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Demonic History
From Goethe to the Present
Kirk Wetters
Northwestern University Press, 2014

In this ambitious book, Kirk Wetters traces the genealogy of the demonic in German literature from its imbrications in Goethe to its varying legacies in the work of essential authors, both canonical and less well known, such as Gundolf, Spengler, Benjamin, Lukács, and Doderer. Wetters focuses especially on the philological and metaphorological resonances of the demonic from its core formations through its appropriations in the tumultuous twentieth century.

Propelled by equal parts theoretical and historical acumen, Wetters explores the ways in which the question of the demonic has been employed to multiple theoretical, literary, and historico-political ends. He thereby produces an intellectual history that will be consequential both to scholars of German literature and to comparatists.


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Don't Forget to Live
Goethe and the Tradition of Spiritual Exercises
Pierre Hadot
University of Chicago Press, 2023
The esteemed French philosopher Pierre Hadot’s final work, now available in English.
With a foreword by Arnold I. Davidson and Daniele Lorenzini.

In his final book, renowned philosopher Pierre Hadot explores Goethe’s relationship with ancient spiritual exercises—transformative acts of intellect, imagination, or will. Goethe sought both an intense experience of the present moment as well as a kind of cosmic consciousness, both of which are rooted in ancient philosophical practices. These practices shaped Goethe’s audacious contrast to the traditional maxim memento mori (Don’t forget that you will die) with the aim of transforming our ordinary consciousness. Ultimately, Hadot reveals how Goethe cultivated a deep love for life that brings to the forefront a new maxim: Don’t forget to live.

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Goethe and His Publishers
Siegfried Unseld
University of Chicago Press, 1996
Goethe's ranging literary genius, nimble yet luminous, resists simple classification. Poet and natural philosopher, critic and raconteur, Goethe was the most commanding literary presence of his time.

Goethe and His Publishers organizes for the first time the myriad details of Goethe's career in print. Director of the German publishing company Suhrkamp Verlag, Siegfried Unseld brings a singular perspective to this biography, focusing our attention on an essential component of Goethe's literary endeavors: his relationship to his publishers. Carefully examining each work, Unseld covers the range of Goethe's oeuvre, from first anonymous publications to eventual monumental editions brought out by Johann Friedrich Cotta, the most renowned publisher of his day.

Unseld sifts through the rich correspondence between Goethe and his publishers, as well as letters to and from friends, colleagues, and contemporaries. Analyzing publishing contracts, draft contracts, and historical documents, Unseld reveals the tremendous energy Goethe exerted on behalf of his manuscripts. During negotiations he was sometimes circumspect and reserved, other times demanding and assertive. These exchanges not only shed new light on Goethe's complex character but also show how he changed the author's role in the publishing process. Thus, this work offers a penetrating study on the intricate and many-tiered relations between author and publisher, then and today.

Goethe and His Publishers celebrates Goethe's works, his life, and his times, from the viewpoint of a publisher today. Written by an individual who has devoted much of his life to the study of the poet whom he reveres, such a personal approach not only forms an excellent introduction to Goethe's work but helps restore Goethe to his rightful place in the world of letters.


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Goethe and Judaism
The Troubled Inheritance of Modern Literature
Karin Schutjer
Northwestern University Press, 2015
 In Goethe and Judaism, Schutjer aims to provide a broad, though by no means exhaustive, literary study that is neither apologetic nor reductive, that attends to the complexity and irony of Goethe’s literary work but takes his representations of Judaism seriously as an integral part of his thought and writing. She is thus concerned not simply with accusing or acquitting Goethe of prejudice but rather with discerning the function and logic of his relationship to Judaism, as seen within his work. Her premise is that Goethe’s conception of modernity—his anxieties as well as his most affirmative vision concerning the trajectory of his age—are deeply entwined with his conception of Judaism. Schutjer argues that behind his very mixed representations of Jews and Judaism stand crucial tensions within his own thinking and a distinct anxiety of influence. Indeed, Goethe, she contends, paradoxically wrestles against precisely those impulses in Judaism for which he feels the greatest affinity, which most approach his own vision of modernity. The discourse of wandering in Goethe’s work serves as a key site where Judaism and modernity meet.

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Goethe and the Ginkgo
A Tree and a Poem
Siegfried Unseld
University of Chicago Press, 2003
In 1815, Goethe gave symbolic expression to his intense relationship with Marianne Willemer, a recently married woman thirty-five years his junior. He gave her a leaf from the ginkgo tree, explaining that, like its deeply cleft yet still whole leaf, he was "single yet twofold." Although it is not known if their relationship was ever consummated, they did exchange love poetry, and Goethe published several of Marianne's poems in his West-East Divan without crediting her authorship.

In this beautiful little book, renowned Goethe scholar Siegfried Unseld considers what this episode means to our estimation of a writer many consider nearly godlike in stature. Unseld begins by exploring the botanical and medical lore of the ginkgo, including the use of its nut as an aphrodisiac and anti-aging serum. He then delves into Goethe's writings for the light they shed on his relationship with Marianne. Unseld reveals Goethe as a great yet human being, subject, as any other man, to the vagaries of passion.

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Journeys of the Mind
Gabrielle Bersier, Nancy Boerner, and Peter Boerner
Haus Publishing, 2018
The German polymath Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is often seen as the quintessential eighteenth-century tourist, though with the exception of a trip to Italy he hardly left his homeland. Compared to several of his peripatetic contemporaries, he took few actual journeys, and the list of European cities in which he never set foot is quite long. He never saw Vienna, Paris, or London, for example, and he only once visited Berlin. During the last thirty years of his life he was essentially a homebound writer, but his intensive mental journeys countered this sedentary lifestyle, and the misconception of Goethe as a traveler springs from the uniquely international influence of his writing.

While Goethe’s Italian Journey is a classic piece of travel writing, it was the product of his only extended physical journey. The majority, rather, were of the mind, taken amid the pages of books by others. In his reading, Goethe was the prototypical eighteenth-century armchair traveler, developing knowledge of places both near and far through the words and eyewitness accounts of others. In Goethe: Journeys of the Mind, Nancy Boerner and Gabrielle Bersier explore what it was that made the great writer distinct from his peers and offer insight into the ways that Goethe was able to explore the cultures and environments of places he never saw with his own eyes.

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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Jeremy Adler
Reaktion Books, 2020
This new critical biography provides a complete picture of German novelist, playwright, and poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Offering fresh, thought-provoking interpretations of all Goethe’s major works, including novels such as The Sorrows of Young Werther and The Elective Affinities, plays such as Egmont and Iphigenia in Tauris, and Goethe’s greatest work, Faust, Jeremy Adler also provides many original readings of Goethe’s poetry, beginning with the poems written in his early youth. Alongside Goethe’s work, Adler analyzes the incidents of his life, including his love affairs and his meetings with the luminaries of his age, such as Napoleon Bonaparte. Uniquely, Adler also shows how Goethe’s encyclopedic interest in literature, science, philosophy, law, and many other fields became important for a wide range of later scientists and thinkers. Among the figures he influenced were Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein, Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud, Émile Durkheim and Susan Sontag. Goethe has often been called the last Renaissance man. This biography shows that Goethe was in fact the first of the moderns—a maker of modernity.

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Literary Conclusions
The Poetics of Ending in Lessing, Goethe, and Kleist
Oliver Simons
Northwestern University Press, 2022
Endings are not just singular moments in time but the outcomes of a process. And whatever a book’s conclusion, its form has a history. Literary Conclusions presents a new theory of textual endings in eighteenth-century literature and thought. Analyzing essential works by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Heinrich von Kleist, Oliver Simons shows how the emergence of new kinds of literary endings around 1800 is inextricably linked to the history of philosophical and scientific concepts.

Simons examines the interrelations of Lessing’s literary endings with modes of logical conclusion; he highlights how Goethe’s narrative closures are forestalled by an uncontrollable vital force that was discussed in the sciences of the time; and he reveals that Kleist conceived of literary genres themselves as forms of reasoning. Kleist’s endings, Simons demonstrates, mark the beginning of modernism. Through close readings of these authors and supplemental analyses of works by Walter Benjamin, Friedrich Hölderlin, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, he crafts an elegant theory of conclusions that revises established histories of literary genres and forms.

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The Making of a Terrorist
On Classic German Rogues
Jeffrey Champlin
Northwestern University Press, 2015

In The Making of a Terrorist, Jeffrey Champlin examines key figures from three canonical texts from the German-language literature of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries: Goethe’s Gotz von Berlichingen, Schiller’s Die Rauber, and Kleist’s Michael Kohlhaas. Champlin situates these readings within a larger theoretical and historical context, exploring the mechanics, aesthetics, and poetics of terror while explicating the emergence of the terrorist personality in modernity. In engaging and accessible prose, Champlin explores the ethical dimensions of violence and interrogates an ethics of textual violence.


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A New Divan
A Lyrical Dialogue between East and West
Edited by Barbara Schwepcke and Bill Swainson
Gingko Library, 2019
Now reaching its 200th anniversary, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s sequence of poems, the West-Eastern Divan serves as the inspiration for this new collection poems by twenty-four international poets. Goethe’s original work shows the poet looking east from his homeland of Germany to build a collection of writing inspired by the poetic traditions of Persia. In twelve books, Goethe writes on a variety of great poetic themes, including love, humor, parables, and paradise. Over the years since its original publication in 1819, the Divan has served as inspiration for a variety of literary, theoretical, and musical responses. A New Divan revisits Goethe’s work in a lively celebration of cross-cultural exchange. Works by twelve poets from the East and twelve from the West respond to the themes laid out in Goethe’s Divan and build bridges between cultures, nationalities, and languages. The poets have been paired to write in response to each of the twelve books of the Divan, and here present their multi-lingual works in eleven different languages, each with a poetic interpretation written in English. Three pairs of essays complement and shed further light on the series of poetic exchanges. These writings mirror the original notes that Goethe included in his West-Eastern Divan.

Reaching through time, language, and poetic history, A New Divan offers a lyrical conversation and opens paths of connection across cultures.

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Odysseys of Recognition
Performing Intersubjectivity in Homer, Aristotle, Shakespeare, Goethe, and Kleist
Wiggins, Ellwood
Bucknell University Press, 2019
Literary recognition is a technical term for a climactic plot device. Odysseys of Recognition claims that interpersonal recognition is constituted by performance, and brings performance theory into dialogue with poetics, politics, and philosophy. By observing Odysseus figures from Homer to Kleist, Ellwood Wiggins offers an alternative to conventional intellectual histories that situate the invention of the interior self in modernity. Through strategic readings of Aristotle, this elegantly written, innovative study recovers an understanding of interpersonal recognition that has become strange and counterintuitive. Penelope in Homer’s Odyssey offers a model for agency in ethical knowledge that has a lot to teach us today. Early modern and eighteenth-century characters, meanwhile, discover themselves not deep within an impenetrable self, but in the interpersonal space between people in the world. Recognition, Wiggins contends, is the moment in which epistemology and ethics coincide: in which what we know becomes manifest in what we do.

Published by Bucknell University Press. Distributed worldwide by Rutgers University Press.

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Pretexts for Writing
German Romantic Prefaces, Literature, and Philosophy
Williams, Seán M
Bucknell University Press, 2019
Around 1800, print culture became a particularly rich source for metaphors about thinking as well as writing, nowhere more so than in the German tradition of Dichter und Denker. Goethe, Jean Paul, and Hegel (among many others) used the preface in order to reflect on the problems of writing itself, and its interpretation. If Sterne teaches us that a material book enables mind games as much as it gives expression to them, the Germans made these games more theoretical still. Weaving in authors from Antiquity to Agamben, Williams shows how European–and, above all, German–Romanticism was a watershed in the history of the preface. The playful, paradoxical strategies that Romantic writers invented are later played out in continental philosophy, and in post-Structuralist literature. The preface is a prompt for playful thinking with texts, as much as it is conventionally the prosaic product of such an exercise.

Published by Bucknell University Press. Distributed worldwide by Rutgers University Press.

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The Silence of Goethe
Josef Pieper
St. Augustine's Press, 2009
During the last months of the war, Josef Pieper saw the realization of a long-cherished plan to escape from the “lethal chaos” that was the Germany of that time, “plucked,” he writes, “as was Habakkuk, by the hair of his head . . . to be planted into a realm of the most peaceful seclusion, whose borders and exists were, of course, controlled by armed sentries.” There he made contact with a friend close-by, who possessed an amazing library, and Pieper hit upon the idea of reading the letters of Goethe from that library. Soon, however, he decided to read the entire Weimar edition of fifty volumes, which were brought to him in sequence, two or three at a time.
The richness of this life revealing itself over a period of more than sixty years appeared before my gaze in its truly overpowering magnificence, which almost shattered my powers of comprehension – confined, as they had been, to the most immediate and pressing concerns. What a passionate focus on reality in all its forms, what an undying quest to chase down all that is in the world, what strength to affirm life, what ability to take part in it, what vehemence in the way he showed his dedication to it! Of course, too, what ability to limit himself to what was appropriate; what firm control in inhibiting what was purely aimless; what religious respect for the truth of being! I could not overcome my astonishment; and the prisoner entered a world without borders, a world in which the fact of being in prison was of absolutely no significance.
    But no matter how many astonishing things I saw in these unforgettable weeks of undisturbed inner focus, nothing was more surprising or unexpected than this: to realize how much of what was peculiar to this life occurred in carefully preserved seclusion; how much the seemingly communicative man who carried on a world-wide correspondence still never wanted to expose in words the core of his existence.
    It was precisely in the seclusion, the limitation, the silence of Goethe that made the strongest impact on Pieper. Here was modern Germany’s quintessential conversationalist intellectual, but the strength of his words came from the restraint behind them, even to the point of purposeful forgetting:
The culmination is when the eighty-year-old sees forgetting not as a convulsive refusal to think of things, but as what could almost be termed a physiological process of simple forgetting as a function of life. He praises as “a great gift of the gods” . . . “the ethereal stream of forgetfulness” which he “was always able to value, to use, and to heighten.”
    However manifold the forms of this silence and of their unconscious roots and conscious motives may have been, is it not always the possibility of hearing, the possibility of a purer perception of reality that is aimed at? And so, is not Goethe’s type of silence above all the silence of one who listens? . . .
    This listening silence is much deeper than the mere refraining from words and speech in human intercourse. It means a stillness, which, like a breath, has penetrated into the inmost chamber of one’s own soul. It is meant, in the Goethean “maxim,” to “deny myself as much as possible and to take up the object into myself as purely as it is possible to do.” . . .
    The meaning of being silent is hearing – a hearing in which the simplicity of the receptive gaze at things is like the naturalness, simplicity, and purity of one receiving a confidence, the reality of which is creatura, God’s creation. And insofar as Goethe’s silence is in this sense a hearing silence, to that extent it has the status of the model and paradigm – however much, in individual instances, reservations and criticism are justified. One could remain circumspectly silent about this exemplariness after the heroic nihilism of our age has proclaimed the attitude of the knower to be by no means that of a silent listener but rather as that of self-affirmation over against being: insight and knowledge are naked defiance, the severest endangering of existence in the midst of the superior strength of concrete being. The resistance of knowledge opposes the oppressive superior power. However, that the knower is not a defiant rebel against concrete being, but above all else a listener who stays silent and, on the basis of his silence, a hearer – it is here that Goethe represents what, since Pythagoras, may be considered the silence tradition of the West.
Pieper concludes his remarkable find with this summation:
When such talk, which one encounters absolutely everywhere in workshops and in the marketplace – and as a constant temptation – , when such deafening talk, literally out to thwart listening, is linked to hopelessness, we have to ask is there not in silence – listening silence – necessarily a shred of hope? For who could listen in silence to the language of things if he did not expect something to come of such awareness of the truth? And, in a newly founded discipline of silence, is there not a chance not merely to overcome the sterility of everyday talk but also to overcome its brother, hopelessness – possibly if only to the extent that we know the true face of this relationship? I know that here quite different forces come into play which are beyond human control, and perhaps the circulus has to be broken through in a different place. However, one may ask: could not the “quick, strict resolution” to remain silent at the same time serve as a kind of training in hope?

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Strange Dislocations
Childhood and the Idea of Human Interiority, 1780–1930
Carolyn Steedman
Harvard University Press, 1995

Strange, deformed, and piercingly beautiful, the child acrobat Mignon sprang onto the public stage in 1795. No child at all, but a figment of Goethe’s fiction, Mignon appeared and reappeared in countless forms and guises over the next century. The meaning of this compelling creature is at the center of Carolyn Steedman’s book, a brilliant account of how nineteenth-century notions of childhood, like those expressed in the figure of Mignon, gave birth to the modern idea of a self.

During the nineteenth century, a change took place in the way people in Western societies understood themselves—the way they understood the self and how it came into being. Steedman tracks this development through changing attitudes about children and childhood as these appear in literature and law, medicine, science, and social history. Moving from the world of German fiction to that of child acrobats and “street arabs” in nineteenth-century Britain, from the theories of Freud to those of Foucault, she shows how the individual and personal history that a child embodied came to represent human “insideness.” Particularly important for understanding this change is the part that Freudian psychoanalysis played, between 1900 and 1920, in summarizing and reformulating the Victorian idea that the core of an individual’s psychic identity was his or her own lost past, or childhood.

Using the perspectives of social and cultural history, and the history of psychology and physiology, Strange Dislocations traces a search for the self, for a past that is lost and gone, and the ways in which, over the last hundred years, the lost vision has come to assume the form of a child.


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Sweet Science
Romantic Materialism and the New Logics of Life
Amanda Jo Goldstein
University of Chicago Press, 2017
Today we do not expect poems to carry scientifically valid information. But it was not always so. In Sweet Science, Amanda Jo Goldstein returns to the beginnings of the division of labor between literature and science to recover a tradition of Romantic life writing for which poetry was a privileged technique of empirical inquiry.

Goldstein puts apparently literary projects, such as William Blake’s poetry of embryogenesis, Goethe’s journals On Morphology, and Percy Shelley’s “poetry of life,” back into conversation with the openly poetic life sciences of Erasmus Darwin, J. G. Herder, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, and Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. Such poetic sciences, Goldstein argues, share in reviving Lucretius’s De rerum natura to advance a view of biological life as neither self-organized nor autonomous, but rather dependent on the collaborative and symbolic processes that give it viable and recognizable form. They summon De rerum natura for a logic of life resistant to the vitalist stress on self-authorizing power and to make a monumental case for poetry’s role in the perception and communication of empirical realities. The first dedicated study of this mortal and materialist dimension of Romantic biopoetics, Sweet Science opens a through-line between Enlightenment materialisms of nature and Marx’s coming historical materialism.

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The Will To Create
Goethe’s Philosophy of Nature
Astrida Orle Tantillo
University of Pittsburgh Press, 2002

Better known as a poet and dramatist, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) was also a learned philosopher and natural scientist. Astrida Orle Tantillo offers the first comprehensive analysis of his natural philosophy, which she contends is rooted in creativity.

Tantillo analyzes Goethe’s main scientific texts, including his work on physics, botany, comparative anatomy, and metereology. She critically examines his attempts to challenge the basic tenets of Newtonian and Cartesian science and to found a new natural philosophy. In individual chapters devoted to different key principles, she reveals how this natural philosophy—which questions rationalism, the quantitative approach to scientific inquiry, strict gender categories, and the possibility of scientific objectivity—illuminates Goethe’s standing as both a precursor and critic of modernity.

Tantillo does not presuppose prior knowledge of Goethe or science, and carefully avoids an overreliance on specialized jargon. This makes The Will to Create accessible to a wide audience, including philosophers, historians of science, and literary theorists, as well as general readers.


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