Posts Tagged ‘René Girard’

And speaking of Proust … another wonderful quotation on the anniversary of his death

Monday, November 19th, 2018

Luftmensch Paul Holdengräber is on a roll with Marcel Proust, and we posted his quote on the anniversary of the French author’s 1922 death yesterday. He followed up with this one today, and we couldn’t resist reposting it (see below). The reason: we use the same citation at the tail-end of the introduction to Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard:

Why? Why? Why?

I had a more modest view of my book and it would be incorrect to say even that I was thinking of those who might read it as ‘my readers.’ For, to my mind, they would not be my readers but the very readers of themselves, my book serving only as a sort of magnifying glass, such as the optician of Combray used to off er to a customer; my book might supply the means by which they could read themselves. So that I would not ask them to praise me or to speak ill of me, but only to tell me that it is as I say,if the words which they read within themselves are, indeed, those which I have written.

The translation I used was by the matchless Richard Macksey, a colleague of René Girard’s at Johns Hopkins University.

Incidentally, the whole introduction to Evolution of Desire was published in America Magazine over the weekend here. Notre Dame published it earlier, and it was linked in Hacker News, here. (Several people wondered why Artur Sebastian Rosman picked a golden image for the article, entitled “Golden Thoughts for a Nuclear Age” – you might note that it’s the “Mask of Agamemnon,” one of the findings of Heinrich Schliemann at the Troy excavation, an archaeological adventure described in the first paragraph of my intro.)

René Girard, meet the techies: Evolution of Desire climbs the charts at Hacker News.

Saturday, November 10th, 2018

Even though the Book Haven lives in the heart of Silicon Valley, we generally avoid the sphere of computer nerds and techies, except when we need our Macbook Pro repaired or have to figure out why we are getting spammed. But every so often, we get something that sends us into this brave new world.  So it was with yesterday’s news on Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard.

Artur gave me the heads-up.

It began when I received a Facebook message from Artur Rosman at 6 a.m.: “Happy news, a techie link picked up your book excerpt that we ran earlier this year. It has 1,700 hits today so far. You’re going to crash our site!”

He was referring to the introduction to Evolution of Desire, which was excerpted on a Notre Dame University journal as “Golden Thoughts from a Nuclear Age” here. The techie link was an unknown website to both of us, but that’s what Wikipedia is for. I looked up Hacker News there:

Hacker News is a social news website focusing on computer science and entrepreneurship. It is run by Paul Graham‘s investment fund and startup incubator, Y Combinator. In general, content that can be submitted is defined as “anything that gratifies one’s intellectual curiosity”.

The site was created by Paul Graham in February 2007. Initially it was called Startup News or occasionally News.YC. On August 14, 2007, it became known by its current name. It developed as a project of his company Y Combinator, functioning as a real-world application of the Arc programming language which Graham co-developed.

Paul Graham turns out to be kind of a big deal. Computer scientist, entrepreneur, venture capitalist, author and essayist.

But meanwhile, back in Indiana, Artur was beginning to panic. The numbers kept climbing minute by minute. He was pondering whether he should take the page down quickly so the server wouldn’t go boom. It didn’t, but meanwhile it quickly racked up 2,700 visits in a few short hours.

Paul gave us the lift-off.

Faithful Book Haven reader George Jansen, who runs a terrific blog 20011 (we’ve added it to our blogroll), also saw us on Hacker News. “I was going to post about this on my own blog, but then figured that you should get first dibs.” We let him go first.

From his blogpost: “I often check the Hacker News to see what topics interest the tech world. Perhaps 60% of the linked items have to do with computing, science, or mathematics, another 20% to do with politics or economics, and the remainder can be curiously assorted. Over the last couple of days a link to an article about whether Nero killed Agrippina has been in the first few pages.

“Though I do now and then see them, I don’t go to Hacker News looking for links to pieces about the humanities. I was surprised, then, today to see what was evidently an item by Cynthia Haven about René Girard on the first page… A sometime co-worker has made it to the first page of Hacker News a few times. However, his blog mostly has to do with old computer hardware, which suits what I take to be the interests of most of the Hacker News readership. I am interested to see that the techies find mimetic desire so well worth reading and arguing about.”

In the Hacker News comment section, Oliver Jones urged people to read the article over at Notre Dame: “Our trade is strongly influenced by René Girard’s understanding of competitive mimetic desire and its violence. Why? The people who organize the ad-driven internet know all about Girard. Peter Thiel invested in Facebook because he saw its potential for harnessing mimetic desire to drive engagement. (reference:…)

“Facebook-style social media is addictive precisely because of the fear of not being as good as ‘friends.’ Mimetic desire is the the human yearning behind the Fear of Missing Out. Driving engagement is most effective when it exploits that fear. It works very well indeed. Other attempts at building social media networks (Stack Overflow, Linked In, Slack, for example) try to avoid that exploitation. They try to use other motivators than FOMO [“Fear of Missing Out” to the rest of us. – CH] to drive engagement. Can they be successful without overusing mimetic desire? It’s the key question they must answer to be successful. The obligatory panel of customer logos just below the fold on SaaS landing pages engages mimetic desire in IT buyers. ‘Wow! Schwab uses this! I want to be like Schwab!’ It’s benign in these cases.

“Girard offers a good unifying framework for understanding the human nature behind all sorts of marketing work. Convincing people their hair is ablaze and offering them ways to put it out is the heart of building new businesses. Getting people to set each others’ hair on fire, then putting it out, is the holy grail of new businesses.

“It’s no accident that Silicon Valley employs that framework in lots of ways: he was a scholar at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. [He wasn’t – CH.] It can be a hard slog to learn about him. But it’s worth your trouble.”

I hope I’ve made the job a little easier for Oliver and the others with Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard. Meanwhile, read the whole discussion here. It includes the best quote ever from Peter Thiel, who studied with René at Stanford: “To believe yourself invested with divine self-sufficiency is not the mark of a strong individual, but of a person who has mistaken the crowd’s worship – or jeering – for the truth. The single greatest danger for a founder is to become so certain of his own myth that he loses his mind. But an equally insidious danger for every business is to lose all sense of myth and mistake disenchantment for wisdom.”

The excerpted introduction to Evolution of Desire, “Golden Thoughts for a Nuclear Age” is here.

Postscript: Speaking of signal honors, I received this Facebook comment, from another gentle reader, Marianne Bacon: “Cynthia, we are re-reading your book. Aloud. I am absorbing much more deeply and we are both loving it!”

A wise and timely note from Gandhi on election day…

Monday, November 5th, 2018

A note from my friend George Dunn, via Facebook, writing all the way from Ningbo, China:

Here’s a new New Yorker essay from Age of Anger author Pankaj Mishra, in which he argues for the contemporary relevance of Mahatma Gandhi. His importance, according to Mishra, lies not just in his elevation of non-violence as political tactic, but also in his critique of modern liberalism. He saw self-restraint and the imposition of ethical limits, rather than the celebration of individual liberty and the emancipation of human desire, as the foundations of a healthy political community. He clearly saw that a society predicated on self-exaltation and the perpetual manufacturing of new desires was courting disaster.

“At every point,” writes Mishra, “Gandhi still upends modern assumptions, insisting on the primacy of self-sacrifice over self-interest, individual obligations over individual rights, renunciation over consumption, and dying over killing.”

Like René Girard, he believed that the alternative to self-sacrifice was sacrificing others. And, like Girard, his principle teachers were the Western religious tradition and contemporary thinkers who had been deeply shaped by it.

But what makes Gandhi’s thought especially timely is the understanding of truth and dialogue contained in his doctrine of Satyagraha. In addition to encouraging humility and obliging us always to remain open to the possibility that we may be wrong and our adversaries right, it entails the recognition that “we shall always see truth in fragments and from different angles of vision.” Understood in this way, Satyagraha leaves no room whatsoever for moral or political dogmatism. Can we imagine a world where our progressive activists and devoted conservatives take that lesson to heart?

Read the article here.

“The book is alive!”: more plaudits for Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard

Monday, October 22nd, 2018

René Girard in my 2008 interview with him. (Youtube)



It’s not every day that we make an appearance at the Académie Française. In fact, this is probably the closest opportunity we’re going to have in this lifetime. So let us make the most of it.

Last week, the medieval scholar Michel Zink was formally received into the Académie, founded in 1635 by Richelieu. He will occupy Chair No. 37, vacant since the death of his predecessor, René Girard in November 2015. As I wrote, it is customary to offer a tribute to his predecessor. I wrote about René’s Girard’s own éloge for Father Ambrose-Marie Carré, in Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard. Zink’s tribte for Stanford’s Girard was highly praised – you can read it here.

But we were startled to hear that Evolution of Desire made an appearance in the talk, and so did your humble servant:

See? It’s there. Meanwhile, the good news kept pouring in last week:

James Winchell‘s article in the Jewish magazine Tablet could have been entitled, “How René Girard converted me to Judaism,” but instead it’s called, “The Brilliant French Literary Critic Who Revealed my Judaism.” It begins:

The publication of Cynthia Haven’s full-dress biography of René Girard, a major figure in the “French invasion” that  stormed the beaches of American academe across the final decades of the last millennium, marks a notable event on many fronts: academic, professional, literary, philosophical; and for some individuals among generations of students world-wide, deeply personal. In my case, that means religious.


Thanks to a series of synchronicities that I will never fully grasp, I served for five years as Girard’s junior colleague, having earned my first tenure-track post as assistant professor of French at Stanford University (1988-93), where the brilliant Catholic thinker occupied a Distinguished Chair in the department of French and Italian, and influenced, among many other students, Peter Thiel. My subsequent decision—seven years and another university later—to become a Jew-by-choice was significantly informed by Girard, whose writings, colleagueship, and friendship informed the ongoing, gradual uncovering of the pre-existing Judaism that I had already intuited within myself.

During my five years at Stanford, having my office directly across the hall from René Girard’s and being able to hang out, have meals with him, and to sit in on his classes, I learned more about the Torah and Tanakh from him than I had from any other source.

He concludes: “Cynthia Haven’s mind-altering biography of this towering figure in 20th-century thought brings so much new information, and so many interpretive insights, that it’s hard to imagine any full-service public library, not to mention any academic collection, without a copy. The book is alive.” From your lips to God’s ears, James!

Winchell’s piece is smart and quirky and fun. Read the whole thing for yourself here.



Meanwhile, M.D. Aeschliman in The National Review also ran a long review of my book – the alpha and the omega, taking us through Dante, Derrida, Dostoevsky, Tom Wolfe, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Here’s the alpha: “Cynthia L. Haven’s outstanding new biographical and critical study, Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard, is a brilliant survey of his life and thought.”

Here’s the Omega: “Cynthia Haven’s fine book on Girard is both brilliant cultural criticism and exquisite intellectual history, and an edifying biographical and ethical tale, providing a philosophical vision of a world beyond monkey-like mimicries and manias that demoralize, dispirit, and dehumanize the contemporary human person. It deserves wide notice and careful reading in a time of massive and pervasive attention-deficit disorder.”

And somewhere from beta to psi: “Girard in Mensonge romantique [i.e., Deceit, Desire, and the Novel – CH] grants that competitive envy is the very social-psychological motor that drives “enlightened,” atheistic modern personal and social life. ‘At the heart of the book,’ Cynthia Haven writes, ‘is our endless imitation of each other. Imitation is inescapable.’ And she continues: ‘When it comes to metaphysical desire — which Girard describes as desires beyond simple needs and appetites — what we imitate is vital, and why.’ We are inevitably afflicted with ‘mimetic desires,’ first of parents and siblings, then of peers, rivals, and chosen role models, and these desires endlessly drive and agitate us, consciously and unconsciously, causing anxiety and ‘ontological sickness.’”

Read the whole thing here.

Meanwhile, from Twitter:

Buffalo’s “French Connection” with René Girard

Tuesday, October 16th, 2018

Albert Cook and René Girard at a party at Arts & Sciences Provost John Sullivan’s home, 1974. (Photo: Bruce Jackson)

René Girard makes an appearance at Buffalo – and so does my Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard.  Jeff Klein’s article in the current issue of  the university’s newspaper, Mixed Media, recounts  “when Girard, Foucault and a coterie of intellectuals revolutionized the American academy” at the State University of New York at Buffalo. That was where René wrote Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World with Jean-Michel Oughourlian. (The short piece is linked to this Thursday’s conference on “Transatlantic Crossroads of a Critical Insurrection.” Read about it here.)

An excerpt:

A generation ago, an intellectual revolution challenged traditional assumptions about Western culture, transforming academia. That revolution was sparked by a vanguard of deep-thinking French scholars— and UB was on the front lines.

A new book, “Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard,” recounts the career of one of those thinkers, a historian, critic and philosopher of social science who taught at UB from 1968 to 1976. Girard wrote exclusively in French [he later wrote Theater of Envy and some of his essays in English – CH], producing more than two dozen works delineating his theories on the origins of violence and ritual in human behavior. One of his most influential, written largely while at UB, is “Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World.” It has the odd distinction of resulting from a series of profound philosophical dialogues conducted at a hotel in Cheektowaga.

Buffalo Prof. Bruce Jackson documented the era with a number of terrific photos. Something not to be taken lightly. I find that René looked uncomfortable in most of his pictures – academics often do. They’re not fashion models, after all. In many of his photos, he looks like he’s following the photographer’s instructions – “You want me to stand a little to the left?” Bruce caught him “at ease” among his colleagues, as in the photo above with Al Cook. Bruce generously allowed me to use a few of his images in my book. It’s a valuable record, and so are his articles, which I quote in Evolution of Desire:

“For at least a decade, the UB English department was the most interesting English department in the country,” recalled Bruce Jackson, who joined the faculty in 1967. “Other universities had the best English departments for history or criticism or philology or whatever. But UB was the only place where it all went on at once: hot-center and cutting-edge scholarship and creative writing, literary and film criticism, poem and play and novel writing, deep history and magazine journalism.” A constant flow of visitors guaranteed intellectual circulation and fresh air, whether the guests stayed for a day or a year. The department had seventy-five full-time faculty teaching everything from literature and philosophy to film and art and folklore. “Looking back on it from the end of the century, knowing what I now know about other English departments in other universities in those years, I can say there was not a better place to be.”

The legendary architect behind the effort was Prof. Albert Cook, who was determined to create a department of leading stars and critics. Jackson described him as “a man in constant motion, forever talking or reading or writing. . . . He was a presence . . . He never seemed to change. Other people got older, paunchier, balder, slower, but Al Cook was always Al Cook. He transcended the physical. He was medium height, big in the chest, always scheming. Al was my idea of what Odysseus looked like.” By the time he recruited Girard, he had already finished his three-year term as department chair but was still a guiding hand and go-between in recruiting academic luminaries. Few places could have been as ideal for Girard.

Thank you, Bruce.

TLS readers respond: Hölderlin’s Greece, and René Girard on pacifism

Saturday, October 6th, 2018

Watchful Book Haven readers alerted me to letters that have been published at the Times Literary Supplement, touching on subjects we have written about in the past. Two are in the September 28 letters column of the eminent weekly!

The first, forwarded to us by Elizabeth Conquest, concerns the recent TLS piece on my Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard. Read about it here.) Was René Girard a pacifist? It’s a subject I tackle in the postscript of my book:

René Girard is not a pacifist. That was the word I received from Paul Caringella, a friend and longtime visiting fellow at Stanford, who had been the first reader for this book. He had sent me a quick note of correction to an early draft of this manuscript, which he thought might lead readers to that erroneous conclusion.

I had not put Girard in quite those terms, but once the issue came up, I realized I had made certain assumptions. Given Girard’s emphasis on the renunciation of violence and his warnings about the “escalation to extremes,” it stands to reason that he would advocate disarmament and pacifism. How could one sanction any participation in the calamity of war, the inevitable atrocities and injustices, the destruction of cities, the “collateral damage” as
civilians are pulled into the slaughter, the unstable and temporary peace that follows? “René doesn’t belong to any ‘ism.’ He’s not an ‘ism’ man,” Paul later explained. “People of his stature are not going to be put in classifications like that.”

David Martin of Woking, Surrey, takes on the question with his own example of the complicated relationship between pacifism and violence. Many thanks, once again, to Liddie for the heads-up.


We had also written about Elizabeth Powers, concerning her review of  Friedrich Hölderlin’s Life, Poetry and Madness, which has just been republished by Hesperus Press (translated by Will Stone).

She had written:

Although the inspiration came from the Greece-drenched enthusiasm of Winckelmann and Goethe, the ancient divinities were not, for Hölderlin, allegories or personifications, to be converted in art. Rather, prophet-like, he sought to bring them back to life in order to regenerate a world that, he felt, had grown old and lost its way. His earliest poems, from 1791, express the darkness of the world without such rejuvenation. “Half of Life,” however, published in 1804, without any Greek poetic apparatus, intimated where his own life was heading:

But oh, where shall I find
When winter comes, the flowers, and where
The Sunshine and shade of the earth?
The walls loom
Speechless and cold, in the wind
Weathercocks clatter

(Michael Hamburger’s translation)

Kyriaco Nikias of the University of Adelaide wrote a letter about the various rewritings of the Greeks – also included at right. Thanks to Elizabeth Powers for passing this along!

A René Girard twofer in the LRB: Evolution of Desire and Battling to the End

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2018

A pleasant vision on my return to California: both Elizabeth Conquest and Ronald Meyer of the Harriman Institute sent me a jpeg of the back page of the current edition of the London Review of Books. 

Couldn’t be more pleased to share space with Benoît Chantre‘s excellent Battling to the End, which I discuss at length in Evolution of Desire: A Life of René GirardMake it a twofer and order both books at once.

Celebrating “Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard” in NYC

Tuesday, September 25th, 2018

Gathered for a discussion of books, poetry, literature, and culture…

The Book Haven has lapsed into an unaccustomed silence. That’s because we’ve been on the road. We’ve reconnected with friends and allies in New York, based at the hospitable Westchester home of Izabella Barry, who hosted a celebration for Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard on Sunday. Old friends were in attendance – the Polish poet and professor Anna Frajlich and the Russian poet and screenwriter Helga Landauer, and the photographer Zygmunt Malinowski who has guest posted on the Book Haven. New friends were there, too: the poet Kathryn Levy.

With poet Anna Frajlich…

Irena Grudzińska Gross was the moderator for my interview– I lucky on that on that score, the author of Czeslaw Milosz and Joseph Brodsky: Fellowship of Poets is a matchless scholar and human being. We ended the interview with a discussion of my forthcoming ‘The Spirit of the Place’: Czesław Miłosz in CaliforniaAs Sunday afternoon crawled into evening, we flicked on the lights, poured more wine, and continued to discuss literature, poetry, culture.

Now I’m hunkered in Yale’s Beinecke Library. I’m finding some gems among the archives, like this one, from Czesław Miłosz, which seems appropriate for the times: “Textbooks of history tell us about crusades, about burning heretics and religious wars. All that pales in comparison with what the twentieth century demonstrated. Uncounted millions of human beings were killed not in the name of religion but in the name of lay fanaticisms and politics, that is, in a struggle for power. By the same token a belief in the moral progress of humanity was undermined, that belief so dear to our ancestors of the nineteenth century when it strangely, against logic, coexisted with the theory of evolution advanced by biologists. Technological progress did not make man a better being, on the contrary; and now we must admit that we know nothing as to where our species drifts, for goodness and purity of heart are as proper to it as the worst monstrosity.”

Is this man the “godfather of like”? The TLS thinks so. Praise for Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard

Thursday, September 13th, 2018

A screenshot from one of our conversations, now on Youtube.

Nothing like a mid-week surprise to add some luster to the daily routine, and we got one this week with a long, wise, and insightful essay on Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard in the brand-new issue of the Times Literary Supplement. 

The reviewer, Jonathan Benthall, is a former director of the Royal Anthropological Institute (1974-2000) and founding editor of Anthropology Today. So, un très grand merci to the smart anthropologist and the TLS.

He begins:

No drama. (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

There were dramatic contexts to the development of René Girard’s ambitious thinking about violence and conflict. Some bleak years as a student in Paris, where he had moved from Avignon, his birthplace, near the end of the German occupation, followed by liberation and the épuration, in the course of which some 20,000 women suspected of collaboration had their heads publicly shaved. A year (1952–3) spent teaching French literature at Duke University, North Carolina, just before the United States Supreme Court ruling that segregated education was unconstitutional. A professorship (1968–76) at the State University of New York, Buffalo, which was a focus of campus  protest against the Vietnam war. But his biographer Cynthia L. Haven notes Girard’s “affectless reaction” to such experiences. He never intervened in politics. He and his wife Martha, an American from the Midwest, were a devoted “no-drama couple” until his death at the age of ninety-four in 2015 in Stanford, California, where they had made their home since 1981. [Actually, he died at 91 – ED.]

Given the apparent serenity of Girard’s personal life, Haven, a colleague at Stanford University and a close family friend, might have confined herself to hagiography. Readership would have been guaranteed among the six or more associations and foundations set up to promote and develop Girard’s work internationally, producing an extensive secondary literature across many academic disciplines: not merely history and literary criticism, his starting points, but also religious studies and all the human sciences. Fortunately Haven’s Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard is exemplary in its sensitivity.

She expresses openly her affection and admiration for her friend, who comes across as more of a teasing humorist than his public persona might suggest. Yet she recognizes the various intellectual arguments against Girard and the girardiens. Her readers are challenged but left free to make up their own minds.

Well, you can read the rest here, but it’s behind a paywall.

You may wonder on the title: “Godfather of Like.” Benthall explains: “One of Girard’s students at Stanford was Peter Thiel, now a billionaire philanthropist, who credits Girard with his decision to make a key initial investment in Facebook: Girard has been called ‘the godfather of the Like button’.” Well then, he has a lot to answer for.

Benthall makes a couple missteps on details. For example, René’s writings didn’t take hold in the Solidarity days and Velvet Revolution of Eastern Europe because “Christianity was under attack,” or at least not only, but primarily because the mechanisms of conflict, violence, and scapegoating were everywhere apparent to the Poles, the Czechs, the Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians as communism rule was overthrown.

He concludes:

In the years since his death, political developments in many countries have resonated increasingly with his scapegoating model. Girard’s seriousness and range assure him of a posthumous following, not necessarily limited to fellow Christians. One admirer, interviewed by Haven, spoke of his work as “like a rock: it will be there and it will last”. But there will be dissenters. In old age, he confessed to “academic narcissism”, a self-diagnosis that hits his own fingernail on the head. Moreover, though in some ways a most perceptive reader (having been trained in historical sciences at the École Nationale des chartes), he treated language as a vehicle for ideas and showed no interest in the craftsmanship of words – as noted by Haven, who herself writes with acuity and wit. Reading Girard’s publications is indeed like climbing a rocky promontory, but only to find at the summit a road and a coach park. Those not yet ready for the climb on foot may take advantage of a stimulating drive to the top in Cynthia Haven’s air-conditioned Californian limousine.

I’d settle for this.

I’d quibble a bit at that, too: René’s writings are enormously polished and droll – but I’d never heard him admire a passage of Proust for the loveliness of his prose, or Hölderlin’s poem for a masterful image, rather than the concepts behind them.  But it’s the closing image tickles me.

Moi. An air-conditioned limousine? I would have settled for a nice little silver Citroën, skirting the circular highway around Avignon’s ramparts.

Was Hölderlin nuts? The jury is out. Maybe.

Tuesday, September 11th, 2018

He preoccupied interesting men.

One statement had been repeatedly spray-painted onto a turret in Tübingen, beginning way back in 1981, as an unusually bitter winter warmed into spring. Over the years, the words, in Swabian dialect and usually written in the old Sütterlin script, became a part of the tourist attraction, so no one scrubs off the paint anymore. “Der Hölderlin isch et verrückt gwae” translates roughly into “Hölderlin wasn’t nuts.”

The insanity of Friedrich Hölderlin (1770–1843), who died in obscurity but who has since become a towering presence in German poetry, had long been accepted—so the idea that he was in his right mind was still a minority opinion. But the cause found an unlikely champion in René Girard. He had never taken much of an interest in poetry, except for a short-lived interest in Saint-John Perse at the beginning of his career. He would finish his life with Hölderlin.

So begins the fourteenth chapter of Evolution of Desire: A Life of René GirardAnd my point was, well, René Girard really thought Hölderlin wasn’t nuts. But he wasn’t the only man to round out his life with the German poet. A fellow poet, Wilhelm Waiblinger, was another.

Waiblinger visited the older poet and wrote a record of his visits. Friedrich Hölderlin’s Life, Poetry and Madness has just been republished by Hesperus Press (translated by Will Stone) – the the third time the Waiblinger biography has been translated in recent years.

Elizabeth Powers writes about him in “When Winter Comes: A Poet’s Descent into a ‘Twilight Existence,'” in the August 21 Time Literary Supplement, where it shares a smashing double-page spread with Hans Christian Andersen and Sigrid Unset.

René Girard’s life story was long and unusually serene. The Waiblinger story, however, didn’t have a happy ending. Waiblinger’s misfortune and mishaps ended the life of “a man of considerable native refinement, unworldly sensibility, and an absolute lack of self-parody,” according to Powers.

She writes:

Like many German writers, Waiblinger was the son of a parson. By 1822, when he was eighteen, he too displayed considerable gifts in the Greek and Latin classics and began to study philosophy and theology at the same Tübingen seminary where Hölderlin had studied alongside Hegel and Schelling. Waiblinger was ambitious and not lacking in self-belief, but it was the age of Metternich, a quiet time for geniuses. He began to visit Hölderlin regularly, perhaps drawn by a perceived relationship between the genius and madness. (Hesse’s “In Pressel’s Garden House” of 1914 charmingly recreates one of their outings.) The visits ceased when Waiblinger was expelled from the seminary in 1826 for apparently reprehensible conduct. He departed for Rome where he wrote accounts of Italian sites and a novella called “The British in Rome”, as well as transcribing the notes he had made of his visits to Hölderlin. Having climbed Etna and contracted malaria in the Pontine marshes, he suffered a lung infection. Eight haemorrhages and fourteen bloodlettings later, Waiblinger died in Rome in 1830 at the age of twenty-six and was buried near Keats and Shelley in the Protestant Cemetery. Friedrich Hölderlins Leben, Dichtung und Wahnsinn was published a year later.

The link is here, but it’s behind a paywall. Enjoy the first one-and-a-half paragraphs, then look for the August 21 Times Literary Supplement, with Andersen and Unset thrown in for good measure.