Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 February 2013
for Walter Veit
Since its much celebrated appearances in Dichtung und Wahrheit and Eckermann's Gespräche mit Goethe in den letzten Jahren seines Lebens, Goethe's concept of das Dämonische has become one of the most overdetermined notions within the field of Goethe studies. Following on from Goethe's own autobiographical ruminations on the daemonic as a mysterious force akin to fate in Eckermann's Gespräche, early twentieth-century critics like Friedrich Gundolf tended to interpret das Dämonische either along strictly biographical lines or according to the prevailing mood of Dilthey-influenced Lebensphilosophie, seeing it as a vitalist creative principle that presided over Goethe's existence. At the same time, Marxist critics like Georg Lukács more or less ignored the concept of the daemonic in Goethe altogether. With a few exceptions, Gundolf's Lebensphilosophie-biographical approach to das Dämonische in Goethe continued for much of the twentieth century, most notably and disturbingly in National Socialist studies by Walther Linden (1938) and August Raabe (1942), and less problematically in Paul Hankamer's Spiel der Mächte (1947), and Walter Muschg's essay “Goethes Glaube an das Dämonische” (1958). The purpose of this paper is to counter this tradition by offering a philosophical interpretation of Goethe's notion of the daemonic as it appears in the sonnet “Mächtiges Überraschen,” written in 1807/08. The underlying contention of this analysis is that the previous approaches to das Dämonische in Goethe have tended to overlook and obscure the broader Kantian and post-Kantian philosophical context in which Goethe deployed this term during the early stages of the nineteenth century.