Welcome to GIBBIN HOUSE!

When I first started this blog about the misadventures of a nascent author, I had only a small novel under my belt, titled Gibbin House. The building that bears the name is a fictitious postwar era safe-house, as many might have existed, and the London home of my motley crew of exiles. I could not anticipate then the degree to which I would join its ranks of writers and artists, but since publishing my book in 2011, I have had the greatest privilege of opening my own art gallery and of exploring my love of the written word through visual poetry and paper sculptures. Yet much like the girl who first started blogging two years ago, I suspect I don't know what I'm doing half the time. As such, Gibbin House remains a refuge for ramblings...and on occasion a haven for little triumphs.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Visual Inspirations Meets Real Life: Hölderlin and Me - Part I

Wanderer Above the Sea Fog by Caspar David Friedrich
Hölderlin's Sturm und Drang

Gibbin House - an excerpt:

“A mountain wedding?” Albert inquired.
“I haven’t been, but it’s said to be quite beautiful,” Răluca said.

“But don’t they realize it’s going to rain up there?” Martin asked.  “If you will have an outdoor party, it must always rain.”
“Don’t be so gloomy,” Alfred said.   “Rain is good luck.”
“In the mountains, Albert?  I beg to differ.”
"Really, Martin, are you so delicate?" Răluca needled.  "Or are you afraid of ending up like Hölderlin?"
Martin almost choked on his Einspänner. 
“My apologies, I forgot you don’t like to be teased,” Răluca said, quite aware she was doing just that.
“No, it’s only…how could you know? You’ve heard me mention him before?”
“Do you mean to say I hit the nail on the head?” Răluca sat up, her eyes dancing in that reserved face of hers.  “I confess, I was only trying to show off a little.  Few know much about Hölderlin’s story, and I would hardly know it myself, if my father hadn’t told me.”

Martin marveled at Răluca, as she explained herself blushing.  Was this indeed the same seventeen-year old from a few nights ago, who had offended him with such unflattering severity and disdain?  Where forth had this intelligent old soul emerged, discomfiting him with a distinctive elegance that bordered on sensuality?  It could not be the same person.  Or perhaps, the dipping temperatures had simply ushered some color and vitality into her fiber, and momentarily veiled the toxic girl.  He determined to get a hold of himself, and tried to quell the eagerness in his voice as he picked up the thread of conversation.
“But it’s what they say, isn’t it, that Friedrich Hölderlin went mad in the midst of the lightning?”
“That is the accepted version,” she answered with a humorously cryptic inflection.  “He could easily have been mad all along.  Or never at all.”“Really, Martin, are you so delicate?” Răluca needled.  “Or are you afraid of ending up like Hölderlin?”
“He’s said to have spoken about ‘standing bareheaded beneath God’s thunderstorms’.  Clearly the experience left an impression.” 
“Exactly!” I can’t help feeling his account is just a little too convincing.  And my father used to say that nothing disguised so well as insanity.  Obscuring crimes, failures.  Such a convenient way of relinquishing all responsibility, hiding behind madness.” 
“Then, according to you, Hölderlin only purported to be mad, as a sort of refuge?”
“He did do his best work after that period, when people finally left him alone.”
“It’s a sinister thought,” Martin considered.  “And yet I completely see the attraction.  I could see how it might appeal to someone…”
“You don’t think it’s the mark of cowardice?” she asked, “A negation of life?”
Here Albert interjected, aware that Anian had nearly drifted off to sleep.  “The version I heard has our poet wandering through Auvergne with a pistol at his side.  Whatever happened on that mountain, I think there’s an argument for a preexisting paranoia.”
At this Răluca laughed.
“But what if it was love?” Anian suddenly roused.
“Love? You’re referring to the death of the lady the poet had been involved with shortly before?” Albert asked.
Anian shrugged.  “I really have no idea what you’re all talking about, but in my experience, it’s always to do with love."
“Perhaps,” Albert smiled, and changed the subject.                                   (p.126-128)

Friedrich Holderlin 
The above is actually one of the first dialogues I ever wrote when I first began sketching out scenes for GIBBIN HOUSE in 2002.  I'd had in mind a time in college, when some people invited my room mates and I to go camping - my friend declined, saying it was going to rain, because it always rains when you go camping.  At the time, I thought him such a preternaturally pessimistic young man.  But then, it did rain and I confess, we rather feasted with Schadenfreude on the dour stories of sand-caked tents and soggy sandwiches that dominated the usual cacophony of undergraduate complaints at the basement coffeeshop that week. 
The truth of course is that T. was right - it did always rain.  It rained for every beach picnic and garden party.   It literally monsoon-ed for my sister's wedding.  It even poured the one afternoon I stood to enjoy standing inches from a soon-to-retire Marat Safin (life-altering moments, I tell you!)
And of course, this past weekend, when I headed deep into the Berkshires to attend the nuptuals of two dear friends and social heroes in their own right, well, I don't have to tell you what happened...

Letter to Goethe
But I will leave that remarkable experience for the next chapter.
The question you're probably wondering is - what on earth does all this have to do with the German Romantic poet, Friedrich Hölderlin?
As many of you will know, Johann Christian Friedrich Hölderlin was a seminal German poet and philosopher of the late 18th-early 19th Century, known for his Hellenic poems and development of German Idealism.  He shared the cultural landscape with Goethe, Schiller, Kant, Novalis, and Hegel, even influencing the direction of some of their theories.  His name, however, languished largely in obscurity until the 1910's, when Norbert von Hellingrath published the first complete collection of his works, prose, and letters (although the above conversation predates von Hellingrath's publication, one might assume that theories regarding Hölderlin abounded before - perhaps radiating from the Stefan George circle, which influenced many writers in the late 19th Century, including Austrian poet Hugo von Hofmansthal.)  His most famous work is the epistolary novel Hyperion, set in 18th Century Greece, which is alternatingly regarded as a philosophical treatise, a musical masterpiece, a broken-hearted love letter to an expiring paramour, but always as a work of great unsettling, unearthly beauty.
Three years after its completion, an ill-fated  sojourn from Bordeaux to Nurtingen brought on fits of madness, following which he was briefly institutionalized.  Instead of enjoying the accolades of his accomplishment, Hölderlin lived out the next 36 years secluded in a lonely tower.  
Of course, one must wonder if a single trip through a mountain, even if on foot, could have unraveled a man, a genius at that?  Certainly, he had enough cause to be burdened - his former love Susette Gontard lay dying, he was plagued by money troubles, and he suffered from severe hypochondria.  Then there was his disappointment over Goethe, who referred to him as Hölterlein (little Hölderlin) and at one meeting condescendingly assigned him little poetic 'exercises'.  Not one to take himself lightly, Hölderlin must have been crushed by his mentor's attitude (can you see where our protagonist Theodor Soller might sympathize with the man?)
But even if he simply arrived in Nurtingen exhausted, if his demise had nothing at all to do with the Auvergne and all to do with a melodramatic disposition, failed ambitions, and unfavorable politics - the natural course of the 19th century artist - if in fact, he wasn't insane at all, but too disinterested in the world to listen any longer to its disparages, I want to think of him in his storm.  It is too perfectly symbolic.  The poet in his tempest, who has aspired to invoke the Greek gods with words, conjured Hyperion's titanic light, and is suddenly caught in their thunder and fury.  Sturm und Drang.  What artist does not wish for himself such a moment of urgency?  At the edge of reason, and yet in the absolute present? 
Stayed tuned to find out...

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