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review 2018-10-15 20:43
To Plug the Mighty Hole Withal: "Faust - First Part" by Goethe
Faust: First Part - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


(original review, 2004)


I’m planning on spending a few weeks on Goethe’s Faust in multiple translations and as much of the German as I can manage, supplemented by hundreds of pages of notes and commentary.

I first read the book while in high school in the totally un-annotated Bayard Taylor translation from Modern Library – one of the texts I’m currently reading. I’m still pretty fond of Taylor’s version – with some exceptions generally preferring him to Walter Arndt in the Norton Critical Edition. Taylor’s a relatively local boy – born in Kenneth Square, PA where the town library carries his name.

 

 

If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

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review 2018-10-14 11:17
Fragments of Thought-Poems: "Das Stundenbuch" by Rainer Maria Rilke
O Livro de Horas - Rainer Maria Rilke


(original review, 2009)


Da neigt sich die Stunde und rührt mich an
mit klarem, metallenem Schlag:
mir zittern die Sinne. Ich fühle: ich kann -
und ich fasse den plastischen Tag.

Nichts war noch vollendet, eh ich es erschaut,
ein jedes Werden stand still.
Meine Blicke sind reif, und wie eine Braut
kommt jedem das Ding, das er will.

Nichts ist mir zu klein, und ich lieb es trotzdem
und mal es auf Goldgrund und groß
und halte es hoch, und ich weiß nicht wem
löst es die Seele los...


In “Das Stundenbuch” von Rainer Maria Rilke.

 

 

If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

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review 2018-09-28 19:45
Drachenfutter: "Aforismos" by Frank Kafka, Álvaro Gonçalves (translator)
Aforismos - Escritos na localidade histórica de Zurau - Franz Kafka,Álvaro Gonçalves


(original review, 2009)

The Portuguese etymological dictionary of Jose Pedro Machado informs that the word aphorism derives from the Greek and arrived at the Portuguese language through late Latin aphorismu-, with the meaning of "limitation, brief definition, sentence". It adds that, in time (already documented in the 16th century), the term has come to be called "a brief and indisputable sentence, which sums up a doctrine."

Kafka resorted to the aphorism, what he called “Schreiben als Form des Gebetes” in his conversations (for example, with the poet Gustav Janouch, author of the book “Conversations with Kafka”, 1953) and in the course of his career as a writer. One of the main collections of these "short and indisputable sentences" was published in the small posthumous book “Er”, from the diary notes that the writer kept from 1909 to 1923-24.

 

 

If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

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review 2018-09-22 15:12
Deservedly regarded as a classic
The Franco-Prussian War: The German Invasion of France, 1870-1871 - Michael Eliot Howard

Michael Howard's history of the Franco-Prussian War has long been regarded as a classic of military history, and after reading it it's easy to see why. His book is a incisive recounting of the combatants and the operations they undertook over the course of the ten-month-long conflict. In the process he identifies the elements that defined the conflict, showing how just ill-prepared the French were for the war they faced, how poorly suited the French generals were for the type of war they were in, and how precarious Prussia's victory was after their ostensibly decisive victory in the battle of Sedan. While Geoffrey Wawro's history of the war serves as a better introduction to the subject thanks to its broader coverage of the context of events, nobody interested in understanding the course of the fighting can afford to skip Howard's perceptive and enduring examination of it.

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review 2018-09-08 17:47
A formidable examination of Wilhelm's development
Young Wilhelm: The Kaiser's Early Life, 1859-1888 - John C. G. Röhl

Perhaps the first question that arises when confronted with a three-volume biography of the German emperor Wilhelm II is: "Why?" Specifically, why does the failed ruler of a fallen dynasty deserve such attention? For some, the question answers itself, given that Wilhelm's reign ended in a war that defined the 20th century and reshaped the map of the Europe. But does his life warrant the three substantial tomes John Röhl has written about it?

The answer is a definitive "Yes," because what Röhl provides is not just a finely detailed account of the first three decades of Wilhelm's life, but a close examination of the family politics surrounding them. In doing so, what he offers his readers is a study that encompasses Wilhelm's parents — the future emperor Frederick III and his English wife Victoria — and the politics of the German court and the imperial Germany. This context is of particular relevance in Röhl's view given the vision that Frederick and Victoria had of a more liberal Germany than the monarch-dominated empire constructed by Otto von Bismarck, and their efforts to pass along their values to their eldest son. Their total failure to do so is an important part of the story of the Second Reich, and one that requires explanation.

Providing it serves as the focus of Röhl's first volume. In it he describes a childhood of constant pressures, ones that increased after Prussia established the German empire in 1871. Yet Wilhelm faced the additional problem of a physical handicap resulting from a difficult birth, one that left him with Erb's palsy on his left arm. Unable to accept this, Wilhelm's family employed often painful medical procedures and corrective devices designed to "correct" it, yet this could only moderate the effects of the paralysis. While many have speculated on the impact of such a paralysis on his emotional development, just as important was how it defined his relationship with his parents at his early age, which Röhl considers in detail. Relying upon a Freudian approach, he diagnoses many of Wilhelm's subsequent issues as stemming from his flawed relationship with his parents, ones that were often exacerbated by their best efforts to aid their son.

As heir to the throne from the moment of his birth, both Frederick and Victoria devoted considerable attention to the selection of Wilhelm's tutor, Georg Hinzpeter, and insisted that he attend a gymnasium and university. Yet for all of their efforts, Wilhelm grew into a temperamental young man who reveled in masculine martial activities. Rejecting his parents political values, increasingly he gravitated towards conservative, even reactionary figures, who welcomed his interest for the opportunity it provided to advance their vision of Germany and the world. Their political maneuvering increased as the emperor, Wilhelm I, neared the end of his long life and Frederick's illness from cancer promised a short reign. With their deaths in 1888 Wilhelm was poised for a long reign with enormous consequences for the entire world.

Röhl's book is an enormous achievement. Based on decades of research in the royal archives, it provides a careful examination of WIlhelm's personal and political development. At times the degree of detail can be wearying, and Röhl's reliance on Freudian explanations is a little questionable, but given the solid footing in the family papers it's impossible to dismiss altogether the arguments he makes. The result is a book that is unlikely ever to be surpassed as a thorough examination of Wilhelm's early years, one that lays a formidable foundation for the study of the reign that followed.

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