Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home
Hostname: page-component-55597f9d44-mm7gn Total loading time: 0.388 Render date: 2022-08-08T21:04:08.074Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true } hasContentIssue true

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in Conversation with Things

from Special Section on Goethe's Narrative Events edited by Fritz Breithaupt

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 June 2019

Karin A. Wurst
Affiliation:
Michigan State University
Get access

Summary

Wir bringen wohl Fähigkeiten mit, aber unsere

Entwicklung verdanken wir tausend Einwirkungen

einer großen Welt, aus der wir uns aneignen, was wir

können und was uns gemäß ist.

[While we have innate talents, we owe our development to thousand influences of an expansive world from which we select for ourselves what we can and what is suitable for us.]

—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1828

JOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE surrounded himself with collections at home ranging from art and cameos, rock formations and bones to wallpaper and furnishings. His observations on things are brief and unsystematic, but can be found throughout his oeuvre in various genres. Reconstructing the important role of tangible, inanimate objects in Goethe's spatial environment from his remarks in several of his nonfictional narratives, letters, and essays, I argue that objects serve as a medium for social interaction, such as collecting, gift exchanges, and enhancing sociability. Here we could say with Michael Callon that objects act as “intermediaries for human action.”

In addition, objects serve a more complex role: things support Goethe's form of conceptualizing, clarified spatial relationships, sparked observations, engendered insights, and evoked memories. These often interrelated dimensions in Goethe's thinking on objects and their association with the subject, influenced not only Goethe's lifestyle but also his worldview. This dynamic of intra-activity between subject and object (and to a lesser degree among things), allowed Goethe to stage his environment to maximize the influence of objects in his way of living, which supported his way of knowing.

The more general question raised by Goethe's connection to the object is whether he offered a new way of thinking about the boundaries between subject and object. My argument is that Goethe's ontology favors an open stance of the subject that ascribes a highly significant role to the object in a dynamic interactive relationship as we will explore below.

The Visual Dimension

While the subject-object relationship is a frequent topic in the philosophy of the time, this exceeds the scope of this article, as we focus here on visual dimension. Scholarship on this relationship in the area of the visual arts focuses predominantly on Goethe's life-altering experiences in Italy.

Type
Chapter
Information
Goethe Yearbook 26
Publications of the Goethe Society of North America
, pp. 199 - 216
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2019

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats
×

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats
×