Aussöhnung. Sublimierung als Paradigma in Goethes Trilogie der Leidenschaft

Eckart Goebel


The essay offers close readings of three poems Goethe published in 1827 as the Trilogy of Passion. As works of art these poems are examples for what Freud later described as sublimation. Goethe’s arrangement confirms this perspective, as the trajectory leads from despair, An Werther, via grief, Elegie, to atonement, Aussöhnung. On the other hand, as the essay argues, the three poems describe Goethe’s life itself as a trilogy of passion, marked by the turning points of the novel Werther, the drama Torquato Tasso, and the Trilogy itself. In his autobiography, Goethe calls poetry the “secular gospel.” The gospel includes the passion, culminating in the resurrection, the epitome of sublimation. Goethe’s life turns out to be haunted by the taedium vitae, and secular sublimation does not refer to the suffering subject but to its beautiful products only. The sublime works of poetry therefore protest against a reality principle requiring resignation and sublimation: The gift of poetry enables the poet to say what he suffers, but does not end his suffering. (EG; in German)

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