Published online by Cambridge University Press: 26 June 2019
FRITZ STRICH (1882–1963) occupies an odd position in world literature scholarship. One invariably encounters his name in surveys, where the status of his 1946 study Goethe und die Weltliteratur (Goethe and World Literature) is always invoked. John Pizer has written, for instance, that it is “still the most important monograph on the subject,” while Theo D'haen finds Strich to be “one of the most perceptive and thorough commentators on Goethe and world literature.” Yet if one examines recent historical overviews of world literature, for instance, The Routledge Companion to World Literature (2012), one finds chapters on Hugo Meltzl, Georg Brandes, Rabindranath Tagore, Albert Guérard, Erich Auerbach, Claudio Guillén, Edward Said, Pascale Casanova, Franco Moretti—but none on Strich. It might seem that Strich's special contribution to the field was simply to have compiled the scattered Goethean uses of the term “world literature,” twenty in total, which appear before the endnotes of Goethe und die Weltliteratur. These have been the starting point for many works that demonstrate no extensive knowledge of Goethe's utterances or thinking. This is a strange fate for Strich, whom Anne Bohnenkamp has described as “der Verfasser der bis heute grundlegenden Monographie zum Thema [Weltliteratur]” (the author of the still foundational monograph on the subject of world literature).
Goethe und die Weltliteratur appeared in 1946, the same year as Mimesis: Dargestellte Wirklicheit in der abendländischen Literatur by Erich Auerbach, and two years before Europäische Literatur und Lateinisches Mittelalter by Ernst Robert Curtius. These studies arrived at a moment when Europe seemed irrevocably sundered by perennial animosities, but, like Goethe und die Weltliteratur, each insisted on the historical continuity and unity of European culture. The works by Auerbach and Curtius have found much resonance, Strich's not at all.
Despite the spread of the term “world literature” by the end of the nineteenth century, it might surprise Germanists to discover how little philology existed concerning the background or the sources of Goethe's thinking before the appearance of Goethe und die Weltliteratur, even as seemingly every other aspect of his oeuvre was being subjected to examination. Peter Goßens's study has described the way in which the term gradually departed from the Goethean context and assumed an independent existence in other transnationally oriented contexts.