On the Future of our Educational Institutions - Homer and Classical Philology

Page 24 of 31

"In what relationship these universities stand to art cannot be acknowledged without shame: in none at all. Of artistic thinking, learning, striving, and comparison, we do not find in them a single trace; and no one would seriously think that the voice of the universities would ever be raised to help the advancement of the higher national schemes of art. Whether an individual teacher feels himself to be personally qualified for art, or whether a professorial chair has been established for the training of stheticising literary historians, does not enter into the question at all: the fact remains that the university is not in a position to control the young academician by severe artistic discipline, and that it must let happen what happens, willy-nilly—and this is the cutting answer to the immodest pretensions of the universities to represent themselves as the highest educational institutions.

"We find our academical 'independents' growing up without philosophy and without art; and how can they then have any need to 'go in for' the Greeks and Romans?—for we need now no longer pretend, like our forefathers, to have any great regard for Greece and Rome, which, besides, [Pg 131]sit enthroned in almost inaccessible loneliness and majestic alienation. The universities of the present time consequently give no heed to almost extinct educational predilections like these, and found their philological chairs for the training of new and exclusive generations of philologists, who on their part give similar philological preparation in the public schools—a vicious circle which is useful neither to philologists nor to public schools, but which above all accuses the university for the third time of not being what it so pompously proclaims itself to be—a training ground for culture. Take away the Greeks, together with philosophy and art, and what ladder have you still remaining by which to ascend to culture? For, if you attempt to clamber up the ladder without these helps, you must permit me to inform you that all your learning will lie like a heavy burden on your shoulders rather than furnishing you with wings and bearing you aloft.

"If you honest thinkers have honourably remained in these three stages of intelligence, and have perceived that, in comparison with the Greeks, the modern student is unsuited to and unprepared for philosophy, that he has no truly artistic instincts, and is merely a barbarian believing himself to be free, you will not on this account turn away from him in disgust, although you will, of course, avoid coming into too close proximity with him. For, as he now is, he is not to blame: as you have perceived him he is the dumb but terrible accuser of those who are to blame.

[Pg 132]"You should understand the secret language spoken by this guilty innocent, and then you, too, would learn to understand the inward state of that independence which is paraded outwardly with so much ostentation. Not one of these noble, well-qualified youths has remained a stranger to that restless, tiring, perplexing, and debilitating need of culture: during his university term, when he is apparently the only free man in a crowd of servants and officials, he atones for this huge illusion of freedom by ever-growing inner doubts and convictions. He feels that he can neither lead nor help himself; and then he plunges hopelessly into the workaday world and endeavours to ward off such feelings by study. The most trivial bustle fastens itself upon him; he sinks under his heavy burden. Then he suddenly pulls himself together; he still feels some of that power within him which would have enabled him to keep his head above water. Pride and noble resolutions assert themselves and grow in him. He is afraid of sinking at this early stage into the limits of a narrow profession; and now he grasps at pillars and railings alongside the stream that he may not be swept away by the current. In vain! for these supports give way, and he finds he has clutched at broken reeds. In low and despondent spirits he sees his plans vanish away in smoke. His condition is undignified, even dreadful: he keeps between the two extremes of work at high pressure and a state of melancholy enervation. Then he becomes tired, lazy, afraid of work, fearful of [Pg 133]everything great; and hating himself. He looks into his own breast, analyses his faculties, and finds he is only peering into hollow and chaotic vacuity. And then he once more falls from the heights of his eagerly-desired self-knowledge into an ironical scepticism. He divests his struggles of their real importance, and feels himself ready to undertake any class of useful work, however degrading. He now seeks consolation in hasty and incessant action so as to hide himself from himself. And thus his helplessness and the want of a leader towards culture drive him from one form of life into another: but doubt, elevation, worry, hope, despair—everything flings him hither and thither as a proof that all the stars above him by which he could have guided his ship have set.

"There you have the picture of this glorious independence of yours, of that academical freedom, reflected in the highest minds—those which are truly in need of culture, compared with whom that other crowd of indifferent natures does not count at all, natures that delight in their freedom in a purely barbaric sense. For these latter show by their base smugness and their narrow professional limitations that this is the right element for them: against which there is nothing to be said. Their comfort, however, does not counter-balance the suffering of one single young man who has an inclination for culture and feels the need of a guiding hand, and who at last, in a moment of discontent, throws down the reins and begins to despise himself. This is the guiltless [Pg 134]innocent; for who has saddled him with the unbearable burden of standing alone? Who has urged him on to independence at an age when one of the most natural and peremptory needs of youth is, so to speak, a self-surrendering to great leaders and an enthusiastic following in the footsteps of the masters?

"It is repulsive to consider the effects to which the violent suppression of such noble natures may lead. He who surveys the greatest supporters and friends of that pseudo-culture of the present time, which I so greatly detest, will only too frequently find among them such degenerate and shipwrecked men of culture, driven by inward despair to violent enmity against culture, when, in a moment of desperation, there was no one at hand to show them how to attain it. It is not the worst and most insignificant people whom we afterwards find acting as journalists and writers for the press in the metamorphosis of despair: the spirit of some well-known men of letters might even be described, and justly, as degenerate studentdom. How else, for example, can we reconcile that once well-known 'young Germany' with its present degenerate successors? Here we discover a need of culture which, so to speak, has grown mutinous, and which finally breaks out into the passionate cry: I am culture! There, before the gates of the public schools and universities, we can see the culture which has been driven like a fugitive away from these institutions. True, this culture is without the erudition of those establishments, but assumes nevertheless the mien of a [Pg 135]sovereign; so that, for example, Gutzkow the novelist might be pointed to as the best example of a modern public school boy turned sthete. Such a degenerate man of culture is a serious matter, and it is a horrifying spectacle for us to see that all our scholarly and journalistic publicity bears the stigma of this degeneracy upon it. How else can we do justice to our learned men, who pay untiring attention to, and even co-operate in the journalistic corruption of the people, how else than by the acknowledgment that their learning must fill a want of their own similar to that filled by novel-writing in the case of others: i.e. a flight from one's self, an ascetic extirpation of their cultural impulses, a desperate attempt to annihilate their own individuality. From our degenerate literary art, as also from that itch for scribbling of our learned men which has now reached such alarming proportions, wells forth the same sigh: Oh that we could forget ourselves! The attempt fails: memory, not yet suffocated by the mountains of printed paper under which it is buried, keeps on repeating from time to time: 'A degenerate man of culture! Born for culture and brought up to non-culture! Helpless barbarian, slave of the day, chained to the present moment, and thirsting for something—ever thirsting!'

Free Learning Resources