Theses Doctoral

Hanging-Together: Kant, Goethe, and the Theory of Aesthetic Modernism

Shields, Ross Gillum

My dissertation, titled Hanging-Together: Kant, Goethe, and the Theory of Aesthetic Modernism, observes that many of the composers, artists, and writers working in the early twentieth century developed theories of aesthetic coherence (Zusammenhang) that contradict the canonical interpretation of the period in terms of discontinuity and fragmentation. I show that the modernists drew on Goethe’s morphology in order to conceive of the inner coherence of the work of art as neither an aggregate (in which the parts precede the whole), nor as a system (in which an idea of the whole precedes its parts), but as a morphological nexus of formal variations. My thesis is that aesthetic modernism negates the ‘outer coherence’ of the work of art in order to reveal its ‘inner coherence,’ and that this morphological concept of inner coherence does not entail the totalizing ideal maintained by the poetic and aesthetic tradition from Aristotle to Kant. I develop this argument over the course of five chapters: the first examines Kant’s concept of systematic unity; the second focuses on Goethe’s critical response to Kant’s philosophy of nature; while the last three trace Goethe’s morphology through the theoretical reflections of a modernist composer, painter, and writer—Arnold Schönberg, Wassily Kandinsky, and Alfred Döblin. What emerges is a theory of aesthetic modernism that takes into account the historical specificity of the period without reducing its significance to the ‘break’ it supposedly effects with tradition.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Germanic Languages
Thesis Advisors
Simons, Oliver
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
November 16, 2018