Goethe’s Vision of a New World

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Author: Oskar Seidlin
Editor: Lawrence J. Trudeau
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 6,160 words

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[(essay date 1984) In the following essay, Seidlin discusses the recurring allusions in Goethe’s writings to a “new world” shaped by work and imagination—a world sometimes geographically remote and sometimes wholly imaginary. Seidlin traces the manifestations of this theme in Goethe’s later revisions of earlier works, including Wilhelm Meister’s Travels and Faust.]

The aphorisms which Ottilie, the heroine of Goethe’s Wahlverwandtschaften, jots down in her diary in the second part of the novel are hardly the fruit of her own insight and wisdom. It is quite frankly her creator, the poet himself, who speaks through her, nowhere more undisguised than at the point when he makes Ottilie proclaim: “We may turn any way we wish, we shall always conceive of ourselves as seeing creatures. It may be that man even dreams only so that he does not have to stop seeing.”1 For to Goethe, who has enriched our world by a wealth of things seen, living and seeing were almost the same, and the older he grew the more fervently he developed a piously religious veneration for the human eye, the precious door through which the images of the living universe enter our consciousness.

We cannot help seeing images; and therefore a clearly defined, concrete picture should provide a focus to our eyes when we are in danger of losing ourselves in the vast and limitless panorama which Goethe’s life and work present to the viewer, and of which a tiny reflection at least ought to be conveyed by a commemorative address. Let us then fasten our eyes to a small radius of visibility: the tiny room upstairs in the manorial house on the Frauenplan in Weimar, furnished with a plain desk and a few simple book cases, a monk’s cell rather than the study of a writer whom much of Europe reveres as the uncrowned ruler over the realm of the spirit. At this desk he is at work now, a very old man, over eighty years of age, holding himself quite erect, under a thin crown of white hair and a majestically high forehead a pair of dark eyes whose clarity, firmness and power have struck so many of his visitors as supranatural. He knows that death already awaits him at the threshold, that he has traversed almost to the end a life richer than that of many another mortal in experiences and in productive responses to these experiences. But he has yet to finish his greatest work, the dramatic poem of Faust, which has accompanied him through all his life. For he was an impetuous youngster of hardly more than twenty when the image of Faust first appeared before his mind; and now, sixty years later, he still lies chained to this poem of his. Faust has traveled with him through all the avenues of life, has partaken of his experiences: the passionate search for truth, the bliss of love, the agonies of suffering, error and sin, fulfillment and failure, loud worldly splendor and the serene...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420113662