The young German philosopher Peter Neumann (Neubrandenburg, 1987) earned a Ph.D. in Philosophy with a thesis on the influence of Kant on Schelling, currently teaching at the University of Oldenburg. Apart from three books of poems and the academic thesis, Jena 1800 is his first rehearsal. In Germany it has been very successful. With an agile style, Neumann manages to tell the story — and stories — of key figures in German thought, literature, art, and science with ease at the beginning of the 19th century. From the confluence of their fiery personalities, from the power of their ideas, the first romanticism was born, German idealism took hold in philosophy, and an already entirely modern thought of freedom sprang up.
Neumann begins by describing the impact of the French Revolution on Germany. First it caused joy, then came disappointment at the brutality of the revolutionaries; The whole of Europe was shielded against what came from France. Napoleon proclaimed himself emperor and set out to conquer other nations. Also Jena, the small university town of Thuringia, fell in 1806 before his force. The same day that Napoleon entered the city, the young philosopher Hegel put an end to his masterpiece: Phenomenology of the spirit. But this essay is not about the fall of Jena, but about the spirit that reigned there around the year 1800, when Germany started a revolution as important as the French one, a spiritual, intellectual revolution. In Germany no one was beheaded; on the contrary, there were several heads that stood out or flourished around that magnificent year.
In Germany no one was beheaded; on the contrary, there were several heads that stood out or flourished around the magnificent year that was 1800
The heroes of the book are a group of intellectuals – young and not so much – who were philosophers, translating poets and philologists: Fichte and Schelling; Novalis and Tieck; the Schlegel brothers —Wilhelm and Friedrich—; as well as the two most famous writers of that time: Goethe and Schiller. And since it is rare that there are great men without great women to support them, two exceptional women stood out alongside them: Caroline Schlegel (later Schelling) and Dorothea Veit (later Schlegel). They were the soul of the “community of free spirits” that was formed in the house where the Schlegel brothers resided in Jena (Lautragasse, 5), near the university building. There these talents met, shared ideas and devoted their days to art and thought; also love. Young Schelling, who adored Caroline – married to Wilhelm, but without much affection – outlined a system of philosophy according to which nature is spirit and that should sensitize us when dealing with it.
The idea falls in favor with Goethe, who never endured speculative philosophy, but believes in nature as a macrocosm, in the manner of Spinoza. And it was also Goethe, who liked to provoke, who influenced the philosopher Fichte to teach at Jena; it proclaimed the absolute freedom of the Self from the chair. Freedom is the maximum, and it is the duty of the human being to aspire to conquer it: there are no limits; everything that is undertaken in favor of human freedom is lawful, down with the tyrants of the spirit! The same as the tyrants of Earth! Everyone is excited by these novel ideas. As with Schiller’s recent dramas – the Wallenstein trilogy-, premiered with splendor in the nearby city of Weimar, the “court of the muses”, very well connected with Jena.
Among those in love with wisdom, spiritual light and warmth reigned. Their religion was that of art and poetry, without detesting the traditional religion, to which they gave aesthetic overtones.
Friedrich Schlegel is writing the second part of a groundbreaking novel: Lucinde. The first installment caused a furor for the freedom it granted to love, detaching it from bourgeois customs; and now he’s racking his brains to keep the same height. His motto reads: “Although this world is not the best or the most useful, I know it is the most beautiful”; Dorothea, divorced from her wealthy husband, whom she did not love, now in love with Friedrich, has to encourage him by reminding him that where love reigns, the rest are more easily coped with. She writes her first novel and collaborates like everyone else in the writing of the literary magazine Athenaeum, run by the two Schlegels. As for Caroline, apart from admiring the philosophical self-confidence of her lover Schelling – whom she will end up marrying – she collaborates with Wilhelm in the German translations of Shakespeare that he does. Nobody translates it as well as he does: today it is a classic. His friend Tieck translated the Quixote to German, another wonder.
Among those in love with wisdom, spiritual light and warmth reigned. Their religion was that of art and poetry, without detesting traditional religion, to which they gave aesthetic overtones. The theologian Schleiermacher belonged to the community of friends, who proclaimed that religion is “a feeling of universal fullness.” In this he was seconded by Novalis, a divine and talented young man, whose Hymns to the night they mystified nature and called the enchantment of the disenchanted world. He will die at the age of 29.
When Napoleon entered Jena, all those who were part of that community of revolutionaries of the spirit already lived different destinies, but their ideas forged in common would take root in Europe. This book, of pleasant reading, invites you to continue delving into the life and work of those unique characters, some little known in our Hispanic lares.
Peter Neumann. Translation of Raúl Gabás
214 pages. 19 euros
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