Madness and Lenz: Two Hundred Years Later

by Helga Stipa Madland
Madness and Lenz: Two Hundred Years Later
Helga Stipa Madland
The German Quarterly
Start Page: 
End Page: 
Select license: 
Select License


University ofOklahoma

Madness and Lenz: 1\\70 Hundred Years Laterl

Lenz lenzelt noch bei mir.2

The authoritative document on which literary history has based its perception of Lenz's madness is neither a report by a contemporary observer of the sick Lenz, nor Lenz's own description of his experience with mental illness, nor an assessment of it by medical authorities, but a 19th-century fictional text-GeorgBuchner's novella "Lenz." This famous piece of fiction, justifiably one of the most admired and respected works of German literature, is considered to be a model representation of schizophrenia in general, and a true description of Lenz's mental illness in particular.v Its authority resides in the perceived authenticity of Buchner's portrayal of mental illness, in a narration which is delivered from the perspective of a sympathetic observer whose voice is intermingled with that of the doomed sufferer. The persuasive power of Buchner's language is unmistakable. From an innocuous opening sentence-''Den 20. [Januar] ging Lenz durch's Gebirg"4-the narrative moves rapidly and spectacularly toward its intention: the linguistic representation of a deterioratingmind. Buchnerhassucceeded in transformingthe structure of his protagonist's psychological state into language: short sentences are compressed, linked by commas and not separated by periods, without an attempt at using subordinate clauses. The resultingparatactic structure, the piling up of short sentences without relief from subordinating elements, gives the effect of breathlessness and confusion; it illustrates an inability to place hierarchy or order upon events and put them in their proper perspective. The effect is dazzling,

as the following sample from the longopen

ing paragraph demonstrates:

Gegen Abend kam er auf die Hohe des Gebirgs, auf das Schneefeld, von wo man wieder hinabstieg in die Ebene nach Westen, er setzte sich oben nieder. Es war gegen Abend ruhiger geworden; das Gewolk lag fest und unbeweglich am Himmel, so weit der Blick reichte, nichts als Gipfel, von denen sich breite Flachen hinabzogen, und alles so still, grau, dammernd; es wurde ihm entsetzlich einsam, er war allein, ganz allein, er wollte mit sich sprechen, aber er konnte nicht, er wagte kaum zu athmen, das Biegen seines FuBes tonte wie Donner unter ihm, er muBte sich niedersetzen; es faBte ihn eine namenlose Angst in diesem Nichts, er war im Leeren, er riB sich auf und flog den Abhang hinunter. Es war finster geworden, Himmel und Erde verschmolzen in Eins. Es war als ginge ihm was nach, und als miisse ihn was Entsetzliches erreichen, etwas das Menschen nicht ertragen konnen, als jage der Wahnsinn auf Rossen hinter ihm. Endlich horte er Stimmen, er sah Lichter, es wurde ihm leichter, man sagte ihm, er hatte noch eine halbe Stunde nach Wa Idb ach. ErgingdurchdasDorf,die Lichter schienen durch die Fenster, er sah hinein im Vorbeigehen, Kinder am Tische, alte Weiber, Madchen, Alles ruhige, stille Gesichter, es war ihm als miisse das Licht von ihnen ausstrahlen, es ward ihm leicht, er war bald in Waldbach im Pfarrhause, Man saB am Tische, er hinein; die blonden Locken hingen ihm urn das bleiche Gesicht, es zuckte ihm in den Augen und urn den Mund, seine Kleider waren zerissen.

o be r lin hieB ihn willkommen, er hielt ihn ftir einen Handwerker.

I have quoted this rather extensive passage

The German Quarterly 66.1 (Winter 1993) 34

from the openingparagraph of the novella to demonstrate the force of Buchner's prose: it does not, for example, inform the reader that on the 22nd of January, two days after the disoriented walk through the mountains Buchnerdescribes, the historical Lenz wrote a letter to Johann Kaspar Lavater in which there is no indication of mental confusion.5 The novella overwhelms the reader through the power of Buchner's language, and the conclusion that insanity must be like this or, more specifically; the insanity of Lenz was like this is the result of Buchner's artistry, not necessarily of his knowledge or observation of mental illness. The illusion that the realist Buchner has created is so complete thatreadersfind it difficult to distance themselves from the text and respond to it as a workofart,ratherthanasthe authentic representation of the mental illness of Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz.

I do not intend to argue that Lenz was not mentally ill, nor do I want to claim that the novella "Lenz" does not contain a convincing representation of insanity. Instead, I want to review the evidence on which the conclusion that Lenz was a schizophrenic is based, and make two related points: first, Buchner'snovella"Lenz"is aboveall a work offiction, and a readingof it for biographical purposesmust be approached withextreme caution.f second, the sources on which assessments of Lenz's mental illness have been based are limited and need to be reexamined and reevaluated within a context of 18th-century discourse on insanity. The psychoanalytic Lenz biography called for by Rudiger Scholz would be a useful beginning for such a project,"

Buchner's Novella

Since Lenz's image,andparticularlyour understanding of his madness, has been profoundly determined by representations of his madness, it is pertinent that recent studies on late 18th-andearly 19th-century literary representations and social percep

tions of insanity enter into Lenz scholarship. The most distinguished work in this area is Michel Foucault's Madness and Civilization. Foucault theorizes that our perception of madness underwent significant changes during the 17th and 18thcenturies. A brief summary of the history of insanity follows: During the Middle Ages, some madmen in Germany were confined in the so-called Narrenturme, but the majority were expelled, and many found a peripatetic home in the Narrenschif]e which roamed villages and seas. The Narrenschif] is, ofcourse, a motifwhichfigures prominently in literature, and the character of the fool as the speaker of truth has been known from antiquity to Shakespeare and beyond. The image of the madman, or fool, was used for didactic purposes, or even for amusement, but madness did not seem to be a particular embarrassment to the community, only an inconvenience inasmuch as the insane, like the indigent, required care. But as early as the 16th century, and increasingly in the 17th and, particularly, 18th centuries, madmen acquireda differentrole. Foucault argues that the insane ultimately assumed the place lepers had previously held in society, that is, the moral values attached to lepers, which made them function as outcasts and scapegoats, were transferred to the insane. The natural outcome of this development wasthe extensiveconfinementofthe insane during the 18th century. For the age of reason, madness and other social deviances, in their utterly uninhibited display of the existence of unreason, were particularly uncomfortable and embarrassing, and hiding the evidence was a convenient solution.f Foucault stresses the fact that during the age of reason madness became linked to morality. A new work ethic, which arose out of changing economic conditions, severely condemned idleness, regarding it as the root of all evil, and created the socalled workhouses, in which ''young men who disturbed their families' peace or squandered their goods, people without

profession, and the insane',g were locked up together. In the classical age, ''for the first time, madness was perceived through a condemnation of idleness.t'l" Since an idle life was regarded as the ultimate rebellion against God, and madmen were included in the proscription of idleness, madness was no longer considered both a medical and moral problem, as had been the case in the Middle Ages and in antiquity, but only an ethical problem.

We must give serious consideration to the connection between madness and idleness if we are to understand Oberlin's evaluation of Lenz's behavior. There is, of course, no criticism of Lenz's life-style in Buchner's novella; quite to the contrary, it is an extremely sympathetic portrayal of him. But Oberlin'sjournal was the basis for Buchner's understanding of Lenz's insanity, and Buchner depended on its description and judgment of Lenz's conduct. In an essay with the thought-provoking title "Lenz Viewed Sane," published in 1974, Janet K. King argues that Buchnerwanted to portray society, not Lenz, as insane. King notes that while "Oberlin's diary depicts a man deeply disturbed and emotionally unstable, the pastor's report does not use terms such as wahnsinnig or uu:» In the concluding sentence of his report, Oberlin refers to Lenz as "bedauernswiirdiger Patient,"12 but it is noteworthy that he uses the word "vergntigt" many times throughout the report, when describing either Lenz's condition or the manner in which time was spent. These many lighter moments seem to occur even more frequently than the serious episodes so well known from the novella, during which Lenz behaves irrationally and frightens everyone around him. They seem to indicate that Oberlinhesitatedto associateLenzwith the insane who were confined to institutions and oftenchained and treated like animals. King points out that mystical experiences, not unlike those undergone by Lenz and related by Oberlin, were not unusual occurrences in the Steintal, where Oberlin was

pastor. Oberlin himselfwrote a treatiseentitled 'Berichte eines Visionars iiber den Zustanddel"Seelen nachdemTod,'and his comment about Lenz's efforts to raise a young girl from the dead was simply: "[es war] ihm abel" fehlgeschlagen.t'l-' This, King argues, is an indication that he was not particularly dismayed by Lenz's behavior. Oberlin was, however, critical of Lenz's way of life and admonished him to honor his mother and father if he wanted to find peaceofmind.14Kingnotes thatthe tendency to disapprove of Lenz's way of life reappeared in his "obituary in the Allgemeine Literaturzeitung ofMay 1792 [which] simplyjudgeshima misfit in a manner reminiscent of Kaufmann's reproaches which Buchner introduced into the novella."15The newspaper expresses the following opinion: "Er [Lenz] starb, von wenigen betrauert, und von keinem vermiBt. Diesel" ungluckliche Gelehrte ... verlebte den besten Teil seines Lebens in nutzloser Geschaftigkeit, ohne eigentliche Bestim


This link among the admonitions by Kaufmann, Oberlin, and the newspaper mustbe noted, for they are critiques ofLenz whichresemblethosebyhisownfather. The 18th century's fear of idleness, the mortal sin of bourgeois society described by Foucault, is reflected in these attitudes. In an age which perceived madness "on the social horizon ofpoverty, ofincapacityfor work, of inability to integrate with the group,"17 it must have been difficult to separate one condition from the other in a man as complex as Lenz. His existence in the economic marginwascertainlyone ofthefactors leading to the aberrant behavior first noted by Kaufmann in November 1777,18 and then by Oberlin in January 1778. Possibly because of his inability to find permanent employment-a condition which certainly was not his alone, as the crowded workhouses attest-Lenz had "alienate[d] himself outside the sacred limits of its [the bourgeoisie's] ethics."19 His friends and associates could very well have considered him to be mad.

When Georg Buchner chose the theme of madness as one of his central concerns, theperceptionofmadnessand, particularly, itstreatmentin literaturehadchangedconsiderably. Madness had been celebrated by Cervantes and Shakespeare, but after the middle of the 17th century, it was expelled from most literary forms and confined to satire; Gottsched's banishment of Hanswurst from the German stage is symptomatic of this development.20 During Romanticism, a preoccupation with the pathological returned with greater force, and madness in literature acquired a new function: it was no longer perceived as entirely negative, but came to be associated with artistry and even was, to a certain degree, idealized andglorified (Reuchlein228, 230). BythetimeBuchnerwrote"Lenz,"the Romantics' glorification of madness had been transformed by the sober positivistic appraisal ofinsanity as illness, a perception of madness which was reflected in literature by a demand for clinical descriptions. Responding to both romantic and realistic perceptions of insanity, Buchner combined the tradition of the Kiinstler-und Wahnsinnsroman while treating madness as an illness. His protagonist, like Tasso or the artist figures in romantic narratives, exists outside the bourgeois world, but his madness is not idealized, nor is it associated with his antibourgeois life-style. As Reuchlein perceptivelyobserves, Buchner'smajor innovation, a move which differentiates his text from those of Romanticism and the 18th century, is his focus on madness itself, rather than on its effects or causes:

Weitaus starker als bis dahin iiblich, steht im ''Lenz'' der KrankheitsprozeB als solcher und gleichsam fiir sich Zentrum des Erzahlens. Demgegenuber verlieren tiber das Pathologische hinausweisende Momente transzendenter, genieasthetischer, erkenntnistheoretischer, zeitkritischer oder moralischer Natur etc., die die literarische Beschaftigungmit dem Wahnsinn im spaten 18. wie im friihen 19. Jahrhundert eigentlich erst motiviert hatten, an Bedeutung und riicken in den Hintergrund. Insgesamt erreicht damit die, seit dem Beginn des 19. Jahrhunderts in der Psychopathologie wie in der Dichtung beobachtbare, Tendenz zur Konzentration aufdie Symptomatik der Seelenkrankheit und aufderen Dynamik bei Buchner literarisch einen Kulminationspunkt. (ReuchIein 389)

Reuchlein identifiesBuchner'sinnovationin the literary representation of madness as responsible for psychologists' and literary scholars'interestin thisworkas acase study. These interpretations, which have become a commonplace in Buchner scholarship (Reuchlein 389-96),21 have had theirecho in Lenz scholarship. One Lenz scholar writes: "... the temptationoften arises to dismiss all histhoughtsas theproductofanunbalanced mind-which ofcourse theywere.u22 Yet it is understandable that critics would react to ''Lenz''in thisway,forBuchner'scomplicated narrative perspective, which blends the narrator's and the protagonist's voices and invites the reader's complete identification with the experience ofthe protagonist, gives the strongimpressionthat his novella isjust that-a case study. ''Lenz'' is, however, not anauthentic medicalreportofmentalillness in general, as many scholars have assumed, nor is it a true depiction ofthe mental illness ofJakob Michael Reinhold Lenz.

Observations by Lenz's Contemporaries

Where, then, must we turn to inform ourselves about Lenz's madness? Other than the Oberlin journal, the known materials are scarce indeed. Lenz's biographer, Rosanow, is uncertain about the nature of Lenz's illness: ''Welcher Art seine Krankheit war und wie sie sich iiuBerte, liiBt sich nicht naher bestimmen.'''23 It is generally believed that serious symptoms first became visible during Lenz's stay with Kaufmann in Winterthur in November

1777, althoughatleastone scholarbelieves Goethe to be the first to have noticed that Lenz was sick. In her medical dissertation ''Der Dichter Lenz: Beurteilung und Behandlung seiner Krankheit durch seine Zeitgenossen," Johanna Beuthner cites Goethe's remark concerningLenz's sojourn in Weimar, written on 16 September 1776 in a letter to Merck: "Lenz ist unteruns, wie ein krankes Kind, wir wiegen und tanzeln ihn, und geben und lassen ihm vom Spielzeug, was er will."24 Goethe, of course, also described the entire romantic movement as sick, and just what he intends to say when he uses the adjective to describe Lenz is difficult to determine. Interestingly, in his later autobiographical writings, Goethe refers to Lenz's conduct as characterized by "Halbnarrheit" and "geliebter Wahnsinn" (Beuthner 21);25 however, when he responded to reports of Lenz's behavior in Sesenheim in December 1777, where, accordingto ROderer, Lenz attempted suicide, Goethe'sview is thatLenz is undulytheatrical, but not insane: Lenz, he wrote, "[treibt] es bis zu den lacherlicheten Demonstrationen des Selbstmords, da man ihn denn fur halbtoll erklaren und nach der Stadt schaffen kann" (Beuthner 41).26 Goethe maybe suggestingthatLenz'ssituationhad become so untenable that pretending to be mad might have seemed one way out, inasmuch as someone would have to take care of him.

In addition to Goethe, two of Lenz's closer associates, his brother Karl and Maximilian Klinger, commented on his condition, albeit approximately forty years after the event. Karl Lenz describes his brother to have been "in einem Zustande von Apathie und Erstarrung" (Beuthner57)27 when he picked him up in June 1779 to take him back to the Baltic. In spite of Karl Lenz's efforts, Lenz remained uncommunicative, and Karl reports that he had "den gliicklichen Einfall, ihm eine FuBreise vorzuschlagen" (Beuthner 57). Karl's comments on his brother's condition end here, and the remainder of the letter in which these

remarks occur addresses other concerns. Klinger's assessment is more complicated: he writes that he visited Lenz during the time Lenz was being cared for by Schlosser in Emmendingen, after the occurrences in the Steintal reported by Oberlin. Klinger found Lenz bound to the bed andconcluded, after listening to him for half an hour, that the cause ofhis sickness was "in der veranlaBten Abschwachung. Aber es war durchaus keine Verstellung von seiner Seite, er war wirklich rasend" (Beuthner 50). Interesting, of course, is the fact that Klinger, like Goethe, alludes to the possibility that Lenz may have been feigning his illness, a coincidence which deserves attention. Does it mean that both Goethe and Klinger were insensitive to Lenz's suffering, or did Lenz consciously adopt the role of clown or Hofnarr, which he is said to have playedat least some ofthe time?28 Was Lenz, in fact, much more in controlof himselfthanis generally assumed, so much so thatsome ofhisclosest associates had to be convinced that he was reallymentallyill andnotjustacting? Lenz, more than most writers, has been mythologized; he is the subject of so much literature that it is difficult to separate the historical from the fictional Lenz. Indeed, the continuation of Klinger's account takes on a fictional turnwhenhe describes the"cure" he administered. Klinger narrates that he ordered Lenz's hair to be shorn at nightfall, the nude Lenz wrapped in his, Klinger's, riding cloak, and then immersed for ten minutes in a nearbyriver. Klinger's verdict: the next morning, "Lenz warvollig bei sich" (Beuthner 50).29 But, one might add, what

about Klinger?

Another eyewitness of Lenz's behavior after his mental breakdown was the Russianwriter Karamzin, who for a while lived in Moscow in the same house as Lenz. On 20 April 1787, Karamzin wrote to Lavater: "... Was soll ich Ihnen von Lenz sagen? Er befindet sich nicht wohl. Er ist immer verwirrt. Sie wiirden ihn gewiB nicht erkannt haben, wenn Sie ihnjetzt sahen. Er wohnt in Moskau, ohne zu wissen, warum . . ."

(Beuthner 62). And in a letter of 31 May 1789, KaramzintellsPleshcheevthefollowing about Lenz:

... In Dorpat lebt der Bruder des ungliicklichen L. (Lenz, ein deutscher Schriftsteller, welcher einige Zeit mit mir in einem Hause wohnte. Eine tiefe Melancholie, die Folge vielen Ungliicks, hatte seinen Geist zerriittet, aber selbst in diesem Zustande setzte eruns aIle in Erstaunen dureh seine poetischen Ideen und riihrte uns haufig durch seine Gutherzigkeit und Geduld). (Beuthner 62-63)

As Scholzhaspointedout, Karamzin's 0 bservation has been used by literary historians to dismiss Lenz's post-mental breakdown writings, particularlyhis correspondence, as "verwirrtesGeschwatz"when, in fact, theletter characterized in this fashion byWeinhold is no different from Lenz's other correspondence.30

Unfortunately, aside from Oberlin's report, comments by those who observed Lenz during the extremity of his mental illness are scarce. Boeker, writingin his dissertation on Lenz's schizophrenia, notes: "Die iiberlieferten Mitteilungen iiber Lenz' Leben aus den Jahren 1778 und 1779 sind sehr liickenhaft und konnen nur ein auBerst unvollstandiges Bild seiner Krankheit vermitteln.Yl Pertinent information can be found primarily in letters by Gottlieb Konrad Pfeffel (1736-1809) and Jakob Sarasin (1742-1802), who were aware of Lenz's first breakdown while he stayed with Christoph Kaufmann (17531795) in Winterthur during November 1777, and by Goethe's brother-in-law, Johann Georg Schlosser (1739-1799), who cared for Lenz in Emmendingen after he left the Steintal32 in February 1778. On 24 November Pfeffel writes to Sarasin about an "accident" that befell Lenz:

Lenzens Unfa11 weiB ich seit Freitag von Mecheln. Gott wolle dem armen Menschen beistehen. Ich gestehe Dir, daB diese Begebenheit weder mich noch meine Lerse sonderlich ilberraschte. Ich hoffe aber doch, der gute Lenz werde wieder zurecht kommen und dann so11te man ihn nach Hause jagen oder ihm einen bleibenden Posten ausmachen. (Beuthner 39-40)

Although Pfeffel indicates that he was not surprised by the incident, it is noteworthy that he used the word "accident" to describe Lenz's affliction, a choice of terminology which could suggest that the incident w~ not really expected, nor that Pfeffel was willingto make ajudgment about it. No detailed information on the nature ofthe attack Lenz suffered seems to be available. Surprisingly, the interest of all involved with Lenz in this experience focused on how to provide economic relieffor their beleaguered friend, not on his illness itself. This response by his friends, like the Oberlin report, establishes a strong link between Lenz's madness and his lack of financial support and/or his idleness. Another example is Sarasin's letter of 6 December 1777 to Lavater, in which he pities Lenz, but concludes that this is what happens if one neglects one's ora et labora, adding: ". . . so sollte der Kavalier einen Beruf wahlen, dessen er warten miiBte" (Beuthner40).Andon8February 1778,after the events in the Steintal, Pfeffel writes to Sarasin: 'Was Lenz thun wird, wollen wir sehen. Oberlin ist der Mann und vielleicht der einzige Mann, der ihm, wenn sein Kopf eserlaubt, Geschmackaneineranhaltenden und niitzlichen Arbeit beibringen kann.,,33 Both Sarasin and Pfeffel had intimate knowledge of Lenz's sickness, yet both suggested that above all he needed tofind a position; this attitude suggests that theythought him capable of functioning in the world, something one would not expect of someone considered to be seriously mentally ill. As a whole, however, Lenz's friends were willing to relieve himatleasttemporarilyoftheburden of supporting himself. Kaufmann took an inventory of Lenz's possessions and discovered that he owned very little: "Auch ist nichts von einer Uhr, silbernen Schnallen, Degen oder Hirschllinger etc. vorhanden. Wer Lenz kennt, muB ihnliebenund wer das

sieht, muB mit mir fiihlen, daB es fiir ihn bestandige Folter, nagender und zerstdrender Gram ist, den er ohne stille Hilfe nicht heben kann" (Beuthner 40). He distributed thislistamonghisfriends andacquaintances and pleaded: 'Wer helfen will, der helfe bald mit edler Stille" (Beuthner 41). And Lavater wrote to Sarasin, also in December 1777: "Lenzen miissen wir nun Ruhe schaffen, es ist das einzige Mittel ihn zu retten, ihm aIle Schulden abzunehmen und ihn zu kleiden" (Beuthner 41). Although Pfeffel, in a letterto Sarasin dated 25 February 1778, comments that things were not right in the headofpoor Lenz, his observations, and those by Lenz's otherfriends, suggestthateconomic security would bring about a cure, something which is not generally considered to relieve schizophrenia.

The clearest descriptions of Lenz's illness are by Schlosser, who had more opportunities than anyone else to observe Lenz during his illness. On 2 March 1778, after Lenz had been in Emmendingen for only a short while, Schlosser wrote to Oberlin: "Lenz ist bei mir und driickt mich erstaunlich. Ich habe gefunden daf seine Krankheit eine wahre Hypochondrie ist ... Er ist wie ein Kind, keines Entschlusses fahig, unglaubig gegen Gott und Menschen" (Beuthner 46). Schlosser apparently consulted a physician, who visited Lenz several times. By the middleofMarch, hiscondition had improved, only to degenerate again, prompting Schlosser to write to Herder on 7 April 1778: "Der arme Lenz ist nun ganz in eine Raserei gefallen, woraus ihn menschliche Hiilfe nicht retten kann,"34 and later to ROderer: "Sein Tod wiirde mir der groBte Trost seyn."35 Schlosser considered placing Lenz into an asylum in Frankfurt, but did not do so. By June of that year, Lenz's condition seemed to have improved considerably; he worked for a while as an apprentice with a shoemaker in Emmendingen and, in August 1778, was taken to a forester in Wiswyl, where he was to learn farming. After several months of improvement, Lenz's illness flared up again, and he was placed with a physician near Basel, where his brother Karl met him in June 1779 to take him back to the Baltic.

Because he took Lenz into his house when his illness was most acute, Schlosser had the opportunity to observe him closely, and was forced to contend with both the physical and psychological manifestations of his condition. Many of Schlosser's comments indicate that he did not judge Lenz, but thought of him as a friend who was sick and needed his help. Nevertheless, in a letter he wrote to Lenz's father on 9 March 1778, Schlosser's rhetoric is similar to that of his friends: that is, he expresses a moral judgment of Lenz's conduct. He seems to join Lenz's father in the latter's criticism of his son:

Ihnen unbekannt war ieh lange Ihr Freund, dureh Ihren Herrn Sohn. Drei Jahre sinds, daB ieh diesen kenne, und, ob gleich wir nul' selten beisammen sein konnten; so waren wir doeh Freunde. Ieh ehrte sein Herz u. seine Talente U. liebte ihn darum; abel' ieh ilbersahe ihm seine Fehler nie, am wenigsten den, daB er sieh so weit von Ihnen entfernte.36

The letter contains a postscript by Lenz himself, in which he joins in the universal condemnation of his own conduct: ''Vater! ich habe gesiindigt im Himmel u. vor Dir U. bin fort nicht wert, daB ich Dein Kind heille.,,37 Sin and sickness, both identified with unreason during the Enlightenment, are held by Lenz to beresponsible for his misfortune in this religious capitulation to his father, similar to his friends' rational assessment of his moral culpability toward his father in particular, and society in general. The 18thcentury discourse of madness is shared by Lenz and his friends.

In light of the strong connections established in the 18th century among madness, idleness, and morality, a perception that did not begin to change until well into the 19th century, the first step in the consideration of Lenz's mental state must be to declare the evidence provided by Biichner's novella inadmissible. Though documentation con

cerning the mental state of the historical

J.M.R. Lenz is scarce, it is all we have, and critics mustuse it as the basisfor theirjudgment. If, based on this evidence, our conclusion is that Lenz was indeed schizophrenic, new medical research on schizophrenia which regards schizophrenia as a chemical imbalance, rather than seeking its cause in complex sociological and psychological factors, must be taken into account. This, as has recently been argued by Timm Menke,38 would be a major step toward demythologizing Lenz and permitting a new reading of his texts. If, however, there is insufficient evidence to conclude thatLenzwasschizophrenic,otheranswers must be sought. In vogel die uerhiinderi Land,39 Sigrid Damm suggests that Lenz's illness may have been more like a nervous breakdown brought about by his stressful circumstances. This idea deserves consideration. Nor should Goethe's suggestion that Lenz may have been theatrical be dismissed without reconsideration. His peculiar behavior in the Steintal is not without literary and biblical models,4o and Lenz's propensity to literariness and theatricality was already noted in the 19th century.41 Also, King's observation that intense religious experiences, which in their hallucinatory aspects are notunlike schizophrenia, were not unusual during the time and in the area in which Lenz's unusual behavior occurred, should be considered. Or, answers might be sought in a consideration of Lacan's linking of schizophrenia to language; for instance, Fredric Jameson's application ofthis notion to explain the emphasis on fragmentation in postmodern aesthetics could be applied to Lenz.42 A reconsideration of claims which have been made about Lenz's madness would not only lead to a more satisfactory explanation of his illness but also to a clearer understanding of his writings and his place in literary history.


lA shorter version of this paper was read at the meeting ofthe American Association for Eighteenth-Century Studies in Seattle, Washington, March 1992.

2Letter from Lavater to Sarasin, August 1777. Lene in Briefen, ed. Franz Waldmann (Zurich: Stern, 1894) 73.

3See Walter Hinderer, "Georg Buchner: 'Lenz'

(1839)," Romane und Erziihlungen zwischen Romantik und Realismus, ed. Paul Michael Liitzeler (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1983) 274.

4Georg Buchner, Werke und Briere, ed. Werner

R. Lehmann, 5th ed. (Munich: DeutscherTaschenbuch Verlag, 1984) 68.

5Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz, Werke und Schriften in drei Biuiden, ed. Sigrid Damm (Munich: Hanser, 1987) 3: 566-67.

61ndeed, Timm Menke has recently argued that the novella belongs in Buchner scholarship and not in Lenz scholarship. See " 'Durchs Fernglas der Vernunft die Nationen beschauen.' LenzRezeption in den letzten Jahren der DDR: Christoph Heins Bearbeitungdes Neuen Menoza." Paper delivered at the International J.M.R. Lenz Symposium of 17-20 October 1992, held at the University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma.

7See Rudiger Scholz, ''EineHingst fallige historisch-kritische Gesamtausgabe: Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz," Jahrbuch der deutschen Schillergesellschaft 34 (1990): 212.

8MichelFoucault, Madness and Civilization:A History ofInsanity in the Age ofIleason (New York: ~ntage, 1988)3-37, 199-220.



IlJanet K. King, "Lenz ~ewed Sane," The Germanic Review 49 (1974): 148. 12Buchner, commentary 366. 13Ibid.363. 14The author of a medical dissertation on

Lenz's schizophrenia also notes: "Fur Oberlin besteht ein deutlicher Zusammenhang zwischen den Simden, die Lenz begangen hat, und seinem Wahnsinn, der ihm als Strafe auferlegt worden ist." See Herwig Backer, "Zerstorung der Personlichkeit des Dichters J.M.R. Lenz durch die beginnende Schizophrenie" (Di55. U ofBonn, 1969) 217. Another medical study, which unfortunately has not been available to me, is by R. Weichbrodt, "Der Dichter Lenz, eine Pathographie," Archiv fiir Psychiatrie und Nervenkrankheit 62 (1920): 153-87.

Boeker summarizes Weichbrodt's study as follows: ''Die ersten Anzeichen des Wahneinns treten in Weimar auf, vorher besteht kein Hinweis auf Krankheitssymptome. Weichbrodts Diagnose: Katatonie, Remission mit Restzustand, 1786 neuer Schub, rasche Verb10dung. In seinen letzten Jahren habe Lenz nur noch vegetiert und 1.792sei eran seinerKatatoniegestorben." See 12. In a brief chapter on Lenz, K.R. Eissler says little to further an understanding of Lenz. See Goethe, eine psychoanalytische Studie, trans. Peter Fischer (Basel and Frankfurt: Stroemfeld/RoterStern, 1983) 57

73. 15King 147-48. 16Quoted by King 148. 17Foucault 64. 18M.N. Rosanow, Jakob M.R. Lenz, del' Dichter

del' Sturm-und Drangperiode: Sein Leben und seine Werke, trans. C. von Giitschow (Leipzig: Schulze, 1909) 389.

19Foucault 58.

2°Georg Reuchlein, Biirgerliche Geeellschaft, Psychiatric und Literatur: Zur Entuiicklung del' Wahnsinnsthematik in del' deutschen Literaturdes spiiieri 18. und [riiheri 19. Jahrhunderts (Munich: Fink, 1986) 50. Subsequent references appear in parentheses in the text. Other studies on this topic are by Jutta Osinski, -abel' Vernunft und Wahnsinn: Studien zur literariechen Aufhlarung in del' Gegenwart und im 18. Jhdt. (Bonn: Bouvier, 1983) and by Anke Bennholdt-Thomsen and Alfredo Guzzoni, Del' "Asoziale" in del' Literatur um 1800 (Konigstein: Athenaum, 1979).

21Hinderer 270-78.

22See Bruce Duncan, "A 'Cool Medium' as Social Corrective: Lenz's Concept of Comedy," Colloquia Germanica 8 (1975): 232.

23Rosanow 389.

24Johanna Beuthner, "Der Dichter Lenz: Beurteilung und Behandlung seiner Krankheit durch seine Zeitgenossen" (Dies. U of Freiburg, 1968) 33. Citing Waldmann, Lenz in Briefen 61, from which Beuthner has taken references to letters by Karamzin, Pfeffel, Sarasin, Lavater, and Schlosser. Rather than quoting Waldmann directly, where I have examined these letters, I amusing the citations in Beu thner's dissertation and placing subsequent references into the text.

25Beuthner citing "Aus meinem Leben. Fragmentarisches," Goethes Werke (Weimar: Bohlau, 1893) 36: 229f.

26Citing ibid. 230.

27Citing Johannes Froitzheim, Lenz, Goethe und Cleophe Fibich (Strasbourg: 1888) 67. 28Scholz 219. 29Citing Otto Friedrich Gruppe, Reinhold

Lenz, Leben und Werke (Berlin: Charisius, 1861)

127. 30Scholz 214-15. 31Bocker 215. 32For a short while before goingto Emmendin

gen, Lenz stayed with his friend ROderer in Strasbourg; cf. Rosanow 393.

33Waldmann 79.



36Damm 3: 567.


38See Timm Menke, "Entmythologisierungs

versuch: Zwei Thesen zur Rezeption und zur Krankheit von J.M.R. Lenz," paper given at the

J.M.R. Lenz Internationale wissenschaftliche Konferenz aue AnlaB des 200. Todestages, University of Hamburg, 9-13 June 1992.

39See Karlheinz Fingerhut, ''War Lenz wahnsinnig? Tateachenorientiertee Schreiben im Dienste historischer Selbstverstandigung: Zu Sigrid DammsVOgel die oerluinden Land,"Diskussion Deutsch 107 (1989): 301-13. Damm's work is considered to belong to the genre of documentary novels, like Christa Wolf's Kein Ort. Nirgends (or Buchner's "Lenz"), and exists, accordingto Fingerhut, "auf der Grenze zwischen wissenschaftlichdokumentarischer Exaktheitund subjektiv-empathischer Anverwandlung" (303). This must be taken into account when reading the work for biographical purposes.

40Bocker 228-36.

41By Heinrich Dimtzer, for example, who regarded this to be a negative characteristic and opposed it to Goethe's genuineness. Aus Goethes Freundeskreis: Daretellungen aus dem Leben des Dichters (Braunschweig: Vieweg, 1868) 87-13l.

42See Fredric Jameson, "Postmodernism and Consumer Society," The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Poetmodern Culture (Port Townsend, Washington: Bay, 1983) 111-25, especially 119-23. I thank Karin Wurst for this suggestion.

  • Recommend Us