Skip to main content
Agency in the Anthropocene: Goethe, Radical Reality, and the New Materialisms
The Early History of Embodied Cognition 1740-1920: The Lebenskraft-Debate and Radical Reality in German Science, Music, and Literature
  • Heather I Sullivan, Trinity University
Document Type
Contribution to Book
Publication Date
Our current era has been termed the Age of the “Anthropocene,” or the human- inflected geological era. This essay addresses the implications of human impact on the Earth as a form of “radical reality” by addressing the broad spectrum of human and non-human agency. The analysis follows a three-step process: it begins with an introduction to the new materialisms and distributed agency in contrast to Howard Tuttle’s notion of “radical reality” based on human consciousness. It then explores the agency of nature’s “vibrancy” in the debate occurring early in the Anthropocene (during Goethe’s lifetime) between “vitalism” and “mechanism.” Finally, I use this context to explore Goethe’s optics as a view that, like the new materialisms, is grounded in the interactivity of human and non-human energies. I juxtapose Tuttle’s notion of radical reality with the new materialisms via Goethe in order to explore the broader implications of human and non-human agency in the age of the Anthropocene. Goethe offers convenient access into the Anthropocene with surprisingly prescient insights into what we now see as ecological enmeshments within nature’s systems.
Document Object Identifier (DOI)
John A. McCarthy, Stephanie M. Hilger, Heather I. Sullivan, Nicholas Saul
Citation Information
Sullivan, H. I. (2016). Agency in the Anthropocene: Goethe, radical reality, and the new materialisms. In J. A. McCarthy, S. M. Hilger, H. I. Sullivan, & N. Saul (Eds.), The history of embodied cognition 1740-1920: The Lebenskraft-debate and radical reality in German science, music, and literature (pp. 285-304). doi: 10.1163/9789004309036_013