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  • The Problem of Poetic Naming in Hlderlin's Elegy "Brod und Wein"Author(s): John Jay BakerReviewed work(s):Source: MLN, Vol. 101, No. 3, German Issue (Apr., 1986), pp. 465-492Published by: The Johns Hopkins University PressStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2905604 .Accessed: 16/03/2013 10:01

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  • The Problem of Poetic Naming in HOlderlin's Elegy "Brod und Wein"

    John Jay Baker

    The objective of this essay is to consider the ways in which H6lder- lin's elegy "Brod und Wein" (henceforth BW) exemplifies in its mode of statement the problematic identity of the proper name in poetic discourse. In doing so, the essay will show the elegy to be less a sentimental recourse to mythological identities and much rather H6lderlin's thorough archeology of the name.' This could seem an unusual interpretive perspective to the reader who is ac- customed to think of H6lderlin's discourse as one which appeals freely to the gods' names of Greek and Christian religion as well as to the place names of the regions and cities where those religions flourished. Yet these names, and appositions for them, are them- selves cases in point of the problem the elegy presents. Essentially, the problem is: how does one name presences without loading them with the weight of referential positivity?

    In the eighth and ninth strophes alone the following names are introduced: "ein stiller Genius," "donnernde(n) Gott," "Fakel- schwinger des Hbchsten / Sohn, der Syrier."2 Taken in context, the

    1 For an interpretation of the archeological practice of H6lderlin's translations, see Jeremy Adler, "Philosophical Archaeology: H6lderlin's 'Pindar Fragments'. A translation with an interpretation," in Comparative Criticism 6 (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984) 23-46. I am grateful to the editor of Com- parative Criticism, Elinor Shaffer, for having made a galley proof of this essay avail- able to me prior to its going to press.

    2 The names referred to occur in vv. 129, 138, and 155-6, respectively, of BW. I have referred to two editions of Holderlin's works: the Stuttgarter Hliderlin-Ausgabe, ed. Friedrich Beissner (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1946ff.) [referred to in the text as

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    first, "ein stiller Genius," refers, in its Pietistic resonance, rather unambiguously to Christ. And comparison with Hdlderlin's Christ image in the later hymns "Patmos" and "Der Einzige," where the image of Christ as the last god is developed, would seem to con- firm this. The latter two names, however, are thoroughly ambig- uous. One may point with equal degrees of plausibility to Christ and Dionysus as the referents of these names. But it emphatically does not follow from this that the problem consists in the difficulty we have in finding sufficient reasons (philological) for referring the "donnernde Gott" or the "Syrier" to Christ, to Dionysus, or to yet some other god or synthesis of gods. The problem consists rather in the fact that every such identification overdetermines the figures' meaning in the elegy.3 This is not to say that the reader should therefore be content to let Holderlin's epithets resonate in the ambiguity of their reference. For these epithets do have an intentional referent: their provisional function as names is to point to the movement, or rhythm, of events as that which cannot be positively named. As a meditation on an imagined historical move- ment from East to West, from antiquity to the present, BW projects but also discretely declines to name a future, or coming, horizon of events. In this sense, if an ambiguity of reference besets the elegy's names, it is an ambiguity at the level of lexis and not one at the level of discourse or statement.4 If Holderlin resorts to

    "StA"] and the Frankfurter Hilderlin-Ausgabe, ed. D. E. Sattler (Frankfurt: Verlag Roter Stern, 1976ff.) [referred to in the text as "FHA"]. To avoid cluttering the text I shall refer to BW simply by verse number. All other citations will be from the StA or the FHA. In each case the acronym will be followed by three sets of Arabic numerals which refer to volume number, page number, and, where apropriate, line number, respectively.

    This paper is principally based on a reading of the first completed version of BW as printed by Beissner (StA 2,1.90-95) and Sattler (FHA 6, 248-52). Sattler offers the reader a "reconstituted text" of the entire elegy based on Holderlin's later emendations (FHA 6, 258-62).

    3 Holderlin had in fact written "Der Weingott" at the head of an early draft of the elegy. A seminal contribution to the problem of designative readings of figures and names in H6lderlin's poetry, with especial reference to "Friedensfeier," is Peter Szondi's "Er selbst, der Furst des Fests. Die Hymne 'Friedensfeier'," in Hilderlin- Studien, now reprinted in Schriften I, ed. Jean Bollack (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1978) 315-42. On BW itself see Jochen Schmidt's comprehensive Hliderlins Elegie "Brod und Wein" (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1968), a work particularly important for its attention to H6lderlin's classical and contemporary sources, parallels elsewhere in the poet's work, and large thematic structures in the elegy.

    4 This is to say that the nature of the ambiguity of the name is only settled at the level of larger discursive units, sentences and series of sentences. This doesnot make the name irrelevant. To the contrary, as Paul Ricoeur says, "the word remains

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  • M L N 467

    locutions which tread uncertainly between referents in the worlds of Greek and Christian religion, understanding of those locutions cannot be reached through a philological deciphering (as if it were a hermetic code which binds H6lderlin's work),5 but only through an articulation of their function in the elegy's sequence of state- ment, or discursive economy.6 Articulation of the sequences of statement in BW will show that while the elegy exhibits the prob- lematic of poetic naming, its own mode of naming is a way of over- coming that problematic. Hdlderlin does not name the Olympian gods. As such, the appearance of the gods in BW is already seen in a demythologizing perspective as an historical ("geschichtlich") ap- pearance envisioned (inevitably) in terms other than the Greek. In invoking the world of Greek cult and religion, the Greek "Gdt- tertag," the elegy proposes to render the events of that world of the sediment of previous naming which has gathered around them. It is this which constitutes the poem's demythologizing act and which accounts for the referential ambiguity of the epithets which function as names in BW. "Der kommende Gott" of the end of the third strophe (v. 54) is neither Christ nor Dionysus nor some syncresis of the two, but a future event to which the elegy's heu- ristic use of historical memory and mythpoints.


    The economy of the poem is on the one hand eminently percep- tible, on the other hand obscure. Its tripartite division represents a movement from a local depiction of the fall of night which ex- pands into a hymn to the night in the second strophe before is- suing in an imaginative journey to the daylight world of Greece in

    the 'focus' even while it requires the 'frame' of the sentence." The word remains the locus of effect of metaphorical meaning even-or rather, above all-when the metaphorical process is dispersed over the sequence of statement, as it is in Hol- derlin. Paul Ricoeur, The Rule of Metaphor, tr. Robert Czerny (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1977; originally La Metaphore Vive, Paris, 1975) 66.

    DThe attempt to read the difficulties of Holderlin's text as a code, this time as a Jacobin code, has been revived in Pierre Bertaux's eccentric Friedrich Hblderlin (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1978).

    6 In this respect Walter Benjamin's concept of "Reihen," according to which the elements of a poem are only graspable as a "Gefuge der Beziehungen," is an early and quite apt articulation of discursive economy. W. Benjamin, "Zwei Gedichte von Friedrich Holderlin," in Gesammelte Schriften, ed. R. Tiedemann and H. Schwep- penhauser (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1977, 1980) 11,1.:112.

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    the third strophe. The middle three strophes of the elegy then imaginatively reenact the experience of the Greek "Gdttertag," fol- lowing which the elegy redescends in the final three strophes to the night of the present. This tripartite division is repeated in the individual strophes.7 The third strophe, for example, begins with a continuation of the same nocturnal inspiration which animates the second strophe. Now, however, it commutes into an inspiration which drives "bei Tag und bei Nacht, / Aufzubrechen" (vv. 40-1) and finally issues, in contrast with the orphic night of the pre- ceding stroph