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Doctor's Orders: Goethe and Enlightenment Thought

Robert D. Tobin

2001
255 pages
$41.50
ISBN 0-8387-5466-
LC 00-068069

Doctor's Orders shows how the foundational novel of the German tradition, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, documents the rise of medicine as an institution structuring the self and society. In so doing, it sheds light on the tradition of the Bildungsroman established by Wilhelm Meister, while addressing larger issues concerning eighteenth-century culture and the relationship between medicine and literature.

Tobin richly documents Goeth'e considerable knowledge of medicine. He shows how this knowledge informs many of Goethe's works, in which important roles are played by characters with physical and mental ailments, as well as by surgeons and physicians of mind and body who heal them.

Doctor's Orders brings to light the rapid and fundamnetal charages affecting Enlightenment medicine. Whereas philosophers and physicians alike had followed Descarte sin strictly separating mind and body, the new medical discourses of the eighteenth century promoted mind-body unity. So-called "philosophical physicians" were motivated by their belief in mind-body unity to treat the mentally ill through therapies with names like "moral management."

Tobin demonstrates how Wilhelm Meister, the primary patient of the Tower Society, is wounded and suffers from theater mania and narcissism. Following homeopathic principles, dramatic performances are used to cure him of his mania for the theater. More significantly, though, Tobin's analysis underscores Wilhelm's disturbed ability to lovek, which in the novel takes on the symptoms of cross-dressing and same-sex desire. Many of the female characters dress as men, and Wilhelm uses the female characters as mirrors in his own development. One of the ramifications of Wilhelm's mirroring himself in the female characters is that he must identity with and impersonate female characters as he progresses toward manhood.

In addition, Doctor's Orders provides the most exhaustive analysis available in English to date of the traces of homosexual desire in Wilhelm's development. Following the standards of eighteenth-century medicine, the Tower Society regards this same-sex desire as pathological, and treats it homeopathically, by triggering a certain amount of such desire in Wilhelm. Ultimately Wilhelm is "cured" of his ilness; for the Tower Society proof of the cure is that he has learned to be both a husband and a father, thus fitting into the nascent heterosexual world order endorsed by eighteenth-century German medicine. As Tobin makes clear though, the novel itself leaves room for doubt about the adequacy of this cure, and points to the complicity of medicine in establishing modern structures of gender and sexuality.

About the author:

Robert T. Tobin, Associate Professor of German at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, graduated from Harvard College magna cum laude and received his doctorate from Princeton University. A native of Eugene, Oregon, he has also studied and researched in Munich, Freiburg, and Berlin. He has received grants from the German Academic Exchange Servic,e the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Fulbright Commission. Tobin is the author of Warm Brothers: Queer Theory and the Age of Goethe as well as numerous articles in both English and German on Goethe, Thomas Mann, Schiller, medicine, mascochism, sexologists, and queer theory. Most recently, he has been researching the German colonial experience in Samoa as part of a larger project on sexual and national identity in Germany.

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