SPEAKER 1: Thank you Peter, very much. Amanda, thank you for inviting me back to SET once again after, I think, a decade or maybe not quite a decade. It's been a wonderful summer thus far.
I'm honored to be speaking here at Cornell University as a Germanist. Cornell University is the home of one of the finest German departments in the world. And it's always a great, great pleasure for me to be back here.
We're in a rather strange situation now because I think you will find that what you heard described in Peter's introduction is a version of me that is unrecognizable in what I'm going to deliver right now. And all of those different phases of my life seem sort of strange to me as I listen to them going by.
If there is value in what follows then it might very well be to have shown how difficult it is and how easy to fail to extract intellectual substance from the pervasive occasionalism that taps out the rhythm of scholarly work today. For this paper, produced for this occasion, is the translation and condensation of another paper produced for a different occasion, namely for the Congress of the International Hagel Society held in Stuttgart about a month ago.
The overriding conference theme was freedom. And I was asked to speak to the assembled philosophers on Hegel, freedom and literature. Whatever that might mean. And the best, because only hope I had was to wrench an ongoing project on Goethe entitled Form and Process into some kind of fit with the conference theme.
The result was a paper called "The Imagination of Freedom: Goethe and Hagel as Contemporaries," but I could just as well have selected a [INAUDIBLE] of Cassirer's book title Freedom and Form. Those are the two concepts I'm trying to bring together here. But I'm frankly uncertain whether my circus act of intellectual contortion has yielded anything intelligible at all. We'll see.
The basic strategy of the paper was to develop the theme of freedom and form with regard to two texts by Goethe, his Prometheus Hymn of 1774, and his Festspiel, that is, his festival play or pageant, of 1808 entitled Pandora. There was also an intermezzo devoted to the 1787 tragedy Egmont, which you might know from Beethoven's great overture. And I'll leave that out entirely here in order to concentrate on the two myth-based pieces.
I had three reasons for selecting Prometheus and Pandora. First, both texts draw on the same mythical complex-- the network of tales bearing on the titan Prometheus, his brother Epimetheus and the goddess, if she is a goddess, Pandora. They are therefore a good place to look if one is interested in locating significant shifts in Goethe's thought.
Second, both texts bear on the question of freedom and the foundation of culture.
And third, both texts have acquired a certain philosophical credibility and familiarity by virtue of their having been interpreted by esteemed members of the Philosophical Guild, Ernst Cassirer, Hans-Georg Gadamer and Hans Blumenberg.
In addition to these three reasons for selecting the two texts by Goethe, however, there was at work in me an overriding motivation for the entire project. I wanted to use the lecture as an opportunity to give some account of the relationship between Goethe and Hagel. That relationship famously comes to expression in Hegel's letter to Goethe of April 24th, 1825, in which we find this, to my mind, deeply moving expression of indebtedness. I quote.
This is Hagel writing to Goethe in 1825. Hegel was born in 1770 and died on 31 1830. "When I survey my intellectual development, I find you everywhere interwoven therein and might well call myself one of your sons. From you, my thought acquired nourishment and the strength to resist abstraction and found its just course by keeping your constructs"-- he uses the word gebilden-- "by keeping your constructs in sight as if they were beacons."
Needless to say, the cited passage has not gone unnoticed, and the relationship between Goethe and Hagel has often been treated in the scholarship, most recently in the important book by Eckart Forster, The 25 Years of Philosophy. But typically it was the scientist Goethe who came into focus in such studies, or perhaps the author of Maxims and Reflections.
Where literary works by Goethe were taken into consideration the typical procedure was to extract from them a few pithy apothegms that in their inscrutability looked vaguely philosophical. It has always seemed to me, however, that the sentences from Hegel's letters suggest intensity of engagement with the literary construct itself, attentiveness focused on the structure and texture of literary works. Moreover, the crucial lesson they refer to bears on a non-abstractionist thinking of the concrete, which in this context I take to mean thought realized in and mediated through formal complexity.
Precisely this concretion of thought, it's working out or elaboration as gebilde, as construct, is what my formula, the imagination of freedom, was intended to capture. The task then was to make the two works under investigation-- the Prometheus ode and the festival play Pandora-- come alive as thoughts kindred to that of Hagel. Let's see if I can convince you that that might be a doable project.
On the handouts you will find original and translation of Goethe's Prometheus hymn, one of the great free verse poems in the German language. I say hymn because that is the usual designation for the genre the text is held to instantiate, but this term is a conventional scholarly label and as we shall see, the text thinks through its own generic status in such a way as to warrant modification of the standard term.
Needless to say, I cannot provide here a thorough interpretation of the text. My effort, rather, will be to make salient for you the imagination of freedom the poem accomplishes. And to do so I will concentrate my remarks for the most part on the first and final stanzas.
But we can usefully begin, I think, with a sketch of the entire poem, the coherence of which derives from two encompassing structures. On the one hand, the text instantiates a dispositional figure-- that's the rhetorical term dispositio-- arrangement, let's say-- a dispositional figure derived from forensic rhetoric. The phases of this figure are first the accusation directed against the gods, preeminently Zeus in stanzas one and two, second, the narrative marshaling of evidence-- that is, the past injustices and disappointments recounted in stanzas three through six, and finally, the future-directed declaration of the poem's final stanza in which we shall come to recognize something like a call to judgment.
The text finds its shape not through unmediated emotional expression as often averred, but through the deployment of a juridical strategy of argumentation that is designed to elicit a judgment, indeed to issue in the condemnation of the supra-mundane god and the structure of consciousness to which that god owes his existence.
The second macro-structural pattern involved here is the narrative parkour that leads from the stage of childhood, anxiety and confusion to that of manhood and maturity. At issue, however, is not the course of an individual life, but the development of humanity itself.
The poem adapts, that is to say, the schema of maturation and progressive emancipation according to which the Enlightenment fashioned its conception of an encompassing historical process. The decisive matter as far as the poem is concerned is the way these two structures are interwoven, for the poem includes the very speech that recounts the historical trajectory as a moment within that history, within that historical trajectory itself. Indeed, as the decisive moment, the turning point in which humanity breaks with the structure of domination embodied in the thundering divinity and discloses to itself the possibility of a life in independence of that divinity.
The speech in which Prometheus unfolds his accusation and narrative of past deceptions constitutes the very action through which he emancipates himself and therewith humanity from the heteronomous self-understanding those deceptions secured. Thus, as speech act, the poem accomplishes the process of which it speaks. It brings about, or makes real, the emancipatory program of enlightenment, such as the historical dramatic perpeteias staged in Goethe's hymn.
Of course, the text also derives its coherence from its constant reference to the Prometheus myth, for which it develops a bold, and as we shall see, paradigmatically modern interpretation. We can grasp Goethe's recasting of the mythic tradition by attending to the recodification of space accomplished across the first stanza.
So take a look at the first stanza. Cover up your heaven, Zeus, with cloudy murk. And exercise yourself like a boy beheading thistles on oaks and mountain peaks. You must leave my Earth standing. And my hut, which you didn't build. And my hearth, the glow of which you envy me for. Sorry about that improvisation.
So we can grasp Goethe's recasting of the mythic tradition by attending just to the recodification of space accomplished in this stanza that I just read out for you. And that is to say, the replacement of a vertically-ordered hierarchy in which the heaven of the god assumes the supreme and central position with a horizontal organization, the description of which moves concentrically from the encompassing space of Earth to the hut-- the hut indestructible by the way, not in its material being, but in the ownness of its having been built by Prometheus himself-- from the encompassing space of Earth to the hut, and finally to the glowing hearth as the center of the new Promethean order of eminence.
The glow of this hearth, which pricks the god's envy, alludes of course to the motif of the titans' theft of fire, but not in order to unfold a further variant of the myth. The element of fire in itself makes no claim on our interest here. Its function is to figure the energetic principle of egoic-- egoic, that's ego plus ic-- egoic-- of egoic or first person centrality on which the structure of authority within the newly disclosed sphere of eminence rests.
The metaphorical function of hearth and glow becomes fully manifest when in the central line of the poem's central stanza-- that is to say, in the very middle of the poem-- Prometheus's holy glowing hearth is addressed, or addresses we might rather say, itself. The metaphorical vehicle borrowed from a myth, the glowing hearth, slides via paranomasia-- hearth and heart-- and morphological variation glow and glowing-- into its semantic tenor.
Thus the mythological motif of the theft of fire finds its authentic interpretation. The hermeneutic truth of the mythic figure is the displacement of the supramundane god as the sacred center of the world and the seizure of this central position by the very Prometheus subjectivity that achieves awareness of its autonomy in the accomplishment of the poetic speech act.
Note that such imagination of autonomy can have the look of a paradox about it. We seem to be dealing with a mythological figure that interprets and in interpreting overcomes the mythical world in which it inheres. I'll return to this issue.
A reason that the hermeneutic emancipatory thrust of the poetic speech act here has been overlooked in the research lies in the fact that interpreters have erroneously construed the elocutionary force of the opening stanza as that of a command directed to Zeus by Prometheus. To be sure, grammatically we are dealing here with an imperative. But that fact is hardly sufficient to fulfill the conditions requisite for the accomplishment of a command.
One such condition is that the act, the execution of which the command calls for, be one that the commanding subject wills to happen. But Prometheus of course does not seek through his speech act actually to bring about the eventualities that speech act projects. It would be hazardous folly for him to provoke a violent storm.
The elocutionary force here is not that of a command, then, but that of what I want to call a mock command-- which is to say, of a speech act that presupposes altogether different conditions. Mock commands are employed in situations in which one is confronted by a threat. The threat is neutralized and the impotence of the one doing the threatening exposed through the simulation of a command in which the threatened action appears as an outcome willed by the person toward whom the threat was directed in the first place.
Do it. See if I care. This might be considered the canonical form of the mock command. And it is to this pattern that the elocutionary form of the first stanza corresponds exactly.
Of course, what's important here is not the technically correct classification of the poetic speech act, but rather the concatenated implications that follow from its apprehension, implications that include a prehistory of fear and intimidation on the one hand and insight into this prehistory on the other.
We might say that the first stanza dramatizes an apotropeic gesture through which Prometheus holds at a distance the threat that had kept him in thrall, and in doing so, acquires insight into the causes and consequences of his anxiety. For just this reason, the poem constitutes the peripateia of the history it narrates. It dramatizes a coming to consciousness through which the speaker not only overcomes his fear but at the same time comes to understand that just this fear enabled the hierarchical order to which he had submitted himself.
Prometheus no longer trembles, we might say, before the divinity his own childhood fear had projected onto the screen of the heavens as the agency acting out its rage in thunder and lightning. The apotropeic gesture of the mock command disenchants the cosmic theatrics of divine anger to a bit of meteorological turbulence.
Far from being a command to Zeus, which would of course presuppose the existence of the one commanded, Prometheus's speech act deprives the god of the very conditions of his being.
That's just about almost all of the poetic reading you're going to get here. Turn now to a different issue. And in order to understand the historical significance of this Promethean gesture, it's indispensable to get a grasp on the philosophical genealogy of the speech act that I've just described.
Goethe's text draws on and responds to a discussion regarding the origin of religious-- above all, polytheistic beliefs-- that had unfolded across the 18th century. The relevant theory, which had antecedents of course in antiquity, first took shape in Pierre Bayle's Pensees Diverses de la Comete of 1680, in which we read, and I quote, "Thunder, thunder-filled human beings with a most intense fear, for in their ignorance of rational causes, they could only understand the terrifying signs as signifying divine rage." End of quote.
Here we have the central theoretical topos that will be varied across a series of contributions extending from Fontenelle, Lafitau, Vico, [INAUDIBLE], Diderot, Boulange, all the way to the La Contagion Sacree of 1768 and its successor pamphlets authored by d'Holbach.
The text from this tradition that is most pertinent, however, to the interpretation of the Prometheus hymn, is David Hume's The Natural History of Religion, first published in 1757 in the collection Four Dissertations.
Unfortunately, I cannot examine here the many points of contact between this work of intellectual acumen and stylistic brilliance and Goethe's poem. Apart from local correspondences, however, the major reason that Hume's treatise is so pressingly relevant to our line of inquiry is that it provided the basis for a re-evaluation of the significance of lyric poetry at the beginning of the 1770s that would prove crucial to the poetics of Goethe's hymn.
I refer to the fact that as early as 1766, Herder-- Johann Gottfried Herder-- destined to become, some four years later, Goethe's mentor in literary and other matters-- Herder wrote down a series of notes that summarized the essential points of Hume's natural history, chapter by chapter.
The intellectual ferment that Herder owed the Scottish philosopher finds expression in a number of projected studies including a very ambitious essay on the history of lyric poetry, probably from 1769. In this text, perhaps the first attempt at an anthropological theory of lyric discourse in our tradition, Herder applies Hume's surmise regarding the origin of religious representations to the question of the origin of lyric expression.
And this shifts the theoretical focus altogether. At stake are no longer mental representations, but rather the form of discourse in which these are articulated. This form according to Herder, is prayer as the primordial lyric utterance. It has its origin in that Humean-- described by Hume, I mean-- in that effective Humean effective complex of fear and hope sponsored by the preoccupation with survival characteristic on Hume's account of primitive mentality.
Its function is to avert the threat of misfortune and to win favor through praise and flattery. And it accomplishes all this through a mode of lively sensuous expression that as Herder notes, sharply diverges from the pale conventionality of contemporary poetry.
The primordial lyric form in which the primitive complex of fear and hope finds objectification, Herder calls a hymn or a prayer to the gods. Hymnic address, directed toward a divine second person, is the projective mechanism through which the gods are called into being.
With Herder's theory in view, we are positioned to develop a precise characterization of the discursive stance assumed in Goethe's text. The concept of a poetic act that brings forth and solidifies religious representations makes possible a poetic re-inscription of the Enlightenment critique of religion.
Goethe's poem, in other words, appropriates the primordial form of religious speech, according to Herder, in order to revoke the positing of the gods and the consequent heteronomous self-understanding originally institutionalized in and through that lyric form.
In this sense, Goethe's "Prometheus" is a palinode, the lyric retraction or negation of the ur-lyrical thesis. It is an anti-hymn that acts out the critical dismantling of the hymnically cloaked figures of divinity.
This generic positioning derived from Herder's theory of the origin of lyric poetry requires, however, an ammendation. The tendency of the cited text by Herder, as well as of the other texts produced by him during this period, is to reformulate Enlightenment critique as hermeneutic affirmation.
It is no longer error born of the unremitting exigencies of primitive life, but rather the miracle of the poetic rendering of lived experience that provides the focal point of Herder's theory. If for the Enlightenment critics all primitive religious representations were equally false, since they were born of ignorance and error, for Herder they were all equally true in the authenticity of their expression.
The primitive hymn to the gods returns in Herder as the interpreter's hymn to human creativity. In view of this tendency, it is important to note that Goethe, with this anti-hymnic destruction of the divine world, and his effort to give poetic form to human autonomy, remains more faithful than his mentor to the Enlightenment tradition which he, of course, also transforms.
To formulate the crux issue as succinctly as possible-- the semantic directionality of the Prometheus poem aims toward a conception of the history of consciousness as the progressive achievement of autonomy. For this reason, it is hardly as outrageous as it might at first seem to draw a line of intellectual affiliation from Goethe's poem to the notion of myth developed in Schelling's late work.
The latter's philosophy of mythology, first presented in lectures held in 1842, and in their basic drift a philosophy of the overcoming of mythology, first by Christianity, and then by so-called philosophical religion, Schelling's philosophy of mythology says this regarding the mythic thief of fire, regarding Prometheus. I quote Schelling.
"Prometheus is the thought in which humanity, having brought forth the entire world of the gods out of its inwardness, returning to itself, came to feel the unhappiness caused by belief in gods."
In both Goethe and Schelling, Prometheus is the figure of the mythic world that extricates itself from thrall of myth. The difference between the respective concepts lies in the fact that, for Schelling, Prometheus is essentially a figure of passive suffering. His emancipation from the mythic world-- the emptiness of which he recognizes, requires nonetheless the historical advent of a savior, redeemer-- indeed, of a series of such figures, Heracles, Christ, and finally the philosophical interpreter of myth, which is to say, Schelling himself.
Goethe, however, imagines a Prometheus as himself accomplishing through his poetic anti-hymn the emancipation from the divine order and the achievement of the autonomy of humankind.
A coming to the awareness of freedom through the reflective appropriation of one's own past. That would seem to be a finding sufficient to forge a link to Hegel's philosophy.
In fact, the interpretation I have outlined here in terms of the first stanza of Goethe's anti-hymn has throughout drawn its inspiration and orientation from a self-consciousness chapter of the Phenomenology of Spirit, in which the overcoming of fear of some figuration of the absolute Lord, and therewith the conscious appropriation of one's freedom are, at least on the [INAUDIBLE] interpretation I somewhat nostalgically cling to, centrally at issue.
Let us keep this connection to the Hegelian notion of self-consciousness in mind as we turn now, and again all too briefly, to what Hans Blumenberg referred to as the workshop icon of the final stanza, the image of Prometheus sitting there fashioning humankind, little clay forms here, the workshop icon. Here I sit for mankind, et cetera et cetera. Last stanza there. Crucial is here I sit for mankind.
Here we can clearly discern-- here, in the final stanza, we can clearly discern-- how the motifs thus far touched on-- the motifs of projection, the projection of the gods, appropriation of worldly eminence, self-addressed to the holy glowing heart, come together in a densely imagined figuration of autonomy as human self-constitution.
Viewed in this context, the double repudiation of the biblical account of creation, as well as of the myth of the titan Prometheus sculpting mankind in the image of the Olympians-- right, and according to the myth, he sculpted mankind in this variant. He created mankind, sculpted mankind, but he was looking up at the gods and copied them. Just as in creation God creates man in his image, Prometheus says, here I sit, form humankind according to or after my own image. So it's a double rejection of the account.
Viewed in this context, the double repudiation of the biblical account of creation as well as of the myth of the titan Prometheus sculpting mankind in the image of the Olympians, amounts to a destruction of the schema original copy that governs both religious mythical accounts.
At stake in the final stanza, we might say, is the unprecedented being of humankind, its independence of a divine prototype, its self-generation.
I should caution you that this line of interpretation contradicts a widespread consensus in the research, according to which the so-called workshop icon is a metaphor for the production of artistic objects so infused with the artist's inner life that they seem to come alive.
My claim is that not merely figures of the artistic sphere are meant here, but quite literally human beings. The humanity this text claims to form is one that forms itself and that exists as such insofar as it recognizes itself as self-forming. There's no way around that.
Therein lies the break with the theological paradigm of derivation. The medium in which this recognition occurs is the poem itself as anti-hymn, in which the original projection of the gods is revoked and a new poetic founding document of humanity is achieved. The lines, here I sit, form human beings in my own image, thus mark the auto reference of the poetic act.
The humanity the Prometheus speech act brings forth is no artistic fiction, but the collective that brings itself forth insofar as it enters into the self-relation made possible by the poem.
Viewed in this way, the function of the workshop icon is to open the internal pragmatics of the text onto its external pragmatics. The humanity mentioned in the final stanza is the poem's implicit addressee.
The reader achieves the position of addressee by actualizing for herself the arc of reflection carved out by the Prometheus figure, by wholeheartedly appropriating, one might say, the first person pronoun with which the poem ends. The Prometheus hymn stages the speech through which humanity, addressing itself as self-forming, forms itself. Such is the imagination of freedom this text achieves.
As I turn now to Goethe's second engagement with the mythical complex surrounding Prometheus, that is, to his festival play Pandora from 1808, the task will be to show that and how the concept of autonomy figured in the early Prometheus hymn is transformed in Goethe's classical and post-classical work.
This transformative process can be understood as a critique of the Promethean concept of freedom. For even if one accords full recognition to the immense intellectual imaginary achievement of the hymn, as I do, it is nevertheless possible, indeed necessary, to acknowledge that the fundamental semantic gesture of the text-- lets call it emphatic affirmation of the first person perspective born out of negation-- is nonetheless possible to acknowledge that the fundamental semantic gesture of the text ends up seeming a bit impoverished. It is, one might say, a freedom without world.
For the formulation of such a critique, a Hegel quotation is ready to hand, this time not from the 1807 Phenomenology but from the 1821 outline of the philosophy of right. And I quote, "the will includes first the element of pure indeterminacy or the pure reflection of the eye in itself, in which every determinant content is dissolved. The limitless infinity of absolute abstraction or universality the pure thinking of itself." End of quote.
In the same context, Hegel speaks of a negative freedom and then as well of a fury of destruction as the innermost tendency of this structural moment of the free will.
And finally, in the addendum to the same paragraph, he writes, quoting again, "this negative freedom, or freedom as conceived by the understanding, is one-sided. But this one-sidedness always includes an essential determination that is therefore not to be dismissed, although it is the deficiency of the understanding to elevate a one-sided determination to the single and highest one." End of quotation.
I'm not going to attempt to elaborate here what these passages mean, exactly. But instead will place my wager on the hope that you will find it at least intuitively plausible to draw on them in characterizing the imagination of freedom realized in the Prometheus hymn.
And if you're willing to follow me that far, then you should be prepared to consider charitably my central thesis, namely, that something akin to the dialectic development of freedom, or the notion of freedom in Hegel, in particular in the philosophy of right, unfolds across Goethe's work, that we can find in Goethe's imagination of freedom in particular, in his engagement with the Prometheus material, concerns figures of thought and perhaps even conclusions affine, at least, to those of Hegel.
And that in this affinity resides what I call their contemporaneity one to another. Their contemporaneity is not a matter of having been at the same moment of time chronologically speaking, but it's a matter of their being in the same place conceptually speaking, if I can put it that way.
This thesis-- allow me to stress this point-- does not include the thought that Goethe's aim was to provide poetic embellishment for philosophical concepts, be they Hegel's or anyone else's. Nor is my claim that we can achieve a kind of point for point mapping between philosophical and poetic text.
What I am contending, rather, is that a shared historical project, one might say a shared problematic, is legible on both sides of the poetic philosophical divide, and that the labor of the concept required to work out that problematic philosophically and achieve that project philosophically runs parallel to the labor of the imagination in the achievement of poetic form.
As far as the Pandora play is concerned, the large scale analogy my thesis calls for lies in the fact that both Goethe and Hegel conceive of an adequate understanding of freedom as the unity of the universal and the particular of concept and existence or actuality.
In Hegel's view, such unity becomes philosophically intelligible in the speculative apprehension of the Idea, Idea throughout with a capital I here. In Goethe's dramatic rendition, a cognate thought comes to expression in the centering of the play on the figure of Pandora as the embodiment of what Goethe too called the Idea, and in which he saw the unity and culmination of human cultural endeavor.
Pandora is, we might say, drawing on language of the play I shall return to, formative form, the governing one that gives unity to the achieved human world. And her beauty-- Goethe laces her description with neo-platonic allusions-- her beauty is the expression of this ideal oneness.
In Pandora, in the play Pandora, freedom is imagined in its relation to the idea. But-- and now we come to the decisive point-- this occurs via a severance of the ideal unity. And that severance is figured in the fraternal polarity of Prometheus on the one hand and his brother Epimetheus on the other.
The inventive coup of Goethe's play on this reading is to recast the two titans as embodiments of historical structures of consciousness. That humanity becomes what it is by interpreting itself and there with its relation to the world in one way or another, that such self-interpretations are differently articulated in different sociohistorical contexts, that the series of self-interpretations is not arbitrary but exhibits a directionality, it is the task of contemporary thought to grasp, this entire complex of thought constitutes a foundational semantic premise of the Age of Goethe.
An especially influential parsing of this general structure is to be found in Schiller's distinction between naive and sentimental modes of consciousness. And Goethe's juxtaposition of Prometheus and Epimetheus can be read as a transformation of this Schillerian schema.
Goethe's drama, that is to say, unfolds a conception of modern consciousness-- what Schiller called sentimental-- as bifurcated into opposed types. The progressive aspect of the sentimental-- that, in Schiller's vision, is directed toward free self-realization-- has become, in Goethe's darker vision, the obsessive, infinitely self-aggrandizing Promethean capacity for instrumental industrial production.
Similarly, the elegiac component of sentimental consciousness that Schiller saw directed toward an idealized natural past has become in Epimetheus a mournful self-consuming yearning.
In the drama of Prometheus and Epimetheus, Goethe offers, then, something like a mythic account of modern consciousness in its characteristic diremption. And now we're in a position to grasp the philosophical point of Goethe's historical diagnosis.
For the play is set up in such a way as to show us the two opposed dimensions of modern consciousness in their relationship to the Idea. The criterion according to which structures of consciousness and praxis are judged is their adequacy or inadequacy to the Idea, which is to say, to Pandora.
Pandora, present in the world of the drama only as a repressed or longed for absence, is the Idea in its modern constitution as torn asunder into opposed conceptions of freedom. She appears only in the intentionality of Promethean or Epimethean consciousness-- appears, that is to say, only as distorted, as misconceived.
In this way, the Idea becomes the motivational center of a dramatic configuration brought to its crisis point due to the entrenchment of, to use Hegel's phrase, abstract and one-sided sided self-conceptions.
Goethe's diagnosis of contemporary consciousness thus exposes in the Promethean-Epimethean diremption of the idea a double pathology of freedom.
As I turn now to the form this pathology assumes in the figure of Prometheus, I feel all too painfully the constriction of temporal limitation. For the fact is that Goethe's account of the Promethean syndrome, if I can call it such, is elaborated in the complex weave of the plays language, which is so intricate, artificial, and so utterly strange as to resist summary analysis.
I should say that this play is one of the achievements of the German language. But one of the oddest, most idiosyncratic achievements of the German language.
But summary analysis is my only option. And so to compensate somewhat for its poverty, I've supplied two excerpts from speeches by Prometheus on the hand outs. And I've underlined certain key words in them that my rapidly passing commentary alludes to, or, on occasion explicitly mentions. Hopefully this will convince you that the reading is at least loosely tethered to what actually happens in the play.
The characteristic, or defining aspect of Promethean consciousness in the Pandora pageant is the rejection of Pandora herself. And that is to say the rejection of any presentation of totality, ideality, or substantive beauty.
Prometheus consciousness exclusively valorizes the tangible product, the useful result. One could speak here of a characteristic tendency toward finitization and materialization. The glow of Promethean subjectivity familiar to us from the hymn has externalized itself as controlled or channeled combustion, harnessed heat, the medium of a universal constructivism and destructivism that knows no other telos than its own expansion.
This complex achieves expression in the first long passage on the handout, in which Prometheus responds to the song sung by his troupe of smiths or forge laborers-- you see, he's a sort of mining and industrial guy who has this group of smiths and forge laborers who are constantly forging things. It's not a metaphor, the industrial thing I'm talking about.
So this complex, this universal constructivism, destructivism, this industrial seizure of the world-- this complex achieves expression in the first long passage on the handout in which Prometheus responds to the song sung by his troupe of smiths or forge laborers in praise of his mythic theft of fire.
Already in the 1790s, a freedom that relates to nature tyrannically as [INAUDIBLE] phrased it, had come critically into view. But in the cited passage it appears in its full industrial vehemence.
Promethean freedom-- and here I am borrowing a term from a recent paper by Robert Pippin-- Promethean freedom actualizes itself, essentially, as impositional force. As formative capacity, it imposes itself on and coerces into conformity a material conceived as indifferent. Mere stuff. And therefore comes into view solely as a resistance to be overcome. The only infinity that counts in this regime is the bad infinity of boundless serial production. All of this is in the quotation. The rationality at work here is that of a power-- macht-- employing finely calibrated stratagems to accelerate its self-aggrandizement.
As the unfolding of the dramatic plot will show, the inner tendency of this industrial expansionism culminates by its very logic in the production of weapons, the supreme instruments of a freedom for which instrumentality is the proper mode of actualization.
Perhaps the most important point to be brought out, though, is that Promethean impositional freedom includes a political and moral dimension as well. It's not just a way of relating to the world. It's a way of relating to others as a political and moral dimension.
And it is here, in its political and moral dimension, that its imminent contradiction-- the imminent contradiction of Promethean impositional freedom-- comes most clearly to the fore.
This occurs in the punishment of Phileros. Phileros is Prometheus's son-- and his erotic passion had crossed over in the course of the play into murderous jealousy.
Here I call your attention to the second passage reproduced on the handouts, the second passage from the play after the poem which illustrates how-- you just have to read this-- it illustrates how, under the regime of impositional freedom, ruler speaks to subject, father to son.
The gist of it is this-- whatever resists submission is expelled, banished into the sheer otherness of elemental chaos. Human desire, the erotic passion that Phileros not just onomastically embodies, can, from the standpoint of the law-giving father, only be understood in analogy to the animal and finally to the elemental itself.
If manacles don't suffice to domesticate it then the only alternative is to hurl it into the boundless chaos to which it essentially belongs. Note that the language used to describe the mining of industrial ore in the first cited passage returns here in the language employed by Prometheus to banish his love-mad son.
This poetic echo not only brings out the underlying unity of industrial and moral political imposition, it also renders salient the dialectical point-- that is to say, the imminent contradiction that I refer to above-- it also renders salient the dialectical point that impositional freedom inverts itself, becomes its other, precisely because it is incapable of understanding that which is to be formed as anything but a radical otherness, as a chaotic elemental stuff or force.
The pathology of Promethean freedom comes most clearly to the fore then in the fact that it regresses to the status of the chaotic clash of natural forces to which it opposed itself in the first place. The answer Phileros gives his father before he, Phileros, sets off to cast himself from the cliffs, and that's quotation three on the hand out, lends this dialectical point a subtle formulation.
Now it would be a pedantic exercise to demonstrate affinities, both thematic and structural, between Goethe's conception of Promethean consciousness and Hegel's thought. Those of you familiar, for example with the section on abstract right in the philosophy of right, will have picked up certain resonances.
And in any case, the inexorable advance of time requires that I turn briefly to the Epimethean pathology. If you've caught the tune of Goethe's mode of dialectical thinking, it will not surprise you that in the figure of Epimetheus, the Promethean rejection of the infinite of totality, ideality and substantial beauty, becomes an affirmation of just those terms to the exclusion, however, of the finite.
We can speak here of infinitization as the basic tendency of Epimethean consciousness. And it takes on its particular coloration in Epimetheus's attitude toward Pandora, the beloved who abandoned him.
The fourth quotation on the handout takes us to the nerve of the issue, for it shows us an Epimethius who intentionally cultivates his sorrow, deliberately rehearses his loss. His suffering doesn't befall him from without. It is auto-generated and has become, paradoxically, the sole source of his psychic satisfaction.
Inconsolability as consolation. Adherence to loss as a kind of negative possession. The rejection of the empirical world as the source of new experience. This list of features allows us to see that the dialectic of modern consciousness brings forth as its Epimethean variant a form of mindedness that we can designate as melancholia.
The term is not meant as a designation for an individual psychological condition, but is an attitude of poetic philosophical thought widespread in the post-antique, and that is to say for Goethe, modern world.
Celebration of the beloved in the cult of her absence. Such is the foundational linguistic gesture of a significant strand of European love lyric extending from the troubadours to the sweet new style of Cavalcante and Dante to the broad-based and surprisingly tenacious phenomenon of Petrarchism. Heine in Germany and Boulaire in France may well be the last great avatars of this tradition.
Goethe's own lyric production swims in its stream in several instances, most powerfully perhaps in his so-called Marienbad Elegy of 1823, which not accidentally concludes with an allusion to the Pandora myth.
The point I want to stress is that the amor-theological lyric-- this is a lyric infused with a theology of love and a whole theology of the god of love and so forth-- the point I want to stress is that the amor-theological lyric is not directed toward an empirical beloved, but rather toward a metaphysical ideal who herself serves as a vehicle of intellectual spiritual elevation.
The speeches of Epimetheus-- I call your attention to the untranslatable quotation five-- the speeches of Epimetheus are laced with the tropisms and effective tonalities of this lyric tradition.
What this entirely typical passage shows-- number five-- shows is that Epimethean consciousness is centered on and draws itself understanding from its relationship to a love object held at an unbridgeable distance, that it cultivates loss, distance, unattainability, in brief, absence, as the only possible mode of presence of the Idea.
One can view this as a strategy to preserve the unassailable supremacy and perfection of the desired object by insisting on, by investing everything in, the impossibility of its realization. That's what I meant with the term infinitization. We might call it metaphysics after metaphysics, or melancholia as metaphysics, perhaps even a negative theology of love.
But whatever term we choose, the point is that Goethe diagnosis this as a position within the dialectic of modern consciousness. The elegiac counterpart to Prometheus's robust finitism. And thus, as a misconstrual falsification distortion of the Idea.
The philosophical thought corresponding to Goethe's dramatic poetic diagnosis of Epimetheus is articulated in Hegel's philosophy of right in the explication of the concept of a genuinely free will. There Hegel writes, and I quote, "by conceiving the infinite solely as a negative, and thus as a beyond"-- a [INAUDIBLE] transcended out there-- "by conceiving the infinite solely as a negative, and thus as a beyond, the understanding thinks it is doing all the more honor to the infinite the more it forces it out into the afar and distances it from itself as something completely other." End of quote.
Hegel's sentence brings to conceptual formulation the pathology of freedom Goethe had imaginatively elaborated in the dramatic figure of Epimetheus. And it is followed by a second sentence that indicates at least one criterion of an adequate concept of freedom.
The passage continues, and I quote, "in free will, the genuine infinite has actuality and presence. It is this idea present in itself." [SPEAKING GERMAN]
The idea that the unity of universality and actuality become truly present-- indeed, as having the internal form of presence-- [SPEAKING GERMAN]-- having the internal form of presence, such as the configuration that attains imaginative actuality as Goethe's festival play achieves its closure and realizes itself as form.
The dramatic conclusion then is the moment where freedom and form are seen to coincide. Not in the sense of the impositional form characteristic of the Promethean consciousness of freedom, nor in the sense of the metaphysical otherness of formal purity worshipped by Epimetheus, but rather as the emergence into presence of the idea.
That is easily said, but difficult to demonstrate. Especially when one has such nearly inscrutable Hegelian formulations of the idea in one's ear as negativity reflected in itself. How might that cash out in terms of dramatic structure? What would be the literary correlate of the realized unity of concept and existence in itself present, reflected in itself, speculatively grasped?
I have no satisfactory answer to this question. But I feel convinced, nonetheless, that in the Pandora play, Goethe was endeavoring to find a poetic dramatic solution to the diremption of modern consciousness in the twofold pathology of freedom, that he was endeavoring to think, imaginatively to think, the Idea as an adequate consciousness of freedom and form.
What motivates this surmise is a feature of the Promethean-Epimethean dialectic that has yet gone unmentioned, although it marks that dialectic from the very beginning of the play.
Onomastically, of course, Prometheus and Epimetheus are opposed to one another in terms of their relationship to time. The former's name means, Prometheus means, the one who thinks ahead, or thinks off into the future. And the latter's means the one who thinks after and back, the one who recalls.
Within the play, Goethe actualizes this entirely traditional semantic opposition in terms of each brother's relationship to the day. The play takes place during the hours prior to dawn.
In his first speech, the speech that opens the play, Epimetheus says, better if the night would last forever. And when Prometheus takes the stage, he introduces himself, stolen torch in hand, with the word, "torch's flame in advance of the star"-- in advance of the Sun, he means-- "you announce day before the day."
By this he means something like, torch in hand, I needn't await the Sun to call my laborers to their work. I create a day technologically, as it were, by illuminating.
As we've seen, the play conceives Prometheus and Epimetheus in terms of their relationship to the Idea, to Pandora, which is in both cases a disturbed relationship. Now we see-- but this I want to say, is the same thought-- that both brothers live in a relationship of enmity to the natural diurnal rhythm.
For the melancholy metaphysician Epimetheus, it is the cult of a lost and irreducibly past inaccessible beauty that causes him to abhor the breaking of the day. Prometheus's productive drive, on the other hand, impels him to overleap the natural rhythm. He wants to emancipate labor from the pace of the Sun's daily return.
With this configuration in view, we can understand why the play ends with the arrival of Eos, the goddess of the dawn. In terms of plot, her apparition, which is, of course, the advent of the day, obviates tragic catastrophe, lifts the cast-down Phileros-- remember, he'd thrown himself off the cliffs into the sea-- lifts the cast-down Phileros as if reborn from the sea, and summons to a general reconciliation. He returns transformed as a god, as a Dionysian god. So she lifts Eros from the sea and summons to general reconciliation.
And the passage is entered on the handout under the number five. Eos declares the significance of her arrival. It is simply to announce the festival of the day, of the present day.
With her appearance at the conclusion of the play then, the day, repudiated by both Prometheus and Epimetheus recovers its due right. The high celebration that Eos announces is the festival of the day, not however as the arbitrary temporal unit that we children of Prometheus all understand it to be, but rather as the movement that discloses the phenomenal world and perfects itself in what Goethe calls the [GERMAN] the flower of the day. Its blossom, its perfection, times beauty. The beauty of time. Time is beauty.
The day, then, is the gift of time and of visibility, and therewith of the medium in which the Idea, the day's perfection, Pandora herself, reveals herself, gives herself, true to her name, as the gift of totality, the infinite gift, present here today.
Such revelation is recalled by Epimetheus in quotation six, in which the rhyme unity of [SPEAKING GERMAN], that is, content, force, and configuration, demonstrates that imposition has been overcome.
Form unfolds here from within as the ennobling of the content with which it is won. Freedom and form. That was my theme.
We find a corresponding thought in the surprisingly poetic formulation that Hegel entered into the margin of his philosophy of right, and which I've reproduced as quotation seven-- absolute form-- [SPEAKING GERMAN] divine rhythm of the world.
The day as the gift, [SPEAKING GERMAN], the gift-- the day as the gift of presence is the return of Pandora, which is, in fact, the title Goethe had considered for his continuation of the play, which he never wrote.
Pandora is the flowering of the day, announced on each day's threshold by the color for Eos. And when we have seen this, I believe, we begin to see a new and deeper sense of the formula from which we took our point of departure.
Goethe's Pandora drama is the imagination of freedom also in the sense that it acts out, plays, the festival of the day and its culmination in beauty as the realization of the Idea. It is literally a Festspiel, a festival play. And in this self-reflection it achieves formerly what Hegel refers to as negativity reflected in itself.
The modern diremption, the split between blind productivity and the melancholy cult of loss beauty, is to be overcome in so far as the idea present in itself finds its imaginative realization in the festival play that knows itself as play.
The festival. This is a thought that I believe Goethe derived from Rousseau-- the festival is the self-conscious unity of the universal and the particular. It is my sensuously or first-personally experienced unity with the general will. And that of all first personal experiencers who are involved in the festival.
The adequate consciousness of the idea in comparison to which the modern diremptive forms of consciousness appear inadequate is the ludic festival of the day as the disclosure of the world within the horizon of temporality. In Hegel's marvelous phrase, it is the divine rhythm of the world.
And Goethe and Hegel are of one view, I believe, in conceiving of this festival, of the Idea as a Bacchic festival, as the newborn Dionysian body of absolute mindedness, to quote Hegel again, drunken and [INAUDIBLE]
I'm finished. My thesis was that thought and poetry are one. I'll be interested to hear what you say.
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What does it mean for writers to be one another's contemporary? Does sharing the same slice of time suffice? In this lecture, David Wellbery considers Goethe's and Hegel's interest in developing an adequate notion of human freedom, arguing that their contemporaneity consists in a shared historical problematic to which they found kindred solutions.
David Wellbery is the LeRoy T. and Margaret Deffenbaugh Carlson University Professor in Germanic Studies and the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago.