Monday, April 18, 2011

The Prism of the Mind

" The intelligent man finds almost everything ridiculous, the sensible man hardly anything."

    Goethe 1749-1832

Goethe was a major player in German literature. I'm sorry to say I haven't read much (any) of his work, but I really liked this quote. We are always faced with the danger of dissecting a quote without intimate knowledge of the work from which it came. This could have been said in jest or sarcasm, by a character who was insane, or out of a deep conviction flowing straight from the heart of our German friend.

In reading a few snippets about the life of Goethe, I was struck by a few minor details. He seems to be a fascinating chap that filled every minute with some discovery or book. But in the mass of all that history has to tell, I was interested to discover the following:

1. Goethe was a descendant of Lucas Cranach the Elder.
If you aren't familiar with this name, you would be with his work. Lucas Cranach the Elder was a German Renaissance artist who painted many a German royal, as well as various family members of Martin Luther. Cranach the Elder was an intimate friend of Luther, and wanted to convey religious themes in his work that would appeal to and help spread Lutheran beliefs. Luther even used Cranach's printing press on occasion!

At first I just thought it was cool that two well-known German artists were related. But their art is so unrelated, right? Aside from working with 'the arts', Goethe and Cranach worked with very different mediums. I read that Cranach, though very talented, didn't have incredible success in the way of color and light. Apparently it was cooler at the time to focus on woodcarvings and etchings and such. Cranach looked more at outlines and the play of black on white as opposed to shading and subtlety of color. This is interesting because Goethe, though a writer, believed that he would be most remebered for his work on colors. Approaching from a scientific point of view, Gothe concluded that light affects color, and color and light can bend. In layman terms, I think, he was working with prisms and enjoying the discovery of science in the field of art.

The ancestor drew the outlines, and the descendant filled them in! I like to see similarities in family trees. Some people are literally made to work in medicine, even when it isn't posh - think of the medicine men of yore- and they innately know things that haven't been taught. We aren't all cut from the same cloth, for sure, but often enough we are made into the same shape.

2. Goethe was a political conservative.
Now, I'm going to assume that you have a modest brain in your head and are aware that 'conservative' is a term that is quite relative to the group that employs its use. Goethe wasn't all too sure that the general public was able to govern themselves. He probably liked the idea in theory, but knew that in reality, men are given to passion and ignorance and cannot always be trusted to work for the good of others.

I'm going to shock you now. On the surface, at least in this one thing, I quite agree with Goethe's apprehension. I love the idea of educated, well-meaning men and women being in charge of their own lives. It seems only right and fair. However, when I look around at the vast amount of people that are uneducated, I don't understand why it is a safe idea for everyone to vote.

Let me just interject that I don't think that receiving a degree necessarily constitutes 'an education'. It should, but we all know someone that graduated with a degree that cannot read. I cite them specifically because they won't be able to understand this dig and thus be angry with me. Education, the bettering of the mind, has to come from a deep desire in the soul. Self-education is indeed possible, and many of our grandparents are perfect examples.

I bristle at people who want to bomb countries that they cannot find on a map. I am filled with shame for my fellow Americans who want to elect officials based on their hairstyle or how their name sounds. I'm afraid the whole Tea Party is filled with people who don't know why the original Boston Tea Party went down. Also, I very much resent the negative representation of tea.

It makes me feel somewhat better that, in politics, there is 'nothing new under the sun'. Goethe was scared by the ignorami that surrounded him, and so am I. Goethe created books about color, and I created a plural word for ignoramus. We are meant to be grouped together.

3. Goethe was NOT a fan of the Roman Catholic church.
Not all that odd, considering he was in Luther country. But, he was also by his own admission 'decidedly non-Christian, though not anti-Christian'. He looked into various religions and sects of the same to find one that married his beliefs with his calling. It would be quite difficult for a scientific brain to belong to a church that denied the existence of the sun. Likewise, it is difficult for one of artistic temperment to belong to a religious group that denies the existence of the soul and its need for expression.

As I look through the characters in the great dramatic play of history, I always find those that wanted to identify with Christian faith but couldn't bring themselves to do so. They didn't lack faith, but they did have reason. I'm saddened at those who have been turned away because they couldn't make the two agree. They do, in my opinion. Just not during a Tea Party.

What do we make of Goethe's quote?

I love it! When one sees the world as it is, there is nothing to do but marvel at the complete ridiculousness of it all. The sun stays in the sky every day. Light bends and creates colors. Men have brains but choose not to use them. Everything is a bit insane! None of it makes sense unless you take for granted the fact that you don't understand. When you grow used to colors, they are no longer miraculous.

Let's not ever be sensible. We should always be intelligent. After all, intelligence doesn't come from college.

Intelligence comes from wonder.

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