Wechsel-Dauer (Change-Constancy)

The lexeme Wechsel-Dauer (change-constancy) appears in “Anmutige Gegend” (A Pleasant Landscape) in Act I of Faust II, as part of Faust’s famous description of the rainbow before him. While the hyphenated term captures the essential temporal tension of the drama, reflecting the complexity of the Augenblick (moment), it also indexes the temporality of Metamorphose (metamorphosis) within Goethe’s scientific thought. The obvious overlap with the poem “Dauer im Wechsel” (1803; Constancy in Change), which is linked with early nineteenth-century psychology, points toward some of the term’s broader resonances. Beyond the natural scientific and psychological contexts, Wechsel-Dauer is connected to several interrelated aspects of cultural production, including publication practices, tradition, and late style. Furthermore, the hyphenated term, as distinguished from either Wechsel or Dauer alone, manifests the Goethean principles of Polarität (polarity) and Steigerung (intensification).

  1. Introduction
  2. Polarities and Intensifications
  3. Form and Temporality
  4. Identity and the Self
  5. Cultural Production
  6. Notes
  7. Works Cited and Further Reading


Der Organismus wechselt den Stoff, transitorisch und fortschreitend, er zerstört ununterbrochen und schafft wieder, was er zerstört hat. Er nähert seine neuen Schöpfungen dem ursprünglichen Typus soweit wieder an, dass das Individuum fortdauert und immerhin zu den nemlichen Veränderungen fähig bleibt. Allein er nähert sie nur dem an, was er zerstört hat; erreicht dasselbe aber nicht vollkommen wieder. Daher der transitorische Wechsel und in demselben der Grund unserer fortschreitenden Metamorphosen. So wälzt sich die Erde um ihre eigene Axe und giebt uns Morgen und Abend verjüngt zurück, die sie uns raubte, schreitet aber bey diesen periodischen Umwälzungen immer vorwärts auf ihrer Reise um die Sonne. So auch ihre Söhne; nur mit dem Unterschied, dass sie ihre Reise nie wiederholen, wenn sie einmal am Ziele sind.1
The organism changes its matter in a transitory and progressive way. It destroys uninterruptedly and creates anew what it destroyed. Its new creations approach the original archetype to the extent that the individual persists and remains capable of changes. However, the organism only approximates with these changes what it destroyed and does not fully achieve the same again. Hence the transitory quality of change and in this the reason for our progressive metamorphoses. Thus, the earth waltzes around its own axis and gives us back, rejuvenated, morning and evening, of which it had robbed us. Yet amid these periodic revolutions it progresses ever forward upon its journey around the sun. So too do its sons, only with the difference that they never repeat their journey once they have reached their destination.2

In this excerpt from Johann Christian Reil’s (1759–1813) Rhapsodien über die Anwendung der psychischen Curmethode auf Geisteszerrüttungen (1803; Rhapsodies on the Application of the Psychological Cure Method to Mental Disturbances), the physician elaborates on his understanding of self-consciousness, which he conceives of as knitting the manifold of perceptions and representations into a unity of identity.3 Much like the earth spirit in Faust who sits at the loom of time (“So schaff’ ich am sausenden Webstuhl der Zeit, / Und wirke der Gottheit lebendiges Kleid,” I work at the whirring loom of time / and fashion the living garment of God), so too does self-consciousness, according to Reil, spin together “den unermesslichen Faden der Zeit” (Reil, Rhapsodieen, 55; the immeasurable thread of time).4 After accounting for the fact that the individual retains her identity over time, yet is enmeshed in a constant process of change, Reil describes the self in a way that evokes several elements of Goethean thought. From the emphasis on the organism’s relationship to an archetype; to the organism’s acts of destruction and creation; to the idea that these changes underly the process of metamorphosis; and, finally, to the comparison with cycles of natural rejuvenation, one is hard pressed not to read these lines through the lens of Faust or Goethe’s scientific writings. Goethe in fact read Reil’s treatise with great interest, and when he wrote to thank the author for sending him a copy, he enclosed his poem “Dauer im Wechsel.” The treatise, he writes, “war mir um so willkommner indem Sie darin die wichtigsten Puncte der Naturforschung berühren und Ihre eigne Überzeugung dabey an den Tag legen. [. . .] / Erlauben Sie daß ich einen Versuch beylege, wie ich das was Sie p. 58 ff. so schön vortragen, poetisch auszusprechen gewagt habe” (WA IV.16:269, 15.08.1803; [The work] was even more welcome to me since you touch upon the most important points of natural science and display your own convictions. [. . .] Permit me to enclose an experiment, where I have dared to express poetically what you state so beautifully on pg. 58ff.).

The two operative terms in the poem’s title would reach even fuller expression in the opening of Faust II, where the protagonist describes a rainbow as simultaneously fixed and ever-changing.

Allein wie herrlich diesem Sturm entsprießend,
Wölbt sich des bunten Bogens Wechsel-Dauer,
Bald rein gezeichnet, bald in Luft zerfließend,
Umher verbreitend duftig kühle Schauer. (FA I.7.1:206.4721–24)
But see how, rising from this turbulence,
the rainbow forms its changing-unchanged arch,
now clearly drawn, now evanescent,
and casts cool, fragrant showers all about it. (Atkins 123)

Faust’s remarks come after his own rejuvenation, after, to speak with Reil, the earth has once more returned to him a revivified morning (“Du Erde warst auch diese Nacht beständig / Und atmest neu erquickt zu meinen Füßen,” FA I.7.1:205.4681–82 and Atkins, 122; you also, Earth, have lasted out this night / and breathe new-quickened there below). Beyond this scene, the basic polarity that opens Reil’s description—that between creation [schaffen] and destruction [zerstören]—quite obviously informs the basic grammar of Goethe’s tragedy, with the conflict between Faustian creation and Mephistophelean negation.

The multiple appearances of the terms Wechsel and Dauer in Goethe’s oeuvre, including the shift from the phrase “Dauer im Wechsel” to the hyphenated compound “Wechsel-Dauer,” as well as the publishing histories of the associated texts, necessitate that one traverse a whole range of contexts. As with many of Goethe’s philosophical concepts, this term has its place in the realms of natural science, psychology, and cultural production. The independent terms Wechsel and Dauer have specific meanings within Goethe’s scientific thought, and the reader is directed to those entries for more detail. The hyphenated Wechsel-Dauer, which makes more evident the terms’ mutual interdependence, does different philosophical work than either term alone by enacting the principles of Polarität and Steigerung.

Polarities and Intensifications

Goethe understands Polarität and Steigerung as “die zwei großen Triebräder aller Natur” (FA I.25:81; the two great driving forces of all nature). These concepts denote the twinned processes of “immerwährende[s] Anziehen und Abstoßen” (perpetual attraction and repulsion) and “immerstrebende[s] Aufsteigen” (FA I.25:81; ever striving upward growth). Writing of the masculine and feminine tendencies in vegetation, Goethe describes the inherent progression within this process, which comprises the Spiraltendenz (spiral tendency): “[D]ie beiden Systeme [sondern] sich im offenbaren Gegensatz auseinander [. . .], und [überstellen ] sich entschieden gegen einander [. . .], um sich in einem höhern Sinne wieder zu vereinigen” (FA I.24:805; Both systems separate themselves into evident opposition and stand definitively against one another, in order to reunite in a higher sense). Polarität and Steigerung also inform concepts like “wiederholte Spiegelungen” (FA I.17:370; repeated mirror images), which Goethe uses to describe phenomena in the cultural sphere. Within this entoptic metaphor, mirror reflections revivify and intensify the past: “zu einem höheren Leben empor steigern” (FA I.17:371; raise to a higher life). The movement described under these various rubrics is not teleological, but rather leaves an opening for further, perpetual transformations.5

Wechsel and Dauer should be understood as polarities of this sort, whereby the oppositional pairing implies both an interdependence of the two concepts and a resultant intensification. Because these are temporal descriptors, the objects subject to constancy, change, and intensification vary, ranging from, e.g., anatomical form to the individual subject to objects of cultural production and reception. Wechsel and Dauer can also encompass various types of polarities. Beyond the obvious lexical polarity of the hyphenated term Wechsel-Dauer in Faust, the poem “Dauer im Wechsel” indexes structural and conceptual polarities within the sphere of cultural production.

The poem appeared twice in the Ausgabe letzter Hand, once in the section “Gesellige Lieder” (Social Songs), and again in the section “Gott und Welt” (God and World). The poem’s dual publication demonstrates how its content—and, more generally, the concepts of Dauer and Wechsel—span multiple registers. Within the Ausgabe letzter Hand, the concepts of Geselligkeit (sociability) and “Gott und Welt” are thereby put into productive tension with one another.6 Benjamin Bennett contends that the dual publication can be read in literary historical terms as a self-reflexive indicator of Goethe’s transformation of poetry as embedded within a conventional framework of Geselligkeit into a form that necessitates “a new form of communal validity,” where poetry “can maintain its Dauer even under radical Wechsel.7 In this reading, then, the structural and conceptual polarity of Geselligkeit vs. “Gott und Welt” implies an intensification of Goethe’s own literary legacy.

Form and Temporality

Even as Wechsel and Dauer open onto broader literary historical questions, they have specific meanings within Goethe’s scientific work. Wechsel and Dauer capture the essential temporal logic of Goethean metamorphosis, i.e., the Augenblick where form is fleetingly apprehended before it continues to transform. As the key temporal coordinates of metamorphosis, the study of the formation and transformation (Bildung, Umbildung) of Gestalten (forms), Wechsel and Dauer index both the entropic force of transformation, as well as the stabilizing force that balances it out. “Sie [die Metamorphose] führt ins Formlose; zerstört das Wissen, löst es auf. Sie ist gleich der vis centrifuga, und würde sich ins Unendliche verlieren, wäre ihr nicht ein Gegengewicht zugegeben: ich meine den Spezificationstrieb, das zähe Beharrlichkeitsvermögen dessen was einmal zur Wirklichkeit gekommen” (FA I.24:582–83; [Metamorphosis] leads into formlessness; destroys knowledge, dissolves it. It is akin to the vis centrifuga and would lose itself in limitlessness if it did not have a counterweight: I mean the specification drive, the dogged capability of that which has emerged for persisting). The basic emphasis here on chaos and change, as set in opposition to the capability for persistence, itself persists throughout Goethe’s works and runs through several additional polarities, including Metamorphose/Typus (metamorphosis/archetype).

For animal and plant life, change and formation are constrained by the limits of the Typus (archetype) or Urpflanze (primordial plant), respectively. Goethe couches these principles in economic terms, describing a kind of budgetary balancing that further unfolds the idea of Wechsel. If one organ becomes larger, another must shrink in compensation. “Die Rubriken seines [der Bildungstrieb] Etats [. . .] sind ihm vorgeschrieben, was er auf jedes wenden will, steht ihm, bis auf einen gewissen Grad, frei. Will er der einen mehr zuwenden, so ist er nicht ganz gehindert, allein er ist genötigt an einer andern sogleich etwas fehlen zu lassen; und so kann die Natur sich niemals verschulden, oder wohl gar bankrutt werden” (FA I.24:233–34; Governing budgetary principles have been laid down for [. . .] this impulse [the formative impulse] [. . .], but to a certain extent it is free to give to each what it will. If it wants to let one have more, it may do so, but not without taking from another. Thus nature can never fall into debt, much less go bankrupt).8 One sees these principles at work across the animal kingdom. Fish, Goethe notes, have plump bodies—a side effect of their aqueous environment—and their extremities are thus lessened in size. Birds, by contrast, living as they do in the dry air, are much less fleshy, but this is compensated by their plumage. In other words, the individual organs function like ledger entries, varying in their allotted quanta but always adding up to the same total. Within this economic register, Dauer characterizes the fixed budget, while the individual line items are all capable of Wechsel, or (ex-)change. Wechsel is constrained by Dauer to the extent that any exchange is limited by (or balanced against) a budgetary constant.

Within a more strictly temporal register, Wechsel and Dauer are closely linked with the Augenblick where form [Gestalt] is apprehended. “[W]enn wir das Wort [Gestalt] brauchen, [dürfen wir] uns allenfalls dabei nur die Idee, den Begriff oder ein in der Erfahrung nur für den Augenblick Festgehaltenes denken” (FA I.24:392, emphasis added; When we use the term [Gestalt], we must only think of the idea, the concept, or that which grasped experientially in a moment). Here, Wechsel and Dauer open onto scientific method, specifically the method of intuitive understanding (anschauende Urteilskraft) that Goethe develops from Kant and Spinoza, whereby attending to the transitions (Übergänge) between individual objects or phenomena allows the observer to apprehend the whole that underpins them.9 The observer, in other words, focuses on changes to grasp that which persists behind or underneath them.

The poem “Dauer im Wechsel” beautifully expresses the melancholy of this Augenblick while subtly enacting the above scientific principles. The opening lines—“Hielte diesen frühen Segen / Ach, nur Eine Stunde fest!” (If only this early blessing, alas, held fast for just one hour)—are echoed by the final two lines of the second stanza: “Ach, und in demselbsen Flusse / Schwimmst du nicht zum zweitenmal” (FA I.2:493; Alas, and in the same river you will not swim a second time). If the reference to Heraclitus establishes change as a constant, the Ach (ah, alas) mournfully gestures to the irretrievable past. Peter Schäublin makes note of the fact that a few months before Goethe sent the poem to Reil, he reported to Schiller on his progress on the Farbenlehre (Theory of Colors). “Ich stehe hoch genug um mein vergangenes Wesen und Treiben, historisch, als das Schicksal eines dritten, anzusehen. [. . .] / Wenn ich fertig bin, in so fern ich fertig werden kann, so wünsche ich mir sie [frühere Versuche] gewiß wieder, um mich mir selbst historisch zu vergegenwärtigen und ich komme nicht zum Ziel wenn ich sie nicht vertilge” (FA II.5:353–54, 22.5.1803; I have enough perspective to be able to view my past essence and endeavors historically, as the fate of a third person [. . .] When I am finished, insofar as I can finish, I certainly will wish to have my earlier efforts, in order to make myself historically present to myself, but I won’t reach my goal if I don’t destroy them).10 Bracketing for the moment the idea of self-historicity and the process of both creative and destructive editing described here (and note again this polarity), the Farbenlehre informs the poem in a few important ways. Schäublin reads the vegetal thematics of first two stanzas of “Dauer im Wechsel” through the lens of the Farbenlehre, arguing that, with the term “das Grüne” (“Soll ich mich des Grünen freuen, / Dem ich Schatten erst verdankt?” FA I.2:493; Should I be pleased about the green / that I owe to the shade?), Goethe gestures to the “tätigen Zustand” (active state) of a plant and the future Steigerung of both the plant and the color (“Goethe’s Gedicht ‘Dauer im Wechsel,’” 17; FA I.23.1:106). At the same time, he highlights an apparent tension between plant metamorphosis and color theory, noting that green in the former indexes the beginning of metamorphosis, while in the latter in generates a sense of rest and stasis in the viewer (“Goethe’s Gedicht ‘Dauer im Wechsel,’” 18).

Identity and the Self

While the scientific context subtly informs “Dauer im Wechsel,” the poem deals more overtly with the constancy and change in the individual subject. The first two stanzas treat phenomena in nature, and the third stanza abruptly addresses a lyrical Du.

Du nun selbst! Was felsenfeste
Sich vor dir hervorgetan,
Mauern siehst du, siehst Paläste
Stets mit andern Augen an. (FA I.2:493)
Now you yourself! What appeared
Rock solid before you,
You see walls, see palaces,
Always with different eyes.

Commentators frequently point out the similarity between these sentiments and Reil’s discussion of self-consciousness in his Rhapsodien. For Reil, the connecting force of self-consciousness is what gives the individual a stable identity, allowing the individual to locate herself in both time and place. However, even as the individual’s memory of her past attaches to her identity in the present, the stability of “das [. . .] beharrliche Ich” (the persistent I) in the present is in fact illusory (Reil, Rhapsodieen, 58). Despite all evidence to the contrary, the eighty-year-old imagines himself to be the same person he has always been, even if he is entirely changed in both body and soul. “Kein Atom ist von dem allen mehr da, was vor achtzig Jahren war. Die Zeit hat, mit jedem Schritte vorwärts, an seiner Seele und an seinem Körper genagt, ihn mehr als einmal ganz umgeschaffen, moralische und physische Vollkommenheiten in ihm entwickelt sie und wieder zerstört” (Reil, Rhapsodieen, 59–60; Not a single atom remains from all that existed eighty years ago. Time, with each step forward, ate away at his soul and his body, created him anew [umschaffen], developed states of moral and physical completion in him and then destroyed them).

Schäublin is correct to note several points of overlap between this conception of identity and that elaborated by David Hume (“Goethe’s Gedicht ‘Dauer im Wechsel,’” 21). In his Treatise of Human Nature (1739–40), Hume contests the view of philosophers “who imagine we are every moment intimately conscious of what we call our Self; that we feel its existence and its continuance in existence; and are certain, beyond the evidence of a demonstration, both of its perfect identity and simplicity.”11 Hume instead proposes his much-debated “bundle theory,” according to which one’s conception of one’s own self is entirely dependent upon one’s perceptions.12 His primary focus is on our tendency to treat successive perceptions as identical, rather than similar. Because we collapse the distinction between resemblance and identity, we “suppose ourselves possest of an invariable and uninterrupted existence thro’ the whole course of our lives” (A Treatise of Human Nature, 165). In contrast to Hume, Schäublin notes, Goethe emphasizes the individual’s remarkable capability of knitting together various impressions, rather than arguing that this activity underlies a fundamental error in judgment (“Goethe’s Gedicht ‘Dauer im Wechsel,’” 22).

An additional philosophical parallel of note emerges in the eleventh letter of Friedrich Schiller’s Über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen (1795; On the Aesthetic Education of Man), where he begins to explicate the transcendental concept of beauty. There, Schiller outlines his conceptions of Person (person) and Zustand (condition). Even if these concepts are rooted in Schiller’s engagement with Fichte, they also serve, as William Davis has shown, as rough correlates to Goethe’s Dauer and Wechsel, respectively.13 Person and Zustand designate two elements of the self: “etwas, das bleibt, und etwas, das sich unaufhörlich verändert” (something that endures and something that perpetually changes).14 Just as Dauer and Wechsel must be thought together, so, too, do Person and Zustand. Moreover, these categories open on to the polarities of form and material/content.

Um also nicht bloß Welt zu seyn, muß er [der Mensch] der Materie Form ertheilen; um nicht bloß Form zu seyn, muß er der Anlage, die er in sich trägt, Wirklichkeit geben. Er verwirklichet die Form, wenn er die Zeit erschafft und dem Beharrlichen die Veränderung, der ewigen Einheit seines Ichs die Mannichfaltigkeit der Welt gegenüber stellt; er formt die Materie, wenn er die Zeit wieder aufhebt, Beharrlichkeit im Wechsel behauptet und die Mannichfaltigkeit der Welt der Einheit seines Ichs unterwürfig macht. (NA 20:343–44)
Thus in order not to be merely world, he must lend form to his material; in order not to be merely form, he must make actual the potentiality which he bears within himself. He realizes form when he creates time, and opposes constancy with alteration, the eternal unity of his ego with the diversity of the world; he gives form to matter when he proceeds to annul time, affirms persistence within change, and subjects the diversity of the world to the unity of his ego. (Snell 63)

Davis reads this passage together with “Dauer im Wechsel,” arguing that with the final strophe, which reconciles the various polarities that run through the poem (beginning/end, form/content, constancy/change) Goethe articulates a kind of artistic temporality, “giving eternal form to temporal phenomena” in a way that echoes Schiller (“Subjectivity and Exteriority,” 459).15

While this cursory survey indicates a few philosophical benchmarks in conceptions of constancy and change in personal identity, this is not to suggest that Goethe adopts these (or adjacent) ideas wholesale or uncritically. Wechsel-Dauer is considerably more malleable than any of these correlates, extending over a far broader range of phenomena than personal identity. At the same time, the notion of artistic temporality that emerges in this realm helps one better to understand the significance of (self-)historicity.

Cultural Production

In many of his works, Goethe emphasizes the living transmission of historical material. At play is never the mere passive reception of artifacts from the past, but rather the active reception and continued transformation and transmission thereof. For instance, in his essays on Gothic architecture, Goethe repeatedly emphasizes the revivification of the past via, e.g., the study of images and the imaginative completion of architectural sites like the Cologne Cathedral, along with the more concrete practices witnessed in the neo-Gothic revival. As he writes in the 1823 essay “Von deutscher Baukunst” (On German Architecture), “Da nun aber einmal der Antheil an solchen Productionen der Vergangenheit erregt worden, so verdienen diejenigen großen Dank, die uns in den Stand setzen, Werth und Würde im rechten Sinne, das heißt historisch zu fühlen und zu erkennen” (FA I.21:480; Now that this sympathy for the works of the past has been aroused, our great thanks are due to those who make it possible for us to feel and recognize their value and dignity in the proper—that is, the historical—way).16 Wechsel-Dauer aptly captures the temporality of this process, whereby remnants of the past persist into the present, thereby underpinning the process of continued development.17 Precisely the same conceptual framework seeps into the description of the self-generative rainbow in “Anmutige Gegend.” Even as the rainbow continuously morphs, it persists into the present. Faust’s description of its organic growth from the waterfall (“diesem Sturm entsprießend,” FA I.7.1:206.4721 and Atkins, 123; rising from this turbulence), recalls that of the vegetal growth around him (“Zweig und Äste, frisch erquickt, entsprossen / Dem duftgen Abgrund wo versenkt sie schliefen,” FA I.7.1:205.4690–91and Atkins, 123; from the misty chasm where they slept / fresh-quickened boughs and branches have burst forth). With the transition from entsprossen to entsprießend, from a completed to an ongoing action, organic growth in the present remains tied to the past.

These qualities are not, however, restricted to historical objects. Rather, as the foregoing section makes clear, Wechsel and Dauer are linked with personal identity. Writing to Wilhelm von Humboldt on December 1, 1831, Goethe describes his own process of becoming historical: “so gesteh’ ich gern daß in meinen hohen Jahren, mir alles mehr und mehr historisch wird: ob etwas in der vergangenen Zeit, in fernen Reichen oder mir ganz nah räumlich im Augenblicke vorgeht, ist ganz eins, ja ich erscheine mir selbst immer mehr und mehr geschichtlich” (FA II.11:494–95; I happily admit that in my advanced years, everything appears more and more historical to me: whether something transpires in past times, in distant empires, or physically close to me in a given moment is all the same. Indeed, I appear more and more historical to myself). This self-historical orientation is typically read as characteristic of (Goethe’s) late style and, as Sandro Zanetti shows, it both comprises a kind of self-distancing and implies a malleable subject capable of further transformation.18 The process of becoming historical involves, then, at a minimum two temporal orientations: on the one hand toward the past, on the other toward the future. This temporal bidirectionality is characteristic of late style more broadly, as authors both take stock of earlier work and bear in mind the eventual end of their own life and literary production.19 In other words, Wechsel-Dauer maps onto authorial (self-)presence.

Faust II is often cited as an example of the formal complexity of late style.20 Even if certain stylistic considerations inform the condensation of Wechsel and Dauer into Wechsel-Dauer, the concentrated quality of the phrase, in addition to performing the work of intensification implied by the copresence of the two polarities, illustrates the aporetic quality of late style. Moreover, the simultaneity of both constancy and change is essential to the process of self-historicization involved in Goethe’s assembly of the Ausgabe letzter Hand, where he shaped his own future historical legacy, and for the completion of the late work (Alterswerk, Spätwerk) that is Faust II. The publication history of Faust, specifically its long-provisional, fragmentary status, already goes some way in indicating that Goethe viewed it as a project that would be continued after his death. As Bennett points out, Goethe “even substitutes the word ‘Bestrebungen’ for the actual title, ‘Werke,’ of the forthcoming edition, thus suggesting that his own writings be considered not finished works but mere ‘efforts,’ presumably to be continued by others” (“Poetry after Faust,” 135). Or, to speak with Zanetti once more, Faust manifests the tension between continuity and fixity, between “[d]as Versprechen auf Weiterarbeit” (the promise of further work) and “[d]er Wille zu Werk, zur Konstitution, zur schriftlichen Fixierung” (the will to works, to constitution, to written fixation) (Avantgardismus der Greise?, 390). This is, finally, the exact mechanism of Wechsel-Dauer, a literary historical intensification of morphological principles.

In the same letter to Humboldt where he writes about becoming historical, Goethe describes his work on Faust in a manner that recalls the poem “Dauer im Wechsel.” “[Ich] glaube [. . .] mich zu einer Art von Produktion erhoben zu haben, welche, bei völligem Bewußtsein, dasjenige hervorbrachte was ich jetzt noch selbst billige, ohne vielleicht jemals in diesem Flusse wieder schwimmen zu können; ja was Aristoteles und andere Prosaisten einer Art von Wahnsinn zuschreiben würden” (FA II.11:495; I believe I have elevated myself to a kind of production, in which, fully conscious, I generated that which even still I approve of, without being able ever to swim in this river again, indeed, which Aristotle and other prose writers would attribute to a kind of insanity). The state of productive fervor is here cast as an unrepeatable, practically pathological moment, which Goethe is as unlikely to reexperience as he is to step in the same river a second time. With the recapitulation of the Heraclitian lines from “Dauer im Wechsel” (“Ach, und in demselben Flusse / Schwimmst du nicht zum zweitenmal”), Goethe, in melancholic reflection near the end of his life, once more establishes the ideas of Dauer and Wechsel as central to poetic creation.

As the foregoing remarks have argued, Wechsel-Dauer is for Goethe at once a morphological principle and a psychological phenomenon that is both reflected and enacted in his literary works.21 While this conceptual and philosophical breadth is hardly specific to Wechsel-Dauer, the term is unique in the manner that it opens onto Goethe’s conception of his own literary legacy, on the Wechsel-Dauer of his lifework. Just as the hyphenated Wechsel-Dauer condenses two distinct principles into a single term, so too does it condense the morphological, the personal, and the literary into a single, remarkably capacious philosophical concept that—like Reil’s notion of self-consciousness—weaves the manifold into a unity.

  1. Johann Christian Reil, Rhapsodieen über die Anwendung der psychischen Curmethode auf Geisteszerrüttungen (Curt, 1803), 60–61, https://books.google.com/books?id=cKk_AAAAcAAJ. Emphasis in original. Hereafter cited as (Reil, Rhapsodieen).
  2. Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own.
  3. “Das Wesen des Selbstbewußtseyns scheint vorzüglich darin zu bestehn, daß es das Mannichfaltige zur Einheit verknüpft, und sich das Vorgestellte als Eigenthum anmasst” (The essence of self-consciousness appears to consist above all in the fact that it weaves the manifold into a unity and claims representations as its own). Reil, Rhapsodieen, 54. For overviews of Reil’s intellectual historical significance, with emphasis on his relationship to romantic Naturphilosophie, see Robert J. Richards, “Rhapsodies on a Cat-Piano, or Johann Christian Reil and the Foundations of Romantic Psychiatry,” Critical Inquiry 24, no. 3 (Spring 1998): 700–736; Matthew Bell, The German Tradition of Psychology in Literature and Thought, 1700–1840 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 167–70.
  4. Unless otherwise noted, works by Goethe are cited according to the Frankfurt edition (FA): Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Sämtliche Werke: Briefe, Tagebücher und Gespräche, ed. Hendrik Birus et al. 40 vols. (Frankfurt a.M.: Deutscher Klassiker Verlag, 1987–2013), I.7.1:37.508–9. Hereafter cited as FA in the body of the text. Translation from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust I and II, ed. and trans. Stuart Atkins, Online edition, vol. 2, Goethe’s Collected Works (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014), 16. Hereafter cited as Atkins in the body of the text.
  5. For more on Goethe’s critique of teleology, see Dorothea von Mücke, “Goethe’s Metamorphosis: Changing Forms in Nature, the Life Sciences, and Authorship,” Representation 95 (2006): 27–53, here 31–35. Hereafter cited as (von Mücke, “Goethe’s Metamorphosis”).
  6. Regina Sachers discusses the poem’s earlier publication and highlights the paratextual relations between this and the poems it appeared alongside. See Regina Sachers, Goethe’s Poetry and the Philosophy of Nature: Gott und Welt 1798–1827 (Cambridge: Legenda, 2015), 40–45. Hereafter cited as (Sachers, Goethe’s Poetry and the Philosophy of Nature).
  7. Benjamin Bennett, “Poetry after Faust,” Goethe Yearbook 20 (2013): 133–45 here 142. Hereafter cited as (Bennett, “Poetry after Faust).
  8. Translation revised from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “Excerpt from ‘Outline for a General Introduction to Comparative Anatomy, Commencing with Osteology,’” in Scientific Studies, trans. Douglas Miller, vol. 12 of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (New York: Suhrkamp, 1988), 117–26, here 121.
  9. For further detail, see Eckart Förster, Die 25 Jahre der Philosophie: eine systematische Rekonstruktion (Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 2011), 253–76.
  10. Quoted in part in Peter Schäublin, “Goethes Gedicht ‘Dauer im Wechsel,’” Sprachkunst 8 (1977): 3–34, here 16. Hereafter cited as (Schäublin, “Goethes Gedicht ‘Dauer im Wechsel’”).
  11. David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, ed. David Fate Norton and Mary J. Norton (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 164. (1.4.6) Hereafter cited as (Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature).
  12. Hume plainly states that humans “are nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions” (A Treatise of Human Nature, 165). However, Galen Strawson stresses that readers frequently and mistakenly take Hume’s epistemological claims for ontological claims. “Hume doesn’t for a moment intend to assert the ontological claims [. . .] without restriction. They are, again, claims about the mind so far as we have any empirically (hence philosophically) respectable knowledge of it. They’re claims about the maximum legitimate content of any claims about the nature of the mind that can claim to express knowledge of the nature of the mind.” Galen Strawson, “Hume on Personal Identity,” in The Oxford Handbook of Hume, ed. Paul Russell (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 269–72, here 272.
  13. William Stephen Davis, “Subjectivity and Exteriority in Goethe’s ‘Dauer im Wechsel,’” The German Quarterly 66, no. 4 (Autumn 1993): 451–66, here 458. Hereafter cited as (Davis, “Subjectivity and Exteriority”). Davis also points out the obvious similarity between “Dauer im Wechsel” and Schiller’s phrase “Beharrlichkeit im Wechsel” (persistence in change), which appears in the same letter. For more on Schiller’s engagement with Fichte, see Christoph Binkelmann, “Wechselwirkung im Spieltrieb: Schillers konfliktuöser Bezug auf Fichte,” in Friedrich Schiller: Über die Ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen in einer Reihe von Briefen, ed. Gideon Stiening (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2019), 144–52.
  14. Friedrich Schiller, “Ueber die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen in einer Reihe von Briefen,” in Schillers Werke. Nationalausgabe, 54 vols. (Weimar: Hermann Böhlaus Nachfolger, 1962), 20.1: 341. Hereafter cited as (NA 20). Translation revised from Friedrich Schiller, On the Aesthetic Education of Man in a Series of Letters, trans. Reginald Snell (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1954), 60. Hereafter cited as Snell in the body of the text.
  15. This is not the space for an exhaustive exegesis of the poem, but it is worth noting that it also takes up and critiques Fichtean conceptions of subjectivity. On this point see Sachers, Goethe’s Poetry and the Philosophy of Nature, 30.
  16. Translation from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “On German Architecture,” in Goethe on Art, ed. and trans. John Gage (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), 118–23, here 120. Emphasis removed from original.
  17. For a more detailed discussion of the link between the Wechsel-Dauer of the rainbow and the notion of historicity presented in the architecture essays, see Jessica Resvick, “Repetition and Textual Transmission. The Gothic Motif in Goethe’s Faust and ‘Von deutscher Baukunst.,’” Goethe Yearbook 25 (2018):133–60, here 152–54. In his reading of the 1773 essay “Von deutscher Baukunst,” Clark Muenzer argues that Goethe conceives of the Strasbourg Cathedral in similar temporal terms. “Goethe’s ‘Denkmal’ (FA I.18:110; monument or thought-marker) embodies the point of inflection within all living thought processes that look to the past but remain eternally tensed toward the future.” In this manner, the 1773 essay reflects the temporal quality of Goethe’s capacious understanding of the term Begriff (concept). Clark S. Muenzer, “Begriff (Concept),” Goethe-Lexicon of Philosophical Concepts 1, no. 1 (2021): 20–44, here 31.
  18. See Sandro Zanetti, Avantgardismus der Greise? Spätwerke und ihre Poetik (München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 2012), 374–75. Hereafter cited as (Zanetti, Avantgardismus der Greise?).
  19. See Kai Sina, “Spätwerke in Literatur und Literaturwissenschaft: Phänomen und Begriff,” in Das Werk: Zum Verschwinden und Fortwirken eines Grundbegriffs, ed. Lutz Danneberg, Annette Gilbert, and Carlos Spoerhase (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2019), 477–492, here 479. For a discussion of some of the terminological discrepancies surrounding late style and late work, e.g. Spätwerk vs. Alterswerk vs. Spätstil, see pg. 487–88.
  20. See, e.g., Theodor W. Adorno, “Spätstil Beethovens,” in Gesammelte Schriften, ed. Rolf Tiedemann, 20 vols. (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1982), 17: 13–17, here 15.
  21. Dorothea von Mücke is right to note that Goethe’s treatment of temporality in his morphological writings already bridges these disciplines. “Goethe, in characterizing the phenomena of change and transformation in general as an area in which nature and the imagination are competing with each other, turns the study of change in nature into a field that will transcend the recent divisions between science and the arts. By transcending these divisions, Goethe proposes a model of change in nature that can deal with nature’s intrinsic creativity by being equally creative and imaginative” (von Mücke, “Goethe’s Metamorphosis,” 40).

Works Cited and Further Reading

  • Adorno, Theodor W. Gesammelte Schriften, edited by Rolf Tiedemann, 20 vols. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1982.
  • Bell, Matthew. The German Tradition of Psychology in Literature and Thought, 1700–1840. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
  • Bennett, Benjamin. “Poetry after Faust.” Goethe Yearbook 20 (2013): 133–45.
  • Binkelmann, Christoph. “Wechselwirkung im Spieltrieb: Schillers konfliktuöser Bezug auf Fichte.” In Friedrich Schiller: Über die Ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen in einer Reihe von Briefen, edited by Gideon Stiening, 139–54. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2019.
  • Davis, William Stephen. “Subjectivity and Exteriority in Goethe’s ‘Dauer im Wechsel.’” The German Quarterly 66, no. 4 (Autumn 1993): 451–66.
  • Förster, Eckart. Die 25 Jahre der Philosophie: eine systematische Rekonstruktion. Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 2011.
  • Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. Sämtliche Werke. Briefe, Tagebücher und Gespräche. Edited by Hendrik Birus, Dieter Borchmeyer, Karl Eibl, et. al. 40 vols. Frankfurt: Deutscher Klassiker Verlag, 1987–2013.
  • ———. “Excerpt from ‘Outline for a General Introduction to Comparative Anatomy, Commencing with Osteology.’” In Scientific Studies, translated by Douglas Miller, 117–26. Vol. 12 of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. New York: Suhrkamp, 1988.
  • ———. Faust I and II. Edited and translated by Stuart Atkins. Online edition. Vol. 2 of Goethe’s Collected Works. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014.
  • ———. “On German Architecture.” In Goethe on Art, edited and translated by John Gage, 118–23. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.
  • Hume, David. A Treatise of Human Nature. Edited by David Fate Norton and Mary J. Norton. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
  • Mücke, Dorothea von. “Goethe’s Metamorphosis: Changing Forms in Nature, the Life Sciences, and Authorship.” Representation 95 (2006): 27–53.
  • Muenzer, Clark S. “Begriff (Concept).” Goethe-Lexicon of Philosophical Concepts 1, no. 1 (2021): 20–44.
  • Reil, Johann Christian. Rhapsodieen über die Anwendung der psychischen Curmethode auf Geisteszerrüttungen. Curt, 1803. https://books.google.com/books?id=cKk_AAAAcAAJ.
  • Resvick, Jessica. “Repetition and Textual Transmission. The Gothic Motif in Goethe’s Faust and ‘Von deutscher Baukunst.’” Goethe Yearbook 25 (2018): 133–60.
  • Richards, Robert J. “Rhapsodies on a Cat-Piano, or Johann Christian Reil and the Foundations of Romantic Psychiatry.” Critical Inquiry 24, no. 3 (Spring 1998): 700–736.
  • Sachers, Regina. Goethe’s Poetry and the Philosophy of Nature: Gott und Welt 1798–1827. Cambridge: Legenda, 2015.
  • Schäublin, Peter. “Goethes Gedicht ‘Dauer im Wechsel.’” Sprachkunst 8 (1977): 3–34.
  • Schiller, Friedrich. On the Aesthetic Education of Man in a Series of Letters. Translated by Reginald Snell. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1954.
  • ———. “Ueber die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen in einer Reihe von Briefen.” In Nationalausgabe, 20.1:309–412. Weimar: Hermann Böhlaus Nachfolger, 1962.
  • Sina, Kai. “Spätwerke in Literatur und Literaturwissenschaft: Phänomen und Begriff.” In Das Werk: Zum Verschwinden und Fortwirken eines Grundbegriffs, edited by Lutz Danneberg, Annette Gilbert, and Carlos Spoerhase, 477–92. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2019.
  • Strawson, Galen. “Hume on Personal Identity.” In The Oxford Handbook of Hume, edited by Paul Russell, 269–92. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.
  • Zanetti, Sandro. Avantgardismus der Greise? Spätwerke und ihre Poetik. München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 2012.