12-04-1933

Stefan George

STEFAN GEORGE, German poet, translator and editor, died (b. 1869); George was an important bridge between the 19th century and German modernism, even though he was a harsh critic of the then modern era. He experimented with various poetic meters, punctuation, obscure allusions and typography. Inspired by Mallarmé’s coterie of writers and artists in Paris, George formed his own circle that was known as the Georgekreis (George-Circle). Indicative of George’s elitism, he founded a literary journal, Blätter für die Kunst (Pages for Art), which was available only to the members of his circle.

A strong authoritarian personality, he founded his circle on the master-disciple relationship. His devotion to the artistic paradigm of “art for art’s sake” manifested itself in his desire to shape his reality according to his aesthetic ideals rather than to society.

George’s sexuality is an open secret in the scholarship about him; that is, it is a commonplace that almost no one will admit. George, however, is as responsible for this closetedness as anyone since he strove in his work to create a private space that would be accessible only to those “like-minded” individuals who possessed the code.

Therefore, his poems allow themselves to be easily construed as “metaphorical” or “platonic,” even if they most immediately appear to be about burning Gay passion. George accomplishes this effect by addressing a genderless “you” in his poems and by personifying such terms as “love,” “soul,” and “heart.”

Two works, Algabal (1892) and Maximin (1906), especially embody a Gay sensibility.

Algabal is a young king who builds himself a subterranean kingdom, the artificiality of which surpasses the natural beauty of the world above. The significance of the embrace of the Unnatural, the Barren, and the nonetheless Beautiful in this work cannot be missed by the reader aware of the stereotypes of Gay love, but is simply readable as decadence to one who is not. The poem’s dedication to the memory of the Bavarian king, Ludwig II, a homosexual icon at the turn of the century, is also a signal to its gay meaning.

Maximin was inspired by the Munich high school student, Maximilian Kronberger, whose early death served as an excuse to mythologize his memory. Although the youth’s poetry was the overt excuse for his relationship to George, the poetry’s mediocrity suggests that George encouraged Kronberger mainly because of his physical beauty.

George was thought of by his contemporaries as a prophet and a pries, while he thought of himself as a messiah of a new kingdom that would be led by intellectual or artistic elites, bonded by their faithfulness to a strong leader. His poetry emphasized self-sacrifice, heroism and power, and he thus gained popularity among National Socialist circles. A group of writers that congregated around him were known as the Georgekreis. Although many National Socialists claimed George as an important influence, George himself was aloof from such associations and did not get involved in politics.