Identitätskrise und Souveränitätsprinzip : die Relevanz des Politischen in Goethes Götz von Berlichingen und Iphigenie auf Tauris

Lange, Horst Joachim, Department of German , University of Virginia
Voris, Renate, As-German Lit, University of Virginia
Bjorklund, Beth, Department of Germanic Languages and Literature, University of Virginia
Shoup, Paul, Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics, University of Virginia

Through a close reading of Götz von Berlichingen and Iphigenie auj Tauris, this study tries to establish that a concern with the political lies at the center of Goethe's oeuvre. I attempt to show that Goethe's texts are organized around crises of identity in which one of the envisioned alternative identities is defined by an ideal of heroic existence and that this heroic existence is in turn defined by the absence of, and even resistance to, a law and peace-enforcing Hobbesian sovereign. In my reading, Goethe's texts contain at their core a reflection on the modern state as that political order which is organized around the principle of sovereignty.

Goethe criticizes sentimentalist discourse for its euphemistic conception of the state of nature which plays down the violence of natural man. But he also criticizes enlightenment social contract theories for attempting to hide the coercive violence inherent in the institution of the sovereign by conceiving of the state as the result of a voluntary (i.e., violence-free) agreement. He therefore presents us with a rather bleak picture in which heroic individuals in the state of nature can only maintain their original freedom and dignity through the continuation of the Hobbesian war II of every man against every man, while the sovereign can end this war only with the systematic violence necessary to bring about the subjugation of the heroic individual.

In Götz, the heroic individual and the sovereign are placed in a violent, irreconcilable opposition to each other, and the cataclysmic showdown of the final act is all but inevitable. But in lphigenie a peaceful answer to the apparent inevitability of political violence is made possible by the heroine's redefinition of the role of women as that gender which, while still affirming the patriarchal order of the state of nature, opens up a communicative space in which the opposing factions can mutually recognize the respective validity of each other's claims. Goethe's gender politics places women in the unique position of· being able to create a dialogue where otherwise the mutually exclusive monologues of two seemingly irreconcilable political paradigms would clash violently.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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