Tuesday, June 28, 2005

File 1.21

But even as prolific forests of fir and larch rose in the heartland of the old German woods, the cultural imagination of Germany was being intensely reseeded with the oak groves of yore.
For by the middle of the eighteenth century the ancient mystique of rustic innocence, martial virility, and woodland nativism had all converged to create a fresh generation of patriots, steeped in Tacitus and the cult of the Teutoburger Wald. In the 1760s the poet and dramatist Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock published his epic trilogy of plays based on the life and death of Arminius/Hermann. They were written, moreover, in the self-consciously archaic “bardic” style purportedly derived from the dialects said to have survived in the oral traditions of the common Volk. And while the cultural enemy in the sixteenth century had been Italy, now it was the new international language of classicism –French– that was held to have debased native German manners and speech. And to the extent that French culture, and the notorious French partiality for rational discourse and skeptical inquiry, dominated the culture of the court elites, so it was held to account by this latest generation of “Arminians” as amoral and cosmopolitan. Redemption was to be found by fleeing this Frenchified world of court and city fashions and returning, once more, to the authentic Germania of the villages, uncontaminated by modernity. In a climactic scene in the Klopstock drama, immediately before the battle a Druid apostrophizes the oaks of Germany as the abode of their gods, the natural embodiment of the Fatherland: ancient, strong, and indestructible.[…]
The wars against Napoleon provided more opportunities to cast the battle between Roma and Germania –city and forest, the olive and the oak– in still sharper contrasts.
Simon Schama, Landscape and Memory, 104-05.


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