Goethe’s House

A visit to Goethe’s house in Weimar. . . remarkably well preserved, even with a lot of the furnishings, furniture, and author’s possessions extant. His workshop-cum-writing-space was capacious and copiously appointed with numerous work and study aids and artefacts of exploration. A quintessential Enlightenment era studio, with a large adjacent chamber housing literally thousands of manuscripts. Not including his vast archive of drawings and prints from the various ages of art, or collection of geological samples, rocks, and minerals, housed in other rooms.

Oh, the resources he had at his disposal! It’s true, today we might get the gist of these artefacts from the compact vantage of a laptop or tablet — but this is a pale reflection, and there’s no substitute for experiencing them palpably.

His workspace itself and writing table were fairly modest. He preferred to write at a wide ovular table set away some feet from the wall — as I do. The sharp angles and edges of the rectangle or square put an undue order and violence onto life; a rounded shape reflects its fluidity, recurrence, and mystery, and floating within the space, rather than pressed up against a surface, facilitates the imagination to roam free within these infinite reaches.

This is not to say that such an arrangement is my sole preference. Different styles and aims of writing call for their peculiar ambiances. Dreamlike, fantastic writing may require being tucked away nocturnally, maybe behind a tapestry, in some silent darkened nook or corner. Sometimes, like Emerson, I write on a clipboard while sitting in a sort of armchair. In fact, I write on a clipboard more often than I do directly on a table. (Though this probably has more to do with conditioning to an inveterately ambulatory and unsettled lifestyle than exact preference.) I wrote much of my poetic nonfiction book in smaller, tucked-away, near-empty parks in Montreal. I love making of a park a daylong (or nightlong) writing studio — and some, nay, many parks in Montreal can facilitate that. I’ve been compelled to write, and have written productively, in manifold arrangements. As I’m sure Goethe, a diverse and rich experientialist, writer, and thinker, must have as well, especially in his earlier years.

And Weimar. . . through its current patina and veil of small, pleasant, if anodyne tourist city, whose main income comes from tourism — a German equivalent of such cities in the US and around the world, a ‘genre,’ as it were, that emerged in the 20th century when waning culture segued into commercialism, bearing long strips of quaint stores and eateries, expensive retailers, animated public squares, scores of hotels and bed and breakfasts, and unassuming tourist attractions, whose cultural vibrancy and clout (if they ever had any) has faded into pedestrian pleasures and muted reminiscences — through this veil I could see the same preserved fields, parks, forests, meditative stretches and strolls, some of the same handsome architectures and houses, built with more consideration towards communal and familial interchanges than today’s, there during Goethe’s time, and grok how the city must have appeared, and understand how it brought Goethe enough serenity and inspiration to choose to remain there much of his life. (Notwithstanding that the house was gifted him by his patron, or the political roles he half-chose, was half-groomed to take up that kept him there.)

The small bedroom he’d had appointed next to his workroom, when he was too ill and old to be mobile, was simple and no-frills, almost spartan save for the curious contrast of colors: jade green and pale amaranth. In dotage he would often sit and write in the plain armchair next to the bed, facing a window overlooking the ample garden. His workspace, and especially bedroom, were earthy and practical in contrast to the relative ornamentation of much of the house, which reflected both the requirements of his political position and another aspect of his personality.

Interestingly, the writing spaces and bedrooms of other prodigious writers I’ve visited — Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, for instance — were also down-to-earth and utile, bordering on simplicity. It’s as if the deepest artists know that accessing the fecundity of the imagination, the richness and prophecy of dream, and the unreachable expanses and ungraspable depths requires a certain humbleness, austerity, and spareness. One ought to be humble in the face of the suffering, joy, and mystery.

Jason Bentsman is a writer, sometimes philosopher, and occasional humorist. He was born in Belarus, grew up in the US, and has spent quite some time sojourning abroad. He recently completed a darkly comic novel: a paean to Cinema and existential exploration. His prior book is The Orgastic Future, a work of creative nonfiction about consumerism, plastic pollution, and other threats facing the planet, which has been described as ‘visionary… something out of its own time,’ ‘an urgent read for every person living on the planet,’ ‘a 21st century HOWL‘ (ie, Ginsberg), and ‘a poetic companion piece to Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction.’ He runs the literary / humanities website FWIW, where he publishes quality works by diverse writers, artists, and thinkers. He also takes fine art photographs. Some of his writings have appeared in Montreal Writes, The Blue Nib (Ireland), Dreich (Scotland), Unvael Journal, The Real Us, Metamorphoses (Smith College), Hirschworth, Flaneur (NYC), FIRE (Oxford), the anthologies Looking Forward, Looking Back and In Our Own Words, and other publications. Author Links.