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The Metamorphosis of Plants

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This booklet contains Goethe's treatise on the metamorphosis of plants in 123 paragraphs as well as Rudolf Steiner's essay "The Origin of Goethe's Theory of Metamorphosis." Anyone interested in Goethe's dynamic concept of the metamorphosis of plants should read this original treatise. A prime example of his "perceptive power of judgment," this fascinating little work introduces a radically new way of looking at plants as lively manifestations of dynamic formative principles. Contents Origin of the Theory of Metamorphosis by R. Steiner
The Metamorphosis of Plants
Of the Seed Leaves
The Development of the Stem-Leaves from Node to Node
Transition to the Flower
Formation of the Calyx
Formation of the Corolla
The Formation of the Stamens
More about the Stamens
Formation of the Style and Stigma
The Fruits
The Immediate Covering of the Seed
A Glance Backward and Forward
Eyes and their Development
Formation of Composite Flowers and Fruits
A Proliferous Rose
A Proliferous Carnation
Linnaeus's Theory of Anticipation

69 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1798

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About the author

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

6,333 books5,582 followers
A master of poetry, drama, and the novel, German writer and scientist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe spent 50 years on his two-part dramatic poem Faust , published in 1808 and 1832, also conducted scientific research in various fields, notably botany, and held several governmental positions.

George Eliot called him "Germany's greatest man of letters... and the last true polymath to walk the earth." Works span the fields of literature, theology, and humanism.
People laud this magnum opus as one of the peaks of world literature. Other well-known literary works include his numerous poems, the Bildungsroman Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship and the epistolary novel The Sorrows of Young Werther .

With this key figure of German literature, the movement of Weimar classicism in the late 18th and early 19th centuries coincided with Enlightenment, sentimentality (Empfindsamkeit), Sturm und Drang, and Romanticism. The author of the scientific text Theory of Colours , he influenced Darwin with his focus on plant morphology. He also long served as the privy councilor ("Geheimrat") of the duchy of Weimar.

Goethe took great interest in the literatures of England, France, Italy, classical Greece, Persia, and Arabia and originated the concept of Weltliteratur ("world literature"). Despite his major, virtually immeasurable influence on German philosophy especially on the generation of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling, he expressly and decidedly refrained from practicing philosophy in the rarefied sense.

Influence spread across Europe, and for the next century, his works inspired much music, drama, poetry and philosophy. Many persons consider Goethe the most important writer in the German language and one of the most important thinkers in western culture as well. Early in his career, however, he wondered about painting, perhaps his true vocation; late in his life, he expressed the expectation that people ultimately would remember his work in optics.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 23 of 23 reviews
Profile Image for Lucas.
206 reviews30 followers
May 5, 2022
Presuppositionless science; science without contrary. The logical articulation of the life of the plant; plant thought's thinking of itself. If plants could think, these would be their thoughts.
Profile Image for Hayley.
47 reviews7 followers
October 9, 2020
a treatise on how a plant - in particular flowering plants - grow. key to goethe's treatise is the idea of movement; even as he segments/isolates/dissects each part of the plant, the text remains interested in the thrust of movement of the plant. peep these lines in his poem:

"Gaze on them as they grow, see how the plant
Burgeons by stages into flower and fruit,
Bursts from the seed so soon as fertile earth
Sends it to life from her sweet bosom, and
Commends the unfolding of the delicate leaf
To the sacred goad of ever-moving light!"

i'm interested in his ties to spinoza... the introduction i read argues that he was specifically fascinated by the spinozean twinning of spirit and matter. he is obsessed with twinning in the text - both in duplication in the plant and in very understandable but boring marriage metaphors for the stamen and pistils - but this spirit/matter identification is a little harder for me to see.
Profile Image for Aloha.
133 reviews360 followers
May 31, 2015
Where are the pictures?

According to the publication review, there are pictures. Nothing. I feel gypped. Granted, $5 iis a fancy cup of coffee, but I purchased because there were mention of pictures.
Profile Image for Gary.
Author 14 books83 followers
March 1, 2014
Finally, a good translation -- with illustrations!

My rating : Skyful of blossoming stars.
Profile Image for Matt T.
97 reviews21 followers
August 20, 2020
An accessible introduction to botany and a concise example of Goethe’s approach to science richly illustrated with colour photographs, complete with an engaging introduction which doesn’t spoil and an afterword that doesn’t overwhelm.

On the use and abuse of plants for life:

To what extent does it make sense to search for Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s archetypical ‘Urpflanze’ today? In the introduction to the new English translation of ‘The Phenomenology of Spirit’, Terry Pinkard claims that after Hegel was “introduced to Goethe’s ‘Metamorphosis of Plants’, [he] came to one of his defining insights; namely, first, that the history of philosophy could be understood as a developing set of shapes of the same thing instead of just a procession of competing philosophical systems, and, second, that this insight could be extended to all of human history itself.” Incredibly, one of the most extraordinarily sophisticated philosophical accounts of human development was inspired by this modest eighty-page scientific case study, which for the most part is only concerned with minute prose descriptions of plants. Even in the concluding 'Recapitulation', Goethe provides no dramatic reveal; instead, the reader is meant to realise that the ‘Urpflanze’, much like Hegel’s construction of ‘Geist’, “the supposed hidden essence behind appearance, was in fact not hidden at all but was actually itself working its own way out in history as it shape-shifted itself in time.” (Phenomenology of Spirit, xxvii) The Urpflanze does not exist in any empyrean realm, but, like Hegel’s historical consciousness, is fully expressed in actual life. For Goethe as for Hegel, the task of the thinker is to show us by what process such complex patterns emerge.

Through these meticulous examinations of plants, which, while never sentimental, are undertaken with a kind of highly contagious affection, Goethe will detect a universal mechanism in their development. Just as Hegel’s philosophy is anti-foundational, and does not require a crude metaphysical teleology of set historical periods, so Goethe’s understanding of plants will move the science of his time beyond Carl Linnaeus’s theory of anticipation. To simplify brutally, Linnaeus believed that, despite taxonomic family relations, different forms of life derived from different ancestors, and that certain growth patterns were, in modern parlance, pre-programmed. After observing the way a tree which normally took six years to reach the adult reproductive stage could blossom and fructify within the space of a year if placed in a smaller pot, Linnaeus concluded that plants could ‘choose’ to accelerate their growth in special circumstances. Building on Linnaeus's theory, Goethe posited that plant-life evolved according to the degree of refinement a leaf could obtain in its present environment: and nothing else besides. His ‘foliar theory’, the theory that all plant life derives from variations of ‘leaf’ which are in a determinate relation with the immediate qualities of soil, light, space and air, foreshadows the findings of Charles Darwin by some sixty years. For Goethe, there are no metaphysical differences in kind: everything does its best with its genetic inheritance according to circumstance. Transplant the evolution of leaf for cell and epigenetic DNA and we have modern biology.

Such extrapolations from the history of ideas do not do justice to this edition of Goethe’s work. ‘The Metamorphosis of Plants’ seems perfect for scientists who want to be reminded of the intellectual significance, and sheer pleasure, that derives from the empirical understanding of nature, something which can be easily obscured in the hyper-specialization and neutrality which characterizes contemporary research. ‘The Metamorphosis of Plants’ is living proof that the great breakthroughs in science cannot be falsified any more than the arguments of Plato can be refuted. Goethe inspires those of us with humanities backgrounds to get our hands dirty. There’s something very moving about a poet of such imaginative power spending years closely observing humble plants and recording what he saw in simple crystal-clear prose. It is evidence of great restraint. And perhaps an even greater reverence. While, on the surface, Goethe’s spiritual meditations on plant-life might seem unlikely to reveal anything new about the natural world today, where everything has been seen up close with powerful microscopes and recorded with the implacable neutrality of a camera, perhaps such pessimism is misplaced. What is ‘seeing’ today but the casting of numerical nets over phenomena and then intuiting the cause of differentiation?

Readers of Deleuze and Guattari will find Goethe's contrast between a vertical plant-life fructificaton cycle and the vegetative horizontal growth process through nodes, or 'eyes,' a conceptual precursor for their split between aborescent structures driven by reproductive pleasure and the rhizomatic alliances fueled on desire. In their late 'What is Philosophy?' Goethe is explicitly cited as Deleuze and Guattari's model for a modern thinker insofar as he is able to translate his scientific findings into philosophical concepts. The superior empiricism of Goethe’s ‘genetic method’ translates scientific observation into the faculty of ‘Understanding’; so-called because, for Goethe, true observation seems to involve a near psychotic process of identification with the object of study, and a faculty of ‘Reason’ which is not only logical, but poetic: it is the means by which we generate causal mechanisms which allow us to understand and appreciate the natural world. Read this work then observe a humble houseplant. You will need no further proof that, contrary to certain religious beliefs and the posturing of nihilistic strains of contemporary philosophy, an enriched understanding of how things work cannot help but inspire joy.
Profile Image for Eric.
262 reviews
February 14, 2019
Leaves are leaves and flowers are leaves.

Guy Davenport nodded thisaway when he titled his long poem, whose early lines bare a daggerhipped Goddessguy moments earlier plushly couched, herhis hair tossed with fishscales at the black breaking of waves.

A seed must needs lead to a seed.
Stem is but the extension of fruit and flower.
Fruit and flower are but the contraction of stem.

O! just how many sepals a calyx make!
Profile Image for Scott.
143 reviews6 followers
June 10, 2017
And now I have a new wish list filled with botany and botanists...
Profile Image for Andrew.
126 reviews28 followers
August 31, 2021
The introduction is insightful. The editor frames what it was that Goethe was doing and the introduces the key concepts and ideas that guide the work. Polarization, refinement of fluids, homology of plant structures - these ideas belong not just to plant physiology, but are empirically observable details that give us insight into the greater physical and metaphysical unity of nature. This edition contains many new photographs, as well as older drawings, that helpfully illustrate somewhat Goethe's quasi-technical writing. Poems have also been inserted to break up the rhythm of the text. The book's presentation gives off coffee-table pretensions, but why not? You will never think about plants in the same way again. Even the smallest weed contains within it the dogged drive to transform itself.
Profile Image for CX Dillhunt.
81 reviews
January 9, 2011
Magnificent, stunning, so wonderful to see the scientist side of Goethe, which was news to me until I was given this book as a gift by my son! I think an exciting read for everyone: the philosopher, scientist, artist, writer, and anyone else on earth!
Profile Image for Michael Janakis.
1 review1 follower
March 4, 2016
I did my Senior Essay at St. John's College on this book. I love it so much. I still get new things out of it. Absolutely beautiful edition, really gorgeous, with the vast majority of the plants Goethe refers to shown in high-quality photographs. I HIGHLY recommend this edition.
Profile Image for Craig.
13 reviews9 followers
May 2, 2022
2.5 ⭐ historically it is an interesting nugget, and Goethe's insatiable curiosity comes through, though I found the book – which seemed intended for a public audience even at it's time of writing –rather dense with unexplained plant jargon. Perhaps taking 230 years to make this criticism is pointless, but I think it's not a great book pedagogically.
191 reviews22 followers
December 22, 2019
Really fascinating (if brief) book. Goethe is a very lucid thinker, and it was interesting to see him push the notion of one part of a plant transforming into another as a function of growth.
Profile Image for Aaron Bojarzin.
34 reviews2 followers
August 5, 2020
Wonderful book from one of my favorite authors of all time. Read and learn about his concepts on plants :) also a precursor for Spenglers, The Decline Of The West.
Profile Image for Marina Guerra.
125 reviews10 followers
May 22, 2021
achei que seria mais poetica ou filosoficamente interessante.

como ensaio científico, há vários melhores.
Profile Image for Plato .
105 reviews23 followers
May 12, 2021
The pictures are amazing in this edition, gonna go talk a walk and look at plants.
Profile Image for Fatma.
43 reviews2 followers
April 5, 2015
Goethe was more than a poet - the proof is this book
Profile Image for ?0?0?0.
727 reviews38 followers
February 28, 2021
Goethe's writing is clear and precise and the accompanying images are gorgeous. An excellent and useful book to have nearby if its contents are a key to one's interests.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
234 reviews9 followers
November 29, 2018
Gorgeous edition with lovely color photographs and helpful introduction and appendix. I feel to properly enjoy Goethe’s text I would need to understand plants more fully.
Displaying 1 - 23 of 23 reviews

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