“ich bin den ganzen Tag in einem Gespräch mit den Dingen”
At a moment when material culture itself was in a state of flux and transformation, Novalis rather back-handedly compared Goethe’s achievements on the literary marketplace with Josiah Wedgwood’s pre-eminence in marketing classicizing luxury goods. Goethe’s place in a changing new world of commodities has been central to a number of significant scholarly studies on topics such as fashion, entertainment, collecting, and luxury over the past two decades. The recent material turn in the humanities more broadly has given rise to multiple new approaches to, and theorizations of, objects, things, and stuff, from thing theory to the new materialisms, often emphasizing the lively or agentic quality of things. These may shed additional light on Goethe’s self-described “conversation with things.”
We hope to reflect upon Goethe and his age from a material perspective. Challenging the notion that a turn to the material world represents a shift away from more theoretical concerns, Goethe’s sensual orientation to the “thingly” world suggests that we consider as well how the material may also be in dialog with the philosophical during this period. And, on the other hand, we will consider how “weakly” theoretical artifacts in fact call attention to knowledge production in specialized fields.
We are grateful to Mr. Stuart Atkins for his generous support of this conference in honor of the memory of his parents, Lillian and Stuart P. Atkins. We would also like to thank the University of Chicago for its considerable financial and logistical support. In particular, the Humanities Division and The Department of Germanic Studies have provided major funding and help in organizing the conference.