Sunday, May 12, 2013

Notes on William Lovell by Ludwig Tieck

Among the rash—some would say rather “welter”—of irredeemably uninspiring youth c*****e-spawned pseudo-genres of sub-literature that have been visited upon us since the dawn of the millennium, and that po-faced adults such as the present writer have since been endlessly adjured by our often more highly academically accredited peers to admire in the same soul-devouring spirit as that imposed on an auditor of a toddler’s statistically sub-par feats of monosyllabicity in the presence of his apotheosizing parents, not the least reprehensible is surely the so-called mash-up novel.  In this writerly analogue to recreational abortion, the plot, characters, setting, and authorial idiom of some supposedly classic text are shamelessly interlarded with the corresponding elements of some avowedly low-prestige counterpart, or, more broadly, with the conventions of some low-prestige (but real) genre.  Many if not most examples of the mash-up novel are debarred from eliciting any sort of interest from the opposable-thumbed reader by virtue of what can only strike him as the minuteness of the gap between high and low, or sometimes even the outright transposition of the two strata.  (What’s this title you rouse me from my naked bed to scan through hastily affixed and consequently lop-sided pince-nez?—Philip Marlowe Snubs the Munsters.  Why, I should think that a bounder like Mr. Marlowe would have his work cut out for him even in getting a visiting-card accepted at 1313 Mockingbird Lane.)  But a few of them do at least glom on to a master text (or mashee) of sufficient falutine altitude to prompt the OTR to ask himself, “What in G**’s name could possess anyone to besmear the good italicized name of Xenography and Zymurgy or Xavier Zyzyzzyk with this particular grade of wombatshit?”  Case in point: Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  Had I never become aware of this book’s existence, I doubtless would have gone on assuming as I had done since high school that the typical young adult Jane Austen fan, although no more discriminating than her mall rat sisters in most cultural domains—such that, for example, she was equally much more likely to attend a boy band concert than a chamber music recital—could be counted on to turn up her perky little nose at all forms of horror movieana.  I doubtless would have gone on assuming, in other words, that while Jane Austen’s novels were as immutably young-girlish as sugar, spice, and everything nice, zombie movies were as immutably young-boyish as slugs, snails, and puppy dogs’ tails, and that consequently the twain should never meet anywhere.  That they have in fact met in Mr. Grahame-Smith’s book suggests not so much that little girls have become appreciably more butch, more slug, snail, and puppy dog tail-smitten, in recent years, as that in those same years death has at last been so thoroughly freeze-dried, deodorized, and disinfected that it can at long last complacently take its place on the credenza alongside the thousands of varieties of sugar, spice, and allotherniceness offered up by the feminine kitsch industry.  Or, to approach the state of affairs from another angle, it suggests that the consumer commodity has at long last realized its unspoken dream of banishing the olfactory register from the experience of personhood.  So long as we living humans not only stink, but are compelled to regard our stinkiness as an essential and inalienable appanage of our biological existence, we cannot help thinking of our recently deceased counterparts as fellow men and brothers, and consequently both being horrified by them and pitying them;  being horrified by the apparent complacency with which they have allowed themselves to fall into a state of malodorous putrescence, and at the same time pitying the suffering that our experience of related phenomena in our own flesh suggests they must be undergoing despite their outward impassiveness.  But no sooner have we ceased to think of ourselves as individuals of the species Homo olidus than the corpse becomes an object of pure mirth, a burlap-clad stick-puppet who can never elicit the faintest tremor of sympathy from the spectators of any show in which he happens to participate because these spectators are incapable of imagining that they will ever find themselves in his position.  And without question the material commodities. along with their spiritual metonyms, through which the present generation preeminently affirms its mastery of existence, manifestly smell less strongly than those adverted to by any earlier generation.  When parked un-test driven on the show-room floor, a brand-new motor car, the most coveted commodity of the entire twentieth century, admittedly smells of nothing more noxiously septic than factory-fresh vinyl, plastic, and vulcanized rubber.  But scarcely has one turned the key in the ignition than the vehicle begins to belch or fart (note the gastro-excretory overtones of both verbs) great viscerally insufferable clouds of blackish smoke.  And of course to keep the car going, one has to pump it full of gasoline, which reeks horribly because—as every schoolchild knows or used to know—it is composed entirely of the remains of dead dinosaurs.  Finally, it is impossible to involve a car in any of the activities that constitute its virtual raison de s’acquérir—from an excursion to the local drive-in malt-shop to a back-seat petting session—without impregnating its inner surfaces with an olfactory cocktail of disagreeable smells that no amount of Armor All or carpet shampoo will ever succeed in completely masking or eradicating.  In short, for all its classic reputation as a byword for all manner of dehumanizing phenomena of mature industrialism, the automobile is surprisingly intimately involved with the nit, grit, and shit of organic life and death.  The same obviously cannot be said of the wee ovals, rectangles, and dodecagons of plastic and silicon that are the most hankered-for commodities of our time.  For first, they are powered by the odorless medium of electricity (Yesyesyes, Bobby Greenpants, whom I can already picture pettishly scowling in lieu of akimo-izing your preoccupied arms as you furiously type away in the comment window to this post, I concede that “The overwhelming majority of electricity is produced by the combustion of coal, and hence attended by the generation of smoke,” but the smoke is generated hundreds of miles away from the users of these l’il engines, who consequently cannot smell it), and second they are also seldom in human possession long enough to acquire palpable traces of their cohabitation with biological entities.  At worst they will receive a scratch or two from an over-emeried prosthetic fingernail, or a smudge or three from a nacho-cheese slathered thumb, before they are tossed in the trashbin (or dustcan) to make way for G*****e or A***e’s new model for the current fiscal octant.  And as for the analogues to the malt-shop excursion, the petting session, and so on, made available by these gewgaws: perhaps the most notable thing they have in common is their total neglect of the olfactory experiential portal.  Amid all the much-ballyhooed improvements in the computerized representation of three-dimensional space that we have witnessed, and for all the brouhaha both celebratory and philippic that they have engendered—brouhaha expressive of the dread or hope that one might “disappear” into one of these so-called second worlds under the auspices of a supposedly lifelike so-called avatar—one hears nary a titter of stroppy disappointment at this yawning lacuna in their mimesis of the actual world.  Prima vista (or primo odore), this oversight (or oversmell) seems absurd, in much the same way as would have, say, a failure on the part of the movie industry of ca. 1950 to have introduced sound along with color and widescreen film.  But at second glance (or sniff), it all makes perfect sense, when we realize that cinema, too, along with its fellow experientially supplementary media, radio and television, deliberately stopped short at the threshold of mimicked smell, taste, and touch; such that the purely audio-visual character of today’s computer-generated phantasmagorias may be seen as the natural legacy and fulfillment of that of the cinema: In c***rspace, as in the movies, nobody can smell you fart.  Anyway, the upshot of all this is, as I have pretty much already said, that today’s youth cannot but regard themselves as immortal in a much more nearly pure sense than the youth of previous decades and centuries did; that they no longer merely think (à la my exact contemporaries twenty years ago), “This death thingy could never happen to me now,” but rather, “This death thingy can never happen to me ever”; such that at the sight of a corpse they exclaim not, “There but for the grace of God go I!” but “There thanks to the grace of the commodity and its phantasmagoric epiphenomena I need never fear going!”; that they spectate on the corpse with the same air of impassable superiority as that of the elegant ladies viewing the lunatics at Bedlam in the last panel of Hogarth’s Rake’s Progress.

With this mention of the old RP I am brought more or less full circle with Jane Austen (to be precise, I am brought a little more than a circle-and-a-third of her [for the RP appeared in 1735, 76 years before Sense and Sensibility; i.e., 1.37 times as far back from our own time as Jane Austen’s first novel]) and hence can at last get around to explaining why I have been banging on about her, the mash-up novel, feminine kitsch, compact electronic engines, and quiescent zombiemania for twenty minutes or so (as the friendly robət sight-reads) in an essay ostensibly devoted to a work composed in its original form in the German language by a writer who was 1) a man and 2) not Jane Austen.  What I mean to say, then, is that the present-day reader, or more specifically the most zeitgeistially typical present-day reader, would perhaps best be served by approaching Ludwig Tiecks William Lovell as a kind of mash-up novel whose mashee, like that of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, is a book by Jane Austen, and whose masheur is something thatunlike zombiesshe (the ZT P-DR) actually is scared s**tless about, namely madness, also known as insanity, and most usually, in our own time, as mental illness.  In this connexion, I beg such a reader to reflect on her reaction to that final panel in the RP, and more specifically to the bemused and amused hauteur of the two lady-observers.  If she is horrified or disgusted by this hauteurand I do not see how any typical native of either the present century or the previous one could fail to be horrified or disgusted therebyher disgust or horror will have doubtless emerged in tandem with a hefty parcel of smugness, a smugness engendered by some long ago-absorbed PBS or Discovery-channel voiceover-spiel to a pan-and-scan presentation of this selfsame bit of Hogarthage, a spiel to the effect of In medieval [sic] times, people believed that mental illness was caused by demons, and the mentally ill were confined in prisons [sic] like this one, where members of the aristocracy [sic] showed up to gape and laugh at them (because demons, like zombies, are inherently funny).  Since then, of course, we have learned that mental illnesses, like cancer and the flu, are caused by minute animalcules known as viruses (or are they known as genes?), and therefore are certainly no laughing matter.  Accordingly, we now treat the mentally ill humanely, and house them in climate-controlled hospitals, in which they can be visited only by members of their immediate family, &c.  The gist of this spiel is that we do not laugh at crazy people simply because we are more enlightened than our eighteenth-century forebears.  But I say different.  I say that while enlightenment cannot but be accounted one of the remote efficient causes of our less mirthful attitude to the mentally ill, the more immediate efficient cause is self-interested fear, a fear that is fairly new in the world, a fear with which our great-times-eight grandparents, the non-mad residents of the eighteenth century, were utterly unfamiliar.  Not, contra our friendly voiceover artist, that very many of them believed that madness was caused by demonic possession, for that belief had vanished from the mainstream of received opinion about a hundred years earlier.  But in their eyes, the class of truly mad people was still composed pretty much exclusively of afflictees of the more extreme forms of what we now call schizophreniagrouches who ranted incessantly at the thin air, nobodies who believed themselves to be great potentates, and similar sorts of characters.  (Melancholics and hypochondriacs technically inhabited a kind of limbo between sanity and madness; but when shove greeted pushwhen, in other words, noises about restrictions on personal liberty began to be mademost afflictees of these conditions were designated as not mad, by both themselves and their friends.) Any impetus to such behavior was, of course, quite remote from the experience of Joe Snuffbox or Jane Lapdog, who accordingly could not have been expected to exclaim, There but for the grace of God go I! at the sight of those evincing it.  At most and worst they might have exclaimed, There but for the grace of God I would have gone!”—which hardly packs the same punch.  In the matter of describing and explaining their own psychology, the psychology of non-mad ladies and gentlemen (and yeomen, rogues, whores, &c.), they were content to make do, in a fetchingly insouciant attitude expressive of You got anything better?, with a refined and attenuated version of the old Galenian theory of the humors, modified by such no-less-dubious (and therefore no obviously better) constructions as Popes notion of the ruling passion.  The vague but for all that basically unanimous and century-spanning consensus arising out of this half-baked and half-hearted theory-mongering may be expressed as follows: that whatever their biological basis might be, there were clear differences in psychological makeup among individuals, differences that were innate and effectively permanent.  To be sure, one could work around ones basic psychological disposition, seek to soften its asperities or shorten its longueurs; but mostly for better and only slightly for worse, one was stuck with this disposition, such that one could count on not going to bed as grave and cautious as a parson and waking up as gay and impulsive as a rake.  Whence, naturally, the neat abstract dichotomies of Jane Austens titles and the assignment of their component abstractions to specific characters.  All this received wisdom (and ignorance) has in the decades and centuries since gone out the windowor, rather, out many different windows, and not in one fell woosh, but gradually, piecemeal.  In the first place-stroke-few windows, we have learned some specific and none too reassuring things about certain of the real, severe, proper, old-school forms of madness: we have learned, for example, that dementia can attack not only the old but also the middle-aged, that schizophrenia can attack the middle-aged as well as the young, and that its incidence in the general population is only slightly lower than that of red hair or green eyes.  In the second place-stroke-few windows, we have witnessed first the manufacture and then the gradual circumfrencial augmentation of the umbrella of mental illness, which now covers not only the old-school limbo of hypochondria and melancholia, but also a number of conditions and behavior patterns that two centuries ago would not have been regarded as even mildly eccentric, let alone mad.  Of course, as I have elsewhere had occasion to mention, a good deal of the pressure for this expansion has come from belowthat is to say from patients rather than doctors, from people seeking (yes, yes, yes, not unlike [but at the same time not just like] the eighteenth-century melancholics and hypochondriacs)] to be diagnosed with a condition by means of which they hope profitably to differentiate themselves from their peers.  But the overall emotional vector of this expansion, as of the above-mentioned statistical refinements, has still been one of anxiety, as countless millions who otherwise would have devoted a thousand times less attention to their mental hygiene than to their dental hygiene, routinely find themselves posing to themselves such questions as, Am I depressed?, Ought I not to be in therapy?, and Was that ejaculation of Hail and well met, old fruit! I thought I just heard coming from the mouth of Jenkins in Auditing an hallucination, or was he just happy to see me?  To sum up the whole bicentenary transformation in a nutshell [pun intended, but only vis-à-vis nut for loony {i.e., not vis-à-vis nutshell for scrotum}], mental valetudinarianism has gone from being practically nonexistent to being a full-fledged equal of physical valetudinarianism.   We are expected (By whom?  you ask?  Good but perhaps unanswerable question.) to be pinging our psycho-sensorium thousands of times a day, ever on the alert for a sign that the whole goshdamn kit-and-caboodle is about to pack up and that accordingly we should begin making arrangements for bowing out of the so-called rat race (mixture of dramaturgical and athletic metaphors noted) without doing harm to ourselves or our so-called loved ones.  And yetand this is a very big yet indeedwe are likewise enjoined (again by whom knows who) to continue getting and spending and entertaining and joking and flirting and fan-flicking and eyebrow-arching and lip-curling as blithely as though it were still 1799.

Whence the collective psycho-genealogical utility of William Lovell: by showing us how in 1799 (nay, 1794) certain respectable bourgeois subjects were already finding it impossible to maintain their psychological integrity in the light of the state-of-the-art philosophy of mind, it suggests how precarious a fortiori needs must be our own position as producer-consumers, social beings, and citizens in an ostensibly well-ordered economy-cum-society-cum polity.  And exactly how does it go about doing this?  Well, naturally, whatever means a novel of some 500 closely printed pages makes use of to accomplish the aforementioned this will take a great deal of time (aforementioned friendly robət-wise), and accordingly require an exegesis of more than, say, 500 keystrokes.  So let me begin that exegesis by describing the first module of the accomplishment as a self-contained unit, a unit whose potential efficacy towards that accomplishment admittedly may strike the reader as negligible, such that he will simply have to take my word for it that that efficacy will become apparent over the course of my exegesis of subsequent modules.  This first module, roughly coextensive with all of Book I plus most of Book II (which two books, incidentally, comprise Part I of my translation), we may designate the Pure Austenian one.  In this module the zombie analogues of psychological disintegration are nowhere to be seen, or at any rate, to be unequivocally identified as zombies.  To be sure, in this module there are a number of elements that in hindsight will prove to have been zombies in embryo (mixture of gestative and putrefactive  metaphors noted), but here we are well within our rights to take them for the sorts of harmless stillborn freaks of fancy that Miss Austen might have woven into the damask tablecloth of her narrative in full confidence that they would not disfigure it, let alone disrupt it.  In the first letter we are presented, via the subjective and limited but by no means “unreliable” medium of Charles Wilmont, with the first strokes of what by module’s end will be a complete Theophrastic portrait-gallery of the novel’s central characters.  Charles himself, on the evidence of his ever-recurring ludicrous conceits and digressions, is obviously preeminently a whimsical, jocular figure; and from his apostrophic description of Mortimer as one “born to make a single joke out of [his] entire life,” we gather that Mortimer must be some sort of Charles-on-your-whimsicality-cum-jocularity-enhancing-drug-of-choice.  Dovetailing neatly with Charles’s jocularity is his apparent imperviousness to sentimental entanglements: in Edward Burton’s nubile sister he espies nothing more tempting than a temporary, makeshift distraction from his Arcadian boredom.  As for our eponym, young Mr. Lovell: he is presented in this letter as Charles’s perfect antithesis—passionate, amorous, and utterly humorless.  Of Charles’s sister, Amalie, we gather only that she must be fairly amorous and passionate in her own right, as she has reciprocated William’s affections; and the same—in a non-sexual, bromantic register—goes for Edward Burton, whom we know as yet only as William’s “bosom friend.”  In subsequent letters of Books I and II we learn that William is indeed a dour, passionate youth, heedless of practicalities, and a poet to boot; that Amalie, though no poet, is like him amorous, passionate, and heedless of practicalities, at least in the matter of their coupledom; that Edward is likewise passionate and devoted to William but also heedful of practicalities in the matter of everything including William’s and Amalie’s coupledom; that Mortimer is no less whimsical than Charles, but more prudent; that William’s father Walter is a kind of older-generational analogue to Edward (i.e., passionate yet prudent); and that Edward’s father (Christian name unspecified) is prudent and dispassionate to the point of sociopathy.  Forming a sort of Book-IV outlier to this correspondence are the early letters of Emily Burton, addressed alternately to Charles and Amalie, wherein she (Emily), in blowing off her suitor and advising her best friend to ditch her absent lover, shows herself to be very much her father’s daughter—i.e., an exponent of dispassionate, rational self-interest.  All told, the first module would make an excellent first third of a novel entitled Sense [a.k.a. Prudence], Sensibility, and Whimsicality.  It apportions all three qualities in satisfyingly various ratios among individuals of two sexes plus two generations and then allows the interaction of these individuals to engender a number of plausible and interesting conflicts, conflicts that we assume will not end tragically even if they are not resolved—although we surmise that they will be.  For the moment, Walter Lovell’s prudence precludes his assenting to William’s engagement to the (relatively) impecunious Amalie Wilmont, but we hope that his capacity for sympathy and his first-hand appreciation of the pleasures and pains of romantic[1] love will at length make him warm to the prospect of such a match.  We gather from the first letter that Charles Wilmont, for all his lack of sentimentality, is bound eventually to fall in love with Emily Burton, because being the paragon of feckless imprudence that he is, he will never take the fact that “my estate is much too small compared with hers” seriously as grounds for giving the girl a wide berth; and when we learn of Emily’s hyper-prudence we can scarcely wonder that his advances have been met with such a lukewarm reception—but who knows what miracles Charles may yet work by  dint of sheer persistence?  Mortimer, too, we expect to get hitched and settle down sooner or later (terminal bachelorhood being as abnormally improvident a state as the abject p***ywhippeddom he so volubly decries), although gosh only knows with whom, given that both of our female leads are bespoken…

…And so on.  And just when, by the agency of what or whom, and for what reason, does this Austenian idyll end?  The “for what reason” bit of this question is naturally the hardest one to address—and therefore the most easily shunted aside for the nonce.  But the “when” bit is scarcely less of a poser.  On the one hand, barely 22/29ths of the way through Book II, our hero reports having committed an act that would have secured the basest Jane Austen character’s excision from her first draft, if not from her mental preliminaries thereunto.  On the other already-mentioned hand, remnants of the prelapsarian Austenian mode are to be found as late as Book IV.  Clearly it dies a hard and inscrutable death, this Austenian idyll.  So towards scruting this inscrutable death, let us address the “by what or whom” bit of the above question—viz., at first, by identifying the entity in the absence of which or whom William Lovell could never have committed his first, Adamic transgression.  The name of this entity is Louise Blainville, the French Countess who manages to seduce William and thereby make him betray—i.e., “cheat on”—Amalie for the first time, and thereby in turn cause the reader to question for the first time the integrity and solidity of William’s convictions about romantic love.  But of course the countess is not without a confederate and enabler, a young Italian (man) name of Rosa, who in turn has been corresponding with a mysterious apparent fellow-Italian name of Andrea Cosimo, who, whatever his as-yet undivulged intentions may be, is clearly a fairly ruthless customer, to judge by his menacing reminder “never [to] forget that for us there is but a single step from suspicion to pursuit and punishment.”  I trust the reader is beginning to discern a pattern here; that she is discerning that the beginning of William’s turn to the dark side follows close on the heels of his falling in with the company of Continental Europeans, and that hence in some way or other the Continent is to blame for this turn.  “But what about these two Eye-Thai’s and one Frogess’s fellow continental, the Kraut Balder?”  What about him?  “Well, didn’t he very heatedly counsel William not to shtup Countess Blainville, and in behalf of Amalie at that?”  Indeed he did, but this by no means proves that he does not figure among the poopers of William Lovell’s Austenian mood party.  You see, it seems to me that the most significant change effected by the introduction of the indigenous Continentals is—at least initially—not so much in William’s behavior as in the novel’s basic tone and thematic center.  Yes, William’s transgression with the countess is of a rather less trivial nature than jay-walking, especially in one who has devoted thousands of written words to professions of the exclusivity of his attachment to another woman.  But divorced from the specific epistolary settings in which it is first reported (viz. letters nos. 22 [the countess to Rosa] and 23 [William to Balder]), it does not strike one as a necessarily or even very probably irredeemable transgression.  Indeed, no sooner (in letter no. 26) is William relating the Louise Blainville Affair with surprisingly breezy candor (if not quite frankness) to Edward back in Blighty, than we begin to feel that this episode was not such a big deal after all, that it was really just an embarrassing false note in the endless serenade of an otherwise dedicated Amalie-lover, rather than the first entry in the CV of a career whoremonger.  (Cf. Tom Jones’s one-night stand with Mrs. Waters in the midst of his pursuit of his beloved Sophia)  What truly imparts an aura of the sinister and corruptive to the episode is the language used by the countess in her briefing of Rosa on it:

The moon shed a romantic light upon us through the red curtains; the notes deliquesced into the room in faint accents. You are of course well acquainted with the sensation we feel when emotions of the highest pitch send us into ethereal and superterrestrial raptures that are so nearly akin to sensuality; the most illustrious person fancies himself ennobled; and all the while he is ecstatically sinking down to his knees before the altar of terrestrial Venus.

Here, the emphasis is not on the transgression qua betrayal, but on the transgression qua instance of the sexual act, which is represented as irredeemably (and literally) debasing in all settings.  The truly horrible thing about William’s transgression is not that it points up his inadequacy as an ideal of neo-chivalric constancy, but that it offers a case in point for inculcating the lesson that all high-flown amorous aspirations are ultimately targeted below the waist—and, by deductive intension, that William’s love for Amalie itself could never have amounted to anything more noble than a hankering for the nether regions of “terrestrial Venus.”  In the light of this lesson, there can be no turning back not so much because William has proved that he cannot be faithful to Amalie as because his fidelity to her has been eloquently asserted to be based on a property as flimsy and fungible as balsa wood.  Naturally, the reader wants to demur, based on everything he has learned in high school English, that one ought never to assume that the opinion of a certain character is that of the author (or, in more literary-critical high church terms, of the “text”), and that in this specific case one is especially unwarranted in making this assumption, in the light of the character in question’s habitual duplicity and sluttishness.  But here Tieck is not even operating at a level at which the question of the legitimacy of such assumptions should be posed—i.e., the dramaturgical level, whereat the author selects the assortment of “masks” he will adopt throughout his performance.  Tieck is operating here, rather, at the much more basic ontological level, whereat the author selects which entities shall and shall not be admitted into his Dichtungschaft, with all manner of thoughts figuring among the casting call at least as plentifully as all manner of characters, and with at least as large a proportion of thoughts as of characters being sent home at the end of the session.  The necessity for this admittedly intuitively actionable leveling of what in so-called real life is taken to be a far from trivial distinction—i.e., between thoughts and people—issues from a parallel distinction-leveling intrinsic to the fictive mode of verbal representation itself, namely the leveling of the distinction between the indicative and conditional moods.  Because a fictive verbal representation is both fixed in space (I mean here the space of the particular word-stream it constitutes) and limited in scope (I mean here the scope delimited on the one side by its title and on the other by the words “THE END”), it does not have room for the sort of endless and usually ineffectual conjectioneering we take for granted (perhaps unwisely) in the presumptively unbounded so-called real world, such that the things that are not thought in it are just as much not a part of it as are the things that do not happen in it; and, complementarily and corollarily, the things that are thought in it take on an aura of actuality whose metaphysical heft, vis-à-vis the reader’s estimation of the fictive world’s scale of values, is scarcely if at all lighter than that of the things that do happen in it.  (Such that, it seems to me, to the extent that we read fictive narratives in order to “escape,” the thing we are escaping to is a world in which our personal quotidian bugbears are not merely absent but also literally unthinkable.)  Thus, while Pride and Prejudice posits a world in which a young woman could be “undone” in the course of eloping with her lover, this world is not one in which such “undoing” could even hypothetically take the form of a Sadean bondage orgy, or indeed any other specific imaginable form, because no specific form of such “undoing” is imagined within its pages.  Complementarily and corollarily, because William Lovell depicts its hero’s actual “undoing” as (not to put too fine a point on it) an act of cunnilingus in a boudoir with the color scheme of a bordello, its reader is not at liberty to shrug this undoing off as a limbless, organless, odorless “indiscretion.”  What, you may well ask, has all this got to do with Balder, and with his status as a Continental conformist?  Why, everything, inasmuch as his paean to monogamy is no less vitiated by unwholesome imagery than is the countess’s more matter-of-fact tribute to promiscuity; such that having read it one finds it impossible—owing to the aforementioned leveling of the indicative and conditional moods—to imagine even the happiest denouement to William and Amalie’s amour in Austenian terms:

I vividly recall the few golden days of my life, when my entire soul became but a peerless emotion of love, when every other thought, every other feeling in the world had withered away for me; I had wandered so deeply astray into the gloomy vault of a romantic grove that only twilight surrounded me, that no sound from the rest of the world reached my ears. The whole of nature alluded to my love; every tone proclaimed to me a salutation from my beloved. She died and like a shower of meteors all of my bliss came crashing down; it sank as though on the far side of a gloomy and distant forest; since then nary a glimmer from that time has been reillumined in my sight.

And never again will a ray [therefrom] return to me! I sit on the monument of my friend’s tomb, and decline even to receive alms from the hand of transient circumstance; my misery is my consolation.

Monogamous fidelity, in Balder’s schema, amounts to a claustrophobically oppressive pursuit by the beloved (via the ineluctable emissaries of “nature”) while she lives, and a never-ending vigil in tribute to her memory after she dies.  There is obviously not much room here for blithe joking, flirting, fan-flicking, eyebrow-arching, or lip-curling.

So this, then, is the common bequest of William’s Continental social set—a rhetoric, lexicon, and poetics of unwholesome extremes; a bequest that is fundamentally irreconcilable with the whimsical and prudential habituses of these figures’ insular counterparts, to which it tends to give the lie by its very displacement of these counterparts in point of epistolary frequency and length.  To be sure, while Mortimer remains present in Paris, one can still cock a skeptical snook at the hyper-earnestness of William’s animadversions on the trivial “winsomeness” of French theater.  But with Mortimer’s departure for England and his replacement in the role of William’s life coach by the countess’s male doppelganger, Rosa, Lovellian hyper-earnestness begins to seem a comparatively sane and happy medium, and we are launched under full sail into the squarely post-Austenian Module II.  Like Module I, this module is governed by a system of abstractions, abstractions that oppose and complement each other in patterns that recall those of the earlier system, whence what Miss Austen would term the “easy transition” the reader makes from the one system to the other.  Balder bears the standard of an ethos committed, as we have already seen, to monogamous romantic passion; but it is no less unswervingly loyal to the carte blanche indulgence of the unfettered imagination, to letting one’s fancy carry one where it will, be the destination ever so inhospitable.  In its flightiness, its unrootedness in the real, this ethos superficially recalls the whimsicality of Charles and Mortimer.  Rosa, in stark contrast to Balder, is all for imagination-free submission to the actualities of human nature (chief among them the libido), be the conduct eventuating from such submission ever so scandalous or execrable in the eyes of the world.  In its quasi-literal down-to-earthness, this ethos superficially recalls the prudentiality of the Burtons, Walter Lovell, and Mortimer.  But in essence, these two ethoses—the Rosan and the Balderan—have much more in common with each other than with either of their predecessors.  You see, DGR: the prominent ethoses of the first module, for all the rich heterogeneity they reveal when regarded as a self-contained collection, share the signal unifying trait of being preeminently ethical and social in orientation: they are all concerned first and foremost and sometimes even exclusively with how one is to comport oneself in the world as it exists for human beings considered as a reciprocally dependent collectivity.  Walter Lovell’s prudential objections to William’s marriage to Amalie Wilmont spring partly from his wish to see his son treated as he deserves by his social equals, and partly from his fear that as a dowryless bride Amalie will find herself in a disadvantageous position once William’s passion for her cools (as Walter not unpresciently assumes it will do).  They spring, in other words, solely from a preoccupation with the consequences of the prospective marriage as a social act and fact, and have nothing to do with William’s enamorment qua psychological state.  Indeed, on a purely psychological plane the father sympathizes all too keenly with the son, and though he disapproves of William’s present amorous infatuation, his disapproval is trumped by his hope that this pseudo-obsession will be succeeded by a real one of depth and longevity after the manner of his own amour with William’s mother, Maria Lovell nee Milford.   Mortimer’s and Charles’s whimsically ironical reflections on love and marriage are likewise squarely grounded in the domain of the socio-ethical.  The reason these two pour such abundant scorn on the stereotype of the besotted lover is that he cuts such a ridiculous figure in society, “sighing and feel[ing] miserable beyond belief because” his mistress “has not spontaneously flung herself into his arms” and spending all the livelong day learning about the color of a ribbon from [his] beloved”; and when they, too, eventually succumb to the love bug, the inevitably ensuing hail of self-mockery is squarely targeted at the incongruity, vis-à-vis their former footloose selves, of the social positions their new roles as suitor and husband have obliged them to fill:  “Whodathunkit?  Me, Bob Mortimer (or Mortimer Smith), a stinkin’ p***ywhipped paterfamilias, with a two car-garaged house and a white-picket fence!”/ “Whodathunkit?  Me, Chuck Wilmont, a nine-to-five, bean-countin’, pen-pushin’ office drone!”  (Naturally I anachronize, paraphrase, and condense.)  Even Module I-William’s emotionalism, despite its prevailing self-centeredness and episodic haunting by talking owls, despair-escorting wild horses, and the like, has one foot firmly planted in the intrinsically social virtue of charity: “I love most people,” MI-W clubbably gushes, “would like to love all of them, and can deride none of them; each of them nurses his own form of weakness.”  Balder’s and Rosa’s ethoses, in contrast, are entirely metaphysical in orientation; in other words, they are concerned not with the maintenance of an authentic disposition to one’s fellow human beings, but rather with the maintenance of an authentic disposition to the nature of the world itself, considered on its own extra-human terms.  If Rosa’s worldview seems more prudential, more “realistic,” than Balder’s, this is merely because he regards the world as it immediately presents itself through the sense-organs as the world in toto; but from this materialist worldview there is no logical link to, say, a Machiavellian or Calvinist ethos of self-advancement through craft or hard work; hence, one should be unsurprised to find Rosa comporting himself throughout Module II in the practically unsustainable capacity of a pure consumer, a full-time connoisseur of fine painting and loose women.  Complementarily and corollarily (I suppose I might as well start abbreviating it as “C&C”), Balder’s idealistic worldview, for all its manifest impracticality, has nothing to do with escapism.  If Balder chooses to while away weeks on end writhing on his bed in a delirious semi-stupor, this is not because he is too lazy or sensitive to go out and get a job or pick up a whore, but because he believes that the hallucinations visited upon him when he is this state hail from a more numinous realm than that of the sense-impressions of so-called everyday life.  But this shift from the social to the metaphysical register in the outlook of his entourage is completely lost on William, and his failure to notice it is the single most powerful catalyst of his psychological disintegration and ultimately of his death.  In a breezily merry letter (Book IV, No. 2) to Edward Burton, penned immediately after the last ghosts of the paranoia inspired by Rosa’s fraternization with the “the dreadful creature…who so uncannily resembles the portrait” (Book III, No. 26) in the Lovells’ manor house have been put to rest, William attributes his newfound good cheer to his discovery of the very Rosan metaphysical conceit that all distinctions are merely factitious barriers erected by men towards their self-consolation and aggrandizement—“Is not everything in general on this earth then not one and the very same thing? [shades of Plato’s Parmenides!]  We tightly close our eyes in order not to observe this truth because by its agency the frontiers that separate people from one another collapse”—and then bizarrely goes on to equate this conceit with the worldly wisdom “I did not wish to learn from my worthy Mortimer.”  Having interpellated Rosa as the new Mortimer, William comes to believe that by following Rosa’s counsel he is simply administering a long-overdue correction to his early-youthful sentimental excesses and beginning at last to live like a proper, reasonable man of the world; whence his brief but adequately sordid career as a whoremonger among the stews of Rome, as well as his deplorable seduction and abandonment of the guileless peasant maid Rosaline.  Of the Rosaline episode it is worth remarking that it does not follow the traditional trajectory of an eighteenth-century love affair between a gentleman and a woman of the common people—a trajectory perhaps best exemplified by certain amours recorded in the journals of James Boswell, a trajectory wherein at the very outset the gentleman’s identity and social position are known by his mistress, and wherein hence society’s point of view must be taken into account from start to finish (such that, for example, if a successful pregnancy results from the affair, the father will feel obliged to make some financial contribution to the child’s upbringing).    William’s affair with Rosaline, in contrast, commences under the auspices of the elaborately contrived pretense that he is a simple peasant like her, a pretense he is thereafter compelled to keep up all the way up to and beyond its consummation (such, indeed, that he cannot even bring himself to cast off his rustic alias of “Antonio” before walking out on her for ever).  Hence, it is not an amour that can be sustained on its own terms “in the present system of life.” Thus, it both illustrates and (in virtue of its sheer textual domination of Book IV) consolidates William’s complete unmooring from the ethical register, and paves the way for his chillingly nonchalant reaction to the news of his father’s death at the beginning of Book V. 

And perhaps not coincidentally, it is an enclosure in the letter delivering this news, the enclosure comprising Walter Lovell’s deathbed meditations, that marks the beginning of Module III of the novel, a module distinguished by its depiction of the bleeding over of the metaphysical continental ethoses of Module II into the thoughts and actions of the non-eponymous Britain-based personages of Module I, together with an upping of the metaphysical ante of the ethoses themselves.  But before I press on to my explication of this third module, I really do owe it to the genius of Tieck, and to the accuracy of the prospective reader of William Lovell’s Romansanschauung, to point out some of the more salient features of these continental ethoses in their pristine Module II state.  You see, DGR, in upbraiding William for having mistaken a pair of metaphysical ethoses for a pair of ethical ones, I would not be understood to impugn the tenability of these ethoses themselves–or, to be more precise, to argue that Tieck (or “the text”) impugns this tenability (or, to be more vivid if less precise, to argue that Module II Tieck remains a Jane Austen manqué even though his novel has ceased to be centered on Austenesque characters).  For in truth, both of these ethoses—the Balderian and the Rosan–are quite eloquently and cogently presented; indeed, they are much more eloquently and cogently presented than are any of the workaday ethical ethoses of Module I, such that even in convicting William of a gross epistemological error one cannot wholeheartedly convict him of an equally egregious moral lapse—such that one must concede that as far as Tieck is concerned William may have merely adopted the right creed for the wrong reasons, and that Tieck may very well be not so much “of the Devil’s party without knowing it” as “half of two Devils’ parties while knowing it full well.”  The central text of Balder’s ethos, its scripture if you will, is his long anecdote (Book III, Letter 10) about Wildberg, the freethinking scoffer at ghosts who himself ended up being haunted by a ghost, the disembodied skull of a man he had killed in a duel.  Balder admits that he, like the rest of Wildberg’s friends, initially assumed that the ghost was a mere hallucination induced by guilt.  But ever since an experiment in which the presentation of an actual skull to Wildberg failed to dispel the apparition, he has had second thoughts: “Despite every effort to deceive him, my friend Wildberg saw something that we could not see—can we even know what he saw?”  If the apparition of the skull had been a certifiable chimera, Balder reasons, it would have vanished, or at least seemed less present, on being juxtaposed with its more demonstrably palpable counterpart.  The fact that it did not proves, according to his lights, that hallucinations must be granted epistemological and ontological parity with perceptions of so-called real objects.  It is not that he has been convinced of the existence of ghosts qua conscious lingering quasi-embodiments of the deceased, but that he has been convinced that we cannot assume that ghosts and related phenomena are in any sense derivative of classic, third-party-falsifiable sensory experience; that they do not constitute real, self-contained—possibly even autochthonous—entities in their own right.  (The whole thing is a bit like the Linklaterian conceit that our dreaming lives may be as real or more real than our waking lives, with the difference that it cannot be falsified by the Hobbesian aperçue that whereas we laugh at our dreams when we are awake, we do not laugh at our waking experience in our dreams [It cannot be so falsified because while everyone regularly dreams, few people regularly hallucinate].)  What is so striking and disturbing about Balder’s version of idealism is the ruthlessly positivistic spin he puts on the more established versions’ familiar tenets and the relentlessly empirical test to which he puts this spin.  He refuses to gloss over the object of his hankering with Platonic paeans to a realm of perfect chairs or hippiesh resolutions to “get in touch with my spiritual side” (wherein the preliminary deposition of everything in an infinitely capacious, watertight “side” of “me” insures that one will come to no harm via the in-touch-getting).  No: he freely avows that he wants to be on immediate, prosaic, handshaking or face-slapping terms with whoever or whatever is out there, wherever “there” is.  He sees himself as a sort of “They All Laughed”-style Columbus, primed for an arduous but rewarding journey that everybody else would likewise embark on if only they were sufficiently perceptive and courageous:

In order to save himself, the terrified human being flings himself back on to the earth, but few have had the sheer expeditious audacity to undertake the step forward; with a sonorous clang, their shackles fly to pieces behind them; they plunge irresistibly forward; in the eyes of mere mortals they are deranged. The spiritual realm discloses itself to them; they see through the secret laws of nature; their sensorium lays hold of what has never before been thought; their indefatigable spirit roots in flaming oceans—they reside on the other side of mortal nature; they have utterly perished as far as the human race is concerned, and have moved nearer to divinity; they have completely forgotten the notion of returning to the earth—and narrow souls with sovereign arrogance stigmatize their wisdom as insanity, their rapture as madness.

And shortly (weeks?) after delivering this prospectus, Balder himself takes that expeditiously audacious step forward, and in consequence does if nothing else encounter an interesting assortment of characters, including the skeletal (and yet still carnally ravenous) specters of his father and forefathers and a strange white-haired old man who seems to have nothing better to do than to take a leisurely stroll through Balder’s bedroom.  At the very end of this journey (or, at any rate, of the Module II phase thereof), when the pesky denizens of the meatworld have determined no longer to leave him in peace (or when the pesky denizens of the spiritual world have ceased to be willing to come out and play–it is difficult to tell which cause is more efficient of his flight from the city of Naples into the woods), Balder casually tosses off an insight that, while bearing no manifest affiliation with his idealism (I leave the uncovering of the undoubted covert affiliations therewith as an exercise for the reader), is at least as striking and disturbing:  “You are of course reading this letter only as a letter from yourself to yourself, and I am not actually writing to you any of these words. But maybe I am after all. At any rate, I was certainly a fool to read whole books through with enjoyment, as I used to do, and to imagine that I had the spirit of the author right in front of my eyes.”   I defy the reader to produce a more succinct, comprehensive, or devastating debunking of the so-called metaphysics of presence.  Here, rather than figuring words commonsensically as tokens with which pre-formed human subjects swap pre-formed ideas with each other, Balder represents them as immanent units of subjectivity and thought eo ipso, beyond which nothing more originative, coherent, or perduring is to be sought.  William, Balder asserts, will be forced to read Balder’s letter “as a letter from yourself to yourself” (i.e., from William to William) because at the moment of reading Balder will have long since ceased to think any thoughts corresponding to the words contained in the letter, such that as phenomenal units these thoughts will exist only in William’s own mind.  But even to call the thing that does the reading “William’s mind” is probably to give it too much ontological credit in the view of Balder, who has long since grown out of the illusion that in reading a book from beginning to end he has had “the spirit of the author right in front of my eyes.”  According to Balder, as words cease to be the property of their owner the moment they are committed to paper, any string of words concatenated over a period of months, weeks, or even minutes (i.e., a book, a pamphlet, or even a letter) perforce cannot amount to the objectification of a unified or unifying intelligence.  The bottom line for the Balder of the end of Module II is that words think us rather than vice-versa, and that we pseudo-exist as bounded pseudo-entities only by the grace of the arbitrary convention that certain strings of words on folded and sealed sheets of paper are referred to certain creatures answering to certain names.  In the beginning was the word, yes—but also in the end and in the middle, with no room for God or man as such at any point along the way.  Pretty hoopy, whacked-out, axon-frying, proto-Wittgensteinian-cum-Derridean privet-civet shit for 1795, what-what?

As you can see, DGR, I have something of a soft spot for Module II Balder and the Module II Balderian ethos.  My spot for Module II Rosa and the Module II Rosan ethos is not really anything of a soft one (I would liken this spot’s tenderness to that of the crust of a chicken pot pie left to cool an hour or so past its optimum into-tucking point), and yet I feel duty-bound to devote at least as much space to them as I have done to their Balderian counterparts, insofar as they are much more evocative of the psycho-metaphysico-aesthetic orthodoxy of our own time.  Now I mentioned earlier that the cardinal virtue of the Rosan ethos was
“submission to the actualities of human nature,” and that the cardinal such actuality was the libido.  The most crudely credo-esque wording of Rosa’s fetishization of the libido occurs in Letter 4 of Book IV, when, apropos of William’s news that he has recovered from a fit of melancholy paranoia immediately after a roll in the hay with the whore Bianca, he remarks, “
It is, alas, no less humbling than true that your melancholy was more properly addressed by a medical inquiry than by a philosophical one. Bianca has cured you of an illness that no sage, no poet, no walk in the city or the country, no painting, no piece of music, could ever have cured.”  This is wisdom that any adult born in the past half-century will have imbibed from a source scarcely less formative than his or her mother’s or wet-nurse’s tit, namely the second or third most-famous composition in the oeuvre of Marvin Gaye.  If you are depressed, this wisdom apodictically argues, it is simply because you haven’t gotten laid recently.  But earlier and elsewhere one sees that the Rosan ethos attributes to libidinal occlusion far more elaborate and highfalutin consequences than a mere transient attack of the quotidian blues.  Appropriately enough, the first occasion for Rosa’s specification of these consequences is presented by Balder in full-on bedridden, voluntarily hallucinatory mode: 

But I am also [i.e., like Balder] familiar with the charms that this ecstasy vouchsafes us; we surmise that we are on intimate terms with the spirits that enchant us; the soul bathes in the purest ethereal luster and forgets to return to earth; but the power that the world refashions after the image contained within the inflamed imagination soon dies; sensuality (for what other name is there for such a phenomenon?) is exalted to so high a station that it finds the actual world empty and prosaic; the less nutriment it receives from outside itself, the more it glows with its own auto-generated light; it fashions new worlds for itself and lets them perish; until at length the too-tautly stretched bowstring snaps and a condition of  total flaccidity paralyzes the mind and renders us insusceptible to all pleasure; everything withers, and eternal winter surrounds us.

If one were not familiar with the context of this passage, one would have no choice but to regard it as a graphically straightforward—albeit somewhat eccentrically worded—start-to-aftermath account of an episode of male masturbation.  Indeed, in some places (especially the bit from “sensuality” to “prosaic”), it recalls half-verbatim the language of Countess Blainville’s account of male-female sexual congress, with the notable difference that the figure of Venus is not present—and who by default can be regarded as her substitute if not Priapus?  But let us see how this decidedly unsavory interpretation is inflected by our knowledge of the context.  Recall that from Balder’s point of view, the “ecstasy” Rosa refers to has been induced by his close encounters with the outlandish inhabitants of the spiritual realm, which is notionally the absolute antipode of the realm of the “sensuality” from which Rosa asserts that this ecstasy hails.  Merely to assert that these encounters correspond to no objective state of affairs, that they are “all in Balder’s head,” would require no great intellectual dexterity on Rosa’s part, and indeed would relegate Rosa to the company of such plodding, intellectually petit-bourgeois champions of bastardized enlightenment as the pre-duel Wildberg, and leave Balder securely one-up on Rosa.  But to assert, as Rosa actually does—and sympathetically at that, as if from first-hand experience—that Balder’s visions are all in his cock, that they constitute but a more self-sufficient and perhaps even superior way of getting his rocks off than copulation–why, that requires brain-moxie of a peculiarly resourceful and involuted sort, a sort that the West was not again to see strut its stuff with such exhibitionistic testicular fortitude for another eighty years or so.  “Eighty years?” you echo: “Why that would put the stuff-strutting at about the time of the earliest published writings of—”  That’s right, DGR, that’s right—Siggie “Mitts off My Humidor, Punk!” Frood.  And naturally Rosa’s analysis of Balder’s condition calls to mind the entire sheaf of Freud’s early case studies on hysteria and psychosis.  But the Rosan ethos’s proleptic affinities with psychoanalysis extend far beyond the strictly diagnostic portion of Freud’s corpus.  Consider the following passage from a high-Rosan epoch letter from William to Edward (the same earlier-cited one [Book IV, No. 2] in which he expresses belated and misplaced gratitude to “my worthy Moritimer”):

[T]o be sure, sensuality is nothing less than the principal cog of our machine; it sets our existence in motion and imparts gaiety and life to it; a crank turning inside us and lifting heavy loads with light counterweights. Everything that we dreamingly term beautiful and noble takes hold of this crank. Sensuality and lust are the spirit of music, of painting and of all the arts; all human desires cluster around this magnetic pole like gnats around a flame. The sense of beauty and the love of art are but other dialects and accents of this language; they signify nothing more than the human lust for sensual fulfillment; our drunken eyes feast themselves on every enchanting form, on every poetic image; the tableaux before which delight genuflects are nothing but preludes to sensual pleasure; every sound, every artfully draped garment beckons it thither; accordingly, Boccaccio and Ariosto are the greatest poets, and Titian and the wanton Correggio tower over Domenichino and the pious Raphael.

I regard even religious devotion as a mere drainage-channel for the unrefined sensual urge, which refracts into a thousand manifold colors and casts a single coruscation on every hour of our life.

This carries us clear on through to the very late Freud of Civilization and Its Discontents, for whom all the products, practices, and institutions of polished, post-prehistoric human life could be explained away as neurotic sublimations of the libido (albeit admittedly in conjunction with the so-called death instinct, but the absence of any mention of this second drive from the above passage simply goes to show that Tieck in Module II Rosan mode was more of a Freudian than Freud himself).  Here, too, in William’s hierarchy of Italian poets and painters—which grants priority to those who frankly give vent to the sensual urge over those who hypocritically pretend to deny it—we see a schematic anticipation of Nietzsche’s eulogizing of unfettered “Dionysian” art to the detriment of its restrained “Apollonian” opposite.  And vis-à-vis this proto-Nietzscheism, as with the Freudian prolepses, it will not do to engage in any waistcoat watch pocket-thumbing cavils to the effect of “although Nietzsche certainly lamented the passage of the Dionysian age and its art, he by no means wholeheartedly disparaged their Apollonian successors ,” for such subtle give-and-take-ism, while faithful to the actual textual Nietzschean legacy, forms no part of the popular Nietzschean legacy, which has always figured Nietzsche as the heroic arch-scourge of anemic, tight-assed, asexual Apollonianism and the equally heroic arch-champion of full-blooded, booty-shakin‘, every-available-orifice-penetratin‘ Dionysianism; and to the extent that William Lovell’s Module II Rosanism preemptively streamlines Nietzsche’s aesthetics into something more nearly resembling this schema, it shows itself to be farther ahead of the Weltgeistial curve than The Birth of Tragedy itself.

Thus, as implicitly promised, I have demonstrated (or at least so I flatter myself) how Module II Rosanism is pungently “evocative of the psycho-metaphysico-aesthetic orthodoxy of our time.”  What, then, of the psycho-metaphysico-aesthetic ethoses of Module III?  Surely anything discoverable there is bound to come across as a gratuitous pleonasm or, what is worse, an anticlimax.  Surely the early twenty-first century critic of antient fcreeds is but a handmaid or pissboy to the movie director or theater producer looking to tog out the dramatis personae of some moth-eaten powdered wig-opera in fluorescent chartreuse Brazilian-flaunting onesy-kinis; surely his mission consists exclusively in showing how the author of or characters inhabiting his assigned text are just like us (who have indeed all had Brazilians and do indeed take our Sunday afternoon promenade in fluorescent chartreuse onesy-kinis right?), such that to go on writing about this text after having shown as much smacks of union-busting work off the clock and without pay.  Surely the present writer would do better to fold, knock off, or punch out while he is ahead.  Surely, to be sure, I would, if the various orthodoxies of the present constituted the furthermost limit of this particular moth-eaten powdered wig-opera[2]’s possible range of insight.   But I see William Lovell’s range of insight extending, in its Third Module, far beyond that pseudo-limit, and indeed to insights scarcely likely to be entertained on a demographically significant scale even centuries hence.  I hinted at the structure if not quite at the nature of these insights when I wrote that Module III the “metaphysical continental ethoses of Module II bleed[…] over into the thoughts and actions of the non-eponymous Britain-based personages of Module I,” and I singled out Walter Lovell’s deathbed meditations as inaugurating this into-bleeding.  Now that the reader is better acquainted with the metaphysical continental ethoses of Module II, he will doubtless readily appreciate in the following passage from these meditations the depth of their indebtedness to those ethoses:

I have looked down into the valley of death, and now all of the beings of this world are staggering vacuously and prosaically into and out of my gaze. They are all specters that do not even know each other, such that when one of them passes by another and utters a few empty words to him, the latter responds by making some unintelligible gesture. How fallow has everything since seemed to me, and how chaotically confused it all is, like the turbid and indiscernible shadows of an old-fashioned painting. I can hardly recall what happened even yesterday; my soul wanders through the landscape of futurity; I contemplate myself as I would a stranger, and yearn for the moment of my death.

In its spectral and tenebrous imagery, in its up-pointing of the apparent impossibility of intersubjective communication—above and most terrifyingly of all, in its expression of incredulity in the continuity of experience, this passage is pure Module II Balder.  But the author of these Balderian ravings is not some visionary (or harebrained) twenty-something would-be Christopher Columbus of the spiritual realm, but rather a mature (fifty-something?), seasoned, grounded man of the world who a matter of months earlier could get worked up over nothing more ethereal or less mundane than hitching his son to a socially well-placed bride.  “Fair enough,” you mock-concede, before demurring, thus: “but a matter of months earlier this selfsame man of the world was if not exactly in the pink of health then at least not irretrievably resigned to sinking first ever deeper into the blue of disease and finally into the black of decease.  Surely any man at death’s door may be granted a license to hallucinate and rant.”  But this demurral is tantamount to question-begging of the most unregenerately shameless sort.  A solidly prudential, mondaine worldview should be unshakeable even by the hand of death, such that if any fast adherent of such a worldview must go out hallucinating and ranting, it behooves him to hallucinate and rant, like Shakespeare’s Earl of Warwick, about how his “parks, walks, and manors forsake him,” rather than about what a dark, incoherent, and lonely experience life has been.  That in his last moments a seemingly fast adherent to such a worldview cannot help effectively turning into Module II Balder suggests that at least at this stage of the novel Tieck regards Balderian madness as our default and destined state, from which all prudential endeavors constitute so many futile lunges.  Even so, at this point, it is at least still possible to regard the prudential worldview in a certain heroic, albeit tragic, light.  Considered merely in the light of all the correspondence that has preceded it, Walter Lovell’s deathbed notes suggest that while it is beyond the powers of even the most ardent fans of property and propriety to keep up their enthusiasm until the bitter end, such maintenance nevertheless can do much to sweeten and ennoble the not inconsiderable duration of the beginning and middle in which it is still practicable.

All comparatively cheering intimations of this sort are summarily tossed into the wastebasket with the presentation of a remarkable postscript and companion piece to the Lovellian last testament, namely, the diary of Lord Burton (Book VII, Letter No. 7), compiled over a stretch of several decades, from his adolescence through to his death not long after that of his contemporary, youth-hood friend, and adulthood arch-enemy, Walter Lovell.  To be sure, until now, the moment of this document’s appearance, we have not learned much of the elder Burton to dispose us in his favor.  We have learned that he is ravenously ambitious, acquisitive, and unscrupulous, to the point of spoiling his best friend’s marriage prospects for the sake of securing a portion of the fiancée’s inheritance, and of simply buying off the attorney of his opponent in a lawsuit once he sees that his claim is legally unsupportable.  Still, there is nothing about this attitude and behavior that cannot in the end be assimilated to the ethically and socially grounded Weltanschauungsgestalt of Module I; it is all, as it were, merely the dark side of Mortimer and Charles’s genially half-cynical clubbability—or, if you will, a kind of eighteenth-century prolepsis of Stephen Potter’s cod philosophy of “one-upmanship.”  To devote all one’s productive energies to trying to be one up on one’s fellow men and women is to evince a conviction that the human world is the only world that matters.  But from the Baron’s diary we learn that all his latter-day Machiavellian bustle is but so much time-killing fluff; that it is—and, more significantly, from almost the very beginning always has been—a mere epiphenomenon of a metaphysical outlook as loopy, as out-there, as non-anthropocentric, as anything we have yet encountered from the likes of Rosa and Balder.  Consider for starters this passage, penned “in my twentieth year”:

My ardor never tempts me to forget myself; no [mere] story can transport me into a potentially damaging [rapture of] enthusiasm. My gaze is always centered on the large and involute tapestry of human life, and I feel that I am transforming myself into the central point of this tableau, that I must turn my eyes back on to myself lest I reel with giddiness.   At bottom everybody speaks a language that is completely different from that of other people. Hence I can change my circumstances and my odds only according to the rules of my [own] mode of thinking and acting; and all people meet and pursue a single path because they all set out from the same basic principle. A parti-colored web is [thus] woven, [a web] on which everyone works according to his ability and insight; everyone regards his own part of the work as the most indispensable part, and yet everyone would be useless in the absence of everyone else.

This passage certainly starts out seemingly grounded in an adamantine faith in the rough-and-tumble primacy of here-and-now social intercourse: it asserts Burton’s incorruptibility by airy fictions, and then attributes this incorruptibility to his laser-like focus on the “involute tapestry of human life.”  (TBS, though, an “involute tapestry” is a curiously arty metaphoric vehicle to be employed by a hard-bitten worldling,)  But as early as the “and” clause of the second sentence, we are confronted by an egocentric apparent non sequitur-cum-spanner in the works: “I feel that I am transforming myself into the central point of this tableau.”  How the devil, we ask ourselves at this point, did the large and involute tapestry of human life suddenly come to be all about little ol‘  you, Burt?  But by the end of the second “that” clause (and of the sentence), we have been furnished with an answer of sorts to this question, and the non sequitur has been transformed, however provisionally, into a sequitur: I must turn my eyes back on myself, lest I reel with giddiness.  I force myself to believe (inaccurately) that I am the central figure of the tapestry, Burton says, because my physiology compels me to do so, because whenever I try to contemplate the tapestry as a whole, in all its actual expansiveness and involute multifariousness, I get dizzy.  Now this is all well and good qua what the vulgar psychologists of our day term a coping strategy, but it has the unfortunate side effect of essentially amputating the would-be full-time student of human nature’s epistemological antennae; for how is he to arrive at a true picture of the social whole and of his place in it if he is always only thinking of himself?  He arrives at it—or at any rate what he surmises it to be—by mentally populating the tapestry with figures identical in their ineluctable epistemological starting point (if in no other respect) to himself, with people who have likewise been forced by physiological exigency to regard themselves as the center of the human universe.  From this meta-pan-egoistic perspective one is entitled, if hardly obliged, to infer first that “everybody speaks a language that is completely different from that of other people” (for why would one bother learning the language of people who were by every measure of less importance than oneself?) and then that “everyone regards his own part of the work [on the big knotty tapestry] as the most indispensable part” (for why would it ever occur to one to cooperate with people who could never be brought to understand one’s language?).  And so Burton comes to think of the human world as a kind of giant rug factory staffed entirely by solipsists or—in present-day psychological terms—autistics.  His Menschenweltanschauung is a sort of ugliest-possible hybrid of the metaphysics of Gottfried von Leibniz and the psychology of Laurence Sterne.  Like Leibnizian metaphysics, it conceives of individual subjectivities as mutually isolated monads, but it lacks the saving Leibnizian grace of an omniscient God to keep all the milliards of monads on the same page.  Like Sternean psychology, it emphasizes the individual’s monomaniacal preoccupation with his idiomatic hobbyhorse, but it lacks the Sternean safety valve of sympathy, which ensures that there are moments, however brief, when hobbyhorses are reflexively cast aside in favor of hugs and tears.   The tapestry produced by this collection of autistic weavers may be a photographically naturalistic likeness of the well-ordered world-system imagined by Bernard Mandeville and Adam Smith, or it may equally likely be a chaotic mass of lines and squiggles evocative of the “artistic” productions of apes and very small children—but in either case, the important thing to observe is that the properties of the image are the objectification of contingency and inadvertency rather than of necessity and intentionality (even in the form of the ostensibly non-theistic Invisible Hand); and it is hard to see how in the absence of a belief in effective intentionality one can assert with much gusto or sincerity, as Module I Lord Burton is later to do, that “for the intelligent man…there is no such thing as chance” (Book III, Letter No. 5) and that “nothing is more insupportable to an intelligent man than to behold everyone else desperately clutching at the strings that he himself is destined to govern” (Book IV, Letter No. 10).

Fortunately for the reader bemused by this incongruity, in a Burton diary entry “written not long after” the one incorporating the conceit of the tapestry, Tieck provides the logical missing link between resignedly autistic Burton and Burton the smug master manipulator of human marionettes.  This entry consists entirely of a remarkably thorough and incisive character study of the great and notorious revolutionary warrior and post-revolutionary statesman Oliver Cromwell.  “I have always taken offence,” the study begins, “upon hearing or reading the name Cromwell used to point the moral of some cautionary tale of human depravity and degeneracy.”  By such a “cautionary tale” Burton presumably means any narrative hailing from the rich, sesquicentenially ancient Tory demonology of Cromwell, a demonology in which OC figured as a cynical, power-hungry arch-Whig who quite deliberately and shamelessly hid his completely self-interested political ambition under the cloak of religious righteousness.  Burton will have none of this: in his view OC was perfectly sincere in his religious conviction from beginning (“Cromwell was the purest and most zealous of visionaries when he initially sided with the Puritan faction”) to end (upon being “installed as head of state” he continued to “believe…that he was [still] fighting for his faction,” and intermittently to “regard himself…as a favorite of Heaven”).  Indeed, argues Burton, it was to the very ardent sincerity of his religious enthusiasm that he owed his commanding position, “for the visionary draws an extensive circle of fire round himself, and even colder souls are imbued with its sparks, such that they are reluctantly impelled towards their commander by love and benevolence.”  Unfortunately for Cromwell, (aB,) once he had this superheated assembly at the Lord’s beck and call, he discovered that the merely intermittent accesses of enthusiasm that had sufficed to sustain his own faith would not suffice to sustain that of his followers, that for the sake of this second sustenance he would somehow have to find a way of being on 24/7, 7/52.  But in merely trying to scrape up enough enthusiasm to hold on to his position as a mid-level military leader, he was pleasantly “astonished to discover that in this way inspiration could be drawn from heaven even against its will”—to discover, in other words, that merely by telling himself that the Lord was with him at times when he was planning or doing things he gathered that the Lord did not approve of, Cromwell came to believe that the Lord was with him at all times, and with him in a far more palpable sense than he had ever experienced when attending to the salvation of little ol’ Oliver on his lonesome.  (“The most wondrous apparition,” Burton extrapolates from the Cromwell case, “can stand before me [i.e., as only huggable living people tend to do] and yet have no other begetter than my own imagination.”)  And the most excellent thing about this auto-suggestive strategy was that it succeeded brilliantly as a strategy of people-herding, that once Cromwell had convinced himself of the actuality of his divine mission, he had no trouble whatsoever extending the circle of his influence ever wider, until eventually he had secured the unconditional obedience of an entire nation for the duration of his life, and he might have held onto it even after death had he not “had the misfortune of having a simpleton for a son.”

A quarter of a century after penning this entry, at the age of forty-four, Burton acknowledges that “I have taken the character of Cromwell described [in that entry] as my model.”  By this point his earliest essays in the art of human puppeteering—the nested snarings of Waterloo and Walter Lovell—are semi-ancient history, and he is within smelling distance of executing his masterpiece in that art—namely, the legally sanctioned appropriation of the bulk of Walter Lovell’s worldly goods.  Hence, how can we help concluding that his career as a hard-hitting, no-punch-pulling, straight Jack-swilling arch-pragmatist has been mentally bankrolled, so to speak, as Cromwell’s was, by some sort of imagined commerce with entities hailing from the Great Beyond?  Hence, how can we help ascribing to Burton the de facto authorship and actualization of a motto that nearly a century and a half after his own author’s death would come to serve as the title of a chart-topping pop album—viz., Use Your Illusion?  Burton never fills us in on the distinguishing characteristics or home astral coordinates of his own illusion, but from his observations on Cromwell’s psychology, we may safely gather that this illusion was something a heck of a lot scarier and less wholesome than a mantra to the effect of “Every day and in every way I am becoming a better villain of a late eighteenth-century quasi-Gothic novel.”  Compared to this Lord Burton, the Lord Burton whom we have now come to know in Module III—and who we now also know has been with us all along—Module II Balder strikes one as something of a pantywaist.  After all, not only has LB not merely speculated about what it would be like “to undertake the” great “step forward” into the spiritual realm; not only has he has actually had the “sheer expeditious audacity” to let his “shackles fly to pieces behind him”; but he has also made it there, taken the guided tour, bought the ornamental boot-scraper, and returned to show us pictures (albeit badly framed, out-of- focus ones).  His forays into the spiritual realm have not left him helplessly alternating between bouts of bedridden insomnia and fits of homicidal mania; to the contrary, they have made him to all outward appearances and effects immeasurably more compos mentis than he was before his first trip.  By this point, roughly midway through Module III, the entire metaphysical, psychological, and ethical Wissenschaftsschaft of the first two modules has been turned on its head.   Where imagination and spirit were formerly shown to be the banes, the bugbears, the nemeses, of prudence, they are now portrayed as prudence’s closest and most reliable helpmates.  

And yet, incredible as it sounds, the most spectacular and devastating implications of this epistemological head-standing act have yet to be demonstrated, witnessed, or felt; its other and infinitely weightier shoe—evidently this EH-SA is club-footed (yes, yes, yes, like the not-unLovellesque Lord Byron)—has yet to drop.  For a moment’s thought will remind us that Lord Burton’s successful spiritualized prudentialism has a less heartening logical corollary.  Briefly put, this corollary amounts to this—that the portals leading to the spiritual realm (a.k.a. the realm of madness) from the prudential realm cannot but be two-way entrances.  You see (or, rather, will already have seen, having thought the aforementioned moment’s thought by now), if it is practicable even for the most outwardly sensible, down-to-earth sort of chap or chappess to talk himself or herself into believing that he or she is God’s chosen instrument of justice, a puppeteer for whom all the rest of the world is a Punch and Judy-stage, or what have you, it must be equally practicable for such a chap or chappess to be talked into believing something equally at-first-blushedly implausible.   For after all, the only material the auto-suggester has to work on is his own psyche, and that medium perforce lies exposed to manipulation by any Tom, Dick, Harry, or indeed, William Otherman who wants to have his own go at shaping it.  “I smell a segue[3] in the italicized W-name in the preceding catalogue.”  And you smell aright.  “Good.  But as yet the segue[4] only leads me up a blind trail.  For as near as I can remember William Lovell never reports having so much as exchanged two words with the elder Burton, let alone brainsculpted him.”  The brainsculptee I was segueing to wasn’t the elder Burton himself, espèce d’esprit d’une lente!  It was his daughter, Emily Burton.  “Ah, yes.  You were about to refer to and quote from that bit in Book VIII when William disguises himself as ‘a poor invalid’ (Letters 6 and 7) and by way of foreplay manages to convince Emily that she is “the only creature [in the world] that takes an interest in him!’ (Letter 9), and that ‘the earth is a great lump of dirt” covered with “mute corpses” who have “no need of love and fellow-feeling” and are only contingently “graced with the power of locomotion”; until at long last his ‘sensual being…awakens within [him] in all of its tempestuous fury, and sets fire to her at the same time’ on the settee in the garden at Bondly.”  That’s right—together with certain other bits in Book VIII—the ones in which Emily reports on her passion to William’s ex, Amalie, and comes down with and finally succumbs to fatal hysteria in William’s absence.  The verisimilitude-exacting early twenty-first century reader can perhaps be forgiven for initially having some trouble keeping his lower jaw secure during his traversal of these episodes.  He can perhaps be forgiven for initially finding it at least a smidge hard to believe that the terminally frigid and peniphobic Emily, a woman who has positively welcomed the prospect of not having sexual relations until the presumably years-distant moment when her impoverished fiancé has made himself rich, could be transformed literally overnight into a full-blown nymphomaniac apparently game for jumping into bed with the first trousered human who pisseth against the wall; or that once this first against-the-wall pissing trousered human has turned out to be the very man she has been counseling her best friend to eschew like the pox, she should confess her enamorment with him to this selfsame best friend without a soupcon of a twinge of embarrassment, let alone remorse.  But by and by, after considering Emily’s Book VIII behavior in the light of the larger (and lately inverted) Gewissenschaftschaft of the novel, he should begin to find these merely apparent about-faces a skoche more plausible.  As I have already observed, in her ethical outlook Emily starts out as a virtual clone or carbon copy of her father, that is to say, as an exponent of pure prudential self-interest.  But unlike her father’s, young Emily’s prudentialism evidently owes no part of its formation to experience of the wider world; she has evidently spent her entire life so far in the sheltered environs of Bondly and has therefore evidently imbibed the prudential outlook exclusively from precepts inculcated by her father and certain regrettably unnamed literary sources.   As William sagaciously observes of her, “She has read many books and thought many things about them; therefore, she is always quite certain that she is on the right side of the argument; she is of the opinion that there is no situation, however critical, in which one can have the slightest doubt about how to behave” (Book VIII, Letter 14).  Having never been obliged to contemplate the “large and involute tapestry of human life,” she has never been compelled to avail herself of the psychological and epistemological gyroscopes with which her father steadied his mind against the onslaught of metaphysical vertigo; hence she has been debarred from ever discovering her illusion, let alone putting it to properly prudential Cromwell-esque use.  And yet, I hasten to point out for the second time in the present paragraph, Papa Burton’s diary has already intimated that the disposition to visionary raving is both universal and amenable to being exploited by the first comer (pun not originally intended, but hey, why not?).  Those visions of hordes of mute corpses roaming about the earth, Tieck suggests (not only via Lord Burton’s explicit commentary, but also via their unmissable resemblance to the figures in the visions of Balder and the dying Walter Lovell), were seething fathoms beneath Emily’s benighted brainpan all along; all that was lacking to point them out and coax them to the surface was the kindly offices of some sort of Jacques Cousteau of the psyche, a figure that William was admirably qualified to embody in virtue of his own recent hypnotization at the boot camp of Andrea Cosimo.

There is no need for you to make any suggestive sniffing sounds this time round, DGR; as I trust that that double carriage return immediately after the dropping of the big C-name signals with sufficient semiotic indubitability the onset of a mighty segue into a mightily long paragraph centering on We All Know Who or Whom.   And so it does, but as obdurately as I am convinced that Signor Cosimo deserves such overstated typographical heraldry, I nonetheless feel almost duty-bound to apologize in advance for the flagrant unspectacularity of the observations on his significance that I am about to proffer.  For there is certainly no denying  that AC is a spectacular character, or indeed that he is the most spectacular character in the entire novel, its eponym very much not excepted.  Who among us is capable of beginning to read any WL letter after the first one penned by Cosimo (No. 20 of Book I [quoted above]), with its ominous use of the royal “us”--suggestive of an infinitely extensive and implacable network of Mafiosi or KGB agents—without posing to himself the question, “Will this be the letter in which the horrible truth about AC is revealed?”  Who among us can help participating in William’s thrill of horrified revulsion at AC’s features—“one of his eyes staring directly ahead, the other turned askance in a slight squint; a mouth that seemed at first to be smiling, but on closer inspection was simply itching to show its teeth” (Book III, Letter 10)?  And who among us, having twigged (aeons before William himself) that this hideously uncanny creature, Andrea Cosimo, and Walter Lovell’s scourge Waterloo, are one and the same person, can help pondering why such a person would go to such elaborate and unscrupulous lengths to destroy the happiness of a fellow human being (assuming that he, Waterloo/Cosimo, even is human)?  WAU can fail to be impressed by his power to attract into his orbit that circle of young intellectual heavyweights, the so-called Secret Society, by these young men’s disposition to “bow down before him as before a higher being” (Book VI, Letter 8) despite their own  unexampled “calm intellectual fertility,” by the supineness with which the most “whimsical” and “jocular” among them, Francesco, has been transformed into a “grave and venerable” sage under Andrea’s aegis; to say nothing of the quite unfiguratively spectacular feats of conjuration by which he places William in touch with the ghosts of his father, of Rosaline, even of the beloved pet dog of his boyhood years.  And finally, who among us can fail to be both impressed and horrified by Andrea’s remarkable feats of self-replication (or self-teleportation), as attested to in Rosa’s last letter (Book V, Letter 10) before a long, four book-spanning silence—by his naturally impossible appearance first at Rosa’s side, then in the ruined church in company with the creepy bloke with the shovel, and finally at Rosa’s front doorstep, all within the span of perhaps a few-dozen minutes; to say nothing of his even more mind-boggling TV-weathermanesque bodily insertion of himself into the surreal fabric of Module-II Balder’s delirious visions.  By this point, any application to Andrea of the dreaded “M” adjective[5]—that adjective that by law must be included in any discussion, written or oral, of die Romantik –would seem perforce to eventuate in a gross understatement of the scope and nature of his apparent powers.  For M************s enjoys command in a full sense only of the inanimate forces of the external world (in which bailiwick one must include his merely transportational control over the likes of Helen of Troy and Alexander the Great); when attempting to sway or alter the human psyche he is obliged to avail himself of the humble rhetorical tools of Joe Mortal—flattery, buffaloing braggadocio, and threats.  (The whole moral/metaphysical gist of the Faust story, after all, derives from the fact that Faust chooses to sell his soul.)   In contrast, early Book-VI Andrea appears to exert complete volitional dominion over both the internal and external worlds: not only can he apparently conjure up the spirits of the dead, but he can also (apparently), like a veritable psychic alchemist, alter the thoughts, the temperaments, and the wills of other people to suit his fancy.  And yet by this point, I would argue, we have still not been properly introduced to Andrea, and so this super-M*************n Andrea is but a characterological bubble, fully burstable by the first down-to-size-cutting factoid about the real Andrea revealed posterior to this proper introduction, which I would argue is made only in Letter 13 of Book VI.  Mind you, DGR, I would not go so far as to write off all the above-cited bits of Andreaiana as so much foreplay or upbuilding, for in an epistolary novel the distinction between when a character is present and when he or she is absent is never as clear-cut as in a play or a novel of the “traditional” (from an early twenty-first century point-of-view) omnisicentally narrated sort.  In an epistolary novel, the episodes in which a character figures most prominently in point of sheer volume of name-guano—viz., letters penned by people other than himself—are often those in which his activities impinge least on the novel’s plot (the identification of which is itself a contentious matter in this genre), and in which the fidelity to life of the character-strokes is most dubious (here once again I would not be taken to make too much of the so-called unreliable narrator—for the dubiety is at least as often owing to the verisimilitudinous marginality of the character to the letter-writer’s agenda as to some authorially engineered fatal blind-spot thanks to which the letter-writer reveals in perfect negative the character’s complete portrait).  On the other hand, the episodes in which he is nominally most present, namely his own letters, are also those in which he is in a certain respect most absent—i.e., in that for their duration he cannot be observed even obliquely from without as an agent.  All these casuistic “When Does Life Begin?”-esque concessions to ambiguity of inception having been granted, I would and indeed will and shall argue that Book VI, Letter 13, Andrea’s first letter to William, marks the first appearance of the real Andrea, of Andrea in all his naked septuagenarian Andreity.  For from the very beginning (excuse me-- pseudo-beginning), viz. that first V. Putin or M. Brando-esque letter to Rosa, we have had a hunch that Andrea has designs of some sort on William, a hunch that has since been drawing asymptotically ever nearer to being transformed into a dead certainty, and has maintained the character of a de facto one since Letter 6 of Book V (Rosa to Andrea; the letter in which R. hazards the jealous “suspicion that you are devoting yourself more tenderly to young Lovell” than to R. himself); such that in Andrea’s first letter to William we have come to expect to be presented with what we have come to regard as the keynote of Andrea’s character—viz., his telos and modus operandi as a would-be William-poacher.  We have heard plenty about all these fantastic stratagems by which Andrea has attempted to capture young Lovell’s will; now at last we are to be vouchsafed a glimpse at one such stratagem in the word qua flesh, and from this glimpse we hope to glean insights into both the nature of Andrea’s power and the purpose for which he is exerting it on William.  What we actually get in this letter is a tad underwhelming, to say the least, on both counts.  For in the first place, it shows Andrea to have no overt interest in anything but the sort of abstract philosophizing that we have already received in shedloads from several other characters—from Balder, from Rosa, from Lord Burton; indeed, from William himself:  the letter begins “Admittedly, my dear William, we are deceived by everything both within and without ourselves…” as if picking up the thread of an earlier disquisition, and squarely in the inadhominable realm of collective “we”-ness, and concludes in an even more abstract vein, with a sentence bereft of a single noun that even the dimmest misconstruction could contrive to apply to the alienable circumstances of a specific person: “But nature resists with all her might, [for these] are curious prodigies that recoil in horror from themselves; the seams are torn apart, the mind peers into existence and the objective world directly, without the senses and without the intermediary mirror of the understanding, and the body is racked by violent convulsions.”  Hence we gather that whatever Andrea’s intentions may be, his means of trying to realize them are utterly unoriginal.  In the second place, the argument set forth in this mode is one with whose gist William has already been familiar for donkey’s months.  “Only in sensuality,” Andrea writes, “can we comprehend ourselves, and it governs and orders the web that we perpetually believe is set in motion by our mind. All plans and designs know themselves to be founded entirely upon this [phenomenon].”   In substance, and partly even in words, this is of course pure Module II Rosan materialism, which we have already seen most eloquently expounded by Module II William.  Of course this letter, for all its anticlimacticity, is only one letter; and if it were followed by a stream of letters in a completely different and AC-redeeming vein we would soon forget it or write it off as a false start.  But as it is in fact only the first of two AC-penned letters (apart from the final testament, which is a special case to be separately addressed), and its successor (Book V, Letter 18) is merely a three-sentence goodbye note, we are really left with no choice, throughout the best part of the last third of the novel, but that of regarding Andrea as a rather derivatively dull fellow.  But that he should seem so is entirely in keeping with these two letters’ essential if covert function of paving the way for the fourth and final module of the novel , a module that may perhaps most aptly if not most elegantly be dubbed that of The Reprosification (or Reaustenization) of the World.  In this module, the heartily sane prudential outlooks of Module I make something of a comeback, a comeback that they naturally achieve only at the expense of the less salubrious ethoses of the middle modules, and that Tieck would seem to want us to mistake for an outright triumph.   The fact that it is not such an outright triumph makes the demarcation of its beginning a rather tricky and contentious operation–for no sooner have you alighted upon a robust, Module I-esque, Austen-friendly gesture of obeisance to the social collectivity than the very next letter turns out to be an apparently equally robust articulation of some unwholesome Module II  or III-esque antithesis; and indeed the fact that the very last letter in the novel (Book X, Letter 26—Charles to Mortimer) is itself a barely qualified negation of Module I-ism makes it devilishly difficult to prove that Module IV even exists.  Nonetheless, if pressed to specify the latest possible proper beginning, a proper terminus ad quem, to a properly extant Module IV, I would pinpoint it at Letter 4 of Book VII, the letter addressed to William by Francesco just before William’s departure for England and the sojourn that will witness (among several other enormities) his seduction and abandonment of Emily.  (I mention everything past “Francesco” in the preceding sentence by way of informing or reminding the reader of just how alive and kicking Module III still is at this point.)  The most salient attribute of this letter qua module-delimiter is its tone, which is best described as overwhelmingly jocular.  Francesco begins by ribbing William over his resentment at being walked in on in coito, goes on to poke fun at his (Francesco’s) own corpulence and indolence, and concludes by proffering a succession of nudge-nudge wink-wink-ish aphorisms centering on various travel-related trivia (“Never stay attached to a girl in one town for more than a day,” “Postilions are at their best when they are half drunk,” etc.).  All fine and good-stroke-well and dandy until one recalls the particulars of the last (and first) reference to Francesco (Book VI, Letter 8), in which he is described—by William—as a former joker turned “grave and venerable” sage thanks to Andrea; whereupon one does a so-called double take and wonders whether one should not set one’s time machine for Book VI, Letter 7 at the latest.  But by and by Occam’s razor comes to the rescue and whispers to one the suggestion that the transformation remarked by William either didn’t take place or didn’t take.  And sure enough, when we next meet Francesco, he is serving as the auditor of a confession by his fellow Secret Society member Adriano; a confession in which Adriano acknowledges the factitiousness of his own ensagement—“At a few of [Andrea’s nocturnal gatherings] I was foolish enough to do a bit of declaiming for the sake of winning the admiration of a passel of blockheads”—and begs Francesco to acknowledge that his own Andrean-inspired vaticinations were a put-on, which Francesco very obligingly does in his reply.  From these two peripheral figures the taint of Andrea-affiliated lameness spreads to Rosa, who, the reader will recall, we have not heard from since Book V, Letter 10, when he felt himself at the mercy of an Andrea whom he seemed to regard as little short of an omniscient deity.  Now, in his reply (Book IX, Letter 4) to Francesco’s counsel-seeking letter, he admits that while he is still unable to shake off the Cosimoan yoke, his attachment to Andrea arises not from any conviction of his greatness but rather from a combination of inertia, nostalgic egoism, and weakness of will: “If I were to renounce him I would be giving up along with him everything that holds me together; I have done so much to become like him, and all of it would now have been in vain!”  What a far and abject cry is this servile wretch from the suave, effortlessly self-commanding Valmontesque Rosa we were introduced to way back in Book II!  But even now that Rosa is out of the way, there remains quite a big Balder-shaped matzoh ball to be dispatched; for while Lord Burton’s jet-setting transactions with the spiritual realm may have rather cast Balder’s feeble daytrips therteo in the shade, Balder remains a compelling Module II norm in that in contrast to Rosa he has always been, as they say, his own man; he has never knowingly been subject to another person’s will.  Accordingly, Tieck causes William’s return route from Britain to Italy to pass by a significantly “grated” window behind which he espies Balder’s face.  All seems normal with the Baldster during William’s subsequent catching-up breakfast with him, indeed one might almost say that it is too normal for comfort: his eyes are unprecedentedly “serene and untroubled”; he is “both gayer and more human than he had been when I first met him at Paris.”  Sure enough, a spell of painful reminiscing about the death of his second great love, a woman he has met and married since William last saw him, is enough to precipitate his transformation first into the melancholy, brooding, quasi-nihilistic Balder of old, and then into the full-blown, rabid, homicidal and suicidal loony that it transpires is now his default self.  Finally and conveniently, as if by way of rubbing in just how un-cut out for the real world he has become, only two days later this new and decidedly unimproved Balder dies without having enjoyed a moment of lucidity in the interval.  “Would it not appear,” William reflects in memoriam, “that madness was bequeathed to this unfortunate man at his birth? He at first passed through all of the gradations of madness only slowly, but upon falling in love a second time he was driven with ever-accelerating speed to the utmost extremity of delirium.”  In a word--or a dozen or so of them—Balder’s bent for the fantastic turns out to have a much more straightforward and ineluctable, and therefore much more prosaic, cause than (as Rosa conjectured) the sublimation of the libido—namely, genes (unless viruses can be inherited).  Balder could not have helped going mad because nature made him a madman; William, on the other hand, need never fear going mad because nature made him sane—as of now the partition is as comfortably simple, stark, and impassable as that.  It is a pity that William’s itinerary has brought him so far afield of England: for at this moment he is in just the right frame of mind to take a Hogarthian tour of Bedlam.

Speaking of England, all this while (meaning since about the second half of Book VIII), Tieck has been doing his best to restore the status quo ante chez the tiny remainder of his original fabulae personae who are still alive and resident north of the Channel.  Out of Mortimer’s hunt for the absconded Emily, the author scares up a bride for Edward in Betty, “the daughter of a decayed nobleman” (actually only a knight, but caste distinctions do not translate well) (Book VIII, Letter 29), who supplies him from the beginning with all the undivided affection previously denied to him by his sister, and eventually with a daughter “whom we have named Amalie” (Book X, Letter 29).  And as meanwhile Amalie (the other, grown-up one) has borne Mortimer a son, the two old ex-bachelors now have a perfectly plausible excuse to spend their remaining textual balance swapping child-rearing advice and planning their very 1950s-esque future as next-door neighbors as though that awful William person were some psycho-loser type they had only read about in the papers and Mortimer’s former constant epistolary companion were not now roaming about Europe in a monomaniacal homicidal frenzy.

But the true, animavorous potency of Module IV’s revelations and resettings can be fully appreciated only in the light of Andrea’s final testament (Book X, Letter 20), which provides the same sort of key to this module as was furnished to Modules II and III, respectively, by the testaments of Walter Lovell and Lord Burton.  From William’s point of view, of course, this testament is most significant in revealing to him that from the get-go—that is to say, long before he ever met him, and indeed before he began to receive secondhand reports on him from Rosa, and possibly indeed from the moment of his birth—Andrea has never had the slightest interest in him as anything but a passive agent of his (Andrea’s) own cupidity and vindictiveness.  Being the elder Burton’s uncle, Andrea/Waterloo has always been within two or three legatees’ remove from sole legal possession of all that family’s property.  During the elder Burton’s youth, he tried to jump the inheritance queue by serving as a kind of silent partner in young Burton’s attempt to acquire the Milford and Lovell estates, and when that failed he began to set his bloodthirsty and money-grubbing sights on the next generation of Lovells and Burtons.  Originally, in influencing William through Rosa, Andrea sought merely to exact revenge on Walter Lovell by “mak[ing] you rebel against your father; you would then fall out with him and with yourself; then I would send you back to England,” where William presumably was to have felt parricidally incensed enough to bump off Walter.  But then as luck would miraculously have it, William managed to make Walter die by remote control, so to speak, via his epistolary negligence; and Walter’s death was shortly followed by the equally apparently natural one of the elder Burton.  A/W was thus free to reactivate his old plan of trying to get hold of the Burton estate, and accordingly William was reprogrammed to attack Emily with the shafts of Cupid and Edward with the drafts of the Roman god of poison (whose name unhappily escapes me).  But because A/W preferred not to divulge his true identity to William (and so presumably was obliged to keep cloaking his intentions in the dodgy garb of disinterested materialism), William ended up “execut[ing]”at least the Edwardian half of these “commissions….like a boy ignoramus” in allowing his poor manservant Willy[6] to poison himself in Edward’s stead; and with the failure of this attempt ended both William’s utility for A/W and A/W’s compunction about giving vent to the full tide of his contempt for William.  Taken on its own this is all, as I said, naturally very devastating news for our nominal hero, but for us it merely confirms our long-harbored suspicion that William was a bit of a sap and reaffirms our discovery that A/W was much more than a bit of a mountebank.  (In the course of this reaffirmation A/W also reveals that he was the old man in Balder’s delirious daydreams, as if by way of allowing Tieck to assert once again with Gerald Ford-esque tenacity, There is no such thing as the so-called spiritual realm.)  But the really gamily meaty revelations about A/W—the ones that provide the much deeper and infinitely more demoralizing proper metaphysical bottom to these—actually come much earlier in the testament, in its purely autobiographical portion.  Early in life, A/W tells us, he was disappointed in his love for a girl named Antonia, who, though “she was friendlier towards me than towards many other people,” did not love him and married another man.  Later, in the fruitless course of trying to woo Maria Milford away from Walter Lovell, he found himself developing a “concupiscence” for her that he came to regard as a “love…even stronger than my first youthful passion, for Antonia.”  But she was even less enthralled by him than Antonia had been and “recoil[ed] from [him] completely, like a flower from a cold shadow.”  By then, though, he knew better than to be surprised by such feminine cold-shoulderdom, for in between the two amours, during his first self-exile on the Continent, 

I had heard from a so-called confidant of mine that there was something about my face that put off other people from the start; a hidden repulsiveness that was impossible to describe exactly, that by turns made me ridiculous and an object of fear. But now I knew why people hated and persecuted me: because my nose did not look quite as they wanted it to look, they found me reprehensible.

This passage provides us with the true key to all of A/W’s machinations, namely, injured vanity, the vanity of a man so abominably ugly that no woman will sleep with him and no man will make friends with him.  What is more, this key proves to be skeletonesque when we apply it to certain key, erm, make that pivotal, moments in William’s history.  The reader will or at least should recall (it was, after all, only 150,000 or so words ago) a remark made by Countess Blainville during her seduction of William: “I heard little of what he said; his features, his fine physique, his blazing eyes distracted me: he is one of the handsomest men I have so far ever seen.”  This single half-sentence is the only description of William’s physical person we ever get (and indeed one of the very few we get of any of the novel’s characters), but juxtaposed with the above-quoted passage it says enough to explain (or at any rate, to present a revised explanation of) the better part of the plot of the entire book.  For say what one will about William (and one shall find plenty of bad things to say about him, willy-nilly), he has never had any trouble pulling the birds, and has had a noticeably much easier time pulling them than any of the novel’s other young male characters—Charles, Mortimer, Edward, even the acknowledged super-playahh Rosa.  Indeed, in relation to other men’s romantic schemes, William seems to function as a sort of inexorable if gormless cock-blocker, voiding the field in his favor whenever he comes within radar detectable propinquity to a member of the Sex.  Emily, as we have already seen, throws Charles overboard the instant she sets her eyes on an available William; Mortimer secures the matrimonial hand of Amalie only in the capacity of a pis aller appropriating the sloppy seconds of the true custodian of her heart, young Lovell; and Rosa’s little kept girl Blondine fancies William so much that she risks her life in defending him from an attack of armed brigands.   (Interestingly, the only woman who even temporarily avoids succumbing to the Lovellian mojo is the peasant girl Rosaline—I say that she avoids succumbing thereunto in that although she is clearly smitten by William from very early on, it is only after learning of the death of her fiancé that she consents to coition with him.)  And he achieves all these conquests in the apparent total absence of woomanly charm or finesse, without resorting to a word of flattery or a grain of bribery, by simply being his glum, stroppy, uncommunicative self at all times to all women.  Is it any wonder that a man like A/W, a man utterly devoid of personal beauty in a world in which such beauty unabetted by any other attribute or power can procure the unconditional submission of half the human race, should both wish to annihilate a man like William and find him incredibly useful as an intermediary?

So here, at Module’s and novel’s end, we have apparently overshot Jane Austen along the prosiness axis and finished up at a worldview perhaps most reminiscent of Michel Houellebecq–a worldview in which the biological facts of human existence have been both fully taken into account and radically embourgeoisé (I would write embourgeoisfied if I could alight on a reasonable spelling of it that stood the remotest chance of eliciting the pronunciation I have in mind for it).  “Yes,” Tieck’s last word of the novel seems to read, “pace Module II Rosa and William (and Freud), sensuality is indeed ‘nothing less than the principal cog of our machine,’ but it has no need of such sublimating escapement mechanisms as art and religious devotion.  Those, like William, whose physical beauty makes the enjoyment of sensual pleasure readily accessible to them indulge in this enjoyment openly and ad libitum.  If they eventually crash and burn they will do so not for lack of opportunity to make good but for failure to recognize the power at their disposal.  Those, like Mortimer and Charles, who are less than overwhelmingly physically prepossessing must work to secure their sensual fix, often in tandem with the unpleasant realization that their embrace will never be entirely welcome to their intended co-coitionists.  Finally, those, like Andrea, who are downright physically repulsive, must resign themselves to a lifetime of involuntary chastity.  If they subsequently engage in activities that smack of the altar or the artist’s studio with varying degrees of pungency, they do so not by unconscious way of sublimating their unfulfilled sexual urges, but by deliberate way of getting even with their more beautiful contemporaries.  That their vindictive schemes ultimately come to naught (in that these handsomer foes survive them) proves that physical beauty is indeed fortune’s trump card.”  (SITS, this otherwise all-embracing schema does not impinge on the likes of Balder, whose genetic destiny impels him to fall to pieces in the teeth of a reasonably successful rapport with the Sex.)

This denouement has much to recommend it from a purely formally aesthetic point of view: the figure who all along seemed to be the novel’s center of power, an inexorable black hole drawing every person and thing ever closer to its annihilating maw, has turned out to be a red dwarf paradoxically fueled by the figure who has all along seemed to be the least self-controlled of the novel’s characters, the one most susceptible to the gravitational influence of others.  At the same time it (i.e., the denouement) is awfully demoralizing in seeming to offer as its last word the decidedly ignoble prescription “Settle down and procreate with the most attractive co-coitionist your beauty points can land you.”  But one must beware of judging William Lovell too exactingly.  For in the first place, technically speaking the actual Kraftsmittelpunkt of the novel—at least insofar as the old Baconian equation of knowledge with power holds up—is not  Andrea/Waterloo but Lord Burton, and it remains self-sustainingly operative at the novel’s end.  We are obliged to acknowledge this upon adding the two of Andrea’s concession that his nephew was “more than a match for me” and that “even if I was his uncle, I could not forbear feeling quietly awed in his presence” to the two of Burton’s verdict  (delivered in the diary) on Uncle Waterloo (“He believes he has everything because he has wit; he supposes that he understands people well enough because he knows merely how to make them laugh; perhaps he would have made a good comic playwright, but in social intercourse he is a washout”) and coming up with the four that Lord Burton occupies the epistemologically un-bestable seat of the one who sees through the one who sees through all others.  And we must remember that this same Lord Burton is something of a mystic whose ruthlessly cynical impulsion to material self-aggrandizement is but the surface manifestation of a liaison with realms and depths of experience in which sensuality plays no part, and from whose perspective it would seem too trivial a motive for enterprises of the slightest pitch or moment.  So at its heart—a heart that admittedly has been cruelly marginalized by novel’s end—William Lovell inculcates a far creepier prescription than the Houellebecquian one, namely, “Stop at nothing in attempting to get the better of your fellow human beings, lest in yielding to them you cease to believe in yourself and thereby lose your lifeline with the mysterious un-human forces that truly call the shots both ici-bas and in the hereafter.”

In the second place, we must remember in the fullest most multifarious sense the world from which William Lovell emerged and whither that world was headed.  For example/starters: WL’s similarity in certain parts and respects to a Jane Austen novel, the similarity I made so much of at the beginning of this essay,  is neither fortuitous nor nugatory; such that both 1) one cannot really get away with merely using this similarity for purely heuristic purposes as I have so far done, and 2) by explaining why WL is as much like a Jane Austen novel as it is one may hope  to begin to appreciate why it need not apologize either for not being exactly like one or for not being even more un-Austenian and “modern.”  Tieck and Austen were virtual exact contemporaries—he was born in 1773, she in 1775.  Had these dates been 1673/5 or 1873/5, one would not have much justification for making much of them, for in the late seventeenth century non-scholarly books by English authors were hardly read at all on the Continent, and by the late nineteenth century the German language had a hefty narrative prose tradition of its own in relation to which new novelists and short story writers were obliged to orient themselves.   But in the 1780s, Tieck’s and Austen’s formative decade, Britain had been banging out and exporting novels by the tens of thousands (copies not titles), for getting on for three generations, whereas the German language still had to its name but one proper modern narrative prose classic, Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther.  Now, before I go any farther (or should it be “further”?) I shall beg of you, DGR, a dozen or so seconds that I may disclaim the remotest consanguinity of my argument with any vile Whiggish tubthumper’s screed of the “they didn’t have television in those days” variety.  Far be it from me, DGR, to insinuate that the Germanophone reader of the 1780s had no choice but to read English novels, for after all, he could have chosen not to read novels at all, to have said to John Bull, “Peddle your long tales elsewhere, Herr Stier, for I am quite content with my Luther Bible and my Klopstock odes.”  In that case, of course, to misquote Charles Rosen ever so slightly, “the history of literature would have been very different.”  But as things turned out they did want to read novels and therefore were obliged to read English ones—chief among them those of Fielding, Richardson, and Sterne.  And so Ludwig Tieck and Jane Austen grew up on broadly identical reading diets despite living in two different countries separated by seven hundred or so miles, a language, and thousands of substantial divergences in the organization of political and social life.  And so, in writing a novel of his own, Ludwig Tieck found it scarcely less natural than Jane Austen did to set it partly in a small collection of expansive English country estates peopled by well-behaved if slightly eccentric rural English ladies and gentlemen, along with their servants.  (When people ask me what business a book with a title like William Lovell has being originally written in German at all, I have a devil of a time convincing them that my author merely hearkened to that much reviled but still incessantly quoted hoary so-called creative writing-teacher’s maxim “Write what you know”; because Pamela, Tristram Shandy, et al. were what he knew, at least as a reader.)  And so (finally), one finds Ludwig Tieck not only imitating the English novelists but also acknowledging his debt to them—not without a tinge of irony—in a series of explicit references both general (Countess Blainville likens the prim demeanor she is obliged to assume in seducing William to that of “one of those insufferably sententious, windbaggish heroines of the English novels” [Book II, Letter 15) and specific (Charles writes of having formerly “exercised my memory” by “learning by heart passages of Tristram Shandy, and tells Mortimer that he expects him to metamorphose into “the living, incarnate presence of Sir Charles Grandison,” [Book VIII, Letter 8], the eponym of Richardson’s last novel ).  But the English writer whose name and works are mentioned most often in William Lovell was neither a novelist nor a native of the eighteenth century.  I am referring here to William Shakespeare.  Whether an “of course” should have been included in the preceding sentence is debatable.  I am certainly not one of those tendentious futators who earn their daily bread (or at least the non-pedagogically dependent part of it) arguing that the English Romantics—i.e., for present purposes, Tieck’s mostly junior contemporaries—“invented” the Shakespeare we all know and revere (or at least know that we are supposed to revere) as The Greatest Writer Ever.  Certainly he had effectively attained that title in Britain decades before the oldest of the ERs (except perhaps Blake) were twinkles in their respective daddies’ okies.  (Consider in proof of this assertion David Garrick’s 1769 Stratford Jubilee and the young Edward Gibbon’s schoolyard-wimpish self-consciousness as a non-Bardolatrous Francophile.)  And even in Germany the Bard’s plays were repeatedly if sporadically performed by touring theater troupes from the mid-seventeenth century onwards.  Nevertheless, it is quasi-demonstrably true that Tieck’s generation of German readers were the first for whom Shakespeare was required reading even within that small portion of it who could read English.  (The best-known of the novels, I should perhaps mention, were always available in translation.) What I meantersay, then, is that Shakespeare was alive, vital, and quasi-contemporaneous for late eighteenth-century Germans in a way he had not been for native Anglophones since the early 16-oughties if not even earlier.  When in the preface to his 1765 Shakespeare edition Samuel Johnson wrote that there was “perhaps not one” Shakespeare “play, which, if it were now exhibited as the work of a contemporary writer, would be heard to the conclusion,” he was merely recording the low-water mark of a recession of the British play-goer’s sympathy with the Bard that was already well underway in Shakespeare’s lifetime.  In the late eighteenth century Britons may have revered Shakespeare more than ever before but they also identified with him (as we would say nowadays) less than ever before; and they would certainly never have dreamt of deliberately, transparently imitating him in their own writings.  (Note here that I do not say that they were incapable of being influenced by WS, but influence is an entirely different thing from imitation, which is why the pop journalist’s hardy perennial “Who are your major influences?” has always provoked a hail of bristling from every artiste with so much as a soupcon of critical finesse.)  The Germans had no such fastidious compunctions—for them, Shakespeare was effectively a contemporary writer, to be waylaid and plundered as insouciantly as the author of the latest potboiling bodice-ripper of a novel.  The most circumspect—and in the long run the most illustrious—of these plunderers (e.g., bordering on i.e., Schiller) had either the good sense or the lack of moxie (depending on your point of view) to confine the scene of their rapine to Shakespeare’s favorite mode, the dramatic, and even more narrowly, to the dramatic genre in which Shakespeare was at his most po-faced and therefore least embarrassing, namely tragedy; and to follow WS’s precedent in setting these tragedies in remote ages and places.  The more insouciant of them, such as Tieck, simply interpolated Shakesperean topoi wholesale and unmodified like so many un-vetted exotic animal species or transplant organs.[7]  Hence, whenever we encounter something that seems especially far-fetched in William Lovell, before rejecting it outright as the unhandiwork of a transcendent bungler we would do well to ask ourselves, “Would this look out of place in a Shakespeare play?”  Consider William’s attempt to poison Edward Burton.  It seems entirely disproportionate to its apparent efficient cause, namely a garden-variety mutual estrangement precipitated by a disagreement over abstract philosophical principles.  In a Jane Austen novel such an out-falling could never eventuate even in anything so dire as a duel.  The attempt seems, in a word, gratuitous.  But does not Hamlet’s contrivance of the execution of his childhood friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern seem equally so?  For all Hamlet’s moral justification of it  on the grounds that R&G “made love to [the] employment” of getting him shipped off to England, does it not seem principally calculated to illustrate our hero’s antinomian contempt for old school tie-bound friendship qua factitious human institution?  Throughout our reading of William Lovell, we would do well to keep one eye cocked towards Samuel Johnson’s caveat about King Lear:

perhaps, if we turn our thoughts upon the barbarity and ignorance of the age to which this story is referred, it will appear not
so unlikely as while we estimate Lear's manners by our own. Such preference of one daughter to another, or resignation of dominion on such conditions, would be yet credible, if told of a petty prince of
Guinea or Madagascar. Shakespeare, indeed, by the mention of his earls and dukes, has given us the idea of times more civilized, and of life
regulated by softer manners; and the truth is, that though he so nicely discriminates, and so minutely describes the characters of men, he commonly neglects and confounds the characters of ages, by mingling
customs ancient and modern, English and foreign.

In applying this caveat we must substitute not only William for Lear and Tieck for Shakespeare but also “the typical Shakespeare tragedy” for “Guinea or Madagascar.”  Tieck by the mention of his barons and country squires has given us the idea of times more civilized, and of life regulated by [the] softer manners of late eighteenth-century England, but the “ages” to which a great part of his story is referred, are the quasi-paleolithic / Madagascaresque ones of Lear and Hamlet.  “OK,” the reader may well be inclined to interject here, “I get it: the Shakespearean precedent explains all these incongruities in WL, but it hardly justifies them.”  Very true.  So for that justification I point the reader to the second half of Johnson’s last sentence, whose syntax and diction have to be tampered with only ever so slightly to produce the proper distribution of emphasis I am looking for: “the truth is, that though he commonly neglects and confounds the characters of ages, by mingling customs ancient and modern, English and foreign, he very nicely discriminates, and very minutely describes the characters of men and women.”  By which I meantersay, “If Tieck’s description of the characters of men and women is broadly accurate across the ages, who cares if it registers with minute accuracy the characters of men and women of the late eighteenth century?”  Just because the hyperpolite Augustan and Regency Britons flattered themselves that they had outgrown wantonly destructive Jacobean nihilism along with Jacobean farthingales and trunk hose, the depictor of eighteenth-century British life is by no means obliged to restrict his characters’ scope of conduct accordingly.  That one would attempt to poison one’s former best friend in consequence of a philosophical disagreement with him may have been socially inconceivable in 1790s Britain (as indeed it is socially inconceivable in the Britain of the 20-teens), but it was hardly psychologically inconceivable—as the 1790s Britons, inasmuch as they continued to read Hamlet and Lear with pleasure, would have been bound to admit.  But alas!: the heaping helping of  convention-defying, proto-Lydonian piss-and-vinegar I have just doled out to William Lovell with one hand I am compelled to take back with the other.   For the equally sound obverse of the postulate I have just set down is that what is psychologically eminently conceivable may very well from a social point of view be equally categorically inconceivable, and the social is no less exigent in whittling things down to its microwavically narrow compass of conceivability than the psychological is indulgent in swelling them to its complementarily cinemascopic compass.  The German-speaking peoples of the young Tieck’s day may not have been as starchy, as uptight, as compulsively well-behaved, as their British contemporaries, but they did have pronounced leanings and aspirations to British starchiness, uptightness, compulsive well-behavedness.  William Lovell was composed a mere twenty years before the official onset of that long reign of German middle-class complacency known as the Biedermeier period.  Received historiographic opinion attributes the triumph of the Biedermeier ethos to the reestablishment of monarchical absolutism throughout continental Europe in the wake of the defeat and ouster of Napoleon, as though assuming that left to his own devices every single living individual from Lisbon to Moscow would have become a republican pamphleteer-cum-revolutionary syndicate cell leader.  But a good bit of the impetus to this triumph naturally came from sources that both antedated and survived the political events of the 18-teens—from the commercially fueled improvement of the so-called standard of living throughout the Western world, for example, and from the wider dispersal—in novels, yes, but also engravings, conduct books, mail-order catalogues, &c.—of models of “respectable” modes of living.  The general point that I am rather inefficiently trying to make here is that not only was the Biedermeier spirit very much already in the air in the 1790s Germanosphere, but that within that sphere it had an aura of something new, cool, even—dare I say it? “Oh, for crying out loud, g’head!” I fancy I hear you saying, DGR—sexy.  For Germanophones, English-style middle-class life was not, as it was for the English middle class themselves, merely a matter of keeping the ball rolling while keeping it from rolling downhill, but the dernier cri, and hence a quite competitive rival ethos to that set of ostensibly revolutionary beliefs and practices that was already beginning to be reified as Romanticism.   Such that while it is only fair play to remark that the Ozzie and Harriet-esque ending of WL clashes stridently with its hyper-Romantic middle, it would be inadmissibly anachronistic and indeed downright nonsensical to label that selfsame ending a retreat—for axiomatically one can retreat only from a place that one has reached, and for Tieck and his fellow Germanophones the comfortable semi-autonomous domesticity represented in and by Edward and Mortimer’s last letters was still in the remote offing at best.

With all this in mind—the all this in this case essentially being the wooly mammoth’s share of this essay from the moment when I remarked on WL’s division into “modules” to the preceding sentence—we may conclude that the best, which is to say the most succinct, concise, compendious, and nearly accurate way of describing WL, is as a text that relentlessly enjoins us to look askance at the notion of being “of one’s time,” or at least at most people’s idea (or concept) of that notion.  Most people seem to believe that an historical epoch’s thoughts are strictly delimited in a kind of Flatlandian manner by its external folkways—that if, for example, the historical record shows that from year A to year H no respectable man was seen out of doors in trousers of any color but green this must be because for that entire A-to-H stretch the human mind was bereft of the capacity even to imagine trousers of any other color.  And no amount of evidence to the contrary—letters in which an A-t0-H inhabitant fondly reminisces about his “old red regimental pantaloons,” broadsheets advertising a “blue-trouser fancy dress ball,” reports on “orange-trouser dandies” in the newspapers —will ever carry any weight with them.  Vis-à-vis the microepoch William Lovell hails from, the microepoch of the very late eighteenth-cum-very early nineteenth century, this schema is a bit more complicated, but only just the weest bit.  Most people who are aware of this microepoch allow it its handful of celebrated loose cannons—Byron, Napoleon, the Shelleys.  But at the same time they reduce the background against which these idiosyncratic figures strut their stuff to a sort of Talibanesque caricature of a Victorian stage flat, allowing their most mildly unconventional gestures to stand out like transgressions of a Sophoclean order (“Mary was more than once seen attending performances at Covent Garden alone, without either female companion or male escort” [gasp!] ; “Byron was once heard to acknowledge that his sister had almost got the better of him in a dispute on Kantian metaphysics” [swoon!] ).  The notion that a by no means negligible proportion of the inhabitants of that stage flat often contemplated and sometimes even indulged in behavior that would have made the most profligate of the celebrated loose cannons’ toes curl does not compute for them.  But William Lovell, in proving to us that at least one would-be inhabitant of that stage flat (i.e., Tieck) did contemplate such behavior, compels us to reject the historico-ontological priority of the stage flat itself.  And once we have completed this rejection, all sorts of wonderful and terrible possibilities are opened and foreclosed.  Firstly, most obviously, and most wonderfully is opened the possibility of a more immediate and unembarrassed identification with both real and fictitious personages of bygone epochs.  No sooner have we realized that it was seldom for want of having been thought of or imagined that this or that scandalous, social-order-overturning word or action did not ultimately become second nature among the ancients, than we may cease feeling ashamed or guilty either at not being as reserved and well-bred as Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy or at wishing that we were.  One realizes that while the choice of the denizens of Austenworld to behave like creatures bereft of genitals and bowels may have governed every last gesture of their waking lives, it was still very much a choice undoubtedly made in conscious visceral awareness of every micrometer of small intestine and fallopial tubage.  But the logical obverse of this easy identification with the ancients is the impossibility of any longer seeking consolation from them from the outside in.  For once we have recognized that the ancients were every bit as troubled as we are by socially transgressive impulses, we can no longer solace ourselves with the thought that merely by behaving like them we may conjure away our own daemons.  And yet again—to flip the egg back on to its sunny side—the reflection that the ancients were capable (à la William vis-à-vis Module-IV Balder) of imagining the basic schema or template of the etiology of madness in the absence of all “our” supposed “advances” in neurology, psychiatry, genetics, and so on, may exhort us to a salutary pruning of our personal taxonomy of mental illnesses; such that while our compassion and terror before such apparently ineluctable nature-induced conditions as schizophrenia is only increased, we come to genuflect less servilely before the supposed ontological actuality of such nurture-induced phenomena as obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.  And yet again still (sunny side once more occluded), the reflection that the preponderance of rationally dubious rhapsodizing in WL can be authoritatively traced to no other source than the ratiocinative involutions of the mind itself qua organ of thought (including reflection) should remind us that it may still be possible even for a genetically sane-destined person to think himself into a kind of madness.

I shall close this essay on a superficially entirely fresh note, by trying to answer a question that at first blush will probably seem to have nothing to do with any of the others of which I have so far treated, but that in fact clinches all of them, namely: Is William Lovell from a purely aesthetic point of view the equal of, say Pride and Prejudice, or indeed any damn good at all?  “Wellsir,” I should like to answer, “at bottom it all rather depends on which of the two classic artworkish attributes—namely truth or beauty—you prize the more,” naturally implying thereby that Pride and Prejudice is beautiful but false and William Lovell ugly but true.  But I really cannot answer thus in good faith, aware as I am of how balefully (albeit I hope not fatally) WL’s truthfulness is compromised by its ugliness.  This is not to say that Tieck-and-Austen’s junior contemporary John Keats was right when he said “Beauty is truth and truth beauty,” at least insofar as that statement amounts to a simple equation of the two qualities, to an assertion that each is analytically a priori bound up with the other in the way that yellowness is (according to Tieck-and-Austen’s senior contemporary, Kant) bound up with the metal known as gold, or to be more exact, the way yellowness would be bound up with gold in a world in which nothing other than gold was yellow.  But it is to say that certain kinds or registers of untruth are a priori synthetically bound up with certain kinds or registers of ugliness (a.k.a. “unbeauty”), such that what is ugly in these kinds or registers at minimum cannot be absolutely true.  Chez William Lovell, the truth-corrupting kind or register of ugliness may be variously termed verbosity, long-windedness, superfluity, or repetitiveness.  No undemented reader of William Lovell can reach the end of its second book without being assailed more than once by a feeling that one might not inaptly term deja-vu on your performance-enhancing-drug-of-choice (speaking of deja-vu, I wonder where I’ve heard that expression).  Or perhaps déjà vu-on-your-performance-diminishing-drug-of-choice would be a better name for it.  At any rate, chez this feeling, one happens upon a certain passage; one is certain that one has come across something to its effect in an earlier passage; there is not (unlike chez deja-vu) anything creepy or uncanny about this feeling, and yet (like chez deja-vu) one cannot readily pinpoint the earlier passage.  The feeling arises from the fact(s) that Tieck’s stock of images, conceits, and observations is too small and that he apportions it too promiscuously.  And from this slimness and whorishness arises a pronounced vitiation in WL of the only means by which a writer can hope to articulate a statement (or, more accurately, a complex of statements) about the world, and consequently hope to say something true about it—namely, significant similitude in tandem with significant differentiation.  And so a character will say (or, as is of course more usual, write) something that is essentially identical to something he has already said, thereby leading the reader to infer (as Ockham’s razor obliges him to do) that the character is insufficiently self-aware and hence of negligible epistemological value, such that however sane his observations may seem in isolation, they do not deserve to be regarded as normative.   

Or a character will say something that seems completely atypical of him or her altogether, or at least in the context of the utterance.  A good example of this sort of incongruity is when Louise Blainville writes of her uncle and prospective fiancé (“Yuck!” indeed, DGR), the aged Count Melun, that “[t] he entirety of his present existence seems shallow and uninteresting to him; an autumn wind has shaken the leaves from his trees, the present has become barren and empty, and he takes in at a single glance those vacant spaces in the garden that were once filled by secret passages that afforded him the keenest temptation.”  These lines occur in a letter (Book II, No. 18) in which the Countess not only coolly records that “I am as good as engaged to my dearest uncle,” but also heatedly describes the near-attainment of her seduction of William.  That in the midst of her contemptuous indifference to her uncle and her passion for another man Louise should happen to feel a brief twinge of sympathy for the old gentleman is not beyond the pale of plausible improbability.  But it is hardly possible that this twinge should be verbalized in words much more numerous, expressive, or specific than “Boy, it must really be a drag to be an old guy in love with a young woman.”  By contrast, the passage as it actually stands reads like the sufferer’s own first-hand articulation of his suffering with the “I”s replaced by “he”s at the last minute. In asserting this I am objecting not that as a young person Louise is simply incapable of imagining in rich detail the emotional life of an old person—for after all, Tieck himself was barely twenty when he wrote the passage—but that as a person tout court whose affections were at best divided she would never either have taken the trouble to imagine this life in such detail or wished to assert such apodictically certain insight into it.  Luckily our quasi-déjà vu comes to the rescue and allows us to explain if not to justify the oldster-channeling: “I have lost my beloved comrades and in vain cry their names into the darkened woods; the hollow echo thrown back at me affords no consolation; the vast and solitary void cares not a fig for my wretchedness. A biting wind gloatingly gusts over my [head] and shakes the last leaf from my trees.”  This is William writing in Letter 2 of Book I, employing the same metaphoric vehicle of exfoliation that Blainville will later apply to Melun’s plight.  One gathers that Tieck liked the vehicle and rightly thought it as apt for the conveyance of an old man’s disillusioned loneliness as a young man’s pre-Grand Tour jitters but neglected to consider that it was a tad too extravagant to be transposed from the first into the third person.        

Finally, there are entire pen-wielding characters who do little but muddy the reader’s sense of the novel’s purpose.  Chief of these characters is William’s trusty servant, Willy.  He is a problematic figure in much the same way and for much the same reason as Jones’s sidekick Partridge is in Fielding’s Tom Jones.  His plain-as-day original raison d’être is to provide what peasant characters have traditionally provided throughout the history of literature, viz. a “natural,” “uncorrupted” alternative to the representation of the world offered by their over-refined masters.  During the first three or so books we see him dutifully fulfilling this function by marveling, for example, at the tremendous racket produced by the not-quite simultaneous striking of London’s hundreds of church-bells, at the perversity of Parisian theatergoers in deliberately watching something that makes them feel sad, and at the less than adequately mimetic character of the art on display in the galleries of Rome.  (On this last item it is worth remarking that it shows that dissatisfaction with pictorial “realism” long antedated not only the impressionists but also even Balzac’s “Chef-d’œuvre inconnu.”)  Taken on its own, this is all well and good if slightly stale and pro-forma, and if it were merely extrinsic to the more broadly established tenor of the narrative, it could be enjoyed or skipped over as a harmless digression.  Unfortunately, Willy’s commentaries are not merely extrinsic to the aforementioned tenor but at outright cross-purposes with it.  For as we have already seen, from the very beginning of the novel—from Book I, Letter 1—Tieck has been keen to foreground an antinomy between an impractical, visionary, “Icarus”-like worldview instantiated by William and a practical, no-nonsense, down-to-earth worldview instantiated by Mortimer, Edward, Walter Lovell, and Charles—each of whom, like William, is self-evidently not a representative of the peasantry or even the petit bourgeoisie (Charles’s relative poverty notwithstanding).  In short, by the time he gets Willy up and running, Tieck has already found his norm—the commonsensical baseline against which his hero’s extravagancies are to be measured—within his hero’s own class; such that Willy’s rubish musings on arty diversions have an effect akin to that of a badly voice-led melody in a piece of music, the effect one gets at the moment when, say, an oboe line crosses into a line on the staff already occupied by a bassoon line: instead of the continuation of the two melodies together in their former equal strength, one hears the continuation of the bassoon line alone, as the oboe line seems simply to have disappeared.  There are indeed representations of the world in which the enjoyment of plays and avant-garde painting can turn one into a raving visionary, but we have not hitherto been led to regard William Lovell as such a representation.  After all, Mortimer—good-old solid, commonsensical, untakeinable Mortimer—has never had an unkind word to say about fictive spectacles, and he seems to enjoy plays and operas as much as the average Parisian theatergoer, in that he accompanies William and Willy to them without complaint; moreover, he emerges from the playhouse at the end of each performance every inch the same good-old solid, commonsensical, untakeinable Mortimer he entered it.  Such being the case, Willy’s strictures on the drama come across not as what they might have done in a very different sort of novel—namely, the artlessly perspicacious musings of a bona fide natural sage, but rather as the artlessly thick-headed musings of a bona fide natural imbecile; and as (in Dr. Johnson’s famous words) “natural fatuity is not the proper prey of a satirist,” one cannot help reading them without suppressing (or not bothering to suppress) an embarrassed groan.  That Tieck himself eventually picked up on (or got sick of) Willy’s third-wheelishness we may gather from W’s being first written out of the main course of the narrative towards the end of the Rosaline-seduction episode and then killed off in the middle of the Emily-seduction one.  (Also plausibly ascribable to Tieck’s irritation with Willy, a kind of salutary antibody thereunto, is Willy’s brother Thomas, who in addition to reciprocating his brother’s piously sentimental pap with witheringly deadpan cynicism also manages to exemplify a kind of peasant who can function as a norm within the novel’s metaphysical ecosystem, at least vis-à-vis the parochial domain of artistic production–namely, the figure of the peasant artist who though ungraced by a liberal education can discourse on his chosen métier [in this case, gardening] as competently as any gentleman practitioner of it.)   

So in short, William Lovell’s claims to both truth and beauty are both significantly vitiated, and the vitiation on both counts is prevailingly attributable to the single vice of laziness.  I have felt doubly duty-bound to identify the crime and the culprit in the light of the heaviness with which the reading of WL I have tendered in the first three-quarters of this essay leans on abrupt or dramatic transformations in certain characters’ utterances and behavior, transformations that I have held to be significant but that are not easily distinguished in kind from the laziness-induced significance-obliterating incongruities I have more lately been disparaging; such that a reader less than sympathetic to my reading can always argue that, what is bad for the goose being equally bad for the gander, these shifts and jerks that I find so pungently salient are yet other signs of the slackness, the negligence, of Tieck’s hold on the old novelistic paintbrush.  Such an unsympathetic reader may argue, for example, that Module III-Emily’s echoing of the imagery of Walter Lovell’s deathbed testimony does not so much point up the paradoxical naivety of an untested prudential worldview as the handiness of wandering zombies to any slapdash dauberly depiction of any sort of delirium.  To this eminently sane demurral only three complementarily sane counter-demurrals may be made: 1) that certain incongruities are less preposterous than others, 2) that certain images, conceits, and observations are intrinsically compelling and therefore immune to vitiation by their context, and 3) that even the most inadequate technique may very well and very often eventuate in perfectly adequate achievements.  To elaborate and exemplify counter-demurral No. 1: a hysterical young woman in the full flower of health may be much less likely than a delirious dying old man to conclude that there are no non-trivial differences between living people and dead ones, but it is surely even less likely that a non-hysterical healthy young woman would devise the comparably extravagant notion of old age as an exfoliated forest.  In other words, while the espousal of extravagant ideas can always be plausibly accounted for by extravagant mental states, it can also always be made to seem impossible in the context of mental placidity. And to E&E C-D No. 2: the notion that there are no non-trivial differences between living people and dead ones may be so unsettling that the general and sustained acceptance of it would bring about the extinction of the human species, but at a certain “vast, cool, and unsympathetic” God’s-eye resolution it is surely true; such that the more often it is articulated within a given text the more nearly or fully true that text will be, regardless of whether the articulator is a delirious dying old man or a hysterical young woman in the full flower of health.  As for Counter-Demurral No. 3, it is simply a restatement of the old New Critical repudiation of the so-called genetic or intentional fallacy.  Given that in this essay I have explicitly second-guessed Ludwig Tieck’s intentions many more times than I have appendages, I cannot very well unreservedly avail myself of the counter-demurral in good faith.  Nonetheless, I believe I can get away with reservedly, judiciously, selectively availing myself of it in conjunction with the other two C-Ds.  Let us let me combine the three C-Ds thus: let us let me say that certain of Tieck’s images, conceits, sentiments, and gambits fairly nearly undoubtedly resulted from genuine insights and were deliberately executed or applied with full(y)-fledged mastery.  Among these master-strokes we may count Walter Lovell’s employment of “the living human world as zombie-fest” conceit and young Lord Burton’s employment of the conceit of “the living human world as autism patient- staffed rug factory.”  In these cases, Tieck is presumably knowingly right on the money vis-à-vis the form of his thoughts, the language in which he clothes them, and the character to whose pen he assigns them.   On other occasions Tieck is quite obviously asleep at the wheel-cum-pen or simply not in the mood and quite brazenly or slovenly-ly misapplies or mis-recycles sentiments or imagery, or introduces characters who gratuitously complicate or abadumbrate his design.  But even from this second category of cases, which seem to exemplify the very nadir of aesthetic worthlessness, we may snatch a glimmer of aesthetic redeemability, and indeed of a kind and degree of truthfulness that Jane Austen’s oeuvre in its entirety, from Sense and Sensibility to Northanger Abbey, can never hope to match.  For the vices instantiated in these second cases are the signature vices of our age—namely…--actually on second thought I shall hold that “namely,” for the reason that the names that I would give these vices are not likely (so I aver from a lofty pinnacle) to be ones that the reader has heard of, and yet they are not so radically different from certain phenomena or concepts that he or she has undoubtedly heard of that I should allow myself to try to pass them off as entirely new coinages.  The most apposite of the certain phenomena or concepts that the reader has undoubtedly heard of is the diminishing (or shrinking) attention span.  And truth be told, I do not know that there are any analytic shortcomings of this phenomenon qua concept that would dissuade me from applying it to Tieck in his less competent phases.  But I have a hunch that the term is too skunked by the event-genres it has tended to designate to be of much use to me here.  It is most often used to describe the state of mind of some person trying to attend to a spectacle of some sort—a play-performance, for example, or a movie-screening, or a television program.  If the spectacle is characterized by or infrequent scene-changes or long takes we say that it requires a heightened (or broad) attention span of the viewer-cum-listener, and we say of a person that he has a diminished (or shrunk) attention span if he cannot meet this requirement—if he quickly becomes bored by such a spectacle, or quickly loses the thread of its argument; if he requires his attention to be sustained by frequent scene-changes or short takes.  Diminished attention span is seldom if ever used to designate lapses occurring over a longer stretch of time than that covered by a five-act play or a feature-length movie.  If during breakfast with a friend I notice him ordering his usual eggs Benedict when I distinctly recall that he vowed last time to “try the steak and eggs for a change,” and I point out the omission to him, he is hardly likely to blame it on his diminished attention span; rather, he will say, “It must have slipped my mind,” or some other morally neutral, non-etiological pseudo-explanation; and, indeed, if last time was closer to a year ago than to a week ago, he may even upbraid me for apparently not having more important things to keep track of than his menu selections.  But at bottom—whatever Ockham’s razor-defying label the neuroscientists may come up with by way of letting us off the hook—the two sorts of lapses—the lapse in remembering what happened ten minutes ago in the movie I am watching and the lapse in remembering what I planned to order for lunch ten months ago—are only different in degree and not at all in kind; and the fact that we regard the two in such radically different lights—that, indeed, we scarcely recognize the second as a lapse at all, suggests that we have long since thrown in the towel on super-long-term attention span diminution, that we are so accustomed to instances of it that we have accepted it as normal and neglected to assimilate it to the obligatory terminological apparatus of neuro-psychology.  Closely allied to the diminution of the super-long-term attention span (and equally illustratable by William Lovell) has been a slackening of volitional necessity, a term invented by the famous American analytic philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt.  Volitional necessity consists in knowing what you want your will to be or in caring about what your will isFrankfurt’s favorite case in illustration of a person governed by volitional necessity is the unwilling addict, the person who is prey to cravings for a certain thing (be it heroin or eggs Benedict) and is sincerely trying not to be a prey to them.  His will may compel him to succumb to these cravings each and every day, but he sincerely wishes his will to be other than what it is—namely, a will that is incapable of succumbing to such cravings.  Our age has witnessed a pandemic slackening of volitional necessity occasioned by the collapse of the distinction between the will and the meta-will—we assume that what we want is what we should want to want, and therefore are content to go on wanting it.  The nature of the implication of the diminution of the super-long-term attention span with the slackening of volitional necessity is, I trust, by now sufficiently plain: I obviously will not manage to control my craving for eggs Benedict if I cannot even be bothered to remember that I have resolved to eat something other than eggs Benedict, and I obviously will not try to remember my resolution to eat something other than eggs Benedict if I do not care whether or not I want to eat eggs Benedict.  Equally plain by now should be the character of the manifestation of both vices in William Lovell, now revealed as the work of a man with a less than solid sense of what he wanted his will to be (hence, for the most part, the introduction of abadumbrating characters and episodes) and a less than attentive eye on keeping his achievements in line with his will (hence, for the most part, the gratuitous and incongruous repetitions).  “In short, William Lovell is in every salient respect interchangeable with every incompetently written book ever published.”  No it is not, because a truly or thoroughly badly written book is unreadable even at the resolution of a single paragraph and often even at the resolution of a single sentence.  In William Lovell, by contrast, even the worst, the most ineptly written, sentences and paragraphs betray their authorship by a born novelist and poet (the comprehensive German term is Dichter), and the majority of the irredeemable passages are irredeemable only in the context of other passages—on their own they may stand as always acceptable and often exemplary specimens of hochromantisch prose.  And even over many hundreds of pages, at the resolution of those multi-book spanning sections that I have termed modules (and to a lesser extent between and among these sections) Tieck shows himself to be capable of great presence of mind (the German term is Besonnenheit).  Only when these various strands, these various constellations, of significance—any one of which would suffice to fill out a Werther or Pride and Prejudice-length novel—are concatenated and overlaid into the Tolstoyan-dimensioned mega-opus that William Lovell actually is, only then, I say does the center cease to hold and is Tieck, the mighty wizard of Lovelland, shown up for the Waterloo-esque little man behind a curtain that he actually is, but that perhaps every novelist, and certainly every novelist whom Tieck survived, has always been.  It is as if Tieck has presented us, first, with a massive case in proof of Balder’s aperçue that no book can be a record of its author’s mind or spirit because the author’s mind or spirit is itself an artificial product (and an adventitiously artificial one at that); and second, with a kind of quantum map or choose-your-own-adventure story of the various itineraries to be pursued by the so-called bourgeois individual or subject over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  Received historiographic opinion would have us believe not only that every gentleman of the high bourgeois epoch was a Module-IV Mortimer, solidly responsive to the exigencies of middle-class domesticity from cradle to grave, but also that he never could have been other than such a figure.  But we Lovellians know better.  We know that he could just as easily have turned into a Freudianism-enlightened libertine à la Module-II William or Rosa, a sort of proto-Hugh Hefner wantonly indulging appetites and drives that he would have delighted in regarding as organically inescapable.  Or with equal aplomb he could have turned into a Module-II Balder, a sort of proto-Deleuzian schizophrenic launched into orbit by the propulsive power of pure rationcination.  And we know all this only because Tieck either could not be bothered to or simply could not full-stop make up his mind or his will about which model of subjectivity-cum-agency was to be the normative one.  The masterpieces of high bourgeois realism, [8] from Austen to James, are undoubtedly in a certain respect far superior to William Lovell inasmuch as they both portray and instantiate a far steadier and more sharply defined Besonnenheit and Zweckmässigkeit (i.e., sense of purpose).  In both the dynamic solidity of their characters and the dynamically solid hold maintained on these characters by their authors, they show us what we children of modernity are capable of at our best—at our most reflective, most dedicated, and most imperturbable.  But they are also dangerous in suggesting to us that merely by imitating the phraseology and gestures of their principal characters—by coyly ribbing our younger contemporaries for lying about their ages, or coldly pointing out to our more impertinent ones that “a gentleman is not obliged to answer such questions”—we can hoist ourselves aloft of the miry bicentennially ancient legacy of bourgeois subjectivity—in other words, they encourage us to aestheticize our lives along a plane that we do not inhabit and have no right to dream of inhabiting because we have not paid our dues in the coalmines of pre-high capitalist asceticism, and have spent our entire lives in the fleshpots of late capitalist sybaritism.  William Lovell, by salutary contrast, à la one of those middle-school health class photographs of a deceased smoker’s lung or driver’s- education movies of the aftermath of a fatal car wreck, presents us with numerous specimens of pre-high capitalist bourgeois subjectivity who did not pay the aforementioned dues in the aforementioned coalmines, in all their consequently jerky, wanton, absent-minded, zombie-esque incoherence; and thereby encourages us latter-day dues-non payers to look within (and without!) ourselves for signs of such incoherence.  And surely not the least hygienic consequence of this exercise, once it has become second nature to us, will be to cure us of all cravings for zombie mash-up novels, for knowing full well by then as we shall do that we are the zombie invaders, we shall surely abjure all further commerce with these invaders in the attitude of frigid indifference that can be engendered only by the prosaically overfamiliar.

[1] For lack of a term of wider currency, I use “romantic” here—as on all other occasions on which it prefaces the word “love”—in the vulgar modern sense significative of “centering on or aiming towards the act of coition.”  I do so in full consciousness of the fact that “romantic” has a welter—some would say rather “rash”—of other, more upmarket, senses, not the least upmarket of which is “having to do with a so-called literary movement instantiated by (among many other more illustrious texts) Ludwig Tieck’s William Lovell.”
[2] Admittedly, William Lovell , in postdating the French revolution, is a few years too new to merit being called a powdered-wig opera.  On the other hand, in antedating Napoleon’s coronation, it is too old to merit being called (à la one of Austen’s novels) a sexy maternity dress opera.
[3] (sic) on the lowercase “S,” Mr. Gates, and to blazes with your squiggly green underscore and the diabolical incahootsness with a certain manufacturer of two-wheeled motor-scooters that it betokens!
[4] Which still is not a motor scooter (and still lacks two wheels).
[5] “Mephistophelean.”
[6] I confess I do not know what to make of the bizarre fact that William and his Sancho share a Christian name, or of the fact that at no point in the novel is any trace of a fuss made about this fact.
[7] Most of William Lovell’s English proper names—along with a few of its French ones—can be found in Shakespeare.  For example, “Lovell” is the surname of a courtier in Henry VIII, Mortimer is the Percy-sponsored pretender to the English throne in I Henry IV, and Count Melun is an officer of the Dauphin’s army in King John.  On the rare occasions on which Tieck strays from the Shakespearean corpus and coins his own names, the results (e.g., “Bosring” and “Waterhall”) are none too convincing, “more like to Dutch than to English,” as William Caxton said of the English of the Anglo-Saxons. 
[8] By “high bourgeois realism” I mean that sub-current of bourgeois realism that makes no bones about excluding the lower classes from its bailiwick.  It should go without saying that many of the big contributors to the broader current—e.g., Balzac and Dickens–do not participate in this sub-current.

1 comment:

marcellous said...

Omg, that was a "mightily long paragraph" indeed. Don't you ever think that shorter paragraphs would be easier to read, especially on screen?

Still digesting your Gould/Rosen article at present, but would offer one point of contrast from afar:

I've read lots of things Rosen has written, but never heard anything he has played. I've read a few things Gould has written, but inevitably heard a lot of what he recorded (which is not really quite the same as what he played.)

And I dare to suggest that amongst the musically even-a-bit-read, I'm not atypical.