Artificial Intelligence

Goethe: Poet, Scientist, Admistrator — and our Contemporary?

I’ve mentioned before how the princes of Germany used to study poetry in order to effectively run their countries.

21st Century, Post-Communist Up-date, Dornburg an Der Saale

This wasn’t a matter of developing an emotional sense for things. It was more a matter of learning rhetoric, or effective, patterned ways of speaking, which included rhyme and metre, coupled with an intuitive way of reading the speech and actions of others for depths of connection, patterning and possibility.

Goethe Loved it Here. Vineyards replanted post-reunification. And the roses, too. But the train is a good communist train.

One of the outcomes from this approach was science, as an effort to separate aristocratic rhetoric from the similarly-learned but politically appositional rhetoric of the Church.

Marienborn Cloister, Via Regia

In other words, the pursuit was to talk about things, such as, randomly chosen, the poor cold dandelion below, without resorting to spirit or will, or anything that could be set aside by invoking Christian parallels with them and thereby reducing them as heresies.

First Snow in the Okanagan Valley, Brr

It has stood science well. But was spirit really foreign from it, or just politically oppositional in that formative period?

Meissen, Saxony

For the record, I think it was a bit like the images in the following sequence, if you will indulge me with a departure from Germany. The German principle holds, however.

The above image is an example of die Dichte, or “thickening,” or “denseness.” You can see this primary energy at work in the water drop forming on the tip of the icicle. Note how the icicle holds it without releasing it. It forms again.

There is a secondary property of die Dichte, as you have no doubt noticed. It is a thickening that comes from the density of related patterns in a field, and their relationships to each other. Poets know this kind of think well, and can use it to read the world and fine nuances of difference in relationships to words.

It was also once the art of ruling a country.

Part of the idea was to rule through beauty. Part of it, as the poet and scientist Goethe explained so many times, was to accept the rule of the principle of opening, thickening, and reopening. Goethe called it God. If the word alienates you, leave it. Call it a view into your potential, which is also a view into how your mind is constituted and how it reads things in the world and makes of them relationships and forms.

Beauty is a good word for it. It holds within it the notion of attraction, so important to Goethe’s age and its understandings of the relationship between what is beautiful and what is attracted to it. The aristocratic age that preceded him tried to create a ruling class of people trained in these relationships, much in the way contemporary young people are trained in technology and irony.

Beauty also holds within itself the notion of balance. I’m not talking about beauty in the manner of “the sublime”, a profound aesthetic response of wordlessness before the majesty of God. I’m talking about something for which there are words, or at least patterns of behaviour that allow people to act as words themselves.

In the time of the princes, there were serious issues about aristocratic power, its abuse, violence done to the poor, and so on. We could go on for a long time. There was, however, also a sense that humans could be trained to work in tandem in such a way that in their innate relationships they formed a balance with social and environmental relationships.

We could argue that they weren’t all that successful, but that would be beside the point, because it is in the age that replaced this balance, however imperfect, that the environment has been destroyed. What of it, then? Goethe said as well that colour was an effect that rose in the human mind at the boundary of darkness and light.

It has been proven that he was wrong about light, but it has not been proven that he was wrong about human perception, especially when you consider that Goethe and his sister Cordelia were too of the most intensely trained humans in history.

He might not have been speaking of something universal, psychologically, but rather of something that universal psychology could be trained to do, as an artwork, a work of beauty and balance, and a means of administering a world without breaking its patterns. Some things, like the wetland on the hill above my house, aren’t for stepping on.

A wetland on a hill? Ain’t the world wondrous!

4 replies »

  1. The aristocratic education in the manner that you describe is a wonderful thing. I attended a Christmas service the other evening for the children of a private school and their families. The children sang quite complex music with trained voices and it was beautiful. The head teacher gave a reflection on a painting of The Visit of the Magi by Botticelli and the point that he drew from it remains with me still. But I know that he works in a culture in which success is framed in terms of income and accumulated wealth. A culture in which beauty is merely an ornament to be enjoyed by the wealthy. Culture in this context is, as Pierre Bourdieu described it, a means of habilitation. It is a private language that opens a door to power.
    One day I hope that all humanity will discover its aristocratic but not exclusive identity and I would be delighted if Goethe becomes a teacher to us all.

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    • Yes, the money and power attached to it is a primary issue. I am inspired by Goethe’s attempts to bring that constellation of energies over into the new middle class. It shows that transfers of attributes can be made, independently from their political nests. We can, in other words, look at the past and draw new lessons from it, not just the old ones. And to start, we just have to follow Goethe’s deepest principle: the best observational technology is the human body. For one thing, using bodily observations allows us a chance to observe and reflect on our own roles in the observation, and thus its limits.

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