Hölderlin, Johann Christian Friedrich (1770–1843)

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Johann Christian Friedrich Hölderlin, a German poet, novelist, philosophical essayist, and dramatist, was born in Lauffen, Germany. His father died when he was two, leaving Hölderlin an inheritance administered by his mother, who demanded strict obedience to her plans for his future. His mother married Johann Christoph Gok, subsequently the mayor of Nürtingen, in 1774; and a half brother, Karl Gok, with whom Hölderlin maintained a significant correspondence, was born in 1776. His stepfather, whom Hölderlin admired, died in 1779, leaving Hölderlin in his mother's sole charge.

Hölderlin was educated first at the local school in Nürtingen, where he studied Latin, Greek, and rhetoric. He became friends there with Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling. He then studied further in Lutheran monastery schools, first at Denkendorf (17841786) and then at Maulbronn (17861788). During this time he read Friedrich Schiller, Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock, and Pindar, and he began composing verses.

Hölderlin entered the Lutheran theological seminary in Tübingen in 1788, at the same time as Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Schelling joined the seminary two years later, and Schelling, Hegel, and Hölderlin developed a close friendship. Together, they read Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Benedict (Baruch) de Spinoza, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Plato, and Immanuel Kant, and they shared enthusiasm for the French Revolution. Throughout his school years Hölderlin displayed intellectual ability, anxiety, emotional intensity, and a readiness to fall in love with intellectually inclined young women. His emotional and intellectual life made him chafe under the regimes and orthodoxies of the seminary, and he found himself pulled more toward poetry than toward a career in the ministry. He published his first poems in 1791, and he began work on the novel Hyperion, or The Hermit in Greece.

While continuing to accept the formal control of his future as a minister by the Lutheran consistory, Hölderlin left Tübingen in 1793 to become a private tutor in Waltershausen. From Waltershausen he traveled frequently to Jena in 1794, where he attended Johann Gottlieb Fichte's lectures, met Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and visited regularly with Schiller, who published "Fragment of Hyperion" in his magazine. In 1795, with Wilhelmine Kirms, a married but separated lady's companion of his employers, he had a daughter, who died of smallpox at thirteen months. Following increasing difficulties in controlling his pupil, Hölderlin was dismissed from Waltershausen in 1795, but was provided with enough money to settle in Jena to study philosophy. There, he lived for a time with Isaac von Sinclair, a close friend and political radical. Most of his strictly philosophical essays date from the 17941795 period of his Jena visits and residence.

In January 1796 Hölderlin again became a private tutor, now in the home of Jakob Friedrich Gontard, a wealthy Frankfurt banker. He continued to work in philosophy, and the famous "Oldest System-Program for German Idealism" fragment, arguably by Hölderlin but only later discovered in Hegel's hand and published first in 1918, dates from this period. Here, Hölderlin also encountered the beautiful and talented twenty-seven-year-old Susette Gontard, the wife of his employer, with whom he began a passionate affair. She figures as the model for Diotima in Hyperion and as the addressee in some of his finest poems. Volume one of Hyperion was published in April 1797. While in Frankfurt, Hölderlin continued to correspond with Schiller, and he imagined a series of "New Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man," planning both to explain and to overcome all divisions between subject and object and between theoretical and practical reason. Already his friends had begun to worry about his enthusiasms, anxieties, and depressions. Hölderlin completed some fifty-five poems in Frankfurt and began work on the verse drama Der Tod des Empedokles.

In September 1798 the affair with Gontard became evident, and Hölderlin was forced to leave Frankfurt for Bad Homburg. He remained in Bad Homburg, except for occasional visits to Nürtingen, until 1800. During this time he continued work on Hyperion and Empedokles, and he began translations of Pindar and of the tragedies of Sophocles. He produced his poetological essays during this period, as well as many new poems. Volume two of Hyperion was published in 1799.

Beginning in January 1801 Hölderlin worked as a private tutor in Hauptwyl, Switzerland. In April he was dismissed, and he returned to Nürtingen. Schiller broke off their correspondence. Throughout the year he completed a number of great poems, including "Bread and Wine," "Homecoming," and "Voice of the People." In December he left on foot to travel to Bordeaux, France, where he arrived in January and remained for three months. In June 1802 he reappeared in Nürtingen, pale, emaciated, and obviously deranged. Hölderlin was able to continue work on the translations of Sophocles (published 1803) and Pindar, as well as on a few poems. In 1804 Sinclair arranged for Hölderlin a position as a librarian in Bad Homburg, without duties. With Sinclair, Hölderlin met in Stuttgart with political radicals conspiring against the landgrave. Sinclair was tried for treason in 1805 but released for lack of evidence. Hölderlin avoided trial by being judged mentally incompetent.

Sinclair gave up his care of Hölderlin in September 1806, and Hölderlin's mother had him forcibly committed to a clinic in Tübingen for the mentally ill. In the summer of 1807 Hölderlin was released into the care of Ernst Zimmer, a Tübingen carpenter who admired his work. "Patmos," "The Rhein," and "Remembrance" were published. He remained in the Zimmer household for the next thirty-six years, where he spent much of his time playing the piano and flute. Wilhelm Waiblinger began to visit Hölderlin in Tübingen in 1822, and in 1830 Waiblinger published Friedrich Hölderlin's Life, Poetry, and Madness. Hölderlin's Selected Poems was published in 1826. Hölderlin died in June 1843.

It is difficult to locate Hölderlin's workpoetic, philosophical, or poetologicalwithin standard literary and philosophical categories. Dieter Henrich (1992, 1997) established Hölderlin's continuing Kantianism, both in accepting the separation of discursive consciousness from immersion in and intuitive awareness of absolute being and in accepting independence of free, moral personality as an ideal. But Henrich also emphasized Hölderlin's commitment to love and to connectedness to nature and to other human beings. This commitment lends to his writing a sobriety or earnestness, different from the later Romantic irony of Friedrich von Schlegel and from other projects of purely cultural cultivation that are less freighted with ontology. Nor, given his Kantian antidogmatism, does Hölderlin offer any system of human life in relation to the absolute, in the manner of the absolute idealisms of Hegel or Schelling. In Henrich's terms Hölderlin is best characterized as articulating a Vereinigungsphilosophie : an account of human beings as always seeking both independence-moral sublimity and love-connectedness. In this continual seeking, moments of remembrance and of gratitude for one's course of life are possible, but without any lasting conclusiveness.

Hölderlin's poetrywhile typically firmly metrically controlled by Greek models, especially ones taken from Pindar, and so is more classical than effusiveis also characteristically difficult syntactically, even hermetic. Argument over Hölderlin's significance has concerned whether Hölderlin is better understood as a confident prophet of an imminent transcendence of one's present cultural plights, as Martin Heidegger (1949a) urges, or rather principally as a paratactic writer, resistant to all formally closed plots of human experience, as Theodor W. Adorno (1992) urges. Here, Henrich's reading of Hölderlin's Vereinigungsphilosophie has the advantage of accepting the insights but avoiding the errors of these other, sharply opposed readings.

Hölderlin's sense of the continuing openness, but also provisional formability, of philosophico-poetic thinking is reflected in his Wechseltonlehre or theory of the proper modulation of fundamental moods, in poetry and in life, and this sense is enacted in his poetic practice. Together, his theory and poetic practice provide an image of nonfoundationalist seriousness in thinking that is likely to continue to attract substantial attention and interest.

See also Adorno, Theodor; Fichte, Johann Gottlieb; Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von; Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich; Hermeticism; Kant, Immanuel; Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm; Neo-Kantianism; Plato; Rousseau, Jean-Jacques; Schiller, Friedrich; Schlegel, Friedrich von; Spinoza, Benedict (Baruch) de.


works by hÖlderlin

Sämtliche Werke. 8 vols., edited by Friedrich Beissner. Stuttgart, Germany: J. G. Cottasche Buchhandlung Nachfolger, 19431985.

Werke und Briefe. 2 vols., edited by Friedrich Beissner and Jochen Schmidt. Frankfurt am Main, Germany: Insel-Verlag, 1969.

Sämtliche Werke: Frankfurter Ausgabe. 18 vols., edited by D. E. Sattler. Frankfurt am Main, Germany: Verlag Roter Stern, 19752000.

Essays and Letters on Theory. Translated and edited by Thomas Pfau. Albany: SUNY Press, 1988.

Hyperion and Selected Poems, edited by Eric L. Santner. New York: Continuum, 1990.

works about hÖlderlin

Adorno, Theodor W. "Parataxis: On Hölderlin's Late Poetry." In Notes to Literature, 2:109149. Translated by Shierry Weber Nicholsen; edited by Rolf Tiedemann. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992.

Constantine, David. Hölderlin. Oxford, U.K.: Clarendon Press, 1988.

Donelan, James H. "Hölderlin's Poetic Self-Consciousness." Philosophy and Literature 26 (1) (April 2002): 125142.

Förster, Eckart. "'To Lend Wings to Physics Once Again': Hölderlin and the 'Oldest System Program of German Idealism.'" European Journal of Philosophy 3 (2) (August 1995): 174198.

Hayden-Roy, Priscilla A. A Foretaste of Heaven: Friedrich Hölderlin in the Context of Württemberg Pietism. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Rodopi, 1994.

Heidegger, Martin. "Hölderlin and the Essence of Poetry." In Existence and Being, 270291. Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1949.

Heidegger, Martin. " Poetically Man Dwells " In Poetry, Language, Thought, 211229. Translated by Albert Hofstadter. New York: Harper and Row, 1971.

Heidegger, Martin. "Remembrance of the Poet." In Existence and Being, 233269. Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1949.

Henrich, Dieter. The Course of Remembrance and Other Essays on Hölderlin, edited by Eckart Förster. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997.

Henrich, Dieter. Der Grund im Bewusssein: Untersuchungen zu Hölderlins Denken, 17941795. Stuttgart, Germany: Klett-Cotta, 1992.

Ryan, Lawrence J. Hölderlins Lehre vom Wechsel der Töne. Stuttgart, Germany: W. Kohlhammer, 1960.

Santner, Eric L. "Introduction: Reading Hölderlin in the Age of Difference." In Hyperion and Selected Poems, by Friedrich Hölderlin, xxxiixl, edited by Eric L. Santner. New York: Continuum, 1990.

Waibel, Violetta L. Hölderlin und Fichte: 17941800. Paderborn, Germany: Schöningh, 2000.

Richard Eldridge (2005)