Chapter 5 The World is the Antithesis of All Opposites: Goethe Enchanted by China

In: Chinese Thought in Early German Enlightenment from Leibniz to Goethe
Břetislav Horyna
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Goethe’s late work, the very end of which is the cycle The Sino-German Book of Seasons and Days, is completely autonomous in its expression thanks to the success with which it introduces the traditional and age-related routine of irony in a new, untried poeological context, for which I would like to use the term actio per distans. For a “German” book, Goethe could use resignation and irony as common and coordinating tools of poetic reflection. For a “Chinese” book, he would have to have a completely different knowledge and familiarity with cultural traditions to be able to decide anything with sufficient clarity. For the Chinese-German book, however, he could have ventured to attempt a poeticized experience of distance from the world to which he no longer belonged, and to convey this experience ironically to an understanding reader, in order to show that the world-renouncing and ironically rendered attitude is a universal (global, i.e. world-encircling) poetic figure, in which the origin of the poet is irrelevant. Goethe concentrated in himself the specific “cultural pantheism” of his time and remained always open to the idea of cultural diversity overcoming humanistic Eurocentrism, which unites in the universal humanism of the “universally human”.

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