Saturday, April 19, 2014

Footnotes, Or, Oh, That Hegel

I have been reading, with much interest, Not I by Joachim Fest. I have been distracted here and there by the footnotes. These can be very helpful, as when they identify German poets and writers little known to most of us in the English-speaking world. They can also be a bit odd, something I noticed with a footnote on page 102, which explains a board game of naval strategy, the text  being
later we replayed historic sea battles from Salamis to Trafalgar and Jutland.
The note reads
These are major historical maritime battles from the Greeks via the Napoleonic Wars to the First World War; to Germans it is the Battle of Skagerrak, not Jutland.
Now, given that Fest's memoir is largely about his life under the Third Reich, and about his decision to become a historian, it is fair to assume that most who buy the book will have some interest in history. Those who have enough interest in history to spend $17 and tax on the book seem likely to me to have heard of Salamis and Trafalgar, if not Jutland. Is the footnote in effect an apology for the translator rendering "Skagerrak" as "Jutland"? I'm not likely to find out.

On page 387, discussing the collapse of the Weimar Republic, Fest writes
Consequently, broad but fickle sections of the population, who were essentially well disposed  to the republic, believed themselves to be threatened by radicals of the right and left; they increasingly surrendered to the idea that nothing less than the spirit of the age was against them. With Hegel in one's intellectual baggage one was even more susceptible to such thinking.
And the footnote explains
Fest here refers not to the Hegel whose reception, especially via France, has dominated so much of postmodern Western thought. He writes of the founder and main representative of German Idealism as he was popularly dispensed in German secondary schools and universities well into the 1960s. One of the seminal modern thinkers, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1700-1831) has profoundly changed speculation in most fields of philosophy from logic to ontology and from philosophy of history to aesthetics.
 I cannot imagine who can both understand this footnote and require it.

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