Eichendorff's Taugenichts; Or, the Social Education of a Private Man

by Tim Mehigan
Eichendorff's Taugenichts; Or, the Social Education of a Private Man
Tim Mehigan
The German Quarterly
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Eichendorff's Taugenichts;or, The Social Education of a Private Man

By any measure, Eichendorff's Tauge- nichts is far from "good for nothing."l By his own admission, he is proficient on the violin, an instrument notoriously difficult to master even for the fabulously talented. It would be wrong here to suspect our first- person narrator of disingenuousness, or to look upon the plaudits he gains from upper- class women and sweet young girls as an inflation, for his playing is good enough elsewhere to be rewarded with money. It is true that he displays little interest in help- ing out at his father's mill; later, in the employ of the local count, while he cuts a fine figure in the quaint garb of a toll- keeper, his concern for the more mundane aspects of the job might best be described as desultory. It is as a gardener, however, that the Taugenichts demonstrates both in- terest and talent. He finds pleasure in the simple regimen of tending flowers, arbors and paths and wants only for the oppor- tunity to relax and chat in the castle gar- dens in the manner of his aristocratic hosts and neighbors. So the eponymous hero of the story's title, our Taugenichts, is, to put it plainly, not a 'Taugenichts" at all; he is, on the contrary, good for many things: a garden hand, low-level bureaucrat and art- ist all rolled into one.

So why is the Taugenichts saddled from the outset with such infamy, and why is he never at ally point dignified with so much as a surname or a first name initial? The reason, I suspect, is what many a modern employer would call an "attitude problem." The Taugenichts would much rather be consorting with birds and flowers than turning his handandmind todull, repetitious tasks. Where this had earlier been acceptable on his father's farm as a minor, he has now obviously come of age-though precisely what age, we are never told-and must begin to provide for himself. The question is whether the story that unfolds is the simple tale of the education of a youth to a role and position in the world in the manner of a miniature Bild~ngsroman,~

which on one level of course it is, or whether this novella of education can, on closer analysis and at greater depth, tell us a lot about the wealth of social changes occurring at the beginning of the modern era, which I would like to maintain.

It is my view that the Eichendorff short story is, among other things, a political novella, though not a word is breathed about politics or political programs. Its pro- gram, if anything, is aesthetic, but not ex- actly in the manner of other Romantic works like E.T.A. Hoffmann's Der goldne Topf or FouquB's Undine, though of course it shares many of their ~oncerns.~

What I mean by the term "aesthetic program" is the fact that the stoiy debates an attitude to life, art and work, an attitude which in the end it modifies, or, rather, is forced to modify. What interests me and what I feel is worth presenting here is the way the debate is argued in the story, what is at stake for those who are arguing it-in particular the emerging middle classes-and how the debate is a very good repre- sentation of positions many of the contem- porary philosophers, people like Kant, Schiller, Schelling and Schlegel, were tak-

TIL~Gerrrmr~Quarterly 66.1 (Winter 1993) 60

ing up within the academy and in scholarly publications around the same time.4

The Taugenichts has one thing in com- mon with other Romantic central charac- ters such as Bertha in Der blonde Eckbert and Anselmus in Der goldne Topf: he is a maladroit.5 He falls over, or is otherwise clumsy, at the very time he wishes most to impress: when confronting his singularly beautiful ''gntidige Frau." There is no need here to read between the lines to divine the source of his problem: the weeds and roots that wrap around his feet are roots indeed, his own humble roots as the son of a poor mill-owner. Since the object of his affec- tions-in his mind's eye, though not, of course, in actuality-is the daughter of an aristocrat, it comes as no surprise that he suffers from a rather considerable inferi- ority complex. A cat can look at a king, but a penniless boy's rushing the count's daughter down the aisle is clearly a dif- ferent matter altogether!6

The Taugenichts's maladroitness shows up a point of crisis7 that I will now take a little time to explain. This crisis dicts the newly emerging bourgeois classes of which the Taugenichts, of lowly stock originally, in fact becomes a member.

Carlo Ginzburg has maintained that "the mill was a place of meeting, of social relations, in a world that waspredominant- ly closed and static"; mill-owners were "an occupational group exceptionally receptive to new ideas and [were] inclined to propa- gate them.'@ Ginzburg's diary of the trial and eventual execution of the 16th-century miller, Menocchio, is valuable for several reasons. He illustrates how millers stood wedged between hostile, backward peas- ants, on the one hand, and a leasehold-bond to local feudal lords, on the other; they con- versed freely with all yet remained out- siders-a fact that the position of mills on the edges of settled areas only under- ~cored.~ a

Their frequent contacts with range of people brought access to books, an inclination to read, and new ideas that dis- turbed their world and its ecclesiastical overseers. Above all, the fate of millers such as Menocchio (and the abundance of small centers of population in preindustrial Europe meant that millers existed in some profusion) brought an era characterized by relatively uninhibited contact between social groups and of movement between high and popular culture to an end.10 What fol- lowed was a lengthy period of reaction in which the leaky infusion of high with low culture was stopped up artificially by inten- sified indoctrination and renewed empha- sis on social d3erentiation.l1

How does this help us understand the particular case of the Taugenichts? In an obvious way, firstly, because the Tauge- nichts is born into a miller's family, A mill-owner, as we have seen, tended to gather at that point of confluence that brought together for the first time people of a diverse (if often peasant) background. Moreover, the peculiar status and learning of millers meant that they often discharged special social roles-Menocchio was, for a time, also church administrator in his villagel2- a fact which would have served further to broaden their social contacts. Finally, the location of mills on the periphery of village communities was "well suited to shelter clandestine gatherings."13 Such free asso- ciations, where they occurred, might well have produced the first of the semi-urban middle classes. Certainly they engendered amongst their participants not merely a sense of shared interest, but the beginnings of a public consciousness Habermas has identified as structurally significant to the development of the modern world.14

The mill-owner was thus a prototype of change and exchange. If he received new ideas, he also passed them on. We are prob- ably entitled to make the inference that a son would have been among the first beneficiaries of such knowledge, and we know from the story that, as a child, the Taugenichts was regaled with stories about Rome, received at least elementary violin instruction, and was surrounded at home by books his father read, i.e., serious books.15The Taugenichts, therefore, had an uncommonly enlightened upbringing for a poor man's son and, indeed, must have learnt at an early age to do a lot of thinking for himself; his father's advice (" 'Der Fruh- ling ist vor der Tiire, geh auch einmal hin- aus in die Welt und erwirb dir selber dein Brot' " [3])16 is postscripted by the remark: "Undeigentlich warmir dasrecht lieb, denn es war mir kurz vorher selber eingefallen, auf Reisen zu gehen . . ." (3). The Tauge- nichts is thus clearly no dull layabout but a youth of independent ambition whose in- cipient wanderlust can be traced back to an educated parental home and an array of family social contacts. These, then, are the first stirrings of a private man,17 a man without status and a social role but with the

ambition to acquire them.

It is merely the optimism of youth that leads him to conclude-prematurely, as it turns out-that fortune will conspire to his advantage and deliver him an aristocratic bride and the freewheelinglife of aminstrel. Reality, of course, is soon to descend, and the story finds itselfrelatingone crisis after another as our young hero is tossed and turned by life's vicissitudes.

The Taugenichts's problems, and at least part of the crisis he lives out in the name of the emerging class he represents, are due to opinions he holds to with a tenacity that belies his youth. As we have noted, he is quite prepared to accept any work, and gains some enjoyment from oc- cupations to which he is well suited, such as gardening. Even work which suits him less, the ofice of toll-keeper, for instance, he discharges initially with enthusiasm, looking the part with his pipe, "Schlafrock" and "Schlafmutze," and reflecting warmly on the comforts that his new elevated social status confers. But at this point-the moment of his elevation into the ranks of the petite bourgeoisie-a decisive conversation takes place between the Taugenichts and his newly acquired mentor, the porter. The Taugenichts is about to sing a panegyric in praise of the hunting profession when he is brought back to earth again by the porter, quickly and with a rather resonant thud:

'Das denkt Ihr Euch just so. Ich habe es auch mitgemacht, man verdient sich kaum die Sohlen, die man sich ablauft; und Husten und Schnupfen wird man erst gar nicht los, das kommt von den ewig nassen Faen.' (15)

Argued here, succinctly and dispassionately, is the case against the old aristocracy: romance and adventure do not attend the life of an aristocrat, the porter explains, so much as wet feet and sniffles. These are unwelcome words to the Taugenichts, for two reasons: Firstly, to this point in the story, the Tau- genichts's vision of an outdoors life-style in communion with Nature had been founded upon the image of prosperous gay abandon inspired by the example of aristocratic living. Secondly, this image undergoes a process of serious revision as events unfold. Again and again, the story demonstrates the extent to which the aristocratic claim to monopolize public sensibility through ceremonial acts of representation, such as the myth of hunting the porter is keen to explode, has worn decidedly thin.18 So the idea of education in fact cuts two ways: the Taugenichts, in time, will be cured of this "impaired" vision, and what will tutor him will in part be changed social circumstancesthe sort of change registered by the sense of remoteness with which aristocratic pastimes such as boating parties (10-12), masquerade balls (20-23) and garden recitals (69-71) are described in the story. Nonetheless, despite the well- meaning advice of the porter, the Taugenichts remains undeterred; he stead- fastly clings to his conception of desirable living, and when he leaves the castle and his secure position, it is as much to realize this notion of living as to heal a wounded heart suffering love unrequited. His pursuit of this life-style is bold, his defense of it articulate, and his rejection of the stolid values of the petite bourgeoisie impassioned.

Let us hear him argue his case. On the life of a bureaucrat:

Es schien mir, wie ich da sal3 und rauchte und spekulierte, als wiirden mir all- mahlich die Beine immer langer vor Langeweile und die Nase wiichse mir vom Nichtstun. (17)

What is this? A good-for-nothing railing against idleness? Note that the lassitude of which he speaks is repellent to the body and injurious to the mind, even inducing an ar- rogance we may take the nose reference to imply. Later, on his journey to Italy, he enter- tains a small group of townsfolk with his violin-playing and is moved to make the fol- lowing observation:

Wie der erste Schleifer vorbei war, konnte ich erst recht sehen, wie eine gute Musik in die GliedmaBen fahrt. Die Bauern- burschen, die sich vorher, die Pfeifen im Munde, auf den Banken reckten und die steifen Beine von sich streckten, waren nun aufeinrnal wie umgetauscht .. . (30)

The Taugenichts plays not merely for hisown pleasure, but also to delight others. And he performs "good music"-celebratory, sound, life-enhancing musicto startling effect: the farmhands, whose stiffness of the legs is probably due to too much physical work rather than the lack of it, now rise from their seats to dance a jolly round with their girls. Their transformation is a revelation, a revelation the Taugenichts does not wish to see demeaned by his acceptingpayment from an all too ostentatious youth. The point he makes to the youth is that his music should be enjoyed for its own sake; art, implicitly, lays claim to autonomy precisely because it must provide nourishment for humans stif- fened and spiritually enfeebled by work. That the Taugenichts does accept wine and the gift of a rose is entirely consistent: both, signs of spontaneous reciprocity, pay tribute to the aesthetic experience without in any way compromising it. 19

The Taugenichts's views are being worked out against a background of social change and discussion about change. It is apparent, for example, that early German industrialization and the beginnings of the debate on the value of work and leisure in fact coincide. Margaret Gump cites Friedrich Schlegel's "Idylle iiber den MiiRiggang" and Arnim's article "Von Volksliedern" as the first clear defense of leisure and the right to leisure in litera- ture.Z0 LuUcs, approaching the notion of work from a Marxist perspective, explains that the struggle for a meaningful and humane life-style under capitalism has the effect of making the struggle for leisure the issue.Z1 He further observes that by cham- pioning the pursuit of leisure (however nayvely) German Romanticism communi- cates strong opposition to the prevailing work ethic, opposition then thematized in the form of the outdoors idyll and the philis- tine views expressed against it (such as those of the porter).22 Arnd Bohm's en- lightening discussion of the types of work takes this debate still further. He divines two competing attitudes to labor in the Taugeniclzts story, which he characterizes respectively as a providential and an ex- tractive economy, and argues that the Taugenichts, in expressing the romantic ideal of the artist, advances the providential view of work as a gift generated through nature or otherwise spontaneously.23 By contrast, the competing idea of economy, under which wealth is generated by extrac- tive means and market-driven forces, rejects providence as arbitrary, unreliable

and, thereby, inefficient.

While the Taugenichts manages to argue a consistent defense of art as a free realm apart (art is, accordingly, produced providentially), he has difficulties reconcil- inghimself to the itinerant life of the artist. This is his dilemma. He wishes to celebrate the functionlessness of art in the manner of the true Romantic as its highest good24- art therefore remains uncontaminated by the workaday world (held for its part under the perpetual sway of the extractive economytand he is drawn simultaneous- ly to the practical life of house and home of which the imagined remorseless grinding of his father's mill serves as a steady re- minder. This is notjust the artist's dilemma. It is also the dilemma of the emergingbour- geois classes in general which, in the few decades oneither side of the turn of the 19th century, were fonnulatingmoral and politi- cal positions for the first time. The problem for these new classes is how to reconcile the freedom on which they depended to establish themselves with the material condi- tions that they spawn and which continue to spawn them. The problem is seen par- ticularly clearly in the thinking of the Taugenichts because, as those of a tender and unspoilt youth, his views are by defini- tion ideal ones. Freedom, then-ifyou'll forgive a mixed metaphor-is both lifeblood and death knell: life-giving as art, because it provides that aesthetic pleasure which lies at the root of true community; but death-sounding, because it can have no truck with the material world it is pro- gramed to scorn.25 The choice, then, is either the perpetual homelessness of free- dom-the Taugenichts's lament for much of the story--or the deathly security of material existence deprived of the reas-

surance of some consensual transcendental basis that makes sense of living.

So the position is this: The Taugenichts is an emerging bourgeois subject who wishes to construe a transcendental or sense-giving basis for the human being prior to the assumption of a social role.26 In this, his thinking runs exactly counter to incipient bourgeois ideology which founds sense-material, spiritual and moral sense-precisely on the discharge of a social role through work. According to this ideol- ogy, beingwithout paid workis to be socially functionless, a good-for-nothing. (And since function is the measure of all social useful- ness, the artist quickly finds himself without a role in the endless production and exchange of commodities.)

How, then, is the Taugenichts to accom- modate such preponderant ideology, par- ticularly as many of its attacks are poten- tially directed at his own person? His initial solution is to ape the ambitions and think- ing of the old aristocracy, whose habits and inherited wealth traditionally stood sovereign over the marketplace and whose freedom the marketplace was powerless to restrain. The aim is clear: imitation-a casting back to the traditions and habits of an established social grouping-legiti- mates.27 So the young Taugenichts starts off not only admiring the local nobility (and climbs a tree outside to watch them cavort- ing around the dance floor--our hero, let it be said, is a true social climber)28: he even imagines his belle has blue blood herself, and is not brought from the idea until the final pages of the story.

There are two reasons why this strategy of emulating the aristocracy cannot prevail. As we note, the Taugenichts's love antenna is dangerously faulty. His "gracious lady" is not "gracious" at all but a waif upon whom fate and the countess had the good sense to smile (fortunately for her, she is a pretty waif). Another reason is the fact that the aristocracy was in obvious decline-a contemporary fact the French Revolution records, but one that Eichendorff himself had also experienced at close quarters: the Eichendorff family, longtime aristocrats themselves, had suffered financial mis- management and near ruin and been forced to abandon traditional lands and property while Joseph was still a boy. Eichendorff must have come to see value in this loss of prestige, because his writing elsewhere reveal that his is savage on the pretensions of gentility;29 also, in Aus dem Leben eines Taugen,icltts, the stoiy of the eloping aris- tocratic lovers Flora and Leonhard, which gives the narrative its improbable super- structure, is exposed in the end gently tongue-in-cheek. The young Count Leon- hard, the reconstruer of order, asks the wide-eyed narrator Taugenichts: "Aber du hast wohl noch keinen Roman gelesen?' (97).No, the Taugenichts replies, although earlier he had been quick to tell us about what he had read in his father's books.30 So nothing warms the aristocratic heart more than the free play of fiction. Once the game is up, the fiction exposed, and our narrator circumstances. As his discontent grows and purged of false imaginings, one can almost he moves further and further away, the be glad one is a bourgeois, for at least they image of beauty is pulled out of shape-dis- command the certainty of truth, even if it figured by an ever-widening physical space is a mundane one. and the call to work, of which the grinding

Falseness is what finally chastens our mill is a sign. When the vision recedes, young hero enough to abandon his fruitless reality descends, and the bassoon that plays imitation of the aristocracy (note that, at is the same bassoon that joins in the chorus the earlier masked ball, the young countess, of welcome when the Taugenichts appears in dressing up as a gardener, had attempted at the end of the story to claim his bride. to imitate him):the Taugenichts, after a So the dream at the beginning of the long journey on foot and by coach, finally Italian journey prefigures its end and the turns his back on 'the false Italy." And the reasons for its end. But what is left ofbeauty fal~eness?~l and the aesthetic program of the Tauge-

Not so much Italy itself (for he has plans to return there after his mar- nichts? Terry Eagleton, in a recent book, riage), nor even the antics of the German tells us: "Beauty must be included within aristocracy on holiday, for it is their excesses the sublimity of the masculine law, in order which are mocked, not their existence. No, to soften its rigours. . . Beauty is necessaiy what was false was what had occasioned for power, but does not itself contain it; the Taugenichts's flight from the settled authority has need of the very femininity it working world and had sustained his rejec- places beyond its bounds."32 The masculine tion of it in the first place. Not so much an law is the rule of order and comes to be objective falseness but a deliberate self- associated with rules and regulations, the delusion structured around the image of a working environment and Reason itself. It beautiful woman and imaged in a dream as is more necessary than it is loved, more early as the beginning of his Italian jaunt. material than spiritual, more mechanical

Let me summarize the dream briefly than natural. Its prominent symbol in the (27-28). The Taugenichts sees a beautiful story is of course the incessantly grinding woman emerging from a splendid setting village mill, and when it stops-in the who descends towards him. Her presence Taugenichts's dream, for exampleit is not makes him forget the absence of his fellow because the Taugenichts is out of earshot, villagers, and her beautiful guitar-playing but rather because his wish is that it should is a salve for his lonely heart. Suddenly, the stop. The feminine principle, beauty, on the mill starts grinding and turning again, and other hand, is a palliative for the mill and the reflected image in the mill-pond of her all it connotes. Beauty is not only the beautiful face and form grows longer and Taugenichts's "gnadige Frau," but also longer and ever more horribly distorted flowers, the vegetative and Nature itself. until the vision is lost altogether. All that is Accordingly, we learn that under the eaves left is the solitary sounding of the distant of his beloved's bedroom there was a blos- porter's bassoon. End of dream. To com- soming bed of flowers; later, during the ment: The beautiful woman is the "gnadige boating party, she holds a lily, and else- Frau,"descending from noble surroundings where she is showered with gifts of flowers literally, although not a true descendant. from the languishing Taugenichts. Even at She is beauty itself, the aesthetic that gives the end, upon the long hoped-for return of sense to a life that must be lived beyond the her lover, her flight to the sanctuary of the physical and social confines of the village. castle gardens makes it clear that her ele- The aesthetic vision is called upon to heal ment is the vegetative. the wound of separation and to soothe the The Taugenichts, at least at the start, alienated soul now living with new social is, of course, hopelessly sold on beauty. He replaces the old tollkeeper's vegetable patch with beautiful flowers, chooses gar- dens and forests as his preferred surround- ings, climbs trees for the security and breadth of vision they afford-in short, he associates himself with natural beauty in various forms as part of a consistent aes- thetic program. So, for the Taugenichts, beauty not only softens the rigors of the masculine law; one might even say it threatens to overwhelm it. His problem is that he is interested only in the feminine enclosure of beauty, a point accentuated by the fact that, as a beautiful youth himself, he is even mistaken for a woman while sojourning incognito at an Italian castle.

I have already made the point that his aesthetic program is committed to failure, partly because it is based on an impossible aping of aristocratic values, and partly be- cause beauty, in the form of woman, is ex- posed as less alluringly noble than first imagined. But there is another point to make. The turn of events implies that beauty must be curbed as a matter of neces- sity, for a life based on the cultivation of beauty lived outside the masculine rule of order is both homeless and, in practice, dangerously inimical to society.33 It is true that the masculine law, in committing the human subject to an endless cycle of material production, in fact destabilizes that subject. On the other hand, the subject fully centered by the feminine aesthetic ex- perience is unruly, itinerant and politically incalculable. What is therefore needed, and what absorbed the attention of many con- temporary philosophers, was how to mitigate the effects of unrestrained beauty without jeopardizing its capacity to center the bourgeois subject suffering already the privation induced by work.

The problem has a moral and political as well as an aesthetic dimension. The moral issue is how to counsel the human being to accept the rule of law without removing his pleasurable sense of human- ity. The political issue is how to make a sen- sual, pleasure-seeking human subject governable. The aesthetic issue is how you set limits to the human being's sensual drive, which could potentially spiral out of control, when aesthetic pleasure is at the same time human beings' shared source of humanity. Friedrich Schiller was at one with many philosophers when he claimed in his second letter on the aesthetic educa- tion of man: ". . . man [mufi], um jenes po- litische Problem in der Erfahrung zu llisen, durch das asthetische den Weg nehmen . . ., weil es die Schlinheit ist, durch welche man zu der Freiheit ~andert."~*

The answer, then, is not to disavow beauty but to win it over for the purposes of ideology: to colonize aesthetic terrain by encouraging the sub- ject through a controlled aesthetic experi- ence to accept the social order as his own in an act ofvol~ntaryservitude.~~

This is done, following Kant, by reversion to the sublime, an awe-inspiring, majestic, boundless "anti-aesthetic" experience which, accord- ing to Eagleton, "presses the imagination to extreme crisis, to the point of failure and breakdown, in order that it may negatively figure forth the Reason that transcends it."36 It is awe-inspiring because it is in- finite; it encourages humility and submis- sion by reminding the subject of his own finitude through a sort of effect-induced crisis of identity, yet a crisis which, in the end, stirs the subject to "enterprise and achievement"precise1y because it forestalls the potentially limitless experience of beauty3'

The question now is, is it an encounter with the sublime that leads the Taugenichts to abandon his aesthetic program and return to settled working life? I would argue that it is, and that the Taugenichts ex- periences the sublime in the form of the awesome otherness of Rome:

-Die Nacht war schon wieder lange hereingebrochen, und der Mond schien prachtig, als ich endlich auf einem Hiipl aus dem Walde heraustrat und auf einmal die Stadt in der Ferne vor mir sah.-Das Meer leuchtete von weitem, der Himmel blitzte und funkelte unz'iberselzbar mit

unziihligen Sternen, darunter lag die heilige Stadt, von der man nur einen lan- gen Nebelstreif erkennen konnte, wie ein eingeschlafener Li5we adder stillen Erde, und Berge standen daneben wie dunkle Riesen, die ihn bewachten. (60; my em- phasis)

Eichendofl himself never visited Rome; that is obvious from his descriptionof the city which locates large mountains on one side of the city where in reality there are none.38 But geographical accuracy is of course not Eichendorff's point. What instead is accurately described is the young Taugenichts's first encounter with infinity, not boundless- ness of nature in the first instance, but the expansive achievement ofhuman creation in a natural setting. As the Taugenichts draws nearer to the gates of the city, this becomes evident:

..die Stadt stieg immer deutlicher und prachtiger vor mir herad, und die hohen Burgen und Tore und goldenen Kuppeln glanzten so herrlich im hellen Mond- schein, als sGnden wirklich die Engel in goldenen Gewandern ad den Zinnen und Gngen die stille Nacht heriiber. (61)

The Taugenichts, then, is moved to contemplate human endeavor for the frst time: the vision of turrets, towers and cupolas is angelic, and it overwhelms. When, shortly afterwards, the Taugenichts passes a garden from which, curiously, the familiar song of his "gGdige Frau" issues-ehe is singing of Italy, not of home3'-the Taugenichts is overcome: "Da fie1 rnir auf einmal die schone alte Zeit mit solcher Gewalt aufs Herz, dd ich bitterlich hatte weinen mogen" (61).Lost insuch splendor, overcome notwith the want of angels but their profusion, the Tauge- nichts is wrenched back to home with sin- gular violence-"Gewalt" is the word that is used. Of course, the Taugenichts soon comes to lament the falseness of Italy, but doesn't "falseness" best express the sense of nega- tiveness that most characterizes the subject's experience of the sublime and returns him, chastened, to home and hearth? After all, it is neither Italy nor Rome as such that the Taugenichts finds fault with-his first thought, as we have seen, is to return there with his bride after the wedding-but only, it must be concluded, his solitary, exiled, ex- posed experience of it.

In sum, therefore, Aus dem Leben eines Taugenichts is the tale of the social educa- tion of a private man. Private at the outset, that is, deprived of status and a social voice (in this sense only, he is a "good-for-noth- ing"), the Taugenichts follows his father's instruction to seek a life for himself beyond the family home as a matter of necessity. He comes thereby, first, to realize his notion of desirable living, and then, to abandon it. Stronger than the urge to commune freely with Nature is the instinct to return to set- tled society and embrace a social role. In this, the Taugenichts's choice is repre- sentative, for while the claim to imitate the aristocracy in pursuit of a free outdoors life- style is clearly illusory-not least because the aristocracy itself was in slow decline and, as such, no foundation for legitimacy- the rewards of bourgeois living are more tangible: the Taugenichts's bride is pretty, and his white house on the hill has vineyards and a garden. So one must come to see value in the cooperative civic spirit, even if the price which is paid for the security of bourgeois work is a certain stiff- ness of the limbs. After all this, one can almost forget that, in 1826,in Eichendoril"~ Ausdem Leben eines Taugeniclzts, one of the last battles in defense of life lived daringly in the bosom of Nature has been waged and, we note wryly, just as surely lost.


lSevera1 commentators caution against a simple acceptance of the Taugenichts as indeed "good-for-nothing." Kopke, who discovers a Jean Paul-like strain of skepticism towards Romanti- cism in Eichendorff generally, assessesthe Tauge- nichts's naivet6 asproblematic (Wulf Kopke,'Tine Jean Paul-Parodie im Taugenichts?,"Aurora 41 [1981]:179).For Rodewald, the term "Tauge- nichts" describes a role the central figure of the

story lays out, rather than an identity he accepts (Dierk Rodewald, "Der Taugenichts und das Er- zahlen," Zeitschrift fur deutsche Philologie 92 [1973]: 234), while Kohnke, focusing on the pre- ponderant irony of the story, makes the point that the 'Taugenichts ist Narr und ist keiner: er er- kemt die Wahrheit nicht und kann sie daher nicht verkiinden" (Klaus Kohnke, 'Womo Viator: Zu Ei- chendorffs Erzahlung Aus dern Leben eines Tau- genichk," Aurora 42 [1982]: 34). Georg Lukgcs rejects the designation 'Taugenichts" altogether: "So ist der Taugenichts nicht ein einfacher (oder romantisch idealisierter) Faulpelz, sogar nicht einmal vor allem ein solcher Charakter, sondern ein Vagabund, der sich nicht in die niichterne Ordnung des burgerlichen Lebens organisch ein- zufugen vermag"; Georg Lukics, Deutsche Reali- sten des 19.Jd~rhunderts (Berlin: Aufbau-Verlag,

1951) 62.

%o commentators (Kohnke and Rodewald) indicate that the story is best understood as a ~arodyofthe Bildungsroman genre, since the hero remains unenlightened by his adventures; cf. Ro- dewald 255. However, it may not be unreasonable to aver that the Taugenichts's decision to take a wife and a settled life-style at the end of his travels is indeed arrived at after lengthy deliberation over the course of the story.

3~usdem Leben eines Taugenichts, Der goldne

Topf and Undine, for example, all tell of youth

finding its way in an established world perceived

to be, if not always at odds with the ambition of

youth, then at the very least at variance with it.

4Notably, Kant's Kritih der Urteilskraf? (17901,

Schiller's her Anmut und Wiirde (17931, Schle-

gel's Fragmente zur Litterdur und Poesie (1797-

98) and Schelling's Abhandlungen zurErliiuterung

des Idealisrnus der Wssenscha,ftslehre (1796-97).

5Loisa Nygaard fails to see that the maladroit

is in fact a typical romantic hero; see her "Eichen-

dorffs Aus dern Leben eines Taugenichts: Eine leise

Persiflage der Romantik," Sk~dies in Romanticism

19 (1980): 201.

6Polheim's detailed study of manuscripts indi-

cates that Eichendorff originally had his Tauge-

nichts fall for a real lady of nobility. Difficulties he

then encountered with the development of the

story forced Eichendorff into a novel situation: the

lady is neither aristocratic nor married, but the

Taugenichts continues to believe her so; see Karl

Konrad Polheim, "Neues vom Taugenichts," Auro-

ra 43 (1983): 42. This subtle change emerges as the

story's real point of interest. Much of the important

recent critical attention focuses, as a result, upon

the issue of narrative perspective in the story. Kohnke discovers inconsistencies in the detail of events and is thereby led to the conclusion: "Die chronologischen Unstimmigkeiten erfillen die gleiche Funktion wie die geographischen und wie die Namenlosigkeit des Taugenichts: sie zeigen die bei allem Wechsel der Szenerie sich wesensmanig gleichbleibende Lage des als homo viator verstan- denen Menschen, der auf Erden keine bleibende Stadt' hat (Hebr. 13: 14) und auf der Suche nach der zukiinftigen immer erneut aufbrechen muR"; Kohnke 40. Poser stresses the absence of epic dis- tance in the narrative and argues the view that the naivet6 of the hero-narrator is made ironic; see Hans Poser, "Joseph von EichendorfE Aus dern Leben eines Taugenichts," Deutscke Novellen uon G'oethe bis Walser, ed. Jakob Lehmam, vol. 1(Konigstein: Scriptor, 1980) 115. Nygaard echoes this point, observing that "the narrator consistently adopts the viewpoint of his naYve younger self, though he is certainly in a position now to know more about the situations he describes" (213). Ro- dewald is equally impressed by the apparent elu- siveness of the narrator and makes the point that the reader must frequently read "against" both the intention of the narrator-whose policy is to with- hold a full understanding of the story-and the events themselves: "Der Taugenichts, der es als 'Erzahler' doch eigentlich alles wissen muate,

'verrat' nichts. Er ist aber auch gar kein Erzahler, sondern dieses Ich ist eine Charaktermaske im Sinne von Persona"; Rodewald 237. Although it may indeed be argued that recent research on Tm- genichk has unearthed little that is new (Richard Littlejohns, 'When Is a Romantic Not a Romantic? Eichendorff Research in the 1980s," German Life and Letters 42 [April 19891: 191), it is also clear that the last two decades of Eichendorff criticism have seriously revised the long-held view of Ei- chendorff simply as bard and prophet of the ro- mantic outdoors.

7Cf. Terry Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aes- thetic (Oxford: Blackwell, 1990) 42: 'The maladroit or aesthetically disproportioned . . . signals in its modest way a certain crisis of political power."

8Carlo Ginzburg, The Cheese and tlze Worms (London : Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1980) 119

20. This reference is also cited in Alexander von Bormann, "Joseph von Eichendorff: Aus dern Leben eines Taugenichts (18261,'' Romane und Er- elihlungen zwischen Romantik und Realismus, ed. Paul Michael Lutzeler (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1983)

?bid. 120.

1°Ibid. 126.


121bid. 95.

131bid. 120.

14~iirgenHabermas, Strukturwandel cEer ijffentlichkeit (Frankfurtmain: Suhrkamp, 1990) 95ff.

15~abermasexplains: ''Diese Schicht der 'Biir- gerlichen' ist der eigentliche Trager des Publi- kums, das von Anbeginn ein Lesepublikum ist" (81).

16AU primary references are from the following edition: Joseph von Eichendorff, Aus de~n Leben eines Tmgenichts (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1987).

17cf. Habermas's enlightening discussion of the origins of the terms "privat" and "offentlich" (59-67).

18Habermas plots the decline of the aristocracy (88-89).

lgThese positions may be considered consis- tent with those that had been reached in 18th- century salon and coffeehouse discussions, as Habermas has documented. Some of the important new ideas: the notion of a public realm based on the conviction of shared human values, rather than on old caste distinctions; the exclusion of tra- ditional forms of power and prestige from this realm as well as the suspension of the laws of the marketplace; the presumption that the hitherto uncontested monopoly of church and state to debate social issues of a general nature was now overturned, open access in principle for all to the public domain. Cf. Habermas: "Die diskutablen Fragen werden 'allgemein' nicht nur im Sinne ihrer Bedeutsamkeit, sondern auch der Zugang- lichkeit: alle miissen dazugehoren konnen" (9798).

mMargaret Gump, "Zum Problem des Tauge-

nichts," Deutsche Vierteljahrsschrift 37 (1963):


21LuMcs 59.

221bid. 59-61. Note that Nygaard terms the

porter "the arch-Philistine himself' (211).

23Arnd Bohm, ''Competing Economies in Ei-

chendorffsAus dem Leben eines Taugenichts," The

German Quarterly 58 (1985): 54142.

24Cf. Eagleton's discussion of the circum-

stances under which aesthetics came into being

and the irony by which art's very "self-referenti-

ality" became transformed into "a vision of the

highest good" (64-65).

25Eagleton 73: "Freedom is the very lifebreath

of the bourgeois order, yet it cannot be imaged in

itself'; ibid. 79: ". . . freedom cannot be directly capturedin a concept or image, and must be known practically rather than theoretically."

Z6Cf. Eagleton 62-63: "The only truly compel- ling moral ideology [for the middle class] is one which succeeds in grounding itself to some degree in real material conditions; if it fails to do so, its idealism will prove a constant source of political embarrassment."

27Cf. Habermas on imitation: "Die Kunst des offentlichen Riisonnements erlernt die biirgerliche Avantgarde des gebildeten Mittelstandes in Kom- munikation mit der 'eleganten Welt' " (89).

28Fbdewald points out that the Taugenichts's ads of tree-climbing are above all escapist in nature and usually effect a positive turn in events (251). Perraudin's analysis ofthe motif, while more exhaustive, in fact does no more than confirm this view; Michael Perraudin, " ?)as Baumebesteigen nimmt . . . kein Ende': Tree-climbing in Eichen- dorff,"German Life andhtter.s 44 (January 1991): 103-09.

2gThe tone ofEichendorff's early novel AI~nurzg und Gegenwart was so negative that even his mother rejected it; Paul Stocklein, Eichendorff (Reinbek: Rowohlt, 1965) 31. Stocklein goes on to caution against misconstruing the way in which Eichendorff describes castle scenes and celebra- tions in his later narratives: "Man mil3versteht sie OR als Bekenntnisse Eichendorffs zur guten alten Zeit und ihrer patriarchalischen Lebensform. Ei- chendorff aber hat mit einem sehr wachen sozialen Gewissen ganz anders iiber die oft luxuriosen Feste des Adels, auch des Landadels, gedacht, die er in seiner Jugendund in seiner Wiener Zeit erlebt hat" (43).

300n page 16we read: ". . . da ich sonst in den alten Biichern bei meinem Vater von der schonen Magelone gelesen . . ."

3lSeveral commentators have taken up the

question of the falseness of Italy. Kohnke stresses

the fad that ultimate fulfillment is structurally

the preserve of a nontemporal paradisal realm;

Rome, palpably non-paradisal, instead becomes

the setting for the interplay of old uncertainties

and new conhsions (44). Poser makes the point

that Rome might well be the geographical turning

point of the story, but it is clearly not the turning

point in the plot, for the Taugenichts announces

his plan to return to Rome after his marriage (117).

Nygaard's view is that Eichendorff, whose Tauge-

nichts is repelled by the pretensions of a fellow

artist (the Italian painter), is, like many of the Ro-

mantics, uncomfortable in a self-made, "counter-

feit" world. She hrther argues that once the Taugenichts assumes the trappings of bourgeois life-a wife, a home and anuncle-in-law-heis free to share in the bourgeois fancy that makes Rome a "world of unsatisfied dreams and infinite possi- bilities" (204-13).

32Eagleton 59.

33Eagleton, discussing Kant, speaks of "the placid feminine enclosure of the imaginary, where desire is captivated and suspended," and the mas- culine nature of the sublime needed to discipline it: "Ideology must not so thoroughly centre the subject as to castrate its desire; instead we must be both cajoled and chastised, made to feel both homeless and at home" (90).

34Friedrich Schiller, &r ~unstund Mrklich- keit: Schriften urul Briefe zur hthetik (Leipzig: Reclam, 1985) 233. This reference is also cited in English in Eagleton 106.

35Jhid. 56.

361bid. 91.


38There are other examples of topographical inaccuracy in the story. Kohnke points out that the mountain the Taugenichts scales on his return journey from Italy that affords a clear view over the border into Austria does not in fact exist (36).

3gThe Bong is referred to as a "welsches Lied- chen" (61).

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