Poet: Novalis

When Geometric Diagrams and Digits (Wenn nicht mehr Zahlen und Figuren) by Novalis

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Novalis was the pen name of Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg, a poet, author, mystic, and philosopher of early German Romanticism. The poem here is When Geometric Diagrams and Digits from 1800, a year before his early death at the age of 28. In the original German, the poem is Wenn nicht mehr Zahlen und Figuren.

The film-maker, Eric Edelman, based in New York, has titled the video, Novalis. On the surface it appears very simple, yet I find so much to explore, and to learn from it. More an art work in motion than a film in the traditional sense, the video distills the beauty of the Novalis poem, and the inspiration Edelman draws from its author, into a minimal series of iconic elements, with the poem appearing at the end.

Edelman is a prolific creator of original gifs under his RetroCollage moniker, and the video shows evidence of this. Its style and tone are both contemporary and retro. I find the animation in this video to be the best of the many I have seen from him, and the most emotionally expressive. This is enhanced by a soundtrack from 1791: the Clarinet Concerto in A Major, K. 622, by Mozart.

The notes on the Vimeo page for the video reveal more about the diverse cultural influence of the work of Novalis:

Despite his short life and somewhat slender oeuvre, Novalis has since influenced many figures in Western culture, including Richard Wagner, Rudolph Steiner, Hermann Hesse, Walter Pater, George MacDonald, C.S. Lewis, Jorge Luis Borges, and Stan Brakhage.

The most famous of his works are the unfinished novel Heinrich von Ofterdingen and the poetry in his Hymns to the Night. The Blue Flower, shown in this video, occurs in Heinrich von Ofterdingen as a symbol of human aspiration toward love and spiritual advancement; it became central to the German Romantic movement.

Edelman’s bio tells us he has been making collages, by hand and digitally, for more than 25 years. He scans images from wood engravings found in books and magazines dating from 1850 to 1920, then colourises, combines and alters them in photo-manipulation software. The resulting pieces are “a mix of Surrealism and psychedelia, by turns playful and solemn, simple and complex, straightforward and mysterious”.

He collaborates as part of The Typewriter Underground, led by poet Marc Zegans. One of Edelman’s videos for this fascinating project, A Clack in the Tunnel, has been previously shared by Dave Bonta here at Moving Poems. Exhibitions of Edelman’s work include the Williamsburg Art & Historical Center and the American Museum of Natural History.