by John Holbo on August 15, 2006

Does it ever seem weird to you that Hegel and Hölderlin and Schelling were college roommates? Or, for that matter, that Hamann and Jacobi were housemates? The whole business strikes me as quite suspicious.

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The Modesto Kid 08.15.06 at 9:14 am

Hard for me to imagine who else could tolerate sharing a flat with them.


Tom 08.15.06 at 9:15 am

Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, and Edward Gorey.


Jasper Milvain 08.15.06 at 9:22 am


DVH 08.15.06 at 9:33 am

Looking back on it, I find it hard to believe that Bertram, Farrell, Holbo and Barlow once collaborated on a weblog.


John Holbo 08.15.06 at 9:35 am

Tom, that’s amazing.

Getting back to my suspicions: it makes me wonder whether what Heidegger thought was the ground of Being might have been just a particularly messy Tübingen dorm room floor, after all.


TinaDo 08.15.06 at 9:51 am

And than there was the romantic poet and philsopher group who shared a flat in Jena: Friedrich Schlegel, August Wilhelm Schelgel, Caroline Schlegel, Dorothea Schlegel, Schelling (again), Novalis, Johann Wilhem Ritter plus Hegel, Fichte and Schiller living nearby in this small little German university town.

Or the whole Weimar thing around 1800. This town was so small that Goethe, Schiller, Herder, Humboldt et al. could simply not avoid to bump into each other. And of course Jena is in the near vicinity of Weimar, or to put it correctly: Weimar is in the close vicinity of Weimar.


Richard Bellamy 08.15.06 at 9:54 am

Somebody needs to read “Sociology of Philosophies” by Randall Collins.


Steven Chabot 08.15.06 at 10:01 am

Or that they really ended their long friendship arguing whether the the identity of thought and being could exist within thought. Is that really something to end a friendship over. To suspicious, sounds like a lover’s tryst to me.

Or get Hegel’s dig on Schelling in the Preface to Phenomenology:

To pit this single assertion, that “in the Absolute all is one”, against the organised whole of determinate and complete knowledge, or of knowledge which at least aims at and demands complete development — to give out its Absolute as the night in which, as we say, all cows are black — that is the very naïveté of emptiness of knowledge.

What’s that really all about, eh? Right, “cows”, “night”…what’s really going on here? Can’t just be Hegelian jibber-jabber.


matt d 08.15.06 at 10:07 am

Everybody needs to read Collins. Or maybe just read the diagrams– the book is really, really long. But amazing.


Anderson 08.15.06 at 10:12 am

Or, for that matter, that Hamann and Jacobi were housemates?

Nothing like a housemate to get you exercised about nihilism. “I don’t CARE if nothing matters, it’s YOUR turn to do the dishes!”


Steve LaBonne 08.15.06 at 10:25 am

The whole business strikes me as quite suspicious.

Dan Brown, call your agent.


Adam Kotsko 08.15.06 at 11:04 am

I’ve always found it amusing that there is a significant text that is cited as being written by “Hegel or Hölderlin or Schelling.”

What happens to philosophy when the two options seem to be either a sprawling metropolis or a suburb? There seems to be a necessary relationship between a vibrant philosophical scene and cities of a certain size. (I suppose I just “discovered” why philosophy has mainly retreated to the university.)


TinaDo 08.15.06 at 11:10 am

@ John Holbo:
Have you ever been to Tübingen? Or Heideggers Todtnauberg? Or heard people talk in these rather strange german dialects (!) they speak there? Swabian in Tübingen and the closely related Alemanic in Todtnauberg. Listen to an ordinary farmer from a village near Tübingen and reading Hegel’s Phenomenology will never be the same. As will Heidegger-Babble after asking for the way in Todtnauberg. No kidding.


Scott McLemee 08.15.06 at 11:53 am

I’ll give a third plug for The Sociology of Philosophies. The title doesn’t really do the book justice. It came out in 1998, before everybody else was talking about networks.

By the way, I suspect his more recent book Interaction Ritual Chains would be useful for thinking about blogs, among other things.


Ajax 08.15.06 at 1:20 pm

“Does it ever seem weird to you that Hegel and Hölderlin and Schelling were college roommates?”

Reading this post reminded me immediately of the story told by Richard Feynman about a dream he had one night concerning his aunt. He’d not heard from her for a long time, and while he was dreaming about her, his phone rang. After waking up and answering the phone, guess what? It wasn’t her calling!

It is not surprising that one combination, of the many millions of college-roommate-pairs, should involve people who became well-known in the same field. And when one considers that the two events are not necessarily causally independent (eg, the three may have had the same inspiring teacher, and/or they may have sparked off one another, and/or they may each have helped each other’s careers along), then the relationship is even less suprising.


Kenny Easwaran 08.15.06 at 3:02 pm

I believe that Gustav Mahler and Hugo Wolf were college roommates as well (in conservatory).

And in more recent times, I seem to recall hearing that Barbara Partee, David Lewis, Peter Unger, and Gilbert Harman were close friends all the way from undergrad at Swarthmore!


derek 08.15.06 at 3:26 pm

I’m always amazed that X famous comedian turns out to have sat next to Y famous musician at school.

Or, for that matter, that Tommy Lee Jones and Al Gore were roommates at college.


Adam Kotsko 08.15.06 at 4:14 pm

Um, guys — this isn’t the same kind of coincidence. They worked closely with each other, at least for a time, and one might expect that people who closely collaborate or start a major intellectual movement would come together through more “official” or “intellectual” means than simple luck of the draw on being college roommates.


Jim Harrison 08.15.06 at 4:28 pm

As a compulsive reader of prefaces and bibliographies, I can attest that Collins’ book is everywhere these days, though often well under the surface. More generally, lots of folks seem to be pursuing what might be called the Great Clique theory of intellectual history, c.f. Jenny Uglow’s book The Lunar Men, which describes an amazing collection of friends in late 18th Century England that included Erasmus Darwin, Wedgewood, Joseph Priestly, James Watts, and many others.


ron up north 08.15.06 at 9:44 pm

Wally Cox and Marlon Brando!?


bad Jim 08.16.06 at 4:36 am

Why has no one mentioned Cary Grant and Randolph Scott?


ajay 08.16.06 at 4:54 am

I suppose it’s quite a coincidence that, in the whole British armed forces, Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves ended up in the same battalion at the same time (1 Royal Welch Fusiliers). But then again, neither had written much of anything before the war, so you could argue that they both became famous poets because they knew and encouraged each other, and it wasn’t that much of a coincidence after all.


T. Scrivener 08.16.06 at 7:28 am

“then the relationship is even less surprising.”

Also consider that geniuses tend to seek each other out ( witness all the friendships between them). Intelligent people are often drawn together out of loneliness, how much more geniuses?


harry b 08.16.06 at 9:02 am

Richard Thompson went to school with Hugh Cornwell. I think they were in a band together, and RT taught HC to play.

Think of Shrewsbury in the early 1950s — Peter Cook, Michael Palin, John Peel, Willie Rushton, Paul Foot, Richard Ingrams (who’s the odd one out?)


ajay 08.16.06 at 9:57 am

So did Raymond Chandler and P.G.Wodehouse, but they didn’t collaborate on something brilliant. In fact, the mind boggles at the very idea of the attempt.

You want to be careful saying things like that on Making Light, old boy…


Ray Davis 08.16.06 at 11:20 am

Jack Spicer and Philip K. Dick.


Colin Cmiel 08.16.06 at 2:56 pm

This sort of thing always reminds me of Charles Rosen who says in the Classical Style (and I paraphrase) that the entirety of the classical style has been defined by history as consisting of two close friends and their student.

But what friends! and what a student.


T. Scrivener 08.16.06 at 11:23 pm

“But then again, neither had written much of anything before the war, so you could argue that they both became famous poets because they knew and encouraged each other, and it wasn’t that much of a coincidence after all.”

Has anyone considered the exciting possibility this raises, that genius may not be that rare and that meeting the right people might make it bloom? There are cases of teachers with several famous scientists/intellectuals etc as pupils, this suggests that having a brillant teacher/mentor can enormously change you.


Thom Brooks 08.17.06 at 8:02 am

Hegel and co. should genuinely not be so suspicious: they came from a common tradition and shared broad similarities in view. Hegel was an admirer of Schelling in his early days and an admirer of Holderlin to the end. Nothing odd about that.

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