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Goethe contra Hegel: The Question of the End of Art

from Special Section on Goethe and Idealism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 February 2013

Daniel Purdy
Affiliation:
University of Pennsylvania
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Summary

Kein Mensch will begreifen, daß die höchste und einzige Operation der Natur u. Kunst die Gestaltung sei.…

(MA 20.1:197)

[No one is prepared to grasp that, both in nature and in art, the sole and supreme process is the creation of form.…]

—Goethe, letter to Zelter, October 30, 1808

IN THIS ESSAY I OUTLINE the basic ideas of Goethe's mature aesthetics (from the time of his Italian journey and later) and argue that Goethe's conception of art offers important alternatives and resistance to the Hegelian thesis of the “end of art.” My contribution is divided into three main parts. The first part consists of two sections devoted to articulating Goethe's aesthetics; due to the intimate connection between nature (in particular, metamorphosis) and art in Goethe, one section sketches Goethe's view of nature and scientific knowledge, while the second section articulates Goethe's conception of art as a higher metamorphosis of nature. The second main part outlines the place of art in Hegel as a moment of Absolute Spirit. I argue that Hegel's aesthetics is primarily a content aesthetics according to which art is basically a form of knowledge that is inferior to philosophy, as opposed to Goethe's, which emphasizes the significance of the unique form of art's sensual appearance. Given this difference, contrary to Goethe, Hegel does not envisage a truly unique vocation for art (for Goethe knowledge and art have two very distinct, though related, tasks).

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Goethe Yearbook 18 , pp. 127 - 158
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2011

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