The Death of Empedocles: Friedrich Hölderlin: Der Tod des Empedokles (The Death of Empedocles), the first version of which he nearly completed; fragments. Hölderlin, Friedrich, – [Tod des Empedokles. English]. The death of Empedocles: a mourning-play / Friedrich Hölderlin ; translated with introduction. Hölderlin’s poem about Empedocles is, to say the least, quite unusual. Yet it sets already the stage for what became a key theatrical piece. For the third fragment.
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Yet it sets already the stage for what became a key theatrical piece. I saw the performance on a cold November day in It was my first jolderlin I had come to Berlin West and to where I moved permanently one year later. At that time I was visiting merely a good friend of mine, namely Christine Holste.
We had studied together ‘political iconography’ under Reinhard Kosseleck at Heideldberg University in She was the one who suggested that I should see this play. Till today I cannot thank her enough for that recommendation.
As the writing progressed, it became more and more an epic poem. Retrospectively speaking, it was not an attempt to imitate Ancient Greek Drama but rather seeks to describe what I witnessed as part of the audience.
The epic poem I wrote down almost spontaneously in is, therefore, deeply embedded in the impression Berlin made upon me at the time.
It was then more than just a divided city, for it made explicit the fate of post war Germany or what had consequences due to what Germany did during Second World War. The poem seeks to link aspirations for reform with the spirit of the French Revolution to bring about a new unity in society.
Yet what does ‘sacrifice’ mean? How can something like this be justified, or even be morally legitimized? Both rule out ‘human sacrifice’ which war often demands by contracting perception of possible choices to a fatal ‘either leave behind the two wounded soldiers and jeopardize the entire unit or else sacrifice the two in order to save the rest of the unit from an immanent attack!
Therefore, it is up poetry to widen the options. There is something else which stands in the way of making humans sacrifice themselves for the fatherland. Kant had already introduced the moral imperative as a category not to be commanded, but practiced, insofar as no human being should be used as a means to another end.
Hence ends have to be ethical and which can never justify the means, if in conflict or in contradiction with this ethical vision. That is why the death penalty has been abolished and why killing of another can never be justified.
Still the question remains if this is a fair interpretation of what he wrote back then in his ‘fatherland’ poem? Moreover, no proof can ever be ascertained if everything depends on an untested future. Since both the means and the outcome of man’s decisions and actions are of equal importance in terms of moral legitimacy, what can be justified, what not, has to take on a poetic and philosophical discourse.
To this has to be added the consideration of potentials sighted but not realized due to all kinds of wrong denials and losses of opportunities which could have altered the course of history. Already poets of Ancient Greece made it clear that it is no easy task to bring about a just society and thus poetry becomes a measure for things to come.
That is in a proper sense a possibility to mediate between what is being strived for and what seems possible at any given moment. Insofar as poetry upholds the dream of mankind, continuity shall be upheld despite all set-backs and discontinuities incurred in practice. A show of practical wisdom is to acknowledge if something does not work out right away, then it has a reason and should not be overrun with force.
Like water runs around a tree or stone, there is no point of going through a thick wall. Learning out of such a reason, and here poetry can further the knowledge as to why, implies a willingness to work with resistance. The same applies to a willingness to challenge power especially if threatening to become unjust.
To know what should be demanded means to remember what was said at the outset. Precisely out of this reason memories play an important role. This is where ‘cultural heritage’ comes in.
It includes remembering not only the things achieved in the past, but as well what potentialities have been sighted in the past and which should be made into intangible ‘memories for the future’. As insights in potentialities yet to be realized, they prompt a development towards conditions which will allow their realization. It used to be the case that generations worked for the future of their grandchildren as they knew not everything can be achieved within their life time.
The notion of time linked to a distant future when things not now possible but to be realized then, that has almost disappeared. So has the need for heroic actions. Today culture has become a search for truth. Poetry embedded in a certain culture which is receptive to practical wisdom depends, therefore, on how all these poetic impulses become inspirations to go on while being willing to learn from the mistakes made in the past.
Hence the poem could be misused by Fascist ideology. By the same token, he despised an ordinary death. Presumably this brought him ever closer to Empedocles who sought his own end by leaping into the flames of the vulcano. In his Fragment he lets Manes, the man from Egypt, say to Empedocles: Instead of glorification of heroship, he suggests that things can be understood as well the other way around!
Contradiction as a concept figured predominantly in the philosophy of Hegel. Interpretation has it there can be a contradiction in the concept, in reality or else in the relationship between concept and reality. That then needs further explanation as it sets a strong contra point to his poem about the ‘fatherland. Even in his third attempt he never succeeded in completing it. In that third fragment appear poetic reflections about Empedocles.
They reveal a meaning in life can be gained by turning things upside down. For there contradictions can be resolved differently. It begins already by sharing nuts to eat with the others who all sit around the fire on their hind legs to keep their bodies close to the ground.
He aspires to partake in fruitful discussions initiated by the people themselves and thereby shall be able to resolve the most important political question, namely how to govern themselves. For freedom can be found when not dependent upon a leader! When I picked up again my epic poem fourty years later on, Berlin had changed in the meantime.
The wall had come down in As made explicit at the conference about ‘ Europe performing ‘ held at Toronto University in and organized by Pia Kleber, the interesting question exits how these changes have manifested themselves in theatre? How different holserlin now performances, and interpretations of basic texts, since reunification has taken place? Needless to say, reflections about my epic poem have become a part of ongoing ‘memory work’.
The Death of Empedocles – Wikipedia
I use it holderlih notice what else has changed, what not and this not only in Berlin, but as well in the world.
To this can be added experiences made with poetry and philosophy while in Greece. I have started to stay and to write in Athens from onwards. It is best guided by one crucial cultural value, namely that of consistency.
This needs to be and can only be gained over time. Since it entails working through conflicts and contradictions, while sorting out different interpretations and standpoints, it serves the purpose of constituting the ‘democratic self’. By observing how contradictions between then and now can evolve out of reality while seeing how people respond to them, it becomes crucial to observe hoderlin all are disposed to go conform in the long run to already laid out structures.
That can be linked to what Holdedlin Heinrich said about Adorno when the latter attempted to lay open his self reflection to being just subjective, but then realized eempedocles he would never succeed to become entirely free from these pre-determined structures. Indeed, one could say that trust was gone in Berlin Westand not only there.
The need to regain trust was more than urgent, but that proved to be most difficult. He stated while a period of mourning must take place after all the losses suffered during Second World War before there can be any trust, things are made worse because Germans seem unable to mourn. Trust can holderin many things, including openness to other people, in particular strangers. A prerequisite for that is often overseen, namely the need to trust oneself before being holderllin to be open to others.
To this added Horkheimer and Adorno the Right to mistrust as a healthy form to keep a empedkcles from what might be a manipulative practice not only in politics, but equally in business. There is something else which is peculiar to Germany.
The Death of Empedocles | tragedy by Hölderlin |
It is a nation based on federalism. Many trust themselves to say things when they stay within their respective dialect while High German as a language seems to them to be too abstract to be really trusted. That has to be taken into consideration, and has many ramifications on how poets understand and enrich the German language through their own way of bridging the gap between two different kinds of ‘Unmittelbarkeit’ immediacies: Jean Amery, a survivor of Auschwitz, stated in his book about redemption that there was something like a dialectic between perception and trust to be experienced much more within the own dialect.
Things were named as they are. It meant primarily a freedom from a manipulative use of language. Naturally this does not explain why so many claimed that they did not see the Jews disappear. Their statements and silence about what happened really let many post war generations grow up with a lack of trust in their elderlies.
There was something else. Since that could not be forced by the cold iron law of ‘necessity’, he understood it more as an art of influencing through writing to all the wish for a simultaneous development. It can be re-interpreted as the art to bring about a coincidence. He wrote to many letters to urge everyone to act but since these letters did not arrive all at the same time, no such coincidence in history came about.
Therefore, actions were delayed and already many started to hesitate again when others were still contemplating if they would be prepared to challenge the system.
It meant the orgininal belief in revolution as the only way to change the system never translated itself into a moment all could experience as a turning point in history. Some coincidences come about when something else is needed and yet you do not know where to find it until it comes upon you unexpectedly.
There is the famous saying by Adorno about society without coincidence being dictatorship.
It would be aweful to have everything predetermined while anything unexpected would be mistrusted because a stranger to the system.
Any coincidence presupposes trust in the unexpected as not meaning disorder, but a valuable moment that alters things and at the same time can be accommodated and adapted to continue life under a very different premise.
I had such a coincidence when in Berlin empedockes November I visited my friend, the painter Roger Servais who lives just next door. I had wanted to ask him if he could see the paintings of Jad Salman who had come from Paris to visit me in Berlin. Roger was an incredible painter who knows how to break colours into many more shades than what we normally see due to our limited vocabulary.
But rather than bringing Jad with me, Roger and I wanted to have first a moment to ourselves.