Goethe and the Autobiographical Subject
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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