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What Is, and To What End,
This article was written by Schiller Institute founder and Chairwoman Helga Zepp LaRouche on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the poet's death in May 2005, for simultaneous publication in FIDELIO Magazine, and its German-language sister-publication IBYKUS.
What Is, and To What End,
That is what Heinrich Heine wrote about Friedrich Schillerand how right he was! All men become brothers ... this kiss from the entire universe! Still today, this youthful enthusiasm of Schiller cannot fail to infect the unprejudiced reader, snatching him from the narrow world of sense perception, and lofting him high above, into the visionary world of beautiful humanity. And, we must add on a modern note, it's a good thing, too, because that's precisely what is most lacking in our own decadent times.
Now, there's also a mighty chorus of people, who will have no truck with Schiller's ideals, or with anyone today who might be filled with unbounded enthusiasm for Schiller. They range from Adorno-raped academics from the aging 1960's radical milieupeople who have never grown emotionally out of the counterculture of their extended adolescenceto the barren Regietheater director, who for the past thirty years wouldn't think of putting on a play without including a sex act on stage; and all the way to the poor victims of these chorus-leaders, the PISA-dumbed-down students,1 who can't understand Schiller at all, because neither their parents, nor their teachers, can understand him either, and whose vocabulary consequently does not extend beyond that of a Britney Spears.
There is, in fact, nothingabsolutely nothingabout Schiller that is outmoded or fuddy-duddy. Schiller continues to communicate the most magnificent image of man ever presented by by a German-speaking poet. He was, and is, the world's best psychologist, because he had a sublime idea of what it means to be a human being, and because he had very precise knowledge of what prevents human beings from realizing their true potential, and of what holds them back from being beautiful souls. And because he uniquely united poetry and philosophy into a new and higher species of endeavor, he possessed, as Wilhelm von Humboldt rightly observed, an infallible key to the innermost entrances to the human soul. He was unmatched in his ability to raise people out of the narrow confines of everyday life, and to array before them the great issues confronting all humanity.
What Carlo Schmidt said at the celebration of Schiller's 200th birthday, is equally true now, on the 200th anniversary of his deathand it is a question of even greater urgency still, namely: The question isn't what Schiller can still say to us, but rather, it is how we measure up against Schiller today. It's not Schiller who needs to be interpreted anew according to the changing times; on the contrary, it is his critics who must permit themselves to be measured against the standard set by him. And against this standard, the great majority of his modern reviewersand also, unfortunately, most of the theater directors who have staged his works over the past few decadesare small fry indeed.
Today, 200 years after Schiller's death, Germany's situation is catastrophic. Its economy is in free-fall: With 5.4 million officially unemployed, and the real figure at over 9 million, the social moorings of the state are beginning to break up. Germany's government is being subjected to enormous pressure from supranational institutions to brutally dismantle the social welfare state as it has been nurtured since the time of Bismarck's reforms, and which is anchored in Article 20 of our Basic Law. Every institution which citizens have taken for granted as unshakeable and permanent, are now in various stages of dissolution. The very ground of our republic seems to be trembling beneath our feet.
Even though this existential crisis has many causesand quite a number of them are not home-grownthe more profound reason why we Germans, up to now, have been so manifestly incapable of reacting adequately to these threats, and of finding solutions, is because we have distanced ourselves almost completely from our cultural roots, and from our own best traditions. Want an example? Let's read the opening of an article by Jens Jensen, appearing in Die Zeit's special section celebrating the Schiller Year:
One possible reaction to this, might be for us to have pity for poor Herr Jensen, because beauty, freedom, and reason have no meaning for him; because he has no hope of achieving grace or dignity; because he has so evidently failed to inherit a scintilla of truth or ethical values from generations past; and because he is incapable of making any contribution to the future development of human society. And, we might therefore say, he is a perfect fit for Schiller's term stunted plants, which Schiller uses to describe people whose mental and spiritual capacities are completely undeveloped. Or, we could also make a joke at Herr Jensen's expense, by observing that he is intent on loudly proclaiming his miserable state of mind to the world at large, instead of, as Heine would put it, having the decency to conceal his little webbed feet.
Let it be said in Herr Jensen's defense, that he subsequently does admit that Schiller anticipated, and continues to influence, all of the great debates of recent times, ranging from human rights to freedom of the will. Yet Jensen remains, sad to say, all too typical of our Zeitgeist: For him, as for many of our contemporaries, the terms beauty, freedom, reason, and truth have no meaning whatsoever. And precisely therein lies the problem.
It was not all at once, but rather in many phases, that we have distanced ourselves from the most fundamental ideas of our over 2,000-year-old western Platonic-humanist traditionone example being the idea that through Socratic reason, truth is knowable. This tradition reached its absolute high-point during the Weimar Classical era, and it is especially prominent in the works of Schiller, who knew how to clothe Platonic ideas in the raiments of poetic beauty. But soon there came the Romantics, beginning, at the very latest, with the political Romanticism that was firmly in the pocket of the post-Napoleonic Restoration, and whose chief theoretician was the fascist Joseph de Maistre. These Romantics launched a systematic attack against the ancient Greeks' idea of the unity of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. The next major assault came via Nietzsche, who hated Plato, Schiller, and Beethoven, and who denigrated the times when Socratic reason prevailed, in favor of the Dionysian phases of human history. Next, the National Socialists initially sought to mold Schiller according to their own agenda (Cleave, o cleave to our dear Fatherland!); but they soon began to fear that Schiller's freedom drama Wilhelm Tell would be interpreted as a call for the assassination of tyrants, and so, on June 3, 1941, Hitler caused the play to be banned, by means of a secret memorandum signed by Martin Bormann.
But the far more systematic attack on the Classical tradition only got under way during the postwar period, through the combined influence of the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF) and the advice which the Occupying Powers were taking from representatives of the Frankfurt School. The CCF was the biggest operation ever run by the forerunners of today's U.S. neo-conservatives. It was run under the pretext of stemming the Soviet Union's influence over cultural life in Europe and the United States, whereas in reality, its assignment was to systematically attempt to extirpate from the population, the axiomatic basis of thinking which had made it possible for Franklin Delano Roosevelt to implement his New Deal and Bretton Woods policiesi.e., a policy oriented toward the general welfare.2
During World War II, Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, and other denizens of the Frankfurt School worked at the Institute for Social Research at Columbia University on the authoritarian personality project, and defined their so-called criteria, by which, they claimed, one could recognize whether a given person was predisposed to adopting or advocating authoritarian systems such as national socialism or communism. These criteria included the person's assertion that truth was knowablethis was fascistic per se. And thus, in one stroke, they threw the entire Socratic method of truth-seeking out the window.
In 1950, Adorno and Horkheimer were shipped back into Germany, in order to assist High Commissioner John J. McCloya direct forerunner of today's neo-consin the denazification of Germany's education system and cultural institutions. Adorno went about putting into practice his conviction that if one wanted to extirpate the authoritarian impulse from the population, it would be necessary to completely dissolve the existing structure of society in postwar America and Europe. And in order to do that, any and all forms of beauty had to be removed; and in its place, there must spread a primitive mass culture which, in turn, after a while, would cause the population to suffer a complete mental breakdown.3
Adorno, in his capacity as chief representative of critical theory, which casts everything and everyone into doubt, was convinced that the very idea of progress in history, according to which humanity can gradually approximate a society based on reason, is not only false, but is, in fact, extremely dangerous. Adorno believed that all social theories, and all historical periods which had ever taken as their point of departure a claim that they fostered man's liberation from his own self-imposed shackles, so that he could also free himself from the shackles imposed upon him by nature, have always ended up as totalitarian dictatorships. He insisted that any idea of development in the name of reason, was inevitably doomed to failure. Or, to put it another way: Adorno believed that the mere attempt to educate people in the principles of reason, already belies, in principle, a fascist intent.
It will therefore come as no surprise, that he had special contempt for Friedrich Schiller, the man who had dedicated his entire life's work precisely to this idea of freeing human beings from the prison of their own sensual existence, and of not only elevating people to the level of reason, but of bringing people's emotions up to that level as well. Adorno wrote about Schiller that his
verbal habitus is reminiscent of the young man who comes up from the lower classes, and, embarrassed, starts writing things in high society in order to make an insolent spectacle of himself. His German blustering and sententiousness he borrowed from the French, but he perfected it at the German dinner-table. The petit-bourgeois, in his never-ending, relentless demands, plays himself up, identifies himself with the power that he himself does not possess, and, in his arrogance, does it one better, all the way into the absolute spirit, and absolute horror.... Within humanism's innermost sanctum, there rages, as its true soul, the imprisoned maniac who, as fascist, would make a prison out of the entire world.So, humanism is the harbinger of fascism? That's exactly what Adorno is saying. And therefore, he claims, any transposition of the sublime into the political realm, is to be prevented at all cost, because the outcome would be either terror, or fascism.
Adorno's Kulturkampf against the humanist tradition, Classical music, and Schiller personally, was only one aspect among the many others involved in the extremely lavish propaganda operation that was mounted in collaboration with the C.I.A., the U.S. State Department, the CCF, and the Frankfurt School. In the subsequent Cold War years, up through 1967, when the nature of this operation blew up in a huge scandal, there was nary a concert, nary a single cultural event which the CCF didn't have its fingers intoor its money.
Without this background, it is impossible to understand Germany's cultural situation today. Because it has been a very long timeperhaps 30 or 40 yearssince Schiller's works have actually been performed on the German stage. What we have had instead, were stagings by the so-called Regietheater [director's theater], which, even in the best of cases, only offered what Schiller would have described as maniriert [contrived] performancesi.e., it was the personal opinions of the director, the producer, and sometimes of the actors themselves, which governed their Schiller interpretation. And if you add to this, the fact that beginning in 1970 with the Brandt school reforms, the very idea of the Humboldt educational ideal, and the study of the Classics, have been removed from the standard curriculum, then it becomes clear why two entire generations of people in Germany have great conceptual difficulty understanding Schiller.
And even though Schiller's dramas have continued to appear frequently on our program listings, these have not been the real Schiller, but instead, they have been either alienated performances à la Bertold Brecht, or deliberate falsifications in Adorno's vein, or else they have simply been outbursts of mental flatulence from some theater director, intent on tacking one more cool novelty onto his production. One director gets the idea of cutting Act V of Tell, another one cuts Act IV, and yet another doesn't like the mass scenes in Wallenstein because they provide historical context. And so, performances are typically distorted so far beyond recognition, that we wouldn't even know that Schiller was being performed, had we not read the title on the program booklet.
With only a small handful of exceptions, all we have had, has been Regietheater. Since the mid-1960's, the chief culpritbut by no means the only onehas been Hans-Günter Heyme, whose father was some sort of cultural officer attached to the American occupation authorities, and who has been a veritable cornucopia of new ways to bowdlerize Schiller's plays. Heyme is quite open about his refusal to to be faithful to the play's original intent:
For us, as for Adorno, we have an obligation to keep an even better faith. And this faith ... means that no longer must we perform old plays according to the written text, but rather we must go against the grain. To perform plays according to the text, means no longer to take them seriously for today's world. ... In my view, our task is to rework the texts anew, while remaining responsible to the circumstances under which these works were created. ... Nothing should be changed in the text itself, in its versification, its rhythm, or underlying poetry. But undoubtedly, you often have to alter the scenic production, in order to make plays important for us today, and, ultimately, to rescue them for us.One such rescue effort was a performance of Wilhelm Tell in Wiesbaden in 1965, in which the Swiss citizenry appears on stage as a rowdy, fascistic mobin keeping, as always, with Adorno's thesis that wherever there's humanism, fascism will soon follow. Tell comes across as a cowardly murderer lurking within the ambush party; and to ensure that the point is not missed, the Rütli Oath is accompanied by a melody remarkably similar to the Nazis' Horst Wessel Song.
The theater critic Peter Iden commented on this performance, that, To my recollection, and up to the present day, this particular production of Schiller's Tell by Heyme is a great milestone, indeed a caesura, in the history of German theater. I call it a caesura, because it launched an entirely new way of formulating the Classics. Previously, we had been obliged to deal with forms dating back to the 1930's. But now, young Heyme comes along and overturns absolutely everything. Even back then, Heyme's production came as a powerful shock, because the paradigm shift associated with the 1960's generation was still not yet firmly in place. One Mr. Rühle, for example, wrote against Heyme in the daily Frankfurter Allegmeine Zeitung: Do this one more time, and I'll do everything in my power to make sure you'll never put anything on the stage again. However that may have been, it was not enough to forestall similar performances of other Schiller plays. Heyme, Zadek, Steiner, and other directors continued to revise Schiller according to their own whims, and, as Heyme put it, to disengage from the old brown [i.e., fascist] sauce that had gotten sloshed in.
What Peter Iden correctly recognized as a caesura, was but one part of a much more comprehensive paradigm shift that had been launched in the United States and Europe with the 1960's generationthe generation whose mentors were these same Frankfurt School ideologues. It was part of a systematic transformation away from a society of producers still oriented toward Roosevelt, Adenauer, and de Gaulle, and into a society of consumers and speculators. On the economic side, for example, some years later this paradigm shift resulted in the demise of the Bretton Woods system and the introduction of floating exchange rates; and thus began the bubble economy which has now reached its bitter, fag end. On the cultural side, this shift went hand-in-hand with a massive attack on the values of Christian humanism, and of Classical culture.
It was also during this time that Hans Neuenfels started up his theater happenings, which made headlines, and also got him fired from the Trier Theater. In an interview with Niels Negendank, Neuenfels reminisced about those heady days:
It was a time when opinions were being reshapedeven in Trier. Young people couldn't entirely reconcile themselves with these failed laws of prosperity. ... And we said to ourselves: We've got to do something entirely different. And then we brainstormed on it. And then we hit on the idea of making a happening with bathtubs, with music, lyrics, and texts from the B Generation, and stuff like that. And each person had to draft a leaflet. And then I set myself up on the Marktplatz in Trier, and handed them out. People read it. And you could see from their reaction, that they were totally at a loss. Some of them were open about it, and asked, What do you mean when you write: 'Yes, you, too, you old Nazi, are welcome to come'? And what does this mean, 'Help us tear down the Trier Cathedral!'?Even if that might have been a new idea the first time aroundthough not a very profound onesuch brainstorms, which every Tom, Dick, and Harry has been coming up with variations on for the past 40 years since then, really ought to be quite worn-out by now.
Neuenfels came to realize as much in the meantime, and said so in a recent interview. In a lecture he gave in March 2002, he recapitulated his relationship to Classicism:
The title The Idle Dream of Classicism [a show broadcast by Deutschlandradio Berlin], if I understand it correctly, proceeds from a yearning, a hope, and not from an assertion or a distinction. From a yearning, a compulsion even, an instinct to resort to deliberately fixed, even artificially forced forms and values, as a means of dealing with the nightmares of our accidental existence. ... The wholesome world which we associate with the Classical idea, which allows Mozart to be turned into Mozartkugeln [Mozart Chocolate Balls], which propels Verdi into open-air arenas and pops concerts, which banishes the real Goethe, the real Shakespeare, and even the real Kleist, into mere statuesall this stems from the secretly cherished delusion that somewhere, in the here and now, there must exist something that is cordoned off from real lifeindisputable, unassailable, coldly comforting values, which separate us from the chaos, from banality, from happenstance. Many people believe that is beautiful ... .But clearly, Neuenfels does not see it that way. He treats Classical works as if they were a warehouse which anyone is free to plunder at whim: The Classics are sitting there like an inexhaustible raw thematic material, always usable, always accessible, 'round the clock. So-called necessity stands thereirritating, oppressive, seducing us to storm its gates in battle, with wins and losses on both sides. That's the attraction. That's fair. Here we all have a chance to win. So, the Classics are a department store where anyone can pick and choose whatever strikes their fancy.
Now, in Germany we live in a more or less democratic republic, and so these folks are free to do as they please. But since they so clearly don't understand the first thing about the Classics, there remains the nagging question: Why don't they just write their own plays? Or, to put it another way: Why aren't the Regietheater fans beating down the doors to see performances of plays such as Neuenfels' Stuttgart oder die Fahrt nach Neapel (Stuttgart, or the Trip to Naples)? Might it be because those plays just aren't usable, always accessible, 'round the clock? Or perhaps because their content gets exhausted after the very first reading or performance, and after that, all that they elicit is one great, big yawn? Well, in that case, these writers ought to work on becoming better playwrights; but in the meantime, let them leave Schiller and the Classics well enough alone!
Fresh from his attempted massacre of Wilhelm Tell, Hans-Günther Heyme proceeded in 1969 to inflict the same on Wallenstein. He took this trilogy, which requires two evenings to perform, and cut it down to three and a half hours. And in what can only be described as a deliberate falsification, he ignored Schiller's own explicit instructions on how Wallenstein's personality was to be portrayed, instead arbitrarily lifting one single aspect of his characterizations, completely out of context.
Schiller's masterful method of reflecting the full complexity of the conflict between Wallenstein and the Viennese court through the eyes of the soldiers in Wallensteins Lager (Wallenstein's Camp), as a way of setting the stage for the dramatic action to come, was completely destroyed in Heyme's version; instead, brief encampment scenes keep popping up as interludes during the later course of the play. Some other scenes were mercilessly shortened, and many passages were spoken by different characters than in the original, so that all that remained, was not the characters, but merely sonic tapestriessimilar to the festival that was once held in Bonn, where each resident was asked to play a recording of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony on their home stereo, and to leave the window open, while everyone else did the same.
Since the time of Heyme's production, this idea of not presenting Wallenstein's Camp in its historically specific situation in the Thirty Years' Warand of changing its venue from the Nuremberg camp to somewhere elsehas been repeated many times and with many variationsfor example, in a performance in Mannheim a few years ago, where the soldiers were clad in the uniforms dating from every war imaginable, from the German Wehrmacht to Vietnam GI's, and, as with Heyme's version, confronted the audience head-on, as a tromping horde. But that's simply not Schiller. In his Prologue, Schiller says quite explicitly:
Schiller says that experiencing the camp is crucial for understanding Wallenstein's actionsand so, what can justify Heyme when he simply removes this as a coherent unit, and breaks it up into little pieces? And when Heyme simply cuts out the role of Dutchess Terzky altogether, and then puts some of her lines into Wallenstein's mouth, this was an entirely deliberate, intentional falsification of Wallenstein's character. Because Wallenstein was just not the cold, power-hungry general who failed; that historical fact is simply not open to interpretation.
Why did Schiller write historical dramas in the first place? Why was he so involved in studying history, and why did he proceed to use the material he garnered from those studies, as the basis for his dramas? Because for him, both of thesehistory and dramapointed out routes whereby the simple reader or viewer, caught up in his web of daily cares, could be lifted out of his littleness by the great issues confronting humanity. Because Schiller dedicated his entire life's work to answering the question of how a failure of moral courage, such as what had just occurred in the French Revolutionwhen, at a great historic moment, a little people were incapable of seizing this opportunity to improve the political situationof how this problem could be overcome. For him, the theater's high purpose was nothing less than the moral education of the human being, and of the nation, as Schiller wrote in his essay Theater As a Moral Institution, and also nothing less than the fostering of general happinessand by happiness, Schiller meant this term in Leibniz's sense, and as it is also embedded in the U.S. Declaration of Independence.
Schiller describes the theater's mission and function: The theater is the common channel through which the light of wisdom streams down from the thoughtful, better part of society, spreading thence in mild beams throughout the entire state. More correct notions, more refined precepts, purer emotions flow from here into the veins of the population; the clouds of barbarism and gloomy superstition disperse; night yields to triumphant light. But if the message which the poet intends to convey with his play is perverted into its opposite, as typically occurs with Regietheater, then the theater's purifying effect is absent, and the audience is dragged down even lower than they had been before they entered the hall.
Countless passages from Schiller demonstrate that this was his ultimate, and his sole aim. In his Aesthetical Letters, there can be no misunderstanding his expressed conviction that all improvement in the political sphere, is contingent on the ennoblement of the individual, and that this is the special function performed by art. And in his preface to the Die Braut von Messina (The Bride of Messina), entitled On the Use of the Chorus in Tragedy, he writes:
True art, however, does not aim merely at a temporary play; it seriously intends not to transpose a person into a merely momentary dream of freedom, but to make him really and in fact free, and to accomplish this by awakening in him a force, exercising it and developing it, to thrust the sensuous world, which otherwise only presses upon us as crude material, bearing down upon us as a blind power, into an objective distance, to transpose it into a free work of our mind, and to achieve mastery over the material with ideas.To awaken this power within the listenerthat was Schiller's overriding concern. In the Prologue to his Wallenstein trilogy, which refers to the reopening of the Weimar Theater in October 1798, and which is, quite literally, a set of stage directions for the plays, he talks about the lofty spirit which speaks out from the redesigned hall, and which excites the audience's mind to solemn and profound emotions, thus fostering that special mental disposition which is the precondition for the sublime. The events about to unfold on the stage, are aimed at precisely this: to elevate the audience.
A grand exemplar awakens desire to emulate,
But not only the audience is to experience more elevated sentiments; the actor, too, is called upon to do justice to the high demands placed upon him, and, be his artistry on stage ever so fleeting, to completely fill that moment which is his alone.
With these lines, Schiller leaves no doubt about his intent: The goal of great importance, the great issue of humanity, is nothing less than the struggle for humanity's freedom; and the events on stage must not be permitted to sink below the level of present history as it stood in the year 1798. He calls this present, this moment, sublime, and says that the task is to lead the audience out from the confines of daily life, and into the great issues which will enable human beings to grow in tandem with their own greater goals. You couldn't ask for stage directions more explicit than that.
To conclude this point: It is no coincidence that Schiller became world-renowned as the Poet of Freedom, because for him, human freedomexternal freedom, but especially internal freedomwas an inalienable human value. In his Aesthetical Letters, he writes that the construction of true political freedom is the greatest of all works of art. He defines beauty as freedom in the domain of phenomenaa condition in which the object is entirely in correspondence with its own inherent lawfulness, without need for external compulsion. And his chief criticism of the Kantian categorical imperative, was that it was insulting to his sense of freedom, to see how a person acting in accordance with Kantian maxims had to forcefully suppress his contending emotions, in order to be a moral person; instead of this, Schiller set forth his notion of the beautiful soul, for whom freedom and necessity, passion and duty, coincide.
In his essay On the Sublime, Schiller elaborates on the significance of this idea for world history:
Freedom, with all of its moral contradictions and physical evils, is for noble souls an infinitely more interesting spectacle than prosperity and order without freedom, where the sheep patiently follow the shepherd and the self-commanding will is degraded to the subservient part of a clockwork. The latter makes man merely into a spirited product and a more fortunate citizen of nature; freedom makes him into the citizen and co-ruler of a higher system, where it is infinitely more honorable, to occupy the nethermost place, than to command the ranks in the physical order.That is also precisely the point of Wallenstein; and any production which seeks to suppress this chief concern, by portraying Friedländer (Wallenstein) as merely a cold, power-hungry military official, is suppressing Schiller's primary ideathe sublime aspect of history which is being addressed here: the struggle for human freedoma struggle which, in this case, is inseparably bound up with the struggle to end the war, and to achieve peace. Schiller writes in the Prologue:
And thus, if a production fails to bring Wallenstein closer to the audience's heart, it will be failure. So, what could Schiller's motivation possibly be for portraying Wallenstein in a differentiated way, creating space for a real human being, so that we might even conceivably come to sympathize with his intentions?
As is well known, Schiller did extensive research on the Thirty Years' War, and published his results in five volumes. He visited Eger and other historic sites, and immersed himself in questions of military strategy, before sitting down to write his Wallenstein. Over the course of his work, his own views on Friedländer underwent considerable change. At the beginning of his History of the Thirty Years' War, he describes Wallenstein as a boundlessly ambitious and ruthless warlord, obsessively bent on revenge against the Emperor who has deposed him. In order to carry out his plan to obliterate the Hapsburg empire, and to arrogate imperial power to himself, he had to regain his command over his army. And in that effort, Wallenstein was obliged to make all sorts of seemingly contradictory chess moves, even going so far as facilitating the advance of Gustavus Adolphus's army, in order to exert so much pressure on the Emperor, that he would have no other choice but to re-install Wallenstein as a ruler with virtually sovereign powers. Schiller then proceeds to describe the various military battles, Wallenstein's attempted conspiracies, and the counter-conspiracies launched by the court in Vienna.
But by the end of his fourth volume, Schiller writes a passage expressing a new insight:
Thus Wallenstein, at the age of fifty, ended his active and extraordinary life; elevated through ambition, ruined by ambition, with all his failings he was still great and admirable, unequalled, if he had kept moderation. The virtues of the ruler and of the hero, prudence, justice, firmness, and courage are colossally prominent in his character; but he lacked the gentler virtues of man, which adorn the hero, and make the ruler beloved.And then, suddenly, Schiller puts yet another dimension of these events into play, one that sheds an altogether different light on all that he had written up to that point:
His free mind and clear understanding elevated him above the religious prejudices of his century, and the Jesuits never forgave the fact that he saw through their system. ... Through the intrigues of monks he lost the command of the army at Regensburg and his life at Eger; through the artifice of monks he lost perhaps, what was more than both of these, his honorable name and his reputation before posterity. For in the end, one must admit, for the sake of justice, that the pens which have provided us with the history of this extraordinary man are not entirely faithful; that the treachery of the duke and his designs upon the throne of Bohemia were not grounded firmly on proven facts, but merely upon probably suppositions. The document has still not been found, which discloses to us with historical reliability the secret motives of his conduct, and among his public and universally attested actions there is none, which in the end could not have flowed from an innocent source. Many of his most reproachable steps prove merely his earnest preference for peace ... none of his actions justify us in holding his treachery to be proven. ... Thus Wallenstein fell, not because he was a rebel, but rather he rebelled, because he fell. A misfortune for the living, that he had made a victorious party his enemya misfortune for the dead, that this enemy survived him and wrote his history.It is a testament to Schiller's genius as a historian, that despite the relatively poor quality of resources available to him in comparison to today, he nevertheless succeeded in putting his finger on the crucial dynamic behind the Thirty Years' War. The actual subject, both of the history and of the drama, was not a question of fealty to the Hapsburg empire, but rather, the question was how to find a way out of this awful war. And Schiller, who mentioned that he had been considering writing a book on the Peace of Westphalia, described the peace treaty which ended the warfare, as the greatest of all triumphs of statecraft. For Schiller, this question of peace was, of course, not confined to the issues in Wallenstein, but was one of the great issues of his own day. One has but to consider Schiller's description of the anarchy of the French Revolution in his poem Das Lied von der Glocke (The Song of the Bell), and its concluding verse: Peace be the first chime she's ringing.
If, on the other hand, one permits the historical situation of the Thirty Years' War, and Wallenstein's attempts to find peaceful solutions, to recede into the background, or if one causes it to disappear entirely, thereby presenting it as mere psychodrama, or as the power-hungry Wallenstein getting his revenge, then one is depriving the drama of precisely that historical specificity that holds lessons for us today. Or, put another way: The reference to present times is not established by the fact that the soldiers in the camp sing Cheer up, my brave comrades, mount up, mount up! as they mount their Harley Davidsons; rather, its relevance for today lies in performing Wallenstein as truly as possible to Schiller's intent, to the best of one's abilities, and in portraying Wallenstein, confused by the favor and the hate of partiesand also in portraying him through the eyes of Max. Only then does it yield lessons for us who, once again today, are confronted with the real prospect of another Thirty Years' War, but this time on a worldwide scale.
It is fascinating from a methodological standpoint, to see how it was only through his dramatic reworking of the historical material, that Schiller discovered the scientifically precise key for understanding the real historical Wallenstein. The impressive thing, is that in the course of his dramatic reworking, he arrived at a picture of Wallenstein which it took historians another 150 years, on the basis of better source materials, to recognize as as the only valid one. Working in the realm of ideas, Schiller anticipated the historical truth, because, as Wilhelm von Dilthey has written, he grasped the subjectiveness [Innerlichkeit] of history.
Schiller found himself confronted with the difficulty that the General per se did not appear as a figure whom one could bring closer to the heart of the audience in any straightforward waya General, in the thick of battle:
How would it be possible to present such a figure, while remaining true to Schiller's requirement that the theater enable the members of the audience to ponder for themselves, how they would have made the same decisions of war or peacedecisions that would determine the weal or woe of many generations to come?
Schiller solves this problem by introducing two characters who were not taken from the historical record: Max, the son of Octavio Piccolomini, and Thekla, daughter of Wallenstein. They are children of the houseone of Schiller's other terms for beautiful souls. These two characters were an expression of what one might describe as Schiller's own philosophy of childhoodhis idea that children and adolescents are still in a relatively naive state of innocence, in the sense that he used that latter term in his essay On Naive and Sentimental Poetry. Despite the tribulations of war, they had not yet suffered the damage to the soul so frequently visited upon the lives of adults, leaving them bent and crippled.
Schiller wrote that All peoples have a history, have a paradise, a state of innocence, a golden age; yes, every individual man has his paradise, his golden age, which he remembers with more or less enthusiasm, according as he has more or less of the poetic in his nature, and in every person's youth and adolescence, Schiller saw a source of power which could be tapped throughout their lives, if only they could recover their consciousness of it. Connected to this, was his idea that every human being harbors a unique seed, a soul, a pure being, which tends to be frittered away in the course of life's adversities, but which can be re-created, in more mature form, through sharpening one's consciousness, and through aesthetic education.
Max and Thekla are beautiful souls, and their love for each other enables them to preserve the purity of their hearts, even amid the chaos of war. They represent the ideal of beautiful humanity. Schiller creates these characters, so that through them, he can portray the world after the end of the war, the hope for a better future, and the idea of the Peace of Westphalia.
Max, Wallenstein's alter ego throughout all three plays of the trilogy, also represents the noble ideas which Wallenstein cherished in his own youthideas which he then sees personified in the young Max.
For he stood beside me, as in my youth.
And conversely, Max speaks of his vision, in which he sees himself standing at Wallenstein's side:
Max paints a picture of what Wallenstein, in Schiller's view, envisioned for the future after the war's end. Had Wallenstein not, at some point in the play, articulated his vision to Max, then he would have never been able to win over the young man to his aimsand these were quite explicitly the ideas of the Peace of Westphalia, making the rivers navigable again, and rebuilding anew atop the war-scorched earth.
Over the course of the six years which Schiller devoted to Wallenstein, repeatedly interrupted by bouts of illness, he also continued to develop his aesthetic and dramatic theory in a series of groundbreaking essays, including the Aesthetical Letters, On Grace and Dignity, the Kallias Letters, On Naive and Sentimental Poetry, a critical review of Bürger's poetry, and more. One basic conviction that grew in Schiller's mind over this period, was the necessity to idealize his dramatic material and his dramatis personae.
For Schiller, the challenge for the Classical poet, lies in extracting and refining the human being's innermost core, as bequeathed to him from childhood onto liberate the pure individual from everything accidental and detrimental, and thus to portray the person in possession of his or her full ethical potential.
One of the most hideous manipulations practiced by the advocates of Regietheater, has been to trivialize this concept of idealization into something closer to embellishment, or into transporting the object of interest into a misty utopian realm, a sort of artificial aesthetic superstructurean ideological quirk on Schiller's part, which is best ignored. But by eliminating this idealization from the production, they are also removing precisely what is essential and special about Schiller. Because idealization means nothing other than to elevate pure nature to the level of what is universal and necessary, bringing it to the level of the sublime, and addressing the universal within every listener. Only in this way, Schiller thought, can the poet be certain of the effect he will have on the audience; and if does not have that certainty, he does not deserve to call himself an artist.
Hans-Günther Heyme's contrary view, was that anyone who wanted idealization, should by all means sit through a two-evenings-long performance; but that, personally, he was only interested in portraying a power-hungry Wallenstein, destined to failure in a war which is supposed to get on our nervesand which indeed does so, when the whole stage blows up. But what is the effect when Max, instead of revealing the ideal of postwar peace as Wallenstein's better side, appears as a despairing youth who sees no way out, and who can no longer endure the situation? All that remains in the Regietheater productions, is hatred, ugliness, cynicism, hopelessnessand, when all is said and done, indifference. The horrors of war have never succeeded in preventing warfare, but a vision of peace can indeed do so, and Max says this quite clearly:
For, where should the peace begin,
The alternative is a state of permanent warfare, which the oligarchical tendency has always preferred anyway, as a means of consolidating their power.
The poet must offer a vision of a more beautiful humanity, because who else could provide this? He has to think like Plato's philosopher-king, who embodies the unity of the greatest wisdom with the most refined sense of justice. Schiller says this quite clearly in On Bürger's Poems:
All that the poet can give us, is his own personality; it must therefore be worthy of being presented to the scrutiny of society and posterity. The task of ennobling that personality to the highest degree, of refining it into the purest, a most splendid humanity, is the first and most important business he must address, before he may venture to stir members of the elite. There can be no greater value to his poetry, than that it is the perfected imprint of a truly interesting disposition of a truly interesting, perfected mind.Only when the poet, at least during those moments when he composes, and the director as he directs, and the actor as he acts, is able to personify his species-existence, can his play, his poetry, have the beneficent effect which Schiller speaks about in his Theater essay. The Regietheater proponents are unable, and unwilling to do that, because their intentions lie elsewhere. But Schiller places nothing less than this heavy responsibility squarely onto the artist's shoulders. In his poem Die Künstler (The Artists), he says:
Now, the dignity of man has fared quite badly in the hands of the Regietheater proponents, and in the hands of the poor actors who have been forced to work under their dictates in order to eke out a living. (There are, admittedly, a few exceptions, such as Maria Becker.) Their personalities have decidedly not been worthy of being presented to the world. But when we consider the political connections enjoyed by such people as Adorno and the Congress for Cultural Freedom, then we must conclude that, in a perversion of Schiller's preface to The Bride of Messina, they were aiming not at a temporary play, but rather, by seeking to eliminate precisely what makes Schiller speciali.e., his determination to raise his audience to the level of the sublimethey are doing their part in the effort to make men really and in fact unfree.
What we need to do today, is precisely what Adorno and his consorts wanted to prevent, namely, to convey the idea of the sublime into the political domain. Because it is only on that level, that any way out of today's existential crisis, comes into view. Political life in Germany today is the best demonstration for Schiller's thesis that, In the narrow sphere, the mind becomes more narrow. And who today would dispute the fact that we are once again dealing with the momentous issues facing humanity? And there is no better teacher of how to think and act on the level of the sublime, than Schiller.
The 200th anniversary of the death of our beloved poet, is a good occasion to chase the Regietheater rabble out of the temple of culture, to boycott their productions, or else to give our vegetable farms a good incentive to expand their tomato crops. And if the PISA students, or Herr Jensen still don't understand Schiller at that point, then we can only echo what Wilhelm Furtwängler would tell his orchestra when they bungled a piece they were rehearsing, Once more, from the top!:
1. In the year 2000, the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, issued a report on the results of the past decades' educational reform, or dumbing-down policy, in Germany. According to PISA, one-quarter of all 15-year-olds were categorized as a risk group, whose knowledge of mathematics was insufficient to hold a job. Forty-two percent had never read a book for pleasure. This result also meant that many teenagers do not have even an inkling of Germany's Classical tradition, and that they cannot even recognize the names Lessing, Mendelssohn, Schiller, or Heine.
2. For the Congress for Cultural Freedom, see Steven P. Meyer and Jeffrey Steinberg, The Congress for Cultural Freedom: Making the Postwar World Safe for Fascist 'Kulturkampf,' in Children of Satan (Leesburg, Virginia: Lyndon LaRouche PAC, 2004), along with other articles reprinted from the pamphlet Children of Satan III: The Sexual Congress for Cultural Freedom.
3. On Adorno, Horkheimer, and the Frankfurt School, see Michael J. Minnicino, The New Dark Age: The Frankfurt School and 'Political Correctness,' Fidelio, Winter 1992 (Vol. I, No. 1), and The Nazi-Communist Roots of Post-Modernism, Fidelio, Summer 1993 (Vol. II, No. 2).
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