The field of Germanic studies has recently witnessed a renascent interest in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s natural scientific work, above all his ‘morphology’ or study of natural formations. Upon returning from his Italian journey, Goethe developed an ensemble of epistemic practices that allowed him to intuit trans-formation as itself a kind of temporal form, one that rendered perspicuous the unity underlying and animating nature’s unfathomably diverse plethora of beings. Current scholarly discussion has construed Goethe’s morphology as a philosophically robust method of ‘intuitive understanding’ developed in the wake of Kant and Spinoza, one that reflects on its own serial form of textual representation in the morphological notebooks. My dissertation makes a contribution to this scholarship through a systematic shift in perspective that reconstructs Goethean morphology not just as a natural-scientific approach, but as a general mode of observation that can be fruitfully applied to the cultural domain of literary criticism, above all that of Goethe’s own works. Goethe explicitly professed that the observational practices that make up morphology allowed him to apprehend transformative processes at work shaping the domains of art and society in addition to nature. Recent engagements with Goethean morphology neglect this claim of general methodological applicability beyond the natural realm, perhaps in part because of a justified wariness of naturalizing the non-natural domain of culture. Goethe himself, however, was careful to emphasize that the ‘three great world-regions’ (“drei großen Weltgegenden”) that morphology seeks to understand – nature, society, and art – remain constitutively different ontological districts with their own distinct kinds of lawfulness. In contrast to previous accounts, my dissertation takes Goethe’s generality claim seriously, working out the possibility of a cultural, and specifically literary morphology.




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