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What Is an Event for Goethe?

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

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 June 2019

Fritz Breithaupt
Affiliation:
University of Indiana, Bloomington
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Summary

THIS SPECIAL SECTION is devoted to the peculiarity of the narrative events in Goethe's texts, including his novels, novellas, and ballads. In general, narrative events can be described as irreversible, unpredictable, and meaningful in the larger plot, and as marking a transition from a state A to a state B.1 Narrative events—and that also means real events that can be described by means of narratives—are powerful and leave their marks. There probably would be no narrative without an event. The papers in this section focus on Goethe's remarkable avoidance of such events and his careful rendering of events. The goal of this section is to develop a theory of narrative events according to Goethe's literary texts. This Goethean theory of the event focuses on the “event-that-should-not-be” (or the event-that-should-not-have-been), meaning it focuses on strategies for avoiding events, or on strategies for understanding the many subtle consequences of such events—including how they initiate chains of repetition and trauma, and the possibilities of healing affected people and undoing the long-term damage such events can inflict. In particular, the papers examine the hermeneutic, therapeutic, and aesthetic dimensions of events-that-should-not-be and events-that-should-not-have-been.

The Event-that-Should-Not-Be

When one considers the narratives and storylines in Goethe's plays, prose texts, and ballads, we first notice the absence of a clear, powerful, and paradigmatic event. In fact, there are not that many events at all. Yes, there is Werther's suicide, there is Iphigenie's refusal to go along with the sneaky plan by Pylades, there is Wilhelm's act of joining a (broke) theater company instead of fulfilling his father's wish to become a merchant, and there is Faust's wager. However, these events reveal more a negative structure of a refusal or nonaction, rather than some clear action or event. Unlike Friedrich Schiller, Goethe mostly does not write tragedies in which someone risks everything and heroically loses, with Götz von Berlichingen and Egmont being only partly exceptions. Unlike Theodor E. Lessing, Goethe does not usually build meaningful dilemmas that ask for solutions, as he does in Der Mann von funfzig Jahren (The Man of Fifty). And unlike Heinrich von Kleist, Goethe does not resort to “unheard-of” events, unless one wishes to count the little oddities of the Unterhaltungen deutscher Ausgewanderten (Conversations of German Refugees).

Type
Chapter
Information
Goethe Yearbook 26
Publications of the Goethe Society of North America
, pp. 41 - 48
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2019

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