Academic journal article Goethe Yearbook

The Theater of Anamnesis: The Spaces of Memory and the Exteriority of Time in Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre

Academic journal article Goethe Yearbook

The Theater of Anamnesis: The Spaces of Memory and the Exteriority of Time in Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre

Article excerpt

When Wilhelm suffers his first great loss in the Lehrjahre, that of Mariane, he recovers his spirits on his travels by re-immersing himself in the natural world. He is revived by the rejuvenating power of nature, but also by the animating power of memory:

alle erduldeten Schmerzen waren aus seiner Seele weggewaschen, und mit völliger Heiterkeit sagte er sich Stellen aus verschiedenen Gedichten . . . die an diesen einsamen Plätzen scharenweis seinem Gedächtnisse zuflossen. Auch erinnerte er sich mancher Stellen aus seinen eigenen Liedern, die er mit einer besondern Zufriedenheit rezitierte. Er belebte die Welt, die vor ihm lag, mit allen Gestalten der Vergangenheit, und jeder Schritt in die Zukunftwar ihm voll Ahnung wichtiger Handlungen und merkwürdiger Begebenheiten.1

[all the pains he had suffered had been washed away from his soul, and in complete cheerfulness he recited to himself passages from various poems . . . and these passages swam in shoals into his memory in these lonely places. He also remembered many passages from some songs of his own which he recited with especial satisfaction. He enlivened the world which lay before him with all sorts of figures from his past, and every step that he took into the future was full of presentiment of important actions and strange occurrences.]2

This passage illustrates what Novalis, partly on the basis of this novel, identified as one of the central hallmarks of Romanticism: the mysterious play of memory and premonition: "Nichts ist poetischer als Erinnerung und Ahndung oder Vorstellung der Zukunft"3 (Nothing is more poetic than remembrance and premonition or imagination of the future).4 For Hardenberg, the sense of presence proper to the poet is not a punctual "now" ordered within a linear series of "nows." The poet's "geistige Gegenwart" (spiritual present) is rather a present "die beide [Erinnerung und Ahnung] durch Auflösung identifiziert- und diese Mischung ist das Element, die Atmosphäre des Dichters" (Novalis 2: 468, n. 123; that dissolves [memory and premonition] into an identity- and this mixture is the element, the atmosphere of the poet). In creating the "atmosphere" of Poesie, the pre-rational communication between past and present, present and future, becomes a distinctive feature of Romantic interiority.

My argument in this essay, however, is that Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre not only evokes the Romantic temporal subject, but also radically undermines its elusive interiority. The novel's manifest aim in this regard is to communicate and publicize the temporal interior, thereby exposing the hidden exteriority of that interior. It reveals the soul's temporal "depths" to be an effect generated by the interplay of its manifold "surfaces."

In order to contextualize this reading, however, it is first of all necessary to situate the novel's memory-thematic within what is generally recognized to be its fundamental conflict-namely the conflict between self and other, or between the authentic, private self and the inauthentic, socialized self. Wilhelm's many reveries and reminiscences are the expressions of his ostensibly authentic self, and as such they signal Wilhelm's deep affinity with Mignon and the Harper. Through their common sensibility toward the deep past and distant future, these figures together form what Friedrich Schlegel appropriately designates "die heilige Familie der Naturpoesie"5 (Holy Family of natural poetry). The Tower then stands for the socialized self, or the self that has developed beyond the sphere of "narcissistic" self-reflection. The literature on the novel also tends to take sides along these lines. The classical line of Lehrjahre-interpretation established by Schiller and continued by Dilthey generally aligns itself with the Tower as the standard-bearer for social reality. Giuliano Baioni, for example, reads the novel against Mignon, as a representative of "formless" bourgeois interiority, and posits that the novel's goal lies in the "education of the Stürmer und Dränger to reality. …

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