|Owachomo Bridge, in Natural Bridges National Monument (Utah)|
In "Von Deutscher Baukunst" of 1772, Goethe would seem to have taken lessons from Longinus. In the guise of a pilgrim visiting the cathedral at Strassburg, he portrayed himself as transported by the sight of this immense structure: "Anfangs ein Schauern, das uns überläuft, und sodann etwas dem Schwindel ähnliches, das uns oft nöthiget, die Augen von dem Gegenstande abzuwenden." By this time, the sublime was no longer principally an aesthetic category, as described by Longinus (and also by Bodmer), but was increasingly applied to natural wonders. Thus, Goethe used various adjectives to describe the cathedral that stressed its magnitude and irregularity, as if it were a huge natural wonder, rather than a man-made creation: Ungeheuer, groß/Größen, erhaben, königlich, Riesengeist, Würde, Macht, Koloß, Herrlichkeit, großen ... Maßen. By using naturalistic imagery, Goethe was relating the artist's products to God's creations of the natural world. Thus, the poet's creations are quasi-divine. Well, this was in the Sturm und Drang era, when Goethe felt inspired most intensely by his poetic Genius.
|Canyon de Chelly, Arizona|
This 1785 essay was a temporary relapse into the Sturm und Drang manner. In 1779, he and Carl August had traveled to Switzerland, journeying by horse over some dangerous mountain paths, but while the account of that journey indicate appreciation, marvel, even astonishment at what he sees, Goethe's equanimity in the face of these stupendous, and dangerous, phenomena was now supported by his recognition that they were not aberrations or the result of chaos or of undirected violent processes. His thoughts concerning the sublime go hand in hand with geological-historical considerations about nature. Immersion in science fortified his conviction that, whatever the seeming disorder of the natural world, an unseen hand nevertheless operated according to eternal laws.
|Hiking in Canyon de Chelly|
Goethe lived on the cusp of geological science. Today, of course, we know how the monumental geological formations were formed, and we also know that they were the result of violent processes. For instance, the very patch of land on which I am now writing was once part of a "supercontinent," which broke away about 200 million years ago due to tectonic movement of the earth's crust. Arizona began to rise due to similar forces about 60 million years ago. I just read the following in John McPhee's Basin and Range: "The sea is not all that responds to the moon. Twice a day the solid earth bobs up and down, as much as a foot." How would Goethe have responded to that?