Academic journal article German Quarterly

Beyond Borders: Pantheistic Confusion and Monotheistic Orthodoxy in Tieck's der Runenberg

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Beyond Borders: Pantheistic Confusion and Monotheistic Orthodoxy in Tieck's der Runenberg

Article excerpt

Ludwig tieck's relationship to the Christian denominations of his day could be best described as convoluted. raised as a lutheran Protestant, yet attracted to the urreligion aspects of Catholicism, he appears to have been fascinated with the personal and less institutionalized aspects of spirituality. His literary ambitions mimic this religious tension. as Maria tatar observes, tieck sought "to drive readers to the point of distraction, to mystify and bewilder them until they reached that blissful state that [he] designated by the name 'poetic madness'" (609). if this was his goal, his texts can certainly be considered great successes. tieck's stories have the unsettling characteristic of being simultaneously familiar and strange, as everyday materials and events are combined with fantastic situations, peoples, or occurrences. in a tale by tieck, nothing is what it appears to be. the commonplace exists, but there is always something uncommon woven into it.

I suggest that this textual oscillation between the familiar and unfamiliar, between certainty and doubt, has a specific religio-philosophic purpose, displaying tieck's awareness of a contemporary reevaluation of religious dogma. specifically, tieck's tale Der Runenberg can be read as a fictionalized and hesitant philosophical exploration both of the monotheistic Judeo-Christian view of reality and of a pantheistic alternative. i have chosen the term "hesitant" because, while the concealed content of tieck's story does question the borders of orthodox religious behavior and belief,1 the text simultaneously grapples with the consequences of that very questioning. one may scrutinize the dogma and pedagogy of a prevailing religious institution, but what happens when such scrutiny raises questions that fall outside of the institution's accepted limits of inquiry? What are the consequences of overstepping the spiritual boundaries set in place by monotheistic orthodoxy? to address these issues, while simultaneously avoiding accusations of overt atheism, tieck rewrites orthodox biblical figures into different situations and assigns them altered personalities, all with the goal of demonstrating a romantic notion of spiritual and aesthetic pantheism.2

likely on account of the overt religious imagery that pervades Der Runenberg, including the unsubtly named main character Christian, scholarly treatments of this text make frequent reference to spiritual themes (Charlotte lee, for example, hints at tieck's dissatisfaction with orthodox Christianity, but does not dwell on any potential spiritual alternatives he may be exploring [1046-47]). as of yet, however, no exhaustive analysis of these themes has been presented. in fact, it can generally be said that readings of Der Runenberg vary widely in direction and focus-which, in light of the text's inherent confusion and uncertainty, is understandable. some address the primacy of reality and the natural, commenting on the slow decay of Christian's sanity as he begins to see visions of mythological and supernatural beings (kern 91-92). another fairly common interpretation accepts the supernatural, but as a possessing force that demonically seduces and inhabits Christian (klussmann 448, Huch 61, lillyman 232). However, a treatment of the text as a fictional expression of tieck's dissatisfaction with orthodoxy has not yet been put forward, although such a biographical reading is entirely plausible. for one, his association with the Jena romantics, whose questioning of contemporary theology and whose development of an aesthetics-based religion, contrary to traditional orthodoxy, has been well established (Paulin 99). furthermore, tieck's own religiosity, contrary to his lutheran sola scriptura upbringing, was much more focused on mysticism or the individual's personal experience of the divine. He believed that restriction to ecclesiastical and institutional dictates served only to limit the experience of the divine, whereas a personal confrontation with nature, God's true book, fostered the realization of a universal, all-encompassing spirituality (kern 15-21). …

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