Madison Morrison

Friday, April 28, 2006


Das reale Abenteur (an e-mail to Peter Carravetta from Aug. 31/05)


Earlier I had copied you on a note about Michael Nerlich's study called Abenteur. At the time I was half way through. Now I have reached p.275 of this 400-page monograph, the first German book that I have read in its entirety for 40 years. So you will understand one reason why it is taking me some time to get through it.

Another reason, however (and the author may have sent me the book for precisely this reason), is that so much of his argument bears upon Sentence of the Gods. Now I have no idea of course what you intend to do in the final chapter of your book on postmodernism or why exactly you have chosen to include my work.

But I thought that I would at least share a paragraph of Nerlich's study with you, on the chance that it might be of interest to you as well. It certainly bears upon your earlier characterization of me as "scripting nomad." In Part X, his Section 1 is titled "Krise und Untergang des Ritterideals als Lebensnorm."

It begins with the following paragraph:

Es kann keinen Zweifel daran geben: seit Chrétien dem Wort aventure eine philosophisch-ästhetische Bedeutung verlieh, also seit dem 12. Jahrhundert, hat dieser Begriff samt der mit ihm verbundenen Begrifflichkeit wie Zufall, experiment, Neuheit/Innovation, Reise, Entdecken von Unbekanntem, Wandel, Mobilität, Überraschung, Neugierde (uns.) nicht aufgehört, das literarisch-künstlerische Nachdenken über die condition humaine im allgemeinem, über das künstlerisch- literarische Schaffen im besonderen zu bestimmen. Dies kann man - ansichts der Tatsache, daß diese Kunst - bzw. Dichtungs aventure immer wieder Partikular- Neues hervorgebracht hat - durchaus als movement de longue dureé, Bewebung langer Dauer, ja - falls es zu keiner Katastrophe kommt - perpetuum mobile bezeichnen.

There is a lot more where this came from, if you would like me to send a few pages.*

It has all got me thinking that I may have been a good deal more influenced by The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (which I lectured on at age 22 from the podium in Emerson Hall where Emerson had lectured, and which I subsequently taught in Oklahoma to little Huck Finns for twenty years) than I was aware of, or by all the adventure stories that precede it in the body of English literature that I had taken three degrees in at Yale and Harvard, or by El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha, which I have lately been dipping into in the original, a book that I taught for 40 years in translation, and so on.

I am now trying to grasp exactly what Nerlich means by "das reale Abenteuer" in his chapter on Chrétien de Troyes. If I understand him correctly, he is connecting this lively medieval figure, along with many others, to the current phenomenon that we call "globalisation," in other words connecting the secularization of literature that begins in the late European middle ages with the commercial modern world. It is quite a breathtaking thesis and eerily related to my having read The International Herald Tribune from cover to cover for the past fifteen years, having guided my son's business career for the past dozen, and having traveled all over the world for the past forty.

I have taught in seven countries, lectured in fourteen, visited 64 and, as you know, now have 4800 recipients of my books in 108.

Would that the last of these was also a commercial relationship!

All best,


*I offer one more example, from Part XII in which Nerlich draws upon a book by Benjamin Nelson called The Idea of Usury: From Tribal Brotherhood to Universal Otherhood. Section 7 of this Part of Michael's argument is titled "Von der Ritterplage und dem Abenteur des Fernhandels":

Diese Form des Handels hat einem Namen, le commerce d'aventure, der Aventüre - oder Abenteuerhandel, der in Guillaume d'Angleterre [a medieval romance] - in der ersten Handelsreise in die Champagne - zunächst als klassiches commanda- Geschäft auftritt: der Kapitalgeber verleiht auf eigenes Risiko Geld an einen Händler, der Waren kauft und umschlägt und daraus seinen eigenen Gewinn, meist ein Viertel des Gesamtprofits abzieht, während der Rest an den Anleger bzw. Kapital- geber geht . . .

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