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“StillHalf Blending with the Blue of the Sea”: Goethe’s Theory of Colors in Moby-Dick MICHAELA GIESENKIRCHEN Kenyon College cholars agree that by the time he composed Moby-Dick, Herman Melville was acquainted with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s principal ideas on Slight and color. In the Hendricks House Edition of Moby-Dick, Luther S. Mansfield and Howard €? Vincent argue that Melville gained fairly detailed knowledge about these ideas through his reading of Conversations with Eckerrnann.1 It has also been suggested, most recently by Robert K. Wallace, that in the late 1840s, Melville probably read Charles Lock Eastlake’s translation of Goethe’s Theory o f Colors (1810) itself, which had been issued in 1840 by Melville’spublisherJohn Murray2 And yet, though both Melville’s relation to the European Romanticsand his light and color imagerycontinue to be favorite subjects in criticism, and though Goethe’sTheory of Colors was a cornerstone of romantic science and aesthetics, Moby-Dick’s relation to it has never been explored in depth. I will suggest several concrete connecting links between the two which illustrate Melville’s response to Goethe’s ubiquitous philosophy of nature: his organicist, symbolistic epistemologyand ontology. Goethe’sideas and tropes also came to Melville mediated through a variety of other sources. Of these, I will be able to mention briefly only Turner and Emerson. The relationship between Goethe’s and Melville’s light and color symbolism in such wider contexts poses a fruitful area of inquiry both for traditional , paradigm-oriented, critical approaches and for more recent approaches to Moby-Dick that stress the eclectic participation of Melville’sart in culturHerman Melville, Moby-Dick, ed. Luther S. Mansfield and Howard F? Vincent (New York: Hendricks House, 1952), 704-5. See also Vincent’s The Tryingout of Moby-Dick (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1949). Merton Sealts’s list of books checked out from the library of the Boston Athenaeum by Judge Lemuel Shaw while Melville was staying with the Shaws includes Eastlake’sContributions to the Literatureo f the FineArts (1849), which contains excerpts from the translation of Goethe’s Themy ofcolors; see Merton M. Sealts,Jr., Melville’sReading (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1988).See Douglas Robillard, “Melville’sReadingin the VisualArts,”in SavageEye: Melville and the Visual Arts, ed. Christopher Sten (Kent: Kent State University Press,l991), 43. See also Robert K. Wallace, Melville and Turner: Spheres of Love and Fright (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1992), 169-170, and 603. Wallace corroborates his thesis that Melville was familiar with Eastlake’swritings, including his translation of Goethe, by circumstantial and internal evidence. He stresses that Eastlake’s translation “waswidelyavailablein midcentury New York, where it was advertised in PicturesandPaintersin 1849 and listed in the 1851Index of the Astor Library’’(603). Wallace’s study is, however, not much concerned with the question of Goethe’s influence on Eastlake, Turner, or Melville. L E V I A T H A N A J O U R N A L O F M E L V I L L E S T U D I E S3 M I C H A E L A G I E S E N K I R C H E N a1practices.3Exerting immediate influence on the visual arts as well as on literature and philosophy, Goethe’s Theory of Colors was a seminal text for the variety of discourses from which Melville drew inspiration. Frederick Burwick has traced the general influence of Goethe’s Theory on German and English Romantic literature;4Lorenz Dittmann has outlined its influence on the history of color use in painting? and others have read the work as a key text in the encounter between philosophy of science and Kantian epistemology.6 The wide impact of Goethe’s theory of colors sprang from its heterogeneity as an attempt to systematize an essentiallyanti-systematicbody of thought. In the Theory ofcolors, Goethe strives to integrate his study of subjective sense perception (in the chapter on “physiologicalcolors”)with an objective analysis of the physical world (both chemical and optical) in ways that in turn led to an elucidation of the varieties of aesthetic color experience.The work was Goethe’s most sustained endeavor to fathom...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1750-1849
Print ISSN
1525-6995
Pages
pp. 3-18
Launched on MUSE
2013-05-29
Open Access
No
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