Academic journal article Goethe Yearbook

The Sucking Subject: Structural Ambiguities of Goethe's "Auf Dem See" in Literary and Linguistic Perspective

Academic journal article Goethe Yearbook

The Sucking Subject: Structural Ambiguities of Goethe's "Auf Dem See" in Literary and Linguistic Perspective

Article excerpt

Understanding a text of whatever kind requires identifying and knowing the game rules of the type or kind-the genre-of which it is an instance.1 The poem "Auf dem See" is one of the founding texts of the genre of so called Erlebnisdichtung, which is generally considered a poetic medium of reflection.2 Within this medium, language, emotion, and reflection interpenetrate each other.3 As such, any instance of Erlebnisdichtung relies on the experience of a psychologically constructed subject. In a literary and linguistic analysis of the first and original version of the text from 1775, we want to demonstrate, however, that by experimenting with the genre Goethe stages the lyrical speaker's paradoxical experience: an Erlebnis beyond reflection. The structural ambiguities of the first two verses constitute the starting point of our considerations, which we would like to tie together as an interdisciplinary dialogue between literary criticism and linguistics that would be productive for Goethe scholarship. The potential gains from our approach are twofold. On the one hand, linguistic analysis offers deep insights into the structure of language and thus opens up a more precise view of the structural fundaments of poetic effects. On the other hand, lyric poetry challenges linguistics in the sense that its methods and claims to generalization need to stand the test of the complexity of the text. Initially, we will outline the hermeneutic presuppositions according to which "Auf dem See" is received as an Erlebnis. Based on the syntactic and semantic analysis of the first two verses-their correction by the author, on the one hand; their interpretative scope, on the other hand-we examine the complex configuration of Goethe's text. In doing so, we formulate the thesis that the Erlebnis cannot be a medium of reflection because it is characterized by a series of structural ambiguities. They lead from subjective reflectivity to performative mediality, in which the Erlebnis is transformed into a media event.

Erlebnis as Medium of Reflection

During his travels in Switzerland, Goethe entered eight lines in his notebook on June 15,1775 under the heading "Donnerstagmorgen aufm Zürchersee." The verses constitute the framework that Goethe, together with his travel companions, jotted down in the style of the French conversation game of bout rimés. Separated diacritically, a twelve-line entry follows; and on the reverse side of the booklet another text can be found, addressed to Lili Schönmann:4

Ich saug an meiner Nabelschnur

Nun Nahrung aus der Welt.

Und herrlich rings ist die Natur

Die mich am Busen hält.

Die Welle wieget unsern Kahn

Im Rudertackt hinauf

Und Berge Wolcken angethan

Entgegnen unserm Lauf.


Aug mein Aug was sinckst du nieder

Goldne Träume kommt ihr wieder

Weg du Traum so Gold du bist

Hier auch Lieb und Leben ist.

Auf der Welle blincken

Tausend schwebenden Sterne

Liebe Nebel trincken

Rings die türmende Ferne

Morgenwind umflügelt

Die beschattete [te] Bucht

Und im See bespiegelt

Sich die reifende Frucht


Vom Berge in die See

Vid. das Privat Archiv des Dichters

Lit. L.

Wenn ich liebe Lili dich nicht liebte

Welche Wonne gäb mir dieser Blick

Und doch wenn ich Lili dich nicht liebt

Wär! Was wär mein Glück5

These twenty lines refer to a morning boat trip on Lake Zurich. (There are no evidentiary grounds for integrating the Lili appendix.) Over the course of the story told in the notebook entry, Goethe expresses his supposedly individual experiences in nature. The basic biographical data are the starting point of all interpretations of the text as one poem : Goethe leaves Frankfurt am Main with Friedrich Leopold and Christian Graf zu Stolberg as well as Christian August Graf von Haugwitz in order to disengage himself from his fiancée, Lili Schönemann. …

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