The Education of the Human Race: Lessing, Freud, and the Savage Mind

by Kenneth S. Calhoon
The Education of the Human Race: Lessing, Freud, and the Savage Mind
Kenneth S. Calhoon
The German Quarterly
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The Education of the Human Race: Lessing, Freud, and the Savage Mind

My purpose in applying Freudian terrninol- ogy to Die Erziehung des Menschengeschlechts is not to subject Lessing to a psychoanalytical interpretation, or if so, then to invert that reading in a manner that implicates Freud in the anthropological discourse of the Enlighten- ment. To read Lessing psychoanalytically is to cast suspicion on certain eighteenth-cen- tury desires by scrutinizing the figures through which those desires are ciphered. The aspiration to rational autonomy, for exam- ple, appears less familiar and more crisis-laden when expressed by some of Lessing's dramatic characters as the wish to choose one's own father and thus, in effect, to father oneself.' To read Freud through Lessing, on the other hand, is to discover in the latter the discursive possibility of reading the Enlighten- ment psychoanalytically. Psychoanalysis often has the appearance of renewing the Enlighten- ment's attempt to define the legitimate bounds of paternal authority (and authority as such), and Freud's frequent use of the verb aufklaren signals the moment at which the logic behind a paternal censure is recognized: enlightenment in Freud is the discovery of a hidden law of which the analysis itself is a manifestation (de Certeau 292-97).

Die Erziehung des Menschengeschlechts, too, is concerned with a peculiar complicity between censorship and knowledge. Censor- ship takes truth and confers upon it the forms from which knowledge is deduced. As a pro- cess of abstraction whereby truth is distilled from the guises that once made it accessible to the immature mind, history becomes the validation of that original concealment. When Lessing describes concrete perception as the only kind of knowledge available to the primi- tive intellect, he places aesthetics- the sci- ence of perception-within the realm of an- thropology. His characterization of the ancient Jews as "ungeschickt zu abgezognen Gedan- ken" (5 16) conforms almost verbatim to the usual definition of the pense'e sauvage, which Claude Levi-Strauss sought to discredit: "the supposed ineptitude of 'primitive people' for abstract thought" (The Savage Mind 1). I

would like to introduce Levi-Strauss as the third term in this constellation, for not only was he, like Freud, the indirect object of Les- sing's sustained portrayal of the early Jews as "crude" (r~h),~

but he also struggled to im- pugn the notion of progressive historical de- velopment that represents the primitive as the deficient Other of civilization."

The comparison may in fact help clarify Lessing's own ambivalence regarding the tele- ology of rationalism, which he undermines through repeated gestures toward the prirni- tive. The thrust of Die Erziehung is to es- tablish a rhetorical framework according to which its author can profess the archaic be- lief in metempsychosis-the transmigration of souls. The provocation lies not so much in the belief itself as in its relation to memory, for as the basis of the Socratic view that learn- ing constitutes the recollection of what one knew in previous incarnations, metempsycho- sis seems ill at home among the progressivist tenets of rationalism. This doctrine answers the ancient equivalent of a modern question, i.e., how can the development of the human race as a whole (phylogeny) be replicated in the life of the individual (ontogeny)? Even more important here is the hypothetical status

The German Quarterly 64.2 (1991) 178

of metempsychosis in Lessing's work. As an unverifiable construction, it addresses a prob- lem that became central to Freud and is the epistemological extension of the question just posed: how can one have knowledge of an origin that cannot be reproduced as memory? (Lukacher 19, 46). This problem is not unre- lated to the impasse that Levi-Strauss sought to navigate with the practice of structural an- thropology: the difficulty of reconstructing patterns of a primitive way of life that, in ef- fect, is no longer there, forgotten even by the primitives themselves.

The last to deny the romantic aspect of his quest for primitive scenes of humanity, Levi- Strauss defies the true savage as an ineffable ideal that dissipates at the approach of civi- lized intruders, be they anthropologists or land speculators. The aporia he identifies is common to Enlightenment philosophy and Freudian theory as well and involves the un- mediability of prehistory to historical consciousness. The "pure" savage can never be more than a hypothesis, for even if there still existed a primary community untouched by civilization, it would be empirically inaccessi- ble, since one could not communicate with its people without transforming them into some- thing other than what one set out to study. By having them inform on themselves, the anthropologist initiates a separation from the way of life they describe. The condition of their continued survival as truly primitive is silence. When Levi-Strauss finally (and brief- ly) came face to face with South American Indians who had never before seen a West- erner, he found them, for his intents and pur- poses, "mute":'

There they were, all ready to teach me their customs and beliefs, and I did not know their language. . . . I had only to succeed in guessing what they were like for them to be deprived of their strange- ness: in which case, I might as well have stayed in my village. Or if, as was the case here, they retained their strange- ness, I could make no use of it, since I

was incapable of even grasping what it

consisted of. (Tristes Tropiques 333).

The Enlightenment was equally frustrated in its attempt to narrate the beginnings of humankmd by giving voice to the mute mhab- itants of prehistory. This too could only be done hypothetically. The fascination during the eighteenth century with wdd children- children who had grown up in the forest after being abandoned by their parents-was part of an attempt to find in the present an empiri- cal counterpart to an otherwise inaccessible past. The most sensational of these foundlings was the Wild Boy of Aveyron, though Kaspar Hauser was a belated German variant of the same phenomenon. It was believed that wdd children, having been deprived of society's in- fluence, presented the possibility of determin- ing whether such traits as language, reason, and the belief in God were innate or acquired. A childhood spent in sylvan solitude was thought to simulate a stage of human develop- ment prior to civilization; thus to interrogate or observe a wild child was to communicate directly with the prehistorical infancy of hu- manity. Yet paradoxically, speaking with wild children required teaching them various con- ceptual tools foreign to their previous exis- tence, thereby initiating them into a culture cut off from that wild state. Like LCvi-Strauss's "savages," the wild children could only talk about their culture by becoming outsiders to it. Already Condillac, commenting on the impossibility of recollecting an aboriginal ig- norance, argued that memory is a product of the very process that separates us from that primary state: "Reflective memory, which makes us conscious of the passage of one cognition to another, cannot go back to begin- nings: it supposes them . . ." (xix).Unable to find his way back through language to a stage at which he knew no language, the wild boy suffered from what Alan Bewell has termed "the structural infirmity of memory," i.e., the fact that "memory cannot remember the con- ditions which made it possible" (328-29).

A familiar narrative rendering of this prob- lem is found in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1816), which depicts the noble savage, quite literally, as an invention of modern science (Moretti 85). The "monster" exemplifies the hypothetical nature of the savage, through whose eyes we are to glimpse the ills of civili- zation, yet whose perceptions are mediated by concepts that are themselves creations of the society perceived. The first words of the creature's narrative allude to the impossibility of being eloquent about a prior inarticulacy- of recollecting, in conceptual terms, an age in which the concepts that commend experi- ences to memory were not yet formed: "It is with considerable difficulty that I remember the original era of my being" (97). The same difficulty is a commonplace of psychoanalysis, and when Freud discusses the relative dis- advantages of analyzing chddren directly (as opposed to adults giving accounts of their childhood), he confronts a problem analogous to that faced by anthropology: in responding to questions that presuppose an understand- ing of their culture and of culture in general, the members of a primary community effec- tively and unknowingly adopt criteria that are alien to their experience and that thus imply a distance from their own culture. Similarly, a child can only address the queries of a psy- chotherapist by means of a borrowed vocabu- lary: "Man mu13 dem Kind zuviel Worte und Gedanken leihen" (VIII: 130).

The analogy also has its diachronic applica- tion. Psychoanalysis might well be described as the inward relocation of the kind of hypo- thetical history wherein the Enlightenment traced the intellectual growth of humankind from a primitive stage of which there was no record and which, therefore, could only be the object of speculation. For Freud, a record of human prehistory was inscribed, albeit cryp- tically, onto the individual psyche, the obscure origins of culture reproducing themselves in the unconscious life of the individual. In his single most elaborate case study, that of the infamous Wolfman- a study deriving compul- sive religious behavior from an animal phobia (which in turn masks a fear of the father) -Freud argues that the feral anxieties of the child need not stem from actual individual ex- perience but could instead be the residue of an inherited phylogeny. The individual's ability to supplement experiences with scenes bor- rowed from prehistory is demonstrated by the regressive nature of dreams, i. e., their ten- dency to represent contemporary wishes and fears in the form of archaic (and less compli- cated) equivalents. Thus a subject anxious about the possibility of unwanted pregnancy may dream about committing infanticide (11: 170-72); or as in the case of the Wolfman, the sight of parental intercourse is conflated with a scene of more primitive sexuality (more ferarum), one that to the child portends bestial aggression (VIII: 160). By virtue of what Paul Ricoeur sees as the "positivist transposition" in Freud's thinking (209), a child's unconscious fears of the father, however unwarranted in the individual instance, attest to the occur- rence of an actual violent act, be it patri- or infanticide, in an ancient and unremembered past. By suggesting that the child fills the gaps of his own experience with, in his words, "prehistoric truth" ("prahistorischer Wahrheit" [VIII: 2103, Freud displaces the histor- ical antecedent back beyond the reach of his- tory; yet that moment, which is only arrived at through extrapolation, becomes the posi- tive basis on which the truth behind the fan-

tasy is grounded.

This logic, both specular and recuperative, is immanent at the beginning of Lessing's treatise where divine revelation is cast as the phylogenetic analogue of education; revela- tion, says Lessing, is to the human race what education is to the individual (5 1). Lessing's aim is to describe the ultimate compatibility of seemingly contradictory truths: those that are historically revealed, on the one hand, and those that are deduced through reason, or universal, on the other. The search for the historical origins of reason discloses a process whereby historical truths (Geschichtswahrhei- ten) evolve into rational ones (Vernunftswahr- heiten). In response to the rationalist claim that revealed religion had grown obsolete in the age of reason- or even that the miracles reported in the Old and New Testament were deliberate falsifications meant to deceive a literal-minded populace- Lessing holds that the contents of revelation would find them- selves confirmed at the moment of their supersession by rational precepts (Frei 114- 16). Incompatible with reason though it may seem, a supernatural event such as resurrec- tion is redeemed for modernity through ra- tional hindsight, which recognizes that event as a historical manifestation of an ahistorical truth, namely, the immortality of the human soul-a truth that developed reason could grasp independently of the specific, revealed form (5 59). If the function of revelation is to instigate a development leading to the abstract reformulation of revealed truths, then revela- tion anticipates the moment of its own ob- solescence:

. . . die Ausbildung geoffenbarter Wahr- heiten in Vernunftswahrheiten ist schlech- terdings notwendig, wenn dem menschli- chen Geschlechte damit geholfen sein SOH. Als sie geoffenbaret wurden, waren sie freilich keine Vernunftswahrheiten; aber sie wurden geoffenbaret, um es zu werden. (5 76)

The effect of this statement is to stress a greater humility toward tradition than one gen- erally associates with the Enhghtenment. Yet Lessing's position is commensurate with the postulate of universal reason in that it asserts a logical consistency between truths concretely experienced and those that are for- mally theorized. Primitive beliefs are simply less articulate versions of the rational insights that supersede them. The telos of human de- velopment is not for us to become wiser than the ancients but wise enough to describe the wisdom implicit in their customs.

In this regard, it is interesting to consider Freud's discussion of demonic possession, a belief he did not summarily dismiss as un- founded superstition but dignified as a nascent understanding of neurosis, though lacking an adequate vocabulary (Eine Teufelsneurose zm siebzehnten Jahrhundert, 1923). Freud regarded beliefs of thls kind as a form of con- cealment (e.g., of ambivalent feelings toward the father), but one that was more transparent than the elaborate displacements characteris- tic of a later era that had abolished such beliefs (de Certeau 294). In the particular case in question, a pact in which the subject promises to become the devil's "very own son" ("sein leibeigner Sohn" [VIII: 2961) is itself an in- terpretation of the disguise. A kind of therapy is implicit in a representation so easily read, for as Freud argues, the price modernity has paid for the elimmation of superstitious behav- ior is hypochondria (301-02). To the practice of exorcism he ascribes an inarticulate wisdom of which psychotherapy is not only the articu- lation but the validation as well. Psychoanaly- sis presents itself as the latest in a series of successive incarnations in which the explana- tory function of myth is realized. We may now restate Freud's thesis using Lessing's terminology: while the historical truth- i. e., the seventeenth-century belief in possession by demons-was not a rational truth, it was in the process of becoming one, namely, a theory of neurosis.

In addition to the clarity Freud ascribes to the visions of those "dark ages" (VII: 287), certain details of this "case" (he is deahg exclusively with archival material) are relevant to the present context in that they allow us to read the account as a kind of allegory of enlightenment. In 1677 at the Austrian monas- tery of Mariazell, a Bavarian painter named Christoph Haitzmann underwent an exorcism. Nine years earlier, he claimed, he had signed a pact committing body and soul to Satan after a period of nine years. Now, as the pact was about to fall due, after having succumbed to depression, melancholy, and physical convul- sions, he had come to this place of mercy in hopes of being relieved of his diabolical obliga- tion. At one point during the ritual he sprang to a corner of the church, returning moments later clutching the pact, which he had appar- ently wrested from the devil. Written in blood, the pact read:

Christoph Haitzmann. Ich verschreibe mich disen Satan, ich sein leibeigner Sohn zu sein, und in 9. Jahr ihm mein Leib undt See1 zugeheren.

After several months, when the aforemen- tioned physical and emotional symptoms per- sisted, the painter returned to Mariazell and in similar fashion retrieved another, chronolog- ically prior pact. Since both pacts commit Haitzmann to become Satan's "very own son," Freud is inclined to regard the devil as a sub- stitute for the painter's father, who had died shortly before the pacts were allegedly signed. But Freud is especially interested in another curious detail. Among the documents available to him is Haitzmann's diary, which contains a number of small paintings of Satan. While the first of these lends him the sem- blance of "a respectable burgher" ("eines ehr- samen Burgers"), subsequent images portray him as a horned demon with female breasts, sometimes in multiple pairs. Freud interprets this as more than an attempt to compensate for the loss of a father: it is a strategy for concealing the castration anxiety that results from the boyhood desire (one Haitzmann shares with the Wolfman) to be the father's erotic object, indeed to be impregnated by one's own father; the nine years of the pact represent the nine months of pregnancy. By investing the substitute father with female at- tributes, he screens his own one-time femi- nine stance toward his father.

"Die Bedeutung ist traumerischer, als der Traum" (11: 155). Claudia Galotti's skepticism toward her daughter's dream interpretation resonates of the doubt eventually voiced by many of Freud's detractors (and anticipated by Freud to the point that he made such in- credulity a provision of the psychic mechanism and thus a confirmation of this theory): psy- choanalysis seemed akin to the conditions it purported to alleviate (Kraus 351). The resis- tance to meaning expressed by Eda's mother betrays the interpretability of a play that, as the Prince's closing lines suggest, is itself a kind of sociopolitical Teufelsneurose: "1st es, zum Ungliicke so mancher, nicht ge- nug, da13 Fursten Menschen sind: mussen sich auch noch Teufel in ihren Freund verstellen?"

(204). The Prince's attempt to repress his demon, i.e., banish him from sight ("Geh, dich auf ewig zu verbergen!"), follows the pro- nouncement of a taboo that applies to the lawgiver as well as to Marinelli: "dein Blut soll mit diesem Blute sich nicht mischen." The devil and the blood purity of class are here linked through their common enmity to- ward a rational development that would render the former invisible and the latter obsolete. When the Prince entertains fantasies of being adoped by the bourgeois Odoardo ("wenn Sie . . . mein Vater sein wollten!" [200]),5 he re- peats a wish that Count Appiani had sought to fulfill through a marital mballiance with Odoardo's daughter:

Ihr Vater! Das Muster aller mannlichen Tugend! . . . Und womit sonst, als mit der Erfiillung dieses Entschlusses kann ich mich der Ehre wiirdig machen, sein Sohn zu heaen? (154)

Like Haitzmann's pact, Appiani's resolution is a covenant with a nominal devil, as indicated by the way Marinelli becomes a scapegoat for Odoardo. This role entails handling the dagger used by Odoardo, but only by the order of the Prince, who no sooner commands Mari- nelli to pick up the bloodied weapon than he snatches it away from hlm-as if from the actual murderer. The ritual overtones of this scene and those leading up to it suggest an anthropological reading of the play, but the play itself suggests a reading of Freud's case in terms of Enlightenment desires. The logic by which Haitzmann might have chosen the devil as his "very own" (leibezgner) father is articulated by Appiani when he asserts his autonomy vis-a-vis the Prince: "Ein Herr, den man sich selber wahlt, ist unser Herr so eigentlich nicht" (159). Haitzmann's devil, en- dowed with a woman's breasts and subject to a nine-month deferral of parenthood, is a father invested with the ability to bear chddren -a fantasy that might serve the compensa- tory function of allaying a child's doubts about the natural (sexual) legitimacy of his father. However, the desire for a biologically legiti- mate father may itself be a representation, that is, a figuration of the desire for paternal legitimacy in the ethical vein of the Enlighten- ment. The wish to be birthed by one's father represents the wish that the father affirm his legitimacy in the only way he can: through rational action. Such is the case with Emilia, imploring Odoardo to emulate an ancient father who, by killing his daughter as an act of political defiance, "gave her life a second time" ("ihr zum zweiten Ma1 das Leben gab" [2O31L6

The intent here is not to claim Odoardo's brutal deed for rationality but to show how a rationalistic vocabulary is used to seduce him into reenacting the infanticidal act of an ancient father. Emilia's murder constitutes the recru- descence of myth under the guise of reason. Nor is it only through Emilia's language that her father usurps the maternal role (he is to "[give] her hfe a second time"); in killing her, Odoardo in effect makes good on a promise made but not kept by Marwood of M$ Sara Sampson who, in threatening to kill her own child, describes herself as "eine neue Medea"

(11: 40). It could be argued that, by furnishing Odoardo with the dagger, Orsina makes ex- plicit a complicity in the earlier drama between MarwoodMedea and Sir William-between the mythical figure of maternal violence and the Enlightenment father who renders mater- nity obsolete by replacing it with the "second birth of reason" (Bohrne 434-36). Sir Wiiam typifies this father, and Sara- whose mother died in childbirth-praises her father as one who has never given her cause to long for a mother ("der mich noch nie nach einer Mutter [hat] seufzen lassen" [64]). In Nathan der Weise Recha says the same of the father,' and the resolution of this play-a "family romance" in the truest sense (a child delivered to a surrogate parent by a knight on horse- back)-is a reminder of the degree to which the Enlightenment amounted to a quest for the legitimate father.8

Incidentally, the desperate plight of Frank- enstein's woeful creation suggests the poten- tially catastrophic consequences of the same Enlightenment dream allegorized by his mak- ing: the dream of being able to attribute one's existence to the deliberate calculations of a father (and not to the accident and uncertainty of sexual birth). Put more simply, it is the child's desire to be "wished for" (erwunscht; see Liebs). It is worth emphasizing that the "monster" is an abandoned child who, like the wdd boy, must find his way to civilization by retracing the steps of a prehistoric savage; and like Oedipus, whose biography furnishes the prototype for depictions of abandonment (see Boswell), he strains against the knowl- edge with which desertion has scarred him. The oedipal theory revives the trauma of aban- donment whde trying to negotiate it, and the aforementioned Wolfman, Freud's own particular version of the wdd boy (Bewell 345), illustrates how a gentle father bears the mark of ancestors far more severe. Like Grirnrnels- hausen's Simplicius, who encounters his true father living peacefully in the forest but mis- takes him for the wolf his foster father had taught him to fear, Freud's patient cannot dis- tinguish between his father and the danger his absence entails (Triefenbach 128). The topos that emerges is Biblical: fathers of the Old Testament don't kill their sons, yet the animal sacrifices they perform sustain the memory of ancient infanticides (Girard 4 ff.).

One can begin to imagine how the Jews, as the reputed "chosen people" ("erwahltes Volk" [§ 201), could come to occupy a place of privilege in an eighteenth-century narrative that writes the history of humankind not from a moment of creation but ad@tion. Nathan himself expresses a unique predilection for his adopted daughter, a "possession" he owes to virtue rather than "Natur und Gluck" (11: 208). The father's beneficence toward the adopted child implies an attitude toward sexual repro- duction that makes the mother the potential target of moral outrage, for as the parent whose natural legitimacy is less contestable (if at all),Y her mere presence mounts a chal- lenge to paternal authority. This is Claudia Galotti at her best, having just learned that Emilia has come under the protection of the Prince, whose aim it is to seduce her. The mother's words anticipate the father's anger as it encircles the site of original transgres- sion: "Ich ungluckselige Mutter! -Und ihr Vater! ihr Vater!-Er wird den Tag her Ge- burt verfluchen. Er wird mich verfluchen" (172-73). Odoardo's eventual deed not only makes Ernilia's birth retroactive, it prevents the repetition of the act to which she owes her conception and which she helps hun visualize by defoliating a rose before his eyes (Rickels 48). His presumed choice in her death compensates for his lack thereof in her birth, as suggested by the way he asserts the auton- omy of his deed even as Emdia lies dying ("Nicht du, meine Tochter! Dein Vater, dein unglucklicher Vater" [204]).

Compared to the parental violence often threatened and sometimes realized in Les- sing's dramas, Die Erziehung des Menschenge- schlechts seems a rather urbane exercise in speculative anthropology. Yet the crass differ- ence points to a subtle kinship. Lessing's treatise is a kid of ethno-psychology of the Jews which, like more modern ethnographies, contends with a notion of the savage. The early Hebrews, characterized by Lessing as "the wddest people" ("das verwildertste [Volk]" [O a]), correspond to the wild boy of other historical narratives, a child with whom they share not only their uncultivated state but also a history they can trace back to the experience of exile in the wilderness. The point here is to question the relation between that experience and what Lessing himself re- fers to as Aufklarung (§§ 80, 81): the ability to love virtue independently of the immediate presence of the father, which once made virtu- ous behavior a physical imperative. Lessing's gesture toward the stern father is redemptive. He explains how the developing intellect would confirm rather than invalidate revealed religion, the advance of reason enabling us to see retrospectively the wisdom behd those demonstrations of sheer might with which god first alerted humankind to his unique exis- tence. An arbitrary authority physically ex- pressed initiates the development of a faculty that, in its maturity, would at once justify that authority and render it obsolete. The time

will come, Lessing predicts, "when man will do good because it is good, not because arbi- trary rewards are placed on it" ("da [der Mensch] das Gute tun wird, weil es das Gute ist, nicht weil willkurliche Belohnungen darauf gesetzt sind" [§ 851). Here, as so often else- where, Lessing prefers a parable that localizes the process of enlightenment within the fa- miha1 sphere; the goal of growing up is the rational vindication of paternal actions, includ- ing the harsh ones:

Als das Kind unter Schlagen und Liebko- sungen aufgewachsen und nun zu Jahren des Verstandes gekomrnen war, stiel3 es der Vater auf einmal in die Fremde; und hier erkannte es auf einrnal das Gute, das es in seines Vaters Hause gehabt und nicht erkannt hatte. (9 19)

The concept that springs to mind is that of the superego; the adult's self-mastery through reason replicates the mastery his father exer- cised over hun before that reason had matured. The result is a familiar oedipal maneu- ver whereby a father's guilt is shifted to the chlld; exile produces knowledge, and educa- tion is the ontogenetic reenactment of an aboriginal expulsion: "Das in die Fremde ge- schickte Kind . . . erkennet . . . , da13 die Schuld ledig sein eigen sei" (§ 38).

It is difficult not to overhear resonances of the Prodigal Son parable and its idiom of re- turn and reconciliation. But the parable per se may be the point of greatest density in Lessing's text, at least to the degree that it actualizes the hermeneutics of deferral that informs the whole of Die Erziehung. Lessing's most repeated assertion is that knowledge delayed is knowledge guaranteed, as we un- derstand better what we must strive to com- prehend. His denial (5 91) that the shortest line is always the straightest implies that the quest for knowledge is a circuitous one, and a tale that begins with the experience of aban- donment-be it of the Jews in the desert or the child in the wilderness-is an apt narra- tive rendering of that structure. It seems plausible to argue that parables recreate her- meneutically the experience of abandonment they often recount; their method is "bewilder- ment" in the fullest sense of the word. The moment of expulsion is incorporated into a rational structure that makes confusion the prerequisite of understanding. Psychoanalysis subscribes to a similar hermeneutics (Ker- mode 2), and it also partakes of the same rationalization. The oedipal theory resulted from the attempt to discount patients' memo- ries of mistreatment at the hands of their fathers. Freud called these "screen memories" (Deckerinnerungen), fantasies with the function of hiding a ch~ld's guilt by projecting it onto the parent. The oedipal theory thus contradicts the fable of Oedipus, which begins with his abandonment and attempted murder by a father whose reputation was already questionable at best.1° If Freud's theory itself represents a wish to preserve a father's inno- cence, the tenacity of this wish is evident in Ernilia Galotti's dying words: "Lassen Sie mich sie kiissen, diese vaterliche Hand" (11: 203).

A gentler paternal hand is posited in Les- sing's most farmliar treatment of time im- memorial, the Parable of the Ring in Nathan &r Weise. Like Die Erziehung, the parable tells the story of the origin of virtue, with virtue being that which the ring has the power to bestow. "Vor grauen Jahren lebt' ein Mann irn Osten, I Der einen Ring . . . Aus lieber Hand besa13" (11: 276); this beginning repre- sents a phylogenetic fantasy, the effect of which is to divest virtue of its violent origins. When the three heirs to the ring approach a judge in whom they hope to find a patriarch wdling to dispense justice arbitrarily, he in- forms them that the brand of authority they seek is incompatible with the lund of father they miss. In the vein of Emilia Galotti (and commensurate with the oedipal theory) the stern father is revealed to be a creation of the child. The fantasy undermines itself, however, to the extent that the "original" father is hirnself a former son. Here the Prodigal Son par- able is particularly suggestive; a son who de- clares hunself unworthy in the eyes of God and his father receives, by way of contradic- tion, a ring. The animal sacrifice that accom- panies this gift may be interpreted as the sub- limation of paternal aggression toward the son

and as such a symbolic reenactment of more direct acts of violence: And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it;

(Luke 15: 21-23)"

It is ironic that Saladin, who as the ben- eficiary of Nathan's story-telling is the object of enlightenment, appears deficient because of his inability or unwdlingness to think in images. The parable foils his wish to disen- tangle truth from a1 figuration, tradition, and indeed, labor. This again points to a concern common to Lessing, Freud, and Levi-Strauss, each of whom- in the face of some normative rationalism-came to the defense of thought that is concretely expressed as imagery. Les- sing's aesthetic theory is grounded in a semio- tics that prefers representations in which idea and image coalesce, i.e., as a Bildgedanke (Rickels 39). This principle is explained in Emilia by the painter Conti, who casts nature as a system that "thmks" imagistically and thus provides the model for art: "Die Kunst mu13 malen, wie sich die plastische Natur . . . das Bild dachte" (11: 131-32). Painting is also one of the models that Levi-Strauss uses to understand myth, which he describes as "a system of concepts embedded in images" (The Savage Mind 264). Painting, he sug- gests, lies midway between scientific inquiry and mythological thought, for whlle the artist investigates the structures of the physical world, he or she does not translate the results into formal theory but reproduces them as imagery. The painter strikes a balance be- tween anecdote and design (25), malung the latter fully manifest in the former. Levi-Strauss seeks to refute the familiar notion of myth as fantastic and fictive, seeing it rather as a basic analytical framework for explaining the world. Primitive thought, lke painting, does not transcend the elements with which "plastic nature" has provided it; instead, those elements are rearranged in order to make the concepts and structures they embody availa- ble to further sense perception. Roughly in keeping with Conti's dictum, the starting point of myth is "a speculative organization and exploitation of the sensible world in sensible terms" (16).

Levi-Strauss develops h~s argument in de- liberate opposition to Jean Paul Sartre (Cri- tique of Dialectical Reason), whom he accuses of "mythologizing" history by privileging his- torical consciousness as the necessary condi- tion of dialectical thinking. Levi-Strauss is obviously concerned with the implications of Sartre's thesis for "peoples without history" (278). If history is a construct for distinguish- ing between primitive and civhzed peoples, then the construct is no more valid than the distinction itself. Not that Levi-Strauss wishes to deny differences; he simply defines them in terms of strategy and not intellectual power. What for hlrn distinguishes neolithic "science" from its modern counterpart is the latter's remove from sensible intuition (15). The fol- lowing passage indicates that this difference is a matter of degree:

Of the Ambrym native . . . who was able

to show the field-worker the functioning

of his marriage rules and kinship system

by a diagram in the sand. . . Sartre says:

"It goes without saylng that this construc-

tion is not a thought: it is a piece of manual

work governed by unexpressed syntheti-

cal knowledge" (p. 505). Granted: but

the same must be said of a professor at

the Ecole Polytechnique demonstrating

a proof on the blackboard . . . (251).

In Die Erziehungdes Menschengeschlechts Les- sing makes the same point and draws the same parallel in describing the rational content em- bedded in historically revealed truths; these he likens to "das Fazit, welches der Rechen- meister seinen Schiilern voraussagt, darnit sie sich in Rechnen einigermal3en darnach richten konnen" (§ 76). Lessing's querelle with the neologians of his time is reactivated by Levi- Strauss's dispute with Sartre, and this in a way that exposes the modern, nontheologi- cal ramifications of Lessing's treatise. Levi- Strauss's work is framed within a broadened conception of Enlightenment (a la Rousseau) that provides for the Primitive rather than excluding it. The discovery of "the Savage Mind immanent in us all" is an acknowledg- ment of the humanity of the savage, in whom we might glimpse a vision of universal human dignity (Geertz 355-58).

While Freud was able to acknowledge the analytical and even therapeutic value of mythi- cal formations (see Teufelsneurose), his discov- ery of the savage mind in us all was not in the interest of an all-embracing humanism. Freud and Lessing do proceed from a common analogical ground: the individual child repeats processes undergone by the human race in its chddhood. Yet Lessing's rhetorical profes- sion of the belief in metempsychosis suggests that the modern individual reaps the harvest of past struggles (§§ 94-95). Thus education is a process for which abandonment is but a benign metaphor. "Enlightenment" for Freud, on the other hand, is a struggle that each individual must wage anew ("Jedem menschli- chen Neuankommling ist die Aufgabe gestellt, den Odipuskomplex zu bewaltigen" [V: 1291). Each child is psychologically a "wild child," and the analysis of childhood yields access to the archaic experiences of primitive humanity:

Wir haben gesagt: Im Traume und in der Neurose finden wir das Kind wieder mit den Eigentiimlichkeiten seiner Denkwei- sen und seines Affektlebens. Wir werden erganzen: auch den wilden, den primitiven Menschen, wie er sich uns irn Lichte der Altertumswissenschaft und der Vol- kerforschung zeigt. (VII: 203)

Freud's association of dream and savage underscores the importance ascribed by all three thinkers to imagery and to the link be- tween the primitive and a pronounced literal- ness of conception. Levi-Strauss's characterization of savage thought as "a system of concepts embedded in images" is adequate to Freud's understanding of the "aesthetic" regression enacted by dreams, for in addition to providing for the ontogenetic return of pre- historic conflicts and anxieties, dreams also regress formally by restoring ideas to the realm of sense perception (Ricoeur 160). The Enlightenment aesthetics implicit in Die Erzie- hung might be understood as an attempt to displace a primitive mode of perception by restoring the unity of idea and image with a reflective, nonregressive framework. Art substitutes for myth to the degree that art and myth resemble each other, and Levi- Strauss's comparison of the savage mind to a painter of the Late Renaissance is meant to emphasize the special genius of the former. His own use of the term "aesthetic" (15) to describe the primitive way of relating to the world is itself revealing, and the aforemen- tioned comparison suggests that such a rela- tionship-or the memory thereof- is pre- served through the aesthetic experience in the more specific and modern sense.

These two senses merge in the climactic penultimate scene of Emilza Galotti, which reenacts an event from ancient Roman history that, during the eighteenth century, had be- come the subject of numerous paintings: the fatal stabbing of Virginia by her father, Vir- ginius, before a court of law. Emilia's violent death at the hands of her father constitutes a tableau vivant, a visual (as well as verbal) citation of a motif so familiar to Lessing's pub- lic that it enjoyed iconographic status (Flax 43-45). The implied painting functions mytho- logically by virtue of its immediate, inarticu- late intelligibility; in Levi-Strauss's words, it affords "a coherent image on which . . . action can be modelled" (254). Odoardo's stabbing of his daughter is an extreme manifestation of the kind of primitive action Sartre charac- terized as "manual labor governed by unex- pressed synthetical knowledge." Only after the deed has been committed does Eda give her father the words for explaining one of the images complicit in his manipulation: "Eine Rose gebrochen, ehe der Sturm sie entbht- tert" (11: 203).

The other seductive image is that of "re- birth" and is invoked by Ermlia when she asserts that Virginius, by killing his daughter, "gave her life a second time" ("ihr zurn zweiten Ma1 das Leben gab"). The contradiction of word and deed-he slays Emilia under the guise of giving her life- may be apparent only in that it reveals a dual potential of paternal affection. Freud observed how a father could express tenderness for a child using an ex- pression that contains a mortal threat ("Ich fress' dich auf!" [VIII: 152]), and Girard has discussed the importance of Biblical patri- archs devouring the flesh of animals killed in place of their favored offspring (5 ff.). The language Ermlia uses to describe her father's action revives a prehistoric moment that even primitive rituals render harmless through symbolic reenactment. Levi-Strauss's description of a pattern universally common to rites of initiation demonstrates two separate ritual functions that, at the moment of Ernilia's death, become indistinct:

. . . first, the novices, taken from their parents, are symbolically "killed" and kept hidden in the forest or bush where they are put to the test by the Beyond; after this they are "reborn" as members of the society. When they are returned to their natural parents, the latter there- fore simulate all the phases of a new de- livery, and begin a re-education even in the elementary actions of feeding and dressing. (264)

It is instructive to ponder the similarities be- tween this "re-education" and the process de- fined in Lessing's Erzzehung. The initiation rite has the purpose of artificially converting the chdd into a foundhg, an act that for the Enlightenment puts parenthood on an ethical footing. Levi-Strauss's text, like Lessing's, thus has the quality of a rational fantasy, realigning abandonment as part of a deliber- ate, pedagogical calculation. The experience of the Beyond is not the result of violence, it is a "test."

The ultimately specular logic of Lessing's Erziehung helps to define the shape of a con- tradiction inherent in Freud's oedipal theory, which on the one hand exonerates individual fathers of unsavory deeds by attributing memories of these deeds to a phylogenetic mheritance, while on the other hand it under- mines any such prehistoric origin by describ- ing a superego that makes us guilty for our fantasies as well as our actions. Odoardo Galotti's assertion that there are indeed still fathers wilhg to dispose of their children anti- cipates Freud in that it creates out of virtue the violent scene of which it was purportedly born. Emilia's superego is strong enough to transform an indecisive father into one of violent resolve -one who soon afterward in- vokes a vengeful God appropriate to the ear- liest stage in the tripartite scheme of Die Erziehung ('Idem Richter unser aller" [II: 2041). Ernilia's wish to be free of physical de- sire is so overwhelming that it recreates the violent origins of virtue, conjuring forth the kind of ancient father in whose living presence virtue is a matter of sheer survival. All this occurs amidst an Enlightenment vocabulary of rational rebirth, and the association of reason and danger suggests the thesis ad- vanced by Horkheirner and Adorno, namely, that the Enlightenment represents a radical form of primitive anxiety ("die radikal gewor- dene mythologische Angst" [la]). The chac- tic scene is thus also a primal one, and Emilia's killing confirms the suspicions of mother Claudia, whose acuity is concentrated in a remark that radiates proto-Freudian insight: "Die Furcht hat ihren besondern Sinn" (152).


This is demonstrated by Tellheim in Minna von Barn- heim when the former officer invokes an earlier state of happiness denied him now due to a diminished au- tonomy he associates with financial dependence (and with indebtedness in general); Gliick, as defied by the Enlightenment, could only come as the result of one's own accomplishments, never as a gift. Tellheim's crisis is thus similar to the one faced by Sara Sampson, who is also unable to accept a happiness to which she feels she has no moral claim ("eines unverdienten Gliicks" [II: 621). As Helmut Schneider points out, the wish never to owe one's happiness to someone else is rendered absurd by Tellheim tumself when, unwittingly, he equates this wish with that of being one's own father-of being responsible for one's own existence:

QUARTERLY Spring 1991

"der bluhende Mann . . . , der seines ganzen Korpers,
seiner ganzen Seele mkhtig war; vor dem die Schran-
ken der Ehre und des Gliickes eroffnet standen. . . .
-Diser Tellheim bin ich eben so wenig, -als ich mein
Vater bin" (I: 640). See below, n. 6.
Lessing uses the adjective "roh" no less than six times
with reference to the ancient Jewish people ($011, 16,
18, 20, 27, 35). Die Erziehungdes Menschengeschlechts

(VIII: 489-510) is cited by fragment number.

' In a provocative and original study, John Murray Cud- dihy argues that the theories of Marx, Freud, and LCvi- Strauss show traces of a conflict faced by modern Jews struggling to integrate themselves into European soci- ety but being confronted with their own apparent lack of urbanity and couth. Such was the European stereo- type (as Lessing's work registers), but many Jews themselves, striving to assdate to a society in which distance, propriety, and decorum were the rule, found themselves at odds with a former way of life in which intimacy and forthrightness were givens. This descrip- tion already implies that the ghettos from which Jews were emerging represented a lesser state of repression than the society they were trying to enter, and one can see how Freud's thought on repression might tend to identify the former community (a Gemeinschaft in the true sense) as the healthier one. Thus Freud's interest in Jewish jokes appears as a personal pre- occupation indicative of his ambivalence toward the ac- quired refinements of assimilated Jews-refinements he understood as the repression and censorship of im- pulse. Cuddihy emphasizes the subversive thrust of Freud's position by shaping it in terms vaguely evocative of Levi-Strauss's The Raw and the Cooked: "Freud's theory, then, is a theory of the relation of the coarse to the refined, of the raw to the sublime. It aroused indignant opposition by asserting that all men have ids (that is, all men are Jews). . . . His theory of sublirna- tion unmasked the autonomy of the fie" (28). Cuddihy sees in Levi-Strauss's The Origin of Table Manners the culmination of the tendency to construct theoretical systems that favor the primitive at the expense of so- called "civilization" and thereby-this is Cuddihy's in- terpretation-to compensate for the status-humilia- tions inflicted on Jews by European society: "Levi- Strauss has managed to extract from the descriptive 'science' of mythology a normative morality in terms of which he grades our civilization. He gives it a zero for conduct" (157). "Mute" is Levi-Strauss's own expression: "But if the inhabitants were mute, perhaps the earth itself would speak to me" (Tristes Tropiques 333). All subsequent references to Levi-Strauss are to The Savage Mind.

'The same wish is expressed by Orsina: "Guter, lieber Vater!-Was gabe ich darum, wann Sie auch mein Va- ter wken" (11: 187). The Enlightenment's stance vis-a-vis natural childbirth is implied when TeUheim, refusing to accept a monetary gift from Mia, implicates childbirth within a matrix of dt-giving: "Es ist ein nichtswiirdiger Mann, der sich nicht schamet, sein ganzes Gliick einem Frauen- zimmer zu verdanken" (I: 681). According to Helmut Schneider: "Es ist diese Hiahme und stete Vergegen- wartigung der menschlichen 'Gebiirtigkeit,' die den iktz- ten und entscheidenden Hinterarund der Schenkens- Thematik bildet. Sie wird explizit gemacht in dem ftir Lessings Dramatik ebenfalls zentralen Motiv der Le- bensrettung. Die Rettung aus todlicher Gefahr vollzieht den natiirlichen Akt der Geburt gleichsam noch einmal als moralischen Akt; indem wir unser Dasein aus den Handen eines Anderen zuriickempfangen, wird uns das kreatiirliche Geschenk des Lebens bewu0t; bewu0t nicht etwa als eigene, sondern als die ethische Leistung einesAnderen, unseres Mitmenschen, dem wir hierfiir -da Leben mit nichts aufzuwiegen ist-nie unsere Dankesschuld abtragen konnen" (ms). This she does somewhat indirectly, describing Daja, the nanny appointed to her by Nathan, as "Eine Chri- stin, die . . . mir eine Mutter so wenig missen lassen"

(11: 336).

"In a short essay titled Der Familienroman der Neurotiker (IV: 223-26), Freud makes reference to epic romance in describing psychic development as a "quest" for the terms of paternal legitimacy-a development that often involves fantasies in which actual parents are substituted by heroic figures. In the aforementioned article (see n. 8) Freud observes that once children achieve a rudimentary understanding of where they came from, they concentrate their fan- tasies about parental identity on the father, whose iden- tity is never certain (IV: 225).


Marie Balmary is among those who have questioned why Freud, in his discussion of the myth of Oedipus, ignored the fact that Laius, Oedipus's father, not only tried to kill his son by piercing his ankles and abandoning him, but was also a known pederast. Balmary specu- lates that Freud was trying to evade the suspicion that his own father, Jakob Freud, may have been guilty of transgressions that led to Sigmund's hysteria.


King James; emphasis added.

Works Cited

Balmary, Marie. Psychoanalyzing Psychoanalysis: Freud and the Hidden Fault of the Father. Trans. Ned Lukacher. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1982.

Bewell, Alan J. "Wordsworth's Primal Scene: Retrospective Tales of Idiots, Wild Children, and Savages." English Literary History 50 (1983): 321-46.

Bohme, Hartmut, and Gernot Bohme. Dm Andere der Vernunft: Zur Entwicklung von Rationalitatsstruktu- ren am Beispiel Kants. Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1984.

Boswell, John. The Kindness of Strangers: The Abandon- ment of Children in Western Europe from Late Anti- quity to the Renaissance. New York: Pantheon, 1988.

Certeau, Michel de. The Writing of History. Trans. Tom Conley. New York: Columbia UP, 1988.

Condillac, Etienne. Treatise on the Sensations. Trans. Geraldine Can Los Angeles: U of California P, 1930.

Cuddihy, John Murray. The Ordeal of Civility: Freud, Marx, Lbvi-Strauss, and the Jewish Struggle with Mo- dernity. New York: Basic, 1974.

Flax, Neil. "From Portrait to Tableau Vivant: The Pic- tures of Emilia Galotti." Eighteenth-Century Studies 1985-86: 39-55.

Frei, Hans W. The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative: A Study in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Hermeneutics.

New Haven: Yale UP, 1974.

Freud, Sigmund. Studienausgabe. Ed. Alexander Mit- scherlich, Angela Richards, and James Strachey. 11 vols. Frankfurt a.M.: Fischer, 1982.

Geertz, Clifford. "The Cerebral Savage: On the Work of Claude Levi-Strauss." The Interpretation of Cultures. By Geertz. New York: Basic, 1973. 345-59.

Guard, Rene. Violence and the Sacred. Trans. Patrick Gregory. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1977.

Horkheimer, Max, and Theodor W. Adorno. Dialektik der Aufklarung. Frankfurt a.M.: Fischer, 1974. Kermode, Frank. The Genesis of Secrecy: On the Interpre-

tation of Narrative. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1977. Kraus, Karl. Werke. Ed. Heinrich Fischer. Vol. 111. Munich: Kosel. 14 vols. 1952-66. Lessing, Gotthold Ephraim. Werke. Ed. Herbert Gopfert. Munich: Hanser. 8 vols. 1970 ff. Levi-Strauss, Claude. The Savage Mind. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1966. . Tristes Tropiques. Trans. John and Do- reen Weightman. New York: Atheneum, 1984.

Liebs, Eke. Das Kostlichste von Allem: Von der Lust am Essen und dem Hunger nach Liebe. Stuttgart: Kreuz, 1988.

Lukacher, Ned. Primal Scenes: Literature, Philosophy, Psychoanalysis. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1986.

Moretti, Franco. Signs Taken for Wonders: Essays in the Sociologv of Literary Forms. Rev. ed. New York: Verso, 1988.

Rickels, Lawrence. "Deception, Exchange, and Revenge: Metaphors of Language in Emilia Galotti." Lessing Yearbook 16 (1984). 37-54.

Ricoeur, Paul. Freud and Philosophy. Trans. Denis Sav- age. New Haven: Yale UP, 1970. Sartre, Jean Paul. Critique de la raison dialectiqueprecedi de Question de me'thode. Paris: Gallimard, 1960.

Schneider, Helmut J. "Die Aufkliirung, das Schenken und der Tausch: Bemerkungen zu einer Thematik in Les- sings Dramen." Unpublished lecture presented at the annual conference of the German Studies Association. St. Louis, October 1987.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1981.

Triefenbach, Peter. Der Lebenslauf des Simplicius Simpli- cissimus: Figul; Initiation, Satire. Stuttgart: Klett- Cotta. 1979.

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