Goethe and the Autobiographical Subject
Chapter 5: The Narcissistic I/Eye: Performance, Politics and Specular Lessons
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Chapter 5 The Narcissistic I/Eye: Performance, Politics and Specular Lessons
I love you, but, because inexplicably I love in you something more than you – the object petit a – I mutilate you. (Lacan FF: 263.)
By using Werther as the narrative voice in Letters from Switzerland, Goethe allows the reader to see the world through Werther’s eyes. But, the reader, put in the position of the voyeur, is also forced to question his identification with a narrator whose abilities of perception are put into question. Werther’s inability to be moved by the portrait of Danae reflects a relationship to the visible which is unidirectional. Unlike Danae, who is penetrated by the light outside, represented by the golden rain of Zeus, Werther is impervious to penetration. Werther’s disease then, the disease which had infected Plessing and other like-minded sentimentalists, is diagnosed in the scopic realm. The symptoms of this illness are always close at hand. But the situation is far more complex than the autobiographical mode has allowed us to see. Werther is not just an autobiographical double, a way for Goethe get beyond the narcissistic impulses in himself. He was also a recurrent symptom of malaise of the aristocratic culture within which Goethe spent his entire adult life.
In this chapter, I examine the function of visual display in masques which Goethe wrote for the Weimar Court and the role of visual display in the Bildungsromane, Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjarhre and Wanderjahre. The...
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