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FRITZ BREITHAUPT Goethe and the Ego In memoriam Géza von Molnár Academic disciplines have ascribed a peculiar position to the "self." On the one hand, they seem to treat the "self" as one of many symptoms of "modernity," a modernity that includes phenomena such as the middle class, the rise of the nuclear family, and social mobility. On the other hand, however, they implicitly have established the "self' as the precondition of this modernity. For academic disciplines to explicate modernity already requires a sense of the autonomus and self-reflected individual. That is, in order to "narrate" the story of modernity from the eighteenth century until today, these disciplines have made the decision, prior to any investigation, to focus on the "self' as the hero of this modernity. At the same time, they tend to present the emergence of the self as the result of their investigation. Thus, the self appears both as the origin and the result of modernity. This circularity has locked scholars into a causal question: which forces brought about the "self? However, as compelling as a (good) causal explanation might be, in the case of the self, it may miss the very point, namely, that the self does not derive from other concepts and is not a direct result of historical changes. In other words, perhaps there is no necessity for the self and hence no clear causality, no genetic development out of prior concepts of identity. Frequently, scholars have attempted to rationalize the new self of the late eighteenth century as a compensation for earlier concepts of "identity" which were assigned to people by their profession, class, gender, and confession, an identity that vanished once the stratified society came to an end. However, the self is not an adequate substitute for this lost "identity" since it lacks the sureness of the clearly manifested identity. Perhaps the self does have to come out of the blue. And perhaps the self is only that: the self. Nevertheless, even if the self does not have a clear lineage throughout the centuries, there is a prehistory of the self—a prehistory this article examines. Specifically, I argue that the history of the self consists of the Goethe Yearbook XI (2002) 78 Fritz Breithaupt "absence of the self," an absence that becomes manifest and is then counterbalanced by an institutionalization of the self. Possibly the most peculiar insight of this article is that the uncertainty of the self adds to the strength of the self, precisely because the constant pressure for the self to be (to be found, to exist, to rule individual life) completely replaces any "true" self. That is, the self exists primarily as the mere pressure to be, as a compulsion. In the following, I will present three steps in the history of the self. The first concerns the German writers of the Sturm und Drang around 1770. Instead of celebrating the wealth of their individuality, these authors state and lament their lack of true selfhood and originality. Here I examine how the self came into existence as a mere pressure to have a self. For these authors, the self exists as an Ich-Zwang, a self-compulsion, that is, the mere pressure to prove the self before its existence can be assured. However, when one wants to prove the independence and truth of one's self, suddenly nothing seems to be truly individual and void of foreign influences. The second step in the history of the self takes place when authors of the 1780s and 1790s turn the self into an "institution" (in this connection, I will examine the writings of Karl Philipp Moritz). Whereas the authors of the Sturm und Drang saw their primary goal in proving their individuality, this self-institution (Ich-Institution) does not require such proof but instead serves as a point of retreat and as the ultimate defense against outside forces. The self becomes a shell into which the individual withdraws. By declaring the self to be a black box off limits, these authors escape the permanent pressure to prove the self. By shielding itself from any outside influences, the self appears to be simply that which remains: a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1940-9087
Print ISSN
0734-3329
Pages
pp. 77-109
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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