The Sorrows of Modern Subjectivity: Capital, Infinity Disease, and Werther's Hysterical Neurois

Christopher Altamura

Abstract


In this article I analyze Werther, the protagonist of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther. I argue that Werther and his sorrows must be understood within the context of the unique configuration of alienation(s) present in modern societies, characterized by the sui generis combination of capital, egoism and anomie, and asceticism. Further, I argue the sociologically alienating conditions of modern societies create neurotic subjects of repression who lack compensatory symbols of moral worth, which drives them to pursue equivalent signification via fantasy. Finally, I argue that Werther represents an extreme case of hysterical neurosis emanating from the configuration of alienation(s) in modern societies, and that his suicide is best interpreted as a magical, sacrificial act whereby he transfixes his hysterical fantasy in fantasy, allowing him to fantasmatically expropriate symbolic compensation in perpetuity. I end the paper with a brief discussion of what might be done today about the problems posed by the course of the analysis.

Keywords


Critical Theory, Social Theory; Goethe; Capitalism

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.32855/fcapital.201902.005

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ISSN: 1930-014X