Academic journal article Goethe Yearbook

Meistersänger Als Beruf: The Maieutics of Poetic Vocation in "Erklärung; Eines Alten Holzschnittes ..."

Academic journal article Goethe Yearbook

Meistersänger Als Beruf: The Maieutics of Poetic Vocation in "Erklärung; Eines Alten Holzschnittes ..."

Article excerpt

There are at least two stories to be told about Goethe's lyric poetry According to one, the power of the artist (and we all know Goethe is the consummate artist) grows from passions and drives that are crystallized in experience and expressed in art. This "hermeneutics of experience" produces the "myth of unmediated expressivity"1 that is central to the biographical story about Goethe (or, more recently, about Goethe.O,2 a story that nonetheless persists in different forms, on different premises, in the various considerations of "Goethe" as a coherent unit, an author with a project who produces a certain discourse.

In the second story about this author-person's lyric poetry, a story told by David Wellbery in his pathbreaking study The Specular Moment, Goethe presents a recodification of intimacy (Wellbery adapts Niklas Luhmann's language of encoding and recoding here) in the form of "the lyric." More than lyric poetry in the usual sense,"the lyric" is a new discourse, and its reader is held to operate differently from the reader of previous poetic discourse by "an effort of empathetic projection" onto the speaking lyric subject that amounts to "grasp[ing], through an act of divination, the. subjectivity that alone gives the text its coherence."3 From Erlebnis criticism to a partially Luhmann-inspired discourse analysis, from the idyll to the lyric as a particular formation beginning in 1770-71, this story posits and performs decisive breaks with tradition in claiming for Goethe and itself a modernity that begins in the now of lyric subjectivity and the critical subjectivity that would project the former onto or into the latter.

In what follows, I want to tell yet a third story. My story, however brief, focuses on the step in the lyric-critical act from "empathetic projection" to the "act of divination" and challenges the identity of those operations as well as the Romantic paradigm that implicitly underwrites this identity. In his early Weimar period, so well after the beginning of the lyric period in 1770-71,1 want to suggest, Goethe is dealing with or dealing in multiple versions of the lyric subject at the same time, the commonalities among which, however, constitute a specific poetic structure that challenges the act of divinatory criticism.

In both Wellbery's story and mine, the lyric subject is not just a poetic figure but also a poietic figure, not just a first-person seer or speaker in the poem but also a maker, one who engages in poiesis. While the central poems in his model of the Lyrik, such as "Willkommen und Abschied," emphasize the autonomization of the poetic subject in itself, without regard to an end in the sense of Zweck or telos, Wellbery concludes his study with the notion of poetic vocation, implying that creation follows autonomization. This link is most evident in "Prometheus," in which the lyric Ich now makes people:

Hier sitz ich, forme Menschen

Nach meinem Bilde,

Ein Geschlecht das mir gleich sei,

Zu leiden, weinen,

Genießen und zu freuen sich

Und dein nicht zu achten

Wie ich! (FA 1:204)4

The moments of autonomy, creativity, and identity are joined in Promethean self-reproduction, a neat encapsulation both of the tendencies of what would become Romantic poetics and of a certain account of selfhood presented in theological terms. While the former stress the role of the mirror, the latter constitutes a set of arguments about subjectivity evidently thematized in Goethe's poem, with its interchange of "ich" and "mein" with "du" and "dein," and highly formalized in Wellbery's study, which puts a fine Romantic point on the Promethean logic of poiesis. This model evokes three essential acts: seeing, being called, and receiving. These steps form the lyric subject, who is also the poet, in terms of a specifically modern, autonomous subject. While a more skeptical reading might see this as an "anxiety of influence" on the part of Goethe toward his poetic forebears, an anxiety that fabricates an autonomous subject simply for the sake of poetic one-upmanship, Goethe's Promethean moment in fact calls such a lyric subject performatively into poetic being in three steps. …

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