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The Dynamics of Desire in Lenz’s Der Hofmeister

  • Bohdan Bochan

Abstract

While working on the drama Der Hofmeister, Lenz wrote a revealing letter to Salzmann in which he describes the background of the drama’s composition, highlighting especially the divided state of his mind caused by personal failures and the problems he faced in completing the drama: “Eigene und fremde, vernünftige und leidenschaftliche, philosophische und poetische Sorgen und Geschäfte zerteilen mich” (III, 259). In the face of this emotional trauma, Lenz informs his colleague that he continued to involve himself more decidedly “mit zentrischen und exzentrischen Geschäften,” which enabled him to complete the drama: “Mein Trauerspiel ... nähert sich mit jedem Tage der Zeitigung” (ibid.). This determination of his desire to endure and overcome the rift within his being bears affinity with the texture of the drama Der Hofmeister, which seems likewise to revolve around a conflict between centric and eccentric events mediated by desire.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Discourses in the novel,“ in M. M. Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination. Four Essays,ed. N. Holquist (Austin, 1981), p. 271.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    One may partly concur with E. P. Harris’ remark that “Self-castration is the means through which Läuffer frees himself from the past” (“Structural Unity in J. M. R. Lenz’s Der Hof neister: A Revaluation,” Seminar,8 [1972], 85). The redemptive quality of this act, however, remains problematic, since castration in its effect is related also to the future, as Wenzeslaus, speaking of Läuffer, observes: “er kann ja nichts” (I, 117). Läuffer’s last statement in the drama suggests a return to the same life-style of impotence witnessed earlier, where the centripetal forces of desire fail to transgress the law of the father: “Komm zu deinem Vater, Lise! seine Einwilligung noch…” (I, 118).Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Horst Albert Glaser’s remark in this respect merits attention: “Erst ein historischer Exkurs in die Epoche vermöchte aber die Zerrißenheit der Personen… begreifen” (“Heteroklisie - Der Fall Lenz” in Gestaltungsgeschichte and Gesellschaftsgeschichte,ed. Helmut Kreuzer [Stuttgart, 1969], p. 147); it is an issue yet to be investigated in spite of K. R. Scherpe’s thoughtful study, “Dichterische Erkenntnis and ‘Projektmacherei’,” Goethe Jahrbuch,94 (1977), 206–235.Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    Gesammelte Schriften, ed. Franz Blei (Leipzig, 1910), IV, 286.Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    See M. Foucault, who views Der Hofmeister as depicting “the interference of the deployment of sexuality in the family organization” (The History of Sexuality, trans. R. Hurley [New York, 1985 ], p. 110 ).Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    One can only concur with Michael Butler’s statement: “paradox is the main factor determining Lenz’s characterization,” which results in “an inherent dislocation of personality” and a concomitant displacement of traditional exegesis, “turn[ing] the Biblical model on its head” (“Character and Paradox in Lenz’s Der Hofmeister,” German Life and Letters,32 [1979], 96). In addition, it seems that paradox undermines, it crosses out the wisdom of tradition for the sake of a new beginning; see N. Brown: “Upside down. The paradox is a reversal of fortune, a humiliation of the power principle, a crucifixion” (Love’s Body [New York, 1966], p. 236). In this context, when Läuffer exclaims “Welche Demütigung!” (I, 85), his observation seems to refer to Wenzeslaus’ disparagement of traditional epistemology in favour of human desire visualised through the value of the human body: “Habt Ihr denn noch nicht einmal so viel gelernt, großer Mensch, daß Ihr für Euren eignen Körper Sorge tragen könnt” (I, 85).Google Scholar
  7. 10.
    Wenzeslaus’ conscious resistance to “die bösen Begierden” (I, 83), and their successful displacement, creates a paradoxical dimension within his being, akin to what he observed in Läuffer’s behavior, appearing “wie wenn man in eine mächtige Flamme Wasser schüttet” (I, 79). Even his asceticism is always conditioned by the novelty, the openness of the human condition, though couched in playfulness: “Was hinaufsteigt, das ist für meinen lieben Gott, aber was hinunter geht, Teufel, das ist für dich - Ja, wo war ich?” (I, 103). Lenz clarifies his whereabouts in the subsequent scene when he shows his paradoxical attitude towards transcendence, affirming while simultaneously denying it: “Reutet mir den Aberglauben aus; ja wahrhaftig der rechte Glaub wird mit drauf gehn und ein nacktes Feld da bleiben… Nehmt dem Bauer seinen Teufel, und er wird ein Teufel gegen seine Herrschaft werden, und ihr beweisen, daß es welche gibt” (I, 112). Wenzeslaus’s contradictory disposition to traditional values seems to question, rather than to maintain the status “buchstabentreu-gelebter… Christlichkeit” (Klaus Bohnen, “Irrtum als dramatische Sprachfigur. Sozialzerfall und Erziehungsdebatte in J. M. R. Lenz’ Der Hofmeister,” Orbis Litterarum,42 [1987], 323).Google Scholar
  8. 11.
    Whether Wenzeslaus’ unorthodox view “signifie une dépréciation des valeurs” (René Girard, “Lenz ou l’inquiétante étrangeté,” Etudes germaniques,43 [1988], 18) depends on whether he is a recipient or creator of values. Anticipating Nietzsche’s concept of “Mehr-Menschen” (Nachlaß in Werke in drei Blinden,ed. K. Schlechta [Munich, 1966], III, 687), he exemplifies his “values” through his behaviour guided by the idea of life’s surplus rather than deficiency: “damit muß man zufrieden sein: bin ich doch auch mein eigner Herr…, da ich alle Tage weiß, daß ich mehr tu als ich soll” (I, 84; my italics). Wenzeslaus decentralises the Aristotelian performative value order by discarding a centristic reward system: “Was für Lohn? Das war dumm gefragt, Herr Mandel” (ibid.). His value system is pleasure oriented in the sense that it is not posited by man, but rather yielded by the richness of life itself: “Und da werd ich dick und fett bei und lebe vergnügt und denke noch ans Sterben nicht” (ibid.). The use of parataxis is significant in the description of his values. They are like parataxis: centrifugal.Google Scholar
  9. 12.
    If we accept W. Hinderer’s revealing remark that Lenz’s objective in this drama is “die intendierte Erweiterung des Realitätshorizonts” (“Lenz. Der Hofmeister,” in Die deutsche Komödie,ed. W. Hinck [Düsseldorf, 1977], p. 86), then the exposure to danger is inevitable. To expand a given horizon, an itinerary into the unknown, not to mention the forbidden, is a precondition. Seen from this perspective, the drama enacts Lenz’s programmatic statement made to Salzmann: “Ich halte viel auf die Extreme” (III, 263). To orient oneself towards the extreme is to decentre one’s existence and forfeit the security a centre provides. An existence qualified intentionally by a lack of a centre - “Ortslosigkeit” - is perennially in a state of danger, as Lenz’s own existence exemplifies.Google Scholar
  10. 13.
    H. G. Liddell, R. Scott, A Greek English Lexicon (Oxford, 1968 ), p. 1604.Google Scholar
  11. 14.
    Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia,trans. R. Hurley et al. (New York, 1977), p. 29.Google Scholar

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© Westdeutscher Verlag GmbH, Opladen 1994

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  • Bohdan Bochan

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