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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 4: Werther Fever: Cause and Cure

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Chapter 4 Werther Fever: Cause and Cure

The subject is no one. It is decomposed, in pieces. And it is jammed, sucked in by the image, the deceiving and realized image, of the other, or equally by its own specular image. (Lacan Seminar 2: 54)

The more Goethe tries to distance himself, the more vehemently he denounces Lavater, the more significant the latter becomes. The game of insertion and deletion only increases Lavater’s fascination for the reader. By becoming something which cannot be represented or expressed, he becomes the fascinum around which the gaze is constituted. To find how this gaze is constituted for Goethe, we have followed a labyrinthine path along the veins of his autobiography. This path led to an episode in which we know Lavater was not present but has been inserted, i.e., the description of Joseph the Second and the pageant of the Kurfürst of Mainz.

In this chapter I analyze two events, one in which Lavater is actually absent and yet deeply embedded in the text, another where Lavater actually took part in the encounter but was completely deleted from the text. The first of these is from Goethe’s Campagne in Frankreich, a diary of Goethe’s participation in the retreat from Napoleon’s forces in the campaign of 1792. In his account of this time, Goethe recalls a meeting with Plessing which occurred in 1776. This meeting, according to Goethe, established Plessing’s problem to be a...

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