Goethe and the Autobiographical Subject
Chapter 2: Birth in Language: Goethe’s Biographical Masquerade
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Chapter 2 Birth in Language: Goethe’s Biographical Masquerade
In the relation of the imaginary and the real, and in the constitution of the world such as results from it, everything depends on the position of the subject and the place of the subject. And the position of the subject […] is essentially characterized by its place in the symbolic world, in other words, in the world of speech.
(Lacan Seminar 1: 80)
When Goethe began to frame the content for Dichtung und Wahrheit in 1809, the Italian Journey was very much on his mind. At this time, he was simultaneously working on the biography of the painter Phillip Hackert and rereading the letters to Frau von Stein from his trip to Italy (1785–1787). These letters to Frau von Stein are not only the major source for reflections on his Italian journey, but also determine the voice of the narrator in the 1815 reformulation of the trip. In the Italian Journey, while Goethe is recollecting and reframing his experiences of the trip, he retains the narrative fiction of a diary written in the present moment. But in Dichtung und Wahrheit, Goethe presents us with the narrative voice of his older self, talking to us over great periods of time; that is, a mature man recalling the significant experiences of his youth. These texts approach the “autobiographical act” in very different ways. Elizabeth Bruss, in her book Autobiographical Acts, notes that an autobiographer...
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