I have many times compared my own poetic production--I am using "poetic" in its larger sense--I have compared my own opus with the work of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. In many respects, my output is pawky beside his, of course. He has at his beck and call Frankfurt's flowery culture and Europe's hoary history. In some other respects--for example in sincerity, because all us dustbowlers are autodidacts--my work may be superior to his. He has it in him, of course. But, as a European, he is denied the opportunity to be an autodidact. And that schoolmastering father of his! Sartre's father "had the grace to beget him and die." Out in Texas fathers have the grace to abdicate, totally. Sincerity, in my opinion, is the sine qua non of all good work. I do not deny that Goethe is sincere. But only the bare bones autodidact enjoys that precious gift of starting out from free spontaneity. Back home we call that starting from scratch.
But I stray from the subject. I compare myself with Goethe because of the psychiatric content of my own work. As every school child knows--well, every German school child, anyhow--Goethe begins to write his immortal poetry in the moment, in dem Moment, when he exits the liberal, Enlightened tradition and delves into intimately personal experience, especially the pain which were else repressed. Oh, your modern critics may pooh-pooh the biographical dimension of poetry, but then it was not they who elevated Goethe as major German classic, was it? Furthermore, Goethe does depth-analysis with the shrewd self-consciousness of a psychiatrist. One might even accuse Dr. Freud of copycatting Goethe. Out here in Indian Creek, and at Kyle, I learned no more about Freud than Goethe does from the eighteenth century, yet with my lifespan just as long as Goethe's, and longer, I continue to delve into my past, evaluating those emotional traumas for poetic as well as for therapeutic ends.
So at last I come to the paragraph with which I should have begun this letter: My dear Professor Worthy, may I not pronounce a modest word or two on the subject being discussed between you and the venerable Privy Councillor von Goethe? Since personality, individual personality, is the major component of poetry, not in everyone's opinion to be sure, but in my opinion and in the opinion of His Excellency von Goethe, who is caught in the act of denying it, must it not be so, that ineffable individuality is in fact immortal? I would be much aggrieved to think that you could read a single one of my stories without gazing deep into the heart of your faithful Landsmännin,
Katherine Anne Porter
P. S. And the same goes for Goethe.
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