Very brief notes on : Hölderlin, F. (1980)  Hyperion or the Hermit in Greece. Trans. Ross Benjamin. New York: Archipelago Books

Dave Harris

[Holderlin 1770--1843 was largely unrecognized in his time. He was mostly a poet and Hyperion is his only novel. He was eventually much admired by Hegel and Schelling , his classmates, and then by Nietzsche and Heidegger. Like Nietzsche, he died insane. He was also appropriated by the Nazis. D&G mention him in several places too. E.g. in Difference and Repetition,  apparently D and G liked the Romantics because they saw the importance of Nature in constituing selves etc, or so says Sellars)

The whole piece is a strange epistolary effort {one of the qualities D&G admire} , correspondence between Hyperion a Greek youth and Bellarmin, a German friend, we are told. There are other letters to his male friends (Adamas, Alabanda and  and his love, Diotima. The story runs backwards to recount the adventures of Hyperion.

Basically, it is about Hyperion's incorrigible romantic gaze,where he wanders round bits of Greece (in imagination -- apparently Holderlin had never actually visited). He enthuses about the landscapes and the beauty of Nature and that, hence its 'elegaic', 'romantic' and actually 'Pietist'  style. Nietzsche also described it as 'musical', maybe referring to the actual noises made in the sentences ( it was written in German) or to the imagery. He also liked the alternating light and dark tones.

Actually, they strike me as absurd and laughable. Hyperion is so romantic, so prone to ecstassy that it is really no surprise that his loves let him down. He suspects Adamas of mocking him (probably rightly -- who wouldn't), and splits with Alabanda after they quarrel on a walk. He bins Diotima because he wants to do something even more romantic --fight in a Greek uprising (aided by Russia) against the Turks. After an initial phase, to no-one's surprise, he finds war horrible and barbaric and his noble soldiers turn into looters. He decides to throw himself into the fighting, bids Diotima farewell,  and narrowly survives when his Russian ship is blown up. War brings him back to Alabanda, but Diotima dies in the interim and he never makes it back to reunite with her --just as well; they would come to hate each other when they found that gazing at landscapes didn't get the domestic labour done.

Eventually, Hyperion travels to Germany, but is far from impressed by the coarseness of the German 'barbarians', divided among themselves, obsessed with trade, 'a glittering evil' (207) and so on.  It is quite a rant!

The philosophy is made explicit in a couple of pages right in the middle:

The man...  who has not at least once in his life felt full, pure beauty in himself when the powers of his being played into one another like the colors in a rainbow, who has never experienced how, only in hours of enthusiasm, or is in the most intimate accord, this man will not even be a philosophical skeptic...  For, believe me, the skeptic finds contradiction and flaw in all that is thought only because he knows the harmony of flawless beauty, which is never thought.

The great word of Heraclitus [in Greek, translated as 'the one differentiated in itself'], this only a Greek could find, for it is the essence of beauty, and before this was found, there was no philosophy.

Now one could designate; the whole was there.  The flower had ripened; one could now dissect (109).

The moment of beauty had now been made known among men, was there in life and spirit; the infinitely united was.

One could take it apart, divide it up in thoughts, could think the divided together anew, could thus know more and more the essence of the highest and best and set what one knew into law in the spirit's manifold domains (110)

But from mere intellect has come nothing intelligent, from mere reason nothing rational.

Intellect without beauty of spirit is like a subservient journeyman who constructs the fence of coarse wood as sketched out for him, and nails the carpentered posts together for the garden that the master shall cultivate.  The whole business of the intellect is makeshift.  It protects us from senselessness, from injustice, by establishing order; but to be safe from senselessness and injustice is not the highest level of human excellence.

Reason without beauty of spirit and heart is like an overseer whom the lord of the house has set over the serfs; he knows as little as the serfs what shall come of all the endless work.  (111)

From mere intellect comes no philosophy, for philosophy is more than the limited knowledge of what exists.

From mere reason comes no philosophy, for philosophy is more than the blind demand for an interminable progress in the unification and differentiation of a particular material.  (112)

Benjamin's Postscript says that we can see in these ideas the seeds of the Hegelian dialectic, and, via Schelling, those of German idealism generally.  I think the links with Nietzsche are also pretty obvious, and Hyperion could well be a slightly more poetic Zarathustra, with the same mood swings between ecstasy and disappointment with the material, and the same admiration for the Greeks.  Thinking of links with Nietzsche, I'm not really surprised that Holderlin found himself associated with the Nazis, despite his apparent contempt for the Germans of the time – after all, Hitler had a lot of contempt for actual Germans too, who were always failing to live up to the Aryan ideal.  Fascist undertones always accompany this kind of irrational admiration for emotions and romance, in my view.  And more respectable kinds of elitism too, of course: only proper gentlemen [sic] are capable of these higher feelings, the life of the emotions is what characterizes a civilized person, and in particular, a barrier should be drawn between those who can appreciate beauty, and those mere functionaries of intellect who were staking their claims.