Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The chaos of classicism: Goethe's classicism as a feature of romanticism
by Emanuel, Bryan David, M.I.S., Wayne State University, 2008, 81; 1460263
Abstract (Summary)

“Chaos of Classicism” analyzes the changes that the German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe undergoes in the Romantic era. The Romantic era represents fundamental changes in Western thought and culture. It is an era of wars, revolutions, and political dispersion in Germany, Goethe’s milieu. It is a time of origins. The rise of critical theology served to loosen the traditional, theistic hold of Protestant Christianity in Germany. Concepts such as “genius” emerge from this period, in reference chiefly to the artist. Sentimentalism originated as a societal movement in Germany. It was organized by meetings called ‘sentimental congresses’. Sentimental meetings revolved around texts that reveled in recently repressed emotions. The Sturm und Drang was the first literary revolution in Europe characterized as counter-enlightenment, promoting particularity and passion in expression. It was here that Goethe began his literary career, as expressed in his first work of national fame “Götz von Berlichingen.” His Sturm und Drang status culminated one year later in the work of European fame, Sorrows of Young Werther. It is from Goethe’s place in this unprecedented, progressive movement in Europe that the key question of the thesis emerges: How does an artist who sprang from this ground, fertilizing it with the dynamic Sorrows of Young Werther, eventually become a virtually imperious Weimar Classicist?

In answering this question, the aforementioned symptoms of the time are the features of the answer. In Goethe’s autobiography, Poetry and Truth, used principally in this thesis, the features of this answer are made uncommonly particular and personal. The tumultuous elements of Romanticism registered distinctly in the life of a sensitive individual that was developing into his artistry, Goethe. He’d begun to mistrust a public who reflected the chaos that was injected into the cultural fabric. The developing sense of chaos in Goethe’s life, traced in his relationships, reaches a crescendo. It was expressed finally in Sorrows of Young Werther, in the form of a suicide. When Goethe killed Werther, he killed Romanticism. Even for him, it was a frightful recognition of all the transient, chaotic elements that conditioned him until then. When he moved to Weimar one year later, it signaled the sentence that he already delivered to Romanticism. When he left to Italy eleven years later, it was final. He followed Nature to Italy, enchanted by the order under which she operated. He left christened by that order, as a poet. This time the poet was Classic.

Romanticism is an era that initiates Modernism, the romantic artist likewise the modern. Traditionalism is defined by provincial realms, order, community, and theism; Modernism, by globalism, irrationality, individualism and secularism in the West. Romanticism provides the historical crossroads between the two. It is the moment of tension, the birth pain. Goethe’s classicism - an anachronism that expresses itself against chaos and for the sake of order - is a reaction that will become typical to Modern artists against the accelerating complexity of their surroundings.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Aronson, Ronald
Commitee: Maruca, Lisa M., Schindler, Roslyn A.
School: Wayne State University
Department: Art History
School Location: United States -- Michigan
Source: MAI 47/03M, Masters Abstracts International
Subjects: Biographies, German literature, Art history
Keywords: Classicism, Genius, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Romanticism, Sentimentalism, Sorrows of Young Werther
Publication Number: 1460263
ISBN: 9780549933694
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