Ofterdingen’s Final Failure
The Swan-song of Peter Ceniti
Imagine picking up the newspaper one morning and reading:
Hello, this is God. I made the world you inhabit and everything it contains (in a
sense, at least – I mean, I didn’t create the chewing gum and the umbrellas ex
nihilo, but I provided the raw materials and endowed people like you with the
Well, for a long time I’ve been occupying myself with this task, but I’ve finally had
enough (it's becoming unhealthy) and so I’m ending it.
Note that I’m a personal God, the kind that knows himself in relation to the things
he makes, not the impersonal type God who, being inseparable from the cosmos,
needs neither to make nor to know ( a sort of everything-at-once / nothing-at-all
mush-of-a-god, in my opinion).
So what’s happening is I’m stepping back, climbing out from my creation, in
order to see in it the image of my self (despite its flaws, despite my eternal
failure to get it right). And the only way to do this is to bring it to an end, but at a
price: and so I'm alerting all of you - apologies if this is disconcerting - that the
show is over.
Faithful followers of the Ofterdingen Gesellschaft, something like this has
happened to me: it has come to my attention that I’m but the stuff of
dreams, the creation of Peter Andreacchi, who fashioned me to “search out the
ways of my life and find, in the apparent randomness of my forgotten labor, a
pattern,” – a task, apparently, I’ve completed, and so this is goodbye. Well, that’s
only fair, I suppose, seeing as it’s pretty much what I’ve done by “discovering” all
those works by Ofterdingen (as I now admit). Andreacchi, in turn, should not be
surprised to find his own destiny’s to show some greater god his face – and
disappear as well.
But before we go, Ofterdingen and I, there’s one more work to discuss, his
magnum opus, my swan-song and the instrument of Andreacchi’s re-emergence:
Hellas! Now, the experienced traveler among these pages will be aware of
Ofterdingen’s fascination, common among German Romantics, with ancient
Greece, whose idealized culture they viewed as exemplary for the rejuvenation of
society. Novalis and Hoelderlin, in particular, dreamed of a synthesis of Apollo
and Christ while, in England, Byron and Shelley, steeped in the classics,
expressed their sympathies for the contemporary Hellenes, the former with arms,
the latter in verse.
Indeed, the most substantial fragment of text we find for the present work comes
from the final chorus of Shelley’s uncompleted drama,
Hellas, a work suffused with antique allusions and fired with prophetic zeal, in
which the poet combines the theme of cyclic time (The world’s great age begins
anew / The golden years return) with the dream of progress, the hope of
liberation (The world is weary of the past / Oh might it die, or rest at last!),
spiraling toward a Final Restoration: Apocatastasis.
Sadly, but a few sketches by Ofterdingen have survived, and it is unclear from
these whether Hellas was to be an oratorio, a symphonic poem, or something
even worse. My guess is that the composer fell victim to the overwhelming
grandeur of his vision (the fate of Scriabin with his Mysterium) so that,
paradoxically, the larger and more inclusive his plans became, the more distant
loomed the specter of completion, until silence swallowed him, along with his
Not to worry: I am blithely occupied at present with elaborating these bits and
pieces into a lovely fantasy for solo piano which should be completed in the near
future (so stay tuned!).
In the margin alongside these musical sketches we find this touching note from the
See how, the moment I surrender, the moment I concede it’s only
fragments, the pieces begin to cohere!
Oh, how life has taught me this lesson, that when we relinquish control and
trust in a wisdom wider than ours are we granted the fulfillment of our dreams –
but at the price of no longer believing in them.
…Or is this artlessness artifice, this chaos calculated, this
disintegration intentional, arising from the desire “to respond to the world in an
articulate form without sacrificing the mysterious,” to rent, like lightning, the
opacity of quotidian experience, opening a breach…?
…In which case these shards of melody, this jumble of words, can be seen as
enacting a philosophy of art, and providing a model for the larger site, itself
an image of the vaster world without…
Enough! – though I could go on forever. I, Peter Ceniti, hereby lay aside my
editorial duties at the Gesellschaft. With gratitude I grasp the hand of Heinrich
von Ofterdingen – and bid him disappear. Reader, grasp now my hand, annihilate
me with the steadfastness of your gaze. See, where the light is glowing: a path
leads out from the labyrinth!