Alan N. Shapiro, Visiting Professor in Transdisciplinary Design, Folkwang University of the Arts, Essen, Germany

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Nature: A Fragment, by Johann Wolfgang Goethe

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Gianna Maria Gatti:

Rereading the reflections in which, at the end of the seventeenth century, Goethe voices his hymn to Nature, one acquires the sense of just how advanced is contemporary man in adding those ‘secrets’, in gaining access to that ‘forge’, in procuring those ‘powers’ which Goethe credits exclusively to the great artist Nature, the mother of all beings alongside whom man, her son, from now on stands, also making himself the author of ‘Everything’. If the attribution of the essay is still a matter of contention, the same Goethe gave indications of its consistency with his thought. From the outset, the emphatic tone with which he outlines the inexhaustible energy of Nature appears evident.

Johann Wolfgang Goethe:

(translated from the German by Alan N. Shapiro)

Nature! We are surrounded by and entangled in it, incapable of escaping from it, and incapable of penetrating deeper inside it. Without being asked and without warning, it draws us into the vortex of its dance and sweeps us away, until we are exhausted and drop from its arms. It creates eternally new forms; that which exists never was before; that which was never comes again – everything is new, and yet forever old. We live in its midst, yet are strangers to it. It speaks with us ceaselessly, yet does not betray to us its secret. We act on it continuously, yet have no sway over it. It seems to have staked everything on individuality, yet does not know what to do with individuals. It always builds and always destroys, its forge is inaccessible. It lives through its children; but where is the mother? It is the only real artist: out of the simplest material, the greatest contrasts; without a hint of effort, the greatest perfection; the most precise determination, yet alway topped with something soft. Each of its works has its own essence, each of its appearances the most singular characterization, yet it makes out of everything a unity.” Goethe continues with observations that would seem to accurately comment upon what is happening in the present: “Even the most unnatural thing is Nature… He who does not see it everywhere does not see it correctly anywhere… We obey its laws even when we go against them; we work with it even when we want to work against it.” “Die Natur: Fragment” (“Nature: A Fragment”), in Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Schriften zur Naturwissenschaft: Auswahl (edited by Michael Böhler) (originally published in 1783 in Tiefurter Journal) (Stuttgart: Philipp Reclam, 1977); pp. 28-31.

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