In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

I80 Books however, for the physicist it is still something of a stumbling block. For Goethe, the rich and varied world of colour was not a matter for measurement but was the manifestation of a kind of divine intelligence out of which nature itself, including the eye, was born. Access to this was through what he called ‘pure experience’, which one might describe as the intuitive content of observation before it is conditioned by preconceived ideas. It is impossible to understand Goethe unless one concedes at least the possibility of such intuitive understanding. There are several complete editions of Goethe’s Farbenlehre in German but only recently has the whole of Eastlake’s translation of 1840 been reprinted (J. W. von Goethe, Theory of Colours (London: M.I.T. Press, 1970)). Aach has translated Matthaei’s 1970German edition that contains the most important parts of Goethe’s work on colour, with the original colour illustrations in their place in the text, together with a section giving the relationships between Goethe’s ideas and the principles of modern colour theory. The latter shows clearly that, although Goethe’s ‘explanation’ of prismatic colours was unacceptable to physicists for over a century, his selection and arrangement of colour phenomena into an all-embracing system were based on extremely sound observations and that he was well ahead of the ideas of his time. Matthaei’s edition contains shortened versions of Goethe’s Contributions to Optics, the didactic part of the Farbenlehre and some important passages from other works. Cuts are indicated. The editor has added an introduction, an explanatory chapter in the middle of the book, a number of Goethe’s landscape sketches, pictures of Goethe’s own rooms and of some of the apparatus he used, nearly all in colour. Marginal notes and references are provided throughout and there is a bibliography. Aach in making the translation evidently has been faced with a dilemma. Rather than translate Goethe’s work afresh, he has used Eastlake’s translation, made a few alterations of his own and, then, so that the reader can see what Matthaei has omitted, has included a small-print facsimile reproduction of the entire Eastlake edition complete with monochrome illustrations! One can be grateful for this, though it adds to the size and cost of the book. For the English reader, the least satisfactory parts are those newly translated. Too often they sound like dictionary translations, through ignorance of equivalent English expressions for German terms. Thus, Goethe’s ‘colour circle’ becomes a ‘color wheel’, Newton’s ‘refrangibility’ becomes‘refractability’ and the‘slitofaspectroscope’ becomes an ‘alterable slot’. There are several plain misprints (e.g., ‘can’for ‘cannot’on p. 20, paragraph 24 and on p. 54 the text does not fully correspond to the diagram). These may seem petty points but when Goethe’s well-known title An Attempt to Discover the Elements of Colour Theory comes out as Experiment with Element of the Color Theory for Discovering (p. 205), it is rather harder to forgive the translator. It also seems a pity that for the explanation of Goethe’s ‘pure experience’ we have to be content with ‘secured observations whose conditions are known’. The book is lavishly produced and the colour printing is first-class. But, since alternate sections are by Matthaei and by Goethe, running chapter headings would have made it easier to know who is speaking. The book should be of great interest to students of colour as well as to students of Goethe. But, for the price, one would have expected greater care in translation. In view of the statement in the publisher’s blurb, we should mention that excellent translations of Contributions to Optics and of the first part of the Theory o f Colours are to be found in Goethe’s Theory of’ColoursApplied by M. Schindler (London : New Knowledge Books, 1946 and 1970) and of ‘The Experiment as Mediator between Object and Subject’ in Part V of The Goethe Year, 1949 by G. Adams (London : Orpheus, 1949). The Elements of Color. Johannes Itten. Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., New York, 1970. pp. 95, illus. $6.95. Reviewed by: Arthur Karp* This volume, which is small in...

pdf

Share