however, not to blame unduly; it is, on the contrary, something that has to be contextualized, that belongs to a certain “phase” of life. We can see here that Hölderlin’s interpretation of this young stage of creation in some ways retraces Schiller’s suggestion to “nurture” the poetic matter and “let it ripen”.

  • 22 Hölderlin 1797, Engl. transl. 2009: 92. Notice also that Hamlet had been an important model for Sch (...)

12The metaphysical mood is, then, an early, introductory stage of production, in which one is confined in her own subjectivity and scorns the multiplicity of experience. This early mood is at the origin of a creative process but is yet unproductive in itself. As Hölderlin writes, “a more general activity of the mind, and of the life, precedes the more particular actions and conceptions […] in the historical development of human nature”, and concludes: “when the will delays and resists becoming a useful intention I find that it is just characteristic of the human nature […] as it is […] for Hamlet that he finds so hard to do something with the sole purpose of revenging his father”22.

  • 23 Melancholy’s place in Hölderlin’s philosophy would require an entire book, maybe considering the in (...)

13It is evident in these lines that Hölderlin was trying to ascertain the dangers of an overly subjective and abstract interpretation of philosophy. Hamlet, an emblematic figure of inconclusiveness, vagueness, hate for the matter, and melancholy23, is placed in this letter at the beginning of a productive process. This means that the abstract procedure that gives birth to Hölderlin’s theory of composition, and on which it is necessary to base, as we will see, the poetic matter, is seen here in its need to be, so to say, exceeded in something higher, in a productive “ekstasis”, able to make the thinker overcome his shyness of experience.

  • 24 Rosen 1988: 20.

14We can also observe that, in the same year, Hölderlin was beginning his work on Empedocles, a character who embodies what Rosen would call “a mixed […] life”24 – he is poet, philosopher, mystical, policymaker, and a mythical sufferer of melancholy. In the first lines of The Frankfurt Plan, composed in 1797, we read that Empedocles is

  • 25 Hölderlin 1797, Engl. transl. 2008: 29.

by temperament and through his philosophy long since destined to despise his culture, to scorn all nearly circumscribed affairs, every interest directed to sundry objects […] simply because as soon as his heart and his thought embrace anything at hand he finds himself bound to the law of succession25.

15The first plan of The Death of Empedocles describes, in fact, someone who is struggling a lack of productivity, who has to learn how to go outside of himself, to accept the finitude that he had at first scorned. In this way, unproductivity concerns not philosophy tout court, but a sort of abstract, melancholic mood, that forecasts the act of creation and that has to be accepted in order to be defeated. The early configuration through which Hölderlin represents his tragic hero – and himself – shows that a poet, just like a philosopher, can be confined in abstractness, and has to find ways to break free.

  • 26 Hölderlin 1797, Engl. transl.2009: 242. On the nexus between Seven Maximes and the Pseudo-Longinus’ (...)

16As it happens in Empedocles’ case, unproductivity originates from a self-referential, solitary mood, in which particular affairs seem to be too simple for someone who is engaged in unity, eternity, and totality. The risk for people like Empedocles is that they deal with the “phantoms” and “chimeras” in their mind rather than confront with the real world. According to Hölderlin, the formation of chimeras - which means, again, the extreme effect of self-referentiality and unproductivity - derives from an unmeasured “enthusiasm”. As he writes in the Seven Maxims, even “piety, that does not wish to touch, to understand, life”26 could be good, as can the “despair”, until “something good and real can be found again”. Enthusiasm must be managed in order to compose, as Schiller had suggested. However, according to this way of thinking, enthusiasm reveals itself as a necessary step on the way to production. Above all, it can belong to philosophy and to poetry as well as, on this understanding, both philosophy’s and poetry’s creation finding their origin in ecstasy.

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  • 27 In this respect, I believe Hölderlin’s view could be compared to Nietzsche’s concept of dichtende V (...)

17To understand how the metaphysical mood can be exceeded, in order to ground both philosophical and poetical creation, and to avoid struggling for “chimeras”, I will now reconstruct Hölderlin’s theory of composition as it is articulated in the poetological fragments (1799-1800). I will claim that Hölderlin attempts to envelope a poietic consideration of language, which can concern both lyrical and philosophical creation. In short, what may seem mere technical essays on poetological rules are in truth sketches for a productive, namely aesthetic, theory of creation, in which boundaries between philosophy and poetry seem to interact rather than to exclude. It is my opinion that Hölderlin considers the words Dichtung and Poesie as being expressively based on their etymological meaning. He refers to the creative capacity of the spirit, just as the ancient Greeks did when they employed the verb poiein. It follows, that a Dichter is not only a poet, someone who compose verses, but rather someone who becomes able to build a “creative reflection”, whose result is a linguistic interpretation27 of reality and of his own creative process.

  • 28 Ryan 1960: 32.
  • 29 See Hiller 2008: 125; for the relevance of literary self-examination to philosophy, see Roochnik 20 (...)
  • 30 See Hölderlin 1801, Engl. transl. 2009: 312; Ryan 1960: 34.

18For Hölderlin, the acknowledgment of a foundational contrast lies at the beginning of the dialectic of composition –between the (not yet) poetic spirit and the matter it decides to handle. This contrast will be not erased in the course of the process; it will rather be balanced, harmonized, discovered in its necessity. Each of these poles undertakes in the poetic mechane an ecstatic movement, in order to get closer to the opposite. The purpose of the creative process is twofold. By its side, the spirit (Geist) must “connect”28 with the matter (Stoff), which means that it finds a way outside of itself, it erects a bridge to the opposite pole. This is the only way for the spirit to gain consciousness of itself and its own “form”. It has to happen in a linguistic, textual dimension29. On the other side, though, the matter has to reveal itself to the spirit as something (re)active. In short, the process concerning matter consists of ceasing to seem like something powerless, or dead, and being suddenly animated in order to expose a fragment of life30; a life in which the spirit can recognize a different form of appearance of a totality to which it belongs.

  • 31 Hölderlin 1799, Engl. transl. 2009: 280. According to Waibel 2000, Hölderlin’s poetology is conceiv (...)

19In order to be understood as animated by the poet, the matter is considered in its receptivity31. For this to happen, the spirit has to embark in a sort of journey outside itself to explore the matter, which, at the beginning, appears as something very different and exterior from the boundaries of the Ich. In this way, it recognizes the matter as “living”, namely as very similar to the spirit itself and, perhaps, with the very same origin. The ability of the spirit to acknowledge its similarity with the matter is a crucial point. It allows it to immerse itself in life, to understand that life, and not the Ich’s abstractions, is the realm of its activity. This dialectical movement, which is the foundation of the difficult essay When the poet is once in command of the spirit, is recurrent in Hölderlin’s thought. The dynamics of acknowledgment of one’s own self in a matter, which appeared foreign at the beginning, is also a cornerstone of Hölderlin’s theory of translation, as it is exposed in his famous letters to his friend Böhlendorff and to his editor Wilmans. We can thus claim that, in order to become creative, one must understand that the opposition she experiences within the realm of creation (what Hölderlin calls Wirkungskreis) can be harmonized. The spirit becomes productive when it apprehends that undertaking a journey in what at first seemed external and alien means finding and learning something about its very self.

  • 32 See Polledri - Borio 2019.

20This is clear in the fragments that Hölderlin dedicates to the so-called “alternation of tones”, the most important musical metaphor we can find in our author’s poetic process32.

  • 33 Note that according to Polledri-Borio 2019: 13 ff. Hölderlin’s musical approach to poetry exposes a (...)
  • 34 Hölderlin 1799, transl. Eng 2009: 254.
  • 35 For the nexus between the theory of the Wechsel der Töne and When the poet is once in command, see (...)
  • 36 See Hornbacher 1995: 78 ff. In her essay, Hornbacher claims that Hölderlin’s philosophical program (...)

21In order for the spirit to apprehend the matter as living, it has to learn to discern its prismatic shape, or the progression of different characters to be transfigured in the spirit’s work33. The fundamental potentials of the characters, or the “qualities” and “faults” of “different people”34, are considered in order to be categorized as natural, heroic or “idealic”. This passage is crucial, since only by recognizing different human characters can the spirit bring them to expression in an adequate form, namely it can “tune” them, find the proper form for the living matter. The spirit starts conferring different tones on the matter now, which means interpreting them in view of its own Stimmungen35. In what we can define as a sort of introductory ethological research36, the spirit learns to understand life in its alternation of harmony and dissonance, and searches for the possible ways to signify the various human characters.

  • 37 See Hölderlin 1799, Engl. transl. 2009: 283: “considered as life defined and grounded by poetic ref (...)
  • 38 This crucial notion represents another point of intersection with Hölderlin’s theory of translation (...)
  • 39 Hölderlin 1799, Engl. transl. 2009: 252-253.
  • 40 On enthusiasm as virginity of the spirit, and music, see Burdorf 2019.
  • 41 Hölderlin 1799, Engl. transl. 2009: 286.

22At this point, the spirit finds itself. It recognizes its initial motivation for creation37 in one of the characters it should transfigure and translate into a productive language, by the process of metapherein38. In the uncompleted essay A word on the Iliad, which is thematically and formally connected to On the different modes of poetic composition, what will be later called idealic character is defined as someone who “in feeling the spirit of the whole, takes too little notice of individual things, that, when others cannot see the wood for the threes, he forgets the threes for the wood, that for all his soul he is rather uncomprehending, and for that reason also incomprehensible to others”39. We can see some of the flaws Schiller attributed the young Hölderlin in this character, and to his shyness regarding matter. At the beginning of the inspiration, the spirit is entirely caught up in a virgin enthusiasm40, holding him back from its actual Bestimmung: to take a journey in life, in order to understand both the poetic matter and itself. The poetic life begins when the spirit is able to recognize itself in the living matter, to contextualize and, in this way, to overtake its own metaphysical mood. It relies on a “thread”, namely its “memory”41, to remain constantly present to itself, or to consider the genesis of its own poetic process and have the capacity to distinguish itself from the alternation of tones in the poetic sphere of action.

23For this reason, the two contrasting spheres (spirit and matter) must preserve their inner difference, without taking the risk of melting into each other. Hölderlin’s most famous and final suggestion,

  • 42 Hölderlin 1799, Engl. transl. 2009: 290.

put yourself through free choice in harmonious opposition with an outer sphere, just as you in yourself are in harmonious opposition, by nature, but unrecognizably, as long as you remain in yourself42,

  • 43 See Henrich 1992. Here we find Hölderlin’s ultimate criticism to the Fichtean interpretation of Ger (...)

derives from the necessity to safeguard the difference between the self and the living matter, between the consciousness and its own grounds43. By “tuning” the moods to different characters, the poetic spirit is now able to consider its own creative process from its very beginning, and to gain, so Hölderlin asserts, an

  • 44 Hölderlin 1799, Engl. transl. 2009: 286.

infinite point of view, a unity in its transaction, where in the harmonious progress and alternation everything goes forward and backwards, and by means of its through characteristic relation to its unity gains not only an objective connection, for the observer, but also a felt and feelable connection and identity in the alternation of contrasts44.

  • 45 Ibidem.
  • 46 Hölderlin 1799, Engl. transl. 2009: 293.

24This infinite point of view, which is the “actually poetic character” and which guarantees “the identity of enthusiasm” and of “perfection and art”45, is the one that assures the spirit’s becoming creative by overcoming a “too subjective condition” (the metaphysical mood) as well as a too “objective”46 one. We could call this a demiurgical gaze, which means that the spirit gained the most universal point of view it could possibly hope for. To the extent that the spirit became capable of going outside of its individuality, immersing itself in life, finding a way to transfigure characters in tones by finding adequate linguistic register, it also understands itself, the origin of its own inspiration and the course of its own poetic process; to this extent, thus, the spirit became productive and can fulfill the actual poet’s Bestimmung.

  • 47 Hölderlin 1799, Engl. transl. 2009: 294.
  • 48 Hölderlin 1799, Engl. transl. 2009: 295. The association of Erinnerung and Dankbarkeit is to be fou (...)
  • 49 Hölderlin 1799, Engl. transl. 2009: 296-97.

25Now we are in a position to ask what it actually means for the spirit to become productive. In Hint for representation and language, Hölderlin claims that the process that brings the spirit to exceed the unilateral, unproductive mood can be also described as an “anticipation” of the language on behalf of the knowledge, or conversely as the language “remembering”47 knowledge. This means, in short, that every step forward in the creative process is defined by an inner dialectic between the knowledge gained by the spirit and its ability to express it linguistically in a textual space. When the language is anticipated, which means that the ability of the spirit to remember is fulfilled – and manifested through gratitude (Dankbarkeit)48 – a “new reflection”, namely a “creative” one, arises. “The product of this creative reflection is language”49, writes Hölderlin. The language produced by the spirit’s Verfahrungsweise realizes humanity’s higher destination, the “destiny of all and every poetry”, to the extent that poietic spirit, with its “magic blow”, could create a new linguistic representation of reality as a living, dissonant whole.

  • 50 Hölderlin 1799, Engl. transl. 2009: 297.
  • 51 Hölderlin 1799, Engl. transl. 2009: 298.
  • 52 Hölderlin 1799, Engl. transl. 2008; see Ryan 1960: 97.

26It is clear here that the goal of the creative reflection is not merely to compose a poem. The creative process of the poietic spirit must succeed in producing a language in which “everything is as if for the first time”50 or reality appears in its livingness, in its bond to the poetic spirit as a collective historical us that can recognize itself in the room of a creative reflection. The creator’s gaze with the “infinite, beautiful reflection”51 is now able to “continuously relate and unify”; in other words, to express harmony and dissonances, concepts and images, to return to the world its livingness. At the end of the creative process, the (philosophical) discovery of “the one differentiated in itself”52 stays, the essence of being as it was pronounced by Heraclitus. The path to a philosophical truth is, for this reason, impossible to separate from a poetical process. At the same time, the poet’s destination cannot be detached from the philosophical one. The issue of creativity concerns both the philosopher and the poet, because to be unproductive, namely to remain restricted in a solitary, metaphysical mood, holds one back from life; that is, the one and only terrain in which poetry, as well as philosophy, can be experimented on.

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  • 53 Ryan 1960: 96.

27Considering Hölderlin’s theory of composition as a result of the meditation conducted in his dialogue with Schiller allows us to question the bond between philosophy and poetry, their common origin in enthusiasm and their linguistic outcome without describing them as simply incompatible. As Ryan pointed out in his groundbreaking study on Hölderlin’s poetry, the dialectic of composition draws two different spheres which remain distinct but also are codependent. Ryan described this thought pattern as an interaction between circles53 by referring to the two most important phases of the creative poetic process, which culminate in the two moments of reflection. The circles remain separate. As we saw, the early phase of the creative process consists of a poetic journey into the vividness of life, and, so to say, perfects itself in a second phase, in which one finally grasps the essence of beauty and truth.

  • 54 Hölderlin 1799, Engl. transl. 2008: 107-108.
  • 55 Hölderlin 1799, Engl. transl. 2008: 108.

28This thought pattern is, according to Ryan, something we can trace back to Hyperion, and precisely to one of the few pieces in which Hölderlin actually defines the relationship between poetry and philosophy. This is, naturally, the conclusion of the first volume, in which Hyperion, Diotima, and their friends chat about the greatness of ancient Greece by referring to the bond existing between their fundamental disciplines, including philosophy and poetry. Here Hyperion declares that poetry is “the beginning and the end” of philosophy, even if it appears surprising to the bystanders that “the cold sublimity of this knowledge”54 could have something to do with poetry. According to Hölderlin, philosophy emerges from poetry “like Minerva from Jupiter’s head” and is destined to converge “again in the mysterious wellsprings of poetry”55.

  • 56 Ibidem.

29This scheme based on a dialectic of “Doppelkreise” means that philosophy and poetry, even remaining distinct linguistical disciplines, could be considered as related in their origins, in their procedures, and in their ends. It seems as if Hölderlin wants to suggest to poets that, in order to fulfill their creative process, they should relate to the reflective capacity of philosophy. On the other hand, a philosopher must experiment the “hours of enthusiasm”, namely to abstain from refusing the maniac inspiration, in order to become an actual “philosophical skeptic”56. This narrow interaction between poetry and philosophy marks Hölderlin’s theory as a unique attempt to solve the old quarrel not by erasing the differences between the two genres but rather by trying to consider their bond, their interplay, their common ends.

  • 57 Crosetto 1998: 309.

30Moreover, this interaction between the two might draw a “phenomenology of consciousness”57, a process of alternation between the skeptical capacity of philosophy and the powerful ability of poetry to solicit the intellectual intuition. I argue that such phenomenology, which aims to bond together the spirit’s Streben to both unity and its living experience, could be the terrain of a philosophical aesthetics, which means a skeptical methodology of inquiry that warns philosophy of the dangers of abstractness and self-referentiality and poetry of the dangers of superficiality. Aesthetics could, in short, probe philosophy’s and poetry’s limits and assure their intimate collaboration.

  • 58 One could claim, and this would be subject of a new essay, that Hölderlin’s aesthetic operation goe (...)

31Hölderlin refuses the identification of icy, Nordic58 speculation with philosophy. His theory of composition could contribute to reforming not only a poetic process but also philosophical procedure, with emphatic reference to its mysterious, poetic wellsprings.

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Note

1 This essay results from a research period I spent in Fall 2019 at the Deutsches Literaturarchiv in Marbach am Neckar (Germany). I want to thank all the employees of the DLA for their fantastic work, and particularly Frau Gerhild Kölling. I also want to thank Elena Polledri and Giulia Iannucci for their friendly support; Alberto Siani, Danilo Manca and Niccolò Izzi for their invaluable aid.

2 Rosen 1988: 1 ff., suggests in this regard that the quarrel between philosophy and poetry could be seen as a different declination of Socrates’ critique of writing, declared in the Phaedrus. With reference to Phaidon 67a, one could also claim that the dimension proper to a philosopher is death, and that consequently the poet more willingly inhabits that of life.

3 On Plato’s understanding of creation, see Benjamin 2015. Like Rosen, Benjamin aims to reconstruct a second, deeper level of platonic doctrine, which must be found in the Dialogues, among the various literary elements of the texts. It follows that even the Platonic doctrine of the banishment of poetry must be seen as an essoteric, exterior metaphor for his actual philosophical speculation. Something similar occurs in Nietzsche; see Rosen 1989: 209-234; Nehamas 1985.

4 Sushytska 2012 argues that it was not Plato’s intention to erect such a dispute; she discusses referring to Havelock 1963. In my paper I support that strand of criticism which puts the incompatibility of poetry and philosophy in question and instead theorizes their combinability. See above all Rosen 1988 xi: “the quarrel between philosophy and poetry is […] a secondary consequence of the primary unity between philosophy and poetry. The quarrel arises when we attempt to identify and describe the principle of unity itself; and this attempt leads invariably to the triumph of poetry”. This means that “the quarrel is specious”, and that “there is no genuine quarrel” (xii). This is not to say that philosophy and poetry are the same thing, nor even that this “specious quarrel” does not deserve to be discussed again. As Rosen showed in his groundbreaking essays on Plato and Aristotle, assuming the question of a quarrel between philosophy and poetry must not lead to postulate their difference “in nature” (1). On the contrary, we can use the quarrel as a starting point to explore the modus of their interaction. In his recently edited volume, R. Ghosh speaks of “conjugality” between philosophy and poetry; see Ghosh 2019: 13.

5 Hölderlin 1794, Engl. transl. 2009: 36.

6 It is impossible to describe the complex relationship between Hölderlin and Schiller here, on which much speculation and many attempts at interpretations have been made. There is consequently a vast amount of literature on this topic, but this essay is not the place to consider this body of work. However, the reader may find it useful to consult Mommsen 1984, in which Hölderlin’s lyric The Oak Threes is explained as a documentation of his relationship with Schiller at the time of the escape from Jena. See also Reitani 2005, Darsow 1995, Raabe 1963.

7 See Hölderlin’s letter to Schiller of November 20th, 1796, Engl. transl. 2009: 80-81, which might be considered as a testimony of his affliction caused by Schiller’s long silence.

8 Hölderlin 1992 (hereafter MA) II, 641 (my transl.).

9 See the epilogue of the dialogue: “As a eulogist of Homer you are not skilled but divine”: Plato, Ion 542b.

10 MA II, 641.

11 It is impossible to condense the complexity with which Schiller tried to combine poetry and philosophy here. Many scholars have focused on this problem, and on the relationship with Goethe. See: Wilkinson 1961, Schäfer 1996, Koopman 1986. It is also important to recall that the intersection between poetry and philosophy in Schiller was fundamental for L. Amoroso’s aesthetics; see Amoroso 2014.

12 See Schiller’s letter to Körner, January 19, 1795.

13 See Schiller’s letters to Goethe, August 23, 1794 (NA XXVII, 24-27), and August 31, 1794 (NA XXVII, 31-33). According to Koopman 1986: 222, this epistolary exchange proves that Schiller originally created the famous strong polarization with Goethe.

14 Oelman 2005: 98. See also Schiller’s letter to Goethe, June 30, 1797, NA XXIX, 92-93.

15 It might be interesting to note that Schiller had also asked Hölderlin to translate Ovid, who appears in On Naive and Sentimental Poetry as a champion of idyllic poetry and who is, for this reason, claimed to be far from enthusiastic: “Need, not inspiration, pours forth those laments”, Schiller 1795, Engl. transl.1990: 339. According to Polledri 2002: 197, Schiller commissioned a translation from Ovid to Hölderlin to warn him from the danger of abstraction and of a “violent subjectivity”, as he wrote to Goethe (NA XXIX, 92).

16 NA II, 641.

17 See Hölderlin’s letter to Neuffer: “I write little and hardly do any philosophy anymore. But what do I write has more life and form”, Hölderlin 1797, Engl. transl. 2009: 85.

18 Hölderlin 1797, Engl. transl. 2009: 87. According to Reitani 2019: 1634, this letter might be confronted by the coeval fragment The Standpoint from which we should consider antiquity.

19 Hölderlin 1797, Engl. transl. 2009: 87.

20 Hölderlin 1797, Engl. transl. 2009: 91-92.

21 Hölderlin’s letter to Hegel, November 20, 1796, supports the thesis that here “metaphysical” is intended as a synonym for “Jenese philosophy”, when the author refers to the “ethereal spirits with metaphysical wings that accompanied me out of Jena”, who “had left me since I arrived in Frankfurt”; see Hölderlin 1796, Engl. transl. 2009: 80-81. This term was used also by Schiller, more than once, with the same meaning. See the 1795 poem The Metaphysician, which probably refers to Fichte and his formulation of Kant’s criticism. Moreover, he later describes Jena as a metaphysical desert in a letter to Karl August in 1799. On this use of the term metaphysical in Hölderlin, see also Hildebrandt 1943: 147; Hoffmeister 1946: 51-52.

22 Hölderlin 1797, Engl. transl. 2009: 92. Notice also that Hamlet had been an important model for Schiller’s Don Carlos.

23 Melancholy’s place in Hölderlin’s philosophy would require an entire book, maybe considering the influence of Marsilio Ficino’s De vita triplici and his Platonic commentaries. See also Schings 1977; Ricke 1961: 60 ff.; Loquai 1984: 83 ff.; Schmaus 1999; Braungart 1991.

24 Rosen 1988: 20.

25 Hölderlin 1797, Engl. transl. 2008: 29.

26 Hölderlin 1797, Engl. transl.2009: 242. On the nexus between Seven Maximes and the Pseudo-Longinus’ treatise On the Sublime, see Vöhler 1993; Lewis 2011.

27 In this respect, I believe Hölderlin’s view could be compared to Nietzsche’s concept of dichtende Vernunft, articulated in Dawn. See Rosen 1989: 209 ff.

28 Ryan 1960: 32.

29 See Hiller 2008: 125; for the relevance of literary self-examination to philosophy, see Roochnik 2015.

30 See Hölderlin 1801, Engl. transl. 2009: 312; Ryan 1960: 34.

31 Hölderlin 1799, Engl. transl. 2009: 280. According to Waibel 2000, Hölderlin’s poetology is conceived in a constant Auseinandersetzung with Fichte’s theory of imagination. In particular, see Waibel 2000: 318-319 on the notion of an applicated or non-applicated poetic process, and ibid.: 322 ff. on the topic of matter’s receptivity compared with Fichte’s concept of Schweben. On the same topic, see also Kreuzer 2002.

32 See Polledri - Borio 2019.

33 Note that according to Polledri-Borio 2019: 13 ff. Hölderlin’s musical approach to poetry exposes a detachment from a consideration of art based on imitation. This is, of course, confirmed by Hölderlin’s own emphasis on the notion of metaphor as fundamental for his poetry and philosophy.

34 Hölderlin 1799, transl. Eng 2009: 254.

35 For the nexus between the theory of the Wechsel der Töne and When the poet is once in command, see Ryan 1960: 35-36 and Gaier 1962: 74 ff. According to Ryan, the “events” are represented with a “naïve”, the “passions” with a “heroic” and the “phantasies” with an idealic tone.

36 See Hornbacher 1995: 78 ff. In her essay, Hornbacher claims that Hölderlin’s philosophical program shows a deep affinity with Plato’s. In particular, the musical feature of language is recognized to have the pedagogical, “magical” effects that are described in the Laws 659e. Unfortunately, Hornbacher interprets this deep affinity as proof of Hölderlin’s will to express the irreconcilability of poetry with philosophy as Plato did. Here I claim that things are more complex than this. On the anthropological relevance of the Wechsel der Töne, see also Gaier 2019. On the historical-philosophical implications of this thesis, see Ryan 1960: 42 ff., who compares this fragment to The Declining Fatherland.

37 See Hölderlin 1799, Engl. transl. 2009: 283: “considered as life defined and grounded by poetic reflection through the idea of life as such and through the lack of unity, it [the poetic life] begins with an idealically characteristic mood [Stimmung]”.

38 This crucial notion represents another point of intersection with Hölderlin’s theory of translation; see Gaier 1995.

39 Hölderlin 1799, Engl. transl. 2009: 252-253.

40 On enthusiasm as virginity of the spirit, and music, see Burdorf 2019.

41 Hölderlin 1799, Engl. transl. 2009: 286.

42 Hölderlin 1799, Engl. transl. 2009: 290.

43 See Henrich 1992. Here we find Hölderlin’s ultimate criticism to the Fichtean interpretation of German Idealism.

44 Hölderlin 1799, Engl. transl. 2009: 286.

45 Ibidem.

46 Hölderlin 1799, Engl. transl. 2009: 293.

47 Hölderlin 1799, Engl. transl. 2009: 294.

48 Hölderlin 1799, Engl. transl. 2009: 295. The association of Erinnerung and Dankbarkeit is to be found also in the fragment Über die Religion.

49 Hölderlin 1799, Engl. transl. 2009: 296-97.

50 Hölderlin 1799, Engl. transl. 2009: 297.

51 Hölderlin 1799, Engl. transl. 2009: 298.

52 Hölderlin 1799, Engl. transl. 2008; see Ryan 1960: 97.

53 Ryan 1960: 96.

54 Hölderlin 1799, Engl. transl. 2008: 107-108.

55 Hölderlin 1799, Engl. transl. 2008: 108.

56 Ibidem.

57 Crosetto 1998: 309.

58 One could claim, and this would be subject of a new essay, that Hölderlin’s aesthetic operation goes hand in hand with a severe criticism of his contemporaries’ style in philosophy and poetry. This maneuver should be considered as focused on correcting the “mere intellect” and cold rationality of the North (Hölderlin 1799, Engl. transl. 2008: 110) with the enthusiasm of the South.

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Marta Vero, «Hölderlin’s Theory of (Aesthetic) Production»Rivista di estetica, 81 | 2022, 43-59.

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Marta Vero, «Hölderlin’s Theory of (Aesthetic) Production»Rivista di estetica [Online], 81 | 2022, online dal 01 février 2024, consultato il 23 juin 2024. URL: http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/estetica/12289; DOI: https://0-doi-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/10.4000/estetica.12289

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