Academic journal article Goethe Yearbook

Blind Spots as Projection Spaces in Die Wahlverwandtschaften

Academic journal article Goethe Yearbook

Blind Spots as Projection Spaces in Die Wahlverwandtschaften

Article excerpt

In the opening chapter of Die Wahlverwandtschaften (Elective Affinities, 1809) Charlotte positions Eduard in her newly finished "Mooshütte" or summer- house in such a way "daß er durch Türe und Fenster die verschiedenen Bilder, welche die Landschaftgleichsam im Rahmen zeigten, auf einen Blick übersehen konnte"1 ("so that through windows and door he could oversee at a glance the different views, in which the landscape appeared like a sequence of framed pictures").2 In expressing his admiration for the instantaneous overview, Eduard nevertheless includes the detractor: "Nur eines habe ich zu erinnern . . . die Hütte scheint mir etwas zu eng" ("my only criticism . . . would be that one is . . . a little cramped here"). With his discomfort, Eduard also expresses an awareness of himself and his own position in relation to these framed landscape views. His feeling of being hemmed in is a visceral, bodily response, marking a departure from a manner of viewing which had only recently disconnected the act of seeing from the self, the physical body, and one's location in the world.

Many readers of Goethe's novel have commented on how its activity is largely comprised of shaping spaces, both directly, and indirectly through conversations and reflections on these projects.3 Whether through landscaping and re-landscaping the castle grounds, planning and positioning new buildings for the most panoramic views, comparing the merits of the new style of English garden with its attendant lack of borders and boundaries against the strict geometry of the older generation, surveying and mapping the premises, or capturing the many sights with the aid of the camera obscura, the characters are extensively engaged in the creation, visualization, and manipulation of space. In this essay I propose to look in the other direction: not at the activity of landscaping or the objects it creates, but at the way landscape viewing in the novel frequently turns the focus back to the subject, positioning her or him in relation to the scene. In line with the significance of maintaining, establishing, and occasionally breaking relationships in the text and title of the novel, this relationship between viewer and scene is often more clearly defined and filled out than the scenes themselves. In the example above, the series of views Eduard takes in from the Mooshütte remain completely blank, and readers only see a series of empty frames. Based on an analysis of the way Goethe's novel cites and subverts several paradigmatic devices and structures that traditionally predetermine the position of the viewer, I will suggest that the negotiated relation between subject and space is facilitated by blind spots that interrupt the spatial and symbolic order. In several instances in the text such aporias serve as blank canvases upon which to create alternatives to the fixed spatial frameworks of the pre-given world.

I

The ideas of landscape, the frame, and the apparent instantaneous overview that Eduard enjoys from the hut, are associated with historically anchored conceptions of space, several of which undergo significant upheavals and reorganization in the time around 1800. "Landscape" had come about in the sixteenth century as a technical term for painting, coeval and intimately bound up with the illusion of space that was made possible through Renaissance perspective.4 For the illusion to work, objects were organized in such a way as to be appreciable from one point in front of the canvas, making the image itself determine the spot of its own reception by the passive observer. The central metaphor for painting was, following Leon Battista Alberti, the "fenestra aperta" or open window. The window view is organized by the frame around it, which simultaneously separates the internal viewing subject from the viewed, external world while fixing the relation between the two.5 This carefully selected and framed cut of nature stood in for "die verlorene Anschauung des 'Ganzen'" or lost view of the whole, the cosmic overview that, ironically, such partiality actively displaced. …

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