The Euphemistic Gaze: Observing Destruction Through Goethe’s Eyes

Johannes D. Kaminski


Since the end of the Goethezeit and the advent of large-scale destruction of the biosphere, the way we observe nature has changed. While it holds true that the emphatic gaze at nature has become something of an anachronism, the synchronization of esthetics and science has not lost relevance. In Briefe aus der Schweiz: Zweite Abteilung, Goethe achieves this balance by anxiously keeping his subjective impression in check while pointing out the particularly ‘pure’ feeling it elicits. Later, in the Farbenlehre, the author means to extend this eudaimonological concern to his readership while simultaneously establishing a rigid division between right and wrong perceptions. The colorblind and the melancholic are met with particular suspicion, since they threaten the entire project. Furthermore, as the quest for an untroubled mindset is imperative, the Campagne in Frankreich 1792 shows how natural observation can be exercised even in war-torn surroundings. Eventually, marching soldiers and even the shelling of Verdun become mere objects of optical study. This euphemistic gaze connects Goethe’s natural observation with contemporary attitudes towards the destruction of the biosphere, as exemplified by the photography of Daniel Beltrá.

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