(K. Brent Tomer),
Goethe: Life as a Work of Art. By Rüdiger Safranski. Translated by David Dollenmayer. Liveright; 651 pages; $35 and £26.99.
WHEN Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was in his 60s, he recalled a friend of his youth once telling him, “What you live is better than what you write.” On reflection, Goethe said, “It would please me if that were still true.” In a biography of the great German writer and polymath, Rüdiger Safranski sets out to show that Goethe was more than the sum of his works, outstanding though they were; in fact, he conceived his entire life as a work of art, with a beginning, a middle and an end.
Mr Safranski is a German philosopher who has written books on Schiller, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and Heidegger. Though he concedes that Goethe has had more written about him than any other German writer, he could not resist adding to the pile. He has confined himself to primary sources—mainly Goethe’s own works,…Continue reading