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  • 8/10/2019 Bennett Werther

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    Goethe's Werther: Double Perspective and the Game of Life

    Author(s): Benjamin BennettSource: The German Quarterly, Vol. 53, No. 1 (Jan., 1980), pp. 64-81Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Association of Teachers ofGermanStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/405245Accessed: 19/01/2009 21:10

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  • 8/10/2019 Bennett Werther

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    GOETHE'S

    WERTHER:

    DOUBLE PERSPECTIVE

    AND THE

    GAME

    OF LIFE

    BENJAMIN

    ENNETT

    Why

    does

    Goethe

    introduce the "editor's"

    narrativeat the end

    of

    Werther?l

    Or,

    at

    least, why

    does

    he

    develop

    it in

    the

    particular

    way

    he

    does?

    A

    third-person

    account of Werther's

    death

    is

    perhaps

    unavoid-

    able,

    but

    does

    it

    have

    to involve

    such

    an

    abrupt

    change

    of narrative

    mode? Could the device of

    a

    diary,

    for

    example,

    not

    have

    transmitted

    much of the information

    n

    the novel's

    last

    pages?

    The

    one

    genuinely

    enlightening

    answer to

    this

    question,

    as

    far

    as

    I

    know, is that suggestedby Eric Blackall n Goetheand the Novel. Blackall

    argues

    that the

    significance

    of

    the

    narrator's ntrusion resides

    precisely

    in

    its

    failure

    to show

    Werther o us

    objectively,

    and

    in

    our awarenessof

    this

    failure.

    In

    both versions

    of the

    novel,

    Blackall

    points out,

    even

    after the editor

    intervenes,

    the

    point

    of view from which the whole

    fiction is seen

    is

    still

    essentially

    Werther's. Documents

    composed

    by

    Werther

    are still a

    major

    portion

    and source

    of

    the

    text;

    the

    impossibility

    of

    achieving objectivity

    is

    prominent

    as a

    theme;

    and

    most

    important,

    the editor relates

    a

    number

    of facts

    which,

    at

    the

    very

    least,

    it

    is

    extremely improbable

    hat

    he could have

    learned

    from

    living

    witnesses.

    Especially

    Werther's

    solitary broodings

    while

    on

    his

    way

    to

    pick

    up

    Lotte,

    on the

    day

    the

    peasant-boy

    s

    apprehended

    or

    murder,

    are some-

    thing

    only

    Werther

    or

    an

    omniscient

    narrator

    could

    know

    of;

    but

    even

    in

    the first

    version,

    where

    the

    peasant-boy

    is

    missing,

    far

    too

    many

    details of the

    Ossian

    scene are

    given, including

    some

    which it

    is

    entirely

    unreasonable to

    imagine

    as

    having

    been

    supplied by

    Lotte.

    The "edi-

    tor," then,

    is

    not

    convincing

    as a

    person

    but is

    obviously

    a

    device

    for

    manipulating

    our

    perspective;

    and Blackall

    suggests

    that

    precisely

    the

    transparency

    of

    this

    device creates

    for us

    a

    significant

    double

    perspec-

    tive: "we remainwith Werther'spointof view and yet see it as a pointof

    view,

    not as absolute."2 The

    significance

    of the

    change

    from letters

    to

    narrative s

    that it

    does

    not

    effectively

    alter

    our

    point

    of

    view,

    yet

    pro-

    duces a

    certain

    irony

    concerning

    the

    point

    of view we still

    occupy.

    64

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    GOETHE'SWERTHER

    Blackall's

    argument

    can

    be

    developed,

    however,

    if

    we

    begin by

    inquiring

    into the

    function of the

    external

    aspect

    of

    the fiction. Is the

    novel reallya "soliloquy"? Werther,afterall, writesin his letters about

    things

    that

    happen;

    are we meant to

    regard

    these

    things merely

    as

    sym-

    bols

    of

    his

    inner

    state? Should we

    not

    attempt,

    for

    ourselves,

    to form

    an

    accurate idea

    of the

    people

    and

    personal

    relationships

    that

    make

    up

    his

    world? One of

    the most

    important

    additions

    in

    the 1787

    version

    is

    the

    letter

    introducing

    the

    subplot

    of

    the

    peasant-boy,

    where

    Werther

    resolves

    not to

    try

    to

    get

    a

    direct look

    at

    the

    object

    of

    the

    boy's

    love:

    "Es ist

    besser,

    ich

    sehe sie durch die

    Augen

    ihres

    Liebhabers;

    vielleicht

    erscheint sie

    mir

    vor

    meinen

    eigenen Augen

    nicht

    so,

    wie

    sie

    jetzt

    vor

    mir steht, und warum soll ich mir das sch6ne Bild verderben?"3The

    significance

    of this

    passage

    becomes clear when

    we recall

    that

    these

    are

    the last words

    before Lotte's

    entrance

    upon

    the

    scene. Not

    only

    are

    we

    warned

    that

    we

    will

    receive

    a

    distorted

    image

    of

    Lotte,

    but

    we

    are also

    thus

    challenged

    to

    strive somehow for

    a

    clearer

    picture

    of what

    she

    is

    really

    like. And in

    the

    same

    letter,

    Werther

    stresses the

    inability

    of

    language

    to

    convey

    an

    exact sense

    of

    the

    way things

    are;

    again,

    we are

    reminded

    that

    we must seek

    somehow

    behind

    the

    language,

    to form an

    idea

    of

    Werther's actual

    world. Nor does this invitation to

    look at

    the

    world as

    a

    world,

    not

    merely

    as the

    symbol

    of an

    anguish, emerge only

    in

    the

    second

    version

    of

    the novel.

    Precisely

    Werther's obvious

    failure

    to

    perceive

    with

    any

    sort

    of

    objective clarity,

    in

    both

    versions,

    tantalizes

    us,

    challenges

    us to do

    better;

    and the

    challenge

    has of

    course been

    accepted

    often

    enough

    by commentators,

    with

    respect

    to

    everything

    from

    depthpsychology

    o social criticism.4

    The fictional

    object

    that

    most

    attracts

    our

    attention,

    however,

    is

    Lotte. Not

    only

    are we

    challenged

    to

    ask what

    sort of

    person

    she

    really

    is,

    and

    why

    she

    is so attached to

    Werther,

    but

    we are

    given

    quite

    sufficient evidence for a dispassionate answer to this question.

    Undoubtedly

    Lotte is a

    capable,

    energetic

    and

    relatively

    level-headed

    young woman;

    but she is also

    an

    entirely ordinary

    young

    woman,

    despite

    Werther's

    enthusiasm about

    her intellect

    (Geist)

    and artistic

    sen-

    sitivity.

    She has

    read

    The Vicar

    of

    Wakefield

    and

    Klopstock's

    "Friihlingsfeier"

    well

    enough

    to

    know

    vaguely

    what

    they

    are

    about-

    although

    even

    here,

    I fail

    to

    see

    how

    "hauslich

    Leben" characterizes

    Goldsmith's focus better than

    "Gluck

    und Unstern"

    (16 June).

    But

    where the

    occasion,

    for

    example, appears

    to

    call for a

    quotation

    from

    Klopstock-where

    she

    could have

    recited the

    magnificent

    ine,

    "Und der

    geschmetterte

    Wald

    dampft"-the

    best Lotte can

    manage

    is to

    pro-

    nounce the

    poet's

    not

    very euphonious

    surname.

    Whereupon

    Werther

    bursts into

    tears,

    borne

    along, presumably,

    on a

    sympathetic

    wave

    of

    knowledge

    and

    feeling. We, however,

    have cause to

    doubt whether his

    heart

    and

    Lotte's

    really

    beat

    in

    time

    with

    each

    other

    here,

    for

    he has

    already

    expressed

    strongly

    his

    need to

    escape

    from

    books

    and

    learning

    and

    poetry,

    with

    the

    exception

    of

    Homer

    (13

    May,

    17

    May).

    Indeed,

    he

    65

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    BENJAMINBENNETT

    experiences

    the

    very

    idea

    of art as a

    temptation

    that

    spoils

    his

    pleasure

    in

    nature;

    he can feel "das Wehen des

    Allliebenden,"

    but

    the

    recollec-

    tion of his art-"k6nntest du das wieder ausdriicken"-transforms his

    joy

    into

    despair:

    "ich

    gehe

    dariiber zu

    Grunde,

    ich

    erliege

    unter

    der

    Gewalt der Herrlichkeitdieser

    Erscheinungen"

    (10

    May).

    And

    Goethe

    makes this

    yet

    clearer

    in

    the second

    version, where,

    in

    the same

    letter

    that

    challenges

    us to

    think

    objectively

    about

    Lotte,

    Werther

    complains,

    "muss es denn immer

    gebosselt

    sein,

    wenn

    wir

    Theil

    an

    einer Naturer-

    scheinung

    nehmen sollen?"

    (30

    May). Precisely

    what

    he

    complains

    of

    is what

    Lotte then

    does;

    confronted

    with

    an

    impressive

    natural

    phenomenon,

    her

    reaction,

    quite literally,

    is "mit

    einem

    gestempelten

    Kunstworte drein [stolpern]" (11 June), as Werthersays later of the

    prince

    whose

    guest

    he

    is.

    On the face of

    it,

    Lotte's reaction to the thun-

    derstorm is

    affected.

    Surely Shakespeare

    is as

    important

    to us as

    Klopstock

    was to that

    generation

    of

    Germans,

    but do we

    immediately

    think

    of Lear

    when

    it

    thunders? Does

    The Winter'sTale

    spring

    to mind

    when

    I am

    pursued by

    a

    bear? There is

    nothing

    extraordinary

    about

    Lotte's mind or

    character;

    or at

    least

    we

    have

    no

    evidence

    that

    there is.

    She is

    perfectly

    content to

    gossip

    callously

    about others' troubles

    (26

    Oct.);

    and Werther himself later accuses her of

    Philistinism,

    when she

    offers

    a

    pat (but

    not

    at all

    implausible)psychologicalexplanation

    of his

    behavior

    (p.

    157).

    Lotte

    has artistic and cultural

    pretensions,

    which

    it

    seems are not

    fully

    justified;

    and

    we

    may

    at

    least

    suspect

    that

    she

    is a habitual

    breaker

    of hearts-we

    think

    of the mad

    boy

    and of

    the

    warning

    Wertherreceives

    against falling

    in

    love

    with

    her. On

    this

    basis

    we can form a

    clear idea

    of her

    history

    and

    situation,

    and

    of the reason she is attracted to

    Werther. Her

    family

    had

    moved to the

    country only

    after her mother's

    death;

    she had been

    brought

    up

    in

    the

    city,

    or

    as we

    may

    assume,

    in a

    more exciting social and culturalatmosphere. Especiallyafter marriage

    relieves her of the

    responsibility

    or her

    brothers

    and

    sisters, therefore,

    she has extra time

    to

    fill,

    and

    she has

    grown

    up

    thinking

    of social

    and

    especially

    cultural

    pursuits-in

    that

    age

    of

    intellectual ladies' clubs

    and

    literary

    annuals "for ladies of

    education"-as the

    proper occupation

    for

    young

    womanhood. This is

    why

    she

    clings

    to

    Werther;

    he is not

    only

    a

    conquest,

    but also her lifeline to

    a

    fuller

    world,

    her

    personal

    minister

    of

    culture,

    whose Greek and

    sketching

    are "zwei

    Meteore"

    (17

    May)

    in

    her

    non-intellectual

    and

    socially

    uneventful

    surroundings.

    Toward

    the

    end of

    the

    first

    book,

    in

    the midst

    of

    Werther's

    intensifying

    passion,

    we

    are struck

    by

    one

    peculiarly

    quiet

    image:

    "ich sitze oft auf den

    Obstbaumen

    in

    Lottens Baumstick

    mit

    dem

    Obstbrecher,

    der

    langen

    Stange,

    und

    hole die Birnen

    aus

    dem

    Gipfel.

    Sie steht

    unten

    und nimmt

    sie

    ab,

    wenn

    ich

    sie

    ihr

    herunter lasse"

    (28

    Aug.).

    Werther's function

    in

    Lotte's

    universe,

    that

    is,

    is to

    perch

    aloft

    and

    secure for her an

    other-

    wise

    unattainable ntellectualamusement

    and

    nourishment.

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    GOETHE'SWERTHER

    We

    have,

    then,

    a

    clear view of the situation. Werther

    mistakenly

    imagines

    a

    perfect

    harmony

    between

    his soul and

    Lotte's;

    Lotte mistak-

    enly assumes that she can set limits to Werther's idea of his function in

    her life.

    The

    tensions

    that must

    follow are

    obvious,

    and are

    the

    main

    action of the

    novel.

    What

    is

    important,

    however,

    is

    to

    recognize

    that

    the double

    perspective

    Blackall

    speaks

    of is

    present

    not

    only

    at

    the end

    of the

    novel,

    but

    throughout,

    as an

    integral

    part

    of the

    structure. We

    are

    strictly

    limited

    to

    Werther's

    point

    of

    view,

    since we have

    only

    his

    letters before

    us;

    yet

    we

    also have an

    objective

    idea of

    how

    things

    are.

    Blackall's

    perception-that

    despite

    the

    switch

    to a

    narratorat the

    end,

    our

    point

    of view

    with

    respect

    to the

    novel's

    fiction does not

    change-is

    thus rather more deeply applicablethan it at first appears. Even the

    subtle

    doubleness or

    irony

    created

    by

    the

    editor's intrusion is

    not some-

    thing new,

    but rather

    represents

    an

    aspect

    of our relation to the text

    which,

    surprisingly,

    does not

    change,

    despite

    the

    radical

    change

    in mode

    of

    presentation.

    The

    question,

    however,

    is

    why

    Goethe

    creates

    that

    double

    per-

    spective

    in

    the

    first

    place.

    Is

    it

    merely

    a matter of

    showing

    the dishar-

    mony

    between

    subjective

    and

    objective

    reality,

    between "Innenwelt"

    and

    "Aussenwelt,"

    as

    they

    are called

    in

    much

    Werther

    riticism?

    II

    Let us turn for a

    moment to another work of

    young

    Goethe

    which

    is

    clearly

    relevant

    here,

    the

    enthusiastic

    address on

    Shakespeare.

    Shak-

    espeare,

    especially Hamlet,

    hovering

    "zwischen Sein und

    Nichtsein"

    (15

    Nov.),

    is a

    constant

    presence

    in

    the

    background

    of

    Werther,

    and the

    image

    of

    the

    "Raritaten Kasten"

    from

    the

    Shakespeare speech5

    also

    occurs

    to Werther

    n

    respect

    of court

    life

    (20

    Jan.).

    But

    more

    important

    for understanding he novel is Goethe's remarkthat Shakespeare'splays

    "drehen sich alle

    um

    den

    geheimen

    Punckt,

    den noch

    kein

    Philosoph

    gesehen

    und

    bestimmt

    hat,

    in

    dem das

    Eigenthuimliche

    nsres

    Ich's,

    die

    pratendirte

    Freyheit

    unsres

    Willens,

    mit

    dem

    nothwendigen

    Gang

    des

    Ganzen zusammenst6sst." Is

    it

    merely

    a

    question

    here of

    the conflict

    between "Innenwelt"

    and

    "Aussenwelt,"

    between the

    way

    we see

    things

    and

    the

    way they

    really

    are?

    If

    so,

    why

    does Goethe

    call

    the

    point

    of collision "secret"?

    I

    act

    in

    accordance

    with

    my

    own view of

    things,

    and

    my

    intention is

    thwarted because

    my

    view

    of

    things

    had

    been subjectively limited; what is "secret" or mysteriousor philosophi-

    cally

    unfathomableabout

    this?

    It

    is

    necessary

    to

    recognize

    that

    "das

    Eigenthimliche

    unsres

    Ich's" stands

    in

    apposition

    to "die

    pratendirteFreyheit

    unsres

    Willens";

    the

    uniqueness

    of

    our

    ego

    is our

    sense

    or

    belief

    that we

    are

    free;

    the

    ego,

    in

    other

    words,

    is

    here

    defined not as

    a

    set

    of

    charactertraits,

    ut

    as

    a

    point of

    view,

    or

    a

    manner of

    viewing,

    by

    which

    things

    appear

    67

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    BENJAMIN

    BENNETT

    provisional,

    malleable, translucent, symbolic, subject

    to our

    arbitrary

    choice and

    responsive

    to our

    feelings.

    And the

    "nothwendiger Gang

    des Ganzen," correspondingly,refers not to some specific idea of fate

    but rather to the

    point

    of

    view,

    or manner of

    viewing,

    by

    which all

    things

    appear

    ndissolubly

    related

    through

    the laws of

    cause

    and

    effect;

    it

    refers to our sense

    of

    the world-wholeas

    firmly

    organized

    by

    the

    princi-

    ple

    of

    sufficient

    reason, by

    the

    category

    of

    causality;

    it

    refers to what

    Schopenhauer

    ater

    calls "die Welt

    als

    Vorstellung."

    The

    "ego"

    and the

    "necessary

    progress

    of

    the whole"

    are

    essen-

    tially points

    of

    view or manners of

    viewing,

    and

    it

    is

    significant

    hat

    just

    this

    duality

    of

    points

    of view

    figures

    prominently

    n

    Werther's

    develop-

    ment. On his earlyouting with Lotte, to the parsonagewith the walnut

    trees,

    he

    argues

    against

    the idea

    that

    ill-humor is

    a naturaldisease

    which

    must

    run

    its inevitable

    course;

    we must

    learn

    to assert our

    freedom,

    our

    ego,

    for

    "niemand

    weiss,

    wie weit seine

    Krafte

    gehen,

    bis

    er

    sie

    ver-

    sucht

    hat"

    (1

    July).

    But then Albert

    arrives,

    Werther's manner

    of

    viewing

    things

    changes,

    and in

    the conversation

    on

    suicide

    he defends

    exactly

    the

    opposite position,

    that

    emotional

    anguish

    can,

    after

    all,

    have

    the

    quality

    of an

    irreversible

    pathological

    process

    that must

    end

    in

    death

    (12

    Aug.).

    Or we

    think

    of

    his

    two

    opposed

    ways

    of

    looking

    at nature:

    as a mirror to his soul, a source of strength and exaltation (this the

    ego-attitude);

    and

    on

    the

    other

    hand,

    as

    a

    "lackirtes Bildchen"

    (3

    Nov.),

    or

    indeed

    as

    a

    pitiless

    "Ungeheuer"

    (18

    Aug.).

    Or we

    think of

    Homer

    and

    Ossian,

    of

    the

    endlessly

    resourceful

    Odysseus

    as

    opposed

    to

    the

    utterly

    resourceless

    resignation magined

    by Macpherson.

    In

    any

    case,

    it

    does not

    seem

    to

    me

    that

    we can

    make real sense

    out of

    the

    passage

    quoted

    above

    from

    the

    Shakespeare peech except by

    understanding

    he

    "ego"

    and

    the "whole"

    as

    points

    of

    view.

    If

    we

    take

    the

    "necessary

    progress

    of

    the

    whole" to refer to

    an

    objective

    orderli-

    ness in history that collides with our confused perceptionof our own

    situation,

    then

    surely

    this does not accord

    with

    the

    approving

    assertion,

    in

    the

    same

    paragraph,

    that

    "[Shakespeares]

    Plane

    sind,

    nach dem

    gemeinen Styl

    zu

    reden,

    keine

    Plane";

    surely

    a

    strict

    logical tightness

    of

    plot,

    even

    if

    not

    exactly

    in

    the sense of

    "Regeln,"

    would be needed

    to

    symbolize

    the

    inevitability

    of

    history.6

    What

    Goethe

    emphasizes,

    how-

    ever,

    is

    the natural

    authenticity

    of

    Shakespeare's characters,

    and what

    he

    means

    by

    authentic

    humanness

    is

    indicated

    in

    his

    very

    first sentence:

    "Mir kommt

    vor,

    das

    sey

    die

    edelste

    von

    unsern

    Empfindungen,

    die

    Hoffnung, auch dann zu bleiben, wenn das Schicksaal uns zur

    allgemeinen

    Nonexistenz

    zuruickgefihrt

    zu haben scheint." We are

    authentically

    human

    when we

    experience

    at

    its

    greatest

    intensity

    the

    col-

    lision

    between

    our

    sense of indomitable

    being-"Ich

    Da ich mir

    alles

    binn,"

    or as

    Werther

    insists,

    "Wir

    sind

    ja "

    (p.

    178)-and

    our

    recogni-

    tion

    "dass keiner sein Ziel

    erreicht,"

    that we are

    helpless

    in

    the machine

    of the

    world-whole. And the

    point

    at which this collision

    occurs

    is not

    in

    the

    world

    but in the

    self,

    which

    is

    how it

    is "secret."

    Indeed,

    only

    our

    68

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    own

    characterand

    courage

    determine

    the

    depth

    to which

    we

    experience

    it,

    as

    can

    be seen

    by

    the

    negative

    example

    of those

    who

    live

    in

    the

    "Elysium, des sogenanndten guten Geschmacks, wo sie... halb sind,

    halb

    nicht sind.

    . . nicht

    mude

    genug

    zu ruhen und doch

    zu faul

    ...

    um

    tahtig

    zu

    seyn."

    The

    secret

    point,

    at which

    the

    two

    forces

    named

    in

    the Shake-

    speare

    piece

    and

    represented

    n

    the novel

    collide,

    is

    thus

    the

    phenomenon

    of

    human

    self-consciousness;

    or

    the forces

    are

    in

    essence two

    points

    of

    view

    that

    each

    individual

    occupies

    with

    respect

    to

    himself.

    In

    the

    speech, however,

    self-consciousness

    is

    seen

    as

    a

    distinction,

    a

    measure

    of

    our

    nobility,

    whereas

    in

    Werther

    t

    appearsprimarily

    as

    a

    problem.

    In

    the very first letter we read, "O was ist der Mensch, dass er uibersich

    klagen

    darf "

    (4

    May).

    What

    is

    this creature

    who,

    with

    respect

    to his

    own

    being,

    occupies

    two distinct

    points

    of view which clash as accuser

    and accused? How

    can

    I

    still

    be that

    person

    with

    whose

    conduct,

    in a

    broader

    view of

    things,

    I am

    dissatisfied?

    That

    these

    two

    points

    of view

    exist is

    an

    undeniable

    fact: that we

    feel,

    desire

    and

    act,

    thus have

    pretensions

    to

    freedom

    of the

    will,

    while

    on the other hand we also

    observe these

    motions

    critically, tracing

    their

    causes, calculating

    their

    effects,

    recognizing

    their ultimate

    futility.

    But where is the secret

    point

    at which these two halves of us meet and are revealed as expressionsof

    the

    one

    entity

    which I

    after

    all am? Or

    as

    Werther

    asks

    more

    than

    once,

    "What

    is

    man?" We

    can,

    in

    any

    case,

    now see the connection

    between the

    early

    Shakespeare

    address

    and the

    passage

    in

    the

    Lehrjahre,

    Book

    IV,

    where

    Shakespeare's

    igures

    are

    compared

    to clocks

    with

    glass

    cases,

    their inner

    workings

    visible. The secret

    point

    within

    us,

    at which

    our

    apparently

    multiple

    being

    is

    fully

    (if

    self-contradictorily)

    ealized,

    is

    what

    Shakespeare,

    n

    Goethe's

    view,

    reveals.

    The existence

    of two

    points

    of view

    with

    respect

    to

    ourselves,

    moreover, is the crux of Werther'ssituation;his oscillationsbetweenan

    ego-oriented

    and

    a

    causality-oriented

    point

    of view are

    not

    merely

    superficial

    symptoms

    of his disorder. He

    himself,

    in

    his letter

    on

    the

    concepts

    of "Hier"

    and

    "Dort"-which

    is

    written

    in

    a

    relatively

    good

    mood-diagnoses

    the

    basic

    human

    difficulty

    as one of

    point

    of view

    (21

    June).

    And what else is his desire

    for

    death,

    if

    not

    a

    desire for self-

    unity,

    for the

    supersession

    of

    consciousness,

    of

    that division between

    points

    of

    view

    which

    disrupts

    our

    inner life?

    That

    secret

    point

    at which

    we

    are

    a

    single,

    cohesive,

    indestructible

    entity,

    where the

    question

    "What is man?" is answered, is constantly the object of his yearning,

    and is

    associated

    by

    him

    with

    death,

    the

    elimination of conscious self-

    division,

    the return to

    oneness. Even

    with

    regard

    to

    speculative

    theol-

    ogy,

    there is

    something

    in him which

    resists

    the

    doctrine

    of the

    Son

    of

    God

    as

    an

    unworthy

    self-division

    in

    the

    deity

    (15

    Nov.,

    30

    Nov.);

    his

    yearning

    s

    to the

    Father alone.

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    All

    this,

    it

    seems to

    me,

    is

    already

    present

    in

    the

    first

    version

    of

    Werther,

    but

    again,

    Goethe's revision

    aims

    at

    throwing

    it

    into still

    sharperrelief. There is a very significant etter which, in the rearrange-

    ment of the

    material,

    is

    placed

    as

    the

    last letter

    before

    the entrance

    of

    the

    editor;

    it

    concludes

    with

    the

    words

    (which

    are

    also

    present

    in

    the

    1774

    version):

    "Was ist

    der

    Mensch,

    der

    gepriesene Halbgott

    [This

    being

    practically

    a

    quotation

    from

    Hamlet.]

    Ermangeln

    ihm nicht

    eben

    da

    die

    Krafte,

    wo

    er

    sie am

    nothigsten

    braucht?

    Und

    wenn

    er

    in

    Freude

    sich

    aufschwingt,

    oder

    im

    Leiden

    versinkt,

    wird

    er

    nicht in

    beiden eben

    da

    aufgehalten,

    eben

    da zu

    dem

    stumpfen

    kalten

    Bewusstsein wieder

    zuriickgebracht,

    da

    er

    sich

    in

    der Fulle des Unendlichen

    zu

    verlieren

    sehnte?" (6. Dec.). Consciousness again, is the enemy: that second,

    unshakably objective point

    of view

    upon

    ourselves

    by

    which our

    sense

    of freedom

    and

    power,

    our

    submergence

    in one

    feeling,

    one

    mode

    of

    being,

    our sense of ourselves as

    a

    single,

    indivisible

    surge

    of

    energy

    or

    sensitivity,

    is

    repeatedly

    thwarted. This

    passage

    of course also

    raises,

    at

    a

    highly

    conspicuous

    point

    in

    the work's

    structure,

    a

    more

    specific ques-

    tion: how does

    Werther

    actually

    manage

    to commit

    suicide?

    If cons-

    ciousness

    always interrupts

    our

    passionate

    feelings

    and

    actions,

    how

    does Werther

    actually

    achieve

    a

    "losing

    of himself"

    in

    the

    infinite?

    We shall come back to that question, but let us first recapitulate.

    The double

    perspective

    discussed

    by Blackall,

    we have

    seen,

    character-

    izes not

    only

    the

    second version of the

    novel,

    and not

    only

    the

    conclud-

    ing

    third-personsection;

    it in

    fact

    characterizes

    he

    stance we are meant

    to

    adopt

    with

    respect

    to the work as a whole

    in

    both versions. More-

    over,

    not

    only we,

    in

    the

    process

    of

    reading,

    are

    subject

    to

    a

    double

    per-

    spective,

    but Werther is as

    well,

    in

    the

    enacting

    of his

    destiny.

    This

    parallel

    leads to

    certain

    complications

    and

    paradoxes.

    If

    Werther's

    anguish

    is

    constituted

    mainly

    by

    the conscious

    separation

    he

    repeatedly

    experiences from his own self, then our detached perspective upon his

    situation,

    by analogy,

    becomes a

    kind

    of

    sympathy

    with

    him,

    just

    as our

    sympathy

    must

    in turn

    necessarily

    involve

    a certain distance-as

    does,

    by

    the nature

    of

    the

    case,

    our

    sympathy

    with

    any

    character

    n

    fiction.

    We

    shall

    go

    into this

    paradox

    further;

    but

    the

    crucial

    general

    point

    is

    that

    Goethe,

    in

    Werther,

    s

    operating

    with a

    complex

    of

    subtle

    relation-

    ships

    between

    the fictional

    psychology

    of

    his character and

    the

    actual

    psychology

    of

    his

    reader.

    III

    "Double

    perspective"

    is

    the

    fundamental

    structural

    principle

    of

    Werther,

    reflected

    homothetically

    on the

    levels

    of

    content,

    form and

    anticipated

    psychology

    of the reader.

    This

    is

    perhaps

    not

    particularly

    surprising,

    for

    the novel

    as

    a

    genre

    tends more

    or less

    naturally

    to

    employ multiple

    points

    of

    view;

    but Goethe's

    exploitation

    of the

    genre's

    possibilities

    is

    remarkably

    intense

    and

    consistent.

    Indeed,

    let us

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    WERTHER

    consider the mode of

    presentation

    at its

    most

    basic.

    Because

    it

    consists

    mainly

    of Werther's own

    letters,

    the text

    gives

    the

    impression

    of

    being

    a

    single extended act of self-assertionon Werther'spart, a manifestation

    of

    "pretended freedom,"

    of the

    ego's

    point

    of view as a

    willing ego.

    But on the other

    hand,

    most

    of

    the letters

    are written

    to a

    man

    who

    disagrees

    on

    some

    important

    issues.

    That

    these

    are

    letters, therefore,

    not for

    example

    a

    diary, obliges

    Werther

    to

    explain, justify

    or excuse

    himself

    repeatedly,

    to view his

    initiatives as

    belonging

    to a

    causally

    and

    morally

    ordered world-whole. Thus

    the

    mere device

    of the

    epistolary

    novel,

    at

    least

    in

    the

    particularway

    Goethe uses

    it, produces yet

    again

    that

    structurally

    central double

    perspective

    of

    which

    we have been

    speaking.

    But

    this

    brings

    us back to our

    original

    question.

    If

    the

    epistolary

    form

    is

    so

    entirely

    appropriate

    o

    Goethe's

    artistic

    aim,

    why

    does he

    abandon

    it

    earlier than he

    absolutely

    needs

    to? and

    why

    does

    he

    aban-

    don

    it in

    favor of an

    omniscient

    narrator,

    a

    conventional

    literary

    device

    which, by

    contrast

    with

    the considerable

    ubtlety

    of

    implication

    hat

    pre-

    cedes

    it,

    is

    wholly transparent

    as a

    device?

    This

    question

    can

    be

    answered

    very

    simply.

    The

    point

    at

    which

    the

    epistolary

    orm

    gives

    way

    to

    third-person narration,

    in an

    important

    sense,

    is

    "der

    geheime

    Punckt... in dem das Eigenthiimliche unsres Ich's, die pratendirte

    Freyheit

    unsres

    Willens,

    mit

    dem

    nothwendigen

    Gang

    des

    Ganzen

    zusammenst6sst."

    Precisely

    the

    transparency

    f

    the

    literary

    device

    with

    which the novel concludes

    is meant to draw our attention

    to our situation

    as

    readers;

    again,

    Goethe

    prepares

    the

    ground

    more

    thoroughly

    in

    the

    final version

    by

    adding

    a

    number of

    specific

    references

    to the art of

    poe-

    try

    (30

    May,

    4

    Sept.,

    26

    Nov.),

    and

    by emphasizing,

    at

    the

    beginning

    of

    the

    third-person

    section,

    the variousness of

    opinions

    concerning

    people's

    "Sinnesarten"

    (p. 141),

    which reminds us that we

    in

    turn,

    in

    judging the characters,are limited by our own subtle habits of thought

    and

    by

    those

    of

    the "editor." The

    abruptchange

    to

    a

    different narrative

    mode,

    as

    I

    say,

    raises

    for us the

    question

    of where we

    stand

    as

    readers,

    and thus makes us

    intensely

    aware of the doubleness

    of

    perspective

    which, up

    to

    now,

    has characterized

    ur

    situation;

    a

    conscious distance s

    interposed

    between

    ourselves

    now and

    ourselves

    as we

    had

    been while

    reading

    the

    epistolary

    section.

    But

    in

    spite

    of this-and herein

    lies

    the

    ultimate

    significance

    of Blackall's

    argument-our

    basic stance as

    readers,

    the double

    pespective

    we

    occupy,

    has

    not

    changed.

    We are wrenched

    away

    from

    ourselves,

    compelled

    to

    view our

    situation

    objectively

    as

    a

    part

    of a

    larger

    whole;

    and

    yet

    our situation is not

    changed

    thereby,

    our

    perceptual

    relation

    to the fiction is as

    complex

    and difficultas

    ever,

    and

    in

    essentially

    the

    same

    way

    as

    it

    had

    been.

    Thus

    the

    two

    points

    of

    view

    we

    occupy

    as we read

    are

    not

    only

    in

    tension

    with

    each

    other,

    but in a

    sense

    are

    actually

    made to "collide"

    at

    the

    point

    where

    the

    narrative

    mode

    changes.

    Our

    receptivity

    to this

    event

    in

    the

    process

    of

    reading,

    moreover,

    has

    been cultivated

    carefully,

    for we have observed the

    same

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    BENJAMINBENNETT

    sort of

    thing happening

    over and over

    again

    to Werther:

    he becomes

    critically

    conscious of

    himself, yet

    his consciousness

    only

    deepens

    or

    aggravates he state of affairs t criticizes.

    Or

    let

    us consider the

    situation

    of

    the reader

    in

    terms of

    the

    categories

    of

    freedom and

    limitation,

    "Freiheit"

    and

    "Einschrankung,"

    which

    on

    one hand

    represent

    an

    aspect

    of

    the

    point-of-view

    dichotomy

    defined

    in

    the

    Shakespeare

    speech,

    while on

    the other hand

    they

    are

    also

    a

    recurrent

    theme

    in

    Werther's

    brooding.

    It

    is

    clear

    that in

    the

    main

    portion

    of

    the novel we

    experience

    Werther's

    point

    of view

    as

    a

    restriction;

    if

    our

    range

    of

    vision were not limited

    by

    his

    passions

    and

    prejudices,

    we

    should

    be

    able to

    see the whole fictional situation a

    good

    deal more distinctly. And by the same token, that process of inference

    by

    which,

    as

    I

    have

    argued,

    we are able to

    piece together

    at least

    some

    "facts of

    the

    case,"

    appears

    o us

    as the domain

    of our own free mental

    activity,

    our

    ego.

    But then the

    third-person

    narrator

    begins

    to

    tell us the

    facts of the

    case;

    and

    because

    of the

    obviousness

    of

    the

    device,

    and of

    the narrator's

    own

    prejudices-or

    in

    the

    first

    version,

    somewhat less

    clearly,

    because of

    the

    exaggerated

    and

    obviously

    futile

    legalistic

    fastidi-

    ousness Goethe had imitated from

    Kestner-we are also induced to

    question

    he facts

    now

    presented

    to us.

    Therefore,

    by

    analogy,

    we must

    question our own earlier inferences about "facts" as well. What had

    earlier seemed our

    freedom,

    as

    opposed

    to

    Werther's

    imprisoning

    self-

    deception,

    is

    now revealed

    as

    our

    own inevitable

    imprisonment

    within a

    preconceived

    idea

    of

    things.

    Like

    Werther,

    who twists

    everything

    into

    an

    excuse

    for

    dying;

    like the first narrator

    with

    his

    legalistic

    compla-

    cency,

    or the

    second,

    who

    snobbishly

    associates

    his

    own attitude

    with

    that

    of

    "Menschen.

    ..

    die

    nicht

    gemeiner

    Art

    sind"

    (p. 141); indeed,

    like the

    little children who insist

    that

    Werther

    always

    tell the

    same

    story

    in

    exactly

    the

    same

    words;

    we

    too,

    in

    reading

    and

    inferring

    and

    imagin-

    ing, are merely insisting on a fictional world derived from our own

    habits

    of

    thought.

    And

    yet,

    we

    could not

    experience

    this

    transformation

    of

    our freedom into our limitedness

    if

    we

    were

    not

    still

    asserting

    our

    freedom,

    our

    independence,

    our detachment

    not

    only

    from

    Werther's

    point

    of

    view,

    but now from the narrator'sas

    well,

    in

    the same

    way

    as

    before.

    Thus,

    as in

    the later sonnet "Natur

    und

    Kunst,"

    the

    qualities

    of freedom and

    limitation,

    while

    remaining

    opposed,

    are

    made to

    imply

    one

    another,

    not as terms of

    a

    dialectical

    progression

    but

    as an

    absolute

    paradox,

    a

    "secret

    point,"

    inaccessible

    to

    systematic philosophy,

    which

    has to

    do

    with

    the

    inexpressible

    oneness

    of

    what

    we

    truly

    are.

    It

    is

    in

    relation to this

    paradox, moreover,

    that other

    paradoxes

    n

    the text are

    meant to

    be understood-such as the one mentioned

    above:

    that

    our

    detachment from Werther is a kind

    of

    sympathy,

    and

    our

    sympathy

    a

    kind of

    distance.

    Or

    let

    us consider Werther

    himself,

    as a

    figure,

    in

    terms of free-

    dom and

    limitation. The

    effect

    of

    the

    change

    to

    third-personnarrative,

    first of

    all,

    is to transform

    him

    from

    a voice into

    an

    object.

    He

    is no

    72

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    GOETHE'S

    WERTHER

    longer

    the source of the

    text,

    but

    rather its

    subject

    matter;

    his own

    words

    are

    now

    given

    merely

    as

    evidence, they

    are

    no

    longer

    the

    whole

    substance of the presentation. He has become, by comparisonwith his

    earlier

    function,

    an

    insect

    upon

    a

    pin.

    The

    "epic preterite,"

    whatever

    else

    it

    may

    be,

    is still a

    preterite

    and so

    imprisons

    him inside

    a

    presum-

    ably completed

    causal

    structure.

    But this

    also

    has

    the effect of

    removing

    him,

    to

    an

    extent,

    from our

    field

    of

    vision,

    thus

    calling

    attention to

    what

    we do not know

    about

    him,

    to his

    mystery,

    his

    ineffable

    personalcenter,

    his

    freedom.

    We

    can

    understand

    his

    by

    way

    of

    a

    question

    which I

    have

    already

    argued

    Goethe

    was at

    pains

    to

    emphasize

    in his

    revision:

    how

    does

    Werther

    manage

    actually

    to

    carry

    out

    the radical act of

    suicide,

    despite the interferenceof criticalconsciousness?

    This

    question

    is not

    only

    answered

    by

    the

    editor,

    it

    is answered

    ad

    nauseam.

    Over and

    over we are

    shown

    how

    Werther's

    suicide

    gradually

    becomes

    inevitable,

    how

    his

    calm

    decision

    is

    gradually forged,

    ham-

    mered into

    shape,

    by

    inner

    conflicts,

    personal

    tensions

    and

    external

    pressures.

    Nothing

    is

    omitted;

    the

    subtlest

    inward motions

    in

    the

    char-

    acters,

    the

    minutest details of their

    relations

    to

    each

    other and

    to them-

    selves,

    are taken into account.

    The

    trouble is that

    this

    impressive

    web

    of

    explanation-quite

    obviously-explains nothing

    whatever.7

    The pistol is freshly loaded, therefore presumably reliable;

    Werther,

    having

    sat down

    with

    his

    wine,

    takes the

    weapon

    in

    his

    hand,

    places

    the

    muzzle

    carefully

    over his

    right

    eye, pulls

    the

    trigger-and

    misses. He

    does not

    actually

    miss,

    as

    he

    is

    tricked into

    doing

    in

    Nicolai's

    parody;

    he does

    manage

    to

    destroy

    himself. But he does

    an

    unbelievably

    messy

    job

    of

    it,

    and

    it

    takes

    him a

    full

    twelve hours

    to

    expire.

    The

    extent

    to

    which

    Goethe

    reproduces

    the

    circumstances

    of

    Jerusalem's actual suicide

    is of

    no

    special

    significance

    here.

    Nor

    is

    the

    comparison

    with

    the

    hero's drawn-out

    dying

    in,

    say,

    Hamletor Miss Sara

    Sampson;both Hamlet and Sara have unfinished business to take care

    of,

    whereas Werther does

    nothing

    but bleed and

    death-rattle.

    The

    point

    is that

    the

    image

    of

    the

    utter

    useless disorder

    of

    Werther's twelve

    hours

    of

    dying

    conflicts

    violently

    with the

    idea

    of

    his deed as

    the

    plucking

    of a

    ripe

    fruit,

    as the

    effortless

    natural

    result of sufficient causes.

    We

    are,

    rather,

    given

    the

    very

    clear

    impression

    of an

    event

    that

    could well

    have

    happened completely

    otherwise,

    the

    impression

    of an

    un-necessary

    event,

    a

    gratuitous

    or

    arbitrary

    ct.

    And

    this

    impression

    is reinforced

    by

    Werther's

    own

    utterances.

    At the beginningof his last letter to Lotte, he prideshimself on his abil-

    ity

    to

    discuss,

    "ohne

    romantische

    Uberspannung,"

    his

    supposed

    "deci-

    sion" to die

    ("Es

    ist

    beschlossen, Lotte,

    ich

    will

    sterben"

    [p.

    159]);

    but

    this calm

    pose

    is itself

    obviously

    "overstrained,"

    and

    later,

    after

    the

    Ossian

    reading,

    he continues:

    "Wie

    kann

    ich

    vergehen?

    wie kannst

    du

    vergehen?

    Wir sind

    ja -Vergehen -Was

    heisst das? Das ist

    wieder

    ein

    Wort

    ein

    leerer Schall ohne

    Gefiuhl

    fur

    mein Herz...

    Sterben

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    BENJAMIN

    BENNETT

    Grab

    ich

    verstehe die

    Worte

    nicht "

    (pp.

    178-9).

    What this

    passage

    shows is not how

    far

    he has

    come,

    but rather how far he still has to

    go

    before he can be said to have "decided" to die; at some point, before

    the

    end,

    he

    will

    have

    to "understand"the word

    "death,"

    in

    all its

    hor-

    ror,

    and

    we have

    no

    way

    of

    judging

    whether

    his resolution

    will

    be

    equal

    to this. The

    suggestion,

    especially

    in

    view

    of

    the

    actual messiness

    of

    the

    event,

    is

    that

    Werther's

    suicide, up

    to the last

    minute,

    is

    not

    the

    inevitable result

    of sufficient

    causes.

    To the

    question

    of how he

    manages

    to

    carry

    out the

    deed,

    we must

    answer:

    we

    do not know.

    At

    the last moment

    something

    happens

    in him

    which,

    as far as we

    can

    tell,

    is

    entirely

    uncaused,

    hence

    beyond

    our

    systematic

    comprehension,

    something free. Or we think of his last letter as a whole, which is

    clearly

    intended

    to torment Lotte

    in

    the

    very

    process

    of

    exalting

    her,

    and so continues

    what

    had

    always

    been his manner

    of

    treating

    her. The

    point

    is

    that

    Werther

    has

    by

    no means turned

    away

    from the confused

    habits of

    his

    life;

    his

    "decision"

    to

    die

    is

    not

    yet

    complete. Perhaps

    t

    is

    even

    significant

    that

    before

    killing

    himself

    he

    loads both

    pistols

    ("Sie

    sind

    geladen"

    [p. 189]),

    which does not

    say

    much

    for

    his

    single-minded

    concentrationon

    what

    he intends

    doing.

    And

    again,

    Goethe

    takes

    steps,

    in

    his

    revision,

    to

    make these

    points

    still clearer.

    In

    the first

    version,

    the letter

    of

    8 Dec.,

    in

    which Werther admits

    a

    definite doubt concern-

    ing

    his

    "Muth zu

    sterben,"

    comes

    just

    before the

    change

    to third-

    person;

    in

    the revision the letter is dated four

    days

    later and

    quoted by

    the

    editor.

    Werther's

    continuing

    uncertainty

    s thus

    emphasized,

    and

    we

    are

    denied

    the

    opportunity

    of

    imagining

    (as

    we otherwise

    might)

    that

    the radical

    change

    in

    narrative

    approach

    is

    meant

    to

    suggest,

    at

    this

    point,

    the

    transformation

    of

    Werther's

    coming

    death from

    a

    mere

    possi-

    bility

    into

    an

    absolute

    necessity.

    Or

    yet

    again,

    why

    does Werther read

    Emilia

    Galotti?

    Merely

    because the play is about a passionateyoung person who desires death?

    If

    Wertherwere

    fully

    and

    calmly

    determined

    upon

    suicide as

    a

    means of

    relieving

    others' difficulties as well as his

    own,

    then he

    could

    have

    chosen

    a

    more

    appropriate

    play

    without even

    looking beyond

    the

    works

    of

    Lessing,

    the

    play Philotas,

    where the hero

    kills

    himself

    to avoid forc-

    ing

    his

    father into

    a

    serious

    military

    disadvantage.

    But

    Emilia

    does not

    even do her

    own

    killing;

    it

    is

    done for her

    by

    her

    father.

    Does Werther

    see the

    relation between

    Odoardoand Emilia as

    parallel

    o

    that

    between

    Lotte

    and

    himself?

    Is he still

    attempting-as

    also

    in

    his

    letter,

    on the

    handling

    of

    the

    pistols-to

    imagine

    Lotte

    as

    the

    actual

    perpetrator

    f

    the

    deed,

    thus

    postponing

    the moment when he must decide and act for

    himself? Or

    indeed,

    insofar as his suicide

    is

    clearly

    in

    part

    an

    act of

    murderous

    psychological aggression against

    Lotte-which

    nearly

    succeeds,

    "Man

    furchtete

    fuir

    Lottens Leben"

    (p.

    191; cf.,

    on

    both

    their

    deaths,

    the letter of

    21

    Nov.)--is

    he

    casting

    her as

    Emilia,

    and himself

    as

    Odoardo

    or

    perhaps

    Appiani?

    The reason

    Emilia

    gives

    for

    feeling

    she

    must die is

    that

    she detects

    in

    herself

    a

    force that

    will

    undermine

    her

    74

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    GOETHE'S

    WERTHER

    resolution and

    principles:

    "Ich habe

    Blut,

    mein

    Vater;

    so

    jugendliches,

    so warmes

    Blut,

    als eine." Does Werther

    apply

    this to

    Lotte,

    whose

    run-of-the-mill bourgeois existence violates the supposedlyideal plane

    of communicationbetween her

    and

    himself? Or

    does he

    apply

    it

    to his

    own

    feelings?

    Is he

    struggling

    against

    his

    own

    "blood,"

    his own

    still

    unconquered

    involvement

    in

    life?

    In

    any

    case,

    the

    very

    complexity

    of

    association

    suggested

    by

    Emilia s

    significant.

    The

    simplicity

    of achieved

    decision does not

    yet

    characterizeWerther's

    thoughts;

    his

    decision,

    the

    necessity

    of

    his

    death,

    is not

    actually

    there

    until the last instant when he

    manages-somehow-to

    pull

    the

    trigger.

    The effect of

    the

    change

    to

    third-person

    narration,

    hen,

    is

    both to

    limit Werther, to make him an object, and also (since the narrator's

    explanations prove inadequate)

    to

    liberate

    him,

    to

    suggest

    his

    quality

    as

    a

    free

    ego.

    Thus

    freedom

    and limitation are

    again

    made

    to

    imply

    each

    other,

    to

    occupy

    the same

    square,

    as

    it

    were,

    in

    the narrative

    grid;

    and

    our

    attention,

    again,

    or our

    speculation,

    is thus focused on

    that

    "secret

    point"

    where

    we are the whole of

    what we

    are,

    our

    will,

    our

    character,

    our

    fate,

    all

    in

    one. As

    I

    have

    said,

    Goethe

    insists

    on this

    paradox

    with

    remarkable

    consistency.

    The messiness

    of Werther's

    suicide

    suggests

    the idea

    of

    arbitraryblundering;

    but on the other

    hand,

    it

    takes

    him

    exactlyfrom midnighttill noon to die, and the image of clockwork,or of

    circular

    return,

    suggests

    the

    opposite

    of freedom

    or arbitrariness.

    In

    symbol,

    therefore,

    as well

    as

    in

    theme,

    in

    character

    development,

    in

    explicit

    philosophical speculation,

    and

    in

    its

    implied

    relation

    to its

    reader,

    the novel's central

    paradox

    s

    ceaselessly

    present:

    that

    we exist

    as

    two

    points

    of

    view

    with

    respect

    to

    ourselves,

    a

    free

    will

    and

    a

    percep-

    tion of strict

    causality,

    and

    that

    these

    opposites

    must nevertheless

    somehow

    ultimately

    be one.

    IV

    In

    a

    fine

    essay

    on the novel's

    origins,

    Wolfgang

    Kayser

    asks,

    "wie

    kann man

    den Werther lesen

    und trotzdem den

    Willen

    zum Leben

    bewahren?"8

    This

    question

    is

    by

    no means

    an idle

    one.

    If

    we

    cannot

    discover

    in

    our

    own

    experience

    something

    corresponding

    o Werther's

    yearning

    for

    self-unity,

    or

    if

    we

    simply

    refuse

    to take

    seriously

    Werther's

    recognition

    that

    absolute

    self-unity

    is achieved

    only

    in

    death,

    then

    why

    should we bother

    reading

    the novel

    in

    the

    first

    place? Kayser

    answers that, for Goethe, it was an awareness of artisticmastery, an

    enjoyment

    of art as

    a kind

    of

    adroit

    playing,

    that

    enabled

    him

    to survive

    the

    Werther-experience.

    But this

    argument

    needs

    to be taken further

    and

    applied

    to the

    reader,

    and

    I think

    we have

    established, above,

    a

    sufficient

    basis for

    doing

    so. The structure

    of the

    novel,

    we have

    seen,

    is calculated

    to make us

    intensely

    aware of our situation

    as

    readers,

    and

    specifically

    to

    remind

    us that the

    problem

    of human

    self-unity

    is

    present,

    or

    at

    least

    symbolized,

    in

    this situation.

    Thus,

    on

    the one

    75

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    BENJAMINBENNETT

    hand,

    we are

    induced to

    agree

    with

    Werther's basic assessment

    of the

    human

    condition,

    while

    on

    the

    other hand-since we

    are also induced

    to

    think about what we are doing by reading,hence to regardourselves as

    willing participants

    n an

    artistic

    game-it

    is still

    possible

    for

    us

    to avoid

    drawing

    Werther'sconclusions.

    Werther, perhaps,

    actually

    achieves absolute

    self-unity,

    the

    super-

    session of

    consciousness,

    in

    death. But

    what

    is

    important

    s that

    we too

    are

    maneuvered,

    in

    the

    process

    of

    reading, by

    the

    particular

    uccession

    of narrative devices

    employed,

    into the

    experience

    of

    at

    least

    a

    strong

    imitation of such

    self-unity;

    the

    paradox

    of the self is

    an

    integralpart

    of

    our

    situation as

    readers,

    and its

    presence

    on other levels of

    the work

    only reminds us of this. My contention is that Goethe offers us this

    intimation of

    unity,

    of our

    self-unity,

    here

    and

    now,

    as

    a

    substitute

    for

    Werther's drastic action.

    "Sey

    ein

    Mann,

    und

    folge

    mir nicht

    nach"9 is

    the ethical

    message;

    but

    the

    book,

    in

    this

    sense,

    is

    not

    an

    ethical

    teach-

    ing

    so much

    as

    an ethical

    training.

    By

    being

    a work of

    fiction,

    an

    artistic

    construct

    contrived

    by

    man

    for his

    own

    enjoyment-and especially

    the

    second version's

    conventionally

    omniscient

    but

    transparently

    disguised

    narrator

    is

    conceived

    so as to remind us of this

    very

    strongly'

    -the

    novel offers us

    practice

    n

    deriving pleasure

    from

    precisely

    that

    paradoxi-

    cal qualityof human existence which Werthertakes as a reason for sui-

    cide;

    it

    trains

    us,

    here

    and

    now,

    to take the

    potentially

    destructive

    tor-

    ment of conscious life as

    an

    interestingly

    complex

    game,

    since

    we are

    alreadydoing

    this

    by reading.

    Werther'sown

    personal difficulty,

    n

    fact,

    especiallyduring

    his

    diplomaticservice,

    can be

    plausibly

    diagnosed

    as

    an

    absolute

    unwillingness

    to take life as

    a

    game,

    even

    though

    he

    recognizes

    the

    possibility

    (see

    letters of 8

    Jan.,

    8

    Feb.).

    But as

    readers

    of a

    novel-as readers

    (let

    it

    be

    noted)

    of

    that

    extravagant

    sort of novel

    which

    Werther

    and

    Lotte,

    at

    their

    initial

    meeting,

    would

    probably

    agree

    to despise-we are presentedat least with the opportunityof adopting

    the

    opposite

    attitude.

    And

    yet,

    playing

    the

    game

    of

    life does

    not

    mean

    blinding

    our-

    selves

    to its

    difficulty

    or

    danger.

    Precisely

    Werther's

    point

    of

    view,

    pre-

    cisely

    the

    perception

    of our

    consciously

    divided condition as a

    problem

    and

    anguish,

    is

    necessary

    in

    order

    that the

    game

    of life

    have

    shape

    or

    direction,

    as

    a constant

    precariousbalancing

    on

    the

    verge

    of

    self-unity,

    without ever

    absolutely,

    all too

    earnestly, achieving

    it.

    Years

    later,

    Goethe

    compares

    the

    quest

    for

    self-knowledge

    to

    a

    curious kind of

    target-shooting n which we should not insist too stronglyupon hitting

    the

    bull's-eye."

    Or

    we think

    of the notion of

    poetry

    as

    a

    game

    of

    deli-

    berate

    "Irrthum" in the

    "Vorspiel"

    to Faust.

    But

    again,

    without

    Werther's "overstrained"

    attitude-or

    in

    the other

    case,

    the

    Poet's,

    or

    Faust's-without

    a

    genuine

    sense of

    sympathy

    with

    Werther,

    without

    a

    subjective

    correlative

    on

    our

    part

    to the

    inescapability

    f Werther's

    point

    of

    view

    in

    the

    narrative

    structure,

    we

    can have no

    sense

    of

    accomplish-

    ment

    in

    the

    game

    of

    life, by

    analogy

    with our

    sense

    of form

    in

    the

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    WERTHER

    novel. Thus

    not

    only

    our

    double

    perspective

    in

    its

    general

    form,

    as the

    assertion

    of

    will

    and

    the

    perception

    of

    causality,

    but also

    that

    doubleness

    in the specificform in which it is requiredof us as we read Werther,s a

    combination

    of

    detachment

    and

    involvement

    with

    respect

    to

    Wertherian

    despair,

    is

    necessary

    in

    the

    game

    of

    life;

    the

    reading

    of

    the

    novel,

    again,

    is therefore

    meant

    to be

    practice

    or

    training.

    There is

    no

    formulable ethical doctrine

    in

    Werther.There can

    be

    none. Otherwise our

    freedom,

    in

    the

    strict

    sense,

    would be

    impaired,

    and

    the

    paradox

    of our

    being

    would

    be

    incomplete.

    The

    reading

    of the

    novel

    must

    simply

    be a

    self-limiting

    pattern

    for

    our

    existence

    as

    a

    whole,

    in

    the same

    way

    that

    Goethe

    suggests

    the

    writing

    of

    the novel

    had

    representedhis own settingof his life in order. The most generalethical

    statement we

    can

    make about life is

    that,

    by analogy

    with

    the

    reading

    of

    the

    novel,

    it

    must have

    the

    character

    of

    a

    game,

    in which

    the raw

    material of

    despair

    is somehow transmuted into

    enjoyment

    and

    enter-

    prise;

    and

    this

    "somehow,"

    though

    indefinable,

    is not

    unattainable,

    or

    it

    is

    already

    achieved,

    or

    at

    least

    foreshadowed, by

    our

    reading

    of

    the

    novel

    as a

    novel. Wherever

    we

    lay

    hold of Werther e turn

    up

    insoluble

    epistemological

    difficulties and

    paradoxes,

    and

    we are

    compelled

    to

    recognize,

    by

    analogy

    with

    the hero's

    entirely

    plausible fate,

    that these

    difficultiesare potentiallydeadly; we, as it were, like Werther,are play-

    ing

    with a

    pair

    of loaded

    pistols.

    But

    we

    are still

    playing,

    self-destruction

    is no more

    a

    necessity

    for us

    than it

    is, up

    to

    the

    last

    moment,

    for

    Werther. Our critical

    perspective upon

    the narrator

    and

    his

    supposed

    explanations

    ncludes the idea

    that

    Werther'sdeed is free

    in

    the sense

    of

    lacking

    a sufficient cause. Thus we are

    enabled

    to

    avoid

    following

    Werther without even

    needing

    to

    disapprove

    of

    him

    morally

    or

    philo-

    sophically;

    n

    the

    very

    process

    of

    dignifying

    his suicide as

    an

    expression

    of true human

    freedom,

    we reserve for

    ourselves,

    by

    strict

    logic,

    the

    option of acting otherwise, since the idea of freedom is meaningless

    without

    that

    option.

    Werther's

    admonition, "Sey

    ein

    Mann,"

    was

    dropped

    in

    the second

    version, probably

    as

    representing

    rather

    too

    specific

    a moral

    imperative. "Sey

    ein Mensch" would

    perhaps

    have

    been

    more

    appropriate;

    e

    human,

    in

    the

    Shakespearean

    ense, actively,

    artistically,precariously

    but

    insouciantly

    balanced

    at that

    "secret

    point"

    which

    contains

    both our true unified essence and the constant

    possibility

    of

    despair

    and

    nothingness.

    V

    Is

    Werther,

    n

    the

    sense of

    the above

    reading,

    an

    exception,

    or is

    it

    typical

    of

    young

    Goethe's

    artistic method?

    It

    would take a

    great

    deal

    of

    space

    to treat this

    question

    with

    any

    thoroughness,

    but food for

    thought,

    it

    seems to

    me,

    is

    providedby

    a

    number

    of

    striking

    similarities,

    in

    structure and

    purport,

    between

    the

    novel

    and

    one

    other

    work,

    which

    is sometimes taken to

    represent

    the

    opposite

    extreme

    in

    the

    spectrum

    of

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    BENJAMIN

    BENNETT

    Goethe's

    early

    output,

    the

    poem

    "Prometheus."

    Werther

    s

    labile,

    "Prometheus"

    energetic,

    Werther

    depicts

    helplessness,

    "Prometheus"

    defiance, Wertherabounds in complexities, "Prometheus" is brutally

    simple.

    But

    are

    the

    two

    works

    really

    that

    different?

    The first

    section

    of

    the

    poem

    can be read

    without trouble

    as a

    dramatic

    speech,

    Prometheus' defiance of

    Zeus;

    but

    in

    the

    second

    sec-

    tion we

    are

    offered the

    opportunity

    of

    seeing

    through

    the

    text,

    or behind

    it,

    to an

    inexplicit

    level

    of

    modern

    thought,

    just as,

    in

    Werther,

    we

    are

    challenged

    to

    penetrate

    the text and

    judge

    the fictional

    world

    objectively.

    The

    idea

    that

    the

    gods

    require

    men's

    sacrifices as nourishment and

    would

    starve,

    "waren /

    Nicht

    Kinder und Bettler /

    Hoffnungsvolle

    Thoren,"12clearly suggests that the gods exist only in men's foolish

    belief;

    and this

    idea is then

    developed

    in

    the next

    section,

    especially

    in

    the

    words,

    "als

    wenn driiber

    war'

    /

    Ein

    Ohr...

    Ein

    Herz,

    wie

    mein's."

    Not

    only,

    in

    fact,

    is

    god

    exposed

    as

    a

    mere

    idea

    in

    man's

    mind,

    but

    he

    is

    exposed

    as

    a

    distinctly

    harmful idea:

    a

    false

    hope,

    which

    distractsus

    from the humanitarian

    responsibility

    of

    dealing

    directly

    with real

    suffering,

    in

    ourselves

    and

    others,

    "Hast du die Schmerzen

    gelin-

    dert.

    .

    ";

    and

    a false

    humility,

    which distracts

    us from the fruitful

    appreciation

    of our own

    real creative

    power,

    our

    ability

    to

    shape

    our own

    destiny, "Hast du nicht alles selbst vollendet, / Heilig gluihendHerz?"

    Nor can

    it

    be

    argued

    that

    the

    poem's speaker

    is

    pleading

    for

    a

    more

    modern idea

    of

    god,

    as

    opposed

    to the

    notion

    of brute

    supernatural

    strength

    embodied

    in a

    Zeus;

    the idea

    of

    god

    represented by

    "Zeus"

    in

    the

    poem

    is

    clearly modern,

    presupposing

    he

    development

    of

    European

    Christianity,

    the

    idea

    of a

    god

    of

    the

    oppressed,

    of "Kinder

    und

    Bettler,"

    the idea

    of a

    god

    who

    expects

    of his believers that

    they

    turn

    away

    from the

    things

    of this

    world,

    "Wahntest

    du

    etwa,

    /

    Ich

    sollte das

    Leben hassen.

    ..

    "

    But if the poem is meant to teach that man must rely on himself,

    rather

    than

    on

    some

    imagined "Nobodaddy

    aloft,"

    then

    why

    does the

    poet put

    on the

    mask

    of

    Prometheus

    defying

    Zeus,

    why

    does he

    create

    a

    dramaticsituation which

    is

    predicated,

    after

    all,

    on the

    real existence

    of

    god?

    At

    the

    end,

    Prometheus

    boasts

    to

    Zeus

    of

    having

    implanted

    n

    his

    creatures

    the

    defiant

    resolve,

    "dein

    nicht zu

    achten,

    / Wie

    ich "

    But

    this

    attitude

    is

    itself a form of

    Achten;

    t

    is not

    mere

    contempt

    or

    disre-

    gard,

    but rather active

    defiance,

    thus in

    part

    also

    a tribute to

    the

    effectiveness

    of

    the

    power against

    which it is

    directed.

    And

    even

    if

    the

    fiction of Prometheus'defying Zeus is still somehow appropriateo the

    poem's

    message, why

    then

    is this fiction not

    maintained

    at least a bit

    more

    consistently?

    Why

    does Goethe

    go

    out of his

    way

    to

    garble

    the

    ancient

    myth

    of

    the

    titanomachy,

    as

    if

    this had

    been

    primarily

    Prometheus'

    affair

    in

    which

    Zeus

    had

    claimed

    a

    share

    of the

    credit?

    There is

    perhaps

    no

    special

    reason

    why

    Prometheus

    should

    not

    be

    taken

    as

    a

    symbol

    of man's

    throwing

    off

    his

    reliance

    on

    supernatural

    aid;

    but

    the mere mention

    of the

    Titans

    reminds

    us of Prometheus

    as

    Zeus'

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    GOETHE'SWERTHER

    helper,

    not

    vice versa.

    In

    any case,

    the

    questions

    thus raised

    are

    evi-

    dently

    similar

    to

    those

    we

    are

    induced

    to

    ask about the

    narrator

    in

    Werther.why the change of mode in the first place, if it does not sub-

    stantially

    change

    our

    point

    of

    view,

    and

    why

    the editorial

    pose

    if it

    is

    made

    so

    easy

    to see

    through?

    To the

    more

    general question,

    however,

    in

    regard

    to

    "Prometheus,"

    there

    is

    a

    relatively

    clear answer.

    Human

    self-reliance

    and

    self-esteem

    presuppose

    the

    possibility

    of

    human

    self-definition;

    we

    must

    know

    exactly

    what

    constitutes our

    humanness,

    and from what

    it

    must be

    distinguished.

    In

    the

    later

    poem

    "Das

    Gottliche"

    ("Edel

    sei

    der

    Mensch"),

    this

    purpose,

    definition

    by

    contrast,

    is

    served

    by

    the

    ideas of blind nature and blind fortune, both of which, in

    "Prometheus,"

    are at

    least

    associated

    with

    Zeus

    ("ilbe...

    An

    Eichen

    dich

    und

    Bergeshohn";

    "Weil

    nicht

    alle

    /

    Bliithentraume

    reiften");

    in

    order

    to

    be

    fully

    human

    we must

    clearly

    distinguish

    our own

    ethical

    and

    sensitive

    being

    from the

    unfeeling

    world

    at

    large.

    But the

    very purpose

    of this

    distinction is that it

    remain

    in

    our mind

    as

    a

    precaution

    against

    unworthy

    reliance

    on

    supposedly

    higher

    powers;

    even

    in

    the

    act of

    rejecting

    the

    idea

    of a

    benevolent

    deity

    who

    does for us what

    we

    ought

    to

    do

    for

    ourselves,

    we thus

    also

    perpetuate

    the

    idea,

    in

    our

    thinking,

    where it remains a danger. This paradox is obvious at the end of

    "Prometheus,"

    where

    the word

    "achten"

    reminds

    us that

    defiance is a

    kind of

    tribute;

    and

    it

    is

    also

    present

    in

    "Das

    Gottliche,"

    in

    the

    lines,

    "Und

    wir

    verehren

    /

    Die

    Unsterblichen,

    / Als waren

    sie

    Menschen,

    /

    Thaten

    im

    Grossen,

    /

    Was der

    Beste

    im

    Kleinen

    /

    Thut oder

    m6chte."

    If

    we believe

    in

    gods

    who

    act

    humanely

    "on a

    large

    scale,"

    what

    else

    is

    this but to

    attribute human

    feeling

    to

    the world

    of nature and

    fortune,

    which

    attribution

    has

    been denied

    only

    three stanzas

    earlier? The

    question-why

    a

    poem

    presupposing

    the

    existence

    of

    god?-is

    thus

    replacedby

    a

    philosophicalproblem:

    in

    order

    to

    realize

    our

    humanity

    we must

    reject

    the idea

    of

    a

    divinely

    suffused nature

    as

    being

    irreconcil-

    able

    with

    our

    responsibility

    for

    ourselves;

    but on the other

    hand,

    the

    same

    idea

    is also

    necessary

    as

    part

    of our human

    self-definition,

    our

    sense of who

    and where

    we

    are,

    and from what

    distinguished.

    The

    way

    out

    of this

    problem,

    in

    "Prometheus"-and the

    only

    way,

    as far

    as

    I

    can

    see-is

    suggested by

    the

    blatant

    nconsistency

    of

    the

    speaker's

    mythological

    pose, just

    as

    the

    meaning

    of Werther

    s

    suggested

    by

    the

    transparency

    of

    the

    "editor." In

    both works

    we

    are

    induced to

    think

    carefullyabout whatwe are doing by reading,and in the poem the

    obvious

    unnecessarinessof

    the

    persona

    reminds

    us

    that

    we

    are

    engaging

    voluntarily

    n

    an

    arbitrary

    erbal

    game,

    which

    in

    turn trains

    us

    to

    adopt

    a

    flexible, artistic,

    playfully

    ironic

    attitude toward our

    language

    and

    thought

    in

    general.

    In the

    absense

    of

    such

    an

    attitude,

    the

    philosophical

    dilemma

    with

    which

    the

    poem

    confronts us

    remains

    insurmountable

    and

    tormenting.

    What

    we must learn is

    to use the

    idea

    of

    god

    willingly, yet

    also

    with a

    constant

    unspoken

    irony by

    which our

    sense

    of

    human

    duty

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    BENJAMINBENNETT

    is

    maintained;

    we

    must learn to

    play

    with

    the

    idea,

    and

    with

    the

    prob-

    lems

    it

    raises,

    in

    the

    same

    way

    that

    we

    must

    accept

    and affirm

    Werther's

    point of view, yet manage to enjoy doing so. God must remain a

    significant

    and

    functioning

    noun

    in

    our

    language,

    yet

    a noun

    which,

    as

    in

    "Das

    Gottliche,"

    tends

    inconspicuously

    o associate itself

    with

    verbs

    in

    the

    subjunctive.

    In

    any case,

    to

    return to our main

    topic,

    Werther himself unwit-

    tingly

    describes the

    attitude we are meant to

    adopt

    toward his

    story

    when he

    writes to

    Wilhelm:

    "Du wirst mir

    also

    nicht

    libel

    nehmen,

    wenn ich dir

    dein

    ganzes Argument

    einraume,

    und mich

    doch zwischen

    dem EntwederOder

    durchzustehlen suche"

    (8

    Aug.).

    We

    too,

    in

    our

    turn, must admitWerther'sargument-we must adopthis pointof view,

    not

    only

    in

    reading

    but

    also

    in

    life-yet

    in

    such a

    way

    as not to draw his

    apparently ogical conclusions,

    or

    at

    least not

    in

    action.

    We must

    grant

    his

    sense of

    irreconcilable

    alternatives

    in

    life-either the

    extravagant

    "Strom

    des

    Genies"

    or

    "die

    gelassenen

    Herren"

    with

    their

    "Gartenhauschen, Tulpenbeete

    und Krautfelder"

    (26

    May),

    either

    "Freiheit" or

    "Einschrankung,"

    either

    "Leidenschaften... nie weit vom

    Wahnsinn"

    (12

    Aug.)

    or

    the

    hopeless

    dullness of

    a

    Philistine

    existence-and

    yet

    our

    granting

    of this must be a kind of

    play,

    the exer-

    cise (to use Wertheragainsthimself once more) of an enjoyable ntellec-

    tual

    "Combinationsart"

    (12

    Aug.)

    by

    which

    we are enabled

    to

    slip

    between the Either and

    the Or. And

    this

    "must,"

    again,

    by

    no

    means

    represents

    an

    unattainable

    deal;

    merely by

    reading

    the novel

    with

    a

    cer-

    tain

    skeptical

    alertness-which

    is

    part

    of how we

    read novels

    anyway-

    we

    already

    find

    ourselves at least

    in

    serious

    training

    for the

    game

    of

    life

    thus

    understood.

    University

    of Virginia

    This

    essay

    was

    developed

    rom

    a talk

    given

    at

    Yale

    University

    n 20

    November

    1978.

    A

    number

    f

    points

    rom

    the

    lively

    and

    penetrating

    is-

    cussion

    afterwards,

    or

    which

    the author s

    deeply

    grateful,

    have been

    accounted

    or

    in

    the

    present

    ersion.

    2

    Eric A.

    Blackall,

    Goethe

    and the Novel

    (Ithaca:

    Cornell,

    1976),

    p.

    53.

    I

    do

    not

    agree,

    however,

    with

    Blackall'sense of

    the differentness

    f the

    two

    versionsof

    Werther.

    he

    word

    "soliloquy,"

    elow,

    s borrowedrom the

    title

    o