Novalis drafted The Novices at Sais between 1798 and 1799, with plans to reconceive it as a “truly symbolic novel of nature” in 1800, but left the work incomplete on his death.
What is the status of the text’s incompletion? Is it simply contingent on Novalis’ untimely demise, or does it have a more profound significance, given its composition alongside his collections of fragments?
The text offers not only multi-perspectival views of nature, but also different means of approaching and understanding nature. The different conversations between novices, between the novices and their teacher, between visitors, provide no assured orientation for inquiry, and instead offer a series of alternatives — from philosophical speculation to simple empiricism, from craft traditions to scientific investigation. Is Novalis suggesting any one provides insight into nature?
The text also introduces a mixture of literary forms encompassing dialogues, monologues and fairy tale, and shifting narrative voices between first and third person; indeed, the work is composed of a series of disjunctions and interruptions. The text opens with reflections on nature as comprised not of things but of figures. Is nature mediated through language, with poetry then the true friend of nature? The central figure of the text is the veiled statue of Isis. What is the goddess meant to represent? What is the significance of her veiled presence and her unveiling? Novalis’ The Novices at Sais offers a rich series of questions to explore.
Join us for this afternoon workshop on Novalis' unfinished work. Details and schedule to follow shortly. Registration is required, though, so please email Alice Kuzniar by Friday, November 17th, if you plan to attend.
About the Workshop Leader
Joan Steigerwald is Associate Professor in the Department of Humanities, and the Graduate Programs in Humanities, Science and Technology Studies, and Social and Political Thought, at York University. She has just completed a book entitled Experimenting at the Boundaries of Life: Organic Vitality in Germany around 1800. She has edited two special issues for Studies in the History and Philosophy of the Biological and Biomedical Sciences, “Entanglements of Instruments and Media in Exploring Organic Worlds” in 2016, and “Kantian Teleology and the Biological Sciences” in 2006. She has published numerous articles on Goethe, Humboldt, Kant, Schelling and the German life sciences. Her new project is Object Lessons of a Romantic Natural History.