Imagine for a moment that you are not a Goethe scholar, and consider these questions: Why read Goethe, or his contemporaries, for that matter? Is it worth the time and effort required? Are there not more relevant issues deserving of our attention? It is the year 2011 after all. What might we learn from this fellow Goethe that we don’t already know? With the ever-increasing pressure on educators in the liberal arts, in general, and Germanists, more specifically, to make a case for their continued existence, these are deadly serious questions. They require answers that are accessible to an audience who may not be familiar with Goethe or his Age. While reading Goethe’s Modernisms, I was contemplating career options other than teaching German language, literature, and culture at an institution of higher learning—not by choice, mind you. What transferable skills do I possess? Where does one start? What is a Goethe scholar to do? As I have taught numerous courses dealing with the Goethezeit, I am used to discussing with students the relevance of this time period, its texts, and its contexts for contemporary life—all of which I take great pleasure in doing. However, speaking with motivated, self-selecting students about this is one thing. Justifying to administrators—provided that is even an option—the value of such discussions is quite another. What might all this have to do with Goethe’s Modernisms? A great deal, I contend. Astrida Tantillo, President of the Goethe Society of North America as well as Interim Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has written a book that addresses many of the questions I posed above. In it she presents nuanced readings of Faust, Werther, and the Wilhelm Meister novels that have much to offer to Goethe studies. At the same time, her analyses are framed by the broader issue of Goethe’s contribution to and critique of modernity, with a particular eye on America.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/william_carter/4/