Vagabond Wisdom. Goethe in the Face of the French Revolution

In a remarkable passage of his Notebooks on Morphology, Goethe recalls a fundamental discovery of his travels in Italy. Goethe refers there to his observations of three domains of the world—what he calls “Weltgegenden”—art, nature, and ethical norms. Though the simplicity and boldness of the statement may be unsettling, it points to an essential, but still little-understood dimension of Goethe’s work, namely, his interest in the lawful structure of ethical norms. While in the years after his sojourn south of the Alps Goethe penned a broad array of texts overtly concerned with artistic and natural scientific matters, the investigation of ethical norms remained, at least on first blush, surprisingly neglected.
The guiding thesis of this project was that Goethe’s literary work, which in the decade following his travels engaged intensively with the French Revolution, is the site of a reflection of ethical forms and their conflicts. In accordance with Goethe’s morphological paradigm, the form of lawfulness at issue is, above all, focused on patterns of becoming and demise. This lawfulness is one of incessant change, called forth by conflicting forces. One of the foremost goals of this project was thus to think through the literary representation of social transformation on the basis of Goethe’s morphological thought.
Research Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation 2019–2020
Head researcher(s): Joel B. Lande


Joel B. Lande

  • Anomaly and Danger: Politics of the Impure in Goethe’s Hermann und Dorothea, in: MLN 134.3 (2019) (German Issue), special issue: On Anomalies, ed. by Jocelyn Holland, Joel B. Lande, 572–590