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The Eye and the Gaze

Goethe and the Autobiographical Subject

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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 3: The End of Language: Goethe, Lavater and the Eye/I of Physiognomy

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Chapter 3 The End of Language: Goethe, Lavater and the Eye/I of Physiognomy

Founding speech, which envelops the subject, is all that has constituted him, his parents, his neighbors, the whole structure of the community, and not only constituted him as symbol, but constituted him as being.

(Lacan Seminar 2: 20)

Shortly before going to Italy, Goethe wrote to Charlotte von Stein about his last meeting with his old friend Johann Caspar Friedrich Lavater (June 6, 1786). “The Gods”, he writes, “know better what is good for us than we do and that is why they have forced me to see him. […] We exchanged no trusting friendly word and I am free of love and hate forever” July 21 1786).57 Lavater’s visit to Weimar initiated a final break between the two friends and collaborators.

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