Faculty Spotlight

Goethe Goes Digital Thanks to Professor Muenzer’s Goethe Lexicon of Philosophical Concepts

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Thanks to Professor Clark Muenzer, few German majors or certificate students have escaped the German Department without a good dose of Goethe, and rightly so. As one of the most prolific and challenging of the legendary “Dichter and Denker” in the German-speaking world, the “Sage of Weimar” produced a body of work that has exerted significant influence on German literature and culture up until today.

Since he arrived at Pitt in 1979, Professor Muenzer’s daunting scholarly expertise and contagious enthusiasm for Goethe has fostered students’ understanding of the intricacies of the writer’s life and letters. Little did Professor Muenzer know, however, that he would himself become a lifelong student (and collector!) of all things Goethe when he entered Princeton as a freshman more in the Fall of 1966. He had recently returned from a year in West Berlin as an Austauschchüler and was fluent in German, but as a child of the Sputnik-era, he was poised enter what we call now a STEM-field. Still, he enrolled in literature and culture courses in Princeton’s German Department to hone his skills and just for fun. But he was hooked.

After completing a Ph.D. on Goethe at Princeton, he went to Harvard as an assistant professor and taught there for five years. He next joined Pitt’s Department of German and has been a scholarly and administrative force here ever since. During his repeated and extended service as chair, he moved the German Department and its curriculum in important new directions by introducing two popular large lecture courses on Indo-European Folktales and Germanic Myths and Legends by expanding course offerings to include Jewish Studies and German film.

Alongside these time-consuming administrative tasks and beyond the Pitt campus, Professor Muenzer has worked tireless to advance Goethe scholarship in the United States, not only through his research, but also by regularly organizing expert panels at the German Studies and other international meetings, by taking students to Weimar after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and by holding numerous offices in the Goethe Society of North American, including the Presidency. Through his efforts, in fact, the triennial GSNA conference was twice hosted on the Pitt campus

Professor Muenzer’s research program on Goethe & Co., which began almost 50 years ago, recently flowered in a popular course that puts key concepts of European philosophy in dialogue with Goethe’s Faust. It has also produced a major research project initiative—The Goethe-Lexicon of Philosophical Concepts (GLPC). This project, which Professor Muenzer leads as editor, was launched in 2018 with the support of a Pitt Chancellor’s Innovation Grant. It has assembled an international cross-disciplinary team of collaborators who have identified a growing list of some 261 philosophical terms that document Goethe’s lifelong engagement with the Continental philosophical tradition.

The goal of this dynamic reference work is not just to offer a traditional concordance of citations from Goethe’s vast writings, however, but to fill a gap in the scholarship, which until recently has marginalized Goethe’s sustained and unique contributions to philosophical inquiry. By explicating how Goethe defined and re-invented key philosophical concepts, Professor Muenzer and his collaborators will demonstrate how an author known for his literary works, also reformulated central questions of metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, aesthetics/poetics, and theology. This is the formidable task that Professor Muenzer has set out to accomplish.

Sometime in the spring of 2020, the University Library System will begin publishing GLPC online and in English as an open-access research tool. Distinguished by its digital platform and cross-referencing capacity, this dynamic reference work will differ from traditional print lexica by allowing users to re-organize alphabetical sequences of concepts into meaningful clusters and thereby experience the building blocks of Goethean thought across a dynamic network of conceptual fields. The possibilities of Goethe gone digital will allow scholars to pose new questions and produce new insights into the author’s thinking and writing.

It will take a large international team of scholars and some time to bring the GLCP to fruition. According to Professor Muenzer, 20-30 entries are planned for each year. They will immediately be available online and periodically updated. Best of all, Pitt German students will be able get a first research experience by joining this scholarly endeavor as well! The institutional home for the GLPC is the University of Pittsburgh, which hosted the inaugural workshop in last spring, with others already planned for Cambridge University, The University of California (Irvine), and the University of Zurich. With its global reach and its promise of an enduring legacy, the lexicon is poised to make its mark. Thanks to Professor Muenzer for taking Goethe into the digital age. If you want to learn more about GLPC, check out the German Department’s webpage or contact Clark Muenzer directly.