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img297The literary greats, let us not forget them!

Every once in a while the more profound things come to life again, especially if you love to read like I do. Putting back some of my books into boxes recently, I came across a fabulous Italian art exhibition catalog with the title Sentieri Interrotti or Vanishing Paths subtitled “Crisis of Representation and Destruction in the Arts from the 1950’s to the End of the Century” (the last one of course).

The exhibition was held in the Italian town of Bassano del Grappa (yes Grappa!) in the year 2000. The 386 full color catalog covers serious avant garde movements from the fifties on. I actually saw this exhibition held in this fabulous sleepy Northern Italian town, and looking through the catalog was like seeing it all over again. Exhibited were paintings from mostly private Italian collections with canvasses by Fontana, Appel, Corneille, Dubuffet, Gappmayer, Nitsch, Spoerri from Cobra to Fluxus. It was all there and worthy of a Museum show in New York or Paris, but held in this little town on the outskirts of Vicenza with one of the oldest covered wooden bridges, still usable in Italy, spanning the river. Simply the best and home to one of the little known almost secret collections of avant garde European art in Italy.

The catalog starts with some interesting quotes, one from the great German philosopher Martin Heidegger; “In the forest (holz) there are paths (wege) which often being overrun with grass, suddenly break off in the thick undergrowth. They are called Holzwege. Each of these goes off on its own account, but in the same forest. Often one seems to be another: it only seems so. Woodcutters and foresters know them well. They know what it means to find oneself on a path that, by being interrupted, goes astray.”

The second quote is by another German philosopher and writer Hannah Arendt who has this to say: “tracing paths is of more use for opening up a dimension than for a destination that is established a priori and subsequently reached [ ] precisely because they do not lead to a destination outside the forest, they are more suited to those who love the forest and who feel at home in it than problematic carefully built roads [ ] This metaphor of the “vanished paths” concerns something fundamental, not so much because of how it appears at first sight for the fact that someone has ended up on a forest path on which they cannot proceed, but that someone, like a woodcutter for whom the forest is home, is proceding on paths that he opens up, since this opening-up of paths is his job like cutting wood is”.

Interesting to find two German quotations in this Italian exhibition catalog, and digging through the box I found this old somewhat beaten up German book by one of the great writers in the German language Stefan Zweig and suddenly I knew what I wanted to write about.

That vanishing culture, already vanished when I grew up in a foreign land where the classics were still read, Latin and Greek were naturally studied in the right school but where you could also, as an ignorant little boy, go to and browse the shelves of the city public libraries, if you were fortunate to live in a city, and take some real treasures home to read. Where as I did at first, you could fall in love not with the nicest and most beautiful girl in school but with illustrations and old bindings and then you would learn to read Dostojewsky at age 12, perhaps not understanding all of the profound metaphors at once, but surely, as kindle wood in the fire, developing this great love for the written word. Not every man’s path but who knows.

Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) Austrian by birth, traveler by necessity, an exiled writer in strange lands. After 5 years of living in London he moved to Brazil in 1936 where his life took a tragic turn in 1942. His book Brazil, Land of the Future was also his last published book before his tragic death. Today, in the town of Petropolis (Valparaiso) their is a museum in the house where he lived “Casa Zweig“. Below you can see the youtube video Stefan Zweig’s last home running about 12 minutes by Casa Zweig and Telenews. It is an enactment and in English. Enjoy!

The book featured above with its wonderful type and gold title in black linen is titled in translation The Battle with the Demon” and was published in 1925 as volume 2 in a short series called the “Die Baumeister der Welt“, or the builders of the world, a trial of the mind’s typology and the series was dedicated to Prof. Siegmund Freud.

img295The first volume published in 1919 was about the writers Balzac, Dickens and Dostojewski. The second volume is about the philosopher writers Holderlin, Kleist and Nietzsche, all staples of the right reading list growing up in Zweig’s life time. The publisher Insel Verlag (still existing today) published millions of books over its 100 year existence since 1912. It had grown out of a literary magazine called the “Insel” (The Island) that started in 1899.

After some trials and tribulations a book publishing house was established in 1912 with its first book title by Erich Maria Rilke of later fame with the book All Quiet on the Western Front, an anti-war text describing life in the trenches during the terrible first world war. The publishing house had been established with the impetus of Stefan Zweig who would edit a number of foreign texts as well as publish most of his books here. The extra ordinary quality of the books published that usually were published under direct supervision of Anton Kippenberg, the founder, attracted many type and book designers, who ended up working for him, like Eric Gill, Friedrich Kleukens, Rudolf Koch and last but not least the Belgian avant garde architect/designer Henry van de Velde who designed the type and lay out for one of Nietzsche’s books Also sprach Zarathustra. The publishing house logo or vignet had been designed by Peter Behrens the best German Modern architect at the time, who had done the designs for the the A.E.G. Company, an icon of modern architecture at the start of the twentieth century.


img294The logo is a ship with full sails in an oval, a well founded expression of the “neue geist“, the new spirit of all things. Above is a printed publishers announcement of the just published book by Zweig and the already published ones to date by him with prices and description. Printed on very thin paper which would become a hallmark for the publishing house for their inexpensive pocket book like series of classical literature putting these wonderfully designed with their sublime colored covers in the hands of a public which could read these small books on the trains and trams! The special jugendstil paper covers can be seen at this link and there were hundreds of titles published all with different covers.

img296Stefan Zweig, once considered,one of the greatest German writers together with Joseph Roth and Rilke published an enormous body of work and corresponded with all the foremost writers of his time. The Reed Library on the SUNY Fredonia Campus in New York state has what must amount to the largest body of Zweigs work (translated in over 50 languages) and letters, over 6000 items.

The right hand title page (top of post) has a 3 line quote by Nietzsche which in translation says as much as: I love those who do not know how to love unless they are downtrodden (going under) those are the ones who are rising above.

Nietzsche needs no further introduction here, but the bust above gives us some idea of the mental strength of this towering figure. Interesting is the fact that Zweig in reviewing Nietzsche in his book towards the end includes a chapter titled “Die siebente Einsamkeit” or the “seventh loneliness” in which he describes the ever returning heavy emotion of the feeling of loneliness from which man ultimately cannot escape, and the feeling of being left alone in a grey world without hope.

In the end, Nietzsche had few friends and had fewer than 7 people to whom he could send a copy of the 4th part of his book on zarathustra of which he had an extra 40 copies printed to give away. In 1942 during those dark days of World War II, far away from his home land, Zweig met with his only friend left – ETERNAL LONELINESS.

I would like to end this post with one of my own quotes: “coming to the fork in the road, most travelers will go the way well traveled.”  Stefan Zweig certainly did not.