Binary synthesis: Goethe's aesthetic intuition in literature and science

Stephenson, R. (2005) Binary synthesis: Goethe's aesthetic intuition in literature and science. Science in Context, 18(4), pp. 553-581.



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Argument This essay seeks to identify the cultural significance of Goethe's scientific writings. He reformulates, in the light of his own concrete experience, “crucial turning-points” (Hauptmomente) in the history of science – key ideas, the historical understanding of which is vital to present understanding – thus situating his own scientific work at the bi-polar center of the Western scientific tradition, conceived as the dramatic interplay over centuries of two opposing modes of thought. For in his experimentation he recaptures the glimpse of living form gained in aesthetic perception (Anschauung), from which such inherited theoretical positions are ultimately derived. At each stage of this process, imagination, in its aesthetic modality, is essential, for it alone reveals the world as it truly is. The literary quality of his writings on nature, as on culture, reveals Goethe's stylistic achievement in devising a medium in which the insights gained in contemplation may be so transmitted as to make a similar, imaginative, appeal to his reader – re-enacting the abstract-concrete equilibrium characterizing all aesthetic experience. Matching his style to the subtle, delicate, connectedness of Nature, Goethe recreates the delights of participating in natural creativity. His Janus-faced, scientific-literary, style illustrates “binary synthesis,” the principle that unites Goethe's science with his art.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Stephenson, Professor Roger
Authors: Stephenson, R.
Subjects:P Language and Literature > PD Germanic languages
Q Science > Q Science (General)
College/School:College of Arts & Humanities > School of Modern Languages and Cultures > German
Journal Name:Science in Context
Publisher:Cambridge University Press
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2006 Cambridge University Press
First Published:First published in Science in Context 18(4):553-581
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher

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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
297301Conceptions of Cultural Studies in Cassirer's Theory of Symbolic FormsRoger StephensonArts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB)B/RE/AN8191/APNSchool of Modern Languages and Cultures