Thursday, November 12, 2009

Goethe for bloggers

I recently bought Goethe's Maxims and Reflections at the fantastic NYC bookstore Three Lives. I started reading it yesterday morning over breakfast and underlined numerous passages. I was initially concerned that the book -- a posthumously compiled set of aphorisms from the early 19th century -- might seem dry or antiquated, but it's quite the opposite. It has less wit and pithiness than the standard quotations book, but it makes up for this by having more actual insight.

Here are three thoughts I want to keep in mind while blogging:

[N]o one should be silent or give in; we must talk and be up and doing, not in order to vanquish, but so as to keep on the alert; whether with the majority or the minority is a matter of indifference. [#159]

It is much easier to recognize error than to find truth. [#166]

Surely the world is quite full enough of riddles for us not to need to turn the simplest phenomena into riddles too? [#81]
Finally, here's a point that I hope we Americans can appreciate:
No nation attains the power of judgement until it can sit in judgement on itself. [#113]
(To those who might sit in judgment of that spelling: the book was published in the UK.)

As a side note, other people also deserve credit for this wonderful little book: (1) Elisabeth Stopp, who completed the translation shortly before she died and saw it as the crowning achievement of her life, (2) Max Hecker, who compiled the maxims (Goethe jotted them down on scrap paper over the course of decades and used about half of them in other works), and (3) various sources, many of them unknown -- the book euphemistically points out that Goethe would "borrow" other people's aphorisms without including quotation marks or attribution.


Jason (the commenter) said...

No nation attains the power of judgement until it can sit in judgement on itself.

It's true. It's not until you realize how great you are, that you can start judging others.

beckett said...

judgement is an acceptable spelling in the US, even though the legal establishment has chosen judgment