Transition to Zoom!

Thanks for trying out our first online Section meeting last Sunday, March 29. I found this first attempt on Zoom in response to the Covid crisis to be challenging and personally quite energy-intensive, but I came away inspired by our study of Novalis and Heinrich von Ofterdingen, Chapter 1. (For those new to this email thread, the Literary Arts group in Fair Oaks decided to shift from British Romantics to Novalis, and we have begun Zoom meetings. Stay home; stay safe!)

I think we need to add more structure to our Zoom meetings. Let’s try this approach:

  • Verse
  • Quick Update concerning Section and community news
  • Initial short check-in. How are you doing? Each participant takes one minute to say hi, introduce, and tell what’s going on
  • Presentation of material. I’ll speak for 15 – 20 minutes, no more than that, in order to provide some context and content
  • Discussion of study questions / free discussion. As you see at the bottom of this email, I have attached some study questions that might help us get into the text. Feel free to ignore them or to find your own questions or to pick and choose or to suggest other questions. (Sorry to be verbose — I plead guilty of old university-professor classroom habits)
  • During the last five to ten minutes of the meeting, we will set the date and agenda and format for the next meeting, assuming we continue. Think about whether we want to have individual research assignments with brief reports to the group — kind of like we used to do back in the day when we met in the Presidential Suite with Jane and Terry

I’m happy to hear other ideas about how to proceed. Drop me an email.

Here are Study Questions for our meeting on April 4.

  • Novalis makes considerable use of Fairy Tales (Märchen) throughout the book. Identify the Märchen in the book. Why has he included these? Do they interrupt the narrative or enhance it? Why is the Märchen an appealing form for Novalis?
  • Recall that at about this time (five years earlier) Goethe published his tale of the Green Snake and Beautiful Lily. Do we see any similarities between Goethe’s tale and the novel by Novalis? So what?
  • The novel does not end. It might be considered a fragment. Consider the fragment as a genre. Novalis is famous for his fragments. Why does he prefer this literary form? How is a fragment different from an epigram?
  • In Chapter Two: What is the significance of St. John’s Day as the starting point for Heinrich’s journey to his mother’s home?
  • As Alice reminded us, Heinrich is twenty when he ventures into the world for the first time. How old was Parzival when he left his mother’s valley? How old was Gotama Siddhartha when he left his father’s kingdom? Can you think of any other heroes or heroines in myth or literature (including fairy tales) who were “held back” or sequestered from the world? How did this self-isolation or forced isolation change them? Is Kaspar Hauser an example of this? How about Emily Dickinson — as a stretch of the mind?
  • Rudolf Steiner placed a great deal of emphasis on Novalis in his Last Address. What does Steiner say in that final lecture that you think we should bear in mind as we make this journey together?
  • How does Novalis characterize Heinrich’s civilization in Chapter Two?
  • What role do the “merchants” play in Chapter Two?
  • How does Novalis present “time” in the novel?
  • What are the two paths of knowledge presented in Chapter Two?
  • Who are the “poets” and how does Heinrich feel about poetry?
  • For those who have read Aristotle, how does the idea of poetry presented in this novel compare to Aristotle’s discussion of poetry in the Poetics
  • If you are familiar with Plato, what does Plato think about poetry and poets?
  • How does poetry, as a method of knowing, differ from philosophy, science, or religion?
  • Can you identify orphic elements in this novel? Is it relevant to consider the Orphic Mysteries as we read this book?
  • What is a Swan Song?
  • We recently studied a picture by William Blake called “The Sea of Space and Time.” http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/985730 I referenced the fifth book of the Odyssey. Are there similarities/dissimilarities between the themes in Blake’s painting, the Odyssey Book Five, and the fairy tale in Chapter 2
  • How do our thoughts shape reality? Or do they?

Also, on a personal note, I have observed in my own life over a few decades that reading Novalis and living with Novalis meditatively has brought into my life a great amount of energy for creativity and self-renewal. You might want to experiment with creative writing or another art as we proceed — anything that requires imagination. You might want to start a study journal. If you are visually inclined, you might want to start a sketchbook of scenes from the novel or a sketchbook of mandalas. Or if you are musical — write a song. Proceed as you like it!

For, as Shakespeare noted:

“And this our life exempt from public haunt
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones and good in everything.”

Link to: Free copy of Heinrich von Ofterdingen at gutenberg.org
Link to: Free copy of Heinrich von Ofterdingen at archive.org

For what it’s worth, I am using the Palmer Hilty translation that is found on Amazon and iBooks

Written by Bruce Donehower
March 29, 2020