No Comment, Quotation — September 13, 2008, 5:58 am

Goethe’s Freedom

goethe

Hat einer nur so viel Freiheit, um gesund zu leben und sein Gewerbe zu treiben, so hat er genug, und so viel hat leicht ein jeder. Und dann sind wir alle nur frei unter gewissen Bedingungen, die wir erfüllen müssen. Der Bürger ist so frei wie der Adeliche, sobald er sich in den Grenzen hält, die ihm von Gott durch seinen Stand, worin er geboren, angewiesen. Der Adeliche ist so frei wie der Fürst; denn wenn er bei Hofe nur das wenige Zeremoniell beobachtet, so darf er sich als seinesgleichen fühlen. Nicht das macht frei, daß wir nichts über uns anerkennen wollen, sondern eben daß wir etwas verehren, das über uns ist. Denn indem wir es verehren, heben wir uns zu ihm hinauf und legen durch unsere Anerkennung an den Tag, daß wir selber das Höhere in uns tragen und wert sind, seinesgleichen zu sein.

He who possesses freedom to live in health and to practice his trade has freedom enough and this much freedom can easily be obtained. And then we are all free only subject to certain conditions which we must fulfill. The citizen is just as free as the nobleman, provided he keeps within the boundaries that God has set him within the class into which he was born. The nobleman has as much freedom as the prince, for if he will but observe the ceremonies found at court, he may indeed feel himself the prince’s equal. Freedom is not to be found in refusing to recognize that which is placed above us, but in respecting that which is above us; for in the act of respecting it, we raise ourselves up to it, and this very act of recognition shows that we bear within ourselves something which is higher, and are worthy to be deemed at the same level.

Johann Wolfgang Goethe, in Johann Peter Eckermanns Gespräche mit Goethe in den letzten Jahren seines Lebens, entry for Jan. 18, 1827 in Goethes Sämtliche Werke vol. 19, p. 195-96 (Munich ed. 1986)(S.H. transl.)

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Editor's Note

Many comedians consider stand-up the purest form of comedy; Doug Stanhope considers it the freest. “Once you do stand-up, it spoils you for everything else,” he says. “You’re the director, performer, and producer.” Unlike most of his peers, however, Stanhope has designed his career around exploring that freedom, which means choosing a life on the road. Perhaps this is why, although he is extremely ambitious, prolific, and one of the best stand-ups performing, so many Americans haven’t heard of him. Many comedians approach the road as a means to an end: a way to develop their skills, start booking bigger venues, and, if they’re lucky, get themselves airlifted to Hollywood. But life isn’t happening on a sit-com set or a sketch show — at least not the life that has interested Stanhope. He isn’t waiting to be invited to the party; indeed, he’s been hosting his own party for years.

Because of the present comedy boom, civilians are starting to hear about Doug Stanhope from other comedians like Ricky Gervais, Sarah Silverman, and Louis CK. But Stanhope has been building a devoted fan base for the past two decades, largely by word of mouth. On tour, he prefers the unencumbered arrival and the quick exit: cheap motels where you can pull the van up to the door of the room and park. He’s especially pleased if there’s an on-site bar, which increases the odds of hearing a good story from the sort of person who tends to drink away the afternoon in the depressed cities where he performs. Stanhope’s America isn’t the one still yammering on about its potential or struggling with losing hope. For the most part, hope is gone. On Word of Mouth, his 2002 album, he says, “America may be the best country, but that’s like being the prettiest Denny’s waitress. Just because you’re the best doesn’t make you good.”

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