Log24

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Thursday January 15, 2009

Filed under: General — m759 @ 6:00 PM
Harvard, Magic,
and The New York Times

The New York Times Magazine for next Sunday:

The Edge of the Mystery, by Matt Bai–

“Weeks before the election of 1960, Norman Mailer, already an accomplished novelist, sat down to write his first major work of political journalism, an essay for Esquire in which he argued that only John F. Kennedy could save America… the only kind of leader who could rescue it, who could sweep in an era of what Mailer called ‘existential’ politics, was a ‘hipster’ hero– someone who welcomed risk and adventure, someone who sought out new experience, both for himself and for the country….

… Mailer essentially created a new genre for a generation of would-be literary philosophers covering politics….  By 1963, Mailer and other idealists were crushed to discover that Kennedy was in fact a fairly conventional and pragmatic politician, more Harvard Yard than Fortress of Solitude.”

The New York Times today:

Magic and Realism, by Roger Cohen–

“… what I want from the Obama administration is something more than Harvard-to-the-Beltway smarts. I want magical realism.”

Mailer and Cohen, taken together, suggest I should review two authors– Picard and Hesse– I encountered as a Harvard freshman in 1960.

Max Picard:

“In the ‘Prologue in Heaven’ in Goethe’s Faust a powerful silence is produced by the powerful word after each verse. There is an active, audible silence after every verse. The things that were moved into position by the word stand motionless in the silence, as if they were waiting to be called back into the silence and to disappear therein. The word not only brings the things out of silence; it also produces the silence in which they can disappear again.”

Goethe:

DER HERR:
Kennst du den Faust?

MEPHISTOPHELES:
Den Doktor?

DER HERR:
Meinen Knecht!

Online Etymology Dictionary:

knight
O.E. cniht “boy, youth, servant,” common W.Gmc. (cf. O.Fris. kniucht, Du. knecht, kneht “boy, youth, lad,” Ger. Knecht “servant, bondsman, vassal”), of unknown origin. Meaning “military follower of a king or other superior” is from c.1100. Began to be used in a specific military sense in Hundred Years War, and gradually rose in importance through M.E. period until it became a rank in the nobility 16c. The verb meaning “to make a knight of (someone)” is from c.1300. Knighthood is O.E. cnihthad M.H.G. “the period between childhood and manhood;” sense of “rank or dignity of a knight” is from c.1300. The chess piece so called from c.1440.

Further background on the word “Knecht”–

'Magister Ludi,' or 'The Glass Bead Game,' by Hermann Hesse

Epigraph to Magister Ludi
(Joseph Knecht’s translation):


“… For although in a certain sense and for light-minded persons non-existent things can be more easily and irresponsibly represented in words than existing things, for the serious and conscientious historian it is just the reverse. Nothing is harder, yet nothing is more necessary, than to speak of certain things whose existence is neither demonstrable nor probable. The very fact that serious and conscientious men treat them as existing things brings them a step closer to existence and to the possibility of being born.”

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