Sunday, September 11, 2022

George Veditz: The Hohenstaufen Era of German Literature

Delivered By G.W. Veditz, at the Presentation Day Exercises of the National Deaf-Mute College, Wednesday, May 7th, 1884.

In the period from the middle of the twelfth to the end of the thirteenth century, the German race reached a height of national glory which it has never at any time surpassed. The ninth, tenth and eleventh centuries cover a formative period, when, through its conflicts internal and external, the nation was developing its strength and preparing itself for the great part it was to play.

In the twelfth century, when we find the Hohenstaufen line swaying the sceptre of Charlemagne, the nation had emerged into a period of comparative quiet. It had undergone a complete regeneration. Old doctrines and old habits had been swept away by the influx of new ideas and new fashions, and an active vitality was infused, giving strength for the effort that was to be put forth.

The language had undergone the same vicissitudes as the people. It had before been broken up into the dialects of the various dukedoms and provinces; but, with the people it too had become settled and unified, the powerful example of the imperial house giving the ascendancy to the Suabian tongue.

Literature then left the seclusion of the monasteries, and turned to the more genial atmosphere of the royal court and of the castles of the nobility. Hitherto, the Church had wielded the greatest influence, but now the knight–the beau ideal of chivalrous manhood–became the central figure in the popular mind; and the monotonous chant of the monkish rhymer gave place to the livelier and more stirring song of the knightly minne-singer.

At the same time the Crusades and the Wars of the Guelphs and Ghibellines gave a stimulus to the martial and chivalrous spirit of the people, and furnished the theme for many a beautiful song. Moreover, the magnificent court of Frederick Barbarossa entertained with princely hospitality the brilliant and brave from far and near. The beauty of the women of this court, the splendor of its festivals and tournaments, attracted crowds of noble guests from Brittany and Flanders, Normandy and Provence; and the aspiring German mind being thus brought into contact with the ardent and chivalrous spirit of the south, caught the fire, and adopted with enthusiastic eagerness the fashions of the visitors. The Norman trouveres taught their lays and virelays to the German minstrel; and the Provencal singers of "Tristan and Isolde" and of Enid and Geraint found themselves eclipsed by their own pupils. In short, German literature blossomed forth into a vigorous and beautiful spring–the intense life and feeling of the time finding its expression in a burst of lyric and epic song, which even the golden age of the last century has not surpassed.

The sons and grandsons of the great Frederick were all cast in his heroic mould; and under them the nation advanced in the career so gloriously begun. Thus it is that the German of today not only looks upon the period of the Hohenstaufen of Suabian dynasty as one of greatest splendor in the annals of his country, but also gives its name to the first era of a distinctively German literature.

The bard who sounded the first note heralding the literary pageant of the era was Heinrich von Veldeck, who, in his version of the "├ćneid," does not scruple to make

"Pan to Moses lend his Pagan horn,"

metamorphosing Virgil's Greek and Trojan princes into adventurous German knights. But he is the first truly German poet of the age, and was followed by a long array of brilliant signers, lyric and epic–by Walther von der Vogelweide, Ulrich von Lichtenstein, Ofterdingen, Tannhauser, Hartman von der Aue, Gotfried von Strasburg and Wolfram von Eschenbach.

Of the lyric poets–the so-called minne-signers, or minstrels–Walther von der Vogelweide is the acknowledged chief. He was born about 1170, of poor but noble parentage. His youth was spent among the Tyrolean hills, whose primeval beauty early quickened the poetic soul within him–

"As yet a child and all unknown to fame,
He lisped in numbers for the numbers came."

When a youth of twenty, he left his native hills, and, attaching himself to the imperial court, was from that time, till his death in 1227, one of the conspicuous figures on the national stage. He fought under the banners of the Empire in Palestine and Italy, and as an ardent Ghibelline took an active part in the politics of the day, making fierce and bitter attacks upon the corruptions in the church.

His poems breathe an intense love of nature and of truth, and are singularly pure and elevated in sentiment. His earlier songs fairly overflow with youthful luxuriance and gaiety, but as he grows older his verse assumes a more thoughtful and graver tone, and finally exhibits the serious and philosophic temper of old age.

Of the minne-signers, Walther is the best known to the modern German reader. He is inseparably connected with the "Minstrel War of Castle Wartburg," and, as our Longfellow intimates in his beautiful ode on the old bard, his very name suggests the springtime meadow with its flowers and its song of the lark and nightingale. The productions of this grand old master are every day becoming better and better known to the German world, and they deserve to be–they are German to the core.

Besides Walther, we have a long and noble line of other minnesigners, whose poems have come down to us, and attest the marvelous literary activity of the age–ranging in excellence from the clumsy Bacchanalian song to the pure and impassioned lay addressed to the Virgin.

But we find the most interesting and distinctive feature of the period in the metrical romance, or the tale of knightly adventure in song. These works are numerous and varied, the subjects being drawn from already existing Provencal or Norman models. The stories had a tendency to group themselves about illustrious historical names, some having Alexander, some Charlemagne, and some the British Arthur as their central figure. They are vital with the spirit of chivalry, varying in dignity and interest from the true epic poem to the mere commonplace story of love and adventure.

The greatest of the epic writers is without question Wolfram von Eschenbach, a noble Franconian knight, the companion and friendly rival of Walther von der Vogelweide. He has left us two great epics, "Titurel, or the Guardians of the Grail," and the "Parsifal," besides the charming fragmentary love tale of "Sigune." They form together the noblest relics of old German poetry, and are perhaps the first works of European literature which venture upon a profound analysis of human nature.

"Titurel" and "Parsifal" are both based on the old Armorican legends of the Holy Grail. "Parsifal" is the greatest work both of the poet and the age. It is the story of a man of noble and exalted mind, open-hearted and enthusiastic, at once credulous and skeptical, who falls into doubt and is driven by this doubt into a fierce despair, which makes him renounce both God and man. But after a bitter struggle, his doubt gives place to conviction, his obstinate pride to a noble humility; and henceforth we see him in an earnest pursuit of truth and eternal life, in the search for the Holy Grail. Wolfram makes him the hero not only of physical strife, but also of the nobler struggle of the soul with the world, of pride with humility, of faith with skepticism.

This poem is the most brilliant production of this brilliant period, and its great popularity in Germany at the present day—shown by the many editions it has passed through—gives witness to its extraordinary merit. Some German critics even place it on a level with Goethe's Faust, in so far as a comparison can be drawn between an epic and a drama.

Next to Wolfram we have Gotfried von Strasburg and Hartman von der Aue. These three tower high above the throng of their contemporaries. Gotfried, in his "Tristan and Isolde," and Hartman, in ["Iwein,"] his "Gawain," and in ["Erec,"] his "Enid and Geraint," rise far above all modern poets who have handled the same subjects, and are but faintly echoed by Scott and Coleridge and Tennyson, and by our own Lowell.

Though the works in question are in some sense imitations of foreign models, yet the greater among their authors had genius enough to raise them to the level and dignity of truly original works. There is also a group or cycle of epics of genuine native growth; and of these are the "Gudrun" and the "Niebelungen Lay." They are based on the ancient legends of the Teutonic race, which it brought with it from the frozen north. They celebrate the most renowned old German heroes, and they are poems on which the Germans look with a just pride, calling the "Niebelungen" their "Iliad" and the "Gudrun" their "Odyssey." They are familiar to English readers by means of translations and critiques; and, moreover, both they and Wolfram's and Gotfried's peerless songs have been made the subject of the grandest of Richard Wagner's compositions—the "Niebelungen Ring," and the "Parsifal," and "Tristan and Isolde."

This splendid era of German literature falls wholly within the Hohenstaufen period, and it seems as if its existence was bound up with the life of this princely house. The rout of Tagliacozza, in 1268, meant not only the death of Conradin, the last Hohenstaufen, but also the blight of the literary tree that had flourished in such beauty and splendor under this dynasty. The decline was rapid, for the very heart was dead. The lyricists lost all the grace and passion of Walther and Lichtenstein, and their songs became inane and degraded, pandering to the sensual taste of the time. The soulless meister-song succeeded to the lays of the old minstrels; while such epic poets as still existed, Rudolph von Ems and Konrad von Wurzburg, complain bitterly of the hostility and bad taste of the people, and seem at the same time to be aware of their own inferiority. This literary barrenness lasted for two hundred years, until Luther, at Wittenberg and Worms, roused anew the heart of the nation, and modern German literature begins.

One of the most marked features of the present time is our interest in the past. Our old literatures have ardent and loving students, who daily find new treasures of the richest poetry which have long lain concealed. Percy and Scott have resuscitated the exquisite old English ballads, while Scott in his "Triermain," Coleridge in his "Christabel," and Tennyson in his "Idyls," have made the heroes of the Round Table as popular now as they were in the heyday of chivalry.

In Germany, the comparative poverty of its literature makes the so-long-unknown gems of the Hohenstaufen time, a gift of priceless value, and they now shine refulgent in the literary diadem of the nation. Through the genius of Richard Wagner, Bodmer, Von der Hagen, and a host of others, these old works are becoming daily better known and daily dearer to the patriotic German heart. And so should it be. Let the present and the past in literature always confront and interpret each other, and, in the words of the English Laureate,

"Their echoes roll from soul to soul,
And grow forever and forever."


Angela Davis speech at Gallaudet University: “The Indivisibility of Justice”

PDF Version


[Sustained applause and cheers]

ANGELA DAVIS [signing]: Thank you very much

ANGELA DAVIS [speaking]: Well, first of all, good afternoon! It has been so wonderful to spend time on the campus of Gallaudet. I have followed the struggles and the radical activism associated with this campus for many years, and over multiple student generations, Gallaudet has become a model for people everywhere who are striving to make justice a reality.

This is Black History Month. It is also the week when Negro History Week was first celebrated beginning in 1926. And having grown up in Birmingham, Alabama, I remember as a child when we used to celebrate Black History Week each year. Abraham Lincoln’s birthday is on February 12th. Frederick Douglass’ birthday is today, February 14th.


But today is also Valentine’s Day, when we tell each other, “I love you.” [Signing]


And it is a day on which we might reflect on our love for justice and the interconnections of love and justice.

The theme of my talk this afternoon comes from Dr. Martin Luther King’s observation that justice is indivisible, and injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. And as people on this campus have demonstrated through the defense of the rights of deaf people and the forging of a vibrant Deaf Culture, including a Black Deaf Culture, history reveals — [Applause] — history reveals the expanding parameters of justice. We cannot make the mistake, which is the formative error of this country, of assuming that democracy can work if it is confined only to a specific group of people. It used to be the case that affluent white, straight, hearing men controlled the destiny of this country.

The recent election demonstrated that even though the majority of white men voted for Romney, which I found very troubling, their will could still not prevail because ninety-six percent of black women, eight-seven percent of Latina women, the majority of white women and all of the other people who stood up for justice won out over the will of the majority of affluent, white, straight, hearing men.


And so what does that mean? It means that this is a new day for the United States of America.

Black History Month

Black history in the Americas is the history of the quest for liberation, and it thus belongs to all who identify with and cherish historical and ongoing struggles for freedom.

Black history, whether here in North America, or in Africa, or in Europe, has always been infused with the spirit of resistance — an activist spirit of protest and transformation. And therefore, when we celebrate black history, it is not primarily for the purpose of representing black people in the numerous roles, as first to break the barriers in many fields that have been historically closed to people of color, although it is important to acknowledge these firsts, but rather, we celebrate black history because it is a centuries-old struggle to achieve and expand freedom for all. Black history is indeed American history, but it is also world history.

Now, this is a special year. It is the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. And I would like to ask you: What does it mean that we have not been called upon to celebrate the sesquicentennial of this act that supposedly liberated the slaves?

Obama issued a proclamation on December 31st, I believe, asking us to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1st. How many of you engaged in that celebration? Not too many of us, right?

Perhaps we’re not celebrating it because there was a fraudulent aspect to the Emancipation Proclamation. It was more — When I say “fraudulent,” I mean that it wasn’t really an act to emancipate the slaves. It was a military strategy. It was a military strategy much more than it was a measure to free human beings from an oppressive, racist, immoral institution. It was a military strategy. And therefore, all of those states and all of those sections of states that remained loyal to the Union were allowed to keep their slaves.

And, as a matter of fact, Frederick Douglass said in 1865 that the Civil War — and I’m quoting — “was begun... in the interest of slavery on both sides. The South was fighting to take slavery out of the Union and the North fighting to keep slavery in the Union — the South, fighting to get it beyond the limits of the United-States Constitution, and the North, fighting... for the old guarantees — both despising the negro, both insulting the negro.” This was Frederick Douglass’ observation in 1865.

Now, how many of you have read the Emancipation Proclamation? Well then, if you have read it, you know that the majority of the document deals with the exceptions. The majority of the document lists the states and the neighborhoods even and the parishes that will be allowed to keep their slaves. Very bizarre, isn’t it? Very bizarre. Yet, Abraham Lincoln was a very shrewd man. He knew that if some slaves were free, they would join the Union Army and they would fight even more passionately, or far more passionately, than white soldiers to win the Civil War.

And as a matter of fact, it was — according to W.E.B. Du Bois in Black Reconstruction in America — it was precisely the freed black slaves who joined the Union Army who were responsible for winning the war! As a matter of fact, I suggest that during this 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, or perhaps over the next couple of years, we encourage everyone who has not yet read Du Bois’ Black Reconstruction in America to read that book. High schools, colleges, universities, graduate-level students, everyone should read Black Reconstruction in America.

Du Bois argues that the Emancipation Proclamation brought about, in effect, a general strike. And Chapter 4 of his book is called “The General Strike” — how the Civil War meant “emancipation,” and how the black worker won the war by a general strike which transferred his labor from the Confederate planter to the northern invader, in whose Army lines workers began to be organized as a new labor force. So he says the withdrawal and the bestowal of labor by the slaves on the Union Army was what actually won the war. This army of striking labor eventually produced the 200,000 soldiers whose evident ability to fight decided the war.

Now, let’s say a few words about the film, “Lincoln.” I was wondering, what’s going to happen when we experience the 150th anniversary of the 13th Amendment in 2015? Will there be another film? Who knows? But if you’ve seen the film “Lincoln,” you know that it is about his successful attempt to guarantee the passage of the 13th Amendment, but we don’t see the backstory in the film, do we? We don’t recognize in the film that actually Lincoln had been previously in favor of transporting all of the black people who were freed to another country, to another place, to Africa. He was an advocate of colonization, and he persisted until he realized that the majority of black people were not going to support him. You know, at the same time, Lincoln was an amazing figure, and as someone who has studied a great deal of feminist theory, I’ve learned how to feel very comfortable in a place of contradiction.

[Laughter and applause]

So I can be very critical — [to the audience members who applauded:] thank you — so I can be very critical of Abraham Lincoln and at the same time I can praise him. And I might even say the same thing about our President.


We can ask ourselves: What did the 13th Amendment achieve? and: What did it not achieve? Anyone who believes that the institution of slavery could be abolished simply by an amendment to the Constitution is inhabiting a fictional world. How could a few lines appended to the Constitution get rid of a long history of racism and oppression — get rid of an institution that had penetrated the very warp and woof of the fabric of American society?

But at the same time, it was important. It was extremely important. And it occurs to me that this university was founded in the year between the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. And I’m wondering how you have reflected on that historical conjuncture. And again, as someone who has studied feminist theory, I believe that we should “think together” things that are often kept apart.


And so as Elena Ruiz, in her very eloquent introduction, pointed to the importance of pursuing discussions on intersectionality here on this campus, I will only say that I second the motion.

[Laughter and applause]

But let us fast-forward to the 20th century — to the mid-20th century — and let us recognize that the mid-20th century movement for justice, for freedom, was necessary only because slavery was not comprehensively abolished. We tend to think of these historical moments as discrete and separate and isolated. Slavery was abolished and then there was a civil rights struggle, but the struggle for civil rights would have been entirely unnecessary had slavery been fully abolished.


And so what we should probably say is that during the movement of the mid-1900s — the mid-20th century — we were continuing the struggle against slavery. It was a 20th Century abolitionist movement. And I have to say that I happened to turn on the television in my hotel room last night here at the Kellogg Center, and there was an amazing documentary on the Freedom Riders, which meant that I didn’t go to sleep until 2 o’clock this morning — [Laughter] — And in many ways, that world was so different from the world that we inhabit today, and we should be proud of that. But at the same time, it’s not so different. It’s not so different. And here again is the contradiction we should be riding.

Let’s go back to the 1860s, from the 1960s to the 1860s — the latter 1860s, up to 1877. That was the most radical era in the history of this country, and it’s the era most people in this country know absolutely nothing about. If we understood what happened during that very short period, before the overturning of radical reconstruction, if we understood that former slaves were so passionately involved in the struggle for education that in the South — and I know that we are in Washington, D.C., which is the South — in the South, public education was brought to all children. White children, poor white children in the South, would have never had access to public education had it not been for the struggle of former slaves. And of course, numerous black people became elected officials. New laws including progressive laws for women, progressive divorce laws, laws that allowed women to own property — all of this came out of the era of radical reconstruction, but, of course, in 1877 it came to a close, and you had the rule of Jim Crow, the rule of segregation, the rule of the Ku Klux Klan, the emergence of a punishment system that foreshadowed the prison-industrial complex in the late 20th Century, the development of massive prison plantations, and the development of the convict lease system...

The Indivisibility of Justice — Race, and Sexuality

So my next section is on the indivisibility of justice, race, and sexuality. And, of course, we’ve been talking a great deal about marriage equality recently, and marriage equality is important as a civil rights issue, but again, I want us to have a broader framework and to go further than simply arguing that LGBT communities need to have access to the heteronormative institution of marriage — [Applause] — because, let me say, first of all, that the Women’s Movement and the Gay Rights Movement were inspired by the struggle for freedom that black people waged for so many decades — [Applause] — And what was so exciting about the Gay Rights Movement during its feminist phase was its critique of marriage, especially because this institution was a capitalist institution designed to promote the preservation and distribution of property, and also because this institution had been used oppressively against black people.

Slaves were not allowed to marry. Interracial marriage was illegal until Loving v. Virginia. And, of course, Bush. You remember George W. Bush? [Pause] Bush argued that all of the problems of poverty in the Black Community could be solved if only they got married — But it had to be heterosexual marriage, right?

So I’d like us to complicate these issues of justice. The indivisibility of justice implies that we cannot separate different causes, different struggles. It is counterproductive and contradictory to choose whether to support justice for people of color — for black people, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Americans — or justice for LGBT communities — [Applause] — It is also wrong to call for justice on the basis of ableism. It is wrong to exclude deaf communities and disabled people from the circle of justice, but this cannot be — [Applause] — but this cannot be corrected simply on the basis of inclusion. Social justice movements associated with hearing people should take leadership from the Deaf Community. In this age of neoliberalism, when individualism has reached impressive and unprecedented heights — Everybody is individualistic these days. The individual on the capitalist market — Hearing social justice advocates have so much to learn about the collective and community-based approaches of the Deaf Community.

The Indivisibility of Justice — Immigration Rights

We have to defend the rights of immigrants. If the concept of civil rights is to have any meaning during the 21st century, then we all have to stand up for the rights of immigrants — [Sustained applause] — And it is not only about the Dream Act and a path toward citizenship. It is about that, but it is also about welcoming the people who do so much of the labor that fuels the economy — agricultural labor, service labor — and this is an issue that black people in particular should take note of, because immigrants are people who perform the labor that black people used to perform.


We need to incorporate strategies to minimize Islamophobia — [Applause] — and xenophobia. The indivisibility of justice requires us to defend Muslims who are seriously under attack because of ideological efforts to equate Islam and terrorism. Even people who have little to do with Islam are under attack because of this ideological association. Sikhs, for example, who have been killed because their turbans are misread as Muslim. And in this context, let me say that we should reveal the so-called “War on Terror” to be a strategy for U.S. military dominance — U.S. imperialist and militarist dominance — [Applause] — Guantanamo should have been shut down four years ago, but it is certainly time to say: Shut down Guantanamo now, right now.

The Indivisibility of Justice — The Prison-Industrial Complex

We understand that in light of the rise of global capitalism, especially during the 1980s — it didn’t end in the 1960s — In the 1980s, we saw the disestablishment of the welfare state, the disestablishment of human services, the transfer of capital to profitable sectors of the economy and the decision to forget about everything else, that is to say, to “privatize” everything else, privatize education, privatize healthcare, even privatize punishment. And so using the racially-charged issue of drugs, the so-called “War on Drugs,” deeply affected communities of color. It established the basis and the framework for what we call the “prison-industrial complex,” and the background is the same as that which led to the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan after the Civil War and the emergence of the convict lease system and the plantation prison system to which I referred. The context was the need to manage, in the 1800s, freed black bodies. The context at the end of the 20th Century is the need to manage unemployed bodies of color, poor white bodies, female bodies that no longer have access to welfare which has been disestablished, deaf bodies that are denied the services necessary to produce democracy and equality. And so now one out of every one hundred adults is behind bars. One out of every thirty-seven adults in the United States of America is under the control of a criminal justice agency. Even though the U.S. consists of five percent of the global population, here in this country we have twenty-five percent of the incarcerated population. We are a “prison nation.” We are a prison nation. Justice is indivisible. Justice for the more than 2.5 million people who are at this moment in jails and prisons and military prisons and Indian jails and federal prisons.

The Indivisibility of Justice — The Internationalization of Justice

And, finally, in my talk of the indivisibility of justice, I want to briefly talk about the internationalization of justice. How do we expand our vision? How do we develop a more capacious sense of justice for the planet?

Recently I have been doing a great deal of work on Palestine, having visited the occupied territories last year, and I learned more, not only about the need to support Palestinian people who are simply struggling against oppression — They’re struggling against some of the same measures of segregation that we as black people encountered in the 1960s — But they are also thinking deeply about issues of intersectionality, and I had the opportunity to meet with a group of very young people who are called “Queers for BDS” — and BDS is “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” — and they are trying to challenge the pinkwashing strategies of Israel. How many of you have heard of pinkwashing? Oh, I only see three hands, four hands, maybe five. Not that many. Google “pinkwashing.” Find out what it is.

But let me say just very briefly, Israel represents itself as a place where women enjoy equality and where LGBT communities enjoy equality, and Queers for BDS argue that justice is indivisible, equality is indivisible. It makes no sense to argue that the state of Israel is a “haven for gay people” if Palestinians experience their lives as if they were in the largest open-air prison in the world.

The critique of pinkwashing reveals the shallowness and the contemptuous character of the democracy that Israel purports to represent, and I would suggest that we can use that approach to develop critiques of the kind of democracy that prevails in this country: the exclusion, the continued exclusion of Native Americans. Why is it that, given the fact that this country was founded on practices of colonization, Native Americans continue to be subject to forms of genocide, even discursive genocide?


And I would like to speak more. I have a lot more to say, but there is not enough time. So let me thank you very much for your attention.


And tell you —

[Cheers and applause]

Let me tell you what an honor it has been to spend this time with you.

[Cheers and applause]

Thank you! Thank you! [signing]

[Cheers and applause]

[Transcript unofficial]


FLYER: davis.pdf

George Veditz: The Hohenstaufen Era of German Literature

Delivered By G.W. Veditz , at the Presentation Day Exercises of the National Deaf-Mute College , Wednesday, May 7th, 1884. In the period f...

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