Rilke, Lady Gaga, and Wolfram E.

For various reasons Europe, and therefore Germany, has been on my mind this week. This afternoon I made some headway, thanks to a smart student presentation, in understanding a bit further the dynamics of German involvement in East Asia in the early 20th century. (I suppose that involvement had something to do with a thriving market for munitions in warlord-era China.) And so there were tales told of von Falkenhausen and the German military missions to Nanking, and I recalled writing about Frankfurt journalist Lily Abegg’s sojurns into war-torn China in 1937.

Therefore I determined to unearth a box of books for donation to the hands of various students. And, as this was being achieved in a great act of destruction of stagnancy, I ran across a citation of a collection of Chinese folklore: Dr. Wolfram Eberhard’s work on Chinese folklore. Which led me to realize that Dr. Eckhardt was, like so many intelligent observers, a German floating around China in 1934-1936. Trained as a Sinologist in Berlin, he was immersed in the collection of Chinese folklore, a pursuit which also brought him to Japan, led him to Sanskrit, and got him teaching for a decade as a “stateless” person in postwar Turkey before ending up in Berkeley. What a dude!

Eberhardt’s story brought some succor after I managed to get into the fallout of unearthing a bunch of documents in the Berlin archives about Japanese & Nazi cultural exchanges in 1939.

Why was all of this necessary? What act of scholarly daring or footnoted armageddon would this prepare me for? Well, isn’t it obvious? Doing this kind of cross-cultural study — attempting to understand the mutual interactions of German, Japanese, and Chinese civilizations — renders comprehensible one of the current epoch’s most troublesome pheonomeonon: Lady Gaga.

Thus, when I learned that she had visited Japan’s second-largest city, the entrepreurial and earthy Osaka, and been intentionally and permanently scarred by a tattoo proclaiming the divine spark of creation (promoting ein ewige Schaffensdrang, as it were) via a quote by German writer Rainer Maria Rilke, I was hardly ruffled in the least. In fact, you might say that the Sino-Japanese-Germanic loop is, at least while the ink is still drying on her arm, personified by the pop star. What would Eberhard say?

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