This article returns to the figure of the mouth in Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s Laocoön: An Essay on the Limits of Painting and Poetry. While many scholars treat Lessing’s attention to the statue’s mouth as a sign of his contempt for the body, the article argues that Lessing’s interest in orality is a test of the limits of the eighteenth century’s neoclassicism. The article concludes that Lessing is thus not a representative of conservative aesthetics but a proto-Freudian thinker who inadvertently challenged the foundations of his own aesthetic project.

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