Journal of the History of Sexuality 10.3&4 (2001) 594-597
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Queer Theory and the Age of Goethe
Warm Brothers: Queer Theory and the Age of Goethe. By Robert Tobin. New Cultural Studies, edited by Joan DeJean et al. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000. Pp. 240. $39.95 (cloth).
Long read as the Age of Enlightenment, in which the bourgeois family and increasingly stratified gender roles began their dominance of Western culture, the eighteenth century has proved to have many more stories to tell. Historians and literary critics from gay and lesbian studies have shown the almost ubiquitous presence of same-sex erotics in the social and literary discourses of many countries, in particular, England, France, and the Netherlands.
In the case of Germany, Paul Derks's Die Schande der heiligen Päderastie (Berlin: Verlag Rosa Winkel, 1990) has provided the foundation for a new understanding of the role that male homoeroticism played in forming the ways in which both opposite-sex love relationships and same-sex friendships were conceived and lived. More recently, the collection of scholarly articles titled Outing Goethe and His Age (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996) began to explore these areas for the English language reader. Robert Tobin's study is the first monograph to appear in English on this topic.
Moving beyond traditional gay and lesbian studies, Warm Brothers situates itself firmly within a queer studies interpretive approach. Such a reading does not seek to "prove" that the author had sex with another man, nor does it look at fiction as a mirror of legal or medical concepts of same-sex erotics. Instead, this analysis focuses on the rhetorical strategies that the text employs to represent friendship, erotic desire, and love between persons of the same sex. While such an approach can reveal new understandings, it can also become enmeshed in assertions and musings that may not always be firmly rooted in textual or historical evidence.
Tobin opens with a preface, "Panic in Weimar," in which he chronicles recent homophobic reactions to anyone's daring to read Goethe (his life or works) from a queer perspective. The outrage of the offended defenders of Goethe's reputation is illuminating. The first of ten chapters, "Queering the Eighteenth Century," explicates how gay and lesbian scholars since Foucault have expanded on his ideas, tracing the history of homosexuality, which [End Page 594] Foucault claimed to have begun in 1870, back into the eighteenth century. This is an excellent, compact survey of the field, encapsulating the main ideas of scholars such as Randolph Trumbach, Paul Derks, Theo van der Meer, and others. This chapter then turns to prominent "warm brothers" (one of several terms used at the time to describe men attracted to other males) of German culture in the eighteenth century: Friedrich II, Johann Joachim Winckelmann, and Johannes Müller, a Swiss art historian. Through them, the author draws out the strands that seem to have formed a subcultural rhetoric that in turn enabled an identity to form around male-male love. This rhetoric includes what have become well-known tropes, for example, the yearning for a Friend and the link to classical culture. In the following chapter, these tropes are explored in more depth.
At the core of Warm Brothers are queer analyses of works by canonical authors of eighteenth-century German literature: Jean Paul, Christoph Martin Wieland, Karl Phillip Moritz, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Schiller, and Georg Lichtenberg. Each chapter uses a central trope or theme from the discourse on homosexuality in interpreting one or more of the author's chief works. With Jean Paul, we see the homosexual as Other, whereas the medical discourse on same-sex desire appears in works by Wieland and Moritz (especially the novel Anton Reiser). Whereas Wieland satirizes the need to pathologize such desires, Moritz reinforces the pathology by elevating the bourgeois family as the healthy norm.
As he was in his own time, Goethe is at the heart of this study. His bildungsroman Wilhelm Meister proves...