Sunday, November 2, 2014

Extension and enclosure in the Goethezeit

Mural by Dan; photo by Justin Staple
Anthony Mahler and I organized two panels for the 2014 Atkins Goethe conference in Pittsburgh. As we wrote in the proposal: "Two polar responses to space are representative of aesthetic experience in the Goethezeit: limitless extension characterizes the sublime, the perception of a spatial magnitude so great that it thwarts sensory and imaginative comprehension; and delimited enclosure frames the autonomy and free play of the beautiful. The papers on these two panels explore various spaces of extension and expansion from Goethe’s writings and the Goethezeit."

At the conference at least three panels ran concurrently at one time, so one had to make some choices about which to attend. For those who missed ours, I herewith attach a synopsis of each speaker's presentation:

John H. Smith, University of California, Irvine
“Paradoxes of Infinite Spaces in the Goethezeit”
    Leibnizian metaphysics opened up the realm of the infinite in radical ways. In terms of space, the world as a continuous plenum full of monads extended outwards without limits and inwards into the infinitesimal. In mathematics, this discovery of the infinite allowed for the development of differential calculus, even as it led to deep problems of representation and the imagination, for just what are the infinitely large and infinitesimally small? Beginning with Kant’s “cosmological antinomies,” this paper explores some of the ways the (mathematical) infinite disrupted conceptions of space.

Anthony Mahler, University of Chicago
“Desirous Enclosures: The Topography and Topoi of Goethe’s Narrated Childhood”
    Enclosures compose the story and discourse of the opening three books of Goethe’s Dichtung und Wahrheit. The story follows the child’s desire to procure the hidden contents of ever multiplying and expanding enclosures, from the rooms of the domestic home to the boxed-in city of Frankfurt and the hortus conclusus of “Der neue Paris.” This nested topography of desire serves on the level of discourse as the topoi (places) for autobiographical narration. The paper will thus argue that as a spatial feature of the home and city enclosures also structure desire, the imagination, and autobiography.

The Eternal Silence of Space (2013), by Carolyn Porras
Gloria Colombo, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milan
“Phenomenologies of Space: Goethe and Man’s Place in the Cosmos”
    Goethe’s writings and conversations often refer to the idea of the soul’s cosmic voyage and to the existence of many inhabited worlds from which our souls may descend or at which they may one day arrive. More than any other Goethean character, Helena expresses the relationship described by the poet between Man and the universe. As will be explored in this paper, the deep sense of harmony between Man and the universe is particularly well expressed by the meters used by Helena when speaking with Faust in the inner court of the castle (III,2).

Vance Byrd, Grinnell College
“A Domestic Spectacle: Breysig’s German Panorama and Bertuch’s Modejournal”
    Panoramas were the nineteenth-century’s signature popular entertainment. Invented in 1787, they catered to contemporary desire for immersive entertainment and to a longing for being transported to another space in time. Germans became acquainted with panoramas for the first time via the imagination in descriptions of them found in fashion journals, advertisements, personal letters, short stories, and novels. This paper will explore the way in which Bertuch's journal attuned the panorama to German debates on aesthetic discourse and commodity culture. Panoramas appeared as part of a network of social practices and representational techniques that reconciled leisure and the sacrosanct bourgeois home—transparency projections, interior design, and the private garden.

Elizabeth Powers, New York City
“Goethe and World Literature: Today Europe, Tomorrow the World”
    This paper will discuss the peaceful literary commerce that, by the early 19th century, had contributed to a unified cultural space, i.e., “Europe,” and that gave rise to Goethe's conception of world literature. All of the communicative practices that he mentioned in this connection were in full flower by then: translations, correspondence, foreign travel and travel literature, literary journals, and even conferences. He foresaw the universal spread of such practices. And since they had been achieved, as he imagined, without national frictions, his hope was that their spread would unite the nations of the world in amity. This presentation will consider the failure to transplant this cultural product beyond its “natural” constituency.

Picture credits: Bristol Street Art; Carolyn Porras

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