"A Nothing, If It Could Be Thought:" Shadows of Diotima in Susette Gontard's Letters to Friedrich Hölderlin

by Therese Ahern Augst
"A Nothing, If It Could Be Thought:" Shadows of Diotima in Susette Gontard's Letters to Friedrich Hölderlin
Therese Ahern Augst
The German Quarterly
Start Page: 
End Page: 
Select license: 
Select License


Princeton University

'~ Nothing, if it could be thought:"

Shadows of Diotima in Susette Gontard's Letters to Friedrich Holderlin

Dubatestmichauch, Direinige meinerGedankenundIdeenzuW0rtenzu bilden. Lieber! alle meine Au~erungen gehbren nurDir. Mein Geist, meine Seele spiegeln sich inDir Dugibst, wassich geben lii~tl in so schoner Form, alsich esnie kbnnte, undder Genu~1 da~ ich den Beifall fiihle den man Dir geben mU~1 istmirmehralsdie Befriedigungmeinerganzen Selbstliebe

(Letter 5, Beck 49).1

a sage! W0 finden wirunswieder? (9:64)

The autobiography that is writing, as Eva Meyer asserts, is perhaps nowhere more indelibly inscribed than in love letters -in the attempt to let writing convey the essence of the self across distances, to send the self as script (Meyer 69). But to what extent can that same writing also bear the trace of another? More precisely, how does it bear another's absence, particularly if that absence is unbearable"(

The unbearable absence of the beloved, along with the desire to give love

a personal signature by becoming its one and only author, both take concrete

shape in the complex movement of exchange that correspondence con

structs. Love is "territorialisiert," taking place "in einer Weise, wie es sie

aufserhalb der Briefe gar nicht gibt" (Meyer 66): it is authored by a singular

subject who must write to an absent other, and yet it only expresses itself

where its author is not. Thus the letter's sentiment must constantly be

given not in the ecstasy of pure connection but in separation. The subject

who writes love letters speaks to an absence, not knowing whether his

words will ever reach the proper hands, but heeding a compulsion to give

voice to a passion that longs for response; meanwhile, as Rilke's Malte knew,

the reader of letters traffics with another who is now no longer the writing

subject, or with a writing subject who is no more.

Ich will auch keinen Brief mehr schreiben. Wozu 5011 ich jemandem sagen, daf ich mich verandere? Wenn ich mich verandere, bleibe ich doch nicht der, der ich

The German Quarterly 77.2 (Spring2004) 145 war, und bin ich etwas anderes als bisher, so ist klar, da~ ich keine Bekannten

habe. Und an fremde Leute, an Leute, die ich nicht kenne, kann ich unmoglich

schreiben (Rilke 10-11).

Despite an author's best intentions, letters may not always arrive; and even when they do, they always retain something of their non-arrival (Meyer 69). Writer and reader cannot entirely recognize one another, for the other that was once known has already receded into the distance.

The exchange of letters thus always lags behind the other's disappearance, so that the writer of love letters may eventually begin to address not the beloved but rather his absence. Such is the situation in which Susette Gontard, the wife of a Frankfurt banker and mother of four children, writes to the poet Friedrich Holderlin at the end of the eighteenth century. Once her son's tutor and briefly her lover, he is now the absent one whose image, as she acutely realizes, is rapidly disappearing from her mind's eye. While in his prodigious literary hands, she is being immortalized, idealized, ossified in the feminine subjects who inhabit his poems and his novel Hyperion, in their epistolary dialogue she can do little more than lament the gradual starvation of their love as absence takes hold.

So much has been written about this particular exchange of love letters that the ill-fated affair memorialized in Gontard's pages has long been the stuff of legend and hyperbole; indeed, her words themselves have continually been overshadowed by the sensational events they describe. In this sense, the letters are a product of their age -an age in which famous and not-yet-famous authors corresponded voraciously with women who knew and read them, an age for which the letter has traditionally retained the status of a privileged window into the lives and psychological states of its writer and reader (Hahn 13). For most critics, Gontard's words retrospectively construct a secret love in which Holderlin's poetry is also deeply immersed. Thus, since their release in the early twentieth century, her letters have often served to validate the sentiment that his poetry is understood to express, to give concrete voice to the Muse already made immortal in word and meter.?

Yet along with providing material evidence of a love that inspired a literary oeuvre of uncommon beauty, these letters beg to be read; even within the golden age of the letter few other correspondences can match the soaring passion of their lines. Not least because from a distance of two hundred years, the reader shares in Gontard's experience of the other's absence, her anxious wish for a reply, a glimpse, the wordless touch of a hand; Holderlin's responses were never recovered, and only three drafts of letters to Gontard remain among his manuscripts. And not least because the tension that she articulates between memory and forgetting, between the other's fleeting presence and his interminable absence, continues to reverberate in the empty chamber of Holderlin's late poetry. This essay's aim is to follow those echoes to their source -to Gontard's letters -not only because they remain audible within Holderlin's writing but also because they convey something of their own, namely how love letters can bear, in the voice of their writer, the traces of another's unbearable absence. And how the readerwhether or not this reader is also the intended recipient -can both listen for that absence and attempt to do justice to its memory.

The lovers' roles begin as a classic division of labor along gender lines, as Barbara Hahn has theorized it (15). As writer and reader of letters, Gontard represents an inexhaustible support to the fledgling author's work, a shadowy figure of the eternal beloved inhabiting the background of Holderlin's poetic production. And yet through their exchange, the two also start to exceed those roles. Initiated as a "Monument" (Beck33), a sign of the presence of love immovable in spite of physical separation, Gontard's letters ultimately come to articulate a way of being with the other's absence when, as she writes, lies bleibt uns nichts ubrig ... n (Beck40). Writing letters becomes for her an exercise not in constructing love between two people but in learning to coexist with the absence of love, learning to love this absence in the absence of the other. Meanwhile, in his poetry dedicated to feminine subjects, Holderlin begins to reflect upon this same tension between the beloved's presence and her absence, between remembering and not remembering. As a result, the attempt to reconstruct the (feminine) other wholly in the self or in writing, once the cornerstone of Hyperion's love for his counterparts Melite and Diotima, is ultimately replaced by a new kind of openness to her absence.

For the modern reader, the intensely private tone of these love letters those that Gontard expressly gives to her beloved in stating that "alle meine Au&erungen gehoren nur Dir" (Beck49) -also demands a measure of selfreflection. Does reading letters addressed to another not inevitably involve a process of identification as one slips, almost imperceptibly, into the role of recipient? If so, then to reflect upon letters is also to submit to the temptation of responding to them anew; to write about them is to write a love letter of one's own, even if one's addressee is long absent. And that absence to which one speaks in this belated reply, the empty space from which a singular voice nevertheless still emanates, should not fail to become the elusive subject ofwhich one speaks as well. Inasmuch as Susette Gontard's letters to Holderlin are both inspired and permeated by her perception of his absence, they evince a desire to maintain contact, if not with the beloved, then at least with the place he once occupied. However, in proffering their own absence to a distant reader, those same pages ask for a recognition not only of the loss they lament openly but also of an impassable rift they suffer silently. This recognition both compels the reader to respond and keeps her at a distance, ensuring that the letters' silences will abide alongside their words. Perhaps there is no other way to read these letters, if one reads them with care; indeed, as Holderlin's poetic response will imply for any readerand as he surely knew, with his legendary concern for "der feste Buchstab'" -perhaps this care is part of the task of reading as such."

Strangely enough, however, although the saga of their brief encounter and subsequent separation has long possessed a vastly overdetermined status in the study of Holderlin's life, work and decline into madness, the words of Susette Gontard have nearly always gone unheard.f There can be no doubt, however, that Holderlin heard them. Nor must we doubt that the voice behind those words echoes, if only ever so faintly, in what remains.

I. Susette

Siemu~ eine wunderbare Frau gewesen sein, gewi~ nicht eine sehr kluge, sicherlich eine schone Frau, aber diese ihre Liebe machte sie in aller ihrer Schlichtheit gro~ ... (Isberg65)

The story of the affair is well-known and has been repeated in such great detail in numerous other texts that a cursory account ought to suffice here.P In January 1796 the 25-year-old Holderlin arrived at Wieisser Hirsch, the Frankfurt residence of banker Jacob Friedrich (Cobus) Gontard, to assume the position of tutor to the family's oldest child, nine-year-old Henry. Holderlin soon expressed great satisfaction with his new charge. Not long afterwards, he also developed an unusual affinity with the young mistress of the house, Susette Gontard, who took great pleasure in the poet's attentions (Vopelius-Holtzendorff 395). By June, shortly before the family fled Frankfurt for Kassel (without Cobus, with tutor) to escape the threat of Napoleon's army, Holderlin proclaimed his devotion to her in a letter to his close friend Christian Ludwig Neuffer.? In August, as the party moved further north to Bad Driburg, the two probably conveyed their mutual affection (Krell 20), and their contact grew closer.f

The relationship continued for two years, likely the subject of much gossip in Frankfurt circles, but no direct confrontation from Cobus Gontard followed. However, Holderlin's letters to friends and family indicate that he had begun to bristle under the social and personal restrictions of his post: "... freilich [kommt] meine Wenigkeit immer am schlimmsten weg, wei! der Hofmeister besonders in Frankfurt uberall das funfte Rad am Wagen ist, und doch der Schicklichkeit wegen muf dabei sein" (letter to his mother, 11.97, Beck 97). By summer 1798, his letters express his bitterness over the "ungeheure Karikaturen" that inhabited Frankfurt society (letter to Rike, 4.98, Beck 98) and the unbearably deep division that he helped to create in the Gontard household.

Cobus Gontard finally confronted Holderlin in September 1798. Accounts of the scene vary, although it is evident from her letters that Susette Gontard first sided with her husband in demanding Holderlin's departure from \%isser Hirsch, only to regret it almost immediately afterwards." Indeed, while Holderlin took up residence in the nearby town of Bad Homburg vor der Hohe, Gontard could wait only a week before writing her first letter to him, and the opening words burst forth in an uncontrollable rush: "Ich mufs Dir schreiben Lieber! Mein Herz halt das Schweigen gegen Dich Ianger nicht aus, nur noch einmal Iafs meine Empfindung sprechen vor Dir, dann will ich, wenn Du es besser findest, gerne, gerne still sein" (1,Sept.fOct. 1799, Beck 33). The seventeen letters that follow retain this breathless tone, betraying a seemingly compulsive desire to fill the empty space "urn und in mir [seit Du fort] bist" (Beck 33) -to fill the blank page with written words now that spoken ones reverberate without response in rooms devoid of love.

Over the next two years she continued writing in order to reconstruct her torrid emotions, to arrange fleeting, clandestine meetings, to indulge in reminiscence. Holderlinand Gontard exchanged letters through friends and finally, physically, through a hedge on the Gontards' country estate Adlerflychtscher Hoi, Gontard hoping for a gentle press of his hand(Handedruck) to confirm his momentary presence, a page or two to relieve his ceaseless absence. She wrote her last letter on May 7, 1800, after which Holderlin, wishing to be nearer to his mother and sister in Swabia, moved to the home of his friend Christian Landauer in Stuttgart, and the correspondence ended. Gontard died of the measles in 1802. There is no need to tell the rest of Holderlin's story here.

II. Diotima

Diotima! edles Leben! Schwester; heilig mirverwandt! Ehich dirdie Handgegebenl Habich ferne dich gekannt.

-"Diotima," v.2 [Beck 20]

Erwei~1 da~ eseine Uberwindung der Dissonanzen ineinem einigen und heilen Leben geben mU~i ersieht sie -undhier wirken platonische Cedankengange -inder Schonheit, jaerbegriifit sie bereits inder Gestalt seiner vorahnenden Phantasie undnennt sie Diotima (Ibel13-14).

Diotima casts the longest of shadows. Well before Susette, she was there: Hyperion's love, Holderlin's projection of Idealist dreams into the guise of a feminine figure responsible for soothing the tortured soul, completing the fragmented self. Although Gontard's presence certainly left its mark on the published version of Hyperion, which was composed during his years in Frankfurt (the second volume opens with his celebrated dedication: "Wem sonst als Dir "), earlier incarnations of the Diotima figure indicate the extent to which her place was already fixed in Holderlin's poetic corpus. Throughout his early work, in fact, her significance is at least as closely tied to the poetic "Ich" as to the feminine "Du."

To be sure, this poetic tendency strongly betrays Holderlin's intellectual influences in the last decade of the eighteenth century; it reflects an aesthetics of self-discovery expressed in the nearly universal attempt, after Kant's critical philosophy, to place the subject on solid and undivided ground. That this potentially complete Idealist subject was primarily considered masculine is evident in the extent to which femininity is generally coded in terms of intuition without intellect, of unconscious contact with nature, of an innocence that forms the basis for absolute self-knowledge and yet remains definitively barred from attaining it on a conscious level.10 The subject may well recognize himself in the unsullied perfection of the other, but the other is not permitted to know herself.

The second version of "Diotima" cited above, composed in the early part of Holderlin's tenure in Frankfurt (about 1797), makes these dynamics evident (along with numerous other poems with variations on the same title). Diotima is the One, "die Eine," who brings the poetic voice out of turmoil and back to the innocence and marvel of "der Kindheit stille Tage" (Beck20). Her presence changes everything, including the poetic "ich:"

Ach! an deinestilleSchone, Selig holdesAngesicht! Herzl an deineHimmelstone Ist gewohnt das meine nicht; AberdeineMelodien Heitern mahlichmir den Sinn, Da8 die triibenTraumefliehen, Und ichselbsteinandrerbin. (Beck 22)

Diotima's influence, which here turns the "ich" into another, proves to be little more than a return to an earlier, more idealized version of the self. "Damals schon," as a "zufriedner Knabe" as well as in the spiritual blindness of adulthood, he dreamt of finding "meines Herzens Bild... bei den Schatten oder hier" (Beck21).Throughoutthepoem the"ich"celebratesthediscoveryofthe feminine "du" not as another but as his "Herzens Bild" (Beck21) incarnate. She was always already there, and he had known her all along; the other here proves to be no more than a mirror in which to restore the once undivided self.

Early versions of the epistolary novel Hyperion, which feature perhaps the best-known and most developed variation on the Diotima figure, follow a similar trajectory while also calling it intriguingly into question. From the point of her earliest incarnation as Melite in the "Fragment zu Hyperion" (1793), Holderlin's feminine subject both embodies unselfconscious perfec

tion and orchestrates it for the man who loves her. Melite, like Diotima in the later poem, holds the power to inspire the subject's virtual resurrection:

Izt war er wiedergekehrt, der Fruhling meines Herzens. Izt hatt' ich, was ich

suchte. Ich hatt' es wiedergefunden in der himmlischen Grazie Melites. Es tagte

wieder in mir. Das hohe Wesen hatte meinen Geist aus seinem Grabe gerufen (FA

10: 55, 23-26).

Yetinthistext, Hyperionismistakeninbelieving thatMelite'spresenceoffers a means to complete his malnourished spirit. For he soon finds that she does not exist merely for his sake, and her absence fills him with the crushing awareness of his own spiritual poverty.

Ich fuhlte nur zu bald, da~ ich arrnerwurde, als ein Schatten, wenn sie nicht in

mir, und um mich, und fur mich lebte, wenn sie nicht mein ward; daf ich zu

nichts ward, wenn sie sich mir entzog (FA10: 56, 84-87).

Nothing poorer than a shadow, nothing. Without her presence in him, without a love undivided by the difference between one and another, the subject is nothing -which is to say that, at least on the pages that Hyperion furiously fills in Melite's absence, he is never something, but always only nothing.l! What if, however, the nothing were to become something other than what it was?

The story of Susette Gontard and Holderlin was itself nearly nothing, or at least it almost left no trace. While in the possession of Holderlin's halfbrother Karl Gock, Gontard's letters remained an enigma to scholarship, their content the subject of speculation without confirmation.l-Meanwhile, the mysterious female figure haunting much of Holderlin's poetry from 1798 until the very last "tower poems" had already become legendary; indeed, for lack of any other material evidence, she had become "Diotima." When her letters were finally published in 1921 by Gock's granddaughter Frida Arnold.l'' it is thus hardly surprising that they were found to confirm what everyone had always thought. Susette Gontard is cast as the incarnation of the poet's idealized feminine subject, while his literary creation, Diotima, becomes a virtual premonition of the woman in the flesh: UH61derlin hatte dieses Frauenbild lange vor der leibhaften Bestatigung in sich geschaut und als Ideal aus sich herausgestellt" (Ibel 16). Holderlin becomes Pygmalion, while Gontard is reduced to "Diotimas Wirklichkeit," the embodiment of a fiction that both precedes and survives her."

But what of the letters? One cannot help but ask insistently, as long as historical accounts adhere to the age-old story of the poet and his Muse or even, more recently, that of the bourgeois wife and the handsome tutor.l'' Even in Krell's otherwise sympathetic account, the letters written by this "not very intelligent" (Isberg 65) woman are seen to possess "immense historical (though modest literary) importance" (Krell x). Likewise, Katja Behrens suggests in her collection of women's correspondence that the letters are only consequential because of their addressee, Holderlin (373). Since their publication, the small amount of secondary literature devoted to the letters themselves has largely forgone a focused reading of the text in favor of a theory of the Muse behind the handwriting; the poet, according to this theory, needs her "naturhaftes Wesen" in order to create, and thus upon his request she writes as much as possible, dedicating her words entirely to the interests of his art (Bohm474). As so often, the woman writing letters becomes the poet's conduit to nature, mediating his access to a purer form of language, an unreflected "Urtext" that the poet, inspired, must translate into his own reflected form. Hahn elaborates on this interpretive tendency in more general terms:

Schreiben wird hier zum Ubersetzungsprojekt aus der Natur, das die Identitat des Autors tiber die Aneignung eines ihm Fremden garantiert. In der Natur, dem Gegenpol zur "Vernunft," ist die Wahrheit "in schonen Hieroglyphen" vorgegeben, und die Frau als Adressatin und Leserin des Textes garantiert den Ubergang von dem einen Terrain ins andere. Sie ist das Fremde und Au~erliche, doch ihr "Cesprach" mit dem Autor ist gleichzeitig die Passage aus dem Aufsen der Schrift/Natur ins Innere des Autortextes (Hahn 24).16

To be sure, Susette Gontard did not resist the idea of being an instrument in the service of sublime artistry; in that day and age, as Constantine asserts in his biography of Holderlin, such liaisons "must always have been likely" (61).17 Yet certainly, that self-indulgent pleasure was tempered by an equal measure of pain as she took pen in hand -pain of separation, of isolation, and most particularly of limitation. While her pleasure is thus depicted as essentially passive -the pleasure of embodying another's inspiration, regardless of words spoken or written -her suffering is clearly productive, giving rise to near-compulsive writing. And this prolific suffering evinces a far more complex sense of loss than the Muse's position allows. Even without Holderlin's lost responses, Gontard's writing gives partial voice to a dialogue quite other than that of poet and Muse. Out of her often fevered mode of expression emerges the sense of a struggle, not unlike that which Holderlin clearly carries into the poetry he writes in Bad Homburg during their correspondence: an active struggle that takes place simultaneously between the two and within each one.

III. Mein Lieber...

Trennen wollten wiruns? wdhnten esgutund klug? Da wirs taten, warum schrockte, wie MardI die Tat? Ach!wirkennen unswenig. Denn eswaltet einGotiinuns. [Der Abschied,undated, Beck 109]

The letters of Susette Gontard are anything but passive; on the contrary, they constantly confront the reader with the forceful strain of emotions passionatelyexperienced. Muchofthat poignantforceemergesintheelaborateplansshedevisedinordertoarrangefortheirsuccessfuldelivery. Forthe onlyway toknow forcertainwhetheraletter hasreacheditsaddresseeisto placeitdirectlyinhishand;andGontard,whoseletters fromHolderlinwere intercepted morethanonceintheearlystagesoftheircorrespondence,soon devoted her energies to this approach.l''

Ich will Dir nun sagen, wie ich meine, da~ wir es diesen Sommer machen konnen, urn selbst unsere Brieftrager zu sein, denn sie jemand anzuvertrauen ist wurklicheingewagterEntschlufs, undwirhabenauchbeideeineArtvonWiderwillen dagegen. Du kommst also den lsten Donnerstag im Monat, wenn es schon Wetter ist; gehet es nicht, kornmst Du den nachsten und so immer nur an einem Donnerstag, damit das Wetter uns nicht irrt, Du kannst dann auch Morgends von H[omburg] weggehen, und wenn es in der Stadt 10 Uhr schlagt, erscheinstDuanderniedrigen Heeke, nahebeiden Pappeln,ichwerdedannoben an meinem Fenster mich einfinden, und wir konnen uns sehen, zum Zeichen halteDeinenStockaufdieSchulter, ichwerdeein weifsesTuchnehmen; schliefse ichdannineinigenMinuten das Fenster,isteseinZeichenda~ ichherunter komme, tue ich es aber nicht, darf ich es nicht wagen; Du gehest, wenn ich komme, amdemAnfangderEinfahrtnicht weit vonderkleinen Laube, dennhinter dem Garten kann man wegen dem Graben sich nicht erreichen, und eher bemerkt werden, so deckt mich die Laube, und Du kannst wohl sehen ob von beiden Seiten niemand kornmt, urn daf wir so viel Zeit gewinnen unsere Briefe durch die Heekezu tauschen (6,4 April 1799: 57).

Loverswhocannot speaktooneanother must findanewlanguageinwhich to communicate. A set of signs-a white cloth, a walking stick on the shoulder, theopeningandclosingofawindow-substitutesfortheexchangeofspoken wordsandat thesametimeenablesanotherexchange, thatofwrittenwords, to take place. Infact,thedesirefordialogueseemsnearlytobesupersededby the desire for written pages; although their arrangements here suggest that they could(andprobablydid)brieflyspeakthrough the hedge,Gontard emphasizesnot theopportunitytomeetfacetofacebut thechancetoexchange letters.

Gontard claims to despise the sort of scheme she outlines here (ilWiees mir unangenehm ist, so intrigenartige Plane zu machen, brauche ich Dir wohl nicht zu sagen," Beck 57), and yet in effect, her resourceful invention of this network of signs is an example in nuce of the pains she had to take from the very start to ensure that the distance forced upon them would not destroy their bond. In this striving she was certainly not alone -after all, Holderlin walked from Homburg to Frankfurt each month for their rendezvous at the hedge -but through her letters it becomes evident that much of it originated with her. Forwere it not for her sheer determination not only to communicate through writing, but also to see her letters delivered, the correspondence would perhaps never have materialized. Holderlin's compromised status in the household and Gontard's strong desire to maintain a measure of stability within her family both prevented him from sending the first letter, as she well knew: "Du konntest nicht zuerst schreiben, das fuhlte ich wohl, weil ich immer dagegen war" (1: 34). But for her to have written first, and to continue writing later, was no less daunting, not only because of the obvious logistical difficulty of exchanging letters in secret but also for the simple reason that she rarely found a moment alone in which to write. Already apparent in the tone of many passages is her dread of being discovered, which hinders her ability to "find the words:"

Wie gerne mochte ich mich noch ein wenig ruhig mit Dir unterhalten, aber der Gedanke, Man kommtl start alles in mir, und er ist auch die Ursache da~ ich Dir lange nicht so viel geschrieben wie ich gewiinscht harte, wie manches hatte ich Dir noch auf Deinen lieben Brief zu sagen (8, 5 July 1799: 61).

Writing in secret, while constantly re-writing a secret, takes a mental and physical toll. Her love founders without writing and suffers from it at the same time, and thus the letters vacillate between the frustration of not being able to write and the inexplicably tortuous joy of doing so. The stress is broadly legible on many of Gontard's handwritten pages, where the elegant script suddenly takes on an alarming slant, where full ellipses shrink to a narrow glare, where ink smears untidily and paper is folded in careless haste.'? Frustrated at every turn, once even by a bee sting on her writing hand, she comes to realize that undisturbed moments are rare, and that therefore she must write while she can, even when she does not know what to say. Even when words fail, her writing does not stop; long series of dashes, sometimes three or four in a row, finish line after line, so that her reader might see not only the words she did write but also the empty spaces where words proved elusive.

Da habe ich Dir vie!Worte machen mussen, und hatte Dir doch gerne so vie!gesagt, das Rechte kann ich aber nicht ausdrucken, es bleibt tief in meinem Herzen begraben, nur Tranen der Wehmut konnen das sagen, und wieder stillen. Du sie

hest wohl, ich kann die Worte nicht finden! ----(1, Sept./Oct. 1798:


This double struggle of finding time to write and words to say, constantly described in and imprinted on the letters, hinges in a practical sense upon a social status that constantly denies her solitude. Thus her many hours of strenuous occupation are, as she describes them, also her most desolate. In no less than eleven of the seventeen letters, Gontard mentions house guests, family visits, compulsory outings that prevent her from stealing away in order to reflect and write; her children, descending noisily from their lessons, distract rather than delight her. On the other hand, being alone to write letters represents for her a private, intense joy, tantamount to being alone with the beloved -which implies, more often than not, being alone with the pain of his absence. As a result, there is nothing more desirable:

...esistalshatte meinLebenaIleBedeutungverloren,nurimSchmerzfuhliches noch. --WieliebeichnundiesenSchmerz,wennermichverlassenundes wieder dumpf in mir wird, wie such ich ihn mit Sehnsucht wieder, nur meine TranentiberunserSchicksal konnen michnochfreuen(1:33).

Not only writing letters but also reading them demands secrecy, as Gontard knows well, for only in secret can she gather the concentration to be alone with her lover's words. It is a solitary activity that she cherishes, thanking him abundantly for every letter, vowing to gather them together into a notebook in which she might someday find gentle consolation for his absence (a promise that she was unable to keep). However, her evident joy at his responses reveals more than the gratification that her written sentiments have been heard and reciprocated; particularly in the early stages of their exchange, the letter in her hand, even more than the affection it may impart, seems to offer a substitute for the man. 20 Reading "Wort fur Wort" (Beck49) brings forth his image, allowing it momentarily to expand and fill up the void that surrounds her. The letter need not even be addressed to her in order to have its effect, for the paper itself is the reminder of his presence before her eyes, even if only for an instant.

[etzt bekam Henry [Susette Gontard's son, TAA] Deinen Brief, welcher mich

sehr aufrichtete, ich hatte immer nur Deine neue Freiheit und Unabhangigkeit

vorAugen, DeinhauslichLeben, DeinestillenZimmerundDeinegrunen Baume,

am Fenster;Deinen Brief, diesenliebenTrostbehieltichaberkaumeineViertel

stunde, indem Henry ihn mir sehr gewissenhaft zuruckfoderte, urn ihn zu zei

gen, und so bekam ich ihn nicht wieder (1: 34).

That Gontard's eleven-year-old son had to demand Holderlin's letter back from his own mother is not merely curious in its hypocrisy, particularly insofar as she herself insisted upon the privacy of letters (as she wrote to her confidant Marie Ratzer, "ein Brief gehort nur fur den, welchem er geschrieben ist," Beck 151). It also shows her reliance, evident throughout these missives, on the power of objects to summon a world of images. Above all, Gontard trusts what she sees before her own two eyes, finding her lover's familiar figure in the concrete objects she observes around her -and, in her mind's eye, those she imagines around him -rather than in the metaphysical universe of concepts. (In this respect, she could not be more distant from Holderlin, who, after all, had created the concept of his beloved before he ever saw her in the flesh.) For Gontard, sight engages the body as much as the mind, allowing self and other to communicate by means of physical traces as well as mental abstractions, suggesting that tears convey passion in a language of their own:

Ich kann mir keinen Begriff machen welchen Eindruck meine Worte auf Dich machten, ich sah aber Deine Tranen fliefsen, sie fielen brennend auf mein Herz, ich konnte sie nicht trocknen! ---(2, undated: 38)

Letters are not the only tokens that can call forth the beloved's presence for Gontard. Having some sign of him, anything at all, before her provides temporary consolation after their last encounter has passed and distance has once again set in. Her eyes are readily deceived by her mind's eye, which reconstructs his image from traces of all kinds:

... ich ging zwei Tage nach Deiner Abwesenheit noch einmal in Dein Zimmer, wollte mich da recht ausweinen und mir einige liebe Reste von Dir sammeln, ich schlofsDeinen Schreibpult auf, fand noch einige Stuckchen Papier,ein wenig Siegellack, einen kleinen weifsen Knopf und ein hartes Stuck Schwarzbrot, ich trug das alles lange wie Reliquien bei mir (6, 14 March 1799: 51).

Yet she soon finds that when objects signify the other, they not only approximate his presence; in their inherent penury they also underscore his absence. When her eyes fail to see through the haze of uncertainty that surrounds his present situation, signs are no longer enough. Although his former quarters at UJeisser Hirsch are dearly known to her, offering her comforting access to the private objects of his past, his "unbekannte]s] Stubchen" in Homburg -and thus, by extension, the signs of his present and futureare hopelessly distant.

Nicht einmal eine Vorstellung von dem Ort wo Du wohnest werd ich haben! Siehl Lieber!darin hast Du es doch viel besser, Du weifst wo Du mich immer wiederfinden kannst, kennst aIle Kleinigkeiten urn mich herum, indes, wenn ich Dich denken werde, Dein Bild in einem undurchdringlichen Nebel mir erscheinen wird auf Augenblicke nur, wenn Du mir nicht zuweilen ein Bild gibst von dem was Dich umgibt, und auch selbst von den Menschen mit welchen Du in Verbindungkommenwirst.Tuedasimmer, wennDu kannst(6,19March1799:


In Gontard's view of the lovers' situation thus lies a fundamental inequity closely linked to the temporal rupture inherent in separation: while she and Holderlin share a mutual past, his present and future now diverge from hers. And most of the time, she encourages him to move forward in his work, but at times that inequity clearly gnaws at her. In effect, she still dwells among the objects of their shared past, while he now possesses a present and a future -symbolized by the "unbekannte]s] Stubchen" in Homburg -that does not include her. As she soon experiences, images of the past, however well-preserved before the mind's eye, fade away without any physical link to the present. It is thus not surprising that she reacts to any threat of prolonged separation with barely concealed panic.

Wahl geh l ich taglich andere Piade, bald Insgriine Laub imWalde, zur QueUe bald, Zum Ielsen, wo die Rosen bliihen, Blicke vom Hugel insLand doch nirgend, DuHolde, nirgend fi'nd ich imLichte dich Und in die Lufte schwinden die Warte mit; Die [rommen, die beidirich ehmals ,,, (Wohl geh'ich taglich"'1 probably early summer 1799 or 1800, Beck 103)

Hyperion despaired at the imperfect union between self and other, raged against Melite for remaining beyond his desperate reach and for refusing to reach desperately for him. Gontard began from a similar point of departure (can one perhaps read too much Holderlini'), striving to preserve the memory of the beloved wholly in herself, relying on concrete objects, signs, letters, the occasional touch of a hand, yet knowing all too well that the process of regeneration remains fallible as long as he is at a distance.P Emblematic of this struggle, the letters present a pervasive, active contrast between concepts of preservation (bewahren/ bleiben) and disappearance (verschwinden, vergehen); they reflect poignantly her fear -reminiscent of Hyperion's -that their furious pace of writing and reading cannot replace a world, that absence will finally cause their love to waste away to nothing.

In the fifth letter, written at the end of February 1799, Gontard describes the trying experience of being faced with the gradual extinction of love and in particular the dissolution of the lover's image wi thin the self:

... nun wollte ich mich meinem Cefuhl wieder ganz uberlassen, ich durfte auch das nicht, denn die Sehnsucht nach Dirwurde so grofs, da~ ich mir nicht zu helfen wufste, und ein gewaltiger Kampf in mir entstand, Ich suchte mit allen Kraften Dein verloschendes in mir gewordenes Traumbild mit lebendigen Farben

wieder in meine Einbildung zu rufen, ach! es war mir versagt, ich fuhlte den WunschunddieOhnmoglichkeit zugleich, ichdachtewohlanDeineBriefe, DeineBucher, DeineHaare, aberichwolltekeineHulfe,wollteganzausmirselbst Dichin mirerneuen,dochmeintoricht HerzmufstebaldvorderVernunfterroten, und Entschuldigung finden ... (5: 43)

In this case, her misery is temporarily assuaged when she finds his "lieben Sachen, und Briefe von altern Zeiten" ("welch ein lieblich Bild von Dir fand ich darin...",Beck43).Still,for thefirst timeshealsoconcedes thatthosetokens "von altern Zeiten" also hold her mercilessly captive to bygone scenes: "Aber ach! das ist Vergangenheit! -Was ist Gegenwarf? -Was Zukunft?--.:» (43). Mired in the dream images of the past, she finds her greatest joy,and yet it is also "Selbstvernichtung Feigheit;" thus she must contend with the tension between the paralyzing difficulty of finding her way"aus der Dumpfheit" and an intense desire to descend into the slumber of self-delusion.

This conflict ensues in a rare moment of sustained reflection. Although not among the longest of her missives, the fifth letter is unique insofar as it appears to represent the only time that Gontard was able to write extensively at one sitting, without interruption.F Consequently, it marks most powerfully the acute strain she faced in contemplating the status of her bond with Holderlin. Her words reveal how beholden she is, despite its untenability, to a love nurtured by the senses rather than the intellect, to the prevalence of the Handedruck over the dream image, over the shadow that will eventually remain in the space which the loved one once occupied.

Aber diese Beziehung der Liebe bestehet in der wurklichen Welt die uns einschliefstnichtdurchdenGeistallein; auchdieSinne(nichtSinnlichkeit)gehoren dazu,eine Liebe, diewirganzderWurklichkeit entrucken,nur imGeistenoch fuhlen,keine NahrungundHoffnungmehrgebenkonnten,wurdeam Ende zur Traumerei werden oder vor uns verschwinden, sie bliebe, aber wir wufsten es nicht mehrund ihrewohltatigeWirkungaufunser Wesen wurdeaufhoren (5: 44).

For Gontard, who has relied from the start of their separation on the physical tokens and signs of past triumph, love cannot be divorced from the senses and the body without disappearing, or at least becoming unrecognizable. It is for this reason that she prefers the ache that accompanies their separation, no matter how many tears it induces, to the numbness of a wretched consciousness (iitrostloses Bewufstsein" [46]) unreceptive to the body's yearnings: tears are a sign that he has not disappeared altogether, that the emptiness within her still bears his name and recalls his touch.

Despite her consideration that she should perhaps give in to the self-indulgent temptations of a dream world enmeshed in the past, she is nonetheless certain that merely imaginary ties between lovers cannot suffice to keep precious memory alive.

Wie oft tadle ich Dich und mich, da&wir so stolz aIleBeziehungen uns ohnmog lich gemacht, uns nur auf uns selbst verlassen haben: wir mussen jetzt vom Schicksal betteln, und durch tausend Umwege einen Faden zu leiten suchen, der uns zusarnmenfuhrt. Was wird aus uns werden, wenn wir fureinander ver schwinden sollten? ---[... ] Noch konnte ich mich nie beruhigen, wenn ich denken mu~te da~ ich Dich ganz der Wurklichkeit entruckt, Du Dich mit meinem Schatten begnugen wolltest ...

(5: 44-45)

Shadows cannot touch, or embrace. And yet with love at an ever-increasing distance from the concrete, Gontard fears that she and Holderlin will eventually find no other point of contact. Thus her question, "Was wird aus uns werden?" need not be merely rhetorical. Her determination to write him "eine Art von Tagebuch" in the ensuing letters (including a detailed account of her journey to Weimar and brief introduction to Schiller) along with the intricate arrangements for their meetings by the hedge both represent attempts to preclude the issue; for as long as possible, she will ensure that her beloved does not disappear. Soon, however, she is forced to confront the question anew when her own vision -the sense in which she had placed the most trust from the very beginning -begins to deceive her:

Gestern Abend spat zogen wir heraus, ich glaubte Dich schon im Weidenhof am Fenster zu sehen. --Meine Augen heften sich mit Verlangen auf die Pappeln-Allee. --Wenn Du nurkomrnstl (7,April 1799: 58)

Whereas once she saw signs of him and their shared past in scraps of paper, buttons,bits ofsealing-wax, nowsheseesonlyashadowyfacein thewindow. In her longing, she imagines him where he is not, and where there is no sign save his absence. A few months later, she claims to see his image among the shadows again:

IchglaubteimBlickDeine GestaltinderAlleezusehen.WarestDu eswurklich? -oder nicht? --... Es traf mich wie ein Blitz, ich wurde warm, und kalt ... ich ging ans Fenster, und stand, mit unverwandtem Blick,es tauschte mich wieder, bald sah ich Dein Gesicht durch die Busche, bald lehntest Du Dich an einem Baum und gucktest da hervor, ich erkannte das Spiel der Phantasie und beredete mich dafs auch das vorige so gewesen. Der Schmerz ergriff nun mit kalter Hand mir das Herz und drohte es zu erdrucken, meine Gedanken erstarrten, es war als hatte ich Dich umarmen wollen, und ein Schatten warest Du geworden, dieser liebe Schatten hatte mich noch trosten konnen, und wie mein Sinn dieses forderte, ware auch dieser mir verschwunden, und ein Nichts, wenn es denkbar ware, geblieben. [...] O! Gott! erscheine mir nie wieder so! (9,August 1799: 62)

Pain seizes the heart when reason disrupts the imagination, when a shadow slips through the fingers and leaves one with Nothing. The wish to find the other's image within the self clashes with the impossibility of love's sustenance in the absence of that other. Although external objects have come to constitute for Gontard a kind of memorial to the beloved, here there is no object to speak of; only a shadow remains, a trace so ephemeral that it is nearly absent, constantly at risk of turning into a Nothing (if it could be thought). And for better or for worse, it is this shadow -or this Nothing, if even the shadow should disappear -that will memorialize the other. The play of imagination, powerless to summon the lover's image, must acknowledge him from a distance and inscribe this distance within the self. What becomes of lovers who disappear for one another? Gontard's hallucinations begin to make it clear: in the wake of the other's disappearance, the self will be responsible for preserving that shadowy space left behind by the disappeared, even if it only amounts to Nothing.

But how does one take on this awesome responsibility, when all one's strength had once been devoted to preventing such shadows in the first place? After all, Gontard had never wanted to be alone with Holderlin's absence, had always striven to place a material substitute before her eyes and her staunch belief in the image she found there was shattered nonetheless. The letters that follow her encounter with the shadow thus bear a tone of increasing resignation; although she still speaks intermittently of a reunion, she also begins in the last half-year of the correspondence to contemplate life without him, with only his absence to keep her company: "Wie viel ich an Dich gedacht, und mich bei Dir fuhlte, kann ich nicht sagen, wenn ich Abends einsam und still war (denn ich mochte niemand urn mich leiden)" (11,31 Oct 1799: 72). Indeed, the materiality of the correspondence itself hints that mourning has begun to supplant living desire. Though they continued to meet at the hedge each month, her letters are noticeably briefer,23 and their content leans toward the quotidian rather than the ardent. In an earlier moment of reflection, Gontard had distinguished between "telling" (erzahlen) and "saying" (sagen), the former representing a filling of empty spaces left by the difficulty of achieving the latter: "Je mehr man zu sagen hat, je weniger kann man sagen, das fuhle ich wieder, und denke, 'nur still, das ist es doch nicht.' Also erzahlenl" (6: 56). Consistent with this distinction, in the later letters Gontard seems to prefer "telling" to "saying" anything, and despite her habit of filling the page, of not leaving a single empty space, the letters begin in places to ring hollow -even mildly petty, as when she announces to him the arrival of Ludwig Zeerleder, a friend and former admirer: "Er wird Deine Zimmer oben beziehen, an Deinem Schreibpult sitzen, gerne werde ich dann wieder hinaufgehen, und mit stiller Freude sehen wie Deine vorige Wohnung durch seine Gegenwart geehrt wird, keinem andern hatte ich sie jemals gegonnt, und Du wohl auch nicht?" (15: 85-86.)

At the same time, however, the suffering she has always expressed takes on a double cast when her tears, once a welcome reassurance that love remained a product of the senses, are now countered by the agony of keeping their secret:

Ich fuhlte es lebhaft, da~ ohne Dich mein Leben verwelkt und langsam stirbt, und zugleich weif; ich gewifs, daf jeder Schritt den ich tun konnte Dich auf eine heimliche angstliche Art zu sehen, mit aIleden Folgen die es haben konnte, eben so sehr an meiner Gesundheit, und meiner Ruhe nagen wurden (11: 73).

Torn between the urgent need to seehim and the anxiety that surrounds every one of their encounters, Contard is no longer entirely able to defer the prospect that absence will prevail; and even the silent language of their secret meetings now takes on the pallor of emptiness: a ••• sei mir Dein Ausbleiben urn 10 Uhr das Zeichen" (11: 74).

This is not to say that she gives in to the severance of all relations between them, not without a struggle. By early 1800 Holderlin, profoundly discouraged in his efforts to edit a monthly journal of poetry and criticism, had decided to return to his native Swabia to be near his sister's home in Blaubeuren, which would almost surely render permanent his separation from Contardo Although she does not explicitly mention his decision until the seventeenth and final letter, her last three letters indicate that she at least suspected its coming; her lines vacillate between the desperate wish for reassurance ("Weiter gehest Du doch nie von mir? ---Nie ganz? --" 14: 85) and a measured farewell:

Leb wohlleb wohl nahe oder ferne doch immer bei mir. Und so mit mir verwebt bistDu,dafsnichtsDichvonmirtrennenkann, wirsindbeisammenwowirauch sind, und bald hoffe ich Dich wiederzusehen (14, 30 January 1800: 8S).

The final letter offers perhaps the strongest contrast of collectedness and desperation. Scrawled lightly in pencil on the day before and the day of their last meeting, the text literally disappears -its faded script a potent marker of the letter's proclivity for both summoning and erasing its author with every line.24 And although she still insists that they will meet again, the terms of this reunion have become something other than what they once were:

IchwerdeDich wiedersehenl dieseCewifsheitsolImir niemandnehmen.Ichwill standhaft Deinen Blick und Deinen Handedruck ertragen, da~ ich nicht zu sehr erweicht werde, nach so langer Trennung, wieder zur Trennung, auszudauren. Und Dir dazu den Mut geben (17, 7 May 1800: 88).

Those familiar gestures for which she has yearned throughout these two years of separation -his gaze, the touch of his hand -she expects one day to bear "resolutely" (standhaft), with steadiness in a heart that now often races uncontrollably. She wills her senses of sight and touch to become a source of resolve rather than surrender, thus invoking them no longer in the hopes that love can survive in the realm of the senses but in order to prove to herself that she can bear the pain of his absence as steadily as his gaze -that she can remain open to his unique absence in herself, and that he ought to learn to do the same.

... drum la~ uns mit Zuversicht unsern Weg gehen und uns in unserm Schmerz noch glucklich fuhlen und wunschen da~ er lange lange noch fur uns bleiben mage wei! wir darin vollkommen edel fuhlen und gestarkt... (17: 89-90)

IV. Diotima to Hyperion

Wei~t Du, woran es liegt, die Menschen furchten sich voreinander, daf der Genius des einen den andern verzehre, und darum gonnen sie sich wohl Speise und Trank,abernichts,was dieSeelenahrt,und konnenesnichtleiden, wennetwas, was sie sagen und tun, im andern einmal geistig aufgefafst, in Flamme verwandelt wird. Die Torigenl Wie wenn irgend etwas, was die Menschen einander sagen konnten, mehr ware als Brennholz, das erst, wenn es vom geistigen Feuer ergriffen wird, wieder zu Feuer wird, so wie es aus Leben und Feuer hervorging. Und gonnen sie die Nahrung nur gegenseitig einander, so leben und leuchten ja beide, und keiner verzehrt den andern (Draft of a letter to Susette Gontard from Holderlin, end of June1799: Beck 91).

Neither one consumes the other. For to consume the other would be the same as erasing every trace of her very otherness -which would be, ironically, the sameasconstructingher anewintheimageofthe self.Thereciprocityofthis correspondence allows both to live and glow, and to write. Holderlin does take something from this exchange.

This is not necessarily to say that Gontard explicitly taught him anything in her letters, no more than to claim, as others have, that her words represent the mere 'Antwort und Echo" of his own (Isberg 65). Nevertheless, the conflict that her letters describe and inscribe -the struggle between preserving the memory of the beloved in the self and contending with his disappearance -becomes an eccentric focus in Holderlin's later work, particularly in those rare texts that feature a feminine voice. It is perhaps no coincidence, for example, that the tragedy of Antigone, which he translated in grand and problematic fashion in the years after their separation and her death, also circulates around precisely this act of preserving the remains of the other, even if what remains is only nothing.

Another late text may, however, provide the most palpable echoes. At least seven to ten years after the second version of "Diotima" and the first volume of Hyperion (and at least two years after Gontard's death), a feminine voice responds strikingly, recalling not only those texts but also the exchange of letters that came between. While for Holderlin in 1797, the distance between self and other is collapsed in both conceptual and sentient terms in the lines "Eh ich dir die Hand gegeben/Hab' ich ferne dich gekannt," an undated fragment known as "Diotima an Hyperion" (certainly written after 1804, perhaps in the tower) reinscribes the distance from another perspective:

Wenn ausderFerne, dawir geschieden sind, Ichdirnochkennbar bin, dieVergangenheit,

o du Teilhaber meiner Leidenl Einiges Gutes bezeichnen dirkann,

50sage, wieerwartetdieFreundin dich'( In jenen Garten, danachentsetzlicher UnddunkIer Zeitwir unsgefunden7 HierandenStromenderheiligenUrwelt (Beck163).

The poetic voice in the text "Diotima" once claimed to have known the beloved all along, to have known her even before he ever found her in the fleshbutthiswas only possiblebecausehehad createdhis ownvisionofherfromthe start. She is not (yet) another. Aber ach! das ist Vergangenheit! -~s ist Gegenwart7 --Now entrenched in the remote reaches of the past, Diotima is barely visible; yet in a reversal of that earlier poem, her voice can be heard, and her words resonate playfully with what came before: "ferne/Ferne," "gekannt/kennbar." She speaks of what she knows, what she remembers and what remains, but she does not claim to know Hyperion any longer, except from a distance; and from that same remoteness, she invites him to take note of what is "noch kennbar" about her. There is no longer any other way to know her.25

Does "Wenn aus der Ferne ... " present a rewriting, perhaps even in the poet's derangement, of Gontard's letters? The poem's language and structure offer compelling evidence for this. Constructed as a message, nearly a letter, its thematic and formal allusions are not limited to the epistolary form of his novel alone. Critics have suggested that Holderlin pays homage to Gontard by shifting his focus from the diffuse to the concrete, by directing his gaze down from the ether and fixating it "auf Spaziergange, Buchseiten, Kinderwangen" (Hasters 130).The language of Gontard's letters injects his own with a dose of materiality (Fechner 195), not only in the opening reference to "jenen Garten" but also in the allusions to earthly life that are threaded throughout the text. While nature sings, the lovers remain steadfastly rooted to the ground:

UrnWandundMauergruntederEfeu, grunt'

Einselig Dunkel hoherAIleen. Oft

DesAbends, Morgens warendart wir,

Redeten rnanches und sahnuns froh an (164).

Moreover, as in the letters, this emphasis on the concrete extends to the senses' effect on the body: "In meinen Armen lebte der Jtingling auf ... " The rhetoricaltoneofthepoemislikewiserendered "alaSusette;"26reminiscentof her letters, subordinate clauses beginning with "wie" are peppered throughout: "Wie flossen Stunden dahin," "wie still war meine Seele" (Beck 163).

Perhaps even more persuasive, however, is the evocative way in which the poem positions the other in memory. Diotima's address to Hyperion itself emerges out of remoteness as a relic, a disembodied call at a strange remove from both its speaker and its hearer. Both have all but disappeared in the distance, and only the written text, the letter, remains as memorial. Does Diotima have the last word here about the dynamics of severance and continuity? Does a feminine voice in Holderlin's writing offer the means to think the other as absent but still legible, as a trace written upon a page and into memory? If so, would that voice not likely contain echoes of the one he had so often heard?

It is Holderlin's writing, his reflection on loss and remembrance, and yet Gontard's language is alive in it -in the fifth stanza, for example, with its concrete references to their correspondence and to the curious act of "saying" (sagen) rather than the more conventional "telling of" ierzdhlen von) the past:

Wahrhaftig! wie du alles Bekannte mir In mein Cedachtnis bringen und schreiben willst, MitBriefen, soergehtesmirauch, Da8 ichVergangenes alles sage (Beck 163).

What is known to Diotima and Hyperion (alles Bekannte) is brought to the other and shared, written into memory in the form of letters; meanwhile, consistent with Gontard's own validation of "sagen" over "erzahlen," "saying" the past describes this recording of shared experience that means something to the two, that does not merely fill the page with hollow "telling."

Still, "saying" the past is depicted only as an act of will, not as an accomplished deed (wieduallesBekannte mir... bringenundschreiben willst...J. As it ages, memory can also become unreliable, as the beginning of the next stanza indicates: "Wars Pruhling? war es Sommer?" And although (as Gontard knew) signs of the past, such as the touch of a hand, can bring joy in the present -

Nehmevorlieb, und denk An die, dienochvergnugt ist,darum, Well derentzuckende Taguns anschien,

Dermit Cestandnis oderderHandeDruck27 Anhub,derunsvereinet (Beck 164--65).

-they also constantly call to mind the sorrowful countenance of what remains:

Ach! wehe mir! Eswaren schone Tage. Aber Traurige Dammerungfolgte nachher(Beck 165).

The simple sentiment in evidence in the poem is thus that the shared remembrance of things past is necessarily accompanied by the emptiness that follows. Recalling those shining days demands a simultaneous openness to their mournfultwilight.Yetthatdouble recollectionisnolessanhomageto the memory of the beloved and the cicatrix that forms around his absence. And if Gontard's letters first brought that emptiness to light, the literal and figurative solitude in which Holderlin composed this poem -in which, moreover, he would spend his last thirty-six years -can only have deepened his recognition of it.

In the twilight, it is not always possible to make out a distant friend. Whether spatial or temporal, moreover, at some point that distance becomes impossible to bridge. Susette Gontard knew this, knew that Holderlin would eventually disappear from her mind's eye, and resolved in her last letter to bear his absence as faithfully as his gaze; the incandescence of the beloved is preserved in the self as a faint flicker, his absence embraced as both familiar and unknown, both joyous and mournful. And in the end -which cuts itself off quite unceremoniously with a comma and thus suggests no end at all-Diotima resolves to do the same for Hyperion. It is a dramatic promise of total responsibility, the promise to remain alone with the empty traces of the other, and never to leave those traces alone.

Du seiest soallein in der schonen Welt, Behauptest du mir immer, Celiebterl das Weillt aberdu nicht, (165)


1Allreferences to thelettersarefromBeck, Holderlins Diotima Susette Gontard, with letter number followed by page number.

2Seeinparticularoldertexts byGebhardt,Heuschele, Bohm,andIbel.ForGebhardt, Gontard contributes to Holderlin's poetic production not through her letters but"indemsieihrWesenihmschenkt" (2);Heuschele,meanwhile,assertsthat Gontard knowsherimmortality inthe poetrycanonlycomeat the priceofherowndemise: "sieweissund erlebt,dasssieinihm untergehenwird,urnwiederinihmaufzusteigen, er wird sie nie vergessen, er wird sie immer in seiner Seele tragen und risse ihn sein Damon auch von ihrem Kerper"(22).

3 FriedrichHolderlin, "Patmos,"in Samtliche Werke undBriefe 11:1, 172.

4 DavidFarrellKrell's recenttranslationandcommentaryontheletters,whichfeaturesanoftenbitter(fictional) debatebetweentwo Holderlinscholarswhoarealsoformerlovers, offersadditionalinsightinto thisproblemof silence at theheartofthis correspondence. Inaquirkybuteffectivepresentation,thetextmakesevidenthowthevery secrecyoftheirexchangecan become forthemodern reader, asKrell's characterSabine remarks, "the essenceofyourfrustration"andthecatalystforaself-indulgenttransforrnation ofthe lettersinto IIacheapromance,onethatyoucanidentifywith" (Krell243).

5 As I confirmed on a visit to the Holderlin Archive in the Wurttembergische Landesbibliothek, Stuttgart, only a handful of commentaries on the actual text of the letters have appeared since their publication in 1920, and most are quite brief. Readers include Vietor[1921],Gebhardt [1921],Ibel[1948],Isberg[1954],Beck[1980],Hasters [1993], Fechner [1999], and most recently Krell [2000]. Krell's new documentation and presentation in English is certainly the most intellectually engaging account since Beck's volume. However, the unusual format of that presentation (see note 4) essentially overshadows the text of the letters themselves, rendering their content secondary to the fictional debate that ensues in the book around their translation and publication.

6 The definitive summary remains that of Beck in Holderlins Diotima Susette Contard, which incorporates letters and texts from various sources to round out the context of the affair and its aftermath. For another impressively thorough and engaging biographical account, see Krell.

7 Holderlin'slettertoNeufferfromlateJune 1796features anuncommonlybeautiful description of his newfound love and its effect on him: "Ich bin in einer neuen Welt. Ich konnte wohl sonst glauben, ich wisse, was schon und gut sei, aber seit ichs sehe, mochtichlachenuberallmeinWissen. LieberFreund! esgibteinWesen aufderWelt, woran mein Geist Jahrtausende verweilen kann und wird, und dann noch sehn, wie schulerhaft all unser Denken und Verstehn vor der Natur sich gegenuber findet. Lieblichkeit und Hoheit, und Ruh und Leben, und Geist und Cemut und Gestalt ist Ein seliges Eins in diesem Wesen" (Beck 11).

8 For a particularly detailed and interesting account of this journey, including the political circumstances surrounding their flight north from Frankfurt, see Hock. 9 For different accounts, see IbeI28-29, Vopelius-Hotzendorf 398, Krell 34. 10Forarichdiscussionofthistendencytoalignthe feminine withunconsciousnature, particularlywithrespectto theoriesof languageandartisticexpression,seeKittler,76-80.

11 Krell's correspondents tangle over the potential readings of Hyperion's love for Melite and his devastation at the discovery of his insignificance in her eyes; the exchange throws into relief the problems of reading with which these competing accounts of Gontard's letters will ultimately engage. While one of Krell's fictional authors, Douglas Kenney, submits that Melite reflects the poet's own misery, thus thematizingthe "povertyoreven penuryoflove,the wretchedconditionofthe forlorn lover" (206), the other "author," Sabine Menner-Bettscheid, argues that this mirroring effect is destructive not to the lover who initiates it but to the beloved woman who is subject to it (209).

12According to Holderlin'sgrand-nieceFridaArnold, whoeventuallypublishedthe letters in 1921, Cock felt that the letters had been entrusted to him and that he had no right to release them (Vietor 82).

13 Arnold could no longer resist releasing them, exclaiming "Holderlin gehort der Welt!" -without thinking to ask to whom the letters belonged (Vietor 84).

14 Ibel's study as well as Bohm's account in his biography of Holderlin are prime examples of this tendency in its earliest incarnation. However, even later biographical and semi-fictional texts reflect a similar desire to locate in Susette a quasi-mystical link to the literary figure that precedes her, at least insofar as Holderlin may have attempted to construct that link in his own writings. For example, Bertaux emphasizes Hyperion's first description of his love for Diotima -J1Eh' es eines von uns beeden wufste, gehorten wir uns an" -as a central motif in his account of the affair, which for him is one of the "Schicksalsschlage" leading ultimately to Holderlin's demise: "Ist ihm Susette nicht gleich das Abbild der erwahnten 'ewigen Schonheit,' wehrt er sich nicht vor einer Begeisterung, von der er furchten mufs, siewerde zu Enttauschungen fuhren ... ?"(462) Hartling's Holderlin: Ein Roman, meanwhile, although more subtle in its treatment, likewise indicates a link between Holderlin's idealized view of Madame Gontard and his own troubled biography: "Tauscht er sich doch? Bildet er sich ein Wesen ein, das es -wieder -gar nicht gibt?" (366)

15 See, for example, Vopelius-Holtzendorff's summary, 395-96, and Constantine's biography, 59-60.

16 On this question of "translation" from the (feminine) voice of nature, see also Kittler79:"Natur,Liebe,Frau -imAufschreibesystemvon1800sindsiesynonym.Sie produzieren einen Urdiskurs, den dann Dichter aus seiner Stummheit heraus-und ubersetzen."

17 In early summer 1796, with the young family fleeing north from Frankfurt to Kasseldue to the threat posed by Napoleon's armies, the girls' governess and Gontard's confidant Marie Ratzer already notes in a letter to Sophie Dollfus the degree to which Gontard lends the poet her undivided attention: "... den ganzen morgen ist Frau Gontard mit Holderlin oben in der Laube u. im Kabinett, die Kinder verlassen immer diese Gegend, Bediente und Magdeimmer urns Haus herum wenn er morgens wieder kame u. bemerkt wurde es ware nicht gut" (Beck 125).

18 In letter 4 [6 February 1799], Gontard alludes to the circumstances of such a discovery, which seem to have resulted in renewed but unwanted attention from her husband: "Undbeidemal kam DeinBriefinunrechteHande,sie wurdenmirabersogleich ubergeben, und es hatte weiter keine Folgen als daf ich 8 Tage die gewohnte Begegnung dulden mufste ... "(Beck 42).

19 Many thanks to Marianne Schutz, curator of the Holderlin archive in Stuttgart, for arranging a viewing of the handwritten letters.

20 Hahn has elegantly thematized the dynamics of long-distance love, see her 25: "Die Adressatin kann zwischen dem Schreiber und seinem Produkt nicht unterscheiden. Sie liebt -ein Stuck Papier, und die Liebe ist ein postalischer Effekt."

21One tellingindicatorofGontard'sacuteanxietyisthe frequency withwhichthe word "gewits" appears, especially in the first letters: "Es ist gewif Liebe," lies wird gewils gut gehen," "und Du bringst mir gewif auch etwas Liebes mit, wie freue ich mich schon --" (Beck 41). Her preference for this qualifying adverb might evince both a degree of uncertainty about such assertions and a strong desire for reassurance. In her use of the word, moreover, she appears to struggle with the issue of how such qualified statements sound to the reader; in the handwritten letters, it is evident that she often adds the word with an insertion mark, almost as an afterthought (perhaps to mitigate an overly enthusiastic assertion"), and occasionally crosses it out, as if to lend a statement a more confident note.

22 Theconsistencyand visualflowofthe handwrittenpagesconfirm thatthis letter was composed in one draft, unlike most of Gontard's other letters, which invariably contain numerous dated entries, indented spaces, and even changes of ink and handwriting style.

23 While the first nine letters take up thirty-seven pages in Beck's edition, the final eight comprise only twenty.

24Bycontrast, alloftheotherlettersarewrittenininkandwithanoticeablymore assured hand.

25 Atthe beginningofthesecondstanza, BeckseesareferencetoGontard's question, "0sagemir!wofindenwirunswieder?" Thequestionisreversed("Wieerwartet dieFreundindich?")andmademoreprecise: the "gardens"mayreferto thespecificlocation where Gontard and Holderlin spent summers. However, by incorporating the familiar gardens into a question the speaker implies that she can no longer be found there, that she is rather "an den Stromen der heilgen Urwelt" (285).

26 Marie Ratzer makes playful use of this phrase in a letter to her brother Daniel Ratzer,21May1795,apparentlyreferringtoGontard's preferenceforfloridlanguage: "Ichrnochtedirjetz unterdemzwitscherndenGesangderkleinenmuntrenVogeldie Veranderung meiner Gemiitsstimmung schildren konnen, aber nein du sollst nichts wissenl Nichts von den edlen Entschliefsungen die meinen Geist in Tatigkeit versetzen, nichts vondenhohen Empfindungen meinerSeelediesichheraushebt ausdem ChaosundinreinerenRegionensichwahre unverfalschteNahrungholt.Wardasnicht schon? Es ist doch ala Susette ... n (Beck 123).

27Krell'snarratorSabinenotes thatthe referenceto the "HandeDruck"isabelated correction by Holderlin and that the passage originally referred to the "kisses that we gave one another"(241). In describing this gesture critically as a form of self-censorship, however,thecharactermissestheintertextuallinktoGontard's ownletters,including the very last one.

Works Cited

Beck, Adolf, ed. Holder/ins Diotima Susette Contardo Frankfurt:Insel, 1980. Behrens, Katja. Frauenbriefe der Romantik. Frankfurt:Insel, 1981. Bertaux,Pierre. Friedrich Holder/in.Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1978. Bohm,WJ1helm. Holderlin. Halle-Saale: Max Niemeyer, 1928. Constantine, David.Holder/in. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988. Fechner, Lydia. "DieFestzeitdesErzahlens: DieBedeutungdes BriefesinHolderlinsDen

ken."Diss. Sheffield, 1999. Gebhardt,Carl. "Diotima'sBriefe." Frankfurter Zeitung 18.December1921: 2-3 (reviewof the first edition published by Insel).

Hahn,Barbara. tllWeiberverstehenallesalaIettre:'Briefkulturimbeginnenden19.[ahrhundert." Deutsche Literatur von Frauen, Bd.II. Ed. Gisela Brinker-Gabler. Munich:C.H. Beck, 1988. 13-27.

Hartling, Peter. Holder/in: Ein Roman. Darmstadt: Luchterhand, 1976. Hasters, Heima. "Sie hief nicht Diotima." Hirschstrabe: Zeitschrift fur Literatur 2 (1993): 129-32. Hock, Erich."Don druben, in Westphalen:/I Holder/ins Reise nach Bad Driburg mit Wilhelm Heinse undSusette Contardo Stuttgart: Metzler, 1995. Holderlin, Friedrich. Sdmtliche Werke(FrankfurterAusgabe). Ed.M.Franz,M.Knaupp,and

D.E. Sattler. Frankfurt a. M.: Stroemfeld/RoterStern, 1988.

Ibel, Rudolf, ed.Holder/in undDiotima: Dichtungen undBriere der Liebe. Hamburg: Christian Wegner, 1948. Isberg,[urgen. "HolderlininHomburg1798-1800:DasWerkundder WandeldesWelt

bildes." Diss. Hamburg, 1954. Kittler, Friedrich. Aufschreibesysteme 1800-1900. Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 1985. Krell, David Farrell. The Recalcitrant Art: Diotima's Letters to Holder/in andRelated Missives.

Albany: SUNY ~ 2000.

Meyer, Eva. Autobiographie der Schrift. Basel: Stroemfeld/Roter Stern, 1989.

Rilke, Rainer Maria. Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge. Frankfurt: Insel, 1982.

Vietor, Carl, ed.Die Briefe der Diotima. Afterword by Frida Arnold. Leipzig: Insel, 1921.

Vopelius-Holzendorff, Barbara. "Susette Gontard-Borckenstein." Holder/in-jahrbuch 89/26 (1988): 383-400.

  • Recommend Us