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The Rhetoric of the Spoken Word in «Die Wahlverwandtschaften»

Communication and personality in the novel


Harriet Murphy

The characters in Goethe's Die Wahlverwandtschaften rely exclusively for their existence on spoken communication in society. Human character is not equated with the capacity for casual dialogue but with the capacity for a stylised form of public speaking. The word is also dissociated from any concept of agency, for characters never become agents implicated in the process of transforming the ideas they express in public into concrete realities. In failing to also establish any kind of human contract with his audience, the speaker does not further the scope for human relationships commonly thought to be afforded by social interaction. The form of the dramatic monologue consequently remains a form, guaranteeing the speaker a place in society on terms which perpetuate formal relations between members of that society. It insulates him from any implication in genuinely reciprocal relations.
Contents: Communication and Personality - Beyond Time and Space: Chemical Affinity or Attraction or the Unchallenged Reign of Energy - The Fragile Command over Human Time and Space: The Limited Power of the word - Eduard - Ottilie and Oral Rhetoric.