Goethe’s advertisement

Goethe's Advertisement
for Elective Affinities (Tantillo, 2001)
Goethe's Advertisement (Tantillo)
“Es scheint, daß den Verfasser seine fortgesetzten physikalischen [physics] Arbeiten zu diesem seltsamen Titel veranlaßten. Er mochte bemerkt haben, daß man in der Naturlehre [Natural philosophy/Physical sciences] sich sehr oft ethischer Gleichnisse bedient, um etwas von dem Kreise menschlichen Wissens weit Entferntes näher heranzubringen,

und so hat er auch wohl in einem sittlichen Falle, eine chemische Gleichnisrede [Chemical parable] zu ihrem geistigen Ursprunge [mental origins] zurückführen mögen, um so mehr, als doch überall nur eine Natur ist

und auch durch das Reich der heitern [serene] Vernunftfreiheit [rational freedom] die Spuren [path/track] trüber [cloudy], leidenschaftlicher [of passionate] Notwendigkeit [need] sich unaufhaltsam [inexorably] hindurchziehen, die nur durch eine höhere Hand [higher hand] und vielleicht auch nicht in diesem Leben [this life] völlig auszulöschen sind.”
In the Goethe timeline, Goethe’s advertisement refers to the 4 Sep 1809 anonymous advertisement Goethe put in the Morning Paper for the Educated Professional (Morgenblatt fur Gebildete Stande) in an attempt to shape the reception of the up-coming soon-to-be controversial novella Elective Affinities. [1] British German-literature scholar David Constantine, English translator to the 1994 Oxford University Press edition, translated the advertisement as such: [6]

“The author must have been led to his strange title by his continuing work in the physical sciences where we often make use of comparisons drawn from the world of human behavior so that things which are essentially remote from us may be brought a little nearer; and in the novel, in a case concerning morality, doubtless the author was seeking to trace an expression used as an analogy in chemistry back to its origin in the life of the human spirit. [The advertisement concludes with a general remark, the essence of which is] there is after all only one nature, and that even in our human zone of it, the cheerful zone of reason and freedom of choice, still there are traces, in the passions, of bleak and irresistible necessity.”

Constantine concludes, "the question whether we—or the characters in the novel—have any choice or not, is central.”

A full version of the original German version, from Astrida Tantillo (2001), is shown in the adjacent caption box, with emphasis as found in the original, modified with bracketed [] terms added adjacent to terms, shown bolded, with possible interpretive issues. [3]

In addition to the Constantine-translation, four different translation renditions are shown below, in ranked descending order of cogentness to the original sense in which Goethe would have viewed the advertisement:

Thims | Google translation
A 2012 Google term-by-term cleaned and formatted meta-analysis (of below translations) translation by American electrochemical engineer Libb Thims is shown below:

“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 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.”


Winnett translation
The 1993 translation by Susan Winnett, head of the department of American studies at the University of Dusseldorf, Germany, translation is as follows: [2]

“Thus he must have wanted to take an ethical case and to follow a chemical metaphor back to its intellectual origins, especially since there is ultimately only one nature everywhere, and even the realm of serene freedom of reason is ceaselessly permeated with the traces of dark, passionate necessity that are only extinguishable by a higher power and perhaps also not in this life.”“So hat er wohl in einem sittlichen Falle eine chemische Gleichnisrede [chemical metaphor] zu ihrem geistigen Ursprunge [intellectual origins] zuruckfuhren mogen, um so mehr, als doch uberall nur eine Natur ist und auch durch das Reich der heitern Vernunftreiheit die Spuren trüber, leidenschaftlicher Notwendigkeit sich unaufhaltsam hindurchziehen, die nur durch eine höhere Hand und vielleicht auch nicht in diesem Leben vollig auszulöschen sind.”

This, overall, seems to be a cogent translation representation of Goethe’s advertisement.

Corngold’s translation
The following is a 2003 translation done by American German-literature scholar Stanley Corngold, noted 1996 English translator of Walter Benjamin’s 1922 essay “Goethe’s Elective Affinities”, from his keynote University of Western Ontario "Distortion" conference address “Compulsive Affinities: Goethe, Kafka, Benjamin”: [5]

“It seems that this strange title [Elective Affinities] was suggested to the author by the experiments he carried on in the physical sciences. He might have noticed that in the natural sciences ethical analogies (Gleichniße) are very often used to make more accessible [. . .] things far remote from the sphere of human knowledge; and therefore he was very likely inclined, [in dealing here] with an ethical case, to refer [i.e. to relay] a discourse of chemical allegories [eine chemische Gleichnisrede] back to its spiritual origin. This is all the more so, since, indeed, everywhere there is but One Nature, and also the traces of disturbing [or opaque, "trübe"] passionate necessity incessantly run through the serene empire of rational freedom--traces that can be entirely extinguished only by a higher hand, and perhaps not in this life either" (P320)

Tantillo translation
The 2001, in what seems to be less-cogent, translation by Astrida Tantillo of this is as follows: [3]

“It seems as if the author’s continued natural studies have caused him to use this unusual title. He may have noticed that in the natural sciences one often uses ethical parables in order to bring closer what is quite distant from the circle of human knowledge; and so he also probably wanted, in a moral case, to bring a chemical figure of speech back to its spiritual origins, especially since there is only one nature overall, and also since throughout the realm of cheerful freedom of reason the traces of sad, passionate necessity irresistibly pull themselves and may only be erased by a higher hand, and perhaps even then not in this life.”

Namely, she translates "chemische Gleichnisrede" as chemical figure of speech rather than the more-correct phrase "chemical parable" and most importantly, she translates "geistigen Ursprung" as "spiritual origin", a rather contentious and derrogatory term to summarized Goethe's greatest work, rather than the more-correct and cogent translation of "mental origin" or "intellectual origin"; in short, a rather slanted attempt to imply that Goethe was seeking to find the "spirit" or spiritual nature of chemical reactions, which is nearly completely backward to the sense in which Goethe saw things.

Plato's Symposium | Aristophanes' speech
The following outlines some discussion on the possible relation between terms and passages in Goethe's advertisement and Aristophanes' speech (of Plato's Symposium):

vielleicht auch nicht in diesem Leben völlig auszulöschen sind | Google translates as: "perhaps not completely eradicated in this life". There are aspects of the "in this life" passage in Aristophanes' speech (which William Lillyman argues Goethe used in the Edward/Ottilie pairing): [7]

“Wherefore, if we would praise him who has given to us the benefit, we must praise the god Love, who is our greatest benefactor, both leading us in this life back to our own nature, and giving us high hopes for the future, for he promises that if we are pious, he will restore us to our original state, and heal us and make us happy and blessed.”

Notwendigkeit | Google translates as either: "need", "necessity", or "essential"; American German-literature scholar William Lillyman thinks that the use of this term in the advertisement, and as used in key points in the novel, signifies the need of perfect loves to reunite according to Aristophanes theory of love, as explained in Plato's Symposium. [7]

Term discussions
The following outlines some discussion on the more controversial translation terms:

geistigen Ursprunge | The “geistiger Ursprung” term is a very tricky and meaning-specific term to interpret: Google translates it, in standalone, as “intellectual origins”, albeit in context (full paragraph) as “spiritual origins”; but “geistigen”, alone, as “mental”, and “Ursprung”, alone as “origins”, as in: geistigen [mental] Ursprung [origins]. Winnett (1993) translates the term as “intellectual origins” (which seems cogent). Both Tantillo (2001) and Corngold (2003) translate the term as “spiritual origins”.

The first (intellectual origins) and second (intellectual origins) of these, as translated by Google [standalone] and Winnett, seem cogent. Goethe had already discovered evolution in plant life (1780) and in animal life (1784) and into the late 1790s, in his physical science studies, was looking to trace the origin of both back down to the chemical reaction level—and hence to discern the origin of aspects of the mind—the passions of the mind or intellect in particular.

Dissection vrThe latter of these (spiritual origins) does not at all, in any sense of the matter, seem cogent: Goethe specifically names Swedish physical chemist Torbern Bergman as the backbone core to the theory of his novella—not the Bible, God, or spirituality, as Tantillo seems to believe, in her translation—in other words, Goethe likely meant by this statement that his intention was to trace the “being and becoming” of human “existence and experience” back down the evolutionary timeline to the laws and principles governing the chemical level of existence, in its purest form).

In commentary on this very-contentious hypothetical translation “spiritual origins”, in 2012, Thims replied to Corngold in regards to his translation: “I still strongly do not think that Goethe meant ‘spiritual origins’ by the term ‘geistigen Ursprung’, the entire book is about the passions of relationships, the rules of which he sought to understand through Bergman's physical chemistry textbook, non of which has religious connotations, nor was Goethe overtly religious, in any sense of the matter, aside from his view of nature as the embodiment of God, or something like that, along the lines of Spinoza god.” [4] To this reply, Corngold commented back: “I agree that the word “spiritual” is not ideal. Still, when persons who have any sense whatsoever of German see the word “spiritual” in translations from the German, they’re supposed to think “spirit-ual” in the sense, for example, of “the human spirit” or “the spirit of Philadelphia.” “Spirit,” in such contexts, is not religious. “Intellectual” is too narrow; “mental” is too blah. It’s the same problem with translating the Renaissance word virtù. My prof used to say “will flooded with intelligence.” So “Geist” would be “higher Mind flooded with . . . er . . . spirit.” There’s no single-word winner, here: it requires a footnote.” [4]

| Google translated the “Vernunftfreiheit” term as “rational freedom”. Corngold (2003), likewise, translates the term as "rational freedom". Tantillo (2001), however, translates the term as “cheerful freedom”. Winnett (1993) translates the term as “serene freedom”.

Dissection vrThe first of these (rational freedom) seems to be the most cogent. Goethe had very frank views on freedom; in one of his noted quotes: "none are so hopelessly enslaved than those who believe they are free." The second of these (cheerful freedom) seems to be the most dubious: the likelihood of Goethe putting the word "cheerful" in the one-paragraph advertisement for a book in which, in his own words, "in it, as in a burial urn, I have deposited with deep emotion many a sad experience." The novella, in short, is not thematically-cheerful in its course. The latter of these (serene freedom) may have some cogentness to it: with the term serene being defined as “marked by utter calm and unruffled repose or quietude” or “clear and free from storms or unpleasant change, as this state does seem to aptly characterized or describe the opening chapters of the novella, as the "calm before the storm" so to speak.

chemische Gleichnisrede | The “chemische Gleichnisrede” is tricky, the translation of which seems to depend on author biases: namely how he or she views chapter four: metaphor, parable, analogy, allegory or reality (as Goethe viewed things). Winnett (1993) translates the term as “chemical metaphor”. Tantillo (2001) translates the term as “chemical figure of speech”. Google translates the term as “chemical parable”. Corngold (2003) translates the term as “chemical allegory”.

Dissection vrHere we see a diverse mixture of debate and point of views, namely is the model presented in Goethe's novella: metaphor (Winnett), figure of speech (Tantillo), parable (Google), or allegory (Corngold)? The correct answer, based on Goethe's followup mention of the fact that "there is after all only one nature", meaning that chemical nature and human nature are one and the same, which implies that both are governed by the regulative nature of the affinities (or regulative nature of the free energies, modern), as experimentally discerned via Torbern Bergman's 180 chemical reaction experiments (or as experimentally discerned via free energy reaction measurements made by Fritz Haber, Walther Nernst, Gilbert Lewis, and others, modern), meaning that in Goethe's mind, he would have conceptualized his presentation as "reality".

Corngold, to note commented further on this term, via a footnote:

“I follow Muret-Sanders (1910) in translating this term—‘Gleichnisrede’—as ‘figurative speech or allegory’—and not just a single simile.” [5]

Merriam-Webster (2000) defines allegory as the “expression by means of symbolic fictional figures and actions of truths or generalizations about human existence.”

Naturlehre | Dict.cc (German→English) translates “naturlehre” as “(physical) science” or physical science. Google, alternatively, translates this as “natural philosophy”. Both Tantillo (2001) and Corngold (2003) translates the term as “natural sciences”.

Dissection vr
The term “Naturlehre”, as well as the nearly-related preceding term “physikalischen”, seem to embody, in some way or another, the growing tension in regards to how the expanding fields of science (mathematics, physics, chemistry, and natural scientist) were beginning to be defined at the start of the 19th century, a tension that peaked during the Whewell-Coleridge debate (1833) during which time the bloated term “natural philosopher” came under attack, after which or rather the result of which the term “scientist” was coined (William Whewell, 1834).

The 1870s Tyndall-Stewart-Tait debate, likewise, was a continuation of this debate in regards to the distinction of one who studies the ‘moral world’, which was thought to be the work or realm of god, as contrasted with one who studies the ‘material world’, the field of the scientist (e.g. mathematician, physicist, or naturalist [e.g. Darwin]).

physikalischen | The term “physikalischen” seems to be a bit more difficult to translate. Dictionary.Reverso.net defines “physikalisch” as “physics”. Google translates the term, in paragraph context, as “physics”. Corngold translates it as “physical sciences”. Tantillo, however, again, in what seems to be a corrupted translation, reinterprets the term as “natural studies”.

Dissection vr
This term, inline with the previous discussion on the closely related term Naturlehre, is a bit elusive to pin down. The field Goethe culled from to derive his theory (the "great Bergman"), was not necessarily physics, or chemical physics (exactly, as this is a more modern niche term), but rather physical chemistry (modern), to be exact, although it is difficult to say exactly what this generalized field was called back in his day, aside from being affinity chemistry as we categorize it historically?

höhere Hand | Winnett (1993) translates "higher power". Tantillo (2001) translates this as "higher hand". The former (higher power) implies or alludes to God; the latter (higher hand) may have been a term used by Goethe, similar to the various scientific demons conceived in the history of science, which may possibly be a reference to his 1796 description of elective affinities as "forces" (higher hand), moving minerals or people, being external in origin:

"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, in a modern sense, may possibly be attributed to the exchange force model of human interaction, movement, dynamics, and bonding.

Matsui's comments
In 2012 commentary on the above, in discussion with Libb Thims, Japanese Goethean scholar Takaoki Matsui, who is working on a German-to-Japanese translation of part two of Elective Affinities, comments on the above discussion: [4]

"You can criticize Tantillo's translation if you like; but the underlined part is inaccurate:

"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"

Tantillo is right in this point, for "ethical parables" are not "far removed from the circle of human knowledge":

"He may have noticed that in the natural sciences one often uses ethical parables in order to bring closer what is quite distant from the circle of human knowledge"

On the other hand, you are right in interpreting "heiter / trübe" as "serene / cloudy" rather than as "cheerful / sad"."

Tuhtan's comments
In 2012, American-born German-educated civil-ecological engineer Jeff Tuhtan gave the following take on the above: [4]

The first two paragraphs look good, not easy to translate this old writing style! The third paragraph I would translate a bit differently. Here is my two cents, for what it is worth:

"and also through the serene world of intellectual freedom, driven unstoppably along a trail which is by necessity clouded by passions, and which can only be completely put to rest by the actions of a higher hand, possibly not even in this life."und auch durch das Reich der heitern [serene] Vernunftfreiheit [rational freedom] die Spuren [path/track] trüber [cloudy], leidenschaftlicher [of passionate] Notwendigkeit [need] sich unaufhaltsam [inexorably] hindurchziehen, die nur durch eine höhere Hand [higher hand] und vielleicht auch nicht in diesem Leben [this life] völlig auszulöschen sind.”

1. Goethe (Anonymous). (1809). “Advertisement (Selbstanzeige) of Elective Affinities”, Morning Paper for the Educated Professional (Morgenblatt fur Gebildete Stande), Sep 04; in HA, 6:621.
2. (a) Winnett, Susan. (1993). Terrible Sociability: the Text of Manners in Laclos, Goethe, and James (pg. 102). Stanford University Press.
(b) Susan Winnett (about) – Phil-fak.uni-Duesseldorf.de.
3. (a) Tantillo, Astrida, O. (2001). Goethe’s Elective Affinities and the Critics (pg. xviii). New York: Camden House.
(b) Quoted from HA, 6:639, emphasis in original (HA = Goethes Werke. Ed. Erich Trunz. 14 vols. Hamburg: Christian Wenger Verlag, 1949-71. Cited here from the reissued thirteenth edition, Munich: Verlag C.H. Beck).
4. Email communications (from Takaoki Matsui and Stanley Corngold) with Libb Thims (11 May 2012); from Jeff Tuhtan (23 May 2012).
5. Corngold, Stanley. (2003). “Compulsive Affinities: Goethe, Kafka, Benjamin”, Keynote Address, Conference: “Distortion”, University of Western Ontario, Apr 6.
6. Goethe, Johann. (1994). Elective Affinities (introduction, note on translation, selected bibliography, chronology, and explanatory notes by David Constantine). World Classics.
7. (a) Lillyman, William J. (1982). “Analogies for Love: Goethe’s Die Wahlverwandtschaften and Plato’s Symposium” (pg. 141). Goethe’s Narrative Fiction: the Irvine Goethe Symposium. Walter de Gruyter.
(b) Plato. (c.380BC). “Aristophanes’ speech”, in: Collected Works of Plato (translator: Benjamin Jowett) (pgs. 520-25). Oxford University Press, 1953.

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