It was an exciting year for Goethezeit studies, with over forty essays for the committee to read, of truly high quality. I would like to thank committee members John Smith and Heidi Schlipphacke for their stalwart work, reading so many articles over summer break.
Gabriel Trop published three articles in 2017, each of which was worthy of an award. The committee selected as the essay prize winner “Goethe’s Faust and the Absolute of Naturphilosophie,” The Germanic Review 92.4 (2017): 388-406. The article succeeds remarkably in several ways: it offers a new perspective on one of the most written about and studied plays; it makes Schelling’s version of Naturphilosophie not only clear in its essence but also applicable as a way of understanding a literary text; and it gives us a new insight into the makings of tragedy. Trop sees in Schelling an ontology of tensions and conflicting forces—attraction and repulsion, contraction and expansion. As Trop writes elegantly: “a chaotic reserve of disorder belongs intrinsically to the unfolding of the absolute of Naturphilosophie.” Precisely this structure makes for the principle of signification in Faust, as Trop shows in fresh analyses of disorderly figures including Gretchen, Homunculus, and Euphorion, concluding that in his resistance to the Eternal Feminine Mephistopheles both negates life and presents a new ethics of the absolute. The key is that the tragic unfolding is not based in the subjectivity of the striving Faust but in the very nature of the Absolute itself.
The committee also awarded an honorable mention to another scholar who had an exceptionally productive year, Leif Weatherby, for his elegant essay “A Reconsideration of the Romantic Fragment,” which indeed appeared in the same issue of The Germanic Review immediately after Trop’s essay (pp. 407-25). As a form of Witz that is a conjunction of opposites, the fragment, in Weatherby’s reading, also is a mediating place where science and poetry intersect through material irony.
We also had to decide on an essay with a focus on natural science, for the Richard Sussman Essay Prize. Here, too, there were some interesting choices for us, with studies of chemistry, light, and, of course, equilibrium, thanks to a special issue of The Germanic Review edited by Jocelyn Holland and Gabriel Trop. However, we selected the nuanced essay by Tove Holmes, “Reizende Aussichten: Aesthetic and Scientific Observation in Albrecht von Haller’s Die Alpen,” published in Modern Language Notes 132.3 (2017): 753-74. Haller’s long poem is not at the top of many of our reading lists, so it was refreshing to see it brought to life in this essay and rescued from Lessing’s potent negative reading of its descriptive mode. Holmes shows the way Haller’s scientific sensibility frames a way of observing the world that then feeds into the poetic descriptions, notably ekphrasis. But the reverse is also true: according to Holmes, because Haller wrote his poem at a time just before the “two cultures” of natural science and the humanities separated over different conceptions of methodology, his poetic sensibility, informed by a traditional notion of energeia or “bringing vividly before the eyes,” shaped his scientific observations and invites us to look forward as well to a more modern practice of scientific observation.
University of Pennsylvania