Show Less
Restricted access

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.
Show Summary Details
Restricted access

Chapter 5: The Narcissistic I/Eye: Performance, Politics and Specular Lessons


| 147 →

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...

You are not authenticated to view the full text of this chapter or article.

This site requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books or journals.

Do you have any questions? Contact us.

Or login to access all content.