The Testament of "Dichtung und Wahrheit": An Enquiry Into Goethe's Mode of Secularization

Plenderleith, Helen Jane (1991) The Testament of "Dichtung und Wahrheit": An Enquiry Into Goethe's Mode of Secularization. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis explores Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's use of his inherited religious tradition in his autobiography Aus meinem Leben. Dichtung und Wahrheit. It has as its premise the contention that, although scholarship has addressed to a considerable extent the question of Goethe's personal religious beliefs and their bearing on his works, there has emerged no manifest scholarly agreement on the nature and significance of Goethe's attitude to religion. This lack of consensus is explored, and possible reasons for it are posited. It is concluded that any attempt to define Goethe's putative personally held beliefs is of limited historical and critical interest, and the focus of this study on Goethe's application in his written works of material derived from the tradition of religion is justified. The use of religious concepts in an ostensibly non-religious context introduces the concept of secularization, which is analyzed in terms of its etymological and epistemological origins and implications. From this analysis emerges the relevance of the concept of binary synthesis for an appreciation of Goethe's use of elements of his inherited religious tradition. Binary synthesis is defined as a heuristic, and then applied to the apparent polarities of sacral and secular, and of past entity and present formulation, in Goethe's depiction of religious material in his autobiography. It is the titular paradox of the work which principally justifies the focus on Dichtung und Wahrheit, since the 'truth' of what the author is concerned to reveal to his reading public is explicitly couched in a veil of what he allusively calls 'poetry'. The relationship of conceptual meaning and rhetorical form in Goethe's representation of inherited religious material in Dichtung und Wahrheit is analyzed in terms of what recent scholarship on Goethe's attitude to his inherited tradition in general has adduced as a binary synthesis of form and meaning, through which the text functions aesthetically on the psyche of the perceptive reader. When applied to the representation of religion, it is contended that in Goethe's representation of his religious tradition in the context of his autobiography there exists to be perceived a sense of the very essence of that tradition which is a deep-seated feeling of faith. Thus Goethe's mode of secularization, by which elements of the sacral tradition are represented for renewed appraisal in the secular context of the literary text, it is argued, is to be understood as a binary synthesis of sacral material and secular form which operates on the reader in a particular way.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: German literature, Biographies, Philosophy of Religion
Date of Award: 1991
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1991-77299
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 14 Jan 2020 11:53
Last Modified: 14 Jan 2020 11:53

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