Academic journal article German Quarterly

Veiled Narratives: Novalis' Heinrich von Ofterdingen as a Staging of Orientalist Discourse

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Veiled Narratives: Novalis' Heinrich von Ofterdingen as a Staging of Orientalist Discourse

Article excerpt

Zunächst rede ich nur mit denen, die schon nach dem Orient sehen. (KSA 2: 269)

An Novalis

Nicht auf der Grenze schwebst du, sondern in deinem Geiste haben sich Poesie und Philosophie innig durchdrungen. [...] Allen Künstlern gehört jede [sie] Lehre vom ewigen Orient. Dich nenne ich statt aller andern. (KSA 2: 272)

These two quotations are from Friedrich Schlegel's Ideen. The Ideen are part of the Athenäum, the journal of the brothers August Wilhelm and Friedrich Schlegel, which lays the philosophical foundation for early Romanticism and which is often described as the radical shift in aesthetics that initiated the emergence of literary modernity.1 It is not surprising that this shift should be expressed at least partly in Orientalist sentiments. The early Romantics' admiration of the Orient is well known. They saw the Orient as a poetical ideal that was lost to the Moderns. Their references to the Orient serve as allegorical reminders of an absolute that romantic poetry was intended to resurrect. However, this acknowledgment of an early romantic Orientalism is mostly tacit. While the Orientalism of Herder, Goethe, or the later Friedrich Schlegel has been examined, with the notable exceptions of Todd Kontje and James Hodkinson, there is no study that systematically explores the place and purpose of Orientalism within the framework of early romantic aesthetics and that situates a reading of early romantic Orientalism within more normative interpretive approaches.2 Yet Schlegel's message calls for precisely such a study: the romantic project appeals especially to Orientalists, and among those, Friedrich von Hardenberg or, as he is better known, Novalis, is singled out as a poet who can legitimately stake a claim to Orientalist writings. What is the significance of the Orient in Novalis? How does his Orientalism serve as a paradigm through which we can better understand the stakes of early Romanticism? To answer these questions, I will focus on Heinrich von Ofterdingen as this novel is arguably the most comprehensive literary adaptation of the romantic project.

That we do not normally view Novalis as an Orientalist writer is largely because a long tradition of criticism has already established a label for him. Novalis is known as the writer of the feminine. This tradition has its origins in the so-called Novalis myth, which spiritualizes Novalis's relationship to his fiancée, Sophie von Kühn, and especially her death, as the pivotal experiences that made him a poet, and which sees Novalis's love for Sophie as the basis for the representations of the feminine in his writings. Novalis is himself partly responsible for this myth. The fusion of philosophy and poetry Schlegel speaks of can be captured by one word, Filosofie, the love of Sophie, about whom Novalis writes in a letter to Schlegel that she is "die Seele meines Lebens und der Schlüssel zu meinem eigensten Selbst" (4: 188). Although it is generally understood that this self-characterization forms the basis of Novalis' mythification of Sophie and although few critics are still overtly attached to this myth, the primacy of the feminine as the basis of romantic aesthetics and as the key to Novalis' writings is virtually unquestioned.3 The most unmistakable feature of Novalis is undoubtedly the fusion of writing and love, and most studies therefore understandably focus on his eroticization of the creative process, on representations of the feminine, and on the motif of the beloved's death.4

This study will also embed the examination of the references to the Orient in the larger framework of gender. For, as will become apparent, the feminine and the Orient are closely linked in Heinrich von Ofterdingen. Indeed, one of the limitations of Edward Said's model consists precisely in his disregard for what Meyda Yegenoglou calls the "sexualized nature of Orientalism" (2) . The problem is not merely that he overlooks an important representational facet of Orientalism, but that, in so doing, he is unable to view the Orient as anything but an object of domination. …

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