Elective Affinities | IAD: Commentary decoding

In Elective Affinities: IAD, the following is the commentary decoding section of the online project:

The subject of the "cryptic commentary" that Goethe made on his Elective Affinities is an involved subject in and of itself; in 2007, Libb Thims, in his Human Chemistry (Volume Two), collected the following into a footnote: [8]

(a) Note: Goethe’s statement that he wrote Elective Affinitiesfor ‘young girls’ (as reported by Varnhagen von Ense, pg. 321), is one of the many cryptic comments made by Goethe. It is highly likely, according to Thims’ point of view, that Goethewrote Elective Affinities, for young girls, as he says, for the same reason that Human Chemistry(a modern day Elective Affinities) was written, i.e. ‘for a young person 7-15 years of age’; namely that in Goethe’s time, as is the case presently, no one teaches a young person how the world really is. Moreover, past a certain age, people, on average, will no longer be malleable to correct teachings. As such, Goetheinvariably wrote Elective Affinities so that young, un-biased, girls (persons) might know how the world really is, namely a chemical one.
(b) Note: the ‘little girls’ comment comes after a stream of criticism following the publication of his novella, where many called it reprehensible; thus, when his old friend Knebel started making moralobjections to the novel Goetheexploded: ‘But I didn’t write it for you, I wrote it for little girls!’ R.J. Hollingdale, translator of the 1971 Penguin Classics English edition, reasons that Goethemade this statement ‘to assert that the book is altogether wholesome and romantic and that only a moralizing old man could find anything in it to object to’ (pg. 14).
(c) To his fellow author and neighbor Christoph Martin Wieland, Goetheindicated that the novel had to be read at least three times before it could be understood (source: Tantillo).
(d) Nearly twenty years after its publication, Goethestressed to his friend Johann Peter Eckermann that the novel could never be comprehended in a single reading of it (source: Tantillo).
(e) On June 01, 1809, Goethewrote to his friend, the composer Karl Friedrich Zelter, that he not only placed numerous different elements within the text, but that many of these were hidden with in it and that past the transparent or non-transparent veils in the novel one may be able to see the ‘truly intended Gestalt’ (source: Tantillo).
(f) Tantillo, Astrida O. (2001). Goethe’s Elective Affinitiesand the Critics. (pg. xx). New York: Camden House.
(g) Varnhagen von Ense, Karl August. Diary Entry. 28 June 1843, Quoted here from Karl August Varnhagen von Ense Werke. 5 vols. Frankfurt: Keutscher Kalssiker verlag, 1994. 5:320-21. Also reprinted in: Goethes Werke. Ed. erich Trunz. 14 vols. Hamburg: Christian Wenger Verlag, 1949-71. Reissued 13th Ed., Munich: Verlag C. H. Beck., 6:641.

(add discussion)

Other puzzles
The following are general puzzles:

● The “Otto” ciphers puzzle | The four central characters: Eduard (OTTo), CharlOTTe, OTTilie, and the Captain (OTTo), have been famously said to have some type of hidden meaning; first commented on by German playwright Johann Rochlitz (1769-1842): "... very artfully contrasted with each other in groups," which occur in polar relationships (5 Nov 1809—letter to Goethe)

ECHO (Eduard, Charlotte, Hauptmann, Ottilie) cypher: somee have argued that Elective Affinities is a retelling of Ovid’s Narcissus myth, which establishes a relationship between humanity and nature that appeals to human vanity by reading the natural world as a projection of human passions; Eduard and Ottilie, supposedly, mimic or mirror the behavior of Narcissus and Echo. [3]

● CHEM cypher | As pointed out John Williams, the characters CHarlotte, Eduard, Mittler, form the root CHEM, which itself derives from the Egyptian keme meaning black soil (see: chemistry etymology)—a significant acronym for the main theme of the novella (chemistry), even if, according to Williams, “Mittler (the mediator) fails to catalyze or restore the relationship between Charlotte and Eduard." [7]
Double mental adultery
A diagram of the mental double adultery from Jinan Kauf’s 2008 thesis “Wolfgang Goethe’s ‘Elective Affinities’ and Dieter Welller Hoff’s ‘The Love of Desire’.” [7]

Resemblance puzzle
The part (P#:C#) where Edward and Charlotte engage in mental double adultery, having physical sex, but both thinking of alternative partners while in the act, Edward thinking of Ottilie and Charlotte thinking about the Captain, after which the child (Otto) is synthesized (conceived) having puzzling resemblance to neither of the parents, but to Ottilie and the Captain, is said to owe its origin to French natural philosopher Pierre Maupertuis’ chemical affinity theory of sex (Venus Physics, 1745), according to which the organic particles of the semen and egg have a type of memory in primitive form, wherein maternal imagination can be passed on to the fetus.

Maupertuis, in turn, seems to have developed his "chemical affinity" version of the theory from the older original version by Dutch physician Levinus Lemnius as explained in his 1559 The Secret Miracles of Nature. [6] The following is a popular truncated version of Lemnius' theory: [5]

“If a woman (saith Lemnius) at the time of her conception, think of another man present or absent, the child will be like him.”

The Maupertuis version of the theory, in turn, was discussed by French naturalist Georges Buffon (1707-1788). [4]

Goethe could have gotten the theory from either Buffon, Maupertuis, or Lemnius. American romantic literature scholar Hermione de Almeida argues that Goethe got the theory from Buffon. [5]

Decipherment | Hidden elements
The following are comments by Goethe in regards to the many puzzles and hidden elements that the claimed to have put secretly into Elective Affinities (see: Goethe timeline):

“There are many things put into [hidden in] it, with which I hope to invite the reader back for repeated viewing.” (1 Oct 1809—to Cotta)

“I have hidden many correlations and ‘offenbares Geheimnis’ [patent secrets, open secrets, or evident secrets], in Elective Affinities, like a work of nature herself.” [1]

“Goethe’s campaign to fashion the reception of Die Wahlverwandtschaften is further evidenced in his letters—he wrote to many people about the novel, informing them of the unified ‘Gestalt’, hidden meanings, and the necessity of multiple rereadings.” (Astrida Tantillo, 2001:29)

“I have revealed much and concealed much in it.” [2]

Decipherment | Autobiographical elements
The following are comments by Goethe in regards to his claim that his Elective Affinities (see: Goethe timeline) was some type of autobiographical re-write or synthesis of his existence, to the extent that the events depicted in the novel actually occurred:

“There is not a line in Elective Affinities that I have not lived, but none exactly as I have lived.” (To Eckermann, 17 Feb 1830). [2]

“I lived every word of my Elective Affinities.

as reported by David Constantine (1994), who also tells that Eckermann reported:

“He said there was nothing in his Elective Affinities which had not been really lived, but nothing was there in the form in which it had been lived.”

or as reported by Julie Reahard (1997):

“There is not a line in Elective Affinities that I have not lived, but none exactly as I have lived.”

or as reported by Astrida Tantillo (2001):

“[Goethe] repeatedly asserted that there was not one line within the novel that he had not personally experienced.”

“No one can fail to recognize in it a deep passionate would which shrinks from being closed by healing, a heart which dreads to be cured … In it, as in a burial urn, I have deposited with deep emotion many a sad experience.” (Date—Goethe to “someone”)

Decipherment | Pervading idea
The following are comments by Goethe in regards to "pervading idea" that he claimed to have put secretly into Elective Affinities (see: Goethe timeline):

“The only production of greater extent, in which I am conscious of having labored to set forth a pervading idea, is probably my Elective Affinities. This novel has thus become comprehensible to the understanding; but I will not say that it is therefore better. I am rather of the opinion, that the more incommensurable and the more incomprehensible to the understanding a poetic production is, so much the better it is.” (06 Man 1827—to Eckermann) [9]

“My idea in the new novel The Elective Affinities is to show forth social relationships and the conflicts between them symbolically [in symbolic concentration]” (28 Aug 1808—to Riemer ) and “the moral symbols in the natural sciences, that of the elective affinities invented and used by the great Bergman, are more meaningful and permit themselves to be connected better with poetry and society” (24 Jul 1809—to Riemer).

● The reproach incident | “It is my best book, and don’t think that this is the mere whim of an aging man. I grant you that one loves most deeply the child of one’s last marriage, the product of one’s late power of generation. But you wrong me and the book. The principle illustrated in the book is true and not immoral. But you must regard it from a broader point of view and understand that the conventional moral norms can turn into sheer immorality when applied to situations of this character.” (Dec 1809—reported by Laube)

Decipherment | Passion and elective affinity
The following are comments by Goethe in regards to the way in which Goethe conceived of the "elective affinities" or chemical affinities, as presented in his novella and as he viewed them as related to his own interactions, as he began to use his theory in conversation in post-publication years (see: Goethe timeline):

“This is why chemists speak of elective affinities, even though the forces that move mineral components [or humans] one way or another and create mineral structures are often purely external in origin, which by no means implies that we deny them the delicate portion of nature’s vital inspiration that is their due.” (1796—Third Lecture on Anatomy)

"A little passion is the only thing which can render a watering place supportable; without it, one dies of ennui. I was almost always lucky enough to find there [Carlsbad] some little ‘elective affinity’ which entertained me during the few weeks.” (20 Jul 1831—to Eckermann) [N1]

“Crebillon … treats the passions like playing cards, that one can shuffle, play, reshuffle, and play again, without their changing at all. There is no trace of the delicate, chemical affinity, through which they attract and repel each other, reunite, neutralize [each other], separate again and recover.” (23 Oct 1799—to Schiller)

“For decades I have been struggling with Berthollet in the matter of affinities.” (26 Sep 1826—to Person)

Decipherment | Morality
The following are comments by Goethe in regards to the "new morality" aspects of his novel and theory (see: Goethe timeline), which according to the insight of German poet Heinrich Heine, have the power to "overturn" modern religion and "everything holy":

“It seems that the author’s continued work in the physical sciences caused him to arrive at this strange title. He might have noticed that in the natural sciences very often ethical parables, far removed from the circle of human knowledge, are employed in order to bring about a closer match of the two—and in this sense, in the case of morality, he likely sought to drive the nature the chemical parable back to its mental origins—being that there is, after all, only one nature—and also since, within the serene realm of rational freedom, the cloudy tracks of passionate necessity move inexorably through their course, only to be wiped out by a higher hand, and perhaps not completely wiped out in this life.” (4 Sep 1809, advertisement for Elective Affinities, in Morning Paper for the Educated Professional)

“Following on what went before, let me tell you in fun, that in my Elective Affinities, I took care to round off the inward, true catharsis, with as much purity and finish as possible, but I do not therefore imagine that any handsome fellow could thereby be purged from the lust of looking after the wife of another. The sixth commandment, which seemed to the Elohim-Jehovab to be so necessary, even in the wilderness, that he engraved it on granite tables with his own finger,—this it will still be necessary to uphold in our blotting-paper catechisms.” (29 Jan 1830—to Zelter)

Decipherment | Rereadings
The following are comments by Goethe in regards to "other", more puzzling, and difficult to categorize aspects of his novel and theory (see: Goethe timeline):

“How I look forward to the effect that this novel will have in a few years on many people upon rereading it.” (31 Dec 1809—to Reinhard)

“To be understood properly, it must be read three times” (date—to Wieland)

Decipherment | Other
The following are comments by Goethe in regards to "other", more puzzling, and difficult to categorize aspects of his novel and theory (see: Goethe timeline):

“I did not write the book for you but for young girls”. (7 Feb 1810—to Knebel)

“They treated my Elective Affinities as though it had been the Robe of Nessus.” (21 Nov 1827—to Zelter)

“What man, what society dare express such sentiments? seeing that we cannot easily known anyone from his youth up, nor criticize the rise of his activity. How else does character finally prove itself, if it is not formed by the activity of the day, by reflective agencies which counteract each other? Who would venture to determine the value of contingencies, impulses, after-effects? Who dare to estimate the influence of elective affinities? At all events, he who would presume to estimate what man is, must take into consideration what he was, and how he became so. But such barefaced pretension are common, and we have often enough met with them; indeed they are always recurring, and they must be tolerated.” (28 Jun 1831—to Zelter)

This last comment, "Who dare to estimate the influence of elective affinities?", is quite telling, being that it would not be until the circa 1907 heat theorem work of Walther Nernst, in regards to the measurement of "affinities" near absolute zero, work for which he won the 1920 Nobel Prize in chemistry, that we have been actually able to "measure" the "elective affinity" and hence now "dare estimate its influence", as we are now doing in this project.

N1. (a) Re: "ennui", both Emilie Chatelet and Voltaire viewed "ennui" as the enemy.
(b) Zinsser, Judith. (2006). Emilie Du Chatelet: Daring Genius of the Enlightenment (pg. 55). Penguin.
(c) Blaise Pascal, supposedly, linked ennui to the problem of desire (Ѻ)

1. (a) Author (2010). “Article” (pg. 14). Goethe Yearbook, Volume 17. Goethe Society.
(b) ibid, footnote 49: HABr 3:104f.
2. Reahard, Julie A. (1997). “Aus Einem Unbekannten Zentrum, Zu Einer Nicht Erkennbaren Grenze” ("A stranger from the center, not discernible to the one line"): Chaos Theory, Hermeneutics, and Goethe’s Die Wahlverwandtschaften (pgs. 8-9). Rodopi.
3. Engelstein, Stefani. (2008). Anxious Anatomy: the Conception of Human Form in Literary and Naturalistic Discourse (pg. 52-53). SUNY Press.
4. Georges Louis Leclerc, Count of Buffon – Wikipedia.
5. (a) De Lameida, Hermione. (1991). Romantic Medicine and John Keats (pg. 265). Oxford University Press.
(b) Hermione de Almeida – Sites.Google.com.
6. (a) Levinus Lemnius – Wikipedia.
(b) Lemnius, Levinus. (1559).The Secret Miracles of Nature (pg. 11), Publisher, 1658. 7. Kauf, Jinan. (2008). “Wolfgang Goethes "Die Wahlverwandtschaften" und Dieter Wellershoffs "Der Liebeswunsch"” (German) “Wolfgang Goethe’s ‘Elective Affinities’ and Dieter Welller Hoff’s ‘The Love of Desire’” (English), thesis, comparative literature, Justus-Liebig University, Giessen.
7. Williams, John R. (1998). The Life of Goethe (pgs. 232, 297). Blackwell.
8. Thims, Libb. (2007). Human Chemistry (Volume Two) (N8, pg. 704). Morrisville, NC: LuLu.
9. Emery, S.H. (1886). “The Elective Affinities”, Lecture at the Concord School of Philosophy; in: The Life and Genius of Goethe (§9:251-89; pg. 256) (editor: Franklin Sanborn). Ticknor.

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