Goethe and the Autobiographical Subject
Chapter 6: Images of Desire: Tableaux Vivants in Goethe’s Elective Affinities
| 167 →
Chapter 6 Images of Desire: Tableaux Vivants in Goethe’s Elective Affinities
In the scopic field, the gaze is outside, I am looked at, that is to say, I am a picture. (Lacan FF: 106)
The Elective Affinities takes up the question which Goethe had posed in the tableau of Mary and Joseph in Wilhelm Meister: What is the meaning of the edifice, the outside and given-to be-seen for the viewing subject?118 Goethe had originally intended to include Elective Affinities as a paradigmatic story in Wilhelm Meister. The title was to be “The Naysayers” (Die Entsagenden).119 The process of denial, which becomes the central lesson for Wilhelm in his journey toward full humanity, is laid out in the Elective Affinities in wholly visual terms. In this context, the tableau vivant becomes an important organizing image for the narrative structure of the text. It is a metaphor for opposition, a frame which divides the outside ← 167 | 168 → from the inside but also one which puts into question the distinctions between them.
In the Elective Affinities, Goethe presents us with a novel in which the characters are experiments arranged for the edification of the viewer. Eduard and Charlotte, a married couple, bring Otto, a childhood friend of Eduard’s, and Ottilie, Charlotte’s young ward, into their household. The ensuing couplings are presented like the slides under a microscope, the addition of a new character altering the chemistry of the interactions between them. 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.