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The Worth of Werther: Goethe's Literary Marketing

Author(s): Fritz Gutbrodt


Source: MLN, Vol. 110, No. 3, German Issue (Apr., 1995), pp. 579-630
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press
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The Worth of Werther:
Goethe's
Literary Marketing
Fritz Gutbrodt
JULIET
'Tis but
thy
name that is
my enemy;
Thou art
thyself, though
not a
Montague.
What's
Montague?
It is nor hand nor foot.
Nor arm nor face nor
any
other
part
Belonging
to a man. 0 be some other name!
What's in a name?
(...)
ROMEO I take thee at
thy
word:
Call me but love, and I'll be new
baptised;
Henceforth I never will be Romeo.
(Romeo
and Juliet, 2. 2. 38-51)
I. Names and Silhouettes
Werther was the first work of German literature to become some-
thing
like a brand name. It seemed that a new era had
begun
for the
sympathetic
reader in the second half of the
eighteenth century.
The discourse of
sensibility presented
the world as an effusion of the
self,
as a
space
in which the
subject
could be constructed as the
receptacle
of its own
imaginary projections
reflected
by
the
objects
around it. The
vogue
of
sensibility prepared literary
culture for the
emergence
of a cult of
subjectivity.
Werther
gave
it a name.
In
turn, the illustrations of the novel's most memorable scenes
gave
Lotte and Werther a face.
They
became an
integral part
of the
book's
spectacular
success and were indeed the
object
of the intense
competition
between the authorized
publisher Weygand
and the
numerous
pirates
that
reprinted
the text
along
with new illustra-
MLN,
110
(1995):
579-630 ? 1995
by
The
Johns Hopkins University
Press
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FRITZ GUTBRODT
.....: i p... . .
V -
:::
:^-.
hi bec ? nbt f eu"tti zdj4 4
#?|b:
tu
n
g
1
7 7
:5,
The title
page
of Die Leiden
desjungen
Werthers,
Zweyter
Theil.
Leipzig: Weygand,
1775.
Special Collections, Milton S. Eisenhower
Library,
The
Johns Hopkins University.
... .....
'
.........
..........a ,
: I. . . .............
.'.ii:~
" ............- -
-
. . . . .
....... . ... A"~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~ ~ ~ ~~ ~ ~~ ~ ........................ I
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
.--'i!~~ ~ ? --....- --0---
m
580
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MLN
tions to
gain
a
bigger
share of the market.1
When,
in order to
stay
in
business,
Weygand
issued a second
edition,
the
"Zweyte
achte Au-
flage"
of 1775,
he added two
vignettes
on the title
pages
to the
novel's two
parts.
While the first shows Lotte and Werther at the well
near Wahlheim,
the second has no
corresponding
scene in the nar-
rative. Yet, it is
precisely
this second
picture
that
captures
a central
moment
organizing
both Werther's
writing
of his letters and the
public's reception
of the book. It shows a
young
man
kneeling
in
front of a rock on whose face he is about to inscribe Werther's
name. The letters
already engraved spell
the word Wert. A
young
woman enters the scene from the
right, holding
a book in her hand
and a handkerchief to her
face, apparently
moved to tears
by
the
reading
she has
just
done
(see fig.).
The artist
might
have modelled
his work on the famous illustration in La Nouvelle Heloise where
Saint-Preux
showsJulie
the rocks on which- "in a thousand
places"-
he had once inscribed her name
along
with verses from Petrarch
and Tasso, monuments to a
passionate
love in
which,
according
to
Rousseau's elaborate
commentary
on the
picture,
virtue has come
to
preside
over the
dangers
of remembrance.2
Although
there is no
comparable
scene of recollection to be found in
Werther,
it would be
wrong
to
say
that the
vignette showing
two readers instead of the
novel's two lovers has no foundation in the narrative. As we shall
see,
Werther takes
great pains
to inscribe his name within the book
that the
figure resembling
Lotte is
holding
out to the scribe. How-
1
Some of the most
popular
illustrations are available in the
paperback
edition
by
J6rn G6res, Die Leiden
desjungen
Werther
(Frankfurt: Insel
Verlag, 1973). See also the
exhibition
catalogue
edited
by G6res, Die Leiden
desjungen
Werther: Goethes Roman im
Spiegel
seiner Zeit
(Dfisseldorf: Goethe-Museum, 1972), 136-47, for a detailed
descrip-
tion of some
thirty pictures,
with
sample reproductions
on
pp.
183-200.
2
Rousseau
closely
controlled the
design
and
production
of the artwork, which was
published
as a
separate
book in 1761 with
page
references to
Rey's
edition of the
novel in the same
year.
It contains not
only
the
lengthy commentary by
Rousseau
speaking
in the voice of the Editor but also the so-called "Seconde Preface" in the
form of a
dialogue
between the editor and a man of letters. Rousseau's
description
of the illustration referred to above reads: "II lui
parle
en meme tems avec feu; on lit
dans les
yeux
de
Julie
l'attendrissement
que
lui causent ses discours et les
objets
qu'ils
lui
rappellent;
mais on
y
lit aussi
que
la vertu
preside,
et ne craint rien de ces
dangereux
souvenirs"
(Rousseau, OEuvres
completes [Paris: Gallimard, 1961], II, 768).
The
picture
illustrates Saint-Preux's account in Book 4, letter 17:
'"Je
la conduis vers
le rocher et lui montrai son chiffre
graves
dans mille endroits, et
plusieurs
vers du
Petrarch et du Tasse relatifs a la situation ou
j'etais
en les tracant"
(p. 519). Inter-
estingly,
the
presentation
of the illustration
quotes
a
passage
from the letter that
describes the
landscape
and at the same time inscribes Rousseau's own name on the
rock:
"Quelques
ruisseaux filtroient a travers les rochers, et rouloient sur la verdure en
filets de cristal" (767, quoting
from
518).
581
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FRITZ GUTBRODT
ever, his
attempt
to
appropriate
the name in which he
signs
the
letters of his love fails, and the narrative will
perform
Werther's
failure to enter into
possession
of his own name as a suicide. In the
end even the
grave
wherein he is laid remains unmarked.
Wert The letters
engraved by
the
young
man in the
vignette spell
out the worth or value that informs the lover's name. "What's in a
name?" Werther translates
Juliet's query
into "What's a name
worth?" The
question
is as difficult to answer as that
posed
in Shake-
speare's tragedy.
Value is never intrinsic to the
object
whose worth it
assesses nor is it a
purely subjective
element that could be controlled
by
those
placing
value on an
object.
Value is in this sense both
contingent
and inconclusive.3 In the second half of the
eighteenth
century subjectivist conceptions
of value became
increasingly
im-
portant
for the
emergence
of a diverse market
economy,
and it is no
accident that Werther, a novel that unfolds the drama of overestimat-
ing
the worth of
subjectivity,
should articulate
eighteenth-century
speculations
on
economic, aesthetic,
and moral values in the name
of its
protagonist. Although
value is in itself not a
property
of
any-
one or
anything,
neither
purely subjective
nor
purely objective,
cer-
tain
objects
can be valuable to an individual to the
point
of becom-
ing invaluable,
removing
them from their circulation in a
public
system
that
regulates
value
judgments
into a
private sphere
where
those
things
are
kept
or stored without
regard
to their
exchange
value or use value. Collections of items like books or china and of
memorabilia such as silhouettes or ribbons have a
personal signifi-
cance and can be invaluable or
priceless
because
they
form a
part
of
one's life that cannot be transferred to
anyone
else. "The collection
seeks a form of
self-enclosure,"
as Susan Stewart
points out;
it
"rep-
resents the total aestheticization of use value" and thus
"represents
a
hermetic world." What she calls "self-enclosure" is an
apt
term for
the world of Werther and his
readers,
in which the items listed
above bear a crucial
significance
because
they
are
part
of the novel's
proliferating
construction of the self: "The ultimate term in the
series that marks the collection is the
'self,'
the articulation of the
collector's own
'identity.'"4
An
increasing
number of
objects pro-
duced for and
gathered
in the homes of the
eighteenth-century
bourgeoisie
was marked
by
this exclusiveness of a construction or
3
See Barbara Herrnstein Smith's excellent book, Contingencies of
Value: Alternative
Perspectives for
Critical
Theory
(Cambridge:
Harvard
University Press, 1988).
4
Susan Stewart, On
Longing:
Narratives
of
the
Miniature,
the
Gigantic,
the
Souvenir,
the
Collection
(Durham
and London: Duke
University Press, 1993), 150, 152,
162.
582
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MLN
fashioning
of the
self,
constituting
the
private
and intimate atmo-
sphere
where letters like those written
by
Saint-Preux or Werther
could find their
proper
destination. Private letters from friends be-
came collectibles
themselves,
and Werther's love letters can indeed
be said to reflect the kind of amorous
relationship
that exist be-
tween
people
and the
objects
of which
they
claim
possession.
That
his letters are
publishable
as a book is not
just
a mark of their
literary
and fictive character but rather shows that the creation of
privacy
and
intimacy
in the
eighteenth century
was an
eminently
public
event.5 What
they
also show is that to Werther the
negotia-
tion of a
relationship
between the
public
and
private sphere
as well
as that between
people
and the
objects
that
belong
to them is
fraught
with enormous
dangers.
While his narcissism
complicates
the former, his fetishism befalls the latter.
Investing
the world with
his
self-infatuation,
he transforms
objects
into
persons
and
persons
into
objects
in a fetishism that,
notably,
also includes his
proper
name.
Every object, every event, every story
is connected to Lotte
and
through
Lotte to
him, and in
every
decisive scene in the novel's
first book Werther tries to establish this connection
by inscribing
his
name within the narrative. This act of
inscription
is
neatly packaged
in the
present
he receives on his
birthday
from Lotte and Albert. As
it turns
out, it is also his name
day:
Mir fallt
beym
Erofnen
sogleich
eine der blaBrothen Schleifen in die
Augen,
die Lotte vorhatte, als ich sie kennen lernte, und um die ich sie
seither etlichemal
gebeten
hatte. Es waren
zwey Buchelgen
in duodez
dabey,
der kleine Wetsteinische Homer, ein
Buchelgen,
nach dem ich so
oft
verlangt,
um mich auf dem
Spaziergange
mit dem Ernestischen nicht
zu
schleppen.
Sieh! so kommen sie meinen Wunschen zuvor, so suchen
sie all die kleinen
Gefalligkeiten
der Freundschaft auf, die tausendmal
werthersind
alsjene
blendende Geschenke, wodurch uns die Eitelkeit des
Gebers
erniedrigt.
Ich kfisse diese Schleife
tausendmal, und mit
jedem
Athemzuge
schlfirfe ich die
Erinnerungjener Seligkeiten ein, mit denen
mich
jene wenige, gluckliche unwiederbringliche Tage
uberfullten.6
5
On the circulation of
copies
of
private
letters
among
friends and the
increasing
attempts by eighteenth-century publishers
and
newspapers
to
get
hold of letters
by
eminent
personalities
in order to
print them, see
Georg Steinhausen, Geschichte des
deutschen
Briefes (1889; rpt.
Dublin and Zurich: Weidmann, 1968), II, 320-25.
6
Goethe, Die Leiden des
jungen Werthers,
in vol. 8 of the
Frankfurter Ausgabe (FA) of
Goethe's works, Die Leiden des
jungen Werthers,
Die
Wahlverwandtschaften,
Kleine Prosa,
Epen,
ed. Waltraud Wieth6olter (Frankfurt/Main: Klassiker
Verlag, 1994), 110. Refer-
ences to Goethe's novel are to this edition and will henceforth be cited in the text.
Unless otherwise noted the citations are from the first edition of 1774, which FA
583
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FRITZ GUTBRODT
What Werther
unpacks
in his letter to Wilhelm is his desire to be
given
what he does not seem to have: his own
proper
name. Like the
two books and the ribbon, it seems to be a
gift
offered to him
by
Lotte. Her ribbon is in fact what at once ties and unties the
parcel
containing something
like a
jack-in-the-box
that will
jump
out and
skip
around in
every
letter and
every thought
because it bears the
mark of a
gift
a thousand times werther than
anything
else: Werther,
Werther, Werther, Werther, Werther, a thousand times Werther.
In a recent
essay,
David
Wellbery
has
argued
that Werther turns
Lotte and
everything
around her into the
phantasmatic body
of a
nourishing
mother.
Demonstrating
how the ecstatic
"liquid
emo-
tionality"
of his letters
engages
in a
"liquid-maternal economy,"
he
points
out that in his insatiable love for Lotte Werther
actually
"wants to drink her."7 Around the middle of the
century
the fashion-
style
called sterilitewas
replaced by
that of a
fecondite
that
emphasized
the
feminity
of
motherhood, and it also became a matter of eti-
quette
to withdraw from social
gatherings
to breastfeed one's child.8
The
pink
ribbons attached to the arms and breast of the white dress
prints
on
facing pages
with the revised edition of 1787.
Emphasis
is added unless
otherwise indicated. The translation follows the text of vol. 11 in the
Suhrkamp
Edition (SE)
of Goethe's works, The Sorrows
of Young Werther, Elective
Affinities, Novella,
ed. David E.
Wellbery (New
York:
Suhrkamp Publishers, 1988).
Since the text in SE
translates the revised edition of 1787, it is
occasionally necessary
to alter the transla-
tion or
provide
a new translation where the two versions differ
considerably.
Some-
times a translation is revised to
bring
out constellations of
meaning
in the
original
that are
important
to
my reading:
"As I
opened it,
I found one of the
pink
ribbons
which Charlotte wore in her dress the first time I saw her, and which I had several
times asked her to
give
me. With it were two volumes in duodecimo of Wetstein's
Homer-a book I had often wanted to own, to save me the trouble of
carrying
the
large
Ernesti edition with me on
my
walks. You see how
they anticipate my wishes,
how well
they
understand all those little attentions of
friendship,
so much more
valuable
(werther)
than the
expensive presents
of the
great,
which
only
humiliate us. I
kissed the ribbon a thousand times, and in
every
breath inhaled the
memory
of those
happy
and unrecoverable
days
which filled me with the keenest
joy" (38; rev.).
Proper names, we are told, cannot be translated. The
rendering
of Lotte's name as
Charlotte indicates, however, that
they
have somewhat different identities in the
original
and the translation. Charlotte is the name Lotte would have been
given
at
baptism. Throughout
the novel she is addressed
by
her abbreviated
name,
a
given
name that in a strict sense is a
pseudonym. Respecting
the tradition that has
firmly
established Charlotte's name
among English
and American readers of the
novel,
as
well as in the
hope
that this
complication might
demonstrate a
point
this article
takes some
pains
to make, no
attempt
will be made to
gloss
over this difference.
7
David E.
Wellbery, "Morphisms
of the Phantasmatic
Body:
Goethe's 'The Sor-
rows of
Young Werther',"
in
Body
and Text in the
Eighteenth Century,
ed. Veronica
Kelly
and Dorothea von Mficke
(Stanford:
Stanford
University Press, 1994), 199, 204, 192.
8
Leo Balet and E. Gerhard, Die
Verbirgerlichung
der deutschen Kunst,
Literatur und
Musik im 18.
Jahrhundert (Frankfurt: Ullstein, 1972),
435.
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M L N
Lotte is
wearing
in the scene of their first
meeting ("ein simples
weisses Kleid mit blaBrothen Schleifen an Arm und Brust"
[40])
are
interesting
in this
regard
and of
particular importance
to
Wellbery's
reading:
"These ribbons, which are so
proximate
to the source of
the Mother's
liquid gift
of nourishment
(and
in the first sketch of
the novel, which calls them
'flesh-colored,'
even mimic the color
of that
source),
become a fetish for Werther,
the
single
token of his
love he takes to his
grave" (191). Kissing
a thousand times the rib-
bon that is a thousand times werther than
any
other
gift
he
might
have received on his
birthday,
and
inhaling
or rather
sucking
in
(schliirfen)
the blissful
memory
of Lotte it
brings back,
one
might
indeed
say
that he
engages
in a
phantasy
of
imbibing
his name, and
Wellbery's
notion that the
economy
of his emotional discourse de-
scribes a desire to be "born anew in the
sign
of the Mother's
gift"
(191)
is corroborated
by
the
grandiose
scene of
baptism
Werther
stages
at the well near Wahlheim two months
prior
to his
birthday.
In the first letters of the novel it is the
place
to which Werther retires
to read Homer in the
bulky
Ernesti edition that now, on his birth-
day,
is
being replaced by
a smaller edition. If the ribbon
brings
back
memories of his first encounter with Lotte, the books included in
the
parcel
recall his
patriarchal phantasy
about a Homeric world
that turned the
girls
from the
village coming
to the well into the
daughters
of
kings coming
to
get
water for their fathers. As he once
wrote, "Wenn ich da sizze, so lebt die
patriarchalische
Idee so leb-
haft um
mich, wie sie alle die Altvater am Brunnen Bekanntschaft
machen und
freyen" (16).9
When the well becomes the site not
only
of
courtship
but also of
baptism,
it
gathers
the memories and
phan-
tasies of mother and father
figures, adding
the child
necessary
to
make the
family
into which Werther would like to be
adopted.
Lotte,
a
friend,
and a little
girl
called Malchen meet Werther on a
walk that leads them to the well. The letter introduces the account
of what
happened
there as follows:
Nach einem
Wege
von anderthalb Stunden kamen wir
gegen
die Stadt
zurfick, an den Brunnen, der mir so werth ist, und nun tausendmal
werther
ward, als Lotte sich auf's
Mauergen
sezte. Ich sah umher, ach!
und die Zeit, da mein Herz so allein war, lebte wieder vor mir auf.
(...)
Ich blikte hinab und sah, daB
Malgen
mit einem Glase Wasser sehr be-
schaftigt heraufstieg.
Ich sah Lotten an und fuhlte alles, was ich an ihr
9
"As I sit there the old
patriarchal
idea comes to life
again.
I see
them,
our old
ancestors, forming
their
friendships
and
doing
their
courting
at the well"
(7).
585
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FRITZ GUTBRODT
habe. Indem so kommt
Malgen
mit einem Glase, Marianne wollte es ihr
abnehmen, nein! ruft das Kind mit dem suBesten Ausdrukke: nein, Lott-
gen,
du sollst zuerst trinken!"
(70)10
The introduction of Lotte at the source of Werther's former
solitary
musing
about the
patriarchal
world of Homer suffices to make the
spot appear
to him a thousand times werther.
Again
we see his name
well
up: Werther, Werther,
Werther,
.... "I turned towards Char-
lotte,
and felt
deeply
how much she means to me": It is
precisely
this
baptism
that she means to
him,
and the scene his letter describes
indeed shows that to Werther the
proper
name has an intentional
structure.
Being
valued
by
Lotte means his name; his name means
this value. This is
why
Werther needs Lotte, this is the intention he
has on her, and it is an intention that he desires to be
repaid
in the
sense that Lotte is made to intend him once she
produces
this
assessment of value which calls
up
his name. One
might put
it this
way:
Lotte means his name, that is to
say,
she means
everything
worth
being
called "Werther" and at the same time means more
than
everything
in the sense that in his love of her she is made to
confer on him this name that means
something
"more"-Werther.
His name bears an excess value or, if
you will,
a
surplus
value that
Lotte
produces
and on which Werther
capitalizes.
In his amorous
discourse, value or worth is
always
a
comparative beyond compari-
son.
By
the same
token,
"Werther" is also an address.
Citing
Lotte in
one of his
letters,
Werther writes,
"Adieu lieber Werther! Lieber
Werther! Es war das erstemal,
daB sie mich Lieber
hies,
und mir
giengs
durch Mark und Bein"
(182).11
What
penetrates
his whole
being
is that the
apostrophe
"Lieber Werther!" addresses him from
whatever end one reads it. Lieber Werther-Werther Lieber: it is
always
the same. Werther's name is
Lieber,
and when he
rejoices
"daB sie
10
"After about an hour and a half, we returned to the town. We
stopped
at the
spring
which is so dear (werth)
to me, and which is now a thousand times dearer
(werther) to me than ever since Charlotte sat down
by
the low wall. I looked round,
and recalled the time when
my
heart was all alone.
(..
.) I looked down and ob-
served Amalie
(Malgen) coming up
the
steps
with a
glass
of water. I turned towards
Charlotte, and felt
deeply
how much she means to me. Amalie
approached
with the
glass.
Marianne wanted to take it from her. 'No!' cried the child with the sweetest
expression,
'Charlotte must drink first'" (24-5; rev.).
Since we are
talking
about the
baptism
this scene
performs,
one
might
note that the
English
text-as in the case of
Charlotte's name-calls Malchen
by
the full name she would have been
given
at
baptism:
Amalie.
11
"'Adieu, dear Werther.' Dear Werther! It was the first time she ever called me
'dear': it
penetrated my
whole
being" (61).
586
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MLN
mich Lieber hies,"
Lotte is made to utter that he is dearer to
her,
dearer than
anyone
else that
might figure
in the narrative.12
Also,
Werther's citation of Lotte's address "Dear Werther"
starts,
in his
letter to Wilhelm, a letter
by
Lotte to him. At the end of the
letter,
Lotte is cited before his bed to deliver it: "Ich hab mir's hundertmal
wiederholt und
gestern
Nacht da ich in's Bett
gehen
wollte,
und mit
mir selbst
allerley schwazte, sag
ich so auf einmal:
gute Nacht,
lieber
Werther!"
(182).13 Speaking
both
parts
of an
imaginary dialogue,
Werther is enclosed in a silent world of his own
making.
The dubious structure of Werther's amorous desire
plays
out the
naming
of a
proper
name
against
the
meaning
of this
name,
and we
shall have to
pay
attention to what this
implies.14
We should also
note that the
gift
of the name Werther receives at the well and
again, neatly packaged,
on his
birthday operates
in the structure of
a
give
and take. This is in fact the reason
why
the scene at the well
commands a
special place
in Werther's letter and
memory.
As in all
other instances where Lotte is
portrayed
as a mother
figure,
there is
a
gesture by
the children
repaying
the
gift
of love the mother is
expected
to
give. Here, Malchen hands Lotte the
glass
for the first
sip.
Moved
by
this reversal of roles and
perhaps
also because of the
displacement
of his
patriarchal phantasy
connected with the well
into the constellation of an
eighteenth-century family organized
around
Lotte, Werther
gets
carried
away
and
hugs
and kisses the
girl.
The kiss is an act of
transgression
that Lotte at once censures
and heals. In her
position
as
surrogate
mother she leads the
crying
child to the well so that she
may
wash off, as Lotte
says,
the mark of
shame on her face. Her reference to the
superstitious
belief that a
man's kiss
may grow
facial hair on a
girl's
cheek
operates according
to a model of
contagion
and transference that allows Werther to
substitute his own face for that of Malchen. Thus it is also his
body
that
undergoes
a ritual
washing
under the
supervision
of Lotte,
transforming
her act of
cleansing
into
baptism:
12
This
reading
of the
passage exploits
the
equivocation
Werther
exploits
when
quoting
Lotte out of context. In
German, lieber means "dear" when
preceding
a male
noun or
proper name, but "dearer" when used as a
comparative.
13
"I have
repeated
it a hundred times and last
night,
as I was
going
to bed and
talked to
myself
about
nothing
in
particular,
I
suddenly said, 'Good
night,
dear
Werther!'"
(61).
14
This is also to
say
that
my argument
must take care not to fall
prey
to what it
seeks to
expose.
Werther's investment of the
proper
name with
meaning
constitutes
a fetishism,
I
argue,
and as will become
apparent,
the citation of such instances in
the text
easily gets
itself involved in this movement.
587
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FRITZ GUTBRODT
Ich
sage dir, Wilhelm, ich habe mit mehr
Respekt
nie einer Taufhand-
lung beygewohnt,
und als Lotte herauf kam, hatte ich mich
gern
vor ihr
niedergeworfen
wie vor einem
Propheten,
der die Schulden einer Na-
tion
weggeweiht
hat.
(70/72)15
The
audacity
of Werther's letter lies in his investiture of Lotte as
prophet
or
priest
and in his
alignment
of
supersition
with
religious
practice.
As the first of the seven sacraments, baptism performs,
in
the name of the Father, the absolution from
original
sin. The scene
at the well seems to
perform
Werther's
baptism
in the name of the
Mother. For the
logic
of the narrative it is all
important
that Lotte is
not a
mother,
the
group
at the well not a
family,
just
as it is
impor-
tant that Lotte's ribbon is not a breast, for it enables Werther, who is
not a child, to rename the
positions
in this and all other
imaginary
structures of his discourse and to install or inscribe himself at the
spot
where he desires to
emerge.
The
renaming performed
at the
well
presents
the
proper
name as an ineradicable mark that is
yet
void or
empty
until it is invested and filled with
meaning.
Malchen,
the name of the little
girl,
means "little mark" or "mole."
Washing
off the mark or Mal of Werther's kiss on the
girl's
cheek,
Lotte draws
Werther's attention to the
proper
name as
something
that is
already
there, but that it is there as
something improper,
as an
irregularity
or blemish in the smooth skin of one's existence,
a birthmark or
Mutter-Mal that is not, as one would have
it, already given
in the
name of love, as a bond of love at one's
birth,
but that
only
the later
kiss of an erotic love can
signify
or
re-signify
as an individual,
distinguishing
mark, something
beautiful or worth
having.
The
problem
of the
proper
name we encounter in Wertheris that it
is
presented
and read as a
sign.
That
distinguishes
Werther's notion
of
language
from
Juliet's
discourse on the
proper
name in the
play's
famous orchard scene cited above as
epigraph.
The letter written on
his
birthday-which,
as we have seen, is also his name
day-ends
in
Lotte's orchard. It is a
very different, disturbingly homely place
compared
to
Juliet's
garden,
and the careful transformation of sex-
ual desire that informs Werther's account is
part
of that homeliness:
"Lebe wohl! Es ist ein herrlicher Sommer,
ich sizze oft auf den
Obstbaumen in Lottens Baumstuk mit dem Obstbrecher der
langen
Stange,
und hole die Birn aus dem
Gipfel.
Sie steht unten und
15
"I assure
you, Wilhelm,
I never attended a
baptism
with
greater reverence;
and
when Charlotte came
up,
I could have fallen on
my
knees as before a
prophet
who
has washed
away
the sins of his
people" (25).
588
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M L N
nimmt sie ab,
wenn ich sie ihr hinunter lasse"
(112).16
Werther is a
fruit
picker,
and this is how he
hopes
to
pick up everything
around
him, including
his name. Lotte's
cooperation
in this scene
(she
is
the fruit to be
picked
and the tree on which it
grows) plays
out an
economy
of the
gift
in which Werther
only gives
what he has
already
been
given.
In this sense,
he does not
give anything
without
already
receiving.
It is a structure in which Werther seeks to install himself
at
every
moment, and it is
disturbing
because it makes it
actually
impossible
for him to
give anything
or to
properly
receive
any gift.
As
Derrida has
pointed
out in his recent book,
the
gift,
in order to be
given
without
initiating
the
obligation
of
repayment
that cancels the
gift
as
gift,
must not
appear
as such.17 The name, one
might argue,
is such a
gift.
Werther's obsession with a
gift
he
ceaselessly
wants to
touch,
take in,
and
incorporate
encloses him in an
economy
in
which he is at once a constant debtor and the sole
beneficiary.
It is
the
economy
of narcissism. While it is useless to
speculate
whether
Werther's narcissism forestalls his
rejection by
Lotte
(why
should
she want his
gift?
what should she
desire?),
it is
interesting
to note
that Lotte, the
apparent object
of Werther's
adoration,
is in fact
superfluous.
She is needed in order to set
up
a structure in which
the
position
of an addressee of his love becomes available but where
it doesn't
really
matter whether she receives what is
dispatched
to
this address. Barthes, whose book on the lover's discourse is
argua-
bly
the most
perspicuous reading
of
Werther, has stated this
point-
edly:
Charlotte is
quite insipid;
she is the
paltry
character of a
powerful,
tor-
mented, flamboyant
drama
staged by
the subject Werther; by
a
kindly
decision of this
subject,
a colorless
object
is
placed
in the center of the
stage
and there adored, idolized, taken to task, covered with discourse,
with
prayers (...);
as if she were a
huge
motionless hen huddled amid
her feathers, around which circles a
slightly
mad cock.
Enough that,
in a flash,
I should see the other in the
guise
of an inert
object,
like a kind of stuffed doll,
for me to shift
my
desire from this
annulled
object
to
my
desire
itself;
it is
my
desire I
desire, and the loved
being
is no more than its tool.18
16
"Farewell! This is a
glorious
summer. I often climb into the trees in Charlotte's
orchard, and with a fruit
picker bring
down the
pears
that
hang
on the
highest
branches. She stands below, and takes them as I hand them to her" (38).
17
Jacques
Derrida, Given Time: I.
Counterfeit Money (Chicago: University
of
Chicago
Press, 1992), particularly
the section entitled "A Gift without Present," 34-70.
18
Roland Barthes, A Lover's Discourse: Fragments, tr. Richard Howard (New York:
589
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FRITZ GUTBRODT
Werther
performs
some kind of
puppet play.19
Barthes'
unmasking
of the coercive nature of Werther's discourse is
devastating
to the
project
of
constructing
the novel as the model of a love
story
that
might
not find fulfillment but nonetheless is an ardent
expression
of Werther's
passion
for Lotte. What he calls Lotte's annullment
might
void her
identity,
but it
props up
the mirror Werther needs in
a manner similar to what we observed on Malchen's cheek with
regard
to the
inscription
of his name. Lotte's
position
becomes
available, and we shall
yet
have to see, in the next section of this
article, how the fiction of the book, as
opposed
to the letters it
publishes, refigures
the constellation of
agents
in the narrative in
such a
way
that Lotte
disappears
from the structure as the mother
she is not in order to make room for a trio of men that will
capitalize
on her
image
as the Mother. Let us not
forget,
at this
point,
that the
ardent love letters Werther writes are addressed to Wilhelm and,
for
their
publication
as book, carefully arranged by
the Editor.
First, however,
we
ought
to focus on Werther's
conception
of the
name as a
sign,
for it is the
signifying
character that enables Werther
to
integrate
his
name,
and indeed all
proper
names,
with his
writing
and
feeling
in which
every object
and each event becomes a
sign
of
his love. In order to make his name readable as
part
of this amorous
signification-I
am
worthy
of Lotte,
Lotte values me more than
anything
else-Werther must first ascertain that Lotte indeed loves
him, which is
again something
he does not leave to some
vague
feeling
but rather seeks to
decipher
in a sure
sign.
To him,
love is
nothing
but the
reading
and
inscription
of
signs.
While this
might
be true of
every
lover and
every
amorous discourse,
it is of
special
significance
to Werther and his name because
value,
like the
sign,
operates
in a
register
of difference and distinction. Most
impor-
Noonday Press, 1978),
31. Barthes'
emphasis.
Further references to Barthes'
study
will be cited in the text. The influence of his formidable book on
my
article will
become
apparent
at
every
turn of the
argument.
19
If Lotte is a doll, Werther is a
puppet.
His
anxiety
at court that the
people
around him
may
be lifeless marionettes includes him: "Ich stehe wie vor einem
Raritatenkasten, und sehe die
Manngen
und
Gaulgen
vor mir herumrfikken,
und
frage
mich oft, ob's nicht
optischer Betrug
ist. Ich
spiele mit, vielmehr, ich werde
gespielt
wie eine Marionette,
und fasse manchmal meinen Nachbar an der
h6lzernen Hand und schaudere zurfik"
(134) /
"I stand before a
puppet
show and
see the little
puppets move, and I ask
myself
whether it isn't an
optical
illusion. I am
amused
by
these
puppets,
or rather,
I am
myself
one of them"
(45).
The doctor
appointed by
the
judge,
Lotte's father, to serve in official
inquests
in his district is
described as a
"dogmatische Dratpuppe" (58) / "puppet
on
dogmatic strings" (21;
added);
he will
pronounce
Werther dead at the end of the novel.
590
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MLN
tantly,
value is
relational, assessing
the worth of an
object
or action
in
comparison
to others or to an
accepted
standard.
Although
Werther leads an
increasingly solitary life,
the
judgments
about his
actions and behavior are of course also
subject
to the social
dy-
namics of such
comparisons.
One
might argue,
however,
that he
fosters his solitude
by positing
all values as
absolute,
and for the
imaginary signification
of his own name in which he seems to en-
gage
this means that
everything
connected with his love is more
valuable without
comparison:
Werther, period.
Yet,
there is one dif-
ficulty,
and its name is
Albert,
Lotte's fianc6 and later husband. He
too
wraps
the
gift
Werther receives on his
birthday,
and if Lotte
gave
the maternal
ribbon,
it
might
have been he that
purchased
the
patriarchal
Homer. He cannot be avoided because he
occupies
the
position
Werther desires to attain. As Barthes
points
out, "Werther
does not hate Albert; quite simply,
Albert
occupies
a desired
place:
he is an
adversary (a rival),
not an
enemy" (144).
One
might
indeed
argue
that all of Werther's declarations of love are also addressed to
Albert. He loves him for his
place,
and his transfer of affection onto
the rival is a first
step
toward
invading
this
place.
This invasion also
includes the
mimicking
of Albert that one sees Werther undertake
in some scenes. Once his
hand, writing
a short note to Wilhelm,
seems to
accidentally perform
such a
mimicry:
"Die alberne
Figur,
die ich mache,
wenn in Gesellschaft von ihr
gesprochen
wird,
solltest du sehen."
(74).20
The mention of Lotte's name in casual
conversation
automatically
invokes that of Albert to which it is
coupled.
However foolish Werther
might
react in such situations, he
is
already underway
toward his
goal
of
cutting
a better
figure
and
substituting
his own name and
person
for that of his rival.
Speaking
of
figures,
one
might
remember that Werther did in-
deed look foolish in the scene where Albert's name is mentioned
the first
time,
for it
happens
in the middle of his dance with Lotte at
the
party
that starts the love
story. Whirling through
the room
they
are
suddenly
addressed
by
a
girl flying past
them in the arms of her
partner:
"Sie sieht Lotte lachelnd an, hebt einen drohenden
Finger
auf,
und nennt den Nahmen Albert
zweymal
im
Vorbeyfliegen
mit
viel
Bedeutung" (48).21
The intervention of Albert's
proper
name
that comes to claim or reclaim Lotte as his
property
is of some
20
"You should see how foolish (albern)
I look in
company
when her name is
mentioned" (26).
21
"She looks at Charlotte with a smile, shakes her
finger
at her and twice
repeats
with
great significance
the name Albert" (18).
591
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592 FRITZ GUTBRODT
significance,
not
only
to Lotte but also to
Werther,
for it calls
up
for
the first time his own name in relation to that of Lotte's fiance:
Nun war mir das nichts
neues,
denn die Madchen hatten mir's auf dem
Wege gesagt,
und war mir doch so
ganz
neu,
weil ich das noch nicht im
Verhaltnisse
auf
sie,
die mir in so
wenig Augenblikken
so werth
geworden
war,
gedacht
hatte.
Genug
ich verwirrte
mich,
vergaB
mich,
und kam
zwischen das unrechte Paar
hinein,
daB alles drunter und drufiber
gieng,
und Lottens
ganze Gegenwart
und Zerren und Ziehen
nothig
war,
um's
schnell wieder in
Ordnung
zu
bringen.
(50)22
Although
he had heard of Lotte's
engagement,
the name of Albert
appears
unfamiliar to Werther because it
occupies
a
place
in a struc-
ture where he holds Lotte in his
arms,
and he is
ready
to
cling
to this
notion. Lotte has become so dear or werth to Werther that it seems
inconceivable that in relation to him the unknown and absent Al-
bert should be werther to Lotte:
Werther/Lotte/Albert.
The letter
already
starts
spelling
out the
relationship among
three names that
will constitute the drama of the narrative.
However,
the
point
is,
let
us not
forget,
that
Werther,
at the
very
moment he hears the name
Albert,
construes a
dyadic relationship
in which Lotte
occupies
one
spot
and he the other one. One name has to be
forgotten
in order
to
keep
this structure stable. It is indeed the addition of a third
position
in this
relationship
that will
bring up
the
problem
of a
comparative
and thus the
question
of werth and
werther,
the
ques-
tion,
in other
words,
of who is worthier of Lotte's attention. There is
no
place
for Albert
who,
as Werther and Lotte are
reminded,
al-
ready
inhabits that
place.
This structural
complication, unfolding
rapidly
in a matter of seconds
during
the
dance,
makes Werther
"confused." The
forgetting
of the name that enables Werther to
construct this
dyadic relationship simultaneously
reintroduces that
very
name and thus
explodes
the
relationship
at the moment it is
established. It is indeed
confusing.
In this delicate structure
Werther comes to rest on a
spot
from
which,
at the same
moment,
he is
already departing again.
The movement
describes,
precisely,
a
dance.23 What Werther
performs
in Lotte's arms is a
whirling
dance
22
"Now,
there was
nothing
new to me in this
(the
girls
had told me of it on the
way), yet
it struck me as new since I had not
thought
of it in relation to her who in so
short a time had become so dear
(werth)
to me. At
any
rate,
I
got
confused,
forgot
myself, got caught
between the
wrong couples,
and caused a
general
disorder so that
it took Charlotte's whole
presence
of mind to
straighten
me out
by pulling
and
pushing
me into
my proper place"
(18; rev.).
23
Friedrich A. Kittler has
pointed
to the intimate nature of the waltz that scan-
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M L N
of names and
positions
that in
varying figures
and at a
differing
pace
will structure the narrative. The disorder of their first dance at
the
party
is a
figure
of the narrative's
choreography:
"I
got
confused,
forgot myself, got caught
between the
wrong couple."
Remember-
ing
himself
by inscribing
his
name,
he
forgets
himself
by assuming
a
place already occupied. Taking
Lotte in his arms,
he
gets entangled
between two lovers that form a
couple.
If dance is a
metaphor-but
how should we tell the dancer from the
dance-,
we
might
wonder
what Werther's
proper place
is. "It took Charlotte's whole
presence
of mind to
straighten
me out
by pulling
and
pushing
me into
my
proper place."
Whether he is
pushed away
from Lotte or
pulled
toward her is difficult to tell.
The dance constitutes the
questions
Werther
keeps asking
throughout
the first
part
of the novel. Does she love him? Is he
worth more than Albert in her
eyes?
It is in her
eyes
that he reads
the
signs
of an answer.
They
constitute the mirror in which Werther
sees himself
having
a
place
in her heart and soul. The readers
interested in the novel's construction of
identity
have
always
fo-
cussed on Lotte's black
eyes,
whether in the debate about whose
eyes they really
were or in the
attempts
to trace Werther's narcis-
sisim.24 In the
following
letter Werther
presents them,
in the full
pathos
of his
discourse,
as
sealing
his fate.
They
are like the black
ink that writes this narrative:
Nein, ich
betruige
mich nicht! Ich lese in ihren schwarzen
Augen
wahre
Theilnehmung
an mir, und meinem Schicksaale. Ja ich ffihle, und darin
darf ich meinem Herzen trauen, daB sie-O darf ich, kann ich den
Himmel in diesen Worten
aussprechen?-daB
sie mich liebt.
(76)
Mich liebt!-Und wie werth ich mir selbst werde, wie ich-Dir darf
ich's wohl
sagen,
Du hast Sinn fur so etwas-wie ich mich selbst anbethe,
seitdem sie mich liebt!
(77; 1787)
Und ob das Vermessenheit ist oder Gefuhl des wahren Verhaltnisses:
dalized and
delighted
the 1770s. It makes it
possible
for Werther to take Lotte in his
arms without
possessing
or
having
to
possess
her. See "Autorschaft und Liebe," in
Austreibung
des Geistes aus den
Geisteswissenschaften,
ed. Kittler
(Paderborn: Sch6ningh,
1980),
147. The historical relevance of this
intimacy corresponds
to the
way
in which
the
report
on the dance is
intimately
bound
up
with the structure of the narrative
and the
problem
of
naming.
24
For a
reading
of the novel
along
the lines of Lacan's
argument
about the
mirror-stage,
see the
important essay by
Reinhart
Meyer-Kalkus,
"Werthers
Krankheit zum Tode:
Pathologie
und Familie in der
Empfindsamkeit,"
in Urszenen:
Literaturwissenschaft
als
Diskursanalyse
und Diskurskritik, in ed. Friedrich A. Kittler and
Horst Turk
(Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 1977), 90-7.
593
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FRITZ GUTBRODT
Ich kenne den Menschen nicht, von dem ich etwas in Lottens Herzen
fuirchtete. Und doch-wenn sie von ihrem
Brautigam spricht
mit all der
Warme, all der Liebe, da ist mir's wie einem, der all seiner Ehren und
Wuirden entsetzt, und dem der
Degen abgenommen
wird.
(76)25
As Werther comes to see his worth in Lotte's
eyes,
his
gesture
of a
worship
or
worthship
of the self
places
him in a
position
of
prayer
comparable
to the
young
man in the
vignette,
who kneels in front of
the rock on which he inscribes the word Wert. Value is an
expression
of
comparative
measure,26 and Werther's
uncertainty
as to whether
his
assumption
that Lotte loves him is in fact a
presumption
or
Vermessenheit raises the
suspicion
that his assessment of his own
worth is out of
proportion.
As we have seen,
in Werther's discourse
of love the idea of his value
instantly
raises the
question
if someone
might
be worth more,
which
immediately
calls
up
Albert. In this
letter Albert
brings
a
terrifying weapon
to their contest. The mili-
tary metaphor
of Werther's
degradation
cuts
deep:
the soldier
being
deprived
of his sword invokes the
anxiety
of a
symbolic
castration.
What fuels this
phantasy
is Werther's
attempt
to
posit
his
person
and
his name as some kind of
surplus
value
produced by
Lotte's love. As
I
argued
earlier, it is this increase of value he seeks to
gain
from her.
The letter cited above shows that there is a serious doubt about the
success of this
venture,
for it is not certain that he can
actually
employ
Lotte to work for his love in his
company.
His
position
is
simply
not tenable. Marx has described
surplus
value as a castration
of the workers
by
the
capitalist
that owns the means of
production
as
the father owns the mother.27 Werther's
anxiety
is that for all his
attempts
to
appropriate
Lotte and the love she could
give him,
and
for all the
certainty
he reads in her
eyes,
he does not own the
Mother.
25
The second of the three
paragraphs
was added in the revised edition of 1787:
"No,
I am not deceived. In her black
eyes
I read a
genuine
interest in me and in
my
fate. Yes,
I feel it; and I can believe
my
own heart which tells me-dare I
say
it?-
dare I
pronounce
the divine words?-that she loves me! / That she loves me! How
this lifts
my
self-esteem! And-since
you
understand
my feelings,
I can
say
this to
you-how
I
worship myself
since she loves me! /
Is this
presumption,
or is it an
awareness of the truth? I do not know the man able to
supplant
me in Charlotte's
heart; and
yet
when she
speaks
of the betrothed with so much warmth and affection,
I feel like a soldier who has been
stripped
of his honors and titles,
and
deprived
of
his sword" (26-7; rev.).
26
See Marc Shell's
reading
of Heraclitus on this
point
in The Economy
of
Literature
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978),
54.
27
On this
relationship,
see Kurt Heinzelmann, The Economics
of
the
Imagination
(Amherst: University
of Massachussetts Press, 1980),
95-8.
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MLN
The economic discourse
underlying
Werther's declarations of
love and its
exchange
of
gifts
has been
apparent throughout,
and
the structure of value he
brings
to bear on the
meaning
of his
proper
name as sketched out in the
preceding pages
is related to
money
as a measure of value. In one
letter,
Werther
explicitely
articulates the invaluable value of Lotte in terms of
money:
Heut konnt ich nicht zu Lotten, eine unvermeidliche Gesellschaft hielt
mich ab. Was war zu thun? Ich schikte meinen Buben hinaus,
nur um
einen Menschen um mich zu haben,
der ihr heute nahe
gekommen
ware. Mit welcher
Ungedult
ich den Buben erwartete,
mit welcher
Freude ich ihn wiedersah. Ich hatt' ihn
gern bey'm Kopf genommen
und
gekfuBt,
wenn ich mich nicht
geschamt
hatte.
Man erzahlt von dem Bononischen Stein, daB er, wenn man ihn in die
Sonne
legt,
ihre Strahlen anzieht und eine Weile
bey
Nacht leuchtet. So
war mir's mit dem
Jungen.
Das Geffihl,
daB ihre
Augen
auf seinem Ge-
sicht', seinen Bakken, seinen
Rokknopfen
und dem
Kragen
am Surtout
geruht hatten, machte mir das all so
heilig,
so werth, ich hatte in dem
Augenblikke
den
Jungen
nicht vor tausend Thaler
gegeben.
Es war mir
so wohl in seiner
Gegenwart-Bewahre
dich Gott, daB du daruiber nicht
lachst. Wilhelm, sind das Phantomen, wenn es uns wohl wird?
(78/80)28
As in the letter about Lotte's black
eyes
cited
previously,
it is her
gaze
that
organizes
the
reading
of this scene. What the servant
delivers is in fact the
magic power
of her look that he has absorbed
and now emanates like the
Bologna
stone that
glows
in the
night.
Although
this stone stores
energy
a lot less
effectively
and for a
much shorter time than
money,
it seems to be worth a thousand
times more than a coin because of its
magic quality. Although
the
metaphor
Werther uses seems to
point
out that Lotte's attention
cannot be
paid
in
money
and is of a different order than
currency,
the structure of the transfer
corresponds precisely
to the nature of
money
that abstracts from the
physical
nature of the
commodity
28
"I haven't been able to see Charlotte
today.
I was
prevented by company
from
which I couldn't
disengage myself.
What was I to do? I sent
my
servant to her house,
that I
might
at least see
somebody today
who had been near her. Oh, the
impatience
with which I awaited his return, the
joy
with which I welcomed him! I should have
liked to hold him in
my
arms and kiss him, if I had not been embarrassed. / It is said
that the
Bologna stone, when it is
placed
in the sun, absorbs the
rays
and for a time
appears
luminous in the dark. So it was with me and this servant. The idea that her
eyes
had dwelt on his countenance, his cheek, his coat buttons, the collar of his
surtout, made them all
inestimably
dear (werth) to me, so that at the moment I would
not have
parted
with him for a thousand crowns. His
presence
made me so
happy!
For heaven's sake, Wilhelm, don't
laugh
at me! Can it be a delusion if it makes us so
happy?" (27-8).
595
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FRITZ GUTBRODT
whose value it
represents
and can be used to
buy
some other
goods
of the same value. The
metaphor
itself functions that
way.
It is a
metaphor
for the
metaphor
of
money.
The servant was not
just
exposed
to Lotte's
gaze
but faced her face, as Levinas would
put it,
when he absorbed what Werther desires to take in as some kind of
magic
emanation. Werther does not face Lotte when he
gazes
on the
very
different face of the servant or at the buttons that
might
look
like metal coins or
may
be of some other material
resembling
the
tokens of
unstamped physical money. Looking
at the buttons,
Werther is
already counting.
The structure of an
exchange
and
monetary
abstraction that informs the scene is
important
because it
lets Werther see-at that moment,
"in diesem
Augenblikke"-his
own
gaze. And, again,
his own name. This is what he
buys.
As a token
of Lotte's
power
to invest
objects
with her
presence,
the
boy
cannot
be traded for a thousand crowns, which means that he, as a substi-
tute for Lotte that can
again
be substituted
by
her
lover,
is worth
more: he is werther and
Werther,
and thus invaluable.
Money
is
magic,
or as the letter
puts it,
a
phantom.
What emanates in this
scene is Werther's
appropriation
of Lotte and his
proper
name as
fetish. The fetish embodies a
principle
of
substitution,
the
possi-
bility
of
exchanging
a
part
for the whole or an
object
for a
person
in
a
metonymic relationship.
To
Werther,
the
proper
name has mean-
ing
and
exchange
value in the form of a
metonymy.
To make a fetish of one's own name is to
forget
that the
proper
name does not
judge
and in this sense has, properly speaking,
no
value. It is
unique
because it
is,
in the sense
pointed
out
earlier,
invaluable. In our names we are named free. The worth of a
proper
name cannot be assessed because it is no
part
of the
economy
or
circulation of words within the
system
of
signification. Proper
names
have, strictly speaking,
no
meaning
and this is
precisely
what makes
them
meaningful
and
necessary
for a resistance to all the
attempts
to have our lives controlled
by systems
that
assign
a determinate
value, meaning,
and
position
to our names. It is this resistance that
speaks
in
Juliet's powerful
words cited at the
beginning
of the arti-
cle. Her
rallying
call to Romeo that the name "is no
part
of thee" is
by
no means some kind of frivolous
negation
of
identity.
It
origi-
nates in her decision to resist the father as the
representative
of a
law that
posits
the name as his
legacy: "Deny thy
father and refuse
thy
name"
(2. 2. 34). Juliet
and Romeo can retain their
singular
identity
to the extent
they resist,
in the name of
love,
the
ideology
of
the law of the
signifier
enacted
by
their fathers.
Shakespeare's play
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M L N
constitutes a
poignant critique
of Lacan's Name-of-the-Father. The
threat
Juliet's
resistance
poses
becomes clear when the fathers fi-
nally gather
the lovers' dead bodies in a
grave they pronounce
to be
a monument to the reconciliation of the two
families,
while it is in
fact
designed
to reinscribe the names of their fathers on the tomb of
their love. Werther, too,
will end in a
grave.
But while Romeo heeds
Juliet's
call for resistance and is
ready
to
give up
his name for her
love -"Call me but love,
and I'll be new
baptised;
/ Henceforth I
never will be Romeo"-Werther
puts,
as we have
seen, all his
hopes
for love in the
inscription
of his name. There are no
family
names in
Werther,
but just as he is
trying
to reconstruct families that
might
adopt
him he also
desperately
tries to enter into the
possession
of
the
legacy
of the father that
financially
does not
pay
out in the
novel. For some moments it seems he could receive it in the
imagin-
ary
reconstruction of his
proper
name.
The
socio-political
dimension of the name
corresponds
to the
linguistic problem
addressed
poignantly by
the discourse of
analyti-
cal
philosophy
on the
question
of
names, reference, designators,
and
identity
statements. Insofar as the
proper
name does not
signify
and thus does not
appropriate
the
objects signified,
it somehow
seems to be outside of
language.29 They
are not
referents,
nor are
they simply descriptive.
The difference between
proper
names and
common names
complicates language considerably,
and in the case
of
literary figures
there is also the
question
of who their
proper
names would refer to if
they
were referents, what
they
would
exactly
describe if
they
were
descriptions.
The fact that in Werther we see
that it is
very
well
possible
to invest
proper
names with
meaning (a
possibility
on which this
reading banks)
does not alleviate the
prob-
lem. In an
essay
on
proper
names and the
question
of
transference,
Major
confronts the claim of
analytical philosophy
that names are a
form of
language
that "does not necessitate
any
recourse to
signifi-
cation in order to
designate
or
identify
someone" with the observa-
tion that it is
"always possible, by detaching signifiers
from the
proper name,
to
deploy
them in an
imaginary register."30
If there is
something
like a
non-signifying
mark that informs the
proper
name
29
Kripke's
lectures on
naming
unfold their
argument
also in
response
to the
problem
that
proper names, if
they
do not have
any meaning
at all, cannot be
simply
integrated
within
language
conceived of as a
system
of
signification.
See Saul A.
Kripke, Naming
and
Necessity (Cambridge,
Ma.: Harvard
University Press, 1972), 32.
30
Rene
Major,
"La
Logique
du nom
propre
et le transfert," Cahiers
Confrontation
15
(1986):
148-9.
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FRITZ GUTBRODT
and
separates
or
interrupts
the
relationship
between
proper
names
and common names in
language,
a
space opens up
where the
name,
as Major
puts it, remains without name
("une place
demeure sans
nom"
[160]). Thus, the
proper
name
designed
to
designate
a sub-
ject dangerously
borders on the effacement of what it names. Ac-
cording
to
Major
the task of the
analyst (and by implication,
the
translator and the
critic)
is to
interpret
that site where the name
remains without name,
that is to
say,
to
keep open
and thus make
sense of the
gap
between the
imaginary projections
of
meaning
in
order to allow the
singularity
of the individual and the
proper
name
to
emerge.31
Werther's
imaginary
obsession with the
meaning
of his
name
effectively
closes and seals this
gap.
Major's spot
without name in the
proper
name bears an
interesting
relationship
to
Benjamin's writings
on
language. Benjamin argues
that the
proper
name demarcates the
boundary
between the creative
word and the
language
of
cognition.
It has neither intention nor
meaning
but rather vouchsafes and
provides
the
ground
for a transla-
tion of the
language
of
things
into that of man, which
performs,
as he
puts it,
"die
Ubersetzung
des Namenlosen in den Namen."32 Thus,
the notion that names do not form
part
of
language
as a
system
of
signification
is related to his view that
they participate
in a medium of
translation
mapping
out "Kontinua der
Verwandlung,
nicht ab-
strakte Gleichheits- und Ahnlichkeitsbezirke" (151).33 Benjamin's
emphasis
on the name's
power
of translation and
translatability (as
opposed
to its
operation
in a
system
of
signification)
accounts for
his view that the names
parents give
"do not
correspond (...)
to
any knowledge (entspricht
keineErkenntnis)
"
and that "in a strict
sense,
no name
ought (in
its
etymological meaning)
to
correspond
to
any person"(324):
"Es sollte im
strengen
Geist auch kein Mensch
dem Namen
(nach
seiner
etymologischen Bedeutung) entsprechen"
31
To
keep
this
gap open means, according
to
Major,
to be
guarded against
the
effacement of the trace of effacement in the
proper name,
which would subsume the
proper
name under the common or communal name
(161).
His
argument
is a subtle
critique
of Lacan's
play
of the
signifier.
32
"The translation of the nameless into name." Walter
Benjamin,
"Uber
Sprache
fiberhaupt
und fiber die
Sprache
de Menschen,"
in Gesammelte
Schriften,
ed. Rolf
Tiedemann and Hermann
Schweppenhauser (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1977), II,
151.
The translation is from "On
Language
as Such and on the
Language
of
Man,"
in
Reflections,
ed. Peter Demetz, (New
York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978),
325.
33
"Translation
passes through
continua of transformation,
not abstract areas of
identity
and
similarity" (325).
On translation and the
proper name,
see Bettine
Menke's
impressive study,
Sprachfiguren:
Name-Allegorie-Bild
nach Walter
Benjamin
(Mfinchen: Fink, 1991), 78-126.
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MLN
(150).
With
regard
to this notion of
dissimilarity
it
might surprise
that
Benjamin
continues,
"Mit ihm wird
jedem
Menschen seine Er-
schaffung
durch Gott
verburgt,
und in diesem Sinne ist er selbst
schaffend,
wie die
mythologische
Weisheit es in der
Anschauung
ausspricht (die
sich wohl nicht selten
findet),
daB sein Name des
Menschen Schicksal sei"
(150).34
The
passage
is
interesting
because
in his later
essay
on "Schicksal und Charakter"
Benjamin
discusses
fate in its relation to a
reading
of
signs.
It invokes the
mythic
world of
law and
judgment
that in the
essay
on
language represents
the fall
from the
pure language
of names and in "Fate and Character" intro-
duces the notion of
guilt:
"Das Recht verurteilt nicht zur Strafe,
sondern zur Schuld. Schicksal ist der
Schuldzusammenhang
des
Lebendigen."35
Those who
try
to read in their name the
signs
of their
fate,
are inscribed within a
system
of evaluative
judgments
that are
not based on their action in the freedom of their name,
but rather on
a
reading
enslaved
by
an
imaginary
transference. This is true for
Werther,
who looks for his fate in Lotte's black
eyes:
"In her black
eyes
I read a
genuine
interest in me and in
my
fate." Guilt is written all over
the narrative,
all of Werther's actions are
morally outlawed;
whether
it be his
apparently
illicit love for a woman
promised
to someone else
or the
apparently
immoral act of suicide he commits in the end. It is
telling
that his drama of
guilt
is
staged
in and around a house where
the law has its residence. Lotte's father is the
county
judge,
Albert a
legal secretary. Benjamin's suggestion
that in a
mythic conception
of
the
proper
name a man's name
may
be his fate, and thus
might
bind
him to an unnamed
guilt,
comes true for Werther in the sense that his
attempts
to
appropriate
his own
proper
name
by inscribing
it within
the central scenes of the novel and the
pains
he takes to substitute the
names and
persons rivalling
his claim on Lotte
forgets
that the
proper
name is
something
like an invaluable
gift
of
language.
Lenz
has articulated the
mythological
nature of his fate
by calling
Werther
a crucified Prometheus. Werther's
posturing
as the son forsaken
by
both the Father and the Mother articulates the accusation that he has
been
deprived
of this invaluable
gift
and that he therefore has to
34
"By
it [the proper name] each man is
guaranteed
his creation
by God, and in
this sense he is himself creative, as is
expressed by mythological
wisdom in the idea
(which
is doubtless not
infrequently found) that a man's name is his fate" (324;
rev.).
35
Benjamin,
"Schicksal und Charakter," in Gesammelte
Schriften,
II, 175: "Law con-
demns, not to
punishment
but to
guilt.
Fate is the
guilt
context (Schuldzusam-
menhang)
of the
living" ("Fate and Character," in
Reflections, 308).
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FRITZ GUTBRODT
procure
it himself. To
procure
a name is to make it
part
of a
system
of
meaning
in which it
appears
as
merely
a
pseudonym.
As
Benjamin
writes at the end of his
essay
on fate and
character,
"Die
Physiognomik [ist eine
Erscheinung]
des neuen Weltalters
gewesen.
Ihren
Zusammenhang
mit der alten
Wahrsagekunst zeigt
die moderne
Physiognomik
noch in dem unfruchtbaren mora-
lischen Wertakzent ihrer
Begriffe" (178-9).36
A
reading
of
signs
is
always
a form of
evaluation, and
Werther, looking
for Lotte in
every
object
she
might
have touched or
just
looked at, is no less of a
physiognomist
than the author as
genius carefully observing
the
public
for whose taste he is
writing.
What makes this kind of
physiog-
nomy
both
risky
and attractive is the
uncertainty
of how the
signs
are
to be read. As we have
seen,
in the letter where Werther reads
Lotte's
eyes
for a confirmation of her love he makes his fate
depen-
dent on the accurate
interpretation
of the
signs they might
offer.
Her
eyes
are black and become themselves
something
like silhou-
ettes in which
every
line and
every
reflection means
something.
It is
amazing
that Lavater and his followers were never bothered
by
the
fact that the black
profiles they
were
subjecting
to careful
scrutiny
were
actually turning
their head to look in another direction. You
cannot face a
silhouette;
its
eyes disappear
into darkness. It does not
bode well for Werther's
attempt
to
decipher
his fate in Lotte's black
eyes.
Ten
days
after his look in her
eyes
he
attempts
to
paint
her
portrait,
but settles for a silhouette when it comes to
nothing:
Lottens Portrat habe ich
dreymal angefangen,
und habe mich
dreymal
prostituiert,
das mich um so mehr verdriest, weil ich vor
einiger
Zeit sehr
glucklich
im Treffen war, darauf hab ich denn den SchattenriB
gemacht,
und damit soil mir
genuigen. (82)37
Love taken in
profile
makes
blind,
one
might say,
and in Werther it
also shows death. Chodowiecki's marvellous illustrations show a sil-
houette
hanging
on the wall in the three
pictures grouped
around
Werther's suicide: in the scene where Lotte hands Werther the
pis-
tol,
in the room where he lies
dying
on his
bed,
in the
picture
that
36
"The
study
of
physiognomy (...
) was a manifestation of the new
age
of
genius.
Modern
physiognomics
reveals its connection with the old art of divination in the
unfruitful, morally
evaluative accent of its
concepts" (311).
37
"I have
begun
Charlotte's
portrait
three times, and have as often made a fool of
myself.
This is the more
annoying,
since I was
formerly very
successful in
catching
the likeness. I have since traced her
profile,
and must content
myself
with that"
(28-9).
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M L N
shows the
corpse
in the
empty
room after his death.38
Every reading
of
signs
and
inscription
of
signs
in the novel has a
physiognomical
character, including
the names. Names,
we have
seen,
are taken at
face value. That their
reading
was
part
of
18th-century
studies in
physiognomy
is confirmed
by Lichtenberg's scathing
remark that
one of his fellow students boasted he could see in the face of
people
whether
they
were called
Caspar:
"Dieser ruhmte sich im
Ernst,
daB
er den Leuten ansehen k6nnte,
wenn sie
Caspar
hieBen. Er irrte
sich nicht
wenig
wie man mir
gern glauben
wird,
allein er blieb
(...)
im
ganzen
bei seiner
Meinung,
und
Caspar
war ein
Name,
womit er einen sehr
zusammengesetzten
Charakter bezeichnete."39
Lavater,
whose second name was
Kaspar,
will have felt the
jab.40
Lichtenberg's
remark is
interesting
because he
distinguishes
the
translation of a
proper
name into a
signifying
structure from the
physiognomy
of letters,
which is not based on
similarity. Long
be-
fore he had seen the
portrait
of the American
general
Lee,
he
writes,
"habe ich mir ein Bild von ihm
gemacht,
das aus Deserteur
und
doppeltem
e so wunderbar
zusammengesetzt ist,
daB ich nie
ohne
Vergnuigen
daran denke"
(285).41
While this
reading
of letters
lends
general
Lee a
meaning
that does not
appropriate,
but rather
keeps
his name,
Werther's
presentation
and
inscription
of his name
engulfs
him in
speculations
in which he
gets
lost amidst the self-
enamored
gazing
he
performs.
As Barthes writes about the lover's
search for confirmation:
38
The illustrations are included in Jo6rn G6res' beautiful edition, Die Leiden des
jungen
Werther
(Frankfurt:
Insel
Verlag, 1973), 159, 163, 165. See also
Georg
Wit-
kowski, "Chodowieckis Werther-Bilder," Zeitschrift
fiir
Buicherfreunde
2.4
(July
1898):
153-62.
39
Georg Christoph
Lichtenberg,
"Uber
Physiognomik;
wider die
Physiognomen,"
in
Schriften
und
Briefe,
ed.
Wolfgang
Promies (Mfinchen: Carl Hanser, 1972), III,
284-5: "He boasted in all earnest that he could
recognize
if someone was called
Caspar.
He was
wrong often, as
you
can
imagine,
but all in all he nonetheless stuck to
his
opinion.
To him, Caspar
meant a dubious character."
40
On the occasion of his
grandson's
birth and
baptism,
Lavater wrote a tract
entitled
Briefe
an meinen
neugeborenen
Grofisohn
Johannes Lavater in Richtersweil
(1791)
in which he
speculates
on the
meaning
of his name that combines the
Evangelist
John
with one of the three
Magi, Kaspar,
from whom
Kasper
or
Kasperl,
the
bellig-
erent fool in German
puppet plays
for children, derives its name. Lavater was well
aware of this, arguing
that his middle name should not be
given
to his
grandson.
One
Kaspar
in the
family
is
enough,
or even more than
enough:
"Es ist
genug
und
mehr als
genug
an EinemJohann
Kaspar
Lavater!
Ja wahrlich, Einige sagen:
es sei zu
viel an dem,
wenigstens
Manches zu viel an diesem
fiuberflufissigen
Hans
Kaspar"
(Schriften,
ed.
Johann Kaspar
Orelli [Zfirich: SchultheB 1844], V, 250).
41
"I formed in
my
mind a
picture
of him that combined
defector
and a double e in
such wondrous
way
that I still think of it with
pleasure."
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FRITZ GUTBRODT
I look for
signs,
but of what? What is the
object
of
my reading?
Is it: am I
loved
(am
I loved no
longer,
am I still
loved)?
Is it
my
future that I am
trying
to
read, deciphering
in what is inscribed the announcement of
what will
happen
to me,
according
to a method which combines
paleo-
graphy
and manticism? Isn't it rather, all
things considered, that I remain
suspended
on this
question,
whose answer I
tirelessly
seek in the other's
face: What am I worth?"
(214;
Barthes'
emphasis)
It is this
specular
moment that accounts for the
spectacular
success
of the novel and the cult that
developed
around
it; for the last
question
was one that could be transferred to all readers-in the
name of Werther.
II.
Lovers, Authors, Bureaucrats
Every
cult
provokes
effects of identification
gathered, organized,
and indeed serialized
by
a
proper
name. In this
sense,
to
identify
with the
figure
of a cult is to make his or her name
proper
to oneself
as an
image.
It means to
prop
up
that name as an icon or idol where
self and other
converge
in an act that at once
estranges
the self and
familiarizes the otherness of the other.
Inexorably,
the cult culti-
vates the
image
of the other as an
enlargement
or
aggrandizement
of the self,
addressing
its
object
in the manner of a certain kind
of amorous discourse. As we have seen, Werther's cultish dance
around Lotte inscribes his name within a text that becomes a testi-
mony
to the value of his
subjectivity.
The
young
man that in the
vignette
on the title
page
to the novel's "second
genuine
edition"
engraves
the worth of Werther is a reader that seems to write his
epitaph.
At the same
time,
this
vignette,
which does not illustrate a
scene from the narrative and
yet
is so illustrative of its
discourse,
is
remarkable
precisely
because the scribe it shows is
something
like
the
phantom
of Werther that rises from his
grave
to inscribe his
name as the author
of
the book his letters constitute. The title
page
would be the
proper place
for the author's
proper
name to
appear.
In his
important essay,
Kittler has
pointed
out that the narrative's
love
story
is also a
story
of
authorship,
and Barthes' words about the
lover's
hunger
for the confirmation of his value can indeed be re-
phrased
for an author's
hankering
after the love of his readers: am I
loved
(am
I read no
longer,
am I still
read)?
What am I worth as an
author? Kittler follows
up
Foucault's
suggestion
in "What is an Au-
thor?" that one should examine "at what
point
we
began
to recount
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M L N
the lives of authors rather than of
heroes,"42 presenting
Werther as a
prime
instance of this shift in German literature.
Contrasting
Francesca and Paolo's
passionate
kiss after their
reading
of Ar-
thurian romance in the inferno of the Divine
Comedy
with Werther's
and Lotte's emotional and
yet strangely
chaste
entanglement
in the
novel's dramatization of their encounters with literature,
Kittler ar-
gues
that these scenarios of
reading
demonstrate "the
power
the
names of authors attain over souls (die Gewalt von Autorennamen uiber
die
Seelen)"
in the
eighteenth century.43
He
argues
that in
modernity
the
myth
of the hero,
whose deeds were
formerly
related
by
an
anonymous voice,
is
replaced by
the
myth
of an identified author
presenting
the
story
of
figures
whose names are
comparatively
un-
important
if not indeed
vanishing (149).
Kittler's
essay
takes
up
Foucault's
point
that the
naming
and identification of the author is
a
way
of
keeping
in check "the cancerous and
dangerous prolifera-
tion of
significations
within a world where one is
thrifty
not
only
with one's resources and
riches,
but also with one's discourses and
their
significations" (159).
The unfettered
genius,
Foucault
points
out,
is some sort of
decoy
or
compensation
to dissimulate the ideo-
logical
control this
figure
affords: "In
fact,
if we are accustomed to
presenting
the author as a
genius,
as a
perpetual surging
of inven-
tion,
it is
because,
in
reality,
we make him function in
exactly
the
opposite
fashion.
(...)
The author is
(.
. .) the
ideological figure by
which one marks the manner in which we fear the
proliferation
of
meaning."
Foucault's
essay
is
important
for a
reading
of Werther
because it
points
to a transition in literature and
philosophy
that
brings
about a
change
of the critical and aesthetic evaluation of
works as texts. "A text has an
inaugurative
value
precisely
because it
is the work of a
particular
author"
(157),
"modern criticism uses
methods similar to those that Christian
exegesis employed
when
trying
to
prove
the value of a text"
(150),
"the author is (. . .) de-
fined as a constant level of value"
(151).
While Werther can be
placed
in the culture of
emergent
author-
ship,
its discourse and its effect on the readers
complicates things
because it is marked
precisely by
an
attempt
to orchestrate a
prolif-
eration of
meaning
in order to dramatize, in
every
sense of the word,
42
Michel Foucault, "What is an Author?," in Textual
Strategies,
ed. Josue V. Harari
(Ithaca:
Cornell
University Press, 1979), 141. Further references to Foucault's
essay
are cited in the text.
43
Friedrich A. Kittler, "Autorschaft und Liebe," 144.
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FRITZ GUTBRODT
the
inscription
of the name of an author. In other words, it was
written to
satisfy
or rather incite the
public's
desire for a
prolifera-
tion of desire because the author
perceived
that this would make his
name in literature, and it is
precisely
the success of this
undertaking
that made it difficult for the author to claim control over his work.
In this lies the historical
significance
of Werther,
which is somewhat
obscured
by
Kittler's
attempt
to
project
Foucault's
argument
onto
the novel. After more than two hundred
years
of criticism the novel
is
safely resting
in the author's
lap,
and Kittler's
argument
is written
from this
perspective.
The role of the heroes and heroines declined
in relation to the rise of the author's
importance,
Kittler states. But
the scene in which Werther reads his translation of Ossian to Lotte
is not
really
different from Francesca's and Paolo's
reading
of Ar-
thurian romance,
and the
reception
of the text, its status as a cult
book,
shows that the
public
did not care too much about the author.
They
dressed and
spoke
like Werther and Lotte,
not like the author.
Kittler further
argues
that at the dawn of the
age
of authors in the
second half of the
eighteenth century
there had to be an author's
name on the title
page
or the readers would
inquire
about his or her
identity (148).
But the novel was for
good
reasons
published anony-
mously
in 1774. He claims that
by
the end of the
eighteenth century
copyright
laws were in
place
to
protect
intellectual
property (150).
But in
Germany
it was not until the
year
after Goethe's death that
this
happened,44
and the textual
history
of Werther is marked
by
an
intense
competition
between the
publisher
and the
pirates
that left
the author
completely
out of the
loop.
Goethe became the first
modern German author
(154),
he
says
with reference to Goethe's
writing
about the
writing
of Wertherin his
autobiography.
This is
very
true,
but it was a
project
that
only began
to take
shape
with the
publication
of
Dichtung
und Wahrheit in the
years
between 1811 and
1814,
and Goethe's account of the novel's
composition
is
interesting
because it tells the
story
of a text whose
astounding
success made it
spin
out of Goethe's authorial control.
Goethe is the author of Werther. We shall have to come back to this
claim later. At this
point
we
ought
to consider the
question
of how
the narrative's
proliferation
of
meaning
could,
in Foucault's
sense,
be
kept
in check. It is a
proliferation
that leaves Werther
scrambling
44
On the
problems
of
copyright,
see Heinrich Bosse, Autorschaft
ist
Werkherrschaft:
Uber die
Entstehung
des Urheberrechts aus dem Geist der Goethezeit
(Paderborn: Sch6ningh,
1981).
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M L N
for his
identity
and,
as we have
seen,
his
proper
name. The
inscrip-
tion of "Wert" on the title
page
can neither fill the lack of the
author's name nor
recuperate
the loss of Werther. The second
part
of the novel contains no reference to value or worth in Werther's
letters.45 The last time it does
emerge
is in the deathbed scene
where Lotte's mother transfers or
imposes
her
responsibility
for the
children and her
obligations
toward her husband
upon
Lotte. She
appoints
Lotte as mother and
wife,
and in
arranging
her
engage-
ment with Albert,
whom she also calls to her
bedside,
she tries to
make sure that incest is not
part
of Lotte's
lot,
as is the case in some
of
Lessing's
and Schiller's
plays.46
Lotte tells Werther about her
mother's death on the
night
before he leaves the town. This is how
Werther
gets adopted
into the
family:
"Lotte! rief ich aus, indem ich mich vor sie hinwarf, ihre Hande nahm
und mit tausend Thranen nezte. Lotte, der
Segen
Gottes ruht uiber dir,
und der Geist deiner Mutter!-Wenn Sie sie
gekannt
hatten!
sagte sie,
indem sie mir die Hand druikte,-sie war werth, von Ihnen
gekannt
zu
seyn.-Ich glaubte
zu
vergehen.
Nie war ein
gr6sseres,
stolzeres Wort
uiber mich
ausgesprochen
worden"
(120).47
The
adoption and, one last time, the
imaginary naming
of Werther
45
"Werth" is mentioned in three
passages
added in
1787, though.
See
pp. 203,
219, 220. The Editor cites Lotte
using
the word in a
significant passage
in which she
suggests
to Werther that he should leave to find a
worthy object
of his love: "Gewin-
nen Sie's fiber sich! Eine Reise wird Sie, muB Sie zerstreuen! Suchen Sie, finden Sie
einen werthen
Gegenstand
all Ihrer Liebe, und kehren Sie zurfik, und lassen Sie uns
zusammen die
Seligkeit
einer wahren Freundschaft
genieBen" (220). / "Make an
effort: a short
journey
will distract
you.
Seek and find an
object worthy
of
your love;
then return and let us
enjoy together
the
happiness
of a most
perfect friendship"
(72).
46
See
Meyer-Kalkus's
comments on the deathbed scene in "Werthers Krankheit
zum Tode," 109-10 and 117-8.
47
"'Charlotte,' I exclaimed, 'God's
blessing
and
your
mother's
spirit
are
upon
you!'
'Oh if
you
had
only
known her!' she said, pressing my
hand. 'She was
worthy
(werth)
of
being
known
by you.'
I
thought
I should faint. Never had I received
praise
so
magnificent" (41).
Not
only
the last but also the first instance of the narrative's
assessment of Werther's worth occurs in a scene of
adoption.
Werther is
visiting
Lotte at her house, she is
handing
out bread to her
siblings.
Lotte asks one of the
boys
to shake hands with him and in
doing
so calls him "cousin." Werther's
response
articulates the title of the book: "Vetter?
sagt'
ich, indem ich ihr die Hand reichte,
glauben
Sie, dass ich des Glfiks werth
sey,
mit Ihnen verwandt zu
seyn?-O! sagte sie,
mit einem
leichtfertigen
Lacheln, unsere Vetterschaft ist sehr
weitlauftig,
und es
ware mir
leid, wenn sie der Schlimmste drunter
seyn
sollten" (40/42). / "Cousin?" I
said to
Charlotte,
as I offered her
my hand,
"do
you
think I am worth (werth) the
happiness
of
being
related to
you?"
She
replied,
with a
quick smile, "Oh! I have such
a number of cousins that I should be
sorry
if
you
were the most
undeserving
of them"
(15; rev.). "Worth" and
"sorry,"
The Sorrows
of Young
Werther.
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FRITZ GUTBRODT
are not
performed
in the name of the Father, but under the
supervi-
sion of the
spirit
of the mother.
They
transform the word werth into
the
praise
for the Mother whose
place
Lotte is called
upon
to take.
Meyer-Kalkus
has worked out the structures of what he calls
Werther's matriarchal hominisation in the
patriarchal
structure of
the
eighteenth-century family. Drawing
on Lacan's
concept
of the
foreclosure of the Name-of-the-Father
by
the mother, he sets
up
an
oedipal
structure in which Werther,
in the absence of the
symbolic
father, identifies with the
imago
of the Mother and is
eventually
driven to his suicide.48 His
reading
is borne out
by
the narrative in
many respects,
and one
might
add that the
grave
is
something
like
the womb of the Mother to which Werther returns in the end. His
claim that the
importance
of the Mother in this structure corre-
sponds
to a
gradual weakening
of the father's
position
in the fami-
lies of the nineteenth and twentieth
century
is accurate and
judi-
cious, but one notes with some uneasiness the hints that in the end
Werther's death
might
be blamed on the Mother and that
Lotte,
in
the Ossian scene where
they
embrace and kiss,
shows the "same"
desire as Werther. The words
Meyer-Kalkus
cites to corroborate this
suspicion-she
felt "tief,
ohne sich es deutlich zu machen, daB
ihr herzliches heimliches
Verlangen sey,
ihn ffir sich zu behalten"
(229)49-are
in fact an
interpolation by
the Editor added in 1787.
Lotte's
rejection
of Werther when he kisses her after their
reading
of his translation of Ossian is marked
by
her
emphatic
call of his
name: "Werther! rief sie mit erstikter Stimme sich abwendend,
Werther! und druikte mit schwacher Hand seine Brust von der
ihrigen!
Werther! rief sie mit dem
gefaBten
Tone des edelsten Ge-
fiuhls" (246).50
Lotte does not
simply appear
as
Germany's
virtuous
wife. She calls Werther to reason in
calling
him to his
proper proper
name, which is to
say
that she does not
simply
remind him that his
kisses are
unworthy
of him or their
relationship.
Rather,
her call
marks the end of such
imaginary phantasies
about Werther's worth.
It is a late call,
but it is
placed.
The Editor's
speculations
about Lotte's desires is
interesting
not
48
Meyer-Kalkus,
119-24.
49
"She felt, for the first time, deeply though
half
unconsciously
that it was her
secret desire to
keep
him for herself"
(75).
50
"'Werther!' she cried with
choking voice, turning away.
'Werther!' and,
with a
feeble hand, pushed
him from her. And
again,
more
composed
and from her
heart,
she
repeated,
'Werther!'"
(80-1).
606
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MLN
only
because it
engages
in
something
like
psychoanalysis
without
asking
the
psyche
under
investigation,
but also,
and in the first
place,
because it indicates the source of what Foucault calls "the
manner in which we fear the
proliferation
of
meaning."
Werther
testifies to a fear of uncontrollable and insatiable female
sexuality,
and the novel's enormous success with the
public
dovetails with the
increasing
concern in the male dominated
republic
of letters about
the Lesesucht,
the
voracity
with which women were
reading
novels.
Female
sexuality
is the
proliferation
of
meaning
that the
figure
of a
Father and Author should delimit. The shift of his affection to the
image
of the Mother makes Werther's love
permissible
and at the
same time turns it into a threat of an
impermissible oedipal
incest.
It is this structure of desire and threat that at once
provokes
his
desire to be named
by
Lotte in an act of
rejecting
the Father and his
inscription
of this desire within the narrative
according
to an absent
and
phantasmatic
law
represented by
an absent Father.
How can the fear of female
sexuality
be controlled? The answer
the narrative of Werther
brings
to this
question
is not the name of an
author but,
as one
might say
with Foucault,
the text's
tendency
toward
anonymity.
This
tendency
will not
just
cancel out the voice of
an author but rather constitute what Foucault calls "the
anonymity
of a murmur"
(160),
which is related to his notion that "all dis-
courses endowed with the author-function do
possess
this
plurality
of self"
(152).
The novel-as
opposed
to the letters it contains or
includes-has several "authors" and discourses,
at least two. While
one of them is the amorous discourse of the lover,
the other one is
the discourse of the law and of the
bureaucracy
of law in which
several
figures participate.
To work out these two discourses, we
shall have to look at the structure of
rivalry
and erasure Werther sets
up
when
talking
about authors in order to substitute them. Further,
we must
try
to see in what
way
the
rivalry
that
organizes
his relation-
ship
with Albert is in fact one between the two discourses.
Doing
this,
we shall once more have to
pay
attention to the
gaze;
it links the
two modes of discourse
by confronting
Werther's amorous
gaze
with
the
investigative eye
of the law.
In what is
perhaps
the most famous or notorious scene of the
novel, Werther and Lotte find themselves at a window after the
thunderstorm that
interrupted
the
party
where
they
met had blown
over and
given way
to a soft rain
pouring
from the
sky.
The avowal of
love that follows is not
only
marked
by
the flow of tears that will
put
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FRITZ GUTBRODT
Lotte and Werther in
harmony
with the rain outside but also
by
a
proper
name that sounds like thunder and strikes the
sympathetic
hearts like
lightening:
Wir traten an's
Fenster, es donnerte abseitwarts und der herrliche
Regen
sauselte auf das Land, und der
erquikkendste Wohlgeruch stieg
in aller
Fulle einer warmen Luft zu uns auf. Sie stand auf ihrem
Ellenbogen
gestuitzt
und ihr Blik
durchdrang
die
Gegend,
sie sah
gen
Himmel und
auf mich, ich sah ihr
Auge thranenvoll, sie
legte
ihre Hand auf die
meinige
und
sagte-Klopstock!
Ich versank in dem Strome von
Empfin-
dungen,
den sie in dieser
Loosung
uiber mich
ausgoB.
Ich
ertrugs nicht,
neigte
mich auf ihre Hand und kuBte sie unter den wonnevollesten
Thranen. Und sah nach ihrem
Auge
wieder-Edler! hattest du deine
Vergotterung
in diesem Blikke
gesehn,
und mocht ich nun deinen so oft
entweihten Nahmen nie wieder nennen h6ren!
(52/54)51
Klopstock's
name is uttered as a
password (Loosung)
that will allow
Lotte and Werther to enter the intimate
community
of friends idol-
izing
the German bard. The alternate
holding
of hands, the
kiss,
the
exchange
of tender looks: In its
peculiar
combination of an
upsurge
of emotions and formal
gestures
that
keep
them in
check,
the scene
stages
an
imaginary wedding
in which the circle around
Klopstock
constitutes the
ring
that binds them in some kind of
matrimony
of
sensibility.
In the name of
"Klopstock!,"
Lotte becomes Werther's
lawful wedded heart. Werther moves
fast, and the scene at the win-
dow that concludes the
long
letter
telling
the
story
of a love at first
sight
has in fact
already undergone
a series of revisions.
Choreogra-
phy
is one of Werther's
strengths,
even if he
appeared
to be out of
step
in his dance with Lotte some moments before. While the scene
on the dance floor was
governed by
a
dyadic
structure
threatening
to be
disrupted
at
any moment,
the
Klopstock
scene seems to be set
up
as one in which a third name mediates the
position
of the two
friends.
However, things quickly get confusing again. Trying
to as-
sume the
imaginary place
of Albert
by reading
Lotte's utterance of
51
"We went to the window. It was still
thundering
in the
distance;
a soft rain was
pouring
down over the
countryside
and filled the air around us with delicious
fragrance.
Charlotte leaned on her elbows, her
eyes
wandered over the
scene,
she
looked
up
to the
sky,
and then turned to me, her
eyes
filled with tears;
she
put
her
hand on mine and said, 'Klopstock!' I felt overcome
by
the flood of emotion which
the mention of his name called forth. It was more than I could bear. I bent over her
hand, kissed it in a stream of ecstatic tears,
and
again
looked into her
eyes.
Divine
Klopstock!
If
only you
could have seen
your apotheosis
in those
eyes!
And
your
name, so often
profaned, may
I never hear it uttered
again!" (19; rev.).
The refer-
ence to
Klopstock's
ode "Die
Frfihlingsfeyer"
added
by
Goethe in 1787 is omitted.
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"Klopstock!"
as a
promise,
the letter that
arranges
this
arrangement
at the same time
puts Klopstock
in the
place
the
phantasy
was de-
signed
to
keep
vacant for Werther. In other
words,
if Werther's
phantasy
of a
marriage
with Lotte re-members the
suppressed
mem-
ory
that Lotte is
already engaged
to
marry
someone
else,
it now also
engages
in a
competition
with the name
by
whose
authority
their
emotional
coupling
is
performed.
The scene unfolds a
rivalling
scenario of
rivalry.
Its structure no doubt
pertains
to the
leadership
cult.
Every figure
of a leader
engenders
both identification and
challenge.
The conclusion of Werther's letter addresses the
poet
directly
in terms marked
by
both adulation and
aggression.
"Divine
Klopstock!
If
only you
could have seen
your apotheosis
in those
eyes!"
For a
fleeting
moment-"in
wenig Augenblikken"-Werther
sees himself in the mirror of Lotte's
eyes
as the
apotheosis
of
Klopstock.
The letter is in fact
already working
on an erasure of
Klopstock's
name in Lotte's
apostrophe:
"And
your
name,
(...
.)
may
I never hear it uttered
again!"
The reverence of this reference can-
not hide the wish to substitute his name for that of the bard. There
lies the difference between the
rivalry
with Albert and the
competi-
tion with
Klopstock. Although
it
might
be difficult to assume the
place
of the fianc6, one
thing
seems certain to Werther: You can make
your
name. This is what the
appropriation
of
"Klopstock!"
for the
scene of an
imaginary marriage
tells Werther. It offers the name as
an
image
or
imaginary
construct,
and this is
why
the scene is
staged
in an amorous
gaze. Everything depends
on
being
allotted a
place
in Lotte's
eyes.
The
hungry
look of Werther. It is the most
haunting aspect
of the
novel: "Wie
(...) ich, weis Gott mit wieviel Wonne,
an ihrem Arme
und
Auge hieng" (48),52
he writes about the dance after the
party
that seemed to take
place
in the orb of her
eye.
After the scene of
baptism
at the
well,
he writes: "Was man nach so einem Blikk
geizt!"
Lotte and her friends
depart
in the
carriage,
and Werther looks for
her
eyes,
"Ich suchte Lottens
Augen!
Ach, sie
giengen
von einem
zum andern! Aber auf mich! Mich! Mich! der
ganz
allein auf sie
resignirt
dastund, fielen sie nicht!"
(72).53
The "Mich! Mich! Mich!
-Nicht!" performs
something
like a
biting. Wellbery
has drawn
52
"Heaven knows with what
ecstasy
I was
clinging
to her
body
and
gazed
at her
eyes" (17, rev.).
53
"What a child I am to be so covetous of a look!
(...)
I tried to catch Lotte's
eye.
Her
glance
wandered from one to the other, but it didn't
light
on me-on me! On
me, who stood there motionless, on me who alone saw her" (25).
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FRITZ GUTBRODT
attention to the
non-representational
character of nourishment in
Werther,
and his
presentation
of the novel shows that it can indeed
be read as the modulation of a voice. Werther's
proper
mode would
be the
lyric,
the
hymn,
or the
elegy.
As he once writes at the end of
one of his most
lyrical letters, having
returned from a walk: "Ich
sehe nichts,
als ein
ewig verschlingendes, ewig
wiederkauendes Un-
geheuer" (108).54
This is the reverse side of Werther's
lyric orality,
and with
regard
to Lotte,
with whom
everything
is connected in this
devouring
look
(verschlungenes
and
verschlingendes),
there is some-
thing
of the
myth
of the
vagina
dentata in this
passage.
As Levinas
argues,
we live and feed on the world in an act of
eating
that radi-
cally
transforms the intentions we
bring
to bear on the world before
us.
Eating
alters the
meaning
with which we endow this world in
representational
modes of
thinking
in that this
very intentionality
aiming
at the
objects
around us "becomes interior to the
exteriority
it constitutes."55 L6vinas thus comes to
distinguish
nourishment as
the milieu of existence and
thought
from an intake that
destroys
the
alterity
of the world
by
an act of assimilation and
appropriation:
"To
be sure,
in the satisfaction of needs the
foreignness
of the world on
which I am founded loses its
alterity:
in satiation the real on which I
feed
gets
assimilated; the
power
that was in the other becomes
my
power,
becomes me
(...).
In its
preparation
and
possession
the
alterity
of
nourishing
substances enters the order of the Same"
(135).
This is what Werther lives on, preparing
Lotte as the substi-
tute of a lost mother,
a
prop
to be
appropriated
like
Klopstock,
who
is a father
figure
at once desired and shunned. In Werther's senti-
mental discourse the
relationship
between
interiority
and exteri-
ority explored by
Levinas is threatened
by
the
suspicion
that his
body,
like that of Lotte's,
is in fact hollow. "Ach diese Lfikke! Diese
entsetzliche Lukke,
die ich hier in meinem Busen ffihle!"
(172).56
Goethe's
play
Der
Triumph
der
Empfindsamkeit presents
a
puppet
or
automaton as a
paragon
of love. When its stomach or womb is
opened
some of the
key
texts of
European sentimentality
clatter
down to the
ground. Among
the books the
puppet
devoured,
as it
were,
are the Nouvelle Heloise and Werther. How can one eat a name?
Levinas' remark that food constitutes a medium rather than an
object
to be
appropriated
and assimilated to oneself holds true for
54
"The universe looks to me like an
all-consuming, devouring
monster"
(37; rev.).
55
Emmanuel Levinas, Totaliti et
infini
(The Hague: Nijhoff, 1971),
136.
56
"Ah! the void-the fearful void within me!"
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the name as well. To
incorporate
a name means to endow it with a
meaning
that then can be seized
upon.
The
truly
voracious
reading
experience
of the Russian countess Lubomirska
gives
some evidence
of this. When she received the book she sat down to read it with the
help
of a
dictionary. Arriving
at the emotional
Klopstock
scene she
sensed that it constituted one of the novel's climactic moments but
did not understand what Werther and Lotte made almost delirious.
She looked
up "Klopstock!"
Because
proper
names have no mean-
ing,
countess Lubomirska did not find the word
"Klopstock"
listed
in the
dictionary.
When she called her German cook to
help
her
out,
the cook
glanced
at the
passage
and then told the countess that
Klopstock
was an
especially
delicious kind of roastbeef.57
In his
reading
of
Werther, Barthes characterizes identification in
terms that
aptly
describe the set of the novel's
Klopstock
scene: "I
devour
every
amorous
system
with
my gaze
and in it I discern the
place
which would be mine if I were a
part
of that
system.
I
perceive
not
analogies
but
homologies:
I
note, for
instance,
that I am to X
what Y is to
Z;
everything
I am told about Y affects me
powerfully,
though
Ys
person
is a matter of indifference to
me,
or even un-
known;
I am
caught
in a mirror which
changes position
and which
reflects me wherever there is a dual structure"
(129).
The
voracity
of
the narcissistic desire with which the lover seeks to inscribe himself
within the amorous discourse contrasts
sharply
with the utter ab-
sence of intention that characterizes the structure of its
system:
"Identification is not a
psychological process;
it is a
pure
structural
operation:
I am the one who has the same
place
I have"
(129).
Once
you
are in the
system, you
are
in, and Barthes even
suggests
that its
structure can
actually
do
you
in. "The structure has
nothing
to do
with
persons;
hence
(like
a
bureaucracy)
it is terrible. It cannot be
implored-I
cannot
say
to it: 'Look how much better I am than H.'
Inexorable, the structure
replies:
'You are in the same
place;
hence
you
are H.' No one can
plead against
the structure"
(130; Barthes'
emphasis).
If Werther's
plea
for Lotte's affection is a desire to be
named, Barthes'
presentation
of the lover's discourse as a bureau-
cracy
commands some interest. What makes
any bureaucracy
terri-
ble is the
anonymity
it creates in the
very
act of
gaining
control over
the
proper
names entered in its books.
57
Related
by
Richard
Alewyn
in
"Klopstock!," Euphorion
73
(1979): 359. One
wonders how the countess read or devoured the rest of the novel. But one also senses
that the cook had a
very
clear view of Werther's
hungry
look.
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FRITZ GUTBRODT
The
bureaucracy ascribes,
strictly speaking,
neither value nor
character to the
persons
it
registers,
and it administers a name
merely
as an
empty placeholder
within an incident or a series of
incidents it is
designed
to
report regardless
of the life or
history
of
the name
reported
in its connection. Thus the
registration of, say,
a
marriage simply
relates that there was a
wedding
to be
duly reported
and that on this
particular day
it
happened
to be X and Y that were
involved in it. The
perspective
Barthes
brings
to the novel reveals a
strange complicity
between Werther's letters and the documents
amassed in a bureaucratic
apparatus.
While the latter void the name
of a
specific
individual
by translating
it into a marker within the
structure of a
given system,
the former reconstruct those
systems
in
whose structure Werther then seeks to install himself
by substituting
his name for those of others. Thus, when Werther
during
his dance
with Lotte hears the name "Albert" and learns about their imminent
marriage,
an
imaginary marriage
will be set
up
in which
"Klopstock!"
is substituted for
"Albert," then
"Klopstock!" replaced by
Werther.
The "H." Barthes refers to in the
passage
cited above seems to
be
Heinrich,
the madman with an
interesting physiognomy
whom
Werther encounters on the hills outside the town. "Er war ein so
guter
stiller
Mensch,
der mich ernahren
half; eine schone Hand
schrieb, und auf einmal wird er
tiefsinnig,
fallt in ein
hitziges Fieber,
daraus in
Raserey,
und nun ist
er,
wie sie ihn sehen"
(188)58
As it
turns
out,
the
"very
fine hand" was
writing
in the service of the
judge's
office:
Wilhelm! der
Mensch,
von dem ich dir
schrieb,
der
gluikliche
Un-
glfikliche,
war Schreiber
bey
Lottens Vater,
und eine
ungluckliche
Leidenschaft zu
ihr,
die er nahrte, verbarg, entdekte, und aus dem Dienst
geschikt wurde, hat ihn rasend
gemacht.
Fuhle
Kerl, bey
diesen troknen
Worten, mit welchem Unsinne mich die Geschichte
ergriffen hat,
da mir
sie Albert eben so
gelassen erzahlte,
als dus' vielleicht liesest.
(190)59
The
story grips Werther, just
as he
grabs
the
figure
of Heinrich for
his own
story.
What it tells him is that fine
writing
in amorous letters
can
go
hand in hand with the
writing
in an administration. That
58
"He used to be a
good, quiet boy,
who
helped support me,
and wrote a
very
fine
hand. But all at once, he became
melancholy,
was seized with a violent
fever, grew
distracted, and is now as
you
see"
(63).
59
"Wilhelm! The man about whom I wrote to
you-that
man so
happy
in his
misfortunes-was a clerk in the service of Charlotte's father. An
unhappy passion
for
her, which he cherished, concealed, and
eventually revealed,
made him lose his
position.
This caused his madness.
Think,
as
you
read these
dry words,
what an
impression
all this made on me! Albert told it as
calmly
as
you
will
probably
read it"
(64).
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M L N
makes Lotte's
position
so
dangerous.
She is at home in a
place
that
demarcates and thus holds
together
those two modes of discourse.
Heinrich, clerk and lover, could not tell them
apart.
His madness
might
be the
insight
that-in this
story
and
house-they
cannot be
easily
dissociated. We do not know what act of revelation led to his
dismissal.
Perhaps
one
day
that
"very
fine hand" was
inadvertently
writing
a billet doux on the office
stationery.
It is no accident that
Albert tells Werther this
story.
He too moves in both these dis-
courses and makes his home where
they
meet. Unlike
Werther,
he
knows when it is time to turn his attention to business matters. This
is
why
he
stays
on
top
in their
rivalry.
Not because he would be in a
better
position
with
regard
to Lotte's affection but because he sees
that their
rivalry
has the same structure as that between amorous
and bureaucratic discourse. He never insists on
being
the lawful
husband of Lotte, but he
continually
shows that as a
legal
clerk he is
wedded to the law. When the situation
gets really
tense towards the
end of the novel, Albert immerses himself in his
legal
work while
Werther and Lotte are entrenched in their emotional turmoil. Re-
turning
from a visit to a
judge
in the
neighbouring county
that had
kept
him
away during
the
night
in which Werther saw Lotte for the
last time,
he is met
by
Lotte whose embrace and irritated look make
him
suspicious:
"Eben dadurch machte sie die Aufmerksamkeit Al-
bertens
rege, der, nachdem er
einige
Briefe und Pakete
erbrochen,
sie
ganz
trokken
fragte,
ob sonst nichts
vorgefallen,
ob niemand da
gewesen
ware?"
(254/56).60
On
hearing
that Werther had been
making
love while he had been
doing business, he retires to his
study
and starts
writing
at his
desk, gets up
to
pace up
and down the
room, returns to the desk and writes on. At the same time Werther is
in his room
following
the same
pattern:
He is
writing, gets up
to
roam
through
the
garden
and across the hills
(nature
is to him what
the office is to
Albert), gets
back to his
desk, continues to write. The
rivalry
of the two
parallel
and now simultaneous modes of fine
writing
reaches its finale. The lover sends the bureaucrat a
note,
asking
him to lend his
pistols:
"Wollten Sie mir wohl zu einer vorha-
benden Reise ihre Pistolen leihen? Leben Sie recht wohl"
(252).61
Chodowiecki's illustration of the scene where Lotte
gives
Werther's
60
"This aroused the
suspicion
of
Albert, who, after he had
opened
some letters
and
packages, curtly
asked her whether
anything
else had
happened
and whether
anyone
had been there"
(my translation; the
sequence
of events and the words in the
1774 narrative are different from the 1787 text on
p. 84).
61
"'Would
you
lend me
your pistols
for a
journey
I am about to undertake?
Adieu'"
(82).
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FRITZ GUTBRODT
servant the two
pistols
shows Albert
sitting
at his desk. The next
picture
shows Werther
lying dying
beside his desk. In this novel,
being
a bureaucrat is a
way
of survival.
Barthes'
argument
is a
timely
reminder that the amorous dis-
course of
sensibility
is
developed
at the same time as, and in con-
junction with, 18th-century attempts
to make the administrations of
the
legal system
and the
police
more effective in their control over
names, people,
and their
respective place
in
society.62
Kittler is
right
on this
point:
Werther is a narrative in which the
subjects
are con-
trolled
by
the authorities. As a lover, Werther
quickly slips
into the
slots the
bureaucracy puts
in
place
in order to
keep
some order in
the novel's
rambling
discourse on love. Once his name is on file,
there is no
escape
from the secret
intelligence
culled from his love
letters for the
reports
on which the bureaucrats, adding
to his rec-
ord, work in the
background.
Albert and Lotte's father, the
county
judge, might
be the most
prominent
administrators in the novel,
but there are of course also the members of the
nobility acting
as
chief officers in the affairs of the state. Werther seeks a
position
in
their staff and
entourage,
and his letters in the second book of the
novel are
pervaded by
an air of
suspicion
that all the bureaucrats
around him are
engaged
in some kind of
conspiracy
to
betray
not
only
his love but the
very
idea of love. However, there is one more
administrative aide to reckon with.
Although
he in fact controls the
whole
novel,
he is
rarely
mentioned in
criticism,
which
only
shows
that he does a
good job.
For his
job
is to remain in the
background
in order to more
effectively
lead the
investigation
he undertakes:
the Editor. He is the
agent assembling
the records,
he has Wilhelm
hand over the letters once Werther is dead,
he
arranges
the con-
tents of the file on Werther, he will close the case.
Werther
presents
a case
history.
As such,
its chief interest lies in the
fact that it
rigorously stages
Werther's intimate amorous discourse
62
In his
autobiography,
Goethe
presents
a
history
of the German
supreme court,
the
Reichskammergericht
at Wetzlar, commenting
also on its role in a
reorganization
of
the
police
forces in the
many principalities
of the
country.
See Aus meinem Leben.
Dichtung
und Wahrheit, vol. 14 of FA, ed. Klaus-Detlef Mfller
(Frankfurt/Main:
Klassiker
Verlag, 1986), 570-78, and the translation in
Poetry
and Truth, vol. 4 of
SE,
ed. Thomas P. Saine
(New
York:
Suhrkamp Publishers, 1987),
387-93. Goethe char-
acterizes the court as a "durchaus kranken
K6rper" (577),
a
"totally
diseased
organ-
ism"
(392),
terms that
put
it in touch with the sickness of Werther. See also Wilhelm
Herbst, Goethe in Wetzlar
(Gotha: Perthes, 1881),
33-44 and W. H.
Bruford, Germany
in
the
Eighteenth Century:
The Social
Background of
the Literary Revival
(Cambridge:
Cam-
bridge University Press, 1935).
614
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MLN
as a
public
event. While the
myth
still endures that
eighteenth-
century epistolary
fiction created
something
like a
private space
that was
given
a
private
and unmediated voice,
it is
important
to
note that this
privacy
is a
concept carefully
monitored
by public
morals and
ideologies. Epistolary
fiction is also an
attempt
on the
part
of
bourgeois society
to
subject private
discourse to
public
scru-
tiny.
This did not
preclude
that fiction and its
publicized
discourse
from
putting up
standards of value that its
protagonists
would then
be shown to
transgress. Quite
to the
contrary. Self-censorship
be-
came a mark of distinction from the moral
corruptness
of the no-
bility long
before Freud introduced the
super-ego
and the uncon-
scious as
agents
of control in a
society
where the
nobility
had
long
lost its
commanding position.
In Werther this
censorship
is
per-
formed
by
the Editor. He makes his entrance
early enough
to
give
the last stammers and
spurts
of Werther's
desperate writing
some
coherence,
filling
in the
gaps
of the
epistolary
discourse.
Although
the tone of his
report, especially
in the revised edition of 1787,
seems to characterize him as a
sympathetic
and indeed
very
close
friend of Werther's, he also
performs
the duties of the
police.
Readers of the novel have celebrated the book's last scene where a
solitary
lover forsaken
by
the world is lowered into an unmarked,
anonymous grave
outside the
churchyard.
"Kein Geistlicher hat ihn
begleitet" (266).
This is how the novel ends. "No
clergyman
at-
tended"
(87),
but other
public
officials did. One of them is the
judge,
the other one-we
might conjecture-is
the Editor. For let
us not
forget
that Werther's suicide necessitates an official
inquest
by
the authorities. The
legal
sources cited in Zedler's
encyclopedia
are
very
clear about this:
Da nun
jemand
wider
g6ttliche
obere Gewalt sich selbst das Leben
nimmt, und ein todter
Korper gefunden wird; so
liegt
zuforderst denen
Gerichten des Ortes, in deren Gerichtsbarkeit
selbiger
befunden wird,
ob, sich nicht allein selbst dahin zu
verfugen,
und den todten Leichnam
zu
besichtigen,
sondern auch, wegen
derer
dabey
vorkommenden Um-
stande, genaue
Kundschaft einzuziehen.63
63
Grojfes
vollstdndiges
Universal Lexikon aller
Wissenschaften
und Kiinste, ed.
Johann
Heinrich Zedler
(Leipzig
and Halle, 1743), 36, 1604-5: "If someone has taken his
own life and his
body
is found, it is the
duty
of the courts in the district where he is
found to
go
to the
spot
where it
happened
in order to examine the
body.
There also
has to be an
inquiry
into the circumstances of the action." On the
perception
of suicide in the
contemporary legal, moral, and aesthetic discourse, see Klaus
Oettinger,
"'Eine Krankheit zum Tode': Zum Skandal um Werthers Selbstmord,"
Deutschunterricht 28..2 (1976): 55-74.
615
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FRITZ GUTBRODT
The Editor is
something
like the coroner that in time
appears
at the
scene to conduct the
inquest or, as it is called in
Zedler, the
Inquisi-
tion. The officers or Gerichts-Halter had the
duty
and
right
to collect
evidence and talk to those who knew the
person.
This is the case in
the novel, and the characters that
already figured
in Werther's let-
ters now also become witnesses in a formal
public proceeding:
Die ausfiihrliche Geschichte der letzten
merkwuirdigen Tage
unseres
Freundes zu liefern, sehe ich mich
genothiget
seine Briefe durch
Erzahlung
zu unterbrechen, wozu ich den Stof aus dem Munde Lottens,
Albertens, seines Bedienten, und anderer
Zeugen gesammlet
habe.
(198)64
On the evaluation and
interpretation
of the Editor
depends
the
crucial
question
whether the reason for Werther's suicide is
insanity
or some other motive that would lead to a
post-mortem
execution
and his burial under the
gallows.
With the entrance of the
Editor, the
literary
work of art is
investigated
with
regard
to its
potential
for
crime.
Apparently,
this is how
Napoleon
read the novel. As Ecker-
mann
quotes
Goethe's remark about
Napoleon's reading
of Werther.
"'Er hatte ihn studirt wie ein Criminalrichter seine Acten.'
"65
In his
debate with Albert about suicide Werther demands not
only respect
for someone
committing
suicide but also a
sympathetic investigation
into the motives. Their different
approach presents exactly
the differ-
ence documented in Zedler's
encyclopedia entry
between the more
enlightened legal positions
and those
following
traditional doctrine.
And
surprisingly,
while Werther cannot focus as a lover and looks
foolish in
comparison
to Albert's
self-composed
attitude toward his
rival,
he is the better advocate for the
rights
a suicide should have. In
the area of the
law,
his
sympathy
and
empathy get
all his words in their
proper place:
"Habt ihr
(...)
die innern Verhaltnisse einer Han-
dlung
erforscht? WiBt ihr mit Bestimmtheit die Ursachen zu entwik-
keln,
warum sie
geschah,
warum sie
geschehen
muBte? Hattet ihr
das,
ihr wuirdet nicht so
eilfertig
mit euren Urtheilen
seyn" (94)
.66 In
the revised version of
1787,
the Editor's voice is
substantially
edited to
appear
much more
sympathetic
to the cause than the law officer of
64
"In order to
present
a detailed
history
of our friend's last
days
I am forced to
interrupt
his letters
by
a
connecting
narrative
gathered
from what
Lotte, Albert,
his
servant, and other witnesses
reported" (my translation).
65
Hans Gerhard Grff, Goethe iiber seine
Dichtungen (Frankfurt/Main:
Rftten und
Loening, 1902), part I, vol.
2, entry
1115: "He studied the novel like a criminal
judge
studies his
reports."
Further references to Graf are to this volume and will be cited in
the text, followed
by
the number of the
entry.
66
"What does that all mean? That
you
have fathomed the motives of these actions?
That
you
can
explain
with
certainty why they happened, why they
had to
happen?
If
you
could
you
would be less
hasty
with
your
'labels'"
(32).
616
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MLN
1774 who at times
speaks
a rather
dry
and latinized formal
language;
his words now
actually
echo Werther's own:
Was bleibt uns
fibrig,
als
dasjenige
was wir mit wiederholter Muhe er-
fahren k6nnen, gewissenhaft
zu erzahlen; die von dem Abscheidenden
hinterlaBnen Briefe einzuschalten und das kleinste
aufgefundene
Blatt-
chen nicht
gering
zu achten;
zumal da es so schwer ist, die
eigensten
wahren Triebfedern auch nur einer einzelnen
Handlung
zu
entdecken,
wenn sie unter Menschen
vorgeht,
die nicht
gemeiner
Art sind.
(199
[1787]).67
Thirteen
years
have
passed
since Werther's death,
and the
legal gaze
looking
for evidence becomes not
only
more humane but also un-
dergoes
an aestheticization. Werther's
body
has rotten
away
in an un-
located
grave,
the
autograph
letters have
perhaps disappeared
into
some drawers of
privacy,
but the book remains,
and it has to be re-
fined, polished,
mummified. The Editor's search for those
"eigensten
wahren Triebfedern" transform him into a
psychologist
who shares
some of the exuberant
language
of the
object
he studies. At the
same time we
ought
to notice that the addition of the so-called
Bauernbursche
episode-the story
of the
young
man that falls in love
with a
widow,
loses his
job,
and later kills the servant that
replaced
him-on the one hand elaborates on the
legal
discourse of the
narrative and on the other introduces one more
figure,
or constella-
tion of
figures,
on which Werther can exercise his
power
of identi-
fication. As Werther's and Albert's
dispute
about the fate of the
murderer shows, the
episode
is
something
like a test for the narra-
tive to fuse and at the same time
sharply distinguish
the
legal
and
the amorous discourse in which it
engages.
Whether
sympathetic psychologist
or dutiful coroner, both editors
-that of 1774 and that of 1787-share the
duty
to
"pay
attention to
even the
slightest fragment
from his
pen" (65). Wilhelm, but also
Lotte and Albert, have to submit, as it
were, every single
letter or
scrap
of
paper
to the
legal-literary
authorities
represented by
the
Editor. Bernhard
Siegert
has
pointed
out
that, according
to the law
of the time, letters had the same status as testaments.68
According
to
Zedler,
one of the most
important
decision the
inquest
had to make
67
"All that is left to do, then, is to relate
conscientiously
the facts which our
persistent
labor has enabled us to collect, to
give
the letters found after his death,
and to
pay
attention to even the
slightest fragment
from his
pen, especially
since it is
so difficult to discover the true and innermost motives of men who are not of the
common run"
(65).
68
Bernhard
Siegert,
Relais. Geschicke der Literatur als
Epoche
der Post, 1751-1913
(Berlin: Brinkmann und Bose, 1993), 46-8.
617
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FRITZ GUTBRODT
was whether the suicide had in fact taken his or her life because of
an
explicable insanity
or mental
derangement,
on which
depended
the decision on whether or not their testaments were declared in-
valid. The madness of Werther has saved a
masterpiece
of German
literature for
posterity.
The
publication
of
any
novel that consists of
private
letters con-
taining
and
divulging
the intimate
feelings
of its characters
per-
forms, to reiterate this
point, something
like a
public investigation.
This is as true of Richardson's novels as it is of Rousseau's Nouvelle
Heloise. In
Werther, this
performance
takes a somewhat different turn
although
it follows the same structural
principle.
While Rich-
ardson's and Rousseau's texts can be
imagined
to be letters
passed
on
among sympathetic
friends that are either interested in
gossip
or
delight
in
exemplary morality
or both at the same time, Werther's
utter solitude and isolation from the communities around him
makes such a circulation neither
possible
nor conceivable. It is in-
deed this isolation that enables his amorous discourse and his dic-
tion to
transgress
all boundaries of convention observed
by
a
public
that in turn comes to observe this
transgression only
because
Werther's death demands this official
inquest.
The Editor is not
only
a
legal
clerk but also the
agent
of the rhetorical and aesthetic law of
decorum. He makes the
appearance
of Werther's
solitary
discourse
in the
public
domain credible
by
the
authority
of both the forensic
and the aesthetic law he
represents.
If
eighteenth-century epistolary
fiction
presents privacy
as a
public
spectacle,
this
speculum
is
presented
in
Wertherby
an Editor that
gains
access to the
private
recesses of an individual called Werther in a
manner
unprecedented
in
European
literature. What is extraordin-
ary
about this
presence
of a
public eye
in the
private sphere
is the
extent of control it exerts over the
object
of its observation. One
only
needs to look intoJusti's handbook on the duties and science of the
police
to see what the
police
had in mind.
They
have to
protect
domestic
peace,
the
Hausfrieden.
In areas where the
potential
for
disorder is
high,
however,
Justi suggests
an
organization
of citizens on
patrol.
"In
Japan,"
he
writes,
"wo das Volk einen
grausamen
Caracter
hat,
ist allemal unter vier Hauswirthen einer der Aufseher uiber die
drey fibrigen,
der sofort
herbey
eilen
muB,
sobald er den
geringsten
Lerm h6ret."69 To
get
a clearer notion of what the move of the
public
69
Johann
Heinrich Gottlob
Justi,
Die
Grundfeste
zu der Macht und
Glickseligkeit
der
Staaten, oder
ausfiihrliche Vorstellung
der
gesamten Polizeiwissenschaft (K6nigsberg, 1761;
618
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M L N
on the
privacy
of citizens
means,
one
might
want to turn to the
eighteenth-century
illustrations of the novel.70
Many pictures
illus-
trating
the novel's central scenes show Lotte and Werther in a
park-like
setting. Thus, Bunbury's
"The First Interview between Werther and
Charlotte" of 1782 has Lotte distribute the bread
among
her
siblings
somewhere in the
garden
under the branches of a
huge
tree. Schub-
ert's 1788 illustration of the same scene is
staged
in the
house,
but in
front of an oversized window
overlooking
the
garden.
While Mor-
ange's engraving
of "Lolotte et Werther" cannot move the
piano
at
which the
couple
sit out of the
house,
it too is dominated
by
a
large
and
open
window that leads into the
park.
All these
illustrations,
and
particularly
those of the French and
English translations,
stand in the
tradition of the Rousseauistic scenes in a bower. One of the scenes in
the narrative is
quite explicitely staged
in such an enclosed
spot
in the
garden;
it
is,
significantly,
a
place
where Lotte and Werther meet in the
presence
of Albert. An encounter in a corner of the
garden
framed
by
trees and bushes or in front of a
large
window
represents
a
private
meeting
in a
place
that is still
sufficiently public.
It thus
corresponds
to
the
gaze
of the
spectatorwho
could have
happened
to
pass by
and catch
a
glance
of that intimate
meeting.
Chodowiecki's
rightly
famous
illustrations break with this convention. While some of his
pictures
show an
open
door to the
right
or in the
backgound
that
gives
the
public spectator
an entrance to the
scene, his illustration of Werther's
and Lotte's kiss on the sofa and that of the bed on which
Werther,
surrounded
by
a
doctor, the
judge,
and his sons, is
struggling
with
death are set in a room that does not have
any
visible window or door.
What makes the
engravings particularly impressive
are the candles
that throw a
blinding light
in a
darkening space
of
privacy.
No
spectator
could
accidentally
come to witness these
sights.
If the effect
of these two illustrations is one of
voyeurism, they
also
present
the
gaze
from the
perspective
of those
figures
that do have
right
of access to
those scenes or
might
burst
upon
them: Albert in the first
instance, the
coroner and the
judge
in the second.
They
are all
representatives
of
rpt.
Aalen: Scientia, 1965), II, 188: "In
Japan,
where the
people
have a cruel
disposi-
tion, there is one
supervisor
to
every
three tenants. He must
immediately
rush to the
spot
when he hears the
slightest
commotion."
70
Besides the illustrations in
J6rn
G6res's Insel
paperback
edition of the novel,
see also his
catalogue,
Die Leiden
desjungen
Werther: Goethes Roman im
Spiegel
seiner Zeit,
136-47 and 183-200. On Schubert, see
Wofgang Pfeiffer, Die Wertherillustrationen des
Johann
David
Schubert, vol. 46 of
Schriften
der
Goethe-Gesellschaft (Weimar: Verlag
der
Goethe-Gesellschaft, 1933).
619
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FRITZ GUTBRODT
the law that in this novel enters aesthetics. Chodowiecki's illustration
for the 1776 French translation
by Deyverduns
shows Werther's room
after his death.
Everyone
has
left, a
corpse
remains. A hand of the
body
can be seen in the
opening
of the bed's half drawn
curtain,
Lessing's
Emilia Galotti lies still
open
on the deserted
desk, a
pistol
can be
discerned
lying
next to it. It looks like a
photograph
taken
by
the
police
at the scene of a crime.
Nothing
is to be moved before
every
trace and
evidence is
carefully registered.
In
Werther, the
public gaze
on scenes of
privacy
is
deeply
involved in the official
investigation
of a case. At the
end of the
eighteenth century
the
police
enlist the
sympathetic
reader
to take
quarters
in the
study
and bedroom of German literature.
The amorous and
legal
discourses in the narrative cannot be
disentangled. Together they
form the book entitled Die Leiden des
jungen
Werther. Unlike other
epistolary
novels in which both or several
sides of a
correspondence
are
gathered,
Wertheris not
dialogic.
There
is no indication that Werther and the Editor ever met, and if
they
have,
if Wilhelm is the
Editor,
for
example,
this would not
change
anything
about the
relationship
of the two discourses.
They
are
neither
dialogic
nor
antagonistic, nor, indeed, complementary.
"A
private
letter
may
well have a
signer-it
does not have an author"
(148),
Foucault
maintains,
and one
might
want to
say
that the Editor
in his
publication
of the letters,
in which the words of the letters
remain while the
signature disappears,
makes Werther into some-
thing
like an author. In
turn,
Werther
gives
the Editor material to
work on what one would
clearly
have to call an author's
task,
such as
the serialization of the letters or the
partitioning
of the letters in the
part
where the Editor fills in undocumented information.
Although
they
collaborate to make the
book,
the two modes of
writing
remain
distanced from each
other,
and
they
can coexist
precisely
because of
this demarcation from each other. This is what
distinguishes
Werther's and the Editor's cohabitation from the lover's
relationship
with Lotte. In their
plurality,
the two discourses create
something
like
an
anonymity.
We have seen how Werther's
attempts
to inscribe his
name within the narrative
fail,
and he ends
up
in an unmarked
grave.
To the Editor
anonymity
is
part
of the
censorship
he exerts as a
representative
of the authorities: "Der Leser wird sich keine Miihe
geben,
die hier
genannten
Orte zu
suchen,
man hat sich
genotigt
gesehen,
die im
Originale
befindlichen wahren Nahmen zu andern"
(26)
.71 Thus his comment on the name of Wahlheim. You can choose
71
"The reader need not take the trouble to look for the
place
thus
designated.
We
have found it
necessary
to
change
the names
given
in the
original
letters"
(10).
620
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M L N
your
home, but it is here chosen for us. Wahlheim resembles the
graveyard
in
Wahlverwandschaften,
where the stones are
pushed
around without
regard
to the
place
to which
they belong.
None of the
names in the novel is
genuine.
It is not clear whether this
applies
to
place
names
only.
Some authors' names are also taken out
by
the
Editor: "Man hat auch hier die Namen
einiger
vaterlandischer Auto-
ren
ausgelassen" (44).72
The names that remain are not
many.
Gold-
smith
(the
Vicaris
named), Klopstock ("And your name, may
I never
hear it uttered
again"),
Ossian
(an impostor),
Homer
(but
who is
Homer, the
man?),
Lotte
(or
is it
Charlotte?),
Malchen
(call
me
Amalie).
And Werther? What if his
proper
name would also be
different,
like those of the
places?
In
fact,
the narrative tells
just
this.
That his
proper
name is different from the
readings
he
performed
on
it. In order not to become
anonymous, proper
names are different.
The lover never realized.
Lotte, Lotte's mother, other mothers,
the widow in the Bau-
ernburschen
episode,
Werther's
mother,
his aunt: As
Meyer-Kalkus
has
pointed out,
the narrative is dominated
by
women that
occupy
important positions
where otherwise one would
expect
men to
ap-
pear.
At the same time it is
disturbing
to note that all these women
are struck
by
loss. Lotte's mother
died,
the
young
mother lost
Hans,
Werther's mother lost her
husband,
his aunt her brother-and
there are others that are either sick or on the
point
of
passing away.
As if
they
had to
pay
a
price
for
occupying
the
place they
are
in, the
novel's women are all wounded, and Lotte herself, a mother
imago
surrounded
by
several children she feeds, is tied
by
Werther into the
structure of a simulated
fecundity
for whose
productivity
or
prolif-
eration it is
important
that she remain isolated between two men
and a father-a switchboard for their desires and needs. A
reading
in which the Editor is
given
more than a secretarial
job
introduces a
man into the structure to which one must also add Wilhelm. He
receives the love letters Werther sends, and the letters' trio of
Werther-Lotte-Albert can be
refigured
as one in which Wilhelm
takes the
place
of Lotte: Werther-Wilhelm-Editor.
Although
the
affectionate tone in Werther's letters to Wilhelm is not unusual for
the
eighteenth century,73 every
letter Werther sends addresses Wilh-
elm as an
object
of his love. Criticism of the novel has been silent
about the silent
figure
of Wilhelm and has thus
suppressed
the
72
"The names of some of our native authors have been omitted"
(16).
73
See
Georg Steinhausen, Geschichte des deutschen
Briefes (1889; rpt.
Dublin und
Zurich: Weidmann, 1968), 362-64 on Gleim and his
group.
621
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FRITZ GUTBRODT
homoeroticism of Werther's love. The reason
why
he has never been
considered a rival to Lotte is that
they
are
carefully kept apart by
the
novel's
strategy
of a division of labor. While the first trio
participates
in the intimate narrative created in the letters, the second
organizes
the
production
of the book. Thus the novel builds
up
an
economy
in
which Lotte, and all the other women,
provide
a
story,
a
problem,
or
a
complication-in short, a content for a work of art-while the
three men
(one
of them
dead)
turn this
story
into a book.
This,
then, is the control the book exerts over the
proliferation
of mean-
ing through
the narrative's women. The three men take care of the
publication
of the book, unless one assumes that Werther's aunt is
the Editor, a
possibility
that does not seem to be
totally
unfounded
with
regard
to Werther's comment on his
negotiation
with her
about the
family inheritance, "Sie
sagte
mir
(...)
ihre
Bedingungen
unter welchen sie bereit ware alles heraus zu
geben,
und mehr als wir
verlangten" (12).74
In that case, Werther's father would, after all,
emerge
in the novel. He would be
contributing funding
for its
pub-
lication.
What remains is a
body
in an unmarked
grave,
dressed in blue
and
yellow,
a
pink
ribbon in his
pocket.
In these fetishized
garments
Werther and Lotte will be resurrected to
parade
the streets of Ger-
man
provincial
towns. Werther's name survives his
death,
as a brand
name.
III. The Genius and Its Doubles
"Die
Wirkung
dieses Buchleins war
groB,
ja
ungeheuer,
und vor-
zfiglich deshalb,
weil es
genau
in die rechte Zeit traf"
(641),
Goethe
comments in his
autobiography.75
The novel's
astonishing
sales
fig-
ures corroborate his remark. Never before had a book met with
comparable
acclaim or
scandal,
and while the novel took the small
reading public
by
storm it took Goethe's
publisher
Weygand by
surprise.
Soon after it had
appeared
at the
Leipzig
book fair at the
end of
September, 1774,
the first
printing
of fifteen hundred
copies
was exhausted. Booksellers in the
university
town of
Gottingen
were
out of stock as
early
as November. While readers were
rushing
to
buy
the book,
pirates
were
rushing
to
reprint
the novel in order to cash
74
"She told me
(...)
the terms on which she would be
willing
to
give
up
(her-
ausgeben)
the whole,
even to do more than we asked"
(5).
75
"The
impression
made
by my
little book was
great, nay, immense,
and
princi-
pally
because it
appeared
at
just
the
right
time"
(433).
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in on this
unprecedented
craze for a novel written
by
some
young
author whose name did not
appear
on the title
page.
The seven
pirated
editions
published
in 1775
supplied
another
thirty-five
hun-
dred
copies,
which in turn forced
Weygand
to come
up
with a
second "authorized" edition to
stay
in the market at all. The three
thousand
copies
of the
"zweyte,
achte
Auflage"
and its
subsequent
two unauthorized editions with a
printing
of one thousand
copies
bring
the total
figure
to about nine thousand
copies
within two or
three
years
of the novel's
original publication,
a
figure
at least twice
as
large
as the
printing
of works
by
established authors in the
eigh-
teenth
century.76
Several more
reprints
of the first two as well as the
substantially
revised edition of 1787 would follow in Goethe's life-
time, as did translations into nine
European languages.77
To demar-
cate Goethe's authorized text from the
pirated editions,
the transla-
tions from the
imitations, continuations, parodies, tracts,
plays,
and
other Wertheriana is an almost
impossible
task. The novel created its
own textual field, constituted a new
genre. Although
one should
take care not to overestimate the
significance
of the absolute
figure
of readers in relation to the total
population,
it is
precisely
because
the literate and literati still formed a
relatively
small
group
that its
effects were so dramatic. One of the
many plays produced
to main-
tain a
public
discussion was G6chhausen's Werther-Fieber
(1776),
which
gave
the whole cultural movement a name. Like a
dangerous
fever the novel infected the
readers, and what
enraged
the
clergy
and the learned readers most was that it did not focus on a certain
group, class, taste,
or otherwise limited
readership,
but rather
spoke
to
every
reader. Had it been a love
story,
and a much more
daring
one for
that,
the
clergy
could have
pulled
it from the market, as the
bishop
of Milan
actually
did
by buying
all available
copies
of an
Italian translation of Werther
(Graf, 1114). They
could have looked
away
or would indeed have overlooked it.
However, issues such
as suicide and the
critique
of life at court could not be left un-
answered. The true scandal of the book was that it constituted a
76
One notable
exception
is
Klopstock,
whose
Gelehrtenrepublik
had a
printing
of six
thousand
copies.
Goethe's edition of G6tz ran into five thousand-and into a
huge
deficit. We shall have to come back to this later. The
average printing
of works
by
established writers was between two thousand and three thousand
copies.
77
On the
printing figures
and their assessment, see
Wolfgang Hagen,
"Goethes
Werke auf dem Markt des deutschen Buchhandels," Goethe-Jahrbuch 100
(1983): 21
and
particularly
Helmuth Kiesel and Paul Mfinch, Gesellschaft
und Literatur im 18.
Jahrhundert (Miinchen: Beck, 1977), 159-64. For a list and
description
of authorized
and
pirated
editions as well as of translations, see
Johann
Wilhelm
Appell,
Werther
und seine Zeit
(4th ed., Oldenburg:
Schulzesche
Hof-Buchhandlung, 1896), 293-328.
623
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FRITZ GUTBRODT
medium in which
clergymen
or
politicians
communicated with the
cultish
community
of
sensibility,
an effect that is connected with the
interplay
and interferences between the several discourses as
pointed
out earlier. The amorous discourse has a
magnetic
effect on
other modes of
writing.
Goethe worked out a
literary
device rather
than a
racy topic,
and the success was soon
overwhelming
him.
Although
Goethe's later account in
Dichtung
und Wahrheit
empha-
sizes the
rapidity
and
unpremeditated way
of the novel's
composi-
tion, he did not
just
come
up
with a
good
idea and some leads he
then worked
out, but in fact studied the
public intensely
and devel-
oped something
like a
marketing strategy.
As
Merck, his friend and
advisor writes to his
wife, "He
separates
himself from us and exists
only
for the works that he
prepares
for the
public.
He feels he has to
succeed in
everything
he undertakes"
(Graf, 915,
n.
2;
in
French).
This
urge
to succeed had to
grapple
with the economic
difficulty
in
which the
genius
found itself in the 1770s. In
Dichtung
und Wahrheit
Goethe writes about the rise of
genius
in the world of literature:
Nun sollte aber die Zeit
kommen, wo das
Dichtergenie
sich selbst
gewahr
wfirde, sich seine
eigene
Verhaltnisse selbst schiife und den Grund zu
einer
unabhangigen
Wiirde zu
legen
verstunde. Alles traf in
Klopstock
zusammen,
um eine solche
Epoche
zu
begrunden (...)
Ernst und
grfin-
dlich
erzogen legt er, von
Jugend an, einen
groBen
Wert auf sich selbst
und auf alles was er tut.
(434)78
"Klopstock!"
The
figure
at the window in Wahlheim is the model of
genius
the author of Wertherwould like to emulate. Goethe's concise
characterization of the task of
genius-it
must be self-sufficient-
includes financial
independence,
which was difficult to attain in a
situation where the
printers
were
trying
to
keep
the honorarium as
low as
possible.
"Die Produktion von
poetischen
Schriften aber
wurde als etwas
Heiliges angesehn,
und man hielt es beinahe fur
Simonie,
ein Honorar zu nehmen oder zu
steigern" (563),79
Goethe
writes. In a
dispute
with his
printer,
Wieland claimed that
genius,
talent,
and taste should be
renumerated,
conferring
a market value
on
genius.80
That was in 1791. As it turns
out, Klopstock
was the first
78
"Now, however, the time was at hand when
poetic genius
would discover self-
awareness, create its own
circumstances,
and understand how to
lay
the foundations
for
independent respectability. Klopstock
had all the
qualities required
for institut-
ing
such an
epoch. (...) Having
been
solidly
and
thoroughly educated,
he
put
a
high
value on himself and
everything
he did"
(295).
79
"The
production
of
poetic writings
was viewed as
something sacred,
and it was
almost considered an act of
simony
to
accept
or increase an honorarium"
(383).
80
Kiesel and Mfinch, Gesellschaft
und Literatur im 18.
Jahrhundert,
146-7.
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MLN
to test a new
financing
of
genius: subscription.
The massive
figure
of
thirty-six
hundred readers filled a
subscripton
for his Gelehrten-
republik.
When it
appeared
in
1774,
it met with
great disappoint-
ment,
"zwar immer von bedeutendem Wert,
aber nichts
weniger
als
allgemein ansprechend" (564).81
The
genius
had messed
up,
and as
Goethe
points
out this was not without
consequences
for other au-
thors: "Diese dem Autor
gelungene,
dem Publikum aber miB-
lungene Unternehmung
hatte die b6se
Folge,
daB nun sobald nicht
mehr an
Subskription
und Pranumeration zu denken war"
(565).82
When Goethe
prepared
his novel for
publication
in 1774 he had to
think of another
way
of
avoiding
financial risk. His
play
Gotz von
Berlichingen
was
printed
at his own
cost,
and while it made his name
known in
literary circles,
it
got
Goethe into debt. The
strategy
for
Werther was to find a
publisher
that would
print
him and to write a
book that would sell better. Genius became linked to sales
figures.
As
already mentioned,
an increase in sales could
only
be
brought
about
by
a
good marketing,
and, apart
from the
customary pre-
circulation of the book
among friends, Goethe took to other mea-
sures as well. The little
preface
to the novel ends with an
appeal
to
the readers that at once consoles, warns, and advertises the book:
"Ihr k6nnt seinem Geist und seinem Charakter eure
Bewunderung
und Liebe, und seinem Schicksaale eure Thranen nicht
versagen.
/
Und du
gute Seele,
die du eben den
Drang
ffhlst wie er, sch6pfe
Trost aus seinem Leiden, und laB das Buichlein deinen Freund
seyn"
(10).83
The tears the readers are asked to shed, to
spend,
and not to
hold back are the
money they
should
pay
to make the book their
companion.
One of the first reviews ends
by quoting
this advertise-
ment,84 and Schubart exclaims, "Kauf's Buch und lies selbst!"85 Part
of the
purchase
are Werther's and Lotte's names. The readers of the
81
"While of
significant value, it was
anything
but
general
in its
appeal" (383). It is
hard to see Goethe as a member of
Klopstock's
idea of a
Republic
of Scholars. See
Ulrich Dzwonek et al., "Bfirgerliche Oppositionsliteratur
zwischen Revolution und
Reformismus: Friedrich Gottlieb
Klopstocks
Deutsche
Gelehrtenrepublik
und Barden-
dichtung
als Dokumente der
bfirgerlichen Emanzipationsbewegung,"
in Deutsches
Burgertum
und literarische
Intelligenz (1750-1800),
ed. Bernd Lutz
(Stuttgart: Metzler,
1974), 277-328.
82
"The
undertaking,
which was successful for the author but not the
public,
had the
bad result of
making subscriptions
and
prepayments
now not seem
very
feasible" (384).
83
"You must
give your
admiration and love to his soul and character, and to his
fate
your
tears. / And
you, good soul, if
you
feel
oppressed
like him take consolation
in his
suffering
and let the book be
your companion."
84
Gothaische
gelehrte Zeitungen (29 October 1774),
in
Julius
W. Braun, Goethe im
Urtheile seiner
Zeitgenossen (Berlin: Luckhardt, 1883), I, 52-3.
85
Daniel Schubart, Deutsche Chronik (5 December 1774), in Braun, I, 64:
"Buy
the
book and read it yourself."
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FRITZ GUTBRODT
novel
quickly picked up
their
promise
of an
identification, and it
sometimes took the most
grotesque
forms. In a letter to
Kestner,
Goethe includes this
quote
from a friend
(probably
Lotte
Jacobi)
that had written to him: "Eine andere schrieb neulich: 'Ich bitt'
Euch um
Gotteswillen, heisst mich nicht mehr
Lotte!-Lottgen,
oder Lolo-wie ihr wollt-Nur nicht Lotte biss ich des Nahmens
wertherwerde denn ichs bin"
(Graf, 940)
.86 As one reviewer
writes, ad-
dressing
the female
readership,
"Und du
verehrungswurdige Sch6ne,
die du mit Lotten den
ganzen
Werth unsers Werthers zu schatzen
weiBt,
(...) m6gest
du doch in den Armen deines Gatten
(...
) alle
die
Seeligkeiten einathmen, die Dein und mein
unglucklicher
Freund nur in der Ferne schimmern sah."87 The reviewer's
attempt
to
simultaneously
recommend the novel and send the woman back
into her husband's arms betokens an
anxiety
that the worth of
Werther includes some
danger
and that it
might get
out of hand.
And it indeed did.
Nothing
is known about an
increasing
divorce
rate after the novel's
publication.
But soon the first bodies of
young
men that had taken their life in the manner of Werther were
found;
a
young woman, who had a
copy
of the novel in her
pocket,
was
pulled
out of a river. The motives of those suicides that had a con-
nection to Werther
(not
the suicides
themselves)
were a
gruesome
souvenir
brought
home from a
reading trip
to Wahlheim.
The
proliferation
of souvenirs and fashion items that
developed
around the names of Werther and Lotte is
astounding. Cups
and
saucers, plates, fans, woodcuts,
silhouettes and
portraits
of the
"true"
Lotte, dresses with
pink ribbons,
blue coats and
yellow
vests.
The novel led to
something
like a diversification of literature. A
perfume
called Eau de Werther
enveloped
those
wearing
it with a
whiff of
authenticity.
As Susan Stewart
points out, authenticity
is the
hallmark of the souvenir.
They
are "traces of authentic
experience"
that can be transferred or translated to a different
place
without
losing
their relation to the context from which
they
have been
taken. "The souvenir
speaks
to a context of
origin through
a lan-
guage
of
longing,
for it is not an
object arising
out of need or use
86
"Another friend
recently
wrote to me, 'I
implore you, please
do not call me
Lotte
anymore! Lottgen
or Lolo if
you please,
but not Lotte before I am not more
deserving (werther)
of this name than I am now."
87
Frankfurter gelehrte Anzeigen (1
November
1774),
in
Braun, I,
55: "And
you, my
beauty,
like Charlotte
you
know the worth of our Werther. I
hope you
will
find,
in the
arms of
your husband, the bliss that our
unhappy
friend
only
saw
beckoning
from
afar."
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M L N
value;
it is an
object arising
out of the
necessarily
insatiable de-
mands of
nostalgia."88
What makes the cult around the
figures
of
Werther and Lotte
possible
is that the
figures
in the
narrative, and
particularly Werther,
have themselves this insatiable
longing.
More-
over, the narrative that
presents
them is itself a souvenir. This is
why
the
autobiographical
structure of the text is
important.
Modern
criticism has
by principle
become
skeptical
of the value of
biograph-
ical
relationships
texts
may
have. It is
important
here because the
contemporary
readers of Werther
inquiring
about the
origin
of the
narrative, its reference to names and faces outside of the
narrative,
were
trying
to
get
the same souvenir as Goethe. This souvenir is the
novel. One
might
indeed
say
that Goethe's
authorship
consists in
having
created a
literary souvenir,
and all those
trying
to
get
it were
encroaching upon
his
authorship.
Das forschende Publikum konnte daher Ahnlichkeiten von verschiede-
nen Frauenzimmern entdecken, und den Damen war es auch nicht
ganz
gleichgiiltig,
ffir die rechte zu
gelten.
Diese mehreren Lotten aber bra-
chten mir eine unendliche
Qual,
weil Jedermann der mich
ansah, en-
tscheiden zu wissen
verlangte,
wo denn die
eigentliche
wohnhaft sei?"
(645)89
The
question
about the
proper
abode is one that can also be
put
to
the novel in
which, as we have seen, the
place
names are
changed.
There were also
inquiries
about the abode of Werther and
Jerusa-
lem. One clever
innkeeper
near Garbenheim
placed
Werther's
grave
in his
garden
to show it to
English
tourists for
money.90
To
escape
the
tourists, Goethe became one himself. All his life he
had the obsession of
travelling incognito. Assuming
another name
he would
disappear.
One
might
see in this a desire to leave his
proper
name at
home, as if the name were determined
by
its loca-
tion. The
passage
in
Dichtung
und Wahrheit about the
uncanny
dou-
bling
of Lotte
curiously presents authorship
in terms of such an
escape:
"Ich suchte mich dann davor auf Reisen durch's
Inkognito
zu
retten,
aber auch das Huilfsmittel wurde mir unversehens ver-
eitelt,
und so war der Verfasser
jenes
Werkleins, wenn er
ja
etwas
Unrechtes und Schadliches
getan,
daffir
genugsam, ja fibermassig
88
Susan Stewart, On
Longing,
135.
89
"The
inquisitive public
could discover similarities with various
young women,
and these ladies themselves were not
altogether
indifferent about
passing
for the
right
one. But these
multiple
Lottes caused me endless torment, because
everyone
who
just
looked at me would insist on
knowing
where the real Lotte lived"
(435).
90
Appell,
Werther und seine Zeit, 52-5.
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FRITZ GUTBRODT
durch solche unausweichliche
Zudringlichkeit
bestraft"
(645).91
Goethe and his
entourage
cultivated this notion of an
unjustified
punishment.
But what is indeed hurtful in the novel is the
anonym-
ity
of its
principal figure
due to an introduction of the
proper
name
as an
exchange
value. It is hurtful, as it were,
to Werther. For Goethe
it means that his claim to
authorship
is
complicated.
One
day
Goethe received a
package
from the South Seas that reminded the
author of this
complication.
Like the
gift
Werther had received from
Lotte and Albert, the
parcel
contained a book. In his
Mittheilungen,
Riemer relates the
following story:
Noch im Jahre 1809 oder 1810 kam unter franzosischer Aufschrift: "an
den Verfasser der Leiden des
jungen
Werther" ein Paket von
Ingolstadt,
mit einer franz6sischen
Nachbildung
des Werther, das, weil es den
Weg
von Isle de France nach
Ingolstadt gemacht
und hier mit
begreiflichem
Protest, als inconnu d
Ingolstadt abgewiesen worden, den
ganzen Ruckweg
hatte antreten miissen, wenn nicht zuletzt
irgendwo
ein Postmeister sich
auf den Namen des Autors und ein Anderer auf dessen Wohnort beson-
nen und dem Herumirrenden die rechte Strase
gewiesen
hatte. Das ist
wohl der
einzige SpaB,
den G. von seinem Werke erlebte.92
Thanks to the
expeditious
German
postal system,
the
package
ar-
rives at Weimar even
though
its address omits the author's name in
the manner it was
lacking
on the book's title
page.
Return to Sender:.
Imagine
what would have
happened
if Werther's
papers
sent off on
the eve of his death had not arrived at their destination: "Er kramte
den Abend noch viel in seinen
Papieren,
zerriB vieles und warf's in
Ofen, versiegelte einige
Pakke mit den Addressen an Wilhelmen"
(260).93 They
are his
legacy, they
are indeed an
important part
of
the
heritage
of modern German literature,
and Werther's obedient
91
"On
journeys
I tried to
escape
them
by
traveling incognito,
but even this
expe-
dient
unexpectedly
failed me, and so the author of that little work,
if he had indeed
done something wrong and hurtful, was
sufficiently, nay, excessively punished
for it
by
these unavoidable
importunities" (435).
92
Friedrich Wilhelm Riemer, Mittheilungen
uber Goethe (Berlin:
Duncker and Hum-
blot, 1841),
616-7: "As late as 1809 or
1810,
a
package
addressed in French 'To the
author of the Sorrows of
Young
Werther' was received from
Ingolstadt.
It contained
a French imitation of Werther which had come all the
way
from Isle de France to
Ingolstadt, where, understandably, they put
addressee unknown on the
package.
It
would have been returned to the sender if it had not been for a
postmaster
that
remembered the name of the author and someone else that knew where he lived so
that
they
could
give
the
erring
mailman directions. This is,
I
think,
the
only
instance
when the novel
actually provided
G. with some fun.
93
"He
spent
the rest of the
evening going through
his
papers;
he tore
up
and
burned a
great many;
he sealed a few
packages
and addressed them to Wilhelm"
(85).
628
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M L N
servant does well to
go
to bed
fully
dressed,
"denn sein Herr hatte
gesagt,
die
Postpferde
wuirden vor sechse vors Haus kommen."94 In
the
morning
the servant, one assumes,
did not fail to send off
Werther's
precious packages
at
six,
no matter what. Or
perhaps
he
handed them over to the authorities. Or
perhaps they
have indeed
disappeared.
We cannot tell for sure. But it
might
tell us
something
about the
importance
of the
proper
name. To
Goethe,
Riemer tells
us, the detour was
amusing.
Inconnu a
Ingolstadt. Perhaps
because he
would almost have found an
incognito,
or because he was after all
recognized
as the author of the
anonymous
book, or even because
the translator in the South Sea had confused Werther with
Johann
Miller's
Siegwart,
a novel modelled on Werther that
actually
takes
place
in
Ingolstadt.
At
any rate, the
question
of the
proper
name is a
sensitive issue to
Goethe,
as the
following episode
from
Dichtung
und
Wahrheit illustrates. Goethe had
brought
some books from his fa-
ther's
library
to
Strasbourg,
and Herder sent him a note
requesting
that he lend him some of them for his studies. Herder concludes
his letter
by addressing
Goethe as follows,
"Der von Gottern du
stammst,
von Goten oder vom Kote, Goethe,
sende mir sie"
(444).95
This is Goethe's rejoinder:
Der
Eigenname
eines Menschen ist nicht etwa wie ein Mantel, der bloB
um ihn her
hangt
und an dem man allenfalls noch
zupfen
und zerren
kann, sondern ein vollkommen
passendes Kleid, ja
wie die Haut selbst
ihm uber und uiber
angewachsen,
an der man nicht schaben und schin-
den darf, ohne ihn selbst zu verletzen.
(444)96
The blue coat Werther was
wearing
when he met Lotte became so
worn out and "unscheinbar"
(166)
that it had to be
replaced by
the
one that dresses his
body
in the unmarked
grave.
That second coat
never fitted like a skin. This takes us back to the Inconnu a
Ingolstadt.
For this town is also the
birthplace
of another famous Inconnu of
literature that has a severe
problem
with his skin and name: Fran-
kenstein's monster. There is a
relationship
between his
being
patched together
in the
image
of man and his
having
no name.
94
"as his master had told him that the coach horses would be at the door before
six o'clock"
(85).
95
"You, who stem from the
gods,
or from the Goths, or from
goat-dung,
/
Goethe, send them to me"
(302).
96
"A man's own name is not, say,
like a cloak, which
merely hangs
from his
shoulders and can be
pulled
and
tugged,
if need be. Rather, it is a
perfectly fitting
garment, nay,
it is
grown tight
to him all over, like his own skin, and one
may
not
scrape
and
pare away
at it without
wounding
the
person
himself" (302).
629
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FRITZ GUTBRODT
Great God! His
yellow
skin
scarcely
covered the work of muscles and
arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and
flowing;
his teeth of
a
pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances
only
formed a more horrid
contrast with his
watery eyes,
that seemed almost of the same colour as
the dun-white sockets in which
they
were set.97
The monster looks
very
different from Lotte, but not
altogether
different from the
figure
that sees his reflection in her black
eyes.
"I
had worked hard for
nearly
two
years,
for the sole
purpose
of infus-
ing
life into an inanimate
body,"
Frankenstein writes. When that
body
did come alive in an act of creation described in
analogy
to
Genesis, the creator did not name it.
Benjamin
writes,
"Der Mensch
ist der Erkennende derselben
Sprache,
in der Gott
Schopfer
ist.
(..
.) Sein
geistiges
Wesen ist die
Sprache,
in der
geschaffen
wurde.
Im Wort wurde
geschaffen,
und Gottes
sprachliches
Wesen ist das
Wort. Alle menschliche
Sprache
ist nur Reflex des Wortes im
Namen."98 Frankenstein
thought
that he could create life. His error
becomes
apparent
when,
instead of
naming
his creation,
he
escapes
the scene in
panic:
"Unable to endure the
aspect
of the
being
I had
created,
I rushed out of the room"
(318).
One
might
see a link
between this
flight
and Goethe's
escape
when confronted with the
zombies of Werther and Lotte
springing up
all around him. What
the two novels share is the
danger
inherent in the
phantasy
of
genius
and its
power
of invention,
the risk of
confusing
creation
with what
Benjamin
calls its reflection in the name. What
they share,
in other words, is the articulation of this risk with
regard
to the
problem
of their
protagonists' proper
names. There is indeed some-
thing
monstrous about Werther,
and let us not
forget
that one of the
three books from which Frankenstein's monster culls his
knowledge
of the world around him is a
copy
of the Sorrows
of
Werther. It is the
book he reads first.
The Johns
Hopkins University
97
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein; or, Modern Prometheus,
in Three Gothic Novels
(Har-
mondsworth:
Penguin,
1968),
318.
98
Benjamin,
"Uber
Sprache fiberhaupt
und fiber die
Sprache
des Menschen,"
149. "Man is the knower in the same
language
in which God is creator.
(.
. .). His
mental
being
is the
language
in which creation took
place.
In the word creation took
place,
and God's
linguistic being
is the word. All human
language
is
only
reflection
of the word in name" (Reflections, 323).
630
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