Theories on Force in the Era of Goethe
Prof. Dr. Cornelia Zumbusch: Theories on Force in the Era of Goethe. The Aesthetic Background of Thermodynamics
In poetological discourses and poetic outlines around 1800, the mention of force and forces is omnipresent. So far, this observation has been approached from two perspectives. Studies focussing the history of knowledge have been dedicated to the thematization of forces in aesthetic and literary texts from the perspective of different disciplines – for example with regard to the histories of physics, electricity, psychology of capability or biology. In contrast, studies in the history of aesthetics have related the talk of power to the traditional phenomena of the sublime or other figures of the aesthetics of shock and overwhelming.
With this project, new directions are to be taken in two respects. On the one hand, the contemplation of forces is addressed precisely at the transitions between physical and vital force, i.e. where the currently common disciplinary categorizations not (yet) apply. Above all, however, 'force' is to be interpreted not as a concept of effect, but as a description of literary shaping. It becomes apparent that between 1770 and 1830 forces are of less interest as discontinuous, eruptive and extraordinarily strong effects, but rather come into view as 'driving forces', i.e. as forces responsible for complex and quite subtle processes of persistent movement and continuous transitions.
It is not so much the concept of dynamis (vis, Kraft, force, forza), which has been described since ancient theories of Nature, but rather reconceptions of energeia (energy, activity). Literary and aesthetic discussions ofs forces seem to prepare the way for a conception that will take shape around the middle of the 19th century in the first theorem of thermodynamics: According to the law of energy conservation, the sum of energy in a given system remains the same when it is transformed from one form of energy into another (for example in combustion processes). The moment of transformation of forces will have to be elaborated in detail in aesthetic designs from Herder to Novalis to the mature Goethe.
Following the guiding concept of the CAS, the aim is not only to trace imports of knowledge from theory of nature to art theory, but also to identify patterns of thought and imagination linking natural science and reflections on art:
- conflict or ›composition of forces‹
- potentia: inertia and latency
- Equilibrations: figurations of dynamic balancing
- activity: Force as energeia.