Kraft (Force)

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Gabriel Trop


The lexeme Kraft (force) is a foundational concept for Goethe that expresses the dynamism essential to his thought. Its tendency to move between operations of particularity and generality, polarity and intensification, differentiation and dedifferentiation, potentiality and actuality, norm and deviation, rationality and irrationality, and cognition and creativity together lend it a characteristic mobility, multiplicity, and diffusion. The discursive tensions and blendings of the concept during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries—which extend between the obscure aesthetic construction of force in Karl Philipp Moritz and Johann Gottfried Herder and its scientific construction in Kant and Newton as the condition of possibility of knowledge—also manifest themselves in Goethe’s concept. As a grounding and ungrounding at one and the same time, Kraft thus serves as a material condition for the genesis of knowledge, on the one hand, and a metaphysical index of something absolutely unconditioned (das Unbedingte), on the other. When Goethe conceptualizes force as unconditioned, rather than as a condition of this or that individual being, he configures it in a number of ways. These include force as movement in processes of transformation and becoming, as potential, as a capacity for trans-discursive drift or blending, and as a non-discursive resistance to integration into normative, cognitive, and representational modes of thought. Certain scenes in Goethe's literary works—including most prominently, Die Wahlverwandtschaften (1809; The Elective Affinities), Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre (1821/29; Wilhelm Meister's Journeyman Years), Pandora (1807/08), and Faust(1808/32)—can be read as thought experiments that offer ontological conceptions of force in order to explore its informing oppositions of movement and metamorphosis, potentiality and actuality, as well as trans-discursivity and non-discursivity.

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How to Cite
Trop, G. “Kraft (Force)”. Goethe-Lexicon of Philosophical Concepts, Vol. 1, no. 1, Jan. 2021, doi:10.5195/glpc.2021.36.


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