Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Trip to Cambridge and the Remarkable Karl Guthke

Prof. Karl Guthke (right) and Marty Coulbourn, Berkeley, 1957

            I received a telephone call recently from a man with what I thought was a British accent.  “This is Karl Guthke", the voice said. …" you may not remember me…..”
            “Karl Siegfried Fürchtegott Guthke!  Of course I remember you!” 
            Karl and I met 59 years ago, when he came to America the first time from Germany More about that later.
            It turns out that he and his wife have been living in Lincoln, MA since 1969; he has taught German literature at Harvard since 1969, and we have lived just an hour apart for the past 21 years. He invited me to visit him at Harvard.  Although he is now retired, he still has an office in the Widener Library.
            I parked in a strange underground parking garage where the roof at each level seemed to be about six inches above the roof of my car, and cars were tucked in everywhere, so finally parking there was a work of art. However, Cambridge meter maids are famously expert at handing out parking tickets, so I was not about to try looking for a metered spot and then exceeding two hours. 
            Cambridge is really different from my world.  Zip Code 02138 is known as the most Liberal zip code in the country and I believe it.  As I drove into Harvard Square I passed a Revolutionary book store.  I could imagine it filled with hirsute Bohemians who might vaguely resemble Che Guevara or Vladimir Lenin.
            People here seem to celebrate the “other” of our national life. In my two years in the old Soviet Union I never saw so many people who thought that Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and Lenin were the really good guys. Intense-looking lollabouts relaxing in the intellectual atmosphere of Harvard Square They seem to take pride in tee shirts with the slogans and the face of Guevara, or Malcolm X, Stalin, Eugene V. Debs, Pancho Villa, Zapata, Rosa Luxemburg or just “Hang all the Capitalists!”
            [You have to give Cambridge denizens credit:  Who else in all of Massachusetts would even know who Rosa Luxemburg or Gene Debs was?]
            As I walked along the street, I saw a scraggly young man seated on the sidewalk with a large sign that said “Homeless— Vegetarian.”      
            Most cars had Obama bumper stickers on them.  No Palin or Perry or other such stickers here!
            Everyone looked the part of Harvard. Either the students and would-be students with backpack and cell phone at the ready, waiting for an urgent call… 
            Or, the bearded, pale-skinned professorial types with tweed jackets and bulging briefcases…
            Or the intense looking men who looked like they had just left an important meeting in Mogadishu, Mumbai or Mombasa, and were on their way to share their wisdom with other equally important people in some Harvard seminar room.
            It was time for me to leave this quasi-Harvard world and penetrate the little portals and enter Harvard Yard.  What a beautiful sight of green grass and trees with elegant, stately buildings on all sides!  Workers were putting up the tents and banners for the graduation ceremony the following week.  Groups of visitors were walking thoughtfully from a trip to view the statue of John Harvard to see the Widener Library.  In one group, everyone looked Eastern European; the next Chinese.  Some young Chinese were cheerily posing for pictures with the august John Harvard.
            Maybe it was just my imagination, but everyone, even the bums, looked so thoughtful!
            I went into the guard station at the Widener, which is a magnificent library of some 15 million volumes, and asked to contact Professor Guthke. The Professor arrived—we had not seen each other in 54 years!
He showed me up to his third floor office in this huge library, and I passed offices with people in them but looked like there had been a book explosion, with books stacked haphazardly all over everything.
            Karl’s office, however, was very neat, with antique maps hung in frames.  He pointed to the shelves that contained books he had written, both in English and German.  I later searched his books on and found some 24, but I suspect there are many more.
            Karl showed me the room at the center of the library that contained the books that belonged to a young gentleman from the Class of 1907, Harry Elkins Widener. He lost his life in the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, and his family bequeathed money to Harvard to build this library, which was completed in 1915.  At the front center of this room was an enclosed case containing one of the original copies of the Gutenberg Bible.
            We viewed two reading rooms, and it appeared as if most students were reading from laptops, perhaps reading material NOT in the 15 million volume collection, but from some other library in the world. Or maybe just doing their Facebook...
            Karl and I walked across the Harvard Yard to the Faculty Club, and this was every bit what you would expect:  A comfortable, old-style Gentlemen’s club with a reading room, and an attractive dining room with many young, clean-cut and well-attired attendants.  Faculty members and guests at the tables mostly wore ties, the ladies were well-dressed and everyone looked appropriately professorial.  

Karl Guthke.  In my senior year in high school we hosted a young German student in our home for a few weeks. He was one of about 12 men and women sent to Port Arthur (Texas) from different parts of West Germany as part of The Experiment in International Living. 
            I think these were all very bright young people; after living with families in Port Arthur they would go on to colleges in the U.S. and then return to Germany The objective was to show German citizens American-style democracy.  This was seven years after World War II had ended.  This “Experiment” was one of many programs intended to help rebuild Europe after this disastrous war.
            Karl Siegfried Fürchtegott Guthke was 19 years old, from Leer, Ostfriesland, a town in northwest Germany near the Dutch border.  He had just graduated from the Gymnasium, he said, and from what he said and did, we gathered that he already had received a whole lot more education than one would get in an American high school. 
            At any rate, he was headed for Texas University in the fall, as was I.
            All of these young Germans spoke English fluently, but there were many cultural differences that we discovered as time went on.  First, all we knew about Germans is what we had read about Nazi troops marching across Europe, and Hitler, and swastikas, and … really not much good.
            My mother, however, had studied German in college and spoke a good bit of it, and, as a person born in 1908, had a broader, more balanced picture of Germany
            The Germans noted that young people in Texas all were able to drive, and many had cars.  For them that was a big difference.  In talking with Karl many years later he told me that he had never felt any unpleasantness, dislike or hatred from Americans in those earlier years. 

German students and Texas hosts singing Christmas carols, Port Arthur, TX, 1952

Our family included Karl in trips to McFadden beach, on the Gulf of Mexico, a few miles from Port Arthur, and to Cow Creek or Cow Bayou, two fresh water swimming spots. Also, I thought it would be fun to take Karl on a very low-cost trip across the southern United States He and I hitchhiked from Port Arthur, across southern Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama to Pensacola, Florida, in the panhandle of that state.  Then we hitchhiked back, and arrived home unmolested and unmurdered, something far less likely today (2011).  
            In the fall, Karl and I entered Texas University I began a year as a typical Texas kid, trying to get a college education at the very least cost possible.  My parents, like many other middle class people in those days, were not affluent at all, and even the low price for an in-state student at a state school was a stretch. 
            I think Karl had very few extra dollars as well.
            We lived in different rooming houses, and we visited each other only rarely. 
            At the end of the school year, I had completed a year of college.
            Karl, on the other hand, through his native brilliance, his superb educational preparation in Germany, and his year of intense study in Austin, was able to apply for and satisfactorily complete a test that allowed him to be granted a Master’s degree in English! 
            He didn’t even have a bachelor’s degree, but his professors found that to be no problem.
            After that year in Texas, by the terms of his grant, he returned to Germany, where he quickly obtained a PhD. After he had his doctorate, he contacted his old professor at Texas, who had since moved to U.C. Berkeley, and soon Karl was an assistant professor at Berkeley

            Karl spent a few years at Berkeley, then went to the University of Toronto to teach, and finally landed at Harvard in 1968.  Since then he has had a brilliant career teaching German literature and writing many, many books.
            Karl somehow tracked me down recently (April 2011) and invited me to lunch at the Harvard Faculty Club, and we got together again, after 57 years. 

Some of Karl’s books:
Karl Siegfried Guthke, The Gender of Death: A Cultural History in Art and Literature (Cambridge University Press, 1999).
Last Words: Variations on a Theme in Cultural History by (Oct 30, 1992)
Erkundungen: Essays Zur Literatur Von Milton Bis Travern (Germanic Studies in America) (German Edition)  (Sep 1983)
Last Frontier: Imagining Other Worlds, from the Copernican Revolution to Modern Science Fiction by Guthke and Helen Atkins (Nov 1990)
B. Traven: The Life Behind the Legends by Guthke and Robert C. Sprung (Apr 1991)
Epitaph Culture in the West: Variations on a Theme in Cultural History (Apr 2003)
Letzte Worte: Variationen uber ein Thema der Kulturgeschichte des Westens (German Edition) (1990)
Ist der Tod eine Frau?: Geschlecht und Tod in Kunst und Literatur (German Edition) (1998)
Das deutsche bürgerliche Trauerspiel (1972)
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (Sammlung Metzler ; Bd. 65 : Abt. D, Literaturgeschichte) (German Edition)  (1979)
Das deutsche burgerliche Trauerspiel (Sammlung Metzler. Abt. D, Literaturgeschichte) (German Edition) (1980)
Das deutsche bürgerliche Trauerspiel. (Jan 1, 1994)
Literaturkritik (Freies Deutsches Hochstift) by Albrecht Von Haller and Guthke (Jan 1970)
B. Traven: Biographie eines Ratsels (German Edition) (1987)
Gerhart Hauptmann: Weltbild im Werk (Uni-Taschenbucher) (German Edition) (1980)
Gerhart Hauptmann: Weltbild im Werk (Uni-Taschenbucher) (German Edition) (1980)
Das Abenteuer der Literatur: Studien zum literarischen Leben der deutschsprachigen Lander von der Aufklarung bis zum Exil (German Edition) (1981)
Der Mythos der Neuzeit: Das Thema der Mehrheit der Welten in der Literatur- und Geistesgeschichte von der kopernikanischen Wende bis zur Science Fiction (German Edition)  (1983)
Schillers Dramen: Idealismus und Skepsis (Edition Orpheus) (German Edition)  (1994)
Lessings Horizonte.  (Apr 30, 2003)

[NOTE: This Blog was originally posted on July 17, 2011.  This version includes recently discovered old photos and some updating.]

Now, while we are the subject of books, The Personal Navigator offers these books and papers:

New York Almanac, The, 1880 Hudnut, James M., Editor 1879 New York, NY: Francis Hart & Company, 63-65 Murray St.  64 pp. 16 x 22.5 cm. Almanac features engravings and brief biographies of leading political figures in U.S., including John Sherman and A.G. Thurman of Ohio, Samuel J, Tilden and William A. Wheeler of New York, Thomas A. Hendricks of Indiana, James G. Blaine of Maine, George B. McClellan of New Jersey, George F. Edmunds of Vermont, Thomas F. Bayard of Delaware, and U.S. Grant of Illinois. Almanac includes industrial statistics, value of imports, hints for Healthful Homes, Life Insurance Topics (several pages), ads for newspapers, magazines, life insurance, fire insurance. Paper booklet, slight staining on back cover, very good. (8180) $19.00. Biography

Custom of War: A Solemn Review of the Custom of War; Showing That War is the Effect of Popular Delusion and Proposing a Remedy; eleventh American edition, revised by author  Pacificus, Philo (Noah Worcester)            1833    Boston, MA: S.G. Simpkins. Author notes that we regard with horror the customs of ancient heathens, in offering their children in sacrifice to idols.  We are shocked by the customs of the Hindoos, in burning woman alive on the funeral pyres of their husbands, and by casting living children into the Ganges in a living sacrifice-- yet Christian nations decide controversy among nations by the edge of a sword, by powder and ball, or the point of a bayonet!   The depravity occasioned by war is not confined to the army. Every species of vice gains ground in a nation during war.  Author declares that war is a heathenish and savage custom, of the most malignant, most desolating, and most horrible character. 24 pp. 15.5 x 24 cm. Paper booklet, bound by strands of thread. Several pages have never been opened. Fair.  (8174) $26.00. Educational/Religious

Gerit Smith, M.C. New York, 1854

Gerit Smith's Speech to the Congress on The Nebraska Bill, April 6, 1854 by Smith, Gerrit 1854 Washington, DC: Buell & Blanchard, Printers. Gerrit Smith (1797-1874)  was a Congressman from New York when he made this speech,  a stirring call to abolish slavery, and fighting against slavery in Nebraska and the Nation. "This nation holds, in the iron and crushing grasp of slavery, between three and four millions, whose poor hearts writhe and agonize no less than would ours, were their fate our fate. And yet, she is not content even with these wide desolations of human rights and human happiness. On the contrary, she is continually seeking to extend the horrid realm of slavery.... there is imminent danger, that Nebraska and Kansas will be wrested from freedom, and added to the domain of slavery and sorrow."  Smith was a more vocal opponent than most of the abolitionists, including even Garrison. Shortly after this speech he became so impatient with Congress that he resigned, and began more aggressive and violent work in freeing slaves.  24 pp. 15 x 22 cm. Paper booklet, pages worn, first sheet loose, poor. (7626) $45.00. History/Slavery

Rockport Eagle, The, Rockport, Mass., Thursday, Oct. 22, 1970Hurnowicz, Frank and Betty J, editors.  1970            Rockport, MA The Rockport Eagle Newspaper Co. Weekly edition features photo and story about Clarence Waddell, boat builder. Selectmen focused attention on Commonwealth's plan for reconstructing Rt. 127 at Nugent's Stretch, and criticism of Representative Harrison for his apparently taking over citizens' petition organized by Ted Tarr.  Column, "Tongues & Cheeks" by Frenchy Hilliard attacks Selectmen Nick Barletta and G. Herbert Carlson about their criticism of his earlier remarks about Town Engineer and fence at the Granite Savings Bank.  12 pp. 29.5 x 44 cm. Newspaper, good. (8148) $15.00. Newspapers

Memoirs of the Harvard Dead in the War Against Germany, Vol. I, The Vanguard by Howe, M.A. DeWolfe 1920 Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.  Volume I the Vanguard includes the memoirs of thirty Harvard men whose deaths occurred before the United States entered the European War. Over 360 Harvard men died in World War I, and these are included in Vols. II through V. This volume contains the memoirs of George Williamson '05, Edward  Stone '08, André Chéronnet-Champollion '02, Harold Marion-Crawford 11, Calvin  Day 12-14, Carlton  Brodrick ’08, Harry Byng ’13, Henry Farnsworth ’12, Charles Cross Jr. 03, Archibald Ramsay 07, George Taylor 08, Allen Cleghorn (Instr), Crosby Whitman '86, Merrill Gaunt, Victor Chapman ’13, Clyde Maxwell '14, Alan Seeger '10, Henry Coit '10, Robert Pellissier '04, John Stairs (Law '14), Dillwyn Starr '08, William Lacey DMD '13, Norman Prince '08, Edward Sortwell '11, Edgar Shortt '17, Henry Simpson '18, Howard Lines (LLB '15), Lord Gorell (Henry Barnes) (Law '04), Addison Bliss '14 and Henry Suckley '10. Many colorful stories of the heroism of fine young Americans, Britons and Frenchmen. 200 pp. 15.6 x 23.7 cm. Red cloth on board with gilt page tops, title in gilt, cover bright and clean, spine sunfaded, several pages unopened, very good. (1742) $49.00. WWI/Biography

 Scene at Versailles

Lustige Blätter, No. 8 XXXIII Jahrg. 186. Kriegs-Nummer, February, 1918 (German World War I humor and propaganda magazine) Berlin, Germany: Verlag der Lustigen Blätter, (Dr. Eysler & Co.), G.m.b.H. Cover picture shows two stylish women and dog, one woman is holding cigarrette. Cover caption: “Friede im Often:Weißt du schon, Alma, fünf Millionen Zentner Eßwaren bekommen wir aus der Ukraine."
""Ja, mir wird förmlich Augst um meine schlauke Taille.""
Articles:  Neues Dekameron. Der Amerikaner und die Pariserin, features cartoons of American soldier and Parisiennes. Full page picture,"Frülingsarbeit in der Ukraine." ; Der erste Frieden. Two cartoons show scene at Versailles in January 1871 and January 1918. 16 pp. 24 x 32 cm. Paper periodical, spinefold worn, very good. (5813) $20.00. World War I/History/Propaganda

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