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Armed Ambiguity
Women Warriors in German Literature and Culture in the Age of Goethe
Julie Koser
Northwestern University Press, 2016

Armed Ambiguity is a fascinating examination of the tropes of the woman warrior constructed by print culture—including press reports, novels, dramatic works, and lyrical texts—during the decades-long conflict in Europe around 1800.

In it, Julie Koser sheds new light on how women’s bodies became a battleground for competing social, cultural, and political agendas in one of the most pivotal periods of modern history. She traces the women warriors in this work as reflections of the social and political climate in German-speaking lands, and she reveals how literary texts and cultural artifacts that highlight women’s armed insurrection perpetuated the false dichotomy of "public" versus "private" spheres along a gendered fault line. Koser illuminates how reactionary visions of "ideal femininity" competed with subversive fantasies of new femininities in the ideological battle being waged over the restructuring of German society.


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Demonic History
From Goethe to the Present
Kirk Wetters
Northwestern University Press, 2014

In this ambitious book, Kirk Wetters traces the genealogy of the demonic in German literature from its imbrications in Goethe to its varying legacies in the work of essential authors, both canonical and less well known, such as Gundolf, Spengler, Benjamin, Lukács, and Doderer. Wetters focuses especially on the philological and metaphorological resonances of the demonic from its core formations through its appropriations in the tumultuous twentieth century.

Propelled by equal parts theoretical and historical acumen, Wetters explores the ways in which the question of the demonic has been employed to multiple theoretical, literary, and historico-political ends. He thereby produces an intellectual history that will be consequential both to scholars of German literature and to comparatists.


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Don't Forget to Live
Goethe and the Tradition of Spiritual Exercises
Pierre Hadot
University of Chicago Press, 2023
The esteemed French philosopher Pierre Hadot’s final work, now available in English.
With a foreword by Arnold I. Davidson and Daniele Lorenzini.

In his final book, renowned philosopher Pierre Hadot explores Goethe’s relationship with ancient spiritual exercises—transformative acts of intellect, imagination, or will. Goethe sought both an intense experience of the present moment as well as a kind of cosmic consciousness, both of which are rooted in ancient philosophical practices. These practices shaped Goethe’s audacious contrast to the traditional maxim memento mori (Don’t forget that you will die) with the aim of transforming our ordinary consciousness. Ultimately, Hadot reveals how Goethe cultivated a deep love for life that brings to the forefront a new maxim: Don’t forget to live.

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Peter Boerner
Haus Publishing, 2013
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) was one of the greatest thinkers of the modern age: a world-famous writer, scientist, and statesman, his influence was already far-reaching during his lifetime, and his literary and intellectual legacy continues to reverberate throughout contemporary culture. In this book, newly updated, Peter Boerner, a highly respected authority on Goethe, presents the definitive short biography of this extraordinary figure.

An exceptionally prolific and versatile writer, Goethe produced important works covering a range of genres. As a young man, he composed pastoral plays in the style of the waning Rococco, was an early proponent of the avant-garde Sturm und Drang movement, and became a literary superstar with The Sorrows of Young Werther, in which a young man’s unrequited love culminates in tragedy. In his classic play Faust, which evolved over a sixty-year period, he created one of the best-known versions of the legend and introduced the prototype of the romantic hero. A scientist active in various fields, including botany and the theory of colors, Goethe also pondered issues of evolution well before Darwin. In Boerner’s illustrated biography, Goethe’s impressive oeuvre comes to vibrant life.

A major contribution to the English-language literature on Goethe, this is a beautiful and accessible introduction to one of history’s foremost geniuses.

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A Critical Introduction
Henry Caraway Hatfield
Harvard University Press, 1964

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Goethe and His Publishers
Siegfried Unseld
University of Chicago Press, 1996
Goethe's ranging literary genius, nimble yet luminous, resists simple classification. Poet and natural philosopher, critic and raconteur, Goethe was the most commanding literary presence of his time.

Goethe and His Publishers organizes for the first time the myriad details of Goethe's career in print. Director of the German publishing company Suhrkamp Verlag, Siegfried Unseld brings a singular perspective to this biography, focusing our attention on an essential component of Goethe's literary endeavors: his relationship to his publishers. Carefully examining each work, Unseld covers the range of Goethe's oeuvre, from first anonymous publications to eventual monumental editions brought out by Johann Friedrich Cotta, the most renowned publisher of his day.

Unseld sifts through the rich correspondence between Goethe and his publishers, as well as letters to and from friends, colleagues, and contemporaries. Analyzing publishing contracts, draft contracts, and historical documents, Unseld reveals the tremendous energy Goethe exerted on behalf of his manuscripts. During negotiations he was sometimes circumspect and reserved, other times demanding and assertive. These exchanges not only shed new light on Goethe's complex character but also show how he changed the author's role in the publishing process. Thus, this work offers a penetrating study on the intricate and many-tiered relations between author and publisher, then and today.

Goethe and His Publishers celebrates Goethe's works, his life, and his times, from the viewpoint of a publisher today. Written by an individual who has devoted much of his life to the study of the poet whom he reveres, such a personal approach not only forms an excellent introduction to Goethe's work but helps restore Goethe to his rightful place in the world of letters.


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Goethe and Judaism
The Troubled Inheritance of Modern Literature
Karin Schutjer
Northwestern University Press, 2015
 In Goethe and Judaism, Schutjer aims to provide a broad, though by no means exhaustive, literary study that is neither apologetic nor reductive, that attends to the complexity and irony of Goethe’s literary work but takes his representations of Judaism seriously as an integral part of his thought and writing. She is thus concerned not simply with accusing or acquitting Goethe of prejudice but rather with discerning the function and logic of his relationship to Judaism, as seen within his work. Her premise is that Goethe’s conception of modernity—his anxieties as well as his most affirmative vision concerning the trajectory of his age—are deeply entwined with his conception of Judaism. Schutjer argues that behind his very mixed representations of Jews and Judaism stand crucial tensions within his own thinking and a distinct anxiety of influence. Indeed, Goethe, she contends, paradoxically wrestles against precisely those impulses in Judaism for which he feels the greatest affinity, which most approach his own vision of modernity. The discourse of wandering in Goethe’s work serves as a key site where Judaism and modernity meet.

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Goethe and the Ginkgo
A Tree and a Poem
Siegfried Unseld
University of Chicago Press, 2003
In 1815, Goethe gave symbolic expression to his intense relationship with Marianne Willemer, a recently married woman thirty-five years his junior. He gave her a leaf from the ginkgo tree, explaining that, like its deeply cleft yet still whole leaf, he was "single yet twofold." Although it is not known if their relationship was ever consummated, they did exchange love poetry, and Goethe published several of Marianne's poems in his West-East Divan without crediting her authorship.

In this beautiful little book, renowned Goethe scholar Siegfried Unseld considers what this episode means to our estimation of a writer many consider nearly godlike in stature. Unseld begins by exploring the botanical and medical lore of the ginkgo, including the use of its nut as an aphrodisiac and anti-aging serum. He then delves into Goethe's writings for the light they shed on his relationship with Marianne. Unseld reveals Goethe as a great yet human being, subject, as any other man, to the vagaries of passion.

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Journeys of the Mind
Gabrielle Bersier, Nancy Boerner, and Peter Boerner
Haus Publishing, 2018
The German polymath Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is often seen as the quintessential eighteenth-century tourist, though with the exception of a trip to Italy he hardly left his homeland. Compared to several of his peripatetic contemporaries, he took few actual journeys, and the list of European cities in which he never set foot is quite long. He never saw Vienna, Paris, or London, for example, and he only once visited Berlin. During the last thirty years of his life he was essentially a homebound writer, but his intensive mental journeys countered this sedentary lifestyle, and the misconception of Goethe as a traveler springs from the uniquely international influence of his writing.

While Goethe’s Italian Journey is a classic piece of travel writing, it was the product of his only extended physical journey. The majority, rather, were of the mind, taken amid the pages of books by others. In his reading, Goethe was the prototypical eighteenth-century armchair traveler, developing knowledge of places both near and far through the words and eyewitness accounts of others. In Goethe: Journeys of the Mind, Nancy Boerner and Gabrielle Bersier explore what it was that made the great writer distinct from his peers and offer insight into the ways that Goethe was able to explore the cultures and environments of places he never saw with his own eyes.

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Literary Conclusions
The Poetics of Ending in Lessing, Goethe, and Kleist
Oliver Simons
Northwestern University Press, 2022
Endings are not just singular moments in time but the outcomes of a process. And whatever a book’s conclusion, its form has a history. Literary Conclusions presents a new theory of textual endings in eighteenth-century literature and thought. Analyzing essential works by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Heinrich von Kleist, Oliver Simons shows how the emergence of new kinds of literary endings around 1800 is inextricably linked to the history of philosophical and scientific concepts.

Simons examines the interrelations of Lessing’s literary endings with modes of logical conclusion; he highlights how Goethe’s narrative closures are forestalled by an uncontrollable vital force that was discussed in the sciences of the time; and he reveals that Kleist conceived of literary genres themselves as forms of reasoning. Kleist’s endings, Simons demonstrates, mark the beginning of modernism. Through close readings of these authors and supplemental analyses of works by Walter Benjamin, Friedrich Hölderlin, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, he crafts an elegant theory of conclusions that revises established histories of literary genres and forms.

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Play in the Age of Goethe
Theories, Narratives, and Practices of Play around 1800
Edgar Landgraf
Bucknell University Press, 2020
We are inundated with game play today. Digital devices offer opportunities to play almost anywhere and anytime. No matter our age, gender, social, cultural, or educational background—we play. Play in the Age of Goethe: Theories, Narratives, and Practices of Play around 1800 is the first book-length work to explore how the modern discourse of play was first shaped during this pivotal period (approximately 1770-1830). The eleven chapters illuminate critical developments in the philosophy, pedagogy, psychology, politics, and poetics of play as evident in the work of major authors of the period including Lessing, Goethe, Kant, Schiller, Pestalozzi, Jacobi, Tieck, Jean Paul, Schleiermacher, and Fröbel. While drawing on more recent theories of play by thinkers such as Jean Piaget, Donald Winnicott, Jost Trier, Gregory Bateson, Jacques Derrida, Thomas Henricks, and Patrick Jagoda, the volume shows the debates around play in German letters of this period to be far richer and more complex than previously thought, as well as more relevant for our current engagement with play. Indeed, modern debates about what constitutes good rather than bad practices of play can be traced to these foundational discourses.

Published by Bucknell University Press. Distributed worldwide by Rutgers University Press. 

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The Silence of Goethe
Josef Pieper
St. Augustine's Press, 2009
During the last months of the war, Josef Pieper saw the realization of a long-cherished plan to escape from the “lethal chaos” that was the Germany of that time, “plucked,” he writes, “as was Habakkuk, by the hair of his head . . . to be planted into a realm of the most peaceful seclusion, whose borders and exists were, of course, controlled by armed sentries.” There he made contact with a friend close-by, who possessed an amazing library, and Pieper hit upon the idea of reading the letters of Goethe from that library. Soon, however, he decided to read the entire Weimar edition of fifty volumes, which were brought to him in sequence, two or three at a time.
The richness of this life revealing itself over a period of more than sixty years appeared before my gaze in its truly overpowering magnificence, which almost shattered my powers of comprehension – confined, as they had been, to the most immediate and pressing concerns. What a passionate focus on reality in all its forms, what an undying quest to chase down all that is in the world, what strength to affirm life, what ability to take part in it, what vehemence in the way he showed his dedication to it! Of course, too, what ability to limit himself to what was appropriate; what firm control in inhibiting what was purely aimless; what religious respect for the truth of being! I could not overcome my astonishment; and the prisoner entered a world without borders, a world in which the fact of being in prison was of absolutely no significance.
    But no matter how many astonishing things I saw in these unforgettable weeks of undisturbed inner focus, nothing was more surprising or unexpected than this: to realize how much of what was peculiar to this life occurred in carefully preserved seclusion; how much the seemingly communicative man who carried on a world-wide correspondence still never wanted to expose in words the core of his existence.
    It was precisely in the seclusion, the limitation, the silence of Goethe that made the strongest impact on Pieper. Here was modern Germany’s quintessential conversationalist intellectual, but the strength of his words came from the restraint behind them, even to the point of purposeful forgetting:
The culmination is when the eighty-year-old sees forgetting not as a convulsive refusal to think of things, but as what could almost be termed a physiological process of simple forgetting as a function of life. He praises as “a great gift of the gods” . . . “the ethereal stream of forgetfulness” which he “was always able to value, to use, and to heighten.”
    However manifold the forms of this silence and of their unconscious roots and conscious motives may have been, is it not always the possibility of hearing, the possibility of a purer perception of reality that is aimed at? And so, is not Goethe’s type of silence above all the silence of one who listens? . . .
    This listening silence is much deeper than the mere refraining from words and speech in human intercourse. It means a stillness, which, like a breath, has penetrated into the inmost chamber of one’s own soul. It is meant, in the Goethean “maxim,” to “deny myself as much as possible and to take up the object into myself as purely as it is possible to do.” . . .
    The meaning of being silent is hearing – a hearing in which the simplicity of the receptive gaze at things is like the naturalness, simplicity, and purity of one receiving a confidence, the reality of which is creatura, God’s creation. And insofar as Goethe’s silence is in this sense a hearing silence, to that extent it has the status of the model and paradigm – however much, in individual instances, reservations and criticism are justified. One could remain circumspectly silent about this exemplariness after the heroic nihilism of our age has proclaimed the attitude of the knower to be by no means that of a silent listener but rather as that of self-affirmation over against being: insight and knowledge are naked defiance, the severest endangering of existence in the midst of the superior strength of concrete being. The resistance of knowledge opposes the oppressive superior power. However, that the knower is not a defiant rebel against concrete being, but above all else a listener who stays silent and, on the basis of his silence, a hearer – it is here that Goethe represents what, since Pythagoras, may be considered the silence tradition of the West.
Pieper concludes his remarkable find with this summation:
When such talk, which one encounters absolutely everywhere in workshops and in the marketplace – and as a constant temptation – , when such deafening talk, literally out to thwart listening, is linked to hopelessness, we have to ask is there not in silence – listening silence – necessarily a shred of hope? For who could listen in silence to the language of things if he did not expect something to come of such awareness of the truth? And, in a newly founded discipline of silence, is there not a chance not merely to overcome the sterility of everyday talk but also to overcome its brother, hopelessness – possibly if only to the extent that we know the true face of this relationship? I know that here quite different forces come into play which are beyond human control, and perhaps the circulus has to be broken through in a different place. However, one may ask: could not the “quick, strict resolution” to remain silent at the same time serve as a kind of training in hope?

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The Virginal Mother in German Culture
From Sophie von La Roche and Goethe to Metropolis
Lauren Nossett
Northwestern University Press, 2019
The Virginal Mother in German Culture presents an innovative and thorough analysis of the contradictory obsession with female virginity and idealization of maternal nature in Germany from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries. Lauren Nossett explores how the complex social ideal of woman as both a sexless and maternal being led to the creation of a unique figure in German literature: the virginal mother. At the same time, she shows that the literary depictions of virginal mothers correspond to vilified biological mother figures, which point to a perceived threat in the long nineteenth century of the mother’s procreative power.

Examining the virginal mother in the first novel by a German woman (Sophie von La Roche), canonical texts by Goethe, nineteenth-century popular fiction, autobiographical works, and Thea von Harbou’s novel Metropolis and Fritz Lang’s film by the same name, this book highlights the virginal mother at pivotal moments in German history and cultural development: the entrance of women into the literary market, the Goethezeit, the foundation of the German Empire, and the volatile Weimar Republic. The Virginal Mother in German Culture will be of interest to students and scholars of German literature, history, cultural and social studies, and women’s studies.


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