Goethe's Morphology: Urphänomene and Aesthetic Appraisal [Book Review]
David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Journal of the History of Biology 35 (2):291 - 328 (2002)
This paper examines the relationships between Goethe's morphology and his ideas on aesthetic appraisal. Goethe's science of morphology was to provide the method for making evident pure phenomena [Urphänomene], for making intuitable the necessary laws behind the perceptible forms and formation of living nature, through a disciplined perception. This emphasis contrasted with contemporary studies of generation, which focused upon hidden formative processes. It was his views on aesthetic appraisal that informed these epistemological precepts of his science. His study of antique artefacts convinced Goethe that these should be prototypes for all art, since they made perceptible the ideal of art, its archetypes or objective forms. His ambition was to eliminate the subjective elements he contended were leading contemporary art astray. He argued that the techniques he developed for cultivating the perception of the ideal exemplars of art could become a model for science, enabling the intuition of the objective forms of nature through a similar disciplined and cultivated perception. This paper also examines some of the wider motivations for the particular emphases Goethe gave to his science and aesthetics, noting a similar impulse to discipline unruly forces in his life -- in his work as an administrator for the Weimar court and Jena University, in his vision of an ideal German culture centred on the aristocracy, and in his literary productions and biographical writings. Finally it discusses the extent to which those unruly elements nevertheless remained a potent and disturbing presence in his understanding of nature, his art and his life.
|Keywords||aesthetic appraisal disciplined perception Goethe morphology objectivity pure phenomena symbolic plant|
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