Medusa's Mirror: Studies in German Literature

By August Closs | Go to book overview

V
Goethe and Kierkegaard

GOETHE BICENTENARY, 1949 KIERKEGAARD CENTENARY, 1955

There is a level of civilization on which the fate of the other nation is felt as if it were our own.

GOETHE (motto of the re-established German Centre of the P.E.N. Club)

Let the sons of Montaigne and Pascal, of Michelangelo and Dante, of El Greco and Cervantes, of Beethoven and Goethe, of Rubens and Rembrandt, become conscious of their fraternity with the country of Shakespeare -- decimated as they are by a mad fury for which there is no strait-jacket and which is ready to burst loose at any moment.

MAURIAC in Le Figaro, September 1945, see SWART ATKINS, German Quarterly, 1947, pp. 166ff.

WHEN GOETHE DIED in 1832, many Europeans felt that they had reached a turning-point, the end of our Western heritage. Since then many a warning voice about the 'decline of the West' has been heard. The present catastrophe was already prophetically foreseen by Nietzsche, Oswald Spengler, and his contemporaries. Aldous Huxley Ends and Means ( 1937) stresses the need for reform and for detachment. Others seek to solve the problems by planning, others by dictatorship or the creation of new myths for the masses, others by a sentimentality which is often nothing but a masked 'cruelty which tries to drive mercy out of the world by calling it names such as Humanitarianism'.1 Our Western civilization has been shaken to its foundations, the feeling of security is gone, our belief in progress and in numbers has been shattered, our democratic red tape can be almost as bad as totalitarianism. There is more than ever a need for us to look

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1
C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain ( 1940).

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