Extreme Philology: Benjamin, Adorno, McCall and the Enigmas of Hölderlin
1. The term “philology” tends to conjure images of dusty manuscripts squinted at by dusty professors. It might seem out of place in the discursive haunts of the Frankfurt school, broadly understood, whose major concerns were fighting fascism and resisting any number of formations and formulations of capitalism—especially of the “late” variety. A discipline whose name means something like “the love of words” hardly seems of a piece with such intellectual endeavors and their high stakes, both political and social. Something of the same suspicion might hold for post-structuralist—and specifically deconstructive—modes of analysis that, if undeniably text-based, were and are pervasively concerned with matters of difference, power, and institutional force. In both domains, some the “late” surprisingly strong appeals are made for or in the name of philology. When Hamlet, at a certain point in the play bearing his name, is asked what he is reading, he replies: “Words, words, words” (2.2.192). It’s not a very satisfying answer to Polonius who asked him. Perhaps it is even a sign of Hamlet’s perversity, if not quite his madness. What matters to Polonius is “matter,” as he makes explicitly, literally clear. Something is distinctly amiss when there is, or appears to be, an undue focus on words. Yet that is what philology, in the first instance, for better or worse, does. It attends to words: their senses, their sequences, even their sounds. In arguing for a “return to philology,” Paul de Man contends, only a little polemically, that literary analysis does and ought to scrutinize how meaning is produced in advance of any attempt to fix or even just to make sense of meaning (25). In its more meaning-oriented disciplinary fellow travelers, literary criticism and literary history, this too is often the case. Even historically oriented literary criticism—directed to the world outside the text—tends for at least a while to dwell, more or less poetically, with words as they are articulated.
2. Yet when old-school philology did what it does, it moved outward from the literary text to its enveloping historical contexts, centering the text in question in something of a series of concentric circles extending from the author’s life (inner and outer) to his or her immediate literary and historical contexts (history of the pertinent genre, for example, or the grand historical events, forces, or mode of production), zones of more or less settled meaning thought to be formative for the production of the text. What could be more sensible than that? Indeed, such protocols, when well executed, have yielded all kinds of impressive, clarifying results. Think of the grand tradition that goes from Giambattista Vico through Erich Auerbach to Edward Said and beyond. Yet philological analyses prosecuted under this banner often come up short on several counts. To begin with an exemplary lament from a philosopher who earned his livelihood as a classical philologist from a tender age: “Ah, it is a sad story, the story of philology! The disgusting erudition, the lazy, inactive passivity, the timid submission.—Who was ever free?” (Nietzsche 3.325). Friedrich Nietzsche is arguably the inaugurator of a counter-tradition that could be dubbed extreme philology.  He opined, in the unfinished “untimely meditation” titled “We Philologists,” that
3. Something of the future Nietzsche envisioned took shape in the thinkers and texts I address in what follows. I track the practice and some of the theory of “extreme” philology, critical texts that occupy a place at the edge of a spectrum of a discipline whose center has tended to be conservative in more ways than one, a discipline dedicated to preserving and honoring classic(al) texts of the past, a discipline often bent on consigning those texts to the past—embalming rather than just preserving—even as it promotes their reading in the present.  The more or less Nietzschean counter-tradition is critical, skeptical, open to the dark side and to the obscurity of texts, willing to admit the limits of its knowledge as well as being not unaware of the pressure philologists in a given present can—and in some sense should—apply to texts of the past.  Most particularly, the discipline of philology, which is by definition committed to making sense of texts, is, in the hands of these critical philologists, often geared to confronting crucial and definitive moments when texts stop making sense, when philology comes up against its own limits. This sort of stance need not have been and is not in every respect “extreme” but it can come across as such, in contrast to the sometimes sloppy humanist (and often bourgeois) complacency of so much that passes for philological scholarship and understanding.
4. The readings and reflections I shall focus on from Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, and Tom McCall are characterized by attention to the complexity and violence of language registered alternately by allegorical readings or simply by dwelling on what exactly the text says, so far as one can know or articulate it. These procedures too can have the force of radicality. The examples singled out cluster around the work of Friedrich Hölderlin, the object of some of the most intense philological work, both practical and theoretical, expended upon any post-classical author. Hölderlin is in this horizon both a special and an exemplary case of a poet to seize on. “Discovered” in a major way only very belatedly, roughly a century after the high-water mark of his creativity, Hölderlin became, after the first good edition of his work by Norbert Hellingrath in the second decade of the twentieth century, a touchstone and a cipher, with his body of work enlisted in any number of struggles: ideological, aesthetic, and philosophical, as Helen Fehervary has charted. One could see him alternately (and mutually exclusively) as a fervent supporter of the French Revolution as well as of the rights of man/citizen or as a harbinger of the “fatherland” to come, destined to take such horrific shape in the era of Hitler. Something of a cultural history of Germany in the long twentieth century could be written by tracking how this one poet was read and fought over left and right by the left and the right, with, say, Georg Lukács, Adorno and Benjamin on the one (left) hand, as it were, and on the “right” hand (including center-right, in political terms) imposing figures such as Max Kommerell, and Martin Heidegger, whose complex, adulatory readings throughout the 1930s and 1940s, including on the theme of the fatherland, were of a piece with any number of tenets of fascist ideology, even if his (non- or anti-mimetic) aesthetic principles bore little relation to the run-of-the-mill Nazi “scholarship” and journalism devoted to the poet.  The division even marks the two most extensive editions of Hölderlin, with Friedrich Beissner’s so-called Grosse Stuttgarte Ausgabe, begun in the WWII years and supported by the Nazis on one side, and on the other the so-called Frankfurter Ausgabe published beginning in the 1970s by the Roter Stern (Red Star) press, a publisher that wears its left-wing politics on its sleeve. The acme of the right-wing use and abuse of Hölderlin came with the grotesque Nazification of the poet, when tendentious selections of his work were made available to troops in “field editions” by the hundreds of thousands in the Second World War. It seems that any number of Nazis were happy to overlook the likelihood that when Hölderlin said “fatherland” he most often meant Swabia, whose imperial pretensions were zero.
5. Hölderlin also poses a particular set of problems for philology, old-school and otherwise. If one of the main goals of traditional literary understanding is to get at, as far as possible, the author’s intention, that task is rendered more precarious than usual, given Hölderlin’s real and perhaps also sometimes feigned madness. His late poems are often signed “Scardanelli” and he gives a number of these poems, written between 1806 and 1843, dates such as 1748, 1758, 1676, and, most chillingly, 1940—times when he was not by any measure alive. Any number of philologists/literary historians simply ascribe these to a period of madness, but dating the onset and severity of madness is not an easy thing at the best of times, and more difficult with the patchy records of Hölderlin’s life—to say nothing of the difficulty presented by what Paul de Man called “the madness of words” (122). Adorno reacts negatively to those who caution about the forbidding character of the difficulties of certain literary oeuvres (Georg Trakl, Hölderlin, Franz Kafka): such difficulties are spurs to understanding, not signals to throw up one’s hands and abandon all hope. What is more, subjective intention, for Adorno, even in the production of first-person lyric poetry, will be recognized as largely irrelevant. Philology, old-school and new, is to be mobilized but it cannot remain simply old-school.
6. One is often introduced to Walter Benjamin as the media theorist of “The Work of Art in the Age of its Technical Reproducibility” or the cultural historian of nineteenth-century Paris in the Arcades project and the writings on Charles Baudelaire. Rarely does one think of him as, in the first instance, a philologist, and yet philology and reflection on it is more than a minor concern of his throughout the various “phases” of his variegated career. In a relatively early letter to Gershom Scholem, after his dissertation on the concept of critique in German Romanticism but before the great Elective Affinities essay, much less the writing (though not the prior conceiving of) the Baroque Trauerspiel book, Benjamin reflects on philology as a topic and a vocation.  He remarks, in unusual terms, how he has “given some thought to philology” and that he “was always aware of its seductive side” (C 175).  He goes on to specify and to gloss at some length just what he means by philology, a discipline one might think of as already rather circumscribed:
7. The insistence on the desirability and inescapability of philology, reflected on so searchingly in 1921, is never really left behind in Benjamin’s work, not even in what turned out to be the last years of his life. When in the 1930’s Benjamin was devoting a good deal of his energy to combating forms of fascism, he saw his massive, unfinished, perhaps un-finishable book on Baudelaire and the Arcades as bound up with that struggle, indeed part and parcel of his political thinking. The status of philology in all this was rather fraught, as became clear in the exchanges between Benjamin and Adorno about the former’s work on Baudelaire. Having eagerly awaited Benjamin’s long-in-the-works work, Adorno, on first reading it, could not conceal his disappointment with what Benjamin had produced, charging it especially with an inattention to mediation in its shuttling—one might say lurching—from the macro-and micro-economic to the works of culture, which Benjamin had thought legible in Baudelaire’s poems and their milieu of production (CC 280ff).  Countering Adorno’s various charges, Benjamin wrote back the following on December 9, 1938:
8. In his response to Adorno, what Benjamin conjures with one hand—the magic of philology’s fixation on the text—is spirited away with the other hand, the more or less tight fist of dialectical materialism, though one might not be mistaken in thinking Benjamin wants to have it both ways, especially if we understand the emphasis in “sublated” (“aufgehoben”) as indicating preservation. (The term aufheben can mean to negate, preserve and/or raise to a higher level, and often in Hegel means all three at once.) Benjamin never had much time for Hegel, but the mechanism of Aufhebung was congenial to him as a negatively dialectical concept/figure with affinities to the dynamics of fulfillment or completion so crucial to how he thought culture and history worked. In any event, Benjamin goes on to assuage Adorno on the score of a certain philology’s eventual disappearance:
9. In his response to Adorno on the charge of being too philological, Benjamin introduces some other key categories pertinent to our thinking through the possibilities and parameters of philology, categories that will be crucial for Adorno in his understanding of Hölderlin and for his aesthetic theory in general:
10. Let us turn now to Benjamin’s early (and in his lifetime, unpublished) essay modestly entitled “Two Poems by Friedrich Hölderlin,” dating from the early years of the First World War. It’s not easy to know what to make of this essay, considered by him and others his first major literary study. It appears to have been a highly charged text for him, not least as its subject matter—poems featuring the death of the poet or readiness for death on the part of the poet—is intimately bound up with the then-recent death of his friend, Friedrich Heinle, a poet who committed suicide rather than be conscripted into military service. Yet quite aside from any personal resonance, it is an elusive, oddly textured essay. One paragraph extends for almost five pages. A good deal of it seems almost mystical (Scholem called it “deeply metaphysical” [SW 1. 36]), riddled with epigonal, arch-Goethean language: “inner form,” “innermost,” “quintessence,” and so on. At one point Benjamin even uses the word “mystical” is an apparently approving tone (SW 1.34). The essay was never published in his lifetime, and Benjamin did not return to the central category explored in his text. Almost only readers of Benjamin would do so, one of them being none other than Theodor Adorno.
11. At the conceptual center of the essay is a category for which Benjamin had to fashion an unheard-of word or dredge up a forgotten one: “das Gedichtete.” It could be rendered as the “poeticized” or “poetized” (Ralph Waldo Emerson’s term, adopted for the Harvard edition) or “poematized” (McCall’s rendition). “Das Gedichtete” was, and is, a very unusual term. No less than Goethe used (perhaps coined?) the term, if only in conversation, when he claimed “Das Gedichtete behauptet sein Recht, wie das Geschehene” (“The poetized [i.e. what has become poetry] claims its right just as much as what has happened”) but Goethe gives it no technical or special force (22.650). The term seems not have taken hold for about one hundred years and then was invoked fleetingly, though in charged circumstances.
12. It is a term that, strikingly, Heidegger would later also invent—or re-invent—decades after Benjamin. For all their massive differences, Benjamin and Heidegger find common ground in this term and for a common reason, namely, a sense that the time-honored metaphysical distinction between form and content seems inadequate to do justice to whatever it is that Hölderlin writes, what he poetizes or poeticizes. Here is how Benjamin characterizes what he, almost for the first time, calls das Gedichtete:
13. Benjamin uses the phrase “aesthetic commentary” to characterize his undertaking, “commentary” usually having designated (more so in his day than ours) a mode of dealing with a text engaged within the discipline of classical philology. Benjamin’s commentary is in the spirit of what he thinks of as philology “in the expanded field,” one might say, even if here he does not call it philology here.  Benjamin juxtaposes two poems of Hölderlin’s so-called mature period (he was around thirty years old), poems so closely allied that they could be considered “versions” of each other, as they share numerous identical or similar formulations and formal features. The analysis is prosecuted in the mode of immanent critique. We are not informed of any dates, nor given a recognizable historical content or a framework in the history of ideas, nor much that is pertinent from the history of literature or other examples of the genre. Even though “the poeticized” is considered a limit-concept between life and poem, we are alerted that we will learn nothing of the poet’s life. And yet Benjamin’s text, in a way that seems to go beyond quoting, paraphrasing, or mimicking Hölderlin’s, engages “the living,” “the people,” and nothing less than the cosmos. This all could still be understood as immanent criticism, as only having to do with the imaginary of the poem, but when Benjamin repeatedly refers, for example, to “this world” (diese Welt) the analysis seems to burst, at moments, the immanent borders it erected in the first place (SW 1.25, 32ff).
14. It is also immanent critique insofar as it allows for and demands judgment or evaluation, Beurteilung, even judgment of its truth, which is not necessarily a concern of all philological endeavors. Commentary usually entails going through everything of real significance in a poem, down to, in the spirit of Jakob Grimm, its “details.” Benjamin might be said to have done just that, in a dense twenty or so pages on two short poems. It is literally an essay in “comparative literature,” though within one and the same language, comparing what could be considered two poems with an elective affinity or two versions of the “same” poem. In the confrontation, the first version, “Dichtermut” (“The Poet’s Courage”), emerges as almost systematically lacking in relation to the final version or later poem “Blödigkeit” (“Timidity”). Benjamin not only analyzes but critiques the first version (or the first poem) in terms of its artificial mythologizing, posing the negative category of mythology against what is, for the moment, the far more positive category of myth, the latter implying a certain “inner greatness and structure of the elements” (20).  The first poem celebrates or exhorts the poet’s courage, seeming to tie his (or, less likely, her) fate to the fates unduly or, even more, to the overriding figure of the sun god that dominates the final stanzas and helps account for the possibility of a “beautiful death.” By contrast, the later poem vaults beyond the “sun-god” (Sonnengott) to the “god of the heavens” (des Himmels Gott), which Benjamin judges to be more mythical than mythological, one of numerous instances of it deepening the earlier version.  The first version presents an “impenetrability of relation,” even as it invokes any number of distinct and seemingly related entities, whereas the second poem operates according to the law of identity (in the good sense, because dialectical). All unities in the latter poem already appear in intensive “interpenetration.” One can grasp the structure of relations, whereby “the identity of each individual being is a function of an infinite chain of series in which the poeticized unfolds.”  It presents “the spatiotemporal interpenetration of all configurations in a spiritual quintessence, the poeticized that is identical with life” (SW 1.24, 25). By stark contrast, the first poem stagnates in the felt “immediacy” of life, atomizing entities, in an indeterminate or underdetermined way: abstract expressionism, as it were.
15. The first poem, “Dichtermut” (“The Poet’s Courage”), is found to be, in effect, not true to itself but then it finds its truth in “Blödigket” (“Timidity”), a poem that literally invokes the category of truth. Whereas the second line of “Dichtermut” reads: “Nährt zum Dienste denn nicht selber die Parze dich?” (“Does not the Parca [fate] herself nourish you for service?”), its later transformation in “Blödigkeit” reads “Geht auf Wahrem dein Fuss nicht?” (“Does not your foot tread on truth [what is true], as upon carpets?”). This latter, startling line—much like the extraordinary phrase from “Dichtermut” “zur Wende der Zeit,” (“at the turning of time”)—seems of a piece with any number of features adding up what Benjamin discerns as a deepening of thought and figure in the second poem, which is also to say its truth. It’s not that the explicit invocation of “what is true” (das Wahre) guarantees the truth of that utterance, but it does lodge the possibility of truth, however poetic, in the consciousness of the reader.  The second poem or later version of the first poem is, among other things, the critique of the first: the second articulates the truth that the first failed to, the truth of relationality. It performs its own truth of greater determination. From early on in his thinking Benjamin tended to follow Friedrich Schlegel, the principal author addressed in his dissertation, in his positing that the work of art, of its own accord, called for critique—and that critique was not something accidental that might or might not befall a work of art. The work of art, for which Schlegel’s model was Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister—a highly self-conscious, self-reflexive novel—is a medium of reflection, which is also to say, for Schegel and for Benjamin after him, a medium of self-reflection. Moreover, as self-reflection, the work of art is in some sense the first, more or less encrypted instance of the very critique it calls for. The chain is, in principle, infinite: there is no end to the call for critique. In our case: Hölderlin’s poems demand the critique of a sort that Benjamin delivers, and Benjamin’s text arguably provokes a reading along the lines delivered by Tom McCall.
16. The power of Tom McCall’s formidable essay “Plastic Time and Poetic Middles: Benjamin’s Hölderlin” lies in the tenacity with which he tracks the rhetoric and thinking of Benjamin and the rigor with which he articulates the stakes involved. McCall rightly refrains from inscribing Hölderlin, following Benjamin, into a tradition rife with a post-Platonic and quasi-Biblical ethos of inspiration (or its naturalized equivalents, as in Wordsworth) thought to have granted Romantic poetry a good deal of its authenticity and authority. Instead McCall underscores how Hölderlin’s activity operates in the realm of what the poet calls “lawful calculation.” It is governed by what McCall glosses as “a strict, lawful, and rule-governed poetics, with its calculus and quasi-machinal functions” (para. 3). Benjamin proposes, in keeping with such a poetics, a schema of functions and relations that would account for how Hölderlin’s poetry works. As we have seen, the two poems Benjamin elects to compare relate to each other in such a way that the later poem emerges as a deepening, more intense, more determinate version of its predecessor. Indeed, in some sense, its fulfillment: a motif and structure that characterizes a dynamic built into each of Benjamin’s central categories of language, translation, critique, and history.
17. In the circumscribed context of Benjamin’s intense study of two short poems, the fulfillment—via greater determination, deepening, and intensification—of one poem in a later one sounds like an unequivocally good thing. That dynamic, is enveloped in a nexus of terms such as “innermost,” “quintessence,” inner form,” all of which articulate aspects of das Gedichtete, the posited unity of form and content, as well as the unity of the intellectual and perceptual orders. What could be better?
18. McCall’s essay is tenacious in tracking any number of elements and rhetorical/conceptual moves in Benjamin’s essay that work against any ideal notion of das Gedichtete or the “aesthetic organism” whose inner form it is. Honing in on the middle (Mitte) Benjamin posits as organizing the Hölderlin poem which consists of its various “functions,” McCall notes:
19. The complexity of McCall’s analysis is raised a notch or two when he shows how the passage from the “substance” poem of “Dichtermut” to the greater determination of “Blödigkeit” in effect shows that the problematic identified with the posited notion of “the middle” results in the project of a second-order “lyric of criticism”:
20. In the passage above, McCall in effect undermines in advance what could sound like Benjamin’s triumphant proclamation of “the sole sovereignty of relation” that constitutes das Gedichtete. But then here too he is really only following Benjamin’s lead, following Hölderlin, by unpacking what is at stake and calling into question the character of that sovereignty, as he does again in this related passage:
21. The specter of “das Gedichtete” surfaces again in Theodor Adorno’s late, formidable essay “Parataxis: On Hölderlin’s Late Poetry.” Despite being a voracious reader of literature and much else, Adorno could hardly be called a philologist. In responding to Adorno’s rather severe critique of his work on Baudelaire, Benjamin opened one of his letters with the decidedly testy line: “On est philologue ou on ne l’est pas” (“Either one is a philologist or one is not”) (C 596). Yet this non-philologist, Adorno, whose writings on literature account for about 1/20 of his published work, and an equally small portion of the Nachlass, comes to write about Hölderlin some fifty years after Benjamin’s essay on the poet, and is clearly in his old and older friend’s debt. Adorno’s essay originated as an address before the Hölderlin Society (Hölderlin-Gesellschaft), which is to say, before an audience filled mainly with (modern) philologists.  Adorno begins by acknowledging the many advances in the understanding of Hölderlin via philology in the narrow and broad senses. Indeed, remarkable strides had been made since, say, Nietzsche only had access to Hölderlin’s work in partial, unsatisfactory fashion and when extended commentary on the poet’s corpus was almost non-existent.  But already in the opening paragraph, Adorno challenges what would have been axiomatic for a good many in his audience: “The difficulty of these authors does not prohibit interpretation so much as demand it. According that axiom, knowledge of literary works would consist in the reconstruction of what the author intended. But the firm foundation philology imagines it possesses has proved unstable” (“Parataxis” 109). Against the pervasive tendency of philology to take authorial intention as a basis for guiding interpretation, Adorno argues that “What unfolds and becomes visible in the works, the source of their authority, is none other than the truth manifested objectively in them, the truth that consumes the subjective intention and leaves it behind as irrelevant” (110). Whereas this may be true in general, Adorno is interested in registering its consequences in the vexed case of Hölderlin, for whom the subject has a special, historically constituted status, not least for his singular (but in some respects, not-so-singular) relation to language.
22. The “starting-point” for philology, Wilamowitz-Moellendorff contended in his history of the discipline, is “a feeling of wonder in the presence of what we do not understand” [“das Verwundern über das Unverstandene”] (1). Adorno recognizes, as we noted above, that philology has proved itself capable of putting us in a position to understand some texts and things better, and yet that there are limits to that philological understanding even or especially regarding what is arguably the most essential:
23. The understanding of Hölderlin, however, is helped partly by Heidegger in taking up, independently, the very category Benjamin too had stumbled on or had been forced to invent. Adorno acknowledges the possibilities it affords for thinking through Hölderlin, even as he does something a little different than either of his forerunners. As he says in the following remarkable footnote:
24. The work of Tom McCall inscribes itself in the tradition of “extreme philology” (with particular and indeed the utmost attention to Hölderlin) or at the very least a philology sensitive to the extremities of texts. We have already seen how McCall tracks and deepens this sort of analysis in his reading of Benjamin reading Hölderlin. In coming to a close, I want to highlight some aspects of McCall’s most direct engagements with Hölderlin, readings that rival in their intensity and perspicacity the achievements of his illustrious predecessors.
25. McCall concentrates on Hölderlin’s notoriously eccentric translations of Sophocles, as powerful as they are problematic. He sees in them much more than a failed attempt by a poet on the cusp of madness and with a less-than-perfect grasp of ancient Greek struggling with the local difficulties of translating two of the most imposing tragedies in the canon. They are a performance of and reflection on the vexed historical and linguistic relations obtaining between a modern German and an ancient Greek, a bridge over something that Walter Benjamin, not for nothing, specified as abyssal. In his famous essay on “The Task of the Translator,” Benjamin had contended that translations were characterized by the “looseness” or the “fleeting” relation to the meaning of the originals, for which the paradigm is Hölderlin’s project on Sophocles:
26. Hölderlin’s translations were often understood, perhaps because of the combination of madness and bad Greek, to be unduly literal renditions of Sophocles, or at least their Wörtlichkeit, as Benjamin stresses, a term usually translated as “literality” (indeed, one of its senses) but which also can denote the character of being “word-for-word,” thus also a matter of syntax. Tending to take, by and large, the word as the unit to be translated, rather than the more usual (at least now) option of the sentence, Hölderlin produces versions that are faithful (aside from errors!) at one level, but “monstrous” (the word is Benjamin’s [SW 1.260]) at another, because the word-for-wordness of the translation results in a distinctly strange German text, verging on un-German.  This is of great theoretical import for Benjamin, since he is arguing against translations that simply dissolve into their own language and for translations that mark themselves as foreign, that retrain traces of their other from the original at the very surface of the “home” language.
27. Something of the texture and power of McCall’s reading of Hölderlin’s procedure can be registered by following his analysis of one of the famous locutions: Hölderlin’s rendition of Zeus as, astonishingly, “Vater der Zeit” (“father of time”). (What follows is part McCall, part my extrapolation or gloss of McCall.  ) McCall understandably wonders why a virtually pure transliteration of the Greek name Ζεύς as the German Zeus would not be a perfectly good, obvious choice, the identity of the two names being bolstered by the familiarity with Zeus as a Greek god for any educated German. Here what would get “lost in translation” would seem to be as minimal as can be. Moreover, as McCall recalls, normally proper names stand outside the domain of units of language that require translation. If anything need not be translated—and indeed resists translation—it would be the proper name. At most, there is sometimes a transposition of some letters, substituting the equivalents or near equivalents between the languages. And one might think that in the translation of the name of a god, one should interfere as little as possible. Not only does Hölderlin not reproduce the name literally, letter by letter, in German, he switches the category from proper name to common noun, or a phrase made up of common nouns. Eschewing the obvious and easy translation, Hölderlin opts for a charged, resonant and allegorizing “name” that is hardly a name, indeed something closer to an epithet or gloss. McCall notes: “Holderlin’s example undoes a fundamental linguistic distinction and shows that even the god—that most proper of all entities—has to be re-denominated again and again, in a rhetorical movement which we will be aligning with allegory” (“Wrathful Translation” para. 7). “Father of time” renders, improperly, “Zeus,” providing a figuration where none seemed required. Of the possible determinations of Zeus (from among all his characteristics or attributes) Hölderlin singles out “father of time”—which is not just any identity when it comes to translation and, for that matter, tragedy. It is in and through time that Zeus becomes the “father of time.” The intervention of time makes Zeus appear as the “father of time,” as the engenderer of time, the agent of the victory of the Olympians over the Titans.  Zeus made possible his ultimate translation, in the fullness of time, as “father or time.” The father of time is all the more just that, in and after (some) time, retroactively. But how does this work as a translation? If Zeus is the “father of time” is that not included, as it were, in the name Zeus? Why render him in just that and only that way? It is at once more specific and more reductive to call Zeus “father of time.” It makes explicit and allegorical what was only one aspect to which the name Zeus possibly referred. Time is the very medium in which Zeus transforms and in such a way that it renders it necessary or plausible for Hölderlin to (re)name Zeus “father of time.”
28. The charged identification of Zeus as “father of time” is linked to another motif that McCall highlights in Hölderlin’s characterization of how time operates in the Sophoclean tragedies (both Oedipus Tyrannos and Antigone), namely the reissende (tearing) texture of time. Following the famous analysis of the caesura, the counter-rhythmical interruption required to balance the two unequal “halves” of each tragedy—a caesura paradoxically featuring the appearance of the “pure word” such that representation as such appears, in each play, in the oracular speeches of Tiresias—Hölderlin comments on the wrath of Oedipus that takes the form of his relentless desire to know:
29. Philology is, in the very fabric of its being, dedicated to making sense of texts. In the extreme case of Hölderlin, who is at the same time exemplary, philology confronts literature in the act of unmaking sense even as much as it makes sense(s). Such philology requires extreme measures to respond, in this case, to the Hölderlin translations that McCall judiciously calls “critical.” In this the translations are not fundamentally different from Hölderlin’s poetic works—works that are themselves sensibly understood as what Hamacher calls “first philology.” In his grand endeavor McCall exemplifies the sort of philosophically informed philology practiced by thinkers, such as Adorno and Benjamin, not prone to smooth over difficulties of texts in order to encompass them in some overarching discourse that makes eminently good sense. To make perfect sense of Hölderlin: that way madness lies.
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 For first-rate accounts of the ethos and attitude of classical philology from “within” but sympathetic to any number of Nietzsche’s contentions, see Karl Reinhardt, Glenn Most, and James Porter. For a literally old-school, sharp history of classical philology to the early twentieth century century, see Wilamowitz-Moellendorff. For a recent, thorough account of Nietzsche’s philology and its relation to his contemporaries, see Christoph Benne. BACK
 Not all the philologists or quasi-philologists in this loose counter-tradition share Nietzsche’s politics. Yet even Walter Benjamin, whose politics were usually quite different from Nietzsche’s, invokes favorably the Nietzsche of the Untimely Meditations, especially the second “On the Use and Abuse of History for Life,” which argues for (among other things) a critical history and one directed against “the victors.” For an acute reading of that Nietzsche essay in relation to nineteenth-century German thinking on philology, see Glenn Most. BACK
 Kommerell was the author of numerous distinguished essays but also of one notorious book from 1928 called The Poet as Führer in German Classicism (a book Benjamin reviewed with decidedly mixed feelings in “Against a Masterpiece,” [Selected Writings 2.378-385]). He was throughout the 1920s in the inner circle of the (Stefan) George-Circle, having served as George’s secretary for several years and having studied with Friedrich Gundolf. He broke from the circle at the end of the 20s. He became a party member of the NDSAP in 1939. BACK
 The next few pages on Benjamin rework material addressed in an earlier, differently focused essay of mine, “The Philosophy of Philology and the Crisis of Reading: Schlegel, Benjamin, de Man” (2010). BACK
 For a superb set of reflections on the chronicle as interpolation, and more generally, for the status of interpolation for Benjaminian philology, see “Interpolationen: Benjamins Philologie.” BACK
 In a very fine analysis of the essay, and the fullest that we have, Alexander Honold is likely right to maintain that Benjamin’s project is “weniger philologisch als aesthetisch” (“less philological than aesthetic”) (53), though that is partly a matter of texture rather than content. BACK
 Readers coming to Benjamin’s essay from outside the German philosophical tradition might be surprised by the emphasis on truth, but such emphasis is virtually a constant in German aesthetic theory in Friedrich Schelling, G.W.F. Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Benjamin, Adorno, and more. BACK
 For an illuminating, thorough account of the occasion of the address and the polemical character of essay (written largely contra Heidegger), see Robert Savage, Hölderlin after the Catastrophe: Heidegger—Adorno—Brecht. BACK
 The volume of the Frankfurt edition of the translations produces an interlinear version of the Greek text and a German one (not identical to Hölderlin’s, which is on the opposite page), which permits one to gauge the relative word-for-wordness of Hölderlin’s versions. See Sämtliche Werke of Hölderlin. BACK
 Hölderlin’s short ode “Natur und Kunst oder Saturn und Jupiter” (“Nature and Art or Saturn and Jupiter”) aligns, allegorically, Jupiter/Zeus with art and its difference from nature. One way to conceive of this is that art, as the break from or with nature, marks the beginning of time. BACK