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'Tis but thy name that is my enemy; Thou art thyself, though not a Montague. What's Montague? It is nor hand nor foot. Nor arm nor face nor any other part Belonging to a man. O be some other name! What's in a name? (. . .)
I take thee at thy word: Call me but love, and I'll be new baptised; Henceforth I never will be Romeo. (Romeo and Juliet, 2. 2.38-51)
I. Names and Silhouettes
Werther was the first work of German literature to become something like a brand name. It seemed that a new era had begun for the sympathetic reader in the second half of the eighteenth century. The discourse of sensibility presented the world as an effusion of the self, as a space in which the subject could be constructed as the receptacle of its own imaginary projections reflected by the objects around it. The vogue of sensibility prepared literary culture for the emergence of a cult of subjectivity. Werther gave it a name.
In turn, the illustrations of the novel's most memorable scenes gave Lotte and Werther a face. They became an integral part of the book's spectacular success and were indeed the object of the intense competition between the authorized publisher Weygand and the numerous pirates that reprinted the text along with new illustrations to gain a bigger share of the market.(1) When, in order to stay in business, Weygand issued a second edition, the "Zweyte/achte Auflage" of 1775, he added two vignettes on the title pages to the novel's two parts. While the first shows Lotte and Werther at the well near Wahlheim, the second has no corresponding scene in the narrative. Yet, it is precisely this second picture that captures a central moment organizing both Werther's writing of his letters and the public's reception of the book. It shows a young man kneeling in front of a rock on whose face he is about to inscribe Werther's name. The letters already engraved spell the word Wert. A young woman enters the scene from the right, holding a book in her hand and a handkerchief to her face, apparently moved to tears by the reading she has just done (see fig.). The artist might have modelled his work on the famous illustration in La Nouvelle Heloise where Saint-Preux shows Julie the rocks on which - "in a thousand places" - he had once inscribed her name along with verses from Petrarch and Tasso, monuments to a passionate love in which, according to Rousseau's elaborate commentary on the picture, virtue has come to preside over the dangers of remembrance.(2) Although there is no comparable scene of recollection to be found in Werther, it would be wrong to say that the vignette showing two readers instead of the novel's two lovers has no foundation in the narrative. As we shall see, Werther takes great pains to inscribe his name within the book that the figure resembling Lotte is holding out to the scribe. However, his attempt to appropriate the name in which he signs the letters of his love fails, and the narrative will perform Werther's failure to enter into possession of his own name as a suicide. In the end even the grave wherein he is laid remains unmarked.
Wert: The letters engraved by the young man in the vignette spell out the worth or value that informs the lover's name. "What's in a name?" Werther translates Juliet's query into "What's a name worth?" The question is as difficult to answer as that posed in Shakespeare's tragedy. Value is never intrinsic to the object whose worth it assesses nor is it a purely subjective element that could be controlled by those placing value on an object. Value is in this sense both contingent and inconclusive.(3) In the second half of the eighteenth century subjectivist conceptions of value became increasingly important for the emergence of a diverse market economy, and it is no accident that Werther, a novel that unfolds the drama of overestimating the worth of subjectivity, should articulate eighteenth-century speculations on economic, aesthetic, and moral values in the name of its protagonist. Although value is in itself not a property of anyone or anything, neither purely subjective nor purely objective, certain objects can be valuable to an individual to the point of becoming invaluable, removing them from their circulation in a public system that regulates value judgments into a private sphere where those things are kept or stored without regard to their exchange value or use value. Collections of items like books or china and of memorabilia such as silhouettes or ribbons have a personal significance and can be invaluable or priceless because they form a part of one's life that cannot be transferred to anyone else. "The collection seeks a form of self-enclosure," as Susan Stewart points out; it "represents the total aestheticization of use value" and thus "represents a hermetic world." What she calls "self-enclosure" is an apt term for the world of Werther and his readers, in which the items listed above bear a crucial significance because they are part of the novel's proliferating construction of the self: "The ultimate term in the series that marks the collection is the 'self,' the articulation of the collector's own 'identity.'"(4) An increasing number of objects produced for and gathered in the homes of the eighteenth-century bourgeoisie was marked by this exclusiveness of a construction or fashioning of the self, constituting the private and intimate atmosphere where letters like those written by Saint-Preux or Werther could find their proper destination. Private letters from friends became collectibles themselves, and Werther's love letters can indeed be said to reflect the kind of amorous relationship that exist between people and the objects of which they claim possession. That his letters are publishable as a book is not just a mark of their literary and fictive character but rather shows that the creation of privacy and intimacy in the eighteenth century was an eminently public event.(5) What they also show is that to Werther the negotiation of a relationship between the public and private sphere as well as that between people and the objects that belong to them is fraught with enormous dangers. While his narcissism complicates the former, his fetishism befalls the latter. Investing the world with his self-infatuation, he transforms objects into persons and persons into objects in a fetishism that, notably, also includes his proper name. Every object, every event, every story is connected to Lotte and through Lotte to him, and in every decisive scene in the novel's first book Werther tries to establish this connection by inscribing his name within the narrative. This act of inscription is neatly packaged in the present he receives on his birthday from Lotte and Albert. As it turns out, it is also his name day:
Mir fallt beym Erofnen sogleich eine der blassrothen Schleifen in die Augen, die Lotte vorhatte, als ich sic kennen lernte, und um die ich sie seither etlichemal gebeten hatte. Es waren zwey Buchelgen in duodez dabey, der kleine Wetsteinische Homer, ein Buchelgen, nach dem ich so off verlangt, um mich auf dem Spaziergange mit dem Ernestischen nicht zu schleppen. Sieh! so kommen sie meinen Wunschen zuvor, so suchen sie all die kleinen Gefalligkeiten der Freundschaft auf, die tausendmal werther sind als jene blendende Geschenke, wodurch uns die Eitelkeit des Gebers erniedrigt. Ich kusse diese Schleife tausendmal, und mit jedem Athemzuge schlurfe ich die Erinnerung jener Seligkeiten ein, mit denen mich jene wenige, gluckliche unwiederbringliche Tage uberfullten.(6)
What Werther unpacks in his letter to Wilhelm is his desire to be given what he does not seem to have: his own proper name. Like the two books and the ribbon, it seems to be a gift offered to him by Lotte. Her ribbon is in fact what at once ties and unties the parcel containing something like a jack-in-the-box that will jump out and skip around in every letter and every thought because it bears the mark of a gift a thousand times werther than anything else: Werther, Werther, Werther, Werther, Werther, a thousand times Werther.
In a recent essay, David Wellbery has argued that Werther turns Lotte and everything around her into the phantasmatic body of a nourishing mother. Demonstrating how the ecstatic "liquid emotionality" of his letters engages in a "liquid-maternal economy," he points out that in his insatiable love for Lotte Werther actually "wants to drink her."(7) Around the middle of the century the fashion-style called sterilite was replaced by that of a fecondite that emphasized the feminity of motherhood, and it also became a matter of etiquette to withdraw from social gatherings to breastfeed one's child.(8) The pink ribbons attached to the arms and breast of the white dress Lotte is wearing in the scene of their first meeting ("ein simples weisses Kleid mit blassrothen Schleifen an Arm und Brust" ) are interesting in this regard and of particular importance to Wellbery's reading: "These ribbons, which are so proximate to the source of the Mother's liquid girl of nourishment (and in the first sketch of the novel, which calls them 'flesh-colored,' even mimic the color of that source), become a fetish for Werther, the single token of his love he takes to his grave" (191). Kissing a thousand times the ribbon that is a thousand times werther than any other gift he might have received on his birthday, and inhaling or rather sucking in (schlurfen) the blissful memory of Lotte it brings back, one might indeed say that he engages in a phantasy of imbibing his name, and Wellbery's notion that the economy of his emotional discourse describes a desire to be "born anew in the sign of the Mother's gift" (191) is corroborated by the grandiose scene of baptism Werther stages at the well near Wahlheim two months prior to his birthday. In the first letters of the novel it is the place to which Werther retires to read Homer in the bulky Ernesti edition that now, on his birthday, is being replaced by a smaller edition. If the ribbon brings back memories of his first encounter with Lotte, the books included in the parcel recall his patriarchal phantasy about a Homeric world that turned the girls from the village coming to the well into the daughters of kings coming to get water for their fathers. As he once wrote, "Wenn ich da sizze, so lebt die patriarchalische Idee so lebhaft um mich, wie sie alle die Altvater am Brunnen Bekanntschaft machen und freyen" (16).(9) When the well becomes the site not only of courtship but also of baptism, it gathers the memories and phantasies of mother and father figures, adding the child necessary to make the family into which Werther would like to be adopted.
Lotte, a friend, and a little girl called Malchen meet Werther on a walk that leads them to the well. The letter introduces the account of what happened there as follows:
Nach einem Wege von anderthalb Stunden kamen wir gegen die Stadt zuruck, an den Brunnen, der mir so werth ist, und nun tausendmal werther ward, als Lotte sich auf's Mauergen sezte. Ich sah umher, ach! und die Zeit, da mein Herz so allein war, lebte wieder vor mir auf. (. . .) Ich blikte hinab und sah, dass Malgen mit einem Glase Wasser sehr beschaftigt heraufstieg. Ich sah Lotten an und fuhlte alles, was ich an ihr habe. Indem so kommt Malgen mit einem Glase, Marianne wollte es ihr abnehmen, nein! ruft das Kind mit dem sussesten Ausdrukke: nein, Lottgen, du sollst zuerst trinken!" (70)(10)
The introduction of Lotte at the source of Werther's former solitary musing about the patriarchal world of Homer suffices to make the spot appear to him a thousand times werther. Again we see his name well up: Werther, Werther, Werther, . . .. "I turned towards Charlotte, and felt deeply how much she means to me": It is precisely this baptism that she means to him, and the scene his letter describes indeed shows that to Werther the proper name has an intentional structure. Being valued by Lotte means his name; his name means this value. This is why Werther needs Lotte, this is the intention he has on her, and it is an intention that he desires to be repaid in the sense that Lotte is made to intend him once she produces this assessment of value which calls up his name. One might put it this way: Lotte means his name, that is to say, she means everything worth being called "Werther" and at the same time means more than everything in the sense that in his love of her she is made to confer on him this name that means something "more" - Werther. His name bears an excess value or, if you will, a surplus value that Lotte produces and on which Werther capitalizes. In his amorous discourse, value or worth is always a comparative beyond comparison. By the same token, "Werther" is also an address. Citing Lotte in one of his letters, Werther writes, "Adieu lieber Werther! Lieber Werther! Es war das erstemal, dass sie mich Lieber hies, und mir giengs durch Mark und Bein" (182).(11) What penetrates his whole being is that the apostrophe "Lieber Werther!" addresses him from whatever end one reads it. Lieber Werther - Werther Lieber: it is always the same. Werther's name is Lieber, and when he rejoices "dass sie mich Lieber hies," Lotte is made to utter that he is dearer to her, dearer than anyone else that might figure in the narrative.(12) Also, Werther's citation of Lotte's address "Dear Werther" starts, in his letter to Wilhelm, a letter by Lotte to him. At the end of the letter, Lotte is cited before his bed to deliver it: "Ich hab mir's hundertmal wiederholt und gestern Nacht da ich in's Bett gehen wollte, und mit mir selbst allerley schwazte, sag ich so auf einmal: gute Nacht, lieber Werther!" (182).(13) Speaking both parts of an imaginary dialogue, Werther is enclosed in a silent world of his own making.
The dubious structure of Werther's amorous desire plays out the naming of a proper name against the meaning of this name, and we shall have to pay attention to what this implies.(14) We should also note that the girl of the name Werther receives at the well and again, neatly packaged, on his birthday operates in the structure of a give and take. This is in fact the reason why the scene at the well commands a special place in Werther's letter and memory. As in all other instances where Lotte is portrayed as a mother figure, there is a gesture by the children repaying the girl of love the mother is expected to give. Here, Malchen hands Lotte the glass for the first sip. Moved by this reversal of roles and perhaps also because of the displacement of his patriarchal phantasy connected with the well into the constellation of an eighteenth-century family organized around Lotte, Werther gets carried away and hugs and kisses the girl. The kiss is an act of transgression that Lotte at once censures and heals. In her position as surrogate mother she leads the crying child to the well so that she may wash off, as Lotte says, the mark of shame on her face. Her reference to the superstitious belief that a man's kiss may grow facial hair on a girl's cheek operates according to a model of contagion and transference that allows Werther to substitute his own face for that of Malchen. Thus it is also his body that undergoes a ritual washing under the supervision of Lotte, transforming her act of cleansing into baptism:
Ich sage dir, Wilhelm, ich habe mit mehr Respekt nie einer Taufhand-lung beygewohnt, und als Lotte herauf kam, hatte ich mich gern vor ihr niedergeworfen wie vor einem Propheten, der die Schulden einer Nation weggeweiht hat. (70/72)(15)
The audacity of Werther's letter lies in his investiture of Lotte as prophet or priest and in his alignment of supersition with religious practice. As the first of the seven sacraments, baptism performs, in the name of the Father, the absolution from original sin. The scene at the well seems to perform Werther's baptism in the name of the Mother. For the logic of the narrative it is all important that Lotte is not a mother, the group at the well not a family, just as it is important that Lotte's ribbon is not a breast, for it enables Werther, who is not a child, to rename the positions in this and all other imaginary structures of his discourse and to install or inscribe himself at the spot where he desires to emerge. The renaming performed at the well presents the proper name as an ineradicable mark that is yet void or empty until it is invested and filled with meaning. Malchen, the name of the little girl, means "little mark" or "mole." Washing off the mark or Mal of Werther's kiss on the girl's cheek, Lotte draws Werther's attention to the proper name as something that is already there, but that it is there as something improper, as an irregularity or blemish in the smooth skin of one's existence, a birthmark or Mutter-Mal that is not, as one would have it, already given in the name of love, as a bond of love at one's birth, but that only the later kiss of an erotic love can signify or re - signify as an individual, distinguishing mark, something beautiful or worth having.
The problem of the proper name we encounter in Werther is that it is presented and read as a sign. That distinguishes Werther's notion of language from Juliet's discourse on the proper name in the play's famous orchard scene cited above as epigraph. The letter written on his birthday - which, as we have seen, is also his name day - ends in Lotte's orchard. It is a very different, disturbingly homely place compared to Juliet's garden, and the careful transformation of sexual desire that informs Werther's account is part of that homeliness: "Lebe wohl! Es ist ein herrlicher Sommer, ich sizze oft auf den Obstbaumen in Lottens Baumstuk mit dem Obstbrecher der langen Stange, und hole die Birn aus dem Gipfel. Sie steht unten und nimmt sie ab, wenn ich sie ihr hinunter lasse" (112).(16) Werther is a fruit picker, and this is how he hopes to pick up everything around him, including his name. Lotte's cooperation in this scene (she is the fruit to be picked and the tree on which it grows) plays out an economy of the gift in which Werther only gives what he has already been given. In this sense, he does not give anything without already receiving. It is a structure in which Werther seeks to install himself at every moment, and it is disturbing because it makes it actually impossible for him to give anything or to properly receive any gift. As Derrida has pointed out in his recent book, the girl, in order to be given without initiating the obligation of repayment that cancels the gift as gift, must not appear as such.(17) The name, one might argue, is such a gift. Werther's obsession with a gift he ceaselessly wants to touch, take in, and incorporate encloses him in an economy in which he is at once a constant debtor and the sole beneficiary. It is the economy of narcissism. While it is useless to speculate whether Werther's narcissism forestalls his rejection by Lotte (why should she want his girl? what should she desire?), it is interesting to note that Lotte, the apparent object of Werther's adoration, is in fact superfluous. She is needed in order to set up a structure in which the position of an addressee of his love becomes available but where it doesn't really matter whether she receives what is dispatched to this address. Barthes, whose book on the lover's discourse is arguably the most perspicuous reading of Werther, has stated this pointedly:
Charlotte is quite insipid; she is the paltry character of a powerful, tormented, flamboyant drama staged by the subject Werther; by a kindly decision of this subject, a colorless object is placed in the center of the stage and there adored, idolized, taken to task, covered with discourse, with prayers (. . .); as if she were a huge motionless hen huddled amid her feathers, around which circles a slightly mad cock.
Enough that, in a flash, I should see the other in the guise of an inert object, like a kind of stuffed doll, for me to shift my desire from this annulled object to my desire itself; it is my desire I desire, and the loved being is no more than its tool.(18)
Werther performs some kind of puppet play.(19) Barthes' unmasking of the coercive nature of Werther's discourse is devastating to the project of constructing the novel as the model of a love story that might not find fulfillment but nonetheless is an ardent expression of Werther's passion for Lotte. What he calls Lotte's annullment might void her identity, but it props up the mirror Werther needs in a manner similar to what we observed on Malchen's cheek with regard to the inscription of his name. Lotte's position becomes available, and we shall yet have to see, in the next section of this article, how the fiction of the book, as opposed to the letters it publishes, refigures the constellation of agents in the narrative in such a way that Lotte disappears from the structure as the mother she is not in order to make room for a trio of men that will capitalize on her image as the Mother. Let us not forget, at this point, that the ardent love letters Werther writes are addressed to Wilhelm and, for their publication as book, carefully arranged by the Editor.
First, however, we ought to focus on Werther's conception of the name as a sign, for it is the signifying character that enables Werther to integrate his name, and indeed all proper names, with his writing and feeling in …