Academic journal article Goethe Yearbook

Missing the Breast: Gender, Fantasy and the Body in the German Enlightenment

Academic journal article Goethe Yearbook

Missing the Breast: Gender, Fantasy and the Body in the German Enlightenment

Article excerpt

Simon Richter, Missing the Breast: Gender, Fantasy and the Body in the German Enlightenment. Seattle: U of Washington P, 2006. 353 pp.

Simon Richter's outstanding study Missing the Breast: Gender, Fantasy, and the Body in the German Enlightenment combines the erudition and thoroughness of traditional Germanistik with the appeal and liveliness of Cultural Studies. Departing from Jakob Grimm's etymology of the word breast, Richter shows that German culture tends to imagine the breast as a dialectic of abundance and lack. In order to prove his point, he explores the cultural valence of the breast in visual representations including painting, sculpture, film, and photography as well as medical, psychoanalytic, pedagogical, theological, and literary discourses. Drawing on a wide variety of material, ranging from Jared Diamond's ideas on male lactation to Matschuka's representations of mastectomy, Richter seeks to destabilize biological categories and to dislodge the identification of breasts and femininity.

Referencing Melanie Klein's theories, Richter redefines the breast as the original site of signification and cultural production. He further employs Klein's categories of the good and the bad breast in his discussion of eighteenth-century discourses of wet-nursing and breast-feeding. Contesting Thomas Lacqueur's theory of woman as man turned outside in, Richter suggests instead that the eighteenth century conceives of the breast, not the vagina, as the analogue of the penis. He points to the fungibility of fluids that equated semen and breast milk, medical studies of nipple erection, and similarities between discourses of wet nursing and masturbation to prove his point.

Richter's literary analyses focus on Christoph Martin Wieland's Die Geschichte des Agathon, Sophie von la Roche's Geschichte des Fräulein von Sternheim,Wilhehrt Heinse's Ardinghello, Therese Huber's Die Familie Seldorf, and, of course, Heinrich von Kleist's Penthesilea. Richter claims that Wieland's rhetoric of the breast pushes language toward the material and the literal as it negotiates the relation between signifier and signified, the erotic and the sacred, the real and the ideal. …

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