"All is leaf": difference, metamorphosis, and Goethe's phenomenology of knowledge.
--St. Thomas Aquinas
If you can paint one leaf, you can paint the world.
By the 'primacy of perception,' we mean that the experience of perception is our experience at the moment when things, truths, values are constituted for us; that perception is a nascent logos; that it teaches us, outside all dogmatism, the true condition of objectivity itself; that it summons us to the tasks of knowledge and action. It is not a question of reducing human knowledge to sensation, but of assisting at the birth of this knowledge, to make it as sensible as the sensible, to recover the consciousness of rationality. This experience of rationality is lost when we take it for granted as self-evident, but is, on the contrary, rediscovered when it is made to appear against the background of non-human nature.
THIS ESSAY EXPLORES GOETHE'S DYNAMIC IDEA OF FORM AND DIFFERENTIation, while also considering the relevance of Goethean science for a poetics of Darstellung and for the development of modern phenomenology. Goethe's scientific writings, particularly in the area of botany, establish a strong link between a markedly formalist conception of plant life and a concurrent progression towards greater complexity of awareness that unfolds within the intelligence of the observer--indeed, appears properly constitutive of the observer's subjectivity. In turn, the joint differential advancement of both, phenomenon and observer, which by 1790 Goethe begins to formulate under the heading of "metamorphosis" appears entwined with a more wide-ranging cultural ideal of self-origination, self-organization, and human flourishing that German culture from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth century tends to subsume under the master-trope of Bildung. Like all such tropes, however, Bildung proves oddly resistant to conceptual scrutiny. Inasmuch as the Romantic discourse of Bildung consistently foregrounds its organicist, immediate, and submerged mode of operation, and so disavows its own status as theory, a principal challenge becomes how to scrutinize a conceptual architecture recurrently characterized by its proponents as strictly something altogether elemental: the very Law of Being rather than some method of knowing. Among the categories doing a lot of (subterranean) work in biological, literary, and philosophical narratives of Bildung is that of "difference" or, rather, "differentiation." Its centrality comes into focus as soon as one begins to desynonymize, as any study of Bildung must, the claims of organicism from those of dialectics, the framework to which it bears the greatest affinity; and it is the (mostly implicit) work done by "difference" and "differentiation" that will be the principal focus of the remarks to follow.
It is by now commonplace to speak of the late eighteenth century as undertaking a sweeping reappraisal of several key-concepts in European culture, such as taste, interest, subjectivity, history, form, and indeed "life," to name but the most familiar. As remains to be seen, there is ample reason to add the notion of "difference" to that list. The concept of "difference" acquired central importance as a result of the critique of Averroist (or Aristotelian) ontology pioneered by fourteenth-century Franciscans (Duns Scotus, Ockham, Autrecourt, et al.). (1) Inadvertently, a dispute initially confined to scholastic theology laid the groundwork for the gradual bifurcation of theology and philosophy, especially as far as the latter took up questions subsequently compartmentalized under the heading of epistemology. Thus in the writings of Ockham we find the basic scholastic notion of a "thing" (res) losing its status as an ontological "category" (praedicamentum) and, instead, being defined on the (supposed) grounds of its sheer heterogeneity from other beings. "Things" turned into mere "objects" (objecta) or free-floating singularities, rather than operating as the "concreations" of substantial form and universal reason as which they had been conceived by Aristotelian and Thomistic ontology. (2) As a result, the concept of difference emerges as an altogether crucial category; beginning with Ockham and culminating in Lockean empiricism, "difference" functions in the strictly disjunctive sense in which it had first been advanced by Nominalist thought: namely, as sheer "heterogeneity" and, hence, as a conceptual tool for resolving epistemological and theological questions alike by disaggregating their constituent parts. In its modern sense as determinatio, knowledge thus unfolds as the methodical disjunction (Spinoza's negatio) of entities deemed to be inherently dissimilar and unrelated. (3) Only in the eighteenth century--prompted in part by the neo-Platonists' insistent critique of rationalism--do we find a concerted reexamination of modernity's axiomatic concept of difference as sheer heterogeneity. As an entailment of that revaluation, in which the emergent biological sciences played a major role, the notion of difference is being saturated with a temporal, dynamic quality that no longer posits the external world as a mere inventory of static and dissimilar objects or appearances. (4) Instead, difference now serves as a conceptual tool allowing the scientific observer to trace relations as they shift and mutate over time. The result is a revival, not only of Plato's doctrine of ideas (in Cudworth, Shaftesbury, Hemsterhuis, and Goethe) but also of its modified afterlife as the theory of rational or substantial forms that dominates Western metaphysics from Aristotle to Aquinas.
Yet beginning with Leibniz and culminating in Hegel, the understanding of form and teleology also takes on a temporal, progressive quality not yet called for in ancient and Thomistic thought. In reaction to the anxiety-inducing migration of the attribute of "infinity" from the ens metaphysicum into a world riddled with seemingly endless epistemological challenges (observable in Pascal), post-Lockean thought, in part inspired by neo-Platonist models of the late seventeenth century, begins to "liquefy" (as Hegel was to put it) the philosophical concept of "substance" and, indeed, to reinvest it with a cryptic rationality of its own. Thus, as substance is being recast as a self-organizing process in time (in Leibniz, Spinoza, Schelling and, most ambitiously, Hegel), the ancient concept of "revelation" (parousia) yields to that of "emergence." (5) Preparing for the fundamental shift in the meaning of form that we encounter in Kant's third Critique, Schelling's Naturphilosophie and, especially, in Hegel, Goethe's botanical writings of the late I780s revive ancient models of nature-as-process by subtly amalgamating Platonic form (eidos), Aristotelian teleology, and Ovidian metamorphosis. Thus the empiricist (originally Nominalist) conception of difference as static and disjunctive is gradually being supplanted by a dynamic and integrative logic of difference as "transformation." No longer, then, is the self-identity of a thing grounded in the Newtonian idea of an inert "substance." Rather, it comes to be "seen" as an internally differentiating and self-organizing process. "Difference," we might say, turns into a verb; where the Nominalists and their empiricist heirs had located the identity of an object in its strict "incommensurability" (Verschiedenheit) with other entities, organicist and dialectical thinking derives the identity of a thing--and the "law" governing its form--from the progressive differentiation that characterizes its very mode of appearance, which in turn is reflexively appraised by the observing intellect in a process that Hegel calls "mediation" (Vermittlung).
This momentous shift revives crucial aspects of Aristotelian and Thomistic thought that had largely been eclipsed by modernity's rejection of final causes and substantial forms in favor of instrumental or efficient models of reason. What drives the late-eighteenth-century reappraisal of "difference" is the following question: How are mind and world ontologically configured before their relation comes to be viewed as an epistemological problem? The matter is eventually thrown into sharp relief by Heidegger as he considers Parmenides' gnomic pronouncement ([??]) [For the same <is> thinking as well as being]). As Heidegger notes, to ponder Parmenides' saying is to try and remember this constitutive "belonging together" of mind and world: "We lack the foundation for determining anything reliable about the belonging together of man and Being" and thus are "confined within the attempt to represent the 'together' ... as a coordination [Zuordnung] and to establish and explain this coordination either in terms of man or in terms of Being." (6) While obviously a being, "just like the stone, the tree, or the eagle," man's "distinctive feature lies in this, that, as the being who thinks, he is open to Being, face to face with Being" (ID 31/Ger. 18). Crucially, then, "difference" (which by definition belongs to the domain of thinking) must not be "applied" to the mind/world relation since that very relation itself constitutes not a belated synthesis of heterogeneous entities but precedes all analytic or reflexive discrimination: "We stubbornly misunderstand this ... belonging together of man and Being as long as we represent everything only in categories and mediations" (ID 32/Ger. 19). There simply is no warrant for modern Reason's peremptory disaggregation of mind and world in that the notion of difference enabling any such discrimination is itself a primal and constitutive feature of mental activity to begin with. For Heidegger, the most conspicuous symptom of modern Reason's voluntarist and self-certifying perspective on both itself and on the "world" as its supposed other has led to the conflation of thinking with "representation." If the modern subject is to recover the identity of mind and world (in the ontological sense of their "belonging together") it will above all need to "move away from the attitude of representational thinking [vorstellendes Denken]" (ID 32/Get. 20).
Though in markedly different ways, both Goethe and Hegel clearly push thinking beyond the confines of "warranted" predication, syllogistic proof, and the kind of "picture-thinking" that simply takes for granted the absolute heterogeneity of mind and world. While Hegel's role in this revaluation of the mind/world dichotomy has been scrupulously explored, Goethe's far more practical approach to the same problem has drawn much less attention--in part because he does not suppose that an obviously theoretical dilemma is necessarily best remedied by further theoretical argument. Instead, what distinguishes Goethe's scientific writings from those of virtually all his peers is their markedly practical dimension. In subtle and understated ways, Goethe's botanical writings in particular cannily anticipate modern phenomenology by establishing an unfailingly concrete and dynamic, practical model of what it means to be in the presence of phenomena or, simply, to "see." His arguments constitute a decisive break with the Kantian model of apperception that accompanies the synthesis of sensory data in what remains a heavily compartmentalized, not to say baroque, architecture of the mind. Seeing in Goethe is not mere "experience" (Erfahrung) but an "event" (Ereignis) that has much in common with ancient "contemplation" (theoria), "wonder" (thaumazein), and "revelation" (parousia). What Goethe calls Ereignis--the word so momentously deployed at the conclusion of Faust II (Alles Vergangliche / 1st nur ein Gleichnis / Das Unzulangliche / Hier wird's Ereignis)--lies beyond the scope of efficient causation that had largely come to be regarded as the only paradigm of rationality since the scientific revolutions of the seventeenth century. (7) Moreover, his deictic emphasis on the here and now ("Hier wird's Ereignis") also hints at a revelatory, higher kind of knowing that can only eventuate qua "seeing." To see on this account is not simply to re-acquire something known already but to partake of Being in its most elemental sense--namely, as "appearance" or "phenomenon." As we shall see, knowledge for Goethe is above all a sharing in the structure of appearance by way of sustained observation--the latter being understood as a differential progression that mirrors the dynamic, self-organizing structure of the organic phenomenon under investigation.
Unlike object-knowledge in the modern, Cartesian or Newtonian sense, Goethe's phenomenological approach thus conceives of knowledge as the mediation of life itself. It constitutes "action" in the strong, Aristotelian sense of praxis (later revived in Arnold Gehlen's philosophical anthropology); that is, knowledge qua "observing" (Beobachten) circumscribes and "organizes" the human being as a continuous spectrum of discrete practices, from the most rudimentary instances of sense-perception to the most sophisticated kinds of modeling and conceptualizing the phenomenon. As Olaf Breidbach, Dorothea Kuhn, and others have shown, the young Goethe (before 1800) reacted against "the development of the sciences whose techniques of objectification could not accommodate his concept of a morphology of nature." (8) Always a fierce, if at times also a misguided critic of Newton, Goethe keenly felt that modern science's disaggregation of nature into discrete and unrelated singularities proves oblivious of nature's overarching unity as a self-originating (epigenetic) and self-organizing totality of metamorphoses. It also erodes any sense of a primordial connection between an intelligent observer and organic life, understood not as "object" but as a thing (res) that acquires reality only by a triadic process of differentiation, variation, and transformation that Goethe seeks to articulate under the heading of "metamorphosis." By contrast, operating almost exclusively with a model of efficient causation, Nominalist theology, as well as the scientific projects of Empiricism to which it would eventually give rise, conceives of perception as a mechanistic and notably unself-conscious breaking down of material "sensation" as something to be apprehended, disaggregated, and tabulated as so many finite singularities. Obviously wary of that project, Heidegger in his account of Parmenides links Ereignis with a unique type of "seeing" or "beholding." Indeed, it is only by turning away from the "scaffolding" (Ge-Stell) of modern instrumental and appropriative reason that we may encounter Being as a primordial "belonging together" of mind and world:
Within the scaffolding there prevails a strange ownership and a strange appropriation. We must experience simply this owning in which man and Being are delivered over to each other, that is, we must enter into what we call the event of appropriation. <The word "event" we take from autochthonous language. Event means literally to bring-into-view, that is, to behold, that is, to draw close to oneself qua looking, to appropriate.> ... What we experience in the frame as the constellation of Being and man through the modern world of technology is a prelude to what is called the event of appropriation. This event, however, does not necessarily persist in its prelude. For in the event of appropriation the possibility arises that it may overcome the mere dominance of the frame to turn it into a more original appropriating. (9)
Heidegger's "event" is the moment where thinking experiences itself as more than the appropriation and synthesis of perceptual data. This "more than" involves a phenomenological turn, mind's very being-present-to thinking/perceiving ([??]). Such being-present-to-thinking, however, must not be confused with the monitorial agency of Kantian "apperception." Rather, it intimates that to think is to act on an already existing relation--Aquinas would have called it "grace" or "gift" (donum)--a kind of "belonging together" with Being that, for Heidegger, still resonates in the etymological roots of Er-eignis as Er-augen ("to bring-into-view"). Inasmuch as "seeing" is always more than the perceptual appropriation of "external," singular objects, it follows that "difference" can only be a derivative concept that has forgotten the primordial co-inherence of what it distinguishes. In other words, "difference" as a category constitutive of rational thought rests on the identity of--indeed, is itself a function of--Being. Inherently unable to name Being itself, difference lays bare the disjunctive and proprietary habitus of modern instrumental reason, which for Heidegger is crystallized by the idea of technology as "scaffolding" (GeStell). Hence it is only to the extent that we become aware of that paradigm that we may once more attain a form of non-appropriative beholding, something on the order of Keatsian "negative capability," Holderlin's "openness" (das Offene), themselves poignant echoes of pre-Socratic "wonder" (thaumazein) in that they recall how--prior to all perceiving and representation--seeing is always an "event."
While Heidegger arguably thinks of Hegel as the quintessential representative of modern metaphysics and its "forgetfulness of Being" (Seinsvergessenheit), the latter's writings often draw close to the notion of "event" that Heidegger has in mind. Extending Holderlin's speculative interest in Heraclitus' idea of a "self-differing One" (hen diapheron eauto), Hegel seems anxious to bridge the gap between modeRN instrumental reason and the ontology of pre-Socratic thought. In Hegel, then, "difference" no longer disaggregates mind and world, just as he resists the Kantian notion of synthesis as the belated realignment of appearances with the understanding (Verstana). Bent on moving beyond the disjunctive view of mind and world and the consequent, mimetic or correspondence-theory of knowledge, Hegel instead conceives "difference" as the basis for the self-explication of the idea in time. The meaning of "difference" shifts from one of "opposition" (Gegensatz) to one of "mediation" (Vermittlung), thus replacing the criterion of "incommensurability" (Verschiedenheit) with that of a "relation" (Beziehung). As the core mechanism of Hegelian dialectics, "mediation... is nothing but self-sameness [understood] as its own movement [die Vermittlung ist nichts anders als die sich bewegende Sichselbstgleichheit]." (10) For the dialectical agenda of liquefying of substance into subject or process (and philosophy's concomitant transformation into a narrative project) to succeed, what was needed above all was a fundamentally changed notion of difference.
Hegel thus extends a claim first advanced by Schelling vis-a-vis Fichte and Kant: namely, that the principal tool of the understanding, the "concept" (Begriff) stands not in radical separation from being (Sein) but is fundamentally on a continuum with being inasmuch as the latter must be thought as forever developing. The principal source of resistance to speculative or dialectical thinking resides in a misprision of the "concept" as a static and mimetic representation of some equally static, separate reality. To the extent that our intellectual armature presupposes the ontological separation of mind and world, Hegel contends, we have not yet understood what a "concept" properly is. Revealing the strong affinity between dialectical thinking and what Weber was to identify as the Protestant work ethic, Hegel thus redefines the "labor of the spirit" (Arbeit des Geistes) as follows: it "consists not so much in purging the individual of an immediate, sensuous mode of apprehension ... but rather in just its opposite, in freeing determinate thoughts (Gedanken) from their fixity ... [For] fixed thoughts have the T, the power of the negative, or pure actuality, for the substance and element of their existence." To tease the developmental logic, the intrinsic "dynamism" (Bewegung) out of thought is the great task of speculative dialectics: "Thoughts become fluid when pure thinking ... recognizes itself as a moment, or when the pure certainty of self abstracts from itself--not by leaving itself out, or setting itself aside, but by giving up the fixity of its self-positing.... Through this movement the pure thoughts become notions (Begriffe), and are only now what they are in truth, self-movements (Selbstbewegungen), circles, spiritual essences, which is what their substance is" (PS 19-20/PG 30-31). The reappraisal of "difference" that I have just sketched thus entails a change in the concept of seeing (as "more-than" perception) and of Darstellung (as "more-than" representation). Arguably, to the detriment of his own presentation, Hegel does not foreground the problem of Darstellung and remains unresponsive to an insight so powerfully articulated long before by Ovid and, in Hegel's own time, by Goethe. That is, though keen to move beyond the rationalist model of knowledge-as-representation--and, hence, to sublate concept into idea, and substance into a reflexive "movement" (Bewegung)--Hegel can realize that project only by defining the movement of thought as the progressive attenuation and conceptual mediation of all material sensation. Seeing or, rather, "gazing" as Hegel so tellingly puts it in the Phenomenology, thus amounts to a state that, while not exactly non-cognitive, seems alarmingly inarticulate about its own conceptual import. His frequent use of organicist metaphors (particularly in the "Preface") to the Phenomenology notwithstanding, Hegel thus consistently emphasizes that the "articulation of form" (Ausbildung der Form) can only be fully achieved in the medium of speculative concepts: "Truth has only the concept as the element of its existence [an dem Begriffe allein alas Element ihrer Existenz zu haben]" (PS 7/PG 16).
So as to map more accurately the road not taken by dialectical thinking, it helps to revisit Ovid before turning to Goethe, for it is in Ovid that the idea of being as internal, dynamic, and open-ended differentiation is most vividly entwined with the dramatic and concrete medium of poetry. Ovid's Metamorphoses (~8 A.D.) thus offers an enormously rich and influential account of change as a dynamic self-transformation intrinsic to the structure of matter. In so doing, Ovid embraces the concept of change as a profound formal-aesthetic challenge within which lies hidden the perfect template for narrative art. Proposing to tell "Of bodies changed to other forms ... In one continuous song from nature's first / Remote beginnings to our modern times," Ovid's most famous work grasps transformation in all its alternately sudden, creeping, freakish, or glorious manifestations as the very essence of being. Indeed, his "continuous song" is prompted by a central mystery; for what perplexes is not the hypothesis of things (material, organic, or human) being dissimilar but, on the contrary, the apparent fact that all discrete entities appear to be transient manifestations of an all-encompassing One. In their apparitional singularity, discrete things (or organic beings) reveal their connection to that One through an inscrutable and unrelenting propensity to alter their shape. As the focal point of so many brilliant and highly particular descriptive passages, change and differentiation in Ovid point toward the modern, organicist conception of change as a continual process of internal and purposive differentiation.
In the Metamorphoses, then, Heraclitus' notion of flux is no longer seen as an unstable relation between discrete things but as the very essence of being that can only manifest itself through the transient appearance of things. This the Metamorphoses achieves by transposing change from its pre-Socratic status as a metaphysical enigma into the vivid and purposive medium of narrative and figural art. Ovidian metamorphosis is not simply a mythic conception but is intricately entwined with the shifting and multi-layered process of aesthetic presentation (Darstellung). A fine example of metamorphosis as both an ontological principle and a premise for narrative art can be found in Ovid's frequent use of transformative puns and other types of wordplay. As Garth Tissol has shown in great detail, "though the reader receives Ovid's version of a tale together with the echoes of other versions that it calls to life in the memory, at the same time Ovid's own version may cause the reader's judgment to undergo many revisions. Ovid perceived in narrative structure, no less than in wit, an opportunity to embody metamorphosis and flux"; (11) likewise, Haupt and Ehwald's classical commentary remarks on "Ovid's exaggerated rhetoric, which intensifies, expands, and transforms what it has received." (12) Implicitly, then, Ovid's consciously literary project crystallizes the disjunction of the noumenal and the phenomenal realm long before they were expressly disaggregated by Descartes and Kant. Yet what captivates the Ovidian reader of myth, and even more so Ovid the artist, is not the analysis of metamorphosis by means of an abstract distinction of the kind eventually proposed by Kant. On the contrary, in unfailingly concrete, vivid, and often playful language, Ovid presents the material and phenomenal world as a welter of profoundly and vividly related things. For Ovid no less than for Goethe, it is precisely this coalescence of the phenomenal (ektypal) with the ontological (archetypal) that furnishes the impetus for scientific study and imbues all inquiry into nature with a strong narrative momentum. "Change" in the physical universe emerges as the counterpart to the intellect's essential drive towards narrative meaning or as "the development of a history in the guise of a Gestalt encountered in narrative." Indeed, as Goethe will insist, change mirrors the drive towards narrative by connecting deceptively heterogeneous things as but so many virtual points of reference marking and giving structure to the temporal flow of the observing consciousness. (13)
A couple of passages, one found early in Book i of the Metamorphoses, the other from the programmatic discussion of the work's eponymous concept in Book 15, throw into relief the full complexity of Ovidian metamorphosis as a dynamic, ceaseless, and inscrutable force (kinesis). Ovid's account of Daphne, pursued by Apollo and imploring her father, Peneus, to shelter her will bring into focus key aspects of Ovid crucial to early-nineteenth-century narratives of Bildung in a variety of aesthetic forms and other disciplines:
And then she saw the river, swift Peneus, And called; "Help, father, help! If mystic power Dwells in your waters, change me and destroy My baleful beauty that has pleased too well." Scarce had she made her prayer when through her limbs A dragging languor spread, her tender bosom Was wrapped in thin smooth bark, her slender arms Were changed to branches and her hair to leaves; Her feet but now so swift were anchored fast In numb stiff roots, her face and head became The crown of a green tree; all that remained Of Daphne was her shining loveliness. And still Apollo loved her; on the trunk He placed his hand and felt beneath the bark Her heart still beating... (14)
Arguably, the catalyst for this famous episode and its dramatic account of cross-species transformation is an element of danger, urgency, and self-preservation. Daphne's desperate appeal to Peneus is prompted by the longing for survival and shelter from Apollo's sexual predation. Since shelter cannot be obtained in any three-dimensional space elsewhere, and since the object of contest is her very body, nothing less than the utter transformation of that body will do. Quite possibly, her attempt to escape the god's sexual aggression is not only (perhaps not even primarily) prompted by a desire to remain inviolate per se but by her wish to exercise control over her future progeny. For her being to continue in the physical form of future offspring, she must control what will become of her now. Daphne's transformation into an alien physical shape thus proves less invasive than if, sexually violated, she were to give birth to offspring from which she would be essentially alienated.
Arguably the most compelling aspect about Ovid's art of narrative transfiguration are the myriad sensory particulars, the visceral power of detail, and the way in which images reveal his underlying grasp of being as a shifting kaleidoscope of phenomenal qualities. A long tradition of readers has thus viewed Ovid's approach to epic form as one of "clever pastiche" and his overall art as "letting each detail catch his reader's attention without ever arresting it." Still, as the Daphne episode shows, "variety was never an unsophisticated or simple thing" since the motif of the "determined virgin courted by the passionate god" undergoes itself repeated metamorphosis throughout Ovid's text. Far from offering up "epic style [as] only a facade," Ovid "gradually subtracts and adds motif-elements so that in the end he has, in fact, substituted one complete motif for another." (15) Embedded in an irresistibly propulsive syntax, the discrete images wherein Daphne's transfiguration is captured thus function less by referring to specific physical parts (leaves, roots, bark, branches, etc.) than by revealing a timeless isomorphism of the lauraceae tree with the human body. Thus Daphne is not so much transfigured into something "else" but--in a deeper sense that can only be captured figurally--he merges with a form to which she has always borne a latent kinship. As the very archetype of growth and nature, the tree does not "differ" from her in the sense of being a separate and incompatible entity. Rather, it embodies nature as forever metastasizing and, hence, as something in which Daphne has always latently shared and to which she now returns. In its modular structure, the Lauraceae tree (one of some 30 to 50 genera and about 2,000 distinct species) bears a marked formal affinity to the human body, and for one to morph into the other is not so much to alter its essence as to fully realize it--namely, as something that is by definition altering, unfolding, and internally differentiating itself.
There is, of course, no shortage of examples from literary history to show how compelling an artistic premise Ovid created. By transposing the immediacy of mythic consciousness into the sensory and self-conscious "event" of the creative act, metamorphosis throws into relief the question of Darstellung or poiesis that was to occupy countless poets and aestheticians, particularly during the (long) Romantic period. We encounter it in Milton's Paradise Lost, Coleridge's "Christabel," Beethoven's late variations, Keats's "Lamia," Wagner's Tristan & Isolde, Kafka's Metamorphosis, Richard Strauss Tod und Verklarung, Metamorphosen, and Daphne, and in Schoenberg's austere realization of form as Entwicklungsvariation. In all these cases, a narrative of sudden and momentous transformation moves its protagonist or core-motif towards greater self-awareness and complexity. In its material instantiation, phenomenal apprehension, and formal-symbolic presentation, metamorphosis constitutes the formal catalyst for a process of Bildung
the soul Roams to and fro, now here, now there, and takes What frame it will, passing from beast to man, From our own form to beast and never dies. As yielding wax is stamped with new designs And changes shape and seems not still the same, Yet is indeed the same, even so our souls Are still the same for ever, but adopt In their migrations ever-varying forms. (Met. 15: 166-74) Bury a prize bull, slain for sacrifice, And from the rotting flesh--a well-known fact--Bees everywhere are born, flower-loving bees, Which like their parent range the countryside, Work with a will and a hope for work's reward. A charger in his grave will generate Hornets. If you remove the bending claws Of a beach-crab and sink the rest in sand, A scorpion will crawl from the buried part, Tail curved to strike. And grubs, as country folk Observe, whose white cocoons are wrapped in leaves, Emerge as butterflies that grace a grave. These creatures all derive their first beginnings From others of their kind. So--lest I range too far and my steeds lose Their course--the earth and all therein, the sky And all thereunder change and change again. We too ourselves, who of this world are part, Not only flesh and blood but pilgrim souls, Can make our homes in creatures of the wild Or of the farm. These creatures might have housed Souls of our parents, brothers, other kin ... (Met., 15: 362-73; 393-94; 460-67)
Most clearly, the shift towards a more abstract thinking of difference is reflected by Ovid's use, in the first passage, of simile ("As yielding wax is stamped ...") and, in the final long passage, of metonymy. Both tropes show that the mythical principle of "the one that differs within itself," which by then Ovid has traced through so many discrete myths, is being reflected in more general terms. As his self-conscious aside ("lest I range too far...") makes clear, Ovid is not producing myth but grasping and extending an aesthetic principle within it. What Ernst Cassirer notes about Schelling's Philosophy of Mythology (1842) already begins to crystallize in the Metamorphoses: "the phenomenon which is here to be considered is not the mythical content as such but the significance it possesses for human consciousness and the power it exerts on consciousness. The problem is not the material content of mythology, but the intensity with which it is experienced, with which it is believed--as only something endowed with objective reality can be believed." (17) As Ovid's metonymic series of examples (bull, charger, crab, etc.) of carcasses generating new animal forms indicates, the transformations that inherited myth had ascribed to the violent caprice of the Greeks' anthropomorphic gods turns out to be readily observable, indeed predictable in the quotidian cycles of natural life and death. (18)
By virtue of its systematic gathering into the comprehensive narrative of the Metamorphoses, the pre-Socratic enigma of absolute flux and discontinuity gradually acquires a more abstract, notional authority as functional difference. By means of aesthetic representation, life comes to be grasped--not in abstract conceptual but acutely specific form qua "seeing"--as a patterned continuum of internal, formal differentiation. As Cassirer had put it some time ago, the as yet unreflected way of being in the world that we call myth "lacks the category of the ideal. For here "'image' does not represent the 'thing'; it is the thing; it does not merely stand for the object, but has the same actuality, so that it replaces the thing's immediate presence" (Symbolic Forms 38). By contrast, the writing of myth, the transposition of its concrete, incidental occurrence into the marked "event-character" of aesthetic presentation (Darstellung) draws out the ritual and universal dimension of the mythic image. Arnold Gehlen thus identifies Darstellung as one of the "anthropological roots of art." It effects a transition of the fleeting, incidental, and accidental concrete occurrence "into the category of preservation and continuity [die Oberfuhrung in die Kategorie des Beisichbehaltens und der Dauer]": "The tremendous superiority of presentation [Darstellung] over the concept" has to do with the fact that "the former takes the specificity of the object as its point of departure and invests it with continuity; by contrast, the concept merely 'means' something and evaporates unless it is sustained by some external support." (19)
Throughout his far-flung botanical writings, Goethe insists that to understand the development of an organism means to grasp its constituent parts as having originated in a single Gestalt. Organicism implies that we work with the assumption of a fundamental homology whereby seemingly distinct features of a complex organism can be traced back to a single generative Gestalt. Rather than positing the substantive heterogeneity of parts, "difference" in this new, simultaneously concrete and speculative sense enables the gifted observer to access the dynamic and teleological structure of living forms. Differentiation thus lies at the very root of Goethe's life-long commitment to morphology as the only justifiable method for the study of life, be it in the domain of biology, psychology, or aesthetics. In his 1817 preface to a new edition of The Metamorphosis of Plants (first published in 1790), Goethe notes how, "when we study forms, the organic ones in particular, nowhere do we find permanence, repose, or termination. We find rather that everything is in ceaseless flux. This is why our language makes such frequent use of the term 'Bildung' to designate what has been brought forth and likewise what is in the process of being brought forth" (GHA 13: 55). (20) Beyond the two distinct meanings of Bildung here identified, there is yet another manifestation of it, namely, a "a drive [Trieb] to recognize living forms as such, to understand their outwardly visible and tangible parts in relation to one another, to lay hold of them as indicia of inner parts" (GHA 13: 55/EM23). In what may be a fragment of a larger poem on natural processes, the hexametric "Metamorphose der Tiere," Goethe again identifies this ceaseless self-differentiating tendency as the very law of organic form:
Dieser schone Begriff yon Macht und Schranken, von Willkur Und Gesetz, von Freiheit und Mass, von beweglicher Ordnung [This beautiful notion of power and limits, of spontaneity And law, of freedom and measure, of dynamic order.] (21)
In its basic outline, this conception appears to have first occurred to Goethe during his Italian journey of r 787. First published in 1817 as part of some autobiographical miscellany in his journal Zur Morphologie, Goethe's short reminiscence of his "Propitious Encounter" (Gluckliches Ereignis) with Schiller sometime around 1788-1789 centers on a conversation about the status of method in scientific inquiry. Cued by Schiller's misgivings about the "mangled methods of regarding Nature [eine so zerstuckelte Art die Natur zu behandeln]," Goethe begins to sketch "a spirited explanation of my theory of the metamorphosis of plants with graphic pen sketches of a symbolic plant. He listened and looked with great interest, with unerring comprehension, but when I had ended, he shook his head, saying, 'That is not an empiric experience, it is an idea.' ... Controlling myself, I replied, 'How splendid that I have ideas without knowing it, and can see them before my very eyes.'" (22) Momentarily stung by the gravity of Schiller's objection, Goethe realizes that to formulate a compelling account of organic development requires a far more explicit notion of what it means to relate to phenomena or, simply, to "see." The internal differentiation that defines plant life demands a quasi-phenomenological type of perceptual intelligence, one that undergoes a correlative Bildung as it responds to the evolving appearances of organic life. Indeed, Goethe elsewhere remarks how "my botanical education resembled to a certain degree the course of botanical history itself." (23) In the short essay, of 1823, Goethe notes how his method of "concrete thinking" (gegenstandliches Denken) ultimately refers back to, but also qualifies, the ancient precept of self-knowledge ([??]) that, with alternately Stoic or Augustinian emphasis, anchors modern rationalism all the way through Descartes and Kant: "The great and important-sounding advice, 'Know thyself,' always appeared to me to be open to question, as a ruse of conspiring priests intent upon confusing the laity with unattainable ideals, upon seducing them from active life to dangerous introspection. Man knows himself only insofar as he knows the world, becoming aware of it only within himself, and of himself only within it. Each new subject, well observed, opens up within us a new vehicle of thought" (GHA 13: 38/EM 235-36).
Before tracing the deeper implications behind these seemingly casual remarks, we need to scrutinize Goethe's central proposition of a "symbolic plant" and his provocative claim that by means of it he could "see [ideas] before my very own eyes." The notion of an archetypal or symbolic plant (Urpflanze) initially surfaces in Goethe's account of his stay at Padua, which included a first visit to Europe's oldest botanic garden on 27 September 1786. (24) As he notes,
many plants can stay outdoors even in the winter ... [and] it is agreeable and instructive to wander amidst vegetation that is foreign to us. We eventually think no more at all about plants we are accustomed to, like other long familiar objects; and what is observation without thought? Here in this newly encountered diversity that idea of mine keeps gaining strength, namely, that perhaps all plant forms can be derived from one plant. Only in this way would it be possible truly to determine genera and species. (GHA 11: 60/1949: 53-54) (25)
Not to be confused with Charles Darwin's later notion of "one common ancestor," Goethe's Urpflanze does not hypostatize a primal organism by drawing an abstract inference on the basis of intermediate forms extracted from the geological record. In fact, it bears pointing out that Goethe's botanical studies unfold in almost complete indifference to his own concurrent geological research or that of other, more professional stratographers. Rather, what prompts Goethe's hypothesis of an archetypal Urpflanze is his dissatisfaction with the mechanical, Linnean taxonomy of species based on a single arbitrary physiological trait that often led to the peculiar attribution of a given species to a genus with which it has nothing in common except the one criterion that governs the taxonomic process. (26) Aside from this essentially negative or reactive motive, however, Goethe's more significant concern is to recover the ontological unity of "thinking and seeing" to which, long before, Parmenides had given expression. A subsequent entry (17 April I787) in his Italian Journey finds Goethe musing on the opulent vegetation of Palermo and recalling his "old fanciful idea [alte Grille]: might I not discover the primordial plant [Urpflanze] amid this multitude? Such a thing must exist, after all!" (GHA 11: 266/1949: 214). Most famously, Goethe's letter to Herder, written from Naples on 17 May 1787, identifies the two principal traits governing Goethe's botanical theory: its economy and its susceptibility to imaginative extension and variation: "The chief point, where the germ is lodged, I have discerned quite clearly and beyond doubt. The rest I can also already see as a whole, with only a few points still remaining to be captured more distinctly. The archetypal plant (Urpflanze) as I see it will be the most wonderful creation in the whole world, and nature herself will envy me for it. With this model, and the key to it, one will be able to invent plants without limit to conform, that is to say, plants which even if they do not actually exist nevertheless might exist and which are not merely picturesque and poetic visions and illusions, but have inner truth and logic. The same law will permit itself to be applied to everything that is living" (GHA 11: 323-24/EM 14). Moving away from the notion "that the plant forms around us are ... predetermined," Goethe later recalls being drawn to a different model, one that is shaped by the plant's mode of appearance as a dynamic, differentiating process. He is enthralled by the sheer tropism of organic life, "a happy mobility and flexibility, enabling [plants] to adapt themselves to the many conditions throughout the world, and to be formed and reformed in accordance with them" (GHA 13: 163/EM 161-62). To be sure, Goethe's formalism does not disavow functionalism and the idea of adaptative development; what he rejects is merely the hypothesis that contingent environmental factors could unilaterally determine or alter the morphological specifics of a plant or its differential trajectory in time. (27)
Priding itself on its economy and its imaginative potential, Goethe's botanical theory holds that any given plant species develops by differentially realizing a single organic form: the leaf. In a sequence of paragraphs, Goethe's most comprehensive botanical text, the Metamorphosis of Plants, thus construes plant life as a trajectory of increasing morphological complexity. Presented in classical, Linnean fashion, as a series of short, at times aphoristic paragraphs, Goethe's Attempt to Elucidate the Metamorphosis of Plants (1790) draws on an already rich array of carefully preserved and described specimens whose total number, by the time of Goethe's death, would exceed 18,000. (28) As Goethe proceeds to detail, in the course of its developmental trajectory a given plant species differentially exfoliates a single Gestalt whose archetypal status Goethe gradually seeks to distill--not infer--through a series of precise empirical observations and descriptions. Seed-leaves (Samenblatter), roots, stem, branch, corolla (Krone), nectarines, calyx (Kelch), petals, fruits, and style (Griffel) all refer back to the same "abstract generating principle, from which stem leaves depart least in actual expression" (Gould 285). Understood as a process of "unceasing transformation" (fortwahrendes Umbilden [GHA 13: 60/EM 27]), all plant life thus unfolds as the continual metamorphosis of a single archetypal Gestalt or Idee for which the leaf furnishes the most compelling phenomenal template. The study of plant life thus resolves itself for Goethe into a rigorous morphological description of how the motivic template of the "leaf" (Blatt) generates variational differences and so achieves greater complexity over time. Jochen Bockemuhl breaks down the developmental process into four discrete activities: 1) "'shooting,' when the leaf's apiculus extends away from the growing point"; 2) "articulating," when the tip "begins to move in several different directions"; 3) "spreading," when "the points of articulation begin to move away from each other"; and 4) "stemming," when "the stalk at the base of the leaf extends itself." (29) In a telling echo of Cassirer's remark (quoted above) that mythical consciousness is above all distinguished by its "intensity," Bockemuhl thus notes how the leaf, being the central module of Goethe's entire botanical theory, challenges the observer to participate in the phenomenon in a very specific manner: "It is crucial to emphasize that this increasing ideality is not an increasing abstraction. The greater ideality of the last two levels [i.e., the four generative activities just identified and the "regulative movements of separating/interpenetrating and fusing/inversion] is not a function of their remoteness from the phenomena but, rather, of the degree of intensity with which we participate mentally in the phenomena." (30)
Here, then, we are returned to the changing conception of "difference" in late-eighteenth-century philosophy and the life sciences. That is, we find differentiation holding a constitutive function in Goethe's ontological view of life as epigenetic: "whatever becomes appearance, must differentiate itself so as to be able to appear at all [was in die Erscheinung tritt, muss sich trennen, um nur zu erscheinen]" (GHA 13: 561). The dynamic operation of difference, meanwhile, is circumscribed by two elemental traits that, according to Goethe, characterize the Bildung of organic life as metamorphosis: "polarity and intensification" (Polaritat und Steigerung). (31) As regards the morphological complexity, variational differences, and occasional irregularity of plants, Goethe likewise posits two operative principles that Stephen Jay Gould translates as "the refinement of sap" and "cycles of expansion and contraction" (287), respectively. Leading from "cotyledon to flower," such "refinement" or "intensification" organizes all morphological differences along a linear, goal-oriented trajectory--as, for example, in the gradated foliar structure of the sunflower. At the same time, Goethe, like Lamarck, bows to "empirical data of greater complexity and messiness" (Gould 287n) and introduces a second principle, cyclical rather than sequential in kind. Thus his "cycles of expansion and contraction" account both for the modification of the archetypal leaf (as pistil, stem leaf, calyx, and so forth) and for more contingent phenomena, such as peculiar digressions, eccentric formations such as a perfoliate rose whose blossom is penetrated by its own stem. (32) As Ronald Brady and, most recently, Olaf Breidbach have shown in their detailed accounts of Goethe's plant-morphology, the Urpflanze of which Goethe begins to speak in 1787 "was probably a general plan--rather than an ancestral species--from its inception." For Goethe postulates "(1) the 'general homology' of all appendicular organs of the shoot; (2) a generalized plan for the underlying organ; (3) by repetition and transformation of the underlying organ, a generalized plan for the whole shoot." (33)
In short, the "idea" (as Schiller had put it) of the archetypal plant is neither an abstraction from the empirical processes of plant development nor a hypothesis ventured prior to the actual observation of organic growth. Rather, being realized solely in the "event" of seeing, the idea of a single Gestalt (the leaf) furnishes the concrete framework without which a given plant's progressive, internal differentiation could never be observed. [section] 120 in The Metamorphosis of Plants offers a more precise definition of the "leaf" in Goethe's theory: "it is self-evident that we ought to have a general term with which to designate this diversely metamorphosed organ and with which to compare all manifestations of its form. At present we must be content to train ourselves to bring these manifestations into relationship in opposing directions, backward and forward. For we might equally well say that a stamen is a contracted petal, as that a petal is a stamen in a state of expansion ..." (GHA 13: 101/EM 77). Goethe's 'leaf' thus is neither a heuristic abstraction (on the order of the Kantian "schema"), nor is it merely a "simplification of foliar members. All empirical forms are, for [Goethe], equally particularized, and his general organ can be general only by lacking such particularity. His leaf accomplishes this requirement by having no form at all" (Brady, "Form" 272). To make better sense of this seemingly paradoxical entity--at once concrete, dynamic, and yet devoid of particular form--we will first have to understand what, for Goethe, it means to "see" in the realm of science and poetry.
The catalyst impelling the entire process of metamorphosis is an epigenetic, self-originating "drive" (Bildungstrieb) of the kind first proposed by Blumenbach and conceptually sharpened in Kant's third Critique, both sources that Goethe acknowledges in his 18 17-1818 essay on the "Bildungstrieb." Still, Goethe also insists that all talk of "a nisus formativus ... a vigorous activity effecting formation" remains unproductively fixated on "words that merely beg the question.... In considering an organic entity, unity and freedom of the creative urge are incomprehensible without the concept of metamorphosis" (GHA 13: 32/EM 233). Characteristically wary of any attempts to isolate and name ultimate causes, however, Goethe instead focuses on what is objectively given qua phenomenon--that is, on "the ideal archetypes giving necessity to the transformation of form through a disciplined perception, the pure phenomena that could be represented through images" (Steigerwald 311).
An introductory essay on "Morphology" from 1806 (first published in 1817) shows Goethe dwelling on the modular logic of organic development. Whereas close observation of plant growth reveals that "what has just been formed is instantly transformed [umgebildet]," botanical study can respond to such fluidity only by subdividing the body of a given plant organism. In so doing, "we finally came to such beginnings as have been labeled 'similar parts' [Similarteile]." Yet Goethe's concern is not simply with the apparent resemblance of discrete parts but with "a higher law of the organism." For the true goal of empirical observation is not to disaggregate parts but to "see and understand" (in the rich sense of Parmenides' [??]) all morphological difference as the expression of the fundamental principle that "all is leaf" (Alles ist Blatt) (34) that had already suggested itself to Goethe during his Italian journey of 1787:
Each living creature is a complex, not a unit; even when it appears to be an individual, it nevertheless remains an aggregation of living and independent parts, identical in idea and disposition, but in outward appearance identical or similar, unlike or dissimilar. These organisms are partly united by origin; partly they discover each other and unite. They separate and seek each other out again, thus bringing about endless production in all ways and in all directions.... That a plant or even a tree, though it appears to us as an individual, consists purely of detached parts resembling both each other and the whole--of this fact there is no doubt. (GHA 13: 56-57/EM 24)
As the central module of a trajectory in which a given plant undergoes continuous morphological change or differentiation, Goethe's leaf may be productively related to renewed interest in contemporary biology to explain "how individual forms are made"--something that neither Darwinian evolution nor the great synthesis of the 1930S and 1940s had been able to explain. (35) For Sean B. Carroll, the "key to understanding form is development, the process through which a single-celled egg gives rise to a complex, multi-billion-celled animal." (36) The notion of "development" thus aims to fill in a major blind-spot of evolutionary biology in its dominant, Darwinian realization. For evolutionary thinking had only ever sought to explain morphological differences functionally, namely, as arising from chance variation and natural selection, and hence ascertainable only a posteriori through the aggregation of myriad samples spanning vast expanses of geological time. Yet in so framing the question, Darwinian evolutionary theory lacked both the interest and the conceptual armature for explaining how this or that particular form is generated. All it could do was explain, on a purely taxonomic basis, why some forms are still with us whereas others have gone extinct.
While "every animal form is a product of two processes--development from an egg and evolution from its ancestors" (Carroll 4), Darwinian thought largely took for granted the former and focused its aggregative reasoning on variations such as could be read off the copious, if uneven array of specimens from successive geological periods. "Ignorant of the relationship between genes and form," Darwin and Huxley arguably had to place their focus in this way, since "the puzzle of how a simple egg gives rise to a complex individual stood as one of the most elusive questions in all of biology" (Carroll 6-7). Only recently, then, a new area of inquiry comparing developmental genes between species has arisen "at the interface of embryology and evolutionary biology--evolutionary developmental biology, or 'Evo Devo' for short" (Carroll 9). Contemporary work in the emergent field of Evo Devo thus focuses on the minute processes whereby genetic information is translated into, or realized as, a specific organic form; its overall concern thus lies with "how complexity is constructed from a single cell" (Carroll 10). As it happens, this relatively new area of inquiry exhibits some striking conceptual affinities with Goethe's morphological approach to development two centuries earlier. Given that "only a tiny fraction of our DNA, just about 1.5 percent, codes for the roughly 25,000 proteins in our bodies" and another 3 percent are "regulatory"--i.e., determining "when, where, and how much of a gene's product is made" (Carroll 12)--it comes as no surprise that any given organism is preponderantly comprised of modular parts rather than heterogeneous components.
Through a series of examples, Carroll illustrates the logic of "modular design," such that in the case of a butterfly wing what at first glance appears a chaotic and asymmetrical design turns out to be "built of repeating motifs" upon closer inspection (21). From primitive trilobites of the Cambrian and Silusian strata to millipedes, snake skeletons, or the bone structure of the human hand, the new field of Evo Devo furnishes genetic confirmation for a discovery first made by British biologist William Bateson (1861-1926), namely, "that many large animals were constructed of repeated parts, and many body parts themselves were constructed of repeated units" (Carroll 26). When scrutinizing a given limb structure in diverse species, or even across multiple genera, advanced comparative anatomy will thus reveal "serial homologs, structures that arose as a repeated series and have become differentiated to varying degrees in different animals." (37) Carroll here makes reference to a law formulated by paleontologist Samuel Wendell Williston (1851-1918) who, in 2914, declared it to be "a law in evolution that the parts in an organism tend toward reduction in number, with the fewer parts greatly specialized in function" (qtd. in Carroll 33). As Carroll argues, it is the principal objective of Evo Devo to inquire into the connection between the apparent economy of modular design (something that Goethe had already observed in his Metamorphosis of Plants) and the broader field of evolutionary genetics. If, as Carroll puts it, "modularity, symmetry, and polarity are nearly universal features of animal design" (34), then any longitudinal study of how species diversify requires that one begin by studying the genetic rules that govern the "development" or Bildung of discrete organisms.
Given the close affinities between the life-sciences and aesthetic models of autopoiesis around 1800, it hardly comes as a surprise that Goethe's notion of a modular, "dynamic form" (itself subject to apprehension by a science of morphology) should in due course have been echoed by a branch of literary studies specifically focused on the emergence and internal organization of literary forms and genres. Vladimir Propp's Morphology of the Folktale (1928) may be the best known attempt to identify a modular depth-structure of some thirty-one "functions" and seven character-arche-types (or "actants" in Greimas' parlance). What we call and experience as story (recit) thus arises from the various combinations, emphases, and interrelations of which these narrative modules are susceptible. Another study, more subtle in procedure though less resonant in Anglo-American criticism, is Andre Jolles' Einfache Formen (1930). For Jolles, the central question, formulated in expressly Goethean terms, is "how language, without surrendering the role of SIGNIFICATION [Bedeutung], may simultaneously become FORM [Gebilde]." Concentrating on a number of familiar and compact genres (legend, heroic poem; myth, riddle, fairy-tale, et al.), Jolles traces the genesis of "simple forms" by observing "how the same phenomenon will repeat itself in enriched form [wie eine selbe Erscheinung ... sick anreichernd wiederholt] at another level, and how an identical, form-giving and -delimiting power, operating at continuously higher levels, will control the system [of poetic genre] as a totality." (38) Offering as a first illustration of this model the simple form of hagiographic narrative, Jolles emphasizes that modularity here does not involve the simple accumulation of traits required for sainthood (specific actions, consistently superior conduct, miracles, etc.). Rather, the narrative case for sainthood becomes compelling--in much the same way that the prosecution of a crime does--only if the discrete features give rise to a coherent imitatio. That is, the modules or topoi constituting the building blocks of the case to be made must coalesce into a compelling symbolic Gestalt. Only in the resulting, condensed narrative form does the hagiographic vita acquire significance, and for it to do so it "has to unfold in such a way that in it the life in question occurs again. It is not sufficient for the vita to offer a neutral inventory of events and acts, but it must allow them to constitute themselves as form [diese in sich zur Form werden lassen]."
In Jolles' account, the full significance of form thus can never be realized by some positivist or historicist method for the simple reason that, as a condition of its very emergence, form "shatters the historicity of its components and now saturates them with the value of infitability" (39-40). At times drawing on physiological metaphors, particularly from the realm of Osteology, Jolles thus notes how the sheer recurrence of certain "motifs" or "topoi" (words he deploys with some unease), show language--along with its narrated, modular events--"gradually calcifying [erhartet] into a first type of literary form" (44). Similar to Propp's morphology of the folk-tale, Jolles' study thus rejects what are regarded as arbitrary schemes of literary classification in favor of a genetic conception of form as a modular, self-organizing, and internally significant (symbolic) reality. In ways that recall Goethe's dismissal of Linnean abstract taxonomy, Jolles thus insists that literary form constitutes itself in much the same way that a living organism acquires its eventual Gestalt, viz., not as an abstract or artificial conception but as a sequence of transformations occurring within the linguistic material itself: guided by the intellect, language "names, is generative, creative, interpretive [benennend, erzeugend, schaffend, deutend] and thus generates a form [bildet eine Gestalt]; having issued from life, form also continually feeds back into life; for this no artwork is needed" (50). One is struck by the continuities between Jolles' account of genre as "simple form" and the terminology ("modular design," "serial homologs," "polarity") employed by Carroll as he seeks to complement evolutionary accounts of species-development with an equally precise model for the emergence of particular organic forms. Thus Jolles will distinguish between a "simple form" and its specific realization in a given recit (gegenwartige einfache Form ). Notably, both Jolles' literary and Carroll's biological theories reiterate, however unwittingly, the distinction between form in the Aristotelian-Thomistic sense (viz., as "species" or forma substantialis) actualized qua "operation" and in its Nominalist sense as sheer singularity--a "this-ness" (haecceitas) whose intelligibility can be secured only at the expense of its ontological estrangement from creator and observer alike.
Now it is precisely the dynamic and relational notion of difference introduced at the beginning of this essay which allows modeRN organicist theory to reintegrate the Aristotelian and Thomistic ontology of "substantial form" with the modern, Nominalist and disjunctive concept of form as the source of a given being's singular and separate existence. Rather than rejecting the concrete "leaf" as a mere apparition, or indeed repudiating its substantial form as an unwarranted abstraction, Goethe posits metamorphosis as the law of appearance, with the leaf furnishing the enduring and concrete substratum for a process of continuous internal differentiation whereby a plant realizes its substantial identity. As the consummate embodiment of modular design, the leaf acquires its deeper significance for Goethe's botanical research because it allows the truly observing eye to "see" an idea and, hence, genuinely "see" for the first time. In other words, the leaf is simultaneously an actual physical entity and the reflex of a universal law governing all organic production. Goethe calls it a "phenomenon." What the new field of Evo Devo finds so intriguing is a deeper level of significance that had prompted the young Goethe sojourning in Italy to remark on the essential nexus between perceiving and thinking ("what is observation without thought?"). Not to be confused with mere gazing or sense-perception, "seeing" in the Goethean sense reappraises the modern object as phenomenon, that is, as a manifestation of life. This is not the place to expand on the aesthetic implications of Goethe's understanding of phenomenon and what, with his approval, the anthropologist Heimroth in 1823 labeled Goethe's "concrete thinking" (gegenstandliches Denken). As early as 1796, Coleridge pursues a strikingly similar course of inquiry, such as when constructing the agenda for a book he hopes Godwin may write. Among the questions to be taken up is whether "an action bearing all the semblance of pre-designing Consciousness may yet be simply organic, & whether a series of such actions are possible--and close on the heels of this question would follow the old 'Is Logic the Essence of Thinking?' in other words--Is thinking impossible without arbitrary signs? &--how far is the word 'arbitrary' a misnomer? Are not words &c parts & germinations of the Plant? And what is the Law of their Growth?" What was to be a life-long pursuit for Coleridge, namely, "to destroy the old antithesis of Words & Things, elevating, as it were, words into Things, & living Things too" set the agenda for Romantic poetics, as happens concurrently in Novalis, Schlegel, and Goethe. (39) It also established the conceptual matrix for a post-Romantic, symbolist intensification of Darstellung as a hyper-naturalism of the kind eventually developed in John Ruskin's theory of painting, in the Journals and poetry of the young Gerard Manley Hopkins (himself significantly inspired by Ruskin), or indeed in the Sekundenstil of late-nineteenth-century German Naturalism and its Modernist extension in the oeuvre of Proust and Musil in particular. (40)
Meanwhile, however unwittingly, Goethe's misgivings about all talk of "objects" as so much heterogeneous "matter" or stuff and his considered preference for the word "appearance"--reminds us that the modern sense of objectum could only have taken hold once the Thomistic notion of "substantial forms" had been rejected. That is, prior to the Nominalist critique of Averroism, "natural things were not objects as such.... They were things, subjects of their own actualization in being, in attributes, in processes, and in the realizations of their potentialities. Metaphysically, things were not objecta; they were res, as they were indeed beings" (Buckley 94). Just so, Goethe's "phenomenon" emerges as the correlate of a process of seeing that involves the purposive organization and differentiation of a motivic premise over time. In a fine turn of phrase, Goethe calls such phenomenological seeing "a delicate empiricism which enters into the closest union with its object and is therefore transformed into an actual theory [Es gibt eine zarte Empirie, die sich mit dem Gegenstand innigst identisch macht und dadurch zur eigentlichen Theorie wird]" (GHA 12: 435/1998: 75). (41) There is ample justification for linking Goethe's concept of the "phenomenon" to the rise of modern phenomenology in the work of Brentano, Husserl, and the early Heidegger. It may help to recall Heidegger's incisive exposition of "phenomenon" in Being and Time, which focuses on the ambivalence of the Greek phainesthai ("to bring into daylight"), a verb whose construction in the "middle voice" as phaino ("that within which some thing can become manifest, visible in itself") betrays a peculiar confluence of two seemingly opposed notions, those of deception and revelation. As Heidegger notes, it is
only because something claims to show itself in accordance with its meaning at all, that is, claims to be a phenomenon, can it show itself as something it is not, or can it "only look like..." One speaks of "appearances or symptoms of illness." What is meant by this are occurrences in the body that show themselves and in this self-showing as such "indicate" something that does not show itself. Appearance, as the appearance "of something," thus precisely does not mean that something shows itself] rather, it means that something makes itself known which does not show itself. It makes itself known through something that does show itself. Appearing is a not showing itself. But this "not" must by no means be confused with the privative not which determines the structure of semblance. What does not show itself, in the manner of what appears, can also never seem. (42)
In contrast to mere perception, the phenomenological concept of "seeing" involves a quasi-forensic process that grants us access to the realm of Being which, precisely by "not showing itself," is also immune to the taint of mere semblance. Positively speaking, a formally self-conscious intelligence concretizes itself inasmuch as it grasps the fleeting configuration of the apparent "object" as the appearance of a rational or substantial form.
The Aristotelian and Thomistic overtones are striking, even as they go unrecognized by Goethe and are (perhaps deliberately) underplayed by Heidegger. Rather than the mystical idea of visio found in Meister Eckhart, Aquinas points to our sensory appraisal of the world as that which actuates our intellect. If "all knowledge comes by the form" (omnis cogitatio est per formam), "sight"--both intellectual and sensible--constitutes the moment where form "appears" and thus acquires reality as an "event" in the way that Heidegger's etymological conjunction of "event" and "beholding" (er-eignen/er-augen) had meant to suggest. As Aquinas puts it: "Two things are required both for sensible and for intellectual vision--viz., the power of sight and the union of the thing seen with the sight. For vision is made actual only when the thing seen is in a certain way in the seer [unio rei visae cum visu, non enim fit visio in actu, nisi per hoc quod res visa quodammodo est in vidente]" (Summa Theologiae Ia Q. 12 A. 2).
However unwittingly, Goethe's scientific writings revive this integrative Thomistic conception, and in so doing set the stage for modern phenomenology's far more explicit attempt to recover an ontological conception of mind and world long eclipsed by Nominalism's and Empiricism's deflated and disjunctive approach to knowledge. It is in the work of Merleau-Ponty, whose theory of perception Goethe's accounts of "concrete thinking" seem to anticipate most clearly, that we find an uncannily precise echo of a point that Goethe was trying to capture. Recalling the pre-Socratic idea of an ontological "coordination" of mind and world to which I averted at the beginning, Merleau-Ponty's 1946 address to the Societe Francaise de Philosophie stresses that "meaning and signs, the form and matter of perception, be related from the beginning and that, as we say, the matter of perception be 'pregnant with its form.'" Perhaps alluding to Kant's acute difficulties with grounding the synthesis of apperception in the "Transcendental Deduction" of the first Critique, Merleau-Ponty thus insists how "the synthesis which constitutes the unity of the perceived objects and which gives meaning to the perceptual data is not an intellectual synthesis." For whereas "an intellectual act would grasp the object either as possible or as necessary ... in perception it is 'real'; it is given as the infinite sum of an indefinite series of perspectival views in each of which it is given but in none of which it is given exhaustively." (43) The "reality" of perception thus appears to be anchored in a temporal dimension; that is, perception can only "eventuate" as a succession of discrete and differential perspectives registered as a continuous and evolving "phenomenon" within an observing intelligence and, in turn, furnishing the very raw-material on which that subjectivity itself depends. What the trajectory of perception thus reveals is the ontological belonging-together of the observer and the phenomenon. As Husserl had put it in 1905: "appearances themselves don't appear; they are experienced [Die Erscheinungen selbst erscheinen nicht, sie werden erlebt]." (44) This key insight, substantially anticipated by Goethe, constitutes itself an unwitting reoccupation of the originally Thomist position according to which the reality of the "thing" (res) inheres in its operation (omnis res sit propter suam operationem) and where, consequently, the engaged beholder and that which is beheld share in the same dynamic principle. "A certain fittingness of world to mind [convenientia entis ad intellectum]" thus yields what Fergus Kerr calls a "radically non-interiorist account of the self," one that no longer involves some hermetic Cartesian cogito wrestling with medium-sized dry goods. Instead, "action, activity, inward and external, is the normal manifestation of being." At least in part, phenomenology, certainly in the way that Goethe's scientific writings pave the way for its articulation a century later, reinstates a Thomistic cosmology that consists "of a constantly reassembling network of transactions, beings becoming themselves in their doings ... always already in relation, self-revealing in [their] own unique proper way, acting reacting, and interacting." (45)
Related to this "reoccupation" of the most significant pre-modern concept of knowledge is Goethe's association of "phenomenon" with its etymological roots of light and darkness. Thus the word "phenomenon" most frequently appears in the context of Goethe's Theory of Colors and in his vast correspondence related to that project. As he remarks, "the phenomenon appears to me as a universal that will disclose itself under specific conditions, such as when in the course of prismatic experiments a pure light displaces the appearance to the dark margins." (46) Science's principal challenge, then, is to articulate the phenomenon's deep-structural logic, as well as the degree to which an observing intelligence is always implicated in it. A number of aphorisms from Maxims and Reflections make a compelling case for Goethe as a precursor of twentieth-century phenomenological thought. Noting how "the phenomenon is not detached from the observer, but intertwined and involved with him" (GHA 12: 435/1998: 155), Goethe is anxious to expunge all traces of Cartesian dualism when reflecting on the event-character of sensory experience: "everything factual is already theory: to understand this would be the greatest possible achievement.... Don't go looking for anything beyond phenomena: they are themselves what they teach, the doctrine" (GHA 12: 432/1998: 77); and again, "He who has a phenomenon before his eyes is often already thinking beyond it; whoever only hears talk of it, thinks nothing at all [Wet ein Phanomen vor Augen hat, denkt schon oft druber hinaus; wet nur davon erzahlen hort, denkt gar nichts]" (GHA 12: 434/1998: 155). The challenge for science thus is to understand that it is only ever involved with "objects" at the level of "phenomenon" and that, consequently, it must at all times stay focused on the dynamic process whereby phenomena make their "appearance" and so show themselves to be constitutively entwined with an observing intelligence. It follows for Goethe that the practice of any science must be just as attentive to the process of Darstellung, that is, the symbolic and narrative process that "makes present" what has appeared in such a way as to disclose the hidden, primordial law or idea of which the phenomenon is a fleeting manifestation. Belonging to the order of praxis rather than episteme, Goethean science constitutes a hermeneutic event, a process of "understanding" whereby sustained observation continually feeds back into the observer's concurrent quest for intelligent self-determination and vice-versa. Hence, all genuine apprehension for Goethe is possible only within an already existing framework of comprehension, even as it also transforms and deepens that very framework.
By contrast, Goethe claims, a science that relies on a classical, mimetic paradigm of representation to capture its perceptions is doomed to fail. In this regard, Goethe contends, "physics is worst off.... Its hypotheses and analogies are but concealed anthropomorphisms, parables, and such. By means of these [physicists] believe to be stating the phenomenon itself, rather than attending to the conditions under which the phenomenon appears." (47) To "see" the objective world as phenomenon is, for Goethe, at once a radically deductive and inductive process; for it to deliver anything, "we must focus the mind as well as the eye and conceptualize to perceive. The perceiver is also a thinker in a manner that usually escapes notice, and what is thought in this manner is also seen--that is, the resultant image is an instance of our conceptual category" (Brady, "Idea" 97). This reciprocal dynamic should help clarify how, for Goethe, the differential form of a plant points to its archetype or, rather, makes that archetype (Urbild, Urpflanze) more than the "idea" to which Schiller had restricted it. Key to any genuine "grasping" of the phenomenon--that is, to understanding the phenomenon as the "truth" of an object typically misconstrued as an ephemeral singularity--is Goethe's notion of "intuition" (Anschauung). Unlike the Kantian model of "intuition" in the first Critique, which confines the term to a crudely sensory apprehension of inchoate data by the "reproductive imagination," Goethe understands intuition as the sensory apprehension of a complex organizational pattern. At the same time, herein following Kant, Goethe insists that unless a pattern of some kind is already in place at the moment of "seeing," no perception would ever occur. It follows, that the self-organizing logic of Bildung never originated in some primal and amorphous welter of material (pre-cognitive) "data" to be passively apprehended by the subject's sensory apparatus. In fact, no such instance of entirely neutral and pre-intellectual perception has ever been shown. Rather, Bildung is always already at work, subtly interwoven with the intelligential process of "seeing" itself.
As Goethe stresses, all seeing--if it is to be more than mere mindless and meaningless gazing--begins with a sudden cognitive realization; he calls it an apercu, a moment at once speculative and concrete that is typically experienced as an "awakening" or as a "conversion of sense [Sinnesanderung]." Telling here is the fusion, within that last compound noun, of a sensory and an intellectual dimension; thus, while an apercu involves our becoming "conscious of a great maxim, which is always an operation of the mind akin to genius [das Gewahrwerden einer grossen Maxime, welches immer eine genialische Geistesoperation ist]," it does so only through the concrete, sensory and material event of seeing. (48) It hardly surprises, then, that the term apercu should occur with particular frequency throughout Goethe's Theory of Colors. Raising the stakes in one such instance, Goethe insists that "everything in science depends on what is called an apercu, a becoming aware of what truly constitutes the ground of appearance; such a realization will bear fruit ad infinitum" (GHA 14: 98). As described in this passage, the Goethean apercu bears a strong conceptual resemblance to the reflective judgment of Kant's third Critique. Both notions involve the sudden convergence of our sensory and intellectual faculties in a productive (albeit strictly formal) relation. Hence, what Kant refers to as the "conformity" or "attunement" (Ubereinstimmung, Zusammenstimmung) between the sensory and intellectual faculties of cognition amounts to a formal condition that enables what he calls "knowledge in general" (Erkenntnis uberhaupt). (49) It is only when this condition has been met and ratified by an act of reflective judgment that the project of subjective cognition and its eventual, inter-subjective "communicability" (Kant's Mitteilbarkeit) can get underway. Yet for Goethe, this instantaneous collaboration of the subject's sensory and intellectual capacities is not confirmed by a reflective judgment but, instead, derives its corroboration from the "event" (Ereignis) of concrete "seeing" and thinking (gegenstandliches Denken). What he calls apercu reveals to the observer that what he is looking at, or indeed looking "for," is indeed no mere discrete object but, rather, "appearance." The specific object is merely that as which something else appears that can never show itself directly. In striking anticipation of Heidegger's definition of the phenomenon, Goethe defines "seeing" as recognizing within a given phenomenon the law governing its existence, which cannot appear per se but nonetheless conditions the object's specific mode of appearance. Indeed, it is only through the object as appearance--viz., as the correlate of genuine "seeing"--that one obtains access to the self-organizing, differential play of forces over time (Bildung), forces that will eventually crystallize in what is known as "object" (Gegenstand).
Goethe's characterization of the plant's successive development both as "vegetative growth, by development of stems and leaves; and next, through reproduction, which is completed in the formation of flower and fruit" (GHA 13: 99/EM 76) posits a process that is fundamentally incompatible with mimetic forms of representation. If we take, for example, the progressive differentiation of the ordinary field buttercup (ranunculus acris) and break it down into a number of stages, it is logically evident that each of the discrete stages is itself merely an arbitrary isolation of a dynamic progression. However indispensable to scientific inquiry, any such freeze-frame technique does not alter the fact that "the movement we are thinking would, if entirely phenomenal, be entirely continuous, leaving no gaps. Thus as gaps narrow the impression of movement is strengthened" (Brady, "Form" 276). Consequently, there is no underlying Gestalt or concrete organic entity undergoing variational or teleological change. Rather, change itself is the only reality, and as such it "demands difference, and [as] continuous change, continuous difference." It follows, that "for the purpose of our intention, the arrested stage, or Gestalt, is an abstraction. It is held in arrest by our sensible experience, but when we attempt to detect the relation between stages, we must dissolve that condition in the mind"; as Brady continues:
were someone to remark, when viewing such a series, that 'they are all the same thing,' the meaning of the statement would seem immediately apparent. But no single schema can generalize upon the series, for each schema, being itself a type of Gestalt, will be closer to one stage of the series than it is to the others. This is very apparent with the leaves, but it holds true of the vertebrae as well.... It might seem counter-intuitive to speak of movement, rather than an object making the movement, as generative, but between the forms and their movement there is only one possibility. We must remember that no single Gestalt, qua Gestalt, can generate a movement between forms. We detect the movement through the differential between forms, but no one form can give us this. The movement, on the other hand, is a continuity which must contain, in order to be continuous, multiple Gestalts. Thus the movement is not itself a product of the forms from which it is detected, but rather the unity of those forms, from which unity of any form belonging to the series can be generated. ("Form" 277-79)
To understand the metamorphosis of plants, it is crucial for the observer focused on the organic growth of a particular species to monitor his own propensity to formulate laws based on abstractions (an organic substratum, or an abstract Gestalt) that are, in fact, never objectively there but, instead, constitute formal, schematic expedients without which one would not be able to observe anything. As Brady makes clear, change as a linear and unceasing differential progression has to be given ontological primacy. Hence, if it is illogical to speak of change taking place between stages, it is also impermissible to posit some fundamental, invariant entity that supposedly holds constant through the process of change. Change, in Goethe's theory of organic development, does not alter a form putatively given; rather, it produces any sense of form. To claim otherwise would be to backslide into vitalist mystification by postulating a Lebenskraft within matter itself. For only by appealing to such an agency--itself entirely beyond the scope of what can be verified or observed--could one then explain how one given stage or Gestalt should inexorably lead to another. Yet for Goethe, to be altogether true to the phenomenon means never entirely leaving its orbit, as would invariably be the case if we were to hypostatize a quasi-Platonic super-agency supposedly impelling the dynamic metamorphoses of discrete organic forms.
For Brady, what distinguishes Goethe's morphological concept of science is this genial capacity of "seeing" every form or stage in actual or potential continuity with others, and to refrain from isolating it as a discrete entity: "The morphologist not only 'sees' that two distinct configurations are still 'the same,' but is made aware, by the same faculty, of nascent potentials that seem to arise from every juxtaposition.... The individual leaf now appears to be 'coming from' something as well as 'passing to' something, and by so doing represents, to our mind, more than itself." Once it is grasped or, rather, has been "seen" that "the single image is incomplete, its full import can appear within sensible conditions only through continuous transformation--through change" ("Form" 282, 285). Yet the ultimate significance of this quasi-phenomenological mode of seeing that takes shape throughout Goethe's botanical writings has to do with how it reflects back to the observing intelligence its own cognate structure. To reiterate: taken as phenomenon, Goethe's leaf visually realizes the idea of the whole of (plant) life--the deep and imageless truth that accounts for the leaf's particular formal mode of appearance and, unable to appear as such, can only appear in some concrete guise or Gestalt. Whereas, ordinary empirical inquiry will separate "the living thing ... into its elements, but one cannot put these elements together again," Goethe's alternative is to "recognize living forms as such, to understand their outwardly visible and tangible parts in relation to one another, and to lay hold of them as indicia of the inner parts [ihre aussern sichtbaren greiflichen Teile ... als Andeutungen des Innern aufzunehmen]" (GHA 13: 55/EM 23).
In their proto-modernist conception of form as Phanomen and Erscheinung, Goethe's botanical writings thus prefigure with uncanny exactitude what Arnold Gehlen had called "transcendence into this world" (Transzendieren ins Diesseits), a grasping of the divine in rigorously phenomenal, concrete, and dynamic ways. No doubt cued also by the Urtext of Ovid's Metamorphoses, Goethe's botanical theory remains groundbreaking less for what it tells us about plants than for its superior insight into all sensory experience as inherently dynamic, intelligential, and profoundly entwined with the aesthetic process of Darstellung. As Goethe notes in his Theory of Colors ([section] 751),
we never sufficiently reflect that a language, strictly speaking, can only be symbolical and figurative, that it can never express things directly, but only, as it were, reflectedly [nur im Widerscheine]. This is especially the case in speaking of qualities which are only imperfectly presented to observation, which might rather be called powers than objects, and which are ever in movement throughout nature. They are not to be arrested, and yet we find it necessary to describe them; hence we look for all kinds of formulae in order, figuratively [gleichnisweise] at least, to define them. (GHA 13: 491-92) (50)
Just as the myth of Daphne had exemplified long before, Goethe understands internal differentiation as the very essence of life--a continuous "becoming other in order to remain itself" (Brady, "Form" 286). It is not merely a chemical churning of matter or the sum total of photosynthesis, circulation, respiration, digestion, etc. Rather, as an intrinsically concrete and "appearing" form, life continually solicits our active participation as observing and representing (darstellende) intelligence.
Specifically this last consideration also makes clear that knowledge, for Goethe, is not object-knowledge or -representation (Vorstellung) in the Cartesian and Newtonian sense; nor indeed does it involve an apperceptive synthesis and accumulation of "data" to be "applied" or otherwise "expended" in the pursuit of some contingent objective. Goethean organicism thus is not a concept merely imputed to "objects out there." Rather, it posits that the law of form cannot be separated from the form of appearance. In that view, engaging the world as a practical, sensory, and intelligent being means to understand mind and world as ontologically entwined, not as subject and object but as res in the sense that Michael Buckley has recovered as the cornerstone of Aristotelian and Thomistic thought. Only in this non-appropriative sense, then, does "seeing" ever allow for the possibility that the observer will be genuinely and continually "formed" and "transformed" by the encounter with concrete, living forms. (51) In its dynamic sense as natura formans, Goethean form denotes both the implacable drive of all phenomena toward self-organization at the level of appearance and the observer's fashioning of a suitable form of presentation (Darstellung) without which there would be nothing to "see."
If, then, one attempts to situate the Romantic concept of self-generation within a larger narrative of intellectual history, Romantic organicism can be understood as an attempt to reconcile two conceptions of form that had long been opposed in Western thought. One is the Aristotelian/Thomist ontology of substantial form--a unified, animating principle serving as the ontological warrant for the self-identity and consequent intelligibility of all finite matter. The other is the idea of form as the source of a given entity's radical particularity and dissimilarity from any other being. What enables Romantic organicism to reconcile these two models is its entirely novel understanding of difference--which no longer signifies heterogeneity and incommensurability but, instead, a relation whereby a being realizes its essence over time by transforming its core motif into a complex structure (Gebilde). Similar to the ancient and Scholastic idea of substantial form, a single Gestalt does indeed underwrite the self-identity of an organic or aesthetic being. Yet in Goethe form no longer secures a thing's coherence instantaneously but, instead, realizes it as a sequence of minute differentiations unfolding over time. The unparalleled influence of such a conception on nineteenth-century art and aesthetics owes much to the fact that it articulates the Romantic notion of form-as-process in phenomenologically concrete, rather than mystical, ways. Thus, in fusing the law of form with the law of its appearance, Goethe shows how organic form not only unfolds but, in so doing, also concretizes the beholder's intellectual persona. Such a model not only breaks with the Enlightenment idea of "sense-perception" as a passive and mechanical accumulation of data, but it also edges away from the Kantian model of "experience" as premised on an a priori mental architecture serving as its condition of possibility. Instead, aesthetic knowledge in Goethe shows the observer's intelligence to be wholly enmeshed with the form or phenomenon unfolding before him. From here it is not far to the proto-modernist aesthetic of Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy or indeed the microscopic, not to say forensic idiom of a Proust or Musil burrowing ever more into the alluring possibility of mind constructing its world as a work of art only to find itself hypnotized by its own projections.
(1.) See Ockham's Quodlibetal Questions, trans. Alfred J. Freddoso and Francis E. Kelley (New Haven: Yale UP, 1991), esp. 1: 13 (on the singularity of cognition); 2:19 (on the body as contingent on referentiality); 3:12 (on the conceptual status of all thought); 4:23-25 (on the contingency of substance on determinate quantity and quality). On the origins of modern scientific thought in the Nominalist (Franciscan) critique of Aristotelian and Thomistic "substantial form," especially in the work of Ockham, see Louis Dupre, Passage to Modernity (New Haven: Yale UP, 1993) 15-90; Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2007) 90-99; Michael Buckley, Denying and Disclosing God: the Ambiguous Progress of ModeRN Atheism (New Haven: Yale UP, 2004) 25-47; Hans Blumenberg, Legitimacy of the Modern Age, trans. Robert M. Wallace (Cambridge, MA: MIT P, 1983) 126-79; and Michael A. Gillespie, The Theological Origins of Modernity (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2007) 19-43 and 170-246. On eighteenth-century Empiricism and the particularization of knowledge, see Louis Dupre, The Enlightenment and the Intellectual Foundations of ModeRN Culture (New Haven: Yale UP, 2004) 18-44; Ernst Cassirer, Philosophy of the Enlightenment, trans. Fritz C. A. Koelln and James P. Pettegrove (Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1951) 37-92; Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, DiAlectic of Enlightenment, trans. John Cumming (New York: Continuunl, 1972) 3-42, esp. 22-23.
(2.) On Aquinas' conception of form, see Summa Theologiae, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (Scotts Valley, CA: NovAntiqua, 2008) Ia Q 45 A 8: "the form of a natural body is not subsisting, but is that by which a thing is.... it does not belong to forms to be made or to be created, but to be concreated [Non enim considerabant quod forma naturalis corporis non est subsistens, sed quo aliquid est ... fornarum non est fieri neque creari, sed concreata esse].'" On form in Aquinas, see Herbert McCabe, On Aquinas (New York: Continuum, 2008) 41-50; on its rejection, see Louis Dupre, Passage 167-89; on Aquinas' "'non-subject-centered' approach to human experience ... as the actualization of intellectual capacities by potentially significant objects, according to the axiom 'intellectus in actu est intelligibile in actu' [our intellectual capacities actualized are the world's intelligibility realized]," see Fergus Kerr, After Aquinas: Versions of Thomism (Oxford: Blackwell, 2002) 26-33 and 46-51 (27).
(3.) On the emergence of modern subjectivity, see Louis Dupre, Passage 65-92; and Thomas Pfau, "The Philosophy of Shipwreck: Gnosticism, Skepticism, and Coleridge's Catastrophic Modernity," MLN, Comparative Literature Issue 122.5 (2007): 949-1004.
(4.) On the emergence and consolidation of the older, eighteenth-century "life-sciences" into various branches of modern biology, anatomy, etc., see Lynn K. Nyhart, Biology Takes Form: Animal Morphology and the German Universities, 1800-1900 (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1995) 1-64, who offers an excellent discussion of morphology and formalist biology between 1800 and 1850; on the institutionalization of the natural sciences, see David Cahan, ed., From Natural Philosophy to the Sciences (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2003) 291-328 and Robert Richards' essay on biology (in Cahan, ed., 16-48). The process of disciplinary specialization, as well as institutional and professional consolidation, correlates with the demise of natural theology or arguments from design after 1800; on that topic, see Evan Thompson, Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2007), esp. 138-73, and Stephen J. Gould, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2000) 116-36 and 170-96.
(5.) To "desynonymize" (as Coleridge would put it) the notions of "origination" and "emergence" is key to grasping the conceptual implications of Goethean metamorphosis and Bildung. Though theories of emergence only appear in the later nineteenth and early twentieth century (Mill, C. D. Broad, Samuel Alexander), early speculative instances can be found in Goethe and, curiously, in Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779). For an excellent introduction to emergentist thought, see the entry on "Emergent Properties" in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/properties-emergent/ (accessed July 1, 2009).
(6.) Martin Heidegger, Identity and Difference, trans. Joan Stambaugh (New York: Harper, 1969) 30 (German: Identitat und Differenz [Pfullingen: Neske, 1978] 17-18); English version henceforth cited as ID.
(7.) Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Werke, ed. Erich Trunz, Hamburger Ausgabe, 14 vols. (Munich: Beck, 1981) 3: 364; henceforth cited parenthetically as GHA. English: "All things corruptible / Are but a parable; / Earth's insufficiency / Here finds fulfillment" (Goethe, Faust (Part Two), trans. Philip Wayne [Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1959])
(8.) Olaf Breidbach, Goethe's Metamorphosenlehre (Munich: Fink, 2006) 61.
(9.) ID 36-37; the text in angular brackets is omitted in Stambaugh's translation; the full German passage runs as follows: "Im Ge-Stell waltet ein seltsames Vereignen und Zueignen. Es gilt, dieses Eignen, worin Mensch und Sein einander ge-eignet sind, schlicht zu elfahren, d.h. einzukehren in dos, was wir das Ereignis nennen. Das Wort Ereignis ist der gewachsenen Sprache entnommen. Er-eignen heisst ursprunglich: er-augen, d.h. erblicken, im Blicken zu sich rufen, aneignen.... Was wir im Ge-Stell als der Konstellation von Sein und Mensch durch die moderne technische Welt erfahren, ist ein Vorspiel dessen, was Er-eignis heisst. Dieses verharrt jedoch nicht notwendig in seinem Vorspiel. Denn im Er-eignis spricht die Moglichkeit an, dass es das blosse Walten des Ge-Stells in ein anfanglicheres Sein verwindet" (Identitat und Differenz 24-25).
(10.) G. W. F. Hegel, Phanomenologie des Geistes, ed. Johannes Hoffmeister (Hamburg: Meiner, 1952) 21; henceforth cited parenthetically as PG. Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller (New York: Oxford UP, 1977) 11, trans, modified; henceforth PS.
(11.) Garth Tissol, The Face of Nature: Wit, Narrative, and Cosmic Origins in Ovid's Metamorphoses (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1991) 88.
(12.) Qtd. in Tissol 115.
(13.) Breidbach 55-56; among the Romantics, it is arguably Shelley who most fully embrace's Ovid's central notion of "omnia mutantur, nihil interit" (everything changes, nothing dies); see his famous opening lines to "Mont Blanc" or his shorter lyrics, especially "The Cloud" and "Ode to the West Wind." Wasserman notes how "each stanza of the poem's terza rima contains an unused, unfulfilled line that, like a seed in the grave, upon the completion, or 'death,' of its own stanza gives birth to the rhyme of the next (Earl R. Wasserman, Shelley: A Critical Reading [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1971] 245); on Shelley and contemporary debates in the life-sciences, see also Denise Gigante, Life: Organic Form and Romanticism (New Haven: Yale UP, 2009) 154-207.
(14.) Ovid, Metamorphoses, trans. A. D. Melville (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1986), Book 1: 537-52; henceforth cited parenthetically as Met.
(15.) Brooks Otis, Ovid as Epic Poet (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1966) 77-79 that Goethe characterizes as "perpetual transfiguration" (fortwahrendes Umbilden [GHA 13: 60]). (16) Meanwhile, the last book of the Metamorphoses shows Ovid gravitating towards a more general conception of change for which the constitutive notion of difference has become a theoretical focal point independent of its manifestation in concrete mythical accounts:
(16.) Wagner's and Strauss' oeuvres arguably explore the aesthetic potential of metamorphosis more profoundly than anyone else. Wagner's crucial transfiguration of his eponymous protagonists in Act I, Sc. 5 of Tristan & Isolde or the equally abrupt reversion of the clandestine lovers revealed by the light of "denuded day, one last time" (der ode Tag, zum letzten Mal) at the beginning of Act II, Sc. 3 come to mind. At the formal level, the compositional design of Tristan & Isolde, with its proto-Modernist use of chromaticism effectively implements the principle of metamorphosis at every turn of Wagner's acutely polyphonic score: "The expression 'chromatic alteration,' one of the basic categories of the style of Tristan, underlines the fact that a note that impinges on its neighbour as a chromatic passing note or as a suspension began as a variant or chromaticization of a diatonic degree--that is, as an 'alteration.'... The chromaticism of Tristan relies for its expressive effect on the listener's awareness of deviation from the diatonic background of the chord--that is on his awareness of the 'alteration': the musical expression is inseparable from the divergence from the norm" (Carl Dahlhaus and John Deathridge, The New Grove Wagner [New York: Norton, 1984] 119-20); see also Roger Scruton, Death-Devoted Heart: Sex and the Sacred in Wagner's Tristan and Isolde (New York: Oxford UP, 2004) 75-118; an entirely different, though no less pervasive principle of continual transformation drives the motivic work of Wagner's Ring, such that any number of motifs (Rhinemaiden-, Wotan-, Valhalla-, Siegfried-motif, et al.) are variationally derived from--or indeed "emergent" properties of--the core motif of the ring. For a discussion of "transfiguration" (Verwandlung) in the oeuvre of Richard Strauss, see Brian Gilliam, "Ariadne, Daphne, and the Problem of Venwandlung," Cambridge Opera Journal 15 (2003): 67-80.
(17.) Ernst Cassirer, The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, vol. 2, trans. Ralph Mannheim (New Haven: Yale UP, 1955) 5-18.
(18) Robert Richards (The Romantic Conception of Life: Science and Philosophy in the Age of Goethe [Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2002] 375n) notes that, as early as I786, Goethe had begun to study the apparent generation of minute organisms (infusoria) when exposed to light, and how organic matter appeared to generate living organisms that, over the course of days, would undergo further transformation.
(19.) Arnold Gehlen, Urmensch und Spatkultur (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 2004) 63.
(20.) English translation from Goethe, Botanical Writings, trans. Erika Muller, ed. James Engard (Honolulu: U of Hawaii P, 1952); henceforth cited parenthetically as EM.
(21.) GHA 1: 203 (my translation); first printed in 1820, the date of composition for "Metamorphosis of Animals" is rather uncertain; Trunz proposes near contemporaneity with Goethe's closely related didactic poem on the "Metamorphosis of Plants," written in June 1798, though a diary entry of 10 November 1806 has been construed as evidence of a far later composition for "Metamorphosis of Animals," a poem whose strictly hexametric form also differs considerably from the elegiac distich employed in "Metamorphosis of Plants." See Trunz's commentary (GHA 1: 616-19).
(22.) GHA 10: 540--41/EM 217; for a discussion of this pivotal exchange and on Goethe's inception of metamorphosis as a template for studying the development of living forms, see Ronald H. Brady, "The Idea in Nature: Rereading Goethe's Organics," in Goethe's Way of Science: a Phenomenology of Nature, ed. David Seamon and Arthur Zajonc (Albany, NY: SUNY, P, 1998) 83-111, Elaine P. Miller, The Vegetative Soul (Albany: SUNY P, 2002) 45-77; Jocelyn Holland, German Romanticism and Science (New York: Routledge, 2009) 19-55; and Olaf Breidbach 17-20.
(23.) GHA 13: 151/EM 151; "The practice of science for Goethe does not merely provide abstract knowledge; it entails at the same time a transformation and development of the human being" (Hensel 78)
(24.) See Nicholas Boyle, Goethe: the Poet and the Age (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1991) 1: 423.
(25.) English translation from Goethe's Autobiography: Poetry and Truth from My Own Life, trans. R. O. Moon (Washington, DC: Public Affairs P, 1949); henceforth cited as 1949.
(26.) On Linnaeus, whose main work--his Systema Naturae (1st ed. 1735), while influential throughout the remainder of the century, was already assailed by Buffon's Histoire Naturelle (1749-67)--see Majorie Grene and David Depew, The Philosophy of Biology: an Episodic History (New York: Cambridge UP, 2004) 72-74; for an account of Goethe's emergent interest in Linnaeus, botany, and (via Herder) the transmutation of species, see Richards, The Romantic Conception of Life 375, 383-400. Above all, Goethe credits Rousseau for having suggested to him "a method more progressive and less removed from the senses than the one pursued by ... Linne." Linne's taxonomical approach, in which a man is "expected to commit to memory a ready-made terminology, a certain number of words, and bywords, with which to classify any given form ... always seemed to me to result in a kind of mosaic, in which one completed block is placed next to another, creating finally a single picture from thousands of pieces; this was somewhat distasteful to me" (GHA 13: 158; 160-6I/EM 157; 159-60); on that passage, see Ronald H. Brady, "The Idea in Nature" 92-93. For fine introductions to Goethe's concepts of morphology and the Urphanomen, see Nicholas Boyle 592-97 and Joan Steigerwald, "Goethe's Morphology: Urphanomene and Aesthetic Appraisal," Journal of the History of Biology 35 (2002): 291-328.
(27.) Thus, in [section] 30 in his Metamorphosis of Plants, Goethe acknowledges how "abundant nutriment retards the flowering of a plant and that moderate, or indeed scanty, nutriment hastens it" (GHA 13:72-3/EM 42). See also remarks in the later, autobiographical recollections of his botanical research ("Geschichte meiner botanischen Studien"), where Goethe appears to concede a more significant adaptive relation between plant development and environmental conditions (GHA 13: 161/EM 160); see also Richards, The Romantic Conception of Life 445 and Gould 288-89, who also sees Goethe's formalism as open to functionalist considerations.
(28.) Uwe Porksen, "Die Selbstuberwachung des Beobachters," Goethe-Jahrbuch 118 (2001): 203. On the genesis of Goethe's 1790 essay, see Nicholas Boyle 592-97.
(29.) Jochen Bockemuhl, "Transformations in the Foliage Leaves of Higher Plants," in Goethe's Way of Science 116.
(30.) Bockemuhl 127; see also Fritz Breithaupt, Jenseits der Bilder: Goethes Politik der Wahrnehmung (Freiburg: Rombach, 2000) 75, who remarks how "for Goethe the act of perception is the act of objectivity [Akt der Gegenstandlichkeit selbst]. The perception of the object has the same structure as the object itself." the splitting up of the particular and the universal into a dynamic of reciprocity." For David E. Wellbery, this "tension between finitude and infinity, the contingent and the necessary" is the defining characteristic of Romanticism's endogenous (self-generating) understanding of form ("Romanticism and Modernity; Epistemological Continuities and Discontinuities," European Romantic Review 21.2 : 281.
(31.) GHA 13: 48; Engard and Mueller mis-translate the second of these terms, Steigerung, as "progression" (244).
(32.) GHA 13: 78; see also Helmut Muller-Sievers, Self-Generation: Biology, Philosophy, and Literature around 1800 (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1997) 43 and Richards, The Romantic Conception of Life 447 ff; aside from Blumenbach and the young Alexander yon Humboldt, the latter meeting Goethe in Weimar for the first time in 1794, Goethe's principal source for this concept was, of course, Kant's discussion of teleological thinking in the Critique of Judgment, esp. [section][section] 62-78.
(33.) Ronald Brady, "Form and Cause in Goethe's Morphology," in Goethe and the Sciences: a Reappraisal, ed. Frederick Amrine and Francis J. Zucker (Dodrecht: D. Reidel, 1987) 269.
(34.) Goethe, Werke, Weimarer Ausgabe, ed. Hermann Bohlau et al., 143 vols. (Weimar, 1887-1919), Part 11 vol. 7: 282; henceforth cited as WA.
(35.) As Ernst Mayr, himself a central figure in the "great synthesis" puts it, that disciplinary shift fused the inquiries of "two factions, on the one side the experimental geneticists, mostly interested in the mechanism of evolution and studying variation within a population as well as the achievement and maintenance of adaptation, and another faction consisting of the naturalists, systematists, and paleontologists, primarily interested in the study of biodiversity, that is, species, speciation, and macroevolution. In the years 1937 to 1947, a synthesis of the two fields was achieved owing to a mutual understanding of each others' views. The result was the so-called evolutionary synthesis, actually very much of a return to classical Darwinism, evolution as variation and selection" (address delivered at the 51st Annual Meeting of the American Institute of Biological Sciences, Washington, DC, March 22, 2000).
(36.) Sean B. Carroll, Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo (New York: Scribner, 2005) x.
(37.) Carroll 29; the notion of organisms connected by a "functional analogy" of their basic blueprint surfaces in a variety of nineteenth-century biologists, including Etienne Geoffrey de St. Hilaire, who in 1818 speaks of "a principle of connections" and a "principle of composition" and Richard Owen, who in 1848 defines functional similarity analogy and standard party identity homology (qtd. in Brady, "Form" 257-300 [258-59]). Likewise, Darwin speaks of a common phylum whose persistence, throughout the variations effected by descent, heredity, and selective transmission, is legible in the "mutual affinities of organic beings" (On the Origin of the Species, ed. Joseph Carroll (Peterborough, ON: Broadview P, 2003) 96. In his own research in Osteology, Goethe had already become aware of the modular logic underlying skeletal structures, in part because such a hypothesis allowed him "to create series of formal differentiations" (Serien von Formdiversifizierungen) and to grasp "complexity as variation" (Vielfalt als Variation zu begreifen). "Becoming is simply the exfoliation of what is possible, rather than the creation of the new" (qtd. in Breidbach 29-30; 69). On the pioneering arguments of Caspar Friedrich Wolff (1734-1794) concerning the modularity and differential logic of developmental processes in organic nature, see Breidbach 87-93.
(38.) Andre Jolles, Einfache Formen (Tubingen: Max Niemeyer, 1965) 9; for a recent attempt to link poetic form to the organicist models in circulation after 1780, see Gigante, esp. 1-48.
(39.) The Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. Earl Leslie Griggs (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1956-71) 1: 625-26.
(40.) On Heimroth's characterization, see Goethe's short essay "Bedeutende Fordernis durch ein einziges geistreiches Wort" (GHA 13: 37-41). Hopkins' Journal entries of 1866 and 1867 offer numerous instances of his attempt to transpose Ruskin's microscopic, preRaphaelite aesthetics of painting into the medium of poetry. See his entry for 6 July 1866: "I have a note on elm-leaves, that they sit crisp, dark, glossy, and saddle-shaped along their twigs, in which at that time an inner frill of soft juicy young leaves had just been run" (The Journals and Papers of Gerard Manley Hopkins, ed. Humphrey House [Oxford: Oxford UP, 1959] 152). Here and elsewhere (see his journal entries for 30 August 1866; 11 July 1867), Hopkins' appears consumed with mining the existing lexical reservoir of English and, frequently, with adding to it in order to capture the textural richness and complexity of perception as an "event." On the impact of Ruskin's writings, particularly his Elements of Drawing (1st ed., 1857), on the young Hopkins at Balliol College, see Norman White, Hopkins: a Literary Biography (Oxford: Clarendon, 1992) 68-79.
(41.) English translation from Maxims and Reflections, trans. Elizabeth Stopp (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1998); henceforth cited as 1998.
(42.) Martin Heidegger, Sein und Zeit (Tubingen: Max Niemeyer, 1979) 25-26. English: Being and Time, trans. Joan Stambaugh (Albany, NY: SUNY P, 1996) 29.
(43.) Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Primacy of Perception, trans. James M. Edie (Evanston, IL: Northwestern UP, 1964) 15; as Steigerwald notes, the ambition of Goethe's botanical project "was to eliminate the subjective elements he contended were leading contemporary art and science astray and to provide an objective vision of science in their stead, an intuition of Urphanomene on the basis of a disciplined perception" (314). A fuller discussion of Goethe's scientific writings in relation to modern phenomenology would have to factor in Franz Brentano's critique of "perception" and his influential development of the concept of intentionality, as well as the fifth of Husserl's Logical Investigations, especially the discussion of "attentiveness" (Aufmerksamkeit) and the consequent, sharp discrimination between the material substratum of an intentional act and its "quality" ([section][section] 19-20). For a thorough archeology of different versions of phenomenology and their critical reception by post-structuralist and deconstructionist thought, see Tilottama Rajan, Deconstruction and the Remainders of Phenomenology (Stanford: Stanford UP, 2002) 1-33.
(44.) Logische Untersuchungen, 2nd ed. (Tubingen: Niemeyer, 1980), vol. 2: 350
(45.) Summa Theologiae Ia q. 105 a. 5; Kerr 32; 48-49.
(46.) Letter to T. J. Seebeck (21 January 1816): "So erscheint mir das Phanomen als ein allgemeines uberall verborgen liegendes, unter gewissen Umstanden hervortretendes, wie denn bey den prismatischen Versuchen ein reines lichtes Bild die Erscheinung an die dunklen Rander drangt" (WA, pt. IV, 26: 228). For a discussion of Goethe's creative reciprocity of sight and phenomenon in The Theory of Colors and his elegiac poem "Metamorphosis of Plants" (1798), see the essays by Astrida Tantillo ("The Subjective Eye: Goethe's Farbenlehre and Faust") and Heide Crawford ("Poetically Visualizing Urgestalten: The Union of Nature, Art, and the Love of Woman in Goethe's 'Die Metamorphose der Pflanzen'"), both in The Enlightened Eye: Goethe and Visual Culture, ed. Evelyn K. Moore and Patricia A. Simpson (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2007).
(47.) Diary entry from April 1817: "Die Physik dagegen ist am ubelsten dran ... ihre Hypothesen und Analogien sind versteckte Anthropomorphismen, Gleichnissreden und dergleichen. Dadurch glauben sie das Phanomen auszusprechen, anstatt dass sie sich um die Bedingungen bekummern sollten, unter welchen es erscheint" (WA, pt. 111, 6: 32-33).
(48.) (GHA to: 89/1949: 603); in Maxims and Reflections, Goethe remarks how "Alles wahre Aperfu kommt aus einer Folge und bringt Folge. Es ist ein Mittelglied einer grossen, produktiv aufsteigenden Kette" (GHA 12: 414; my translation); David Wellbery sees Goethe advancing "the epistemological figure of a systematically disciplined intuitive attention that conforms to and finally produces out of itself the formal regularity in question" (278).
(49.) For a fuller discussion of Kantian judgment and its complex troping of "voice" and "mood" (Stimmung), see Thomas Pfau, Romantic Moods: Paranoia, Trauma, and Melancholy, 1790-1840 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2005) 33-45.
(50.) Theory of Colours, trans. Charles Lock Eastlake (London: F. Cass & Co., 1967) 300. See also Goethe's "Introduction" to the Theory of Colors, where he remarks on how, struggling for an adequate terminology of this most elusive of phenomena (light), observers have fashioned "a symbolical language ... which, from its close analogy, may be employed as equivalent to a direct and appropriate terminology" (xix/GHA 13:316).
(51.) Elsewhere, Brady points out how Goethe's definition of "seeing" as "cognizing ... is not a proposition about what is perceived but an activity that actualizes the perception. Each act of seeing is necessarily an act of understanding.... We do not perceive and then bring forward a concept to understand. We focus our understanding to bring forth a perception" ("Idea" 88); Fritz Breithaupt succinctly and persuasively notes that "above all, the aim of Goethe's Phenomenology is to preserve the openness of the phenomenon and to counter its mortification by the terminally objective [Offenhalten des Phanomenalen, die Verhinderung der Mortifikation durch das endgultige Objective]" (Jenseits der Bilder: Goethes Politik der Wahrnehmung [Freiburg: Rombach, 2000] 78).
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Publication:||Studies in Romanticism|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2010|
|Previous Article:||William McCarthy. Anna Letitia Barbauld: Voice of the Enlightenment.|
|Next Article:||The mapping of meaning in Wordsworth's "Michael": (textual place, textual space and spatialized speech acts).|