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Forming HumanityRedeeming the German Bildung Tradition$
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Jennifer A. Herdt

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780226618487

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2020

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226618517.001.0001

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Authorship and Its Resignation in Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship

Authorship and Its Resignation in Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship

(p.156) 6 Authorship and Its Resignation in Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship
Forming Humanity

Jennifer A. Herdt

University of Chicago Press

This chapter offers a close reading of Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, the novel most often held up as epitomizing the Bildungsroman. Wilhelm Meister is read as an engagement with the challenge of narrating Bildung in the absence of authoritative exemplars and an articulated telos. Goethe sought to narrate the experiences of an ordinary individual seeking to find a form or order for his life, one that brought the individual into harmony with his natural and social environments while also being a genuine form of self-realization. The chapter argues that while Goethe’s understanding of immanent teleology and organic Bildung clearly inform the novel, the work is also permeated with an irony that points not just beyond Wilhelm Meister’s happy reliance on fate, but beyond Goethe’s own theory of Bildung and immanent teleology. It is this lack of closure that allowed the novel to realize its aspiration to become what Nicholas Boyle has described as “secular scripture.”

Keywords:   Bildungsroman, Goethe, Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, teleology, exemplar, fate, self-realization, Nicholas Boyle

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