Poetry and Morphology: Goethe’s “Parabase” and the Intensification of the Morphological Gaze

Rüdiger Campe, Jocelyn Holland, Elisabeth Strowick and Gabriel Trop


In his scientific writings, Goethe accords to that which is non-observable yet everywhere evident in the visible world a significant ontological status. Influenced by Schelling’s Naturphilosophie, Goethe’s morphology seeks to uncover patterns of natural organization while considering its own empirical and discursive activity to be a product of these very patterns. When Goethe turns the scientific gaze onto itself, he discovers that non-observability is constitutive of morphological observation. In his notebooks, the meta-observation of the morphological gaze is often represented poetically. As one may see from an analysis of the poem “Parabase,” literary representations become morphological objects just as morphology itself becomes coextensive with the creativity of the poetic subject. The morphological gaze functions poetically inasmuch as it posits a system that, although it ostensibly seeks a “primordial phenomenon,” holds open a space in which the totality of phenomenality itself remains obscured, leading to ever more differentiated acts of observation. (GT)

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