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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Sufferings of Young Werther. Trans. and ed. Stanley Corngold. Norton Critical Editions. New York: W. W. Norton, 2012. 238 pp.
Stanley Corngold's volume for Norton Critical Editions joins Walter Arndt's translation of Faust (edited by Cyrus Hamlin) as the second work by Goethe in this important series. Corngold also translated and edited Kafka's Selected Stories for the series.
To accompany his new translation, Corngold has written an insightful introduction, the flavor of which is manifest in this example: “Note the key terms in this ‘argument,’ for they are original with Goethe: the seat of consciousness is, for want of a more precise physiological or philosophical term, the ‘heart.’ The relation of the self to its intentional object is not that of a concept to a thing but a ‘heart’ to a ‘presence’: the world is ‘present-to’ a type of consciousness other than a conceptual consciousness—one closer to inner sensation than brain or mind” (xii). Rich with perceptive analysis, the introduction as a whole is worth reading even for those well acquainted with Goethe. As “background and contexts,” the book presents relevant excerpts from the correspondence between Goethe and Kestner, lampoons by Nicolai and Thackeray, and helpful sections from Goethe's autobiography.
To represent the voluminous criticism of the novel, Corngold has chosen interesting essays by Harry Steinhauer, Roland Barthes, R. Ellis Dye, David E. Wellbery, Hans Rudolf Vaget, Dirk von Petersdorff, and Christiane Frey and David Martyn. The Barthes text especially gives readers otherwise unaware of the novel's influence a good sense of its importance beyond the German eighteenth century. A chronology and a selected bibliography of English-language criticism of the novel, including ten entries from the Goethe Yearbook, bring the book to a close.
Goethe's first novel has attracted a host of translators, including translations into English by Catherine Hutter (Signet, 1962), Harry Steinhauer (Norton, 1970—like Corngold he translates the title as The Sufferings of Young Werther), Michael Hulse (Penguin, 1989), Victor Lange (Princeton University Press, 1994), and David Constantine, whose translation for Oxford World's Classics appeared almost simultaneously with Corngold’s.
The perils of translation are historically demonstrated by R. D. Boylan's early English version (Bohn's Standard Library, 1854), in which he notoriously has Lotte begging Werther “with broken sobs, to leave her,” not noticing that Werther complies with the request—“bat ihn schluchzend fortzufahren”—by taking up the manuscript to read on.
FROM A PLENARY LECTURE delivered to a conference entitled “Metamorphoses: Goethe and Change” one might well have expected something new: a transformation of our views about Goethe. I hope it won't seem like ingratitude toward the organizers if I disappoint this expectation and, rather than trying to be innovative, take up one of the oldest questions to have animated the study of Goethe. It is the question posed by Friedrich Schlegel in that section of his Gespräch über die Poesie (Discourse on Poetry) entitled Versuch über den verschiedenen Stil in Goethes früheren und späteren Werken (Essay on the Varying Styles in Goethe's Early and Later Works). Of course, when the Gespräch appeared in the third volume of the Athenäum, the question Schlegel raised was very much a new kind of question. For he was not interested in applying traditional concepts of style to Goethe's work, in assessing Goethe's range or virtuosity, or in assigning works to categories that could be applied comparatively to other authors. Rather, Schlegel was after what he calls Erkenntnis, and the object of that Erkenntnis was not to be something describable with predicates like high or low, humble or grand, florid or plain. Rather, Schlegel's self-declared project was “den Dichter selbst zu verstehen” (“to understand the poet himself”), and that is to say: “die Geschichte seines Geistes … zu ergründen” (“to discover the history of his spirit”). In 1800, this was a new object of knowledge: the logic of development that exhibits itself across the diachronic distribution of a writer's works. It is not accidental that this object emerged into view and became the focus of attention and investigation with regard to Goethe's literary career. Could Schlegel have written in the same way, say, about Wieland? The negative answer, I assume, is self-evident. And the inference I draw from this is that, with Goethe, the very nature of change, as it becomes intelligible across an author's career, changed. It became something, perhaps the primary something, to be, as Schlegel put it, understood.
In what follows I want to place myself in the tradition that flows from Schlegel's brief essay. My essay attempts to work out something like the logic of change immanent in the development of Goethe's works. The project—and this too is continuous with Schlegel's thinking—locates the level at which change is registered fairly deeply within the works’ structural complexion.
The Goethe Yearbook is a publication of the Goethe Society of North America, encouraging North American Goethe scholarship by publishing original English-language contributions to the understanding of Goethe and other authors of the Goethezeit while also welcoming contributions from scholars around the world. Volume 21 contains eleven articles, including contributions by leading scholars David Wellbery and Katharina Mommsen; innovative work on the reception of Goethe's works around 1900, on women writers, and on Goethe's contemporary Albrecht von Haller; theoretically sophisticated interpretations, including articles on concepts of space in Alexis and Doraand on notions of sacrifice in Faust; and interdisciplinary pieces ranging from a discussion of contemporary psychological and medical theories of ill humor in relation to Goethe's Werther and an economic reading of Goethe's Faust to an analysis of illustrations of Goethe's works. The review section collects responses by eminent scholars to a wide swath of recent books on Goethe and his age, both in German and English. Contributors: Liesl Allingham, William H. Carter, Sarah Vandegrift Eldridge, John B. Lyon, Waltraud Maierhofer, Catherine Minter, Katharina Mommsen, David Pan, Michael Saman, Leif Weatherby, David E. Wellbery. Adrian Daub is Associate Professor of German at Stanford. Elisabeth Krimmer is Professor of German at the University of California Davis. Book review editor Birgit Tautz is Associate Professor of German at Bowdoin College.
Areader of Hegel's letter to Goethe of 24 April 1825 encounters this (to my mind, deeply moving) expression of indebtedness: “When I survey my intellectual development, I find you everywhere interwoven therein and might well call myself one of your sons; from you my inner life acquired nourishment and the strength to resist abstraction and found its just course by keeping your constructs [Gebilden] in sight as if they were beacons.” Needless to say, the passage has not gone unnoticed and the relationship between Goethe and Hegel has often been treated in the scholarship, most recently in the important book by Eckart Forster, Die 25 Jahre der Philosophie Typically it was the scientist Goethe who came into focus in such studies, or the author of “maxims and reflections.” Where literary works by Goethe were taken into consideration, the usual procedure was to extract from them a few pithy apothegms that in their inscrutability looked vaguely philosophical. In this paper, I too want to explore affinities between Hegel's thought and Goethe's writing, but I wish to come at the matter from a slightly different angle than that common in the research. For it has always seemed to me that the sentences from Hegel's letter suggest intensity of engagement with the literary construct itself, attentiveness focused on the structure and texture of literary works.
The difficulty of our topic emerges into view when we consider Wordsworth's claim in the Preface to Lyrical ballads (1800), certainly one of the key programmatic statements of European Romanticism, that the poet has ‘taken as much pains to avoid… as others ordinarily take to produce’ what he calls ‘poetic diction’ The term refers to exactly that sort of linguistic stylization that traditional rhetorical doctrine, from antiquity to the eighteenth century, had prescribed as the ornamental technique appropriate to poetic speech. Wordsworth's insistence throughout the Preface on the ‘very language of men’ or even the ‘real language of nature’ as the proper stylistic paradigm of poetry amounts, then, to a radical dissociation of poetic writing from the prescriptions of rhetorical doctrine. Coleridge, of course, did not share Wordsworth's adherence to common parlance, but his contention that ‘whatever lines can be translated into other words of the same language, without diminution of their significance, either in sense, or association, or in any worthy feeling, are so far vicious in their diction’ nevertheless implies a cognate renunciation of rhetoric insofar as the principle of the substitutability of expressions is the foundation of traditional rhetorical elocutio. Nor are these disparagements of rhetorical doctrine unique to their authors; they exemplify a widespread attitude formulated as early as the 1770s and characteristic of Romanticism generally. In this sense, one can agree with the historical diagnosis of Ernst Robert Curtius that Romanticism represents a decisive rupture in the European literary tradition precisely to the extent that it evacuates rhetorical doctrine, which had linked that tradition to its roots in antiquity, of theoretical and pedagogical significance.
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