Medusa's Mirror: Studies in German Literature

By August Closs | Go to book overview

EPILOGUE II
The Poet and His Age MAN'S MORTAL CLEAVAGE. THE MASS AGE

A LREADY BEFORE Martin Buber and Arthur Koestler, many modern writers had realized, especially under the influence of the happenings of the French Revolution and the July Revolution of 1830, that the tragedy of revolutionaries is that they achieve the opposite of that for which the most enlightened people sacrifice their lives.

Robespierre was Danton's hangman for the sake of the cause of revolution. In a rule of terror, fanaticism became rampant. Without idealizing his characters, Georg Büchner in Dantons Tod portrayed human combats and spiritual greatness in the fight for freedom in a world of satanic pain. But even in the year of the outbreak of the French Revolution and the publication of William Blake Songs of Innocence, Schiller could in The Artists address man with these proud words:

You, the most accomplished son of time, free through reason, strong through laws. . . .

Schiller, in contrast to Büchner, still saw in history the hard justice of the world and, at the end of a struggle, that of God's order on earth. In Wallenstein he sets the hero on the border of crime, for every man who concerns himself with deeds alone, often only too easily ensnares himself, in spite of noble motives, in fateful decisions and loses his moral conscience.

Goethe sought for the law in man's existence, in which he acknowledged a balance between that which lasts and that which changes. In the tragedies of Lessing, Goethe, Schiller and H. von Kleist the events of our lives take place in a sphere of accepted order in the world. But with Büchner, Grabbe, and Hebbel, the situation has changed; cf. also pp. 147ff.

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