Work and pleasure are not contradictory

Johann Wolfgang Goethe paused his professional obligations in Weimar in 1786 in order to travel to Italy. There he hoped to find freedom for intellectual activities, as he himself explained. Prof. Dr. Peter Philipp Riedl from the Department of German at the University of Freiburg has examined Goethe’s works that were written as a result of his trip to Italy. According to the German scholar, Goethe also reflected on the complex relationship between leisure (otium), work and enjoyment with valuations that are as astonishing as they are consequential. Riedl has published his analysis in the book Gelassene Teilnahme. Formen urbaner Muße im Werk Goethes (Serene Participation. Forms of Urban Leisure in Goethe’s Work).

Goethe initially justified his trip with the idea that leisure (otium) as freedom from professional activities would enable him to devote himself to his artistic and scientific interests, explains the Freiburg literary scholar. “Goethe describes in his works that the forms of free abiding beyond externally determined constraints are also possible in the midst of urban bustle and thoroughly strenuous but self-determined work,” Riedl emphasizes. Relevant forms of urban leisure in Verona, Vicenza, Padua, Venice, Rome, Naples and Palermo are the focus of Riedl’s investigation.

Goethe described his experiences in his Italian Journey and The Roman Carnival. The lyrical cycles, the Roman Elegies and the Venetian Epigrams, also reveal expressions of urban leisure. The descriptions of the Italian Journey, in particular, became the guideline for many educational trips to Italy in the 19th and 20th centuries, adds Riedl.

Collaborative research centre “Oitum”: “Urban Leisure around 1800. Flânerie in German Literature.”

Original publication:

Riedl, P. Ph. (2021): Gelassene Teilnahme. Formen urbaner Muße im Werk Goethes (Serene Participation. Forms of Urban Leisure in Goethe’s Work). Tübingen.

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