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Binary synthesis: Goethe's aesthetic intuition in literature and science

Written by eastern writer on Monday, May 19, 2008


Argument This essay seeks to identify the cultural significance of Goethe's scientific writings. He reformulates, in the light of his own concrete experience, “crucial turning-points” (Hauptmomente) in the history of science – key ideas, the historical understanding of which is vital to present understanding – thus situating his own scientific work at the bi-polar center of the Western scientific tradition, conceived as the dramatic interplay over centuries of two opposing modes of thought. For in his experimentation he recaptures the glimpse of living form gained in aesthetic perception (Anschauung), from which such inherited theoretical positions are ultimately derived. At each stage of this process, imagination, in its aesthetic modality, is essential, for it alone reveals the world as it truly is. The literary quality of his writings on nature, as on culture, reveals Goethe's stylistic achievement in devising a medium in which the insights gained in contemplation may be so transmitted as to make a similar, imaginative, appeal to his reader – re-enacting the abstract-concrete equilibrium characterizing all aesthetic experience. Matching his style to the subtle, delicate, connectedness of Nature, Goethe recreates the delights of participating in natural creativity. His Janus-faced, scientific-literary, style illustrates “binary synthesis,” the principle that unites Goethe's science with his art.

Stephenson, R. (2005) Binary synthesis: Goethe's aesthetic intuition in literature and science. Science in context 18(4):pp. 553-581.

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