Saturday, June 9, 2007

Gretchen-Frage (Inconvenient Question)

There is an idiom in German called "Gretchen-Frage". In a nutshell, posing a "Gretchen-Frage" ("Gretchen's Question") means to ask something crucial (for the questioner) and inconvenient (for the questioned), i.e., a question which the respondent might not like to answer directly. In addition to the inconvenience aspect, it is also implied, I think, that the question is "big". Let's see how it came about: In Goethe's Faust, the studied Dr. Faust, aided by Mephisto with whom he made a certain pact, falls in love with the much less studied, younger, conservative, innocent, catholic young woman called Margaret (aka "Gretchen"). Here is what she asks him:

Promise me, Heinrich.

Whatever I can.

How is it with your religion? Please admit--
Your certainly a very good man,
But I believe you don't think much of it.

Leave that my child. I love you, do not fear
And would give all for those whom I hold dear,
Would not rob anyone of church or creed.

That is not enough, it is faith we need.

Do we?

Oh that I had some influence!
You don't respect the holy sacraments.

I do respect them.

But without desire.
The mass and confession you do not require.
Do you believe in God?

My darling who may say
I believe in God?
Ask priests and sages, their reply
Looks like sneers at mock and prod
The one who asked the question.

Then you deny him there?

Do not mistake me, you who are so fair.
Him--who may name?
And who proclaim:
I believe in him?
Who may feel,
Who dare reveal
In words: I believe him not?
The All-Embracing,
The All-Sustaining,
Does he not embrace and sustain
You, me, himself?
Does not the heaven vault above?
Is the earth not firmly based down here?
And do not, friendly,
Eternal stars rise?
Do we not look into each other's eyes,
And all in you is surging
To your head and heart,
And weaves in timeless mystery,
Unseeable, yet seem, around you?
Then let it fill your heart entirely,
And when your rapture in this feeling is complete,
Call it then what you will,
Call it bliss! heart! love! God!
I do not have a name
For this. Feeling is all;
Names are but sound and smoke
Befogging heaven's blazes.

Those are fair and noble phrases;
The priest says something, too, like what you spoke--
Only his words are not quite so--

Wherever you go,
All hearts under the heavenly day
Say it, each in its own way;
Why not I in mine?

When one listens to you, one might incline
To let it pass--but I can't agree,
For you have no Christianity.

OK, so much for that :)
And here the same in the original German. If you please.

Der Tragoedie erster Teil

Marthens Garten

Margarete. Faust.

Versprich mir, Heinrich!

Was ich kann!

Nun sag, wie hast du's mit der Religion?
Du bist ein herzlich guter Mann,
Allein ich glaub, du haeltst nicht viel davon.

Lass das, mein Kind! Du fuehlst, ich bin dir gut;
Fuer meine Lieben liess' ich Leib und Blut,
Will niemand sein Gefuehl und seine Kirche rauben.

Das ist nicht recht, man muss dran glauben.

Muss man?

Ach! wenn ich etwas auf dich konnte! Du ehrst auch nicht die heil'gen

Ich ehre sie.

Doch ohne Verlangen. Zur Messe, zur Beichte bist du lange nicht gegangen.
Glaubst du an Gott?

Mein Liebchen, wer darf sagen: Ich glaub an Gott?
Magst Priester oder Weise fragen,
Und ihre Antwort scheint nur Spott
Ueber den Frager zu sein.

So glaubst du nicht?

Misshoer mich nicht, du holdes Angesicht!
Wer darf ihn nennen?
Und wer bekennen:
"Ich glaub ihn!"?
Wer empfinden,
Und sich unterwinden
Zu sagen: "Ich glaub ihn nicht!"?
Der Allumfasser,
Der Allerhalter,
Fasst und erhaelt er nicht
Dich, mich, sich selbst?
Woelbt sich der Himmel nicht da droben?
Liegt die Erde nicht hier unten fest?
Und steigen freundlich blickend
Ewige Sterne nicht herauf?
Schau ich nicht Aug in Auge dir,
Und draengt nicht alles
Nach Haupt und Herzen dir,
Und webt in ewigem Geheimnis
Unsichtbar sichtbar neben dir?
Erfuell davon dein Herz, so gross es ist,
Und wenn du ganz in dem Gefuehle selig bist,
Nenn es dann, wie du willst,
Nenn's Glueck! Herz! Liebe! Gott
Ich habe keinen Namen
Dafuer! Gefuehl ist alles;
Name ist Schall und Rauch,
Umnebelnd Himmelsglut.

Das ist alles recht schoen und gut;
Ungefaehr sagt das der Pfarrer auch,
Nur mit ein bisschen andern Worten.

Es sagen's allerorten
Alle Herzen unter dem himmlischen Tage,
Jedes in seiner Sprache;
Warum nicht ich in der meinen?

Wenn man's so hoert, moecht's leidlich scheinen,
Steht aber doch immer schief darum;
Denn du hast kein Christentum.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Tip of the Moonth: Your Spatio-Temporal Path through the Universe

If neither Google calendar, nor regularly occurring events such as 'the weekend' (as it used to be known), nor the seasons give you a sense of how you are moving through the 4th dimension (and the other 3+n dimensions along the way!), then try this one: Keep an eye on the night sky!

Being a dad gives you the convenient excuse to buy stuff you always wanted to buy and pretend you're buying it for your kids ;-) In my case, a beginner's telescope. Once you've got that, you find yourself looking at the sky more often. And then you will notice the Earth's companion's phases which in turn will often make you realize how time flies, or rather how you fly through spacetime, with it (i.e., with the moon).

This can then serve you as a celestial reminder (in case you've lost your DSL connection and thus your Google calendar...) to not postpone whatever it is that you need to do until the rarely occurring Blue Moon.


PS Apropos 'Time flies'. I used to take pleasure in language games such 'Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like banana.' Or 'Time flies? We cannot!'. I guess I still do ... (take pleasures in language games -- still can't time those agilent flies...)

Good old Wittgenstein has more profound things to say (it seems) about language games (see also here and here; the latter if you know how to play the game in German ;-)