From the President

As we commence this new term in the Goethe Society, I would like to thank the outgoing officers who have worked so hard over the last years. President Clark Muenzer initiated the Society’s international cooperation with Weimar, while organizing a wonderful conference in Pittsburgh, where after the lively panels we were able to visit the Andy Warhol Museum to contemplate Goethe as a Pop Art icon. For all his service to the Society from its very inception, we thank Clark and look forward to his continued presence in our gathering. As Executive Secretary, Karin Schutjer managed the Society’s many operations, maintained a clear memory of how we had done things in the past, and proposed elegant solutions to complex questions. As the Book Series editor, Jane Brown, set the standard for Goethe scholarship in the Society’s publications. In meetings, we always looked to her for the wise recommendation, just as we were inspired by her ground-breaking keynote address at the conference. Claire Baldwin kept us all honest, up-to-date, and running smoothly as Treasurer by maintaining the membership roll and tending the Society’s endowment. As Directors-at-large, Heather Sullivan and Horst Lange wore many hats to pull off multiple feats of administration and scholarship. They were instrumental in organizing the conference and adjudicating the essay prize. As Book Review Editor, Birgit Tautz encouraged and reminded the members of their scholarly commitments. By guiding the Yearbook’s reviews, she pulled together our republic of Goethe scholars.

The Society’s offices will be filled by both new and familiar colleagues. Catriona MacLeod brings her experience in Goethe scholarship and in the Society to the office of Vice President. She will organize the essay prizes, which are now growing in number, as well as the dissertation workshop for the upcoming conference. The new Directors-at-Large, Heidi Schlipphacke and John Smith, will contribute their expertise to organizing the Society’s conference and essay prizes as well. Christian Weber will bring his disciplined focus to the position of Treasurer. We look forward to Birgit Tautz serving as Executive Secretary. Adrian Daub and Elisabeth Krimmer will continue to edit the Goethe Yearbook. Their next volume will be much anticipated. Sean Franzel steps in as the new Book Review editor. Karin Schutjer will assume the responsibilities of the Book Series. And most subtly of all, Burkhard Henke will continue directing the Society’s media operations as Webmaster and Editor of the Newsletter.

Goethe Society History

As the Society has been in existence for more than a generation and the newest members have only a distant image of the Goethe Society’s founding, we will start writing a history of the Goethe Society. Thus we will call on the earliest members to send us their written memories or photographs of the first years. If you have any recommendations, please contact me at

Global Goethe Initiative

The Goethe Society will undertake a new digital humanities project: Global Goethe.

Global Goethe will ask how Goethe operates as a transnational brand. How does the name translate into cultural capital? Does the invocation of Goethe ease the barriers to cross-border dialogue?

Global Goethe will ask if the discussion of world literature as a concept and a practice has turned Goethe into a new type of icon. To what extent do references to Goethe serve to legitimate world literature as an academic discourse? How important is the illusion that Goethe as an historical figure stood outside the current system of capital, migration, and global competition? To what extent was Goethe’s own writing already defined within an international reception of culture, from Tasso and Shakespeare onwards? Our well-honed instinct to resist culture industries should not prevent our appreciation of how literary prestige helps facilitate writing and art. Nor should we presume that our present has produced the first iteration of Goethe as global icon. The global representation of Goethe has its own history.

We will consider to what extent Goethe was engaged in creating himself into an international celebrity, at least along the lines of Byron’s nineteenth-century fame. How do global allusions to Goethe go beyond the familiar legends of cultural legitimacy? Do the familiar tropes of globalization overwhelm critical engagement with Goethe’s writing? What values and ideologies does the invocation of Goethe sustain? How many different cosmopolitan invocations of Goethe can we find? Are there variations between local, national, metropolitan, and international adaptations of Goethe’s writing? How important are translations in enabling these different cultural regimes? To what extent does the global Goethe operate in conjuncture with German institutions? Can we write a history of the many different Goethes that have been given official sanction since at least 1832?

While we surely must acknowledge the ideological investment in authenticity, we would ideally like to gather together an archive of multivalent local perspectives deploying Goethe’s work. What different interpretations of Goethe are being developed across Asia, Africa, Europe, South and North America? To that end, we will start to work together with other institutions, organizations, and German scholars to develop a network of comparative studies, performances and translations of Goethe’s work.

Over the next years, we will create a digital archive of performances, translations, critiques, and visualizations from around the world so that we can develop a multifaceted critical understanding of world literature in and through Goethe’s writing. At the same time the North American Goethe Society, in conjunction with allied organizations, will develop conferences, panels, seminars, and publications more precisely defining the global implications of Goethe’s work. Most importantly we will establish collaborations with partner institutions—other Goethe Societies, and not just those in Germany—with whom we could elaborate new projects on this theme. More information will be announced in the coming months. Anyone with specific proposals or questions, please write to me at

Upcoming Atkins Conference

Re-Orientations around Goethe

The next tri-annual Atkins conference of the North American Goethe Society will be held November 3-4, 2017 on the campus of Penn State University.

From Kant’s Copernican Revolution and France’s political earthquake to Goethe’s rediscovery of the Orient, spatial metaphors, such as re-orientation allow us to examine how art, politics, philosophy, and science were redefined in the seminal decades around 1800. Not only does “Reorientation” invoke the important revolutions of the era, but it also encourages us to reconsider our understanding of the historical period’s distinguishing characteristics. How do we decide what the essential features of the Goethezeit are? By focusing on the artistic, social, and philosophic changes during Goethe’s lifetime, can we isolate the era’s unique qualities? The spatial focus of this tri-annual Goethe Society conference leads us to reconsider the intellectual practices that caused writers to set and erase conceptual boundaries, from Enlightenment epistemology to the Romantic fascination with losing one’s way, to the invention of World Literature. With an inevitable dialectical turn, the logic of spatial categories also invites us to reconsider the temporal organization of history, so that we may find different temporalities and experiences of time by looking back.

Reorientations will expand the already burgeoning scholarship on the relationship of German culture with Europe’s expanding domination over the globe. We will encourage scholars to re-evaluate the place of German thought within the broader discourses of science, trade, and colonialism throughout the world. Goethe’s espousal of world literature is most certainly a re-orientation of media networks away from the national.

Even as Reorientations urges us to explore spatial turns within literature, it also acknowledges that recent scholarship has also moved from the geographical to the atmospheric realm, so that meteorological and climactic concerns in poetry and prose have found a crucial new importance. By reconsidering these familiar terms we can draw connections between the culture around Weimar and our own environmental crises and informational ecologies. Reorientations will examine both how the era from 1749 to 1832 brought with it massive political, intellectual, and artistic revolutions, but also how scholarship on this period has refocused critical analysis on questions such as the interaction of humans with their environment, or the inter-dependencies between philosophy and science. Is the reorientation of aesthetics onto Naturphilosophie also a redeployment of images and terms from religious discourse? To what extent does the increasing prominence of concepts such as “fluidity,” “porosity,” or “plasticity” reflect a new orientation in the scientific study of nature and aesthetics?

Reorientations emboldens us to find a new understanding of Romantic irony and Idealist self-consciousness. The term speaks to Idealism’s critical self examination of philosophical consciousness: the basic notion that subjectivity is not only orientated towards the outside world, but also back onto itself so that it engages in observations about its own subject-object relationships.

Reorientations spurs us to reconcile the era’s devotion to Classical culture with modern notions of progress and advancement. We will consider how literature re-orients itself away from the conventions of established genres onto the experiences of subjectivity. How were the ends of the Enlightenment, which Kant, Lessing, and Mendelssohn considered far from attained, re-directed by subsequent generations? How were established literary genres, such as tragedy, rerouted from the misfortunes of monarchs to the misadventures of more humble individuals? How did the novel become ever more minutely concerned with the socialization of the individual? On the level of the text, Reorientations also calls attention to the sudden redirections in plot within familiar narratives—the unexpected turn of events that reveals previously unrecognized truths.

Reorientations rouses us to consider the demise of the Holy Roman Empire and the redrawing of Central European boundaries under Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna. Reorientations speaks to the domestic politics of an era that also called for the emancipation of women, Jews, and slaves. Anthropological thinkers fixated on previously unrecognized features in order to reorient the classificatory systems used to define the “human.” The era saw the discovery of childhood as well as the first formulations of racial theories organizing humans according to skin color. We will also question the extent to which literature reflects the era’s transformation of social institutions, whereby groups such as the nuclear family were re-codified in order to fulfill specialized biological and pedagogical purposes. To what extent did the literature of the Goethezeit reorient gender identity and sexuality?

In the end, a Goethe conference focused on Reorientations will find new objects of study, so that we may develop new viewpoints on familiar and well-established questions of the Goethezeit. It encourages us to look back for a sense of direction in overcoming the contradictions and dead ends in our own era, while also raising the expectation that we permit the present to set a new course in Goethe Studies.

Reorientation contains within itself a tension, even a contradiction, which we wish to exploit. On the one hand, it refers to the act of returning to one’s original path as a response to the ways in which modernity has led us astray, so that we might rediscover stable means of engaging with society, nature, and art. On the other, reorientation urges us to revive the Goethezeit’s revolutionary aesthetics, politics, and philosophy.

Please submit paper (250 words) and panel proposals to Heidi Schlipphacke,, and John Smith,, by April 15, 2017. Decisions about submissions will be announced by May 15, 2017.

Daniel Purdy
Pennsylvania State University

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