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The Eye and the Gaze

Goethe and the Autobiographical Subject


Evelyn K. Moore

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a dominant figure in European literature and intellectual life, was the creator of a new and influential visual culture. This volume investigates a new science of perception through an exploration of his autobiographical works, novels and writings on optics. The psychoanalytic approach taken in this study focuses on central acts of perception and the role of vision in Goethe as key to the formation of identity. By addressing the impact of visuality on the act of writing, new interpretations of his most important works emerge through analysis of subject formation in the autobiographies, The Italian Journey and Poetry and Truth. Further, the relationship between the self and the gaze plays a central role in the semi-autobiographical works, The Elective Affinities, Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, as well as Color Theory. In exploring the question of identity and identification within a Lacanian framework, The Eye and the Gaze offers an innovative approach to biography, autobiography, and narrative.
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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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