Goethe-Lexicon of Philosophical Concepts

Invitation to participate in a new collaborative research project

The Goethe-Lexicon of Philosophical Concepts is a collaborative research initiative investigating the central role played by concepts and their re-invention in Goethe’s development as a philosopher. Guided by the writer’s estimation of his own approach to philosophical problems as “heterodox,” the project’s international team of cross-disciplinary collaborators will identify, collect, and explicate a wide range of philosophical concepts that, when taken together, allowed Goethe to reformulate central questions of traditional metaphysics within the practices of literature, science, aesthetics, and cultural history. Drawing on digital technologies, the lexicon will position users to connect Goethe to an exemplary line of predecessors and successors in philosophical conceptualization. It will also facilitate “reading” and systematically organizing the vast Goethe-database, thereby putting the each of the writer’s discrete disciplinary practices into a virtual dialog with all the others on the basis of shared philosophical investments.

By publishing the lexicon in English and online as an open-access research tool with a cross-disciplinary focus, we will be fulfilling several important goals. Firstly, the lexicon will make Goethe available beyond the German-speaking world to a global readership. Secondly, it will serve as a resource for scholars outside the disciplinary confines of German Studies to connect their work to a thinker who—despite Emerson’s portrait of Goethe in Characteristic Men (1850) as the exemplary “philosopher” of “modern life” and its “rolling miscellany of facts”—remained largely unacknowledged for his philosophical achievements until recently. Thirdly, the lexicon’s digital platform will allow users to re-organize the sequence of entries with the stroke of a key and so empower them, as never before, to experience the basic building blocks of Goethean thought across a dynamic network of contextual fields. The term Geist (spirit), for example, would be searchable within individual literary works or genres, and these, in turn, could be linked to Goethe’s scientific or aesthetic works, as well as to works in metaphysics from ancient Greek philosophy through 20th and 21st century revisionists like Whitehead and Deleuze. Lastly, the lexicon’s online format will enable a production and distribution process that is flexible and interactive. Each (subsequent) year of work will produce about 25 new entries that will be immediately available and integrated into the work of previous years. And users will be equipped to respond to the entries with suggestions for emendation in an interactive process of revision.

The first major event for the project will be the four panels at this year’s GSA Annual meeting in Pittsburgh, as well as a “working” dinner following the GSNA business meeting. More details about activities this year will be sent to our members through our list-serve as they become available. Early in May, 2019, the Lexicon Project will be hosting its first annual three-day workshop at the University of Pittsburgh, and we invite all who might want to participate in the project as authors to contact either Clark Muenzer or John H. Smith, so they we are sure to send them details about this event, as well as a second workshop in England in May 2020. Both the GSNA and the English Goethe Society are serving as sponsors of the project, which will be generously funded over the next two years by a sizable seed-funding grant from the University of Pittsburgh, which is its institutional home. Again, we urge interested members to contact us as soon as possible. Many editorial decisions of substance will be made this year. We imagine this as a truly collaborative project and would welcome your input.

Clark Muenzer (muenzer@pitt.edu)
John H. Smith (jhsmith@uci.edu)

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