Elective Affinities

Elective Affinities

Elective Affinities

Elective Affinities

Excerpt

We should not be surprised that Goethe, by all standards one of the most impressive minds of the Western tradition, is not at the moment much in fashion. The revolution of ideas and manners which he witnessed and recorded at the end of the eighteenth century in an astonishingly varied body of poetical and scientific writings seems to us little more than a first indication of the immense changes which we ourselves are experiencing. And Goethe's faith in the moral and intellectual resources with which the individual human being could and should confront the challenges of an increasingly technical and collective age is bound in our time to seem a noble romantic delusion.

But there are few men of letters who have given a more intelligent and a more articulate account of that great crisis of values from which we have not yet emerged. If Goethe was an incomparably distinguished poet, he owed his greatness, beyond all talent and skill, to a remarkably clear understanding of the complex character of modern life. Although he was deeply indebted to the European Enlightenment, the same humanism that drew him as a young man to the ancients and to the world of classical precepts also persuaded him to question, with Voltaire and Rousseau, the absolute claims of that tradition in a changing world. His extensive and careful scientific studies, his participation in . . .

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