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ANGUS NICHOLLS The Philosophical Concept of the Daemonic in Goethe's "Mächtiges Überraschen" for Walter Veit Since its much celebrated appearances in Dichtung und Wahrheit and Eckermann's Gespräche mit Goethe in den letzten Jahren seines Lebens, Goethe's concept of das Dämonische has become one of the most overdetermined notions within the field of Goethe studies. Following on from Goethe's own autobiographical ruminations on the daemonic as a mysterious force akin to fate in Eckermann's Gesprciche,1 early twentieth-century critics like Friedrich Gundolf tended to interpret das Dämonische either along strictly biographical lines or according to the prevailing mood of Dilthey-influenced Lebensphilosophie, seeing it as a vitalist creative principle that presided over Goethe's existence.2 At the same time, Marxist critics like Georg Lukács more or less ignored the concept of the daemonic in Goethe altogether.3 With a few exceptions, Gundolf's Lebensphilosophiebiographical approach to das Dämonische in Goethe continued for much of the twentieth century, most notably and disturbingly in National Socialist studies by Walther Linden (1938) and August Raabe (1942),4 and less problematically in Paul Hankamer's Spiel der Mächte (1947),5 and Walter Muschg's essay "Goethes Glaube an das Dämonische" (1958).6 The purpose of this paper is to counter this tradition by offering a philosophical interpretation of Goethe's notion of the daemonic as it appears in the sonnet "Mächtiges Überraschen," written in 1807/08.The underlying contention of this analysis is that the previous approaches to das Dämonische in Goethe have tended to overlook and obscure the broader Kantian and post-Kantian philosophical context in which Goethe deployed this term during the early stages of the nineteenth century. Since the publication of the second volume of Nicholas Boyle's Goethe: The Poet and the Age in 2000, and also owing to the prominence afforded to studies such as Gezá von Molnár's Goethes Kantstudien (1994), Robert Richards' TJje Romantic Conception of Life: Science and Philosopfjy in the Age of Goethe (2002) and Wolf von Engelhardt's Goethes Fichtestudien (2004), we now have a much better understanding of the role played by Kantian and post-Kantian philosophy in Goethe's intellectual development. Alongside these relatively recent works, there also exists a limited tradition of philosophical interpretations of das Dämonische in Goethe, interpretations Goethe Yearbook XIV (2007) 148 Angus NichoUs which, although often insightful and compelling in their own right, were not able to benefit from the recent findings regarding Goethe's relation to German Idealism. Some of this tradition is very well known indeed—Rudolf Otto's Das Heilige (1917), Walter Benjamin's essay "Goethes Wahlverwandtschaften" (1924), Karl Jaspers' Psychologie der Weltanschauungen (1925) and Hans Blumenberg's Arbeit am Mythos (1979)—while other parts of it have been either completely ignored or largely forgotten: particularly Walter Kaufmann 's 1922 dissertation "Über das Dämonische bei Goethe." I have also made a recent contribution to scholarship on das Dämonische in Goethe's works, in the form of my book, Goethe's Concept of the Daemonic: After the Ancients (2006), which attempts to relate the work of scholars such as Benjamin, Blumenberg, Boyle, Molnár and Richards to earlier research in the field.7 The present paper is a summary and extension of research directions first developed in Goethe's Concept of the Daemonic, and is divided into four parts. The first part outlines a short account of the notion of the daemonic in the history of Western thought and Goethe's position within that history, before briefly examining some key philosophical interpretations of das Dämonische in Goethe's works.The second part addresses in detail the interpretation of das Dämonische offered by Walter Benjamin's "Goethes Wahlverwandtschaften"drawing some parallels between this essay and the philosophical ideas of Kant and Schelling. Part three turns to "Mächtiges Überraschen," highlighting the philosophical context of the sonnet's composition , while part four offers some concluding remarks in relation to das Dämonische in Goethe. I. Das Dämonische in Western Intellectual History Perhaps Goethe's most famous statement on his notion of das Dämonische...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1940-9087
Print ISSN
0734-3329
Pages
pp. 147-170
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
Archive Status
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