Sunday, January 30, 2011


"When an idea is wanting, a word can always be found to take its place."
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


  1. Yes, he is right. But in the epoch of acceleration and uprooting, when a stock of collective records and certainties is dwindeling away, it is much more difficult to find the appropriate word for an idea. And before this to have the appropriate idea in front of a peculiar experience. The wisdom of an old man in Goethe's time was WISDOM. In our time the wisdom of an old man can be useless bullshit.

    Compared with Goethe we are disadvantaged 2 times: we do not have any great spirit as he was one. And if there was someone like him, he would be in great difficulty in respect to Goethe's time.

    "The right word at the right time is like a golden apple on a silver plate" is written somewhere in the bible (proverbs if I remember well). This old wisdom obviously is timeless. But a new condition has arised: at the right moment the right word often can be only a seed. The audience able to comprehend the pertinency of certain words has still to grow. As in Kafka's "America" there is always someone who first sees land. The words of Richard David Precht and Sarrazin could have been pronounced already 30 years ago, but they would not have met as much consense as today.

  2. When I have no idea for commenting this blog (what is the normal case) I have got some experienced approaches in order to assemble some unsubstantial words – in a foreign language! The main issue is to look for not less than 10 unknown words in my internet dictionary. Sometimes I feel a little ashamed about this poverty, but then, I remember our members of parliament: Many words and no ideas as well. Goethe was politician too. The occupation in this field certainly was the origin for this quotation about lacking ideas.

  3. Goethe's word is extraordinarily ambiguous and true in two different senses: a word can fill a place which should be filled by an idea.
    In that case "wanting" means "lacking".

    But also: a word can stay where before there was only a vague idea. And taking the idea's place it will give hold to the idea.
    In this case "wanting" means "needing".

    Or did my command of English make me misunderstand?

  4. At the beginning I had the same misunderstanding. Then I checked the german original text.