In the 1760s, a loose association of writers that might or might not have existed was scattered across Germany. From Baden to Bavaria, from the Black Forest to river cities, a diffuse band of eccentrics wrote treatises, stories, poems, and meditations. All of their inspirations had a center of gravity or allusive subtext concerned with the mystery of aesthetics and the eeriness of being. I’ll assume this shadowy group of writers did indeed exist. That way, I’ll be able to continue writing this essay.
The first stirrings of what would become known as German Romanticism were in the air — in the morning fogs drifting above rivers, through forests, around the forms of Gothic architecture.
The Society of Mutual Dreamers met twice a year – on the summer and winter solstices – at an undisclosed location. Karl Gottfried Fenstermacher (I’ll give him that name), who lived in the Black Forest, would bring to these gatherings the petals from a pale flower that grew in the shade of quietly troubled, darkly murmuring trees. During the secret meetings, attendees would partake of a liquid concoction distilled from those pale petals. They would collectively hallucinate into one another’s dreams and nightmares. They were determined, based on questionable hypotheses and principles, to derive or abstract a universal truth. They wished to touch the sleeping fabric of being, to examine its texture.
During these convergences into dreamland, they would compare impressions and mentally sketch stupefied rudiments for later pages. By such a collective oneiric experience, they hoped the sleeping spirit of the world might disclose a solution to the riddle of beauty and melancholy. These esoteric experiments, therefore, had a basis in Ästhetik und Weltschmerz, and were energized by the possibility of poetic transcendence.
How is it that they could all appear in each dream simultaneously? No one knows.
Inspired by these sojourns into metaphysical regions, the members would return to their homes and write about imagination and abyss. They wrote pages that have never been recovered.
Friends, relatives, villagers, and city dwellers, who went about their conventional routines and thought their conventional thoughts, began to notice something odd about those dispersed members of The Society of Mutual Dreamers. At first, it was an aura of distractedness hovering around their personalities. It was as if, when spoken to, those literary eccentrics paid only half attention to what was being said.
Eventually, the situation became more dramatic, or perhaps tragic. The various odd ones began to appear anemic and pale. The collective condition worsened. As they became almost transparent, they were scolded and advised by their unknowing contemporaries to drink more red wine, to build the blood. Soon, none of them was ever seen or heard from again.
They had taken up permanent residence in the atmospheres of old dreams and evocative nightmares. While in those farther precincts, the members of The Society of Mutual Dreamers would convene seminars. They presented their morbidly ecstatic treatises, stories, poems, and meditations based on how it seemed to be in this tangent world. Those written works were very strange and very beautiful and very profound. They have also never been recovered in our waking world. But in the natural time of mornings and the quiet time of evenings, a gist of those unseen pages would occasionally sigh through trees, villages, and cities. How is that possible? No one knows.
One late afternoon, a young man – Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg, also known as Novalis – was strolling through a grove of brooding trees in the Harz Mountains. That same pale flower also grew there. Novalis would kneel to breathe the fragrance of that flower, but it never occurred to him to render the petals into an occult liqueur. Nonetheless, he was now on his way to becoming odd. The wind picked up, and Novalis heard the ghosts of impressions from the lost Society of Mutual Dreamers. He heard and could almost read those lost pages drifting from the realm of great dreaming. About Novalis, Hermann Hesse would later allude to a new poetic dimension, to marvelous and mysterious work.
Some of Novalis’s pages have been seen:
“The more poetic, the more real.”
Posted by Tim Buck