- Image in Outline: Reading Lou Andreas-Salomé by Gisela Brinker-Gabler
Despite several decades of thoughtful and high-quality scholarship on Lou Andreas-Salomé, the myth persists that she was just an oddity who was friendly with Nietzsche and Rilke, and happened to work with Freud. Gisela Brinker-Gabler’s new book goes a long way toward putting this misconception to rest. The work’s title, Image in Outline, encapsulates the book’s argument that imagery was central to Andreas-Salomé’s thought. An examination of three of Andreas-Salomé’s works allows Brinker-Gabler to explore how the writer’s use of imagery connects her not only to other modernist thinkers but also to theorists of other time periods. Situating Andreas-Salomé so clearly in her intellectual context is a major accomplishment of the book.
In her analysis of the 1899 essay “Der Mensch als Weib,” Brinker-Gabler shows that Andreas-Salomé operates by introducing a (verbal) image that then allows the reader to fill it with meaning—in a manner that permits new, perhaps unconscious insights to emerge. The first images in “Der Mensch als Weib” are those of the sperm cell and egg cell, and Andreas-Salomé uses them to illustrate her theory of sexual difference. Brinker-Gabler points out that the discovery of these cells was new in the years around 1900 and had been introduced to a popular readership by Wilhelm Bölsche’s three-volume Das Liebesleben in der Natur (1898–1903). Andreas-Salomé’s references to then-current theories of evolutionary biology are only one way in which she engages with the intellectual ideas around her. She also grapples with feminism and the work of social scientists such as Georg Simmel in order to argue that women’s identity, while not less than, is different than that of men—giving them a unique potential.
Brinker-Gabler describes the strategy of offering an image to introduce an argument as an “aesthetics of ‘b(u)ilding’” (12 and passim), combining the German “bilden” and the English “building” to delineate the shaping of an image and its previously unacknowledged connotations. Because these connotations may be rooted in intuition and the unconscious, they reveal a connection to the concept of “experience” (Erleben) that characterized the Lebensphilosophie of Wilhelm Dilthey and Henri Bergson. But Brinker-Gabler not only makes clear such links to other thinkers around 1900, she also works historically, tying the “aesthetics of ‘b(u)ilding’” to the [End Page 423] emblem, an artwork that was particularly popular in the Renaissance and Baroque periods. The emblem combines a visual image, a motto, and textual commentary, and thus functions in a way similar to that of Andreas-Salomé’s verbal images.
Images of Russia as presented in the posthumously published travel journal “Russland mit Rainer.” Tagebuch der Reise mit Rainer Maria Rilke im Jahre 1900 allow Andreas-Salomé to develop her ideas on modernity. Although she grew up in St. Petersburg, Andreas-Salomé lived in an ethnically German family and moved to Central Europe when she was nineteen. So the vast, developing, eastern country was both a familiar and unknown territory to her. When she traveled there with Rilke in 1899 and 1900, she became fascinated by Russia’s indigenous culture, seeing it as a metaphor for a unique premodern condition that should be integrated into its process of modernization. Similar to her argument about women’s identity, Andreas-Salomé saw rural Russia not as backward, but as capable of a different kind of development from that of the West. For her, the Russian icon—a work of art that encourages the viewer’s interaction through a religious experience—embodies the role she felt indigenous Russian culture could play.
While an interest in noncognitive modes of perception always characterized Lou Andreas-Salomé’s work, she first took a decisive turn toward psychoanalysis when she encountered Freud in 1911. Following this experience, she engaged deeply with the discipline for the remainder of her career, attending Freud’s lectures in 1912–1913...