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Thread: Goethe's Literary Advice to His Young Friend

  1. #1
    Registered User beroq's Avatar
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    Mar 2009

    Goethe's Literary Advice to His Young Friend

    An interesting element in the Conversations is Goethe's advice to his young friend who was interested in poetry. I assume his advice is also applicable today to young writers as it was some 150 years ago. Thus he y-urges Eckermann to found his poems on actual experiences and to seek inspiration in realities -- not in large and vague reflections. "I attach no value to poems snatched out of the air," says he.

    Apprehend the individual is his counsel:

    "While you content yourself with generalities everyone can imitate you; but in the particular no one can -- and why? because no others have experienced exactly the same thing."

    Such a practical suggestion, as well as critical.

    What do you think about his advice?

  2. #2
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    Aug 2004
    Ah, one can never go wrong with Goethe's advice; he has never failed me yet, the most unique of the Romantics, in my opinion, and I have only read Faust, The Sorrows of Young Werther, and most of his poetry.
    This advice, undoubtedly, had its aim more at the younger generations, as you mentioned, than anyone else. It seems easiest to write about general things, vague topics, and with desperately aesthetic language, often in the presentation of cliché metaphors, similes, and expressions. I would like to appreciate all art, and have a reverence for the intention and aim, but the end product cannot fit everyone's taste; I have met few readers who enjoy feeling confused by what they read, and this occurs frequently while reading about vague subjects - these works often get over-exposed and abused.
    As much as I respect Plato, and I doubt he had this intention, but it could appear as a fault in translation, too, his "Allegory of the Cave" from The Republic can sound so generalized and vague that it has gotten used and abused by many readers, and more to come; I blame the readers more than Plato, as most of them "learn" of the "Allegory of the Cave" by secondary texts - ask most people its context in The Republic, and most get stumped. I will admit of using and abusing this text as well, but I feel that Plato may have predisposed this awfully poetic parable to such over-exposure; indeed, "[w]hile you content yourself with generalities everyone can imitate you," which can make everyone bear the wisdom of an ancient Greek philosopher.

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