Goethe’s teachings just as relevant for Aspen of today
If Aspen needed Goethe to stir it from its slumber in 1949, itcould really use him now.Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was one of the most influential writers,playwrights, intellectuals and naturalists of the 17th and 18thcenturies.But what he was particularly adept at, according to acclaimededucator and Goethe scholar Eugene Schwartz, was identifying andteaching about the troubles that would hound humankind.Schwartz told an audience of about 175 at a talk at Paepcke Auditoriumlast night that Goethe was well ahead of his time in foreseeingthe dilemmas produced by an increasingly industrialized world.He saw man besieged and struggling with rapid-fire changes andpolarized settings.If ever a place was polarized, it would seem to be Aspen.On one hand, it’s a community that celebrates its connectionsto nature and reveres its exercise of mind, body and spirit.On the other hand, it’s a place consumed with real estate investmentsand materialism to the extreme.Schwartz suggested Sunday that 50 years after the Goethe Bicentennialwas organized by Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke – signaling thebirth of modern Aspen – it is time for the town to re-examineits ideals.In that process, Aspen would find that Goethe’s teachings haveas much relevance now as in 1949, he said.His works reflected belief in a strong connection between manand nature, according to Schwartz. He felt that what happenedin nature would be reflected in humankind’s fate.Thanks to some near-death experiences of his own, Goethe philosophizedthat only in knowing death could a person properly live.”Maybe that has a lesson for Aspen,” said Schwartz.Goethe also stressed that humankind had to diligently work tomake sure that man remained a vital ingredient in an industrializedworld. He was optimistic about humankind’s direction, though heacknowledged there were always struggles, such as good vs. evil,Schwartz noted.”God gave us the nuts, but he will not crack them for us,” wasone Goethe’s adages, according to Schwartz.The Paepckes selected Goethe to celebrate because he was so universallyrevered that he could be used to draw German intellectuals backinto the world fold after World War II. Plus, his philosophiesembodied the dream the Paepckes held for Aspen.The Goethe Bicentennial drew 2,000 of the top intellectuals, artistsand statesmen to Aspen in 1949, and garnered worldwide attentionfor the previously unknown town.The event led to the creation of the Aspen Institute, Aspen MusicFestival and International Design Conference, some of which willmark their 50th anniversaries this summer.”I hope that what I have to say tonight is something like a seed… that comes to fruition this summer,” said Schwartz.
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