A century before psychoanalytic discourse codified a scientific language to describe the landscape of the mind, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe explored the paradoxes of an interior self separate from a conscious self. Though long acknowledged by the developers of depth psychology and by its historians, Goethe's literary rendering of interiority has not been the subject of detailed analysis in itself. Goethe's Allegories of Identity examines how Goethe created the essential bridge between the psychological insights of his contemporary, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and the psychoanalytic theories of his admirer Sigmund Freud.
Equally fascinated and repelled by Rousseau's vision of an unconscious self, Goethe struggled with the moral question of subjectivity: what is the relation of conscience to consciousness? To explore this inner conflict through language, Goethe developed a unique mode of allegorical representation that modernized the long tradition of dramatic personification in European drama. Jane K. Brown's deft, focused readings of Goethe's major dramas and novels, from The Sorrows of Young Werther to Elective Affinities, reveal each text's engagement with the concept of a subconscious or unconscious psyche whose workings are largely inaccessible to the rational mind. As Brown demonstrates, Goethe's representational strategies fashioned a language of subjectivity that deeply influenced the conceptions of important twentieth-century thinkers such as Freud, Michel Foucault, and Hannah Arendt.