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Goethe's Concept of the Daemonic

Goethe's Concept of the Daemonic: After the Ancients

Angus Nicholls
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    Goethe's Concept of the Daemonic
    Book Description:

    For Plato, the daemonic is a sensibility that brings individuals into contact with divine knowledge; Socrates was also inspired by a "divine voice" known as his "daimonion." Goethe was introduced to this ancient concept by Hamann and Herder, who associated it with the aesthetic category of genius. This book shows how the young Goethe depicted the idea of daemonic genius in works of the Storm and Stress period, before exploring the daemonic in a series of later poetic and autobiographical works. Reading Goethe's works on the daemonic through theorists such as Lukács, Benjamin, Gadamer, Adorno, and Blumenberg, Nicholls contends that they contain arguments concerning reason, nature, and subjectivity that are central to both European Romanticism and the Enlightenment. ANGUS NICHOLLS is Claussen-Simon Foundation Research Lecturer in German and Comparative Literature at the Centre for Anglo-German Cultural Relations in the Department of German, Queen Mary, University of London.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-674-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Editions and Abbreviations of Frequently Cited Primary and Secondary Works
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
    A. N.
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-31)

    On Tuesday, 9 November 1830, Johann Wolfgang Goethe recommenced work on the fourth part of his autobiography, Dichtung und Wahrheit (Poetry and Truth, 1811–33). During the following day, Goethe received the news that his son August had died while traveling in Italy. The news of his son’s death came at a crucial time in Goethe’s life. At eighty-one years of age Goethe was an elderly man, and accordingly he and his staff were engaged with the task of preserving his literary legacy and creating an appropriate image of the great poet for posterity. Goethe’s assistant Johann Peter Eckermann was...

  6. 1: The Ancients and Their Daemons
    (pp. 32-76)

    In a letter written to Herder in July 1772, Goethe reports:

    Seit ich nichts von euch gehört habe, sind die Griechen mein einzig Studium. Zuerst schränckt ich mich auf den Homer ein, dann um den Sokrates forscht ich Xenophon und Plato, da gingen mir die Augen über meine Unwürdigkeit erst auf, gerieth an Theokrit and Anakreon, zuletzt zog mich was an Pindarn wo ich noch hänge. Sonst habe ich gar nichts getahn, und es geht bey mir noch alles entsetzlich durch einander. (FA 2,1:255–56)

    This letter attests to Goethe’s wide-ranging and eclectic approach to classical sources. Ernst Grumach’s two...

  7. 2: The Daemonic in the Philosophy of the Sturm and Drang: Hamann and Herder
    (pp. 77-105)

    So wrote Goethe of Johann Georg Hamann’s Sokratische Denkwürdigkeiten (Socratic Memorabilia, 1759), a volume that brought the Socratic daimonion back to life within the context of the European Enlightenment. Hamann is the key historical figure in the resurgence of the classical concept of the daemon, and the general sensibility of das Dämonische, in the Sturm und Drang period of German literature and philosophy, and Hamann’s influence upon the young Goethe also exerted itself through his (Hamann’s) chief disciple: Johann Gottfried Herder. Following an analysis of Hamann’s Sokratische Denkwürdigkeiten, this chapter will examine the role played by Herder in Goethe’s early...

  8. 3: Romanticism and Unlimited Subjectivity: “Mahomets Gesang”
    (pp. 106-141)

    This chapter will demonstrate the way in which Goethe’s early understandings of subjectivity and poetic genius are influenced by texts written by Herder in the late 1760s and early 1770s — texts that were examined in the previous chapter of this study: Fragmente einer Abhandlung über die Ode, Über die neuere deutsche Literatur, and Abhandlung über den Ursprung der Sprache. It is, I will argue, Herder’s pantheistic-Leibnizian conceptualizations of Affekt, Kraft, and language that inform Goethe’s early depictions of daemonic genius in works such as “Von deutscher Baukunst” (1772) and particularly the poem “Mahomets Gesang” (1773). But before embarking upon an...

  9. 4: Werther: The Pathology of an Aesthetic Idea
    (pp. 142-166)

    In an essay on Die Leiden des jungen Werther, Thomas Mann gives the following description of the novel’s author:

    Goethe . . . der Dichter, das Genie, der treuherzige und aufrichtige, aber auch wieder treulose und in irdischem Sinne unzuverlässige Vagabund des Gefühls . . . der junge Dämon, der im “Faust” von sich sagt: “Bin ich der Flüchtling nicht? Der Unbehauste? Der Unmensch ohne Zweck und Ruh?” — Ein liebenswürdiger Unmensch: schön, hochbegabt, geladen mit Geist und Leben, feurig, gefühlvoll, ausgelassen und schwermütig, kurz — närrisch in einem lieben Sinn.¹

    Mann’s portrayal of Goethe, and the passage from part two of...

  10. 5: Kantian Science and the Limits of Subjectivity
    (pp. 167-201)

    Goethe’s immediate response to the problem of unlimited subjectivity exemplified by Werther was to emphasize the objective existence of external objects. In this connection, it is no coincidence that Goethe’s first journey to Italy was roughly contemporaneous with the revisions that he made to Werther for the Göschen edition of his works.¹ For the Goethe of the mid- to late 1780s, the objective world effectively means nature: a concept that represents not only discrete, individual organisms, but also, after the examples of Spinoza and Herder, a natural order infused with the presence of an indwelling God. Werther’s mistake was to...

  11. 6: Schelling, Naturphilosophie, and “Mächtiges Überraschen”
    (pp. 202-225)

    During a conversation with H. E. G. Paulus that took place some time between 1794 and 1800, Goethe is reported to have expressed reservations about what Paulus refers to as the “damals gepriesene ‘absolute Spekulieren’” associated with German idealism — particularly the notion that both nature and human activity may be understood through the deployment of supersensuous or transcendental ideas (GG 1:777–78). Goethe is said to have asked how this notion of the “Übersinnliche” or supersensuous fits together with both human nature and “Naturphilosophie,” observing that the more humans labor, in spite of all Kant’s warnings, on speculations about “das...

  12. 7: After the Ancients: Dichtung und Wahrheit and “Urworte. Orphisch”
    (pp. 226-247)

    Nach dem Beispiel der Alten” — this is the phrase that Goethe attaches to his famous discussion of das Dämonische in part 4 (book 20) of Dichtung und Wahrheit. In what sense is Goethe’s concept of the daemonic conceived in relation to the tradition of classical thought? And can it even be called a Begriff in the strict philosophical sense of this term as it is defined by Goethe’s philosophical contemporaries, particularly by Immanuel Kant? The earlier chapters of this study have traced the philosophical lineage of the daemonic from classical sources into the works of Goethe, a lineage that, as...

  13. 8: Eckermann, or the Daemonic and the Political
    (pp. 248-262)

    In Johann Peter Eckermann’s Gespräche mit Goethe in den letzten Jahren seines Lebens (1835), Goethe elaborates upon his notion of the daemonic in a series of conversations, the dates of which range from 1829 right up to June 1831, less than one year before his death. The breadth and variety of these statements is simply too great to be encompassed within the confines of the present study. Hans Blumenberg observes, in relation to Goethe’s use of the notion of the daemonic during the latter stages of his life, that by this time the godlike or the divine was no longer...

  14. Epilogue: Socrates and the Cicadas
    (pp. 263-270)

    Keeping in mind Goethe’s admission that he uses the term daemonic “nach dem Beispiel der Alten,” it is useful to return in these concluding remarks to the ancient philosopher whose discussion of the daemonic is more detailed and comprehensive than that of any other figure in the canon of classical philosophy: Plato. In their eagerness to interpret one of the most famous appearances of the Socratic daimonion — at 242b–c of Plato’s Phaedrus — many commentators have overlooked the pastoral setting of this dialogue. Socrates and Phaedrus are walking outside of the walls of Athens, and Socrates himself takes some time...

  15. Works Cited
    (pp. 271-290)
  16. Index
    (pp. 291-313)