The Sorrows of Young Werther

The Problem of Body in Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther

As the referent of the individual, the body functions as a site for contradiction, resistance, and reassertion. It embodies a set of rules that delineates individual space through an exclusion of that which is not self. In Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther, corporeality problematizes the relations between the self and its signifiers. Whereas it has been proposed that mind lies over matter, the body generates real opposition to the expression of genius. An entity based on the premise of finitude, the body bounds aspirations towards the infinite. As the episodes of Werther's sketching, the bounded space of the individual body resists the lawless space of the sovereign genius.

Werther's sketch serves as a preliminary study for the alternate reality that he envisions. The "dark eyes" (Goethe 14) that Werther attributes to the older boy are the same "dark eyes" (Goethe 25) that he endows to Charlotte1. Eyes that can melt from one body to another presuppose a fluid nature of reality2. Fluidity characterizes Werther's selection of subject matter, bridging the gap between himself and the world. "I included the nearest fence, a barn door, and a few broken cartwheels," he notes, "just...

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