|© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013
Bildung in Deutschland und Österreich
The German word ‘Bildung’ is usually translated into English as ‘education’, but this is incorrect – the term Bildung has a far wider and more subtle meaning, although it cannot be satisfactorily translated.
The term ‘Bildung’ dates to 16th century Pietistic theology, according to which, the devout Christian should seek to cultivate (Bildung) his talents and dispositions according to the image of God, which was innate in his soul.
In addition to this theological usage, Paracelsus (1493-1591), Jakob Böhme (1575-1624), and Leibniz (1646-1716) also used the term in natural philosophy to refer to “the development or unfolding of certain potentialities within an organism.”
Paracelsus (born Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, 11 November or 17 December 1493 – 24 September 1541) was a German Renaissance physician, botanist, alchemist, astrologer, and occultist.
He founded the discipline of toxicology. He is also known as a revolutionary for insisting upon using observations of nature, rather than looking to ancient texts, in open and radical defiance of medical practice of his day
Jakob Böhme (probably April 24, 1575 – November 17, 1624) was a German mystic and theologian.
He is considered an original thinker within the Lutheran tradition, and his first book, commonly known as ‘Aurora’, caused a great scandal.
|Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz
Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz (July 1, 1646 – November 14, 1716) was a German mathematician and philosopher. He occupies a prominent place in the history of mathematics and the history of philosophy.
In the 18th century, Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786), used the term in the sense of unfolding one’s potential in an influential essay in 1784, ‘Was ist Aufklärung ?’ (What is Enlightenment ?’, identifying ‘Bildung’ with ‘Enlightenment’ itself.
Pedagogical theorists, like Joachim Heinrich Campe (1746-1818), also focused on how pedagogical reform could promote the development (Ausbildung) and education (Bildung) of the citizenry.
Joachim Heinrich Campe (June 29, 1746 – October 22, 1818) was a German writer, linguist, educator and publisher.
By the end of the 18th century, Bildung was becoming a term with not only spiritual, but also philosophical and political connotations.
Increasingly, Bildung was associated with liberation of the mind from tradition and superstition, but also liberation of the German people from a pre-modern political system of small feudal states that owed allegiance to the Heiliges Römisches Reich.
Heiliges Römisches Reich (The Holy Roman Empire) (Latin: Imperium Romanum Sacrum, German: Heiliges Römisches Reich, was a complex political union of territories in Central Europe existing from 962 to 1806.
The empire grew out of East Francia, a primary division of the Frankish Empire, and explicitly proclaimed itself the continuation of the Western Roman Empire under the doctrine of translatio imperii (“transfer of rule” via a succession of singular rulers vested with supreme power). Frankish king Charlemagne was crowned as emperor by Pope Leo III in 800, restoring the title in the West after more than three centuries. The title was passed in a desultory manner during the decline and fragmentation of the Carolingian dynasty, eventually falling into abeyance. The title was revived in 962 when Otto I was crowned Holy Roman Emperor (Latin: Imperator Romanus Sacer), beginning an unbroken line of emperors running for over eight centuries.
This political usage is apparent in the writings of Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744-1803), in which he went beyond the sense of individual formation or development to the development of a people (Volk).
|Johann Gottfried von Herder
Johann Gottfried von Herder (25 August 1744 – 18 December 1803) was a German philosopher, theologian, poet, and literary critic. He is associated with the periods of Enlightenment, Sturm und Drang, and Weimar Classicism.
In German the word Volk can have several different meanings, such as folk (simple people), people in the ethnic sense, and nation.
German Volk is commonly used as the first, determining part (head) of compound nouns such as Volksentscheid (plebiscite, literally “decision of/by the people”) or Völkerbund (League of Nations).
For Herder, Bildung was the totality of experiences that provide a coherent identity, and sense of common destiny, to a people.
Although Herder is rightfully associated with late-eighteenth-century German nationalist, he conceived the German Volk as including both royalty and peasants, envisioning a classless society.
Accordingly, Herder’s cultural nationalism required that social unity be promoted from the bottom up, in contrast to the top down political nationalism to which many historians have attributed the rise of German militarism that ultimately culminated in the Third Reich.
Because of the quality of his ideas and pervasiveness of his influence, it would be difficult to overemphasize Herder’s importance in Western intellectual history.
It has been said that Goethe (1749-1832) was transformed from a clever but conventional poet into the great artist we remember today by his encounter with Herder in 1770, and his continuing friendship with the philosopher.
|Friedrich Wilhelm von Humboldt
Herder developed fundamental ideas about the dependence of thought on language that are taken for granted today, and that inspired work by Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835) that are widely viewed as the foundation of modern linguistics.
Friedrich Wilhelm Christian Karl Ferdinand von Humboldt (22 June 1767 – 8 April 1835) was a Prussian philosopher, government functionary, diplomat, and founder of the University of Berlin, which was named after him (and his brother, naturalist Alexander von Humboldt) in 1949. He is especially remembered as a linguist who made important contributions to the philosophy of language and to the theory and practice of education. In particular, he is widely recognized as having been the architect of the Prussian education system
Herder developed the methodological foundations of ‘hermeneutics’, or the theory of interpretation, that Schleiermacher (1768-1834) later built upon, and that ultimately culminated in nineteenth-century German classical scholarship and modern Biblical scholarship.
Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher (November 21, 1768 – February 12, 1834) was a German theologian, philosopher, and biblical scholar known for his attempt to reconcile the criticisms of the Enlightenment with traditional Protestant Christianity. He also became influential in the evolution of Higher Criticism, and his work forms part of the foundation of the modern field of hermeneutics.
Herder’s writings also led to the establishment of the modern discipline of anthropology and its methodology.
Additionally, Herder profoundly influenced intellectuals as diverse as Hegel, Nietzsche (1844-1900), and Dilthey (1833-1911).
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (15 October 1844 – 25 August 1900) was a German philologist, philosopher, cultural critic, poet, and composer. He wrote critical texts on religion, morality, contemporary culture, philosophy, and science, displaying a fondness for metaphor, irony, and aphorism.
Wilhelm Dilthey (19 November 1833 – 1 October 1911) was a German historian, psychologist, sociologist and hermeneutic philosopher, who held Hegel’s Chair in Philosophy at the University of Berlin. As a polymathic philosopher, working in a modern research university, Dilthey’s research interests revolved around questions of scientific methodology, historical evidence and history’s status as a science.
In a series of works written over a period of almost fifty-years, Herder developed and defended the conception of philosophy that is at the very heart of the German Bildung tradition.
The titles of some of these works are revealing: ‘How Philosophy Can Become More Universal and Useful for the Benefit of the People’ (1765), ‘This Too a Philosophy of History for the Formation of Humanity’ (1774), ‘Ideas for the Philosophy of History of Humanity’ (1784-91), and ‘Letters for the Advancement of Humanity’ (1793-1797).
As these titles suggest, Herder believed philosophy must have a practical result, which can be summarized as human growth, and that philosophical ideas have to be understood within their social and historical context.
Similar to the Renaissance Humanists, Herder believed that the proper study of man is man, and thus sought to displace academic philosophy with philosophical anthropology.
For Herder, philosophy is, quite simply, the theory of Bildung; more precisely, philosophy is the theory of how the individual develops into the sort of organic unity that will constantly work toward the full development of its talents and abilities and that will drive social progress or social Bildung.
For Herder, properly understood, philosophy must transform individuals and, at the very same time, it must have a broad social impact.
The conception of philosophy Herder defended carried forward from Herder to Wilhelm von Humboldt and G.W.F. Hegel, to Friedrich Schleiermacher, to the Left Hegelians and Wilhelm Dilthey: the tradition of hermeneutics and historicism.
|Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller
At about the same time that he encountered Herder, Goethe and Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805) inaugurated the pre-Romantic ‘Sturm und Drang’ movement in literature, which emphasized the unpredictable emotional life of the individual.
Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller (10 November 1759 – 9 May 1805) was a German poet, philosopher, historian, and playwright. During the last seventeen years of his life (1788–1805), Schiller struck up a productive, if complicated, friendship with already famous and influential Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. They frequently discussed issues concerning aesthetics, and Schiller encouraged Goethe to finish works he left as sketches. This relationship and these discussions led to a period now referred to as Weimar Classicism.
|Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Thus in Goethe’s ‘Die Leiden des jungen Werther’ (The Sorrows of Young Werther) (1774), the protagonist is driven to suicide by despair.
In the late 1780s, Goethe and Schiller launched a new literary movement that became known as ‘Weimar Classicism’.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (28 August 1749 – 22 March 1832) was a German writer, artist, and politician. His body of work includes epic and lyric poetry written in a variety of metres and styles; prose and verse dramas; memoirs; an autobiography; literary and aesthetic criticism; treatises on botany, anatomy, and colour; and four novels. In addition, numerous literary and scientific fragments, and more than 10,000 letters written by him are extant, as are nearly 3,000 drawings.
Spurred on by Enlightenment themes as well as efforts to recover ancient aesthetic values, Weimar Classicism sought the enlightenment or liberation of man through an organic unification and harmonization of thought and feeling, mind and body.
Both men were also critical of the contemporaneous movement of ‘German Romanticism’.
Although there are distinct similarities between ‘Weimar Classicism’ and ‘German Romanticism’, no doubt owing to the fact that both developed in the same milieu, unlike the Romantics, Goethe sought to harmonize the vivid emotions he had emphasized in his ‘Sturm and Drang’ period with the clarity of Enlightenment reason.
Weimarer Klassik – (Weimar Classicism) is a cultural and literary movement of Europe. Followers attempted to establish a new humanism by synthesizing Romantic, classical and Enlightenment ideas. The movement, from 1772 until 1805, involved Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Johann Gottfried Herder, Friedrich Schiller and Christoph Martin Wieland, and often concentrated on Goethe and Schiller during the period 1788–1805.
The conception of “harmony” (also “totality” or “wholeness”) – as it was earlier accepted as a fundamental element in Greek culture by German Classicism – which was profoundly embedded within Weimar Classicism, which developed during a period of social turmoil and upheaval, is neither an aim toward Platonic perfection nor, as promoted by the German Romantics, toward universality, which was systematized later by G. W. F. Hegel. In fact, it is the sole expression of a particular’s singular imperfect integrity. Similarly, Goethe held that the two polarities of classicism and romanticism may be employed in a work of art by means of excellence and discretion.
Moreover, Goethe criticized the Romantic notion that an individual could intuitively tap into their genius in order to apprehend transcendent truth.
Similarly, Goethe followed Herder’s lead by rejecting the transcendent reason of the Enlightenment, claiming, for example, that the laws of a country cannot be based on pure reason because geography and history shape the habits of individuals and their cultures.
For Goethe, both the Enlightenment and Romanticism had erred by their excessive devotion to their respective ideals, thus undermining the sort of inner balance and harmony that he championed.
Unlike his earlier novel, in Wilhelm Meister’s ‘Apprenticeship’ the protagonist undergoes a journey of Bildung, or self-realization.
Thus Goethe initiated the tradition of the ‘Bildungsroman’, the novel of formation.
The only sort of transcendence that Wilhelm seeks in the novel is to rise above the soulless life of a bourgeois businessman by reconciling or shaping his particular interests so that they serve a greater good, which is service to his society.
This novel represents the very essence of German humanism, the ideal of which is the formation of individuals whose conduct is governed by a highly developed inner character rather than imitation of the conduct of others.
The type of character formation sought requires the identification and molding of one’s talents and inclinations through wise education and life experience.
This education teaches Wilhelm that the individual must find his vocation, a calling to which he is well-suited and that contributes to the growth and maturation of the culture in which he lives.
In so doing, the individual harmonizes not only mind and body, but also self and society.
As this tradition develops through Goethe, into what is often called German ‘neo-humanism’, it is assumed that all individuals have different talents and thus need to live in a society in which the unique talents of others compliment their own.
Hence a well-developed society is one that allows wide scope for the unique development of each individual as the very catalyst of social harmony.
Rather than depict the individual as at odds with his society, German neo-humanism champions a harmony of the individual with his society through the development of his uniqueness and an acceptance of his social responsibility as the avenue toward self-development.
Self-realization is unattainable for those who wallow in their own narrow emotions or self-interest.
Satisfaction is not found in a romantic transcendence of social bonds, but in the activities of concrete social life.
Goethe developed these ideas further in the sequel to ‘Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship’.
As Thomas Mann explains, ‘Wilhelm Meister’s Travels’ (1821)
“begins with individualistic self-development through miscellaneous experiences and ends in a political utopia.
In between stands the idea of education…It teaches us to see the element of education as the organic transition from the world of inwardness to that of the objective; it shows how the one grows humanely and naturally out of the other.”
Hegel was profoundly influenced by German neo-humanism, eschewing transcendent realities and timeless truths, and championing a metaphysics of experience according to which philosophy deals with the world of human experience rather than a noumenal realm that transcends possible human experience.
Hence, Hegel’s logic is not a theory of the categories of reality, but a theory of the categories according to which we experience reality.
But most importantly Hegel was first and foremost concerned with Bildung, the self-development of the individual human spirit as well as the self-development of the human race.
The P’hänomenologie des Geistes’ (Phenomenology of Spirit) can be read as a Bildungsroman, a story about the individual’s, as well as humanity’s, development.
In the Phenomenology, Hegel shows the reader the development of an open and intelligent mind in a complex society that lacks universally accepted values, as the main character encounters a wide variety of experiences.
As is typical of a Bildungsroman, the center of interest is the links between the main character’s successive experiences and his gradual achievement of a fully rounded personality and well-tested philosophy of life.
For Hegel, the self is always engaged in a project and ordinarily proceeds in a state of harmony with its environment, which Hegel calls “natural consciousness.”
In this state, there is no subject/object dualism because the self is at one with its environment. Periodically, the self encounters an obstacle to its project, which Hegel terms a negation.
When this occurs, consciousness is rent asunder, identifying an object over and against the self, that is to say the obstacle that disrupted its project.
After analysis of the negation, the self imagines solutions that will alter itself, by modifying its project, and alter the object in such a way that consciousness can be reunified and the self can resume its project.
When the self succeeds at reunification, the negation becomes a “determinate negation,” meaning a negation that leads to progress or growth.
The self emerges from experiences of this kind not only unified but also enlarged because it has gained valuable experience.
Rather than a metaphysical reality, subject/object dualism is a moment within experience that serves a particular function.
The process I have described here is Hegel’s dialectic, but it also Bildung.
Accordingly, rather than a theory of knowledge, Hegel developed a theory of learning, and philosophy became the philosophy of education.
Although textbook accounts claim that the dialectic is driven by contradiction, this term oversimplifies Hegel’s concept of negation.
Although, for Hegel, negation can lead to a fairly routine learning process, it can also lead to existential crises.
In either case, rather than a contradiction of propositions, negation is a disruption of the process of living, which Hegel often describes as a pathway or road.
To use Hegel’s words, when the self encounters a negation, it loses its truth on this path.
The road can therefore be regarded as the pathway of doubt, or more precisely as the way of despair. For what happens on it is not what is ordinarily understood when the word ‘doubt’ is used: shilly-shallying about this or that presumed truth, followed by a return to that truth again, after the doubt has been appropriately dispelled – so that at the end of the process the matter is taken to be what it was in the first place.
The self presumes to have knowledge until it encounters a negation, which leads it into a state of doubt or despair.
If and when the self successfully resolves the problem that initiated the process, it gains knowledge that is has tested for itself.
Quite literally, the self gains self-determination.
Hegel’s concept of Bildung, which is prominent throughout all of his works, dovetails with his view that knowledge is gained only from experience, and that it also requires us to seek, like the protagonist of a Bildungsroman, the widest variety of experience.
Furthermore, on the Bildung model, learning involves activity.
Hence Hegel rejected Locke’s passive spectator theory of the mind, according to which we should restrain our passions in order to gain objective knowledge.
For Hegel, learning requires a passionate search for truth; it is a matter of conscious self-development that requires arduous individual effort and responsibility.
For Hegel, fulfillment must come in the activities of real life.
Finally, Hegel’s emphasis on self-knowledge, an accurate perception of one’s talents, interests, and abilities, explains his criticisms of the Enlightenment’s fixation on a narrow conception of knowledge as a search for indubitable truth.
The notion of timeless truth worried Hegel for very practical reasons.
He was convinced that the French Revolution had turned to terror because revolutionaries believed they had apprehended transcendent truth that provided them with a preconceived blueprint to which their society must conform.
In short, Hegel argued that the notion of transcendent truth tends toward an inflexible dogmatism that not only foreshortens inquiry, but can also lead to fanatical, and even violent, devotion to an ideology.
As rector of the Nuremburg Gymnasium from 1808 to 1815, Hegel developed a philosophy of education that opposed past German models as well as the Enlightenment model of education, the latter of which he identified as “utilitarian.”
Hegel described education, the dialectic, as a process of alienation and return, in which the mind is continually stretched beyond its ordinary point of view.
Hegel contended that Gymnasium education is accomplished best by alienating the child’s mind from its received point of view through the study of the ancient world and its languages.
Ancient civilizations are sufficiently alien, he argued, to separate the child from his natural state, but sufficiently close to his own language and world for him to return to himself enlarged and transformed. On the practical level, Hegel argued that education in the Gymnasia should prepare students for life rather than merely for jobs.
He also averred that students should be treated with respect, as ends in themselves, and at the Nuremburg Gymnasium, he encouraged discussion in class, but would not tolerate giving students complete freedom in the schools.
The goal of education, for Hegel, was to help students realize the ideal of modernity, which is for the individual to become a self-directed, self-formed person.
In this way, Hegel expanded upon the German Bildung tradition’s emphasis on education that liberates one from blind obedience to superstition, tradition, or any sort of belief in realities that transcend the possibilities of human experience.
Hegel was also consistent with past proponents of Bildung in emphasizing the social nature of the self.
The notion of a self that can transcend its social and historical context was as untenable to Hegel as any other abstract concept without a context.
Although the liberated, or enlightened, individual learns to think critically about his society, he cannot transcend it.
This brings us to a crucial difference in Hegel’s use of the notion of Bildung.
Rather than the unfolding of a form immanent in an individual, or in a people, Hegel presents Bildung as a process of relentless self-estrangement.
Thus in the Introduction to the Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel writes that consciousness “suffers…violence at its own hands” because it must confront its own naïve certainty to go beyond itself and experience growth.
Bildung is not an autonomous activity, nor is it divorced from one’s desires and passions.
On the contrary, Bildung requires self-knowledge, discerning one’s own talents by discovering activities that bring satisfaction, and even a sense of fulfillment.
And the greatest sort of fulfillment for Hegel is activity that promotes Bildung for one’s society.
The person of Bildung promotes cultural progress through the same process of alienation and return, which can be characterized as a method of immanent cultural critique.
Hegel intended the dialectic as a method of cultural criticism that identifies the standards of rationality within an existing culture or system of thought and then criticizes practices that do not accord with those standards of rationality.
This method is immanent critique in the sense that it criticizes a culture on its own terms, on the basis of its highest ideals, rather than some apodictic first principle or transcendent, abstract moral standards.
There are three key features of Hegel’s dialectic.
First, Hegel’s dialectic “must be immanent or internal to its subject matter.”
There is no God’s eye view or Archimedean point from which we can investigate a subject matter.
We cannot legitimately ask if a theory accurately describes its subject matter, because to some degree a theory always creates the subject it seeks to explain.
We can examine a theory’s internal coherence, however, and ask whether it accomplishes the goal(s) it sets for itself.
Second, Hegel’s dialectic is “dialogical in character.”
The dialectic does not take place within an internal, private mind, but is always a conversation between past, contemporaneous, and future interlocutors.
For Hegel, all thinking is mediated by the intellectual tradition we have inherited from our predecessors. For this reason, his works generally have the character of a conversation with illustrious predecessors in which he recognizes their contribution to our current point of view.
Rather than refute his opponents, Hegel engaged them in conversation.
Third, Hegel’s dialectic is based on the assumption that all theory has a vitally important historical dimension. He accepted Kant’s contention that the mind actively categorizes sense data, but historicized the categories. For Hegel, our conceptual structure is historically and culturally relative; all logical categories, even those that appear to be the most permanent, are temporally contingent.
Hegel sought to counter the charge of historical relativism by claiming historical epochs fit into a larger narrative.
For Hegel, the person of Bildung can discern a moral unity to history.
He hypothesized that the ‘Weltgeist’, or world-spirit, tirelessly moves in the direction of ever increasing human freedom.
Hegel’s Weltgeist may be understood as an interpretation of the history of the human race, which can be known only by its actions.
Geist, for Hegel, has no pre-existing essence, it is known only by what it has actually done thus far, nor does it have a predetermined end.
Hence, for Hegel, the disciplines of philosophy and history are inextricably linked because, together, they are the source of individual and cultural Bildung.
Finally, Bildung is a central motif of Hegel’s 1821 ‘Philosophy of Right’, in which he illuminated the concept by repeating the advice of a Pythagorean philosopher to a father about the best way to educate his son: “Make him the citizen of a state with good laws.”
Thus the ‘Philosophy of Right’ highlights the political connotations of Bildung.
Bildung requires a well-ordered society in which the individual has the freedom, and even luxury, to develop his unique talents and abilities.
Bildung also requires a society in which there is scope for all kinds of complementary individuals and activities because exposure to different kinds of people and experimentation with different types of lives is crucial to the sort of moral development Hegel had in mind.
Hegel made it apparent throughout the ‘Philosophy of Right’ that Bildung should begin in the family, continue more systematically in school, and be taken to a higher level in the university.
After formal schooling is completed, in civil society the individual should achieve the final stage of Bildung, recognition of the rational basis of his society’s institutions.
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In literary criticism, a Bildungsroman (a novel of formation/education/culture – or coming-of-age story) is a literary genre that focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood (coming of age), and in which character change is thus extremely important.
The term was coined in 1819 by philologist Karl Morgenstern in his university lectures, and later famously reprised by Wilhelm Dilthey, who legitimized it in 1870 and popularized it in 1905.
The genre is further characterized by a number of formal, topical, and thematic features.
The term coming-of-age novel is sometimes used interchangeably with Bildungsroman, but its use is usually wider and less technical.
|Wolfram von Eschenbach
The folklore tale of the dunce who goes out into the world seeking adventure and learns wisdom the hard way was raised to literary heights in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s medieval epic ‘Parzival’ – (later adapted by Richard Wagner in his magnificent music-drama ‘Parsifal’), and in Hans Grimmelshausen’s picaresque tale ‘Simplicissimus’ (1669).
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|Christoph Martin Wieland
The first novelistic development of this theme was Christoph Martin Wieland’s ‘Geschichte des Agathon’ (1766–67; History of Agathon).
Christoph Martin Wieland (September 5, 1733 – January 20, 1813) was a German poet and writer. Without creating a school in the strict sense of the term, Wieland had a strong influence on the German literature of his time.
It was followed by J.W. von Goethe’s ‘Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre’ (see above) (1795–96; Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship), which remains the classic example of the genre.
Other examples are Adalbert Stifter’s ‘Nachsommer’ (1857; Indian Summer) and Gottfried Keller’s ‘Der grüne Heinrich’ (1854–55; Green Henry).
Adalbert Stifter (23 October 1805 – 28 January 1868) was an Austrian writer, poet, painter, and pedagogue. He was especially notable for the vivid natural landscapes depicted in his writing, and has long been popular in the German-speaking world, while almost entirely unknown to non-German readers.
The bildungsroman traditionally ends on a positive note, though its action may be tempered by resignation and nostalgia.
If the grandiose dreams of the hero’s youth are over, so are many foolish mistakes and painful disappointments, and, especially in 19th-century novels, a life of usefulness lies ahead.
In the 20th century and beyond, however, the bildungsroman more often ends in resignation or death.
A common variation of the bildungsroman is the Künstlerroman, a novel dealing with the formative years of an artist.
Such other variations as the Erziehungsroman (“novel of upbringing”) and the Entwicklungsroman (“novel of [character] development”) differ only slightly from the bildungsroman, and these terms are sometimes used interchangeably.
Although the Bildungsroman arose in Germany, it has had extensive influence in Europe.
One of the most influential late examples of this literary form is ‘Der Zauberberg’ by Thomas Mann.
Mann started writing what was to become ‘Der Zauberberg’ in 1912.
It began as a much shorter narrative which revisited in a comic manner aspects of ‘Tod in Venedig’ (Death in Venice), a novella that he was then preparing for publication.
The newer work reflected his experiences and impressions during a period when his wife, who was suffering from a lung complaint, was confined to Dr. Friedrich Jessen’s Waldsanatorium in Davos, Switzerland for several months.
In May and June 1912 Mann visited her and became acquainted with the team of doctors who were treating her in this cosmopolitan institution.
According to Mann, in the afterword that was later included in the English translation, this stay became the foundation of the opening chapter (‘Ankunft’ – Arrival) of the completed novel.
The Weltkrieg, and its aftermath, led the author to undertake a major re-examination of European bourgeois society, including the sources of the willful, perverse destructiveness displayed by much of civilised humanity.
|‘Der Zauberberg’ – Thomas Mann
He was also drawn to speculate about more general questions surrounding personal attitudes to life, health, illness, sexuality and mortality.
Given this, Mann felt compelled to radically revise and expand the pre-war text before completing it in 1924.
‘Der Zauberberg’ was eventually published in two volumes by S. Fischer Verlag in Berlin.
‘Der Zauberberg’ is a classic example of the European Bildungsroman – a “novel of education” or “novel of formation”.
Thomas Mann’s description of the subjective experience of serious illness, and the gradual process of medical institutionalization are of interest in themselves, as are his allusions to the irrational forces within the human psyche at a time when Freudian psychoanalysis was becoming prominent.
These themes relate to the development of the main character over the time span covered by the novel, a point that the author himself underlined.
In 1953 Mann stated that “what [Hans – the main character] came to understand is that one must go through the deep experience of sickness and death to arrive at a higher sanity and health . . . .”
At the core of this complex work is an encyclopaedic survey of the ideas and debates associated with modernity.
Mann acknowledged his debt to the skeptical insights of Friedrich Nietzsche concerning modern humanity and embodied this in the novel in the arguments between the characters.
|The other Berghof
Throughout the book the author employs the discussion with and between Settembrini, Naphta and the medical staff to introduce the impressionable Hans Castorp to a wide spectrum of competing ideologies about responses to the Age of Enlightenment, however, whereas the classical Bildungsroman would conclude by having “formed” Castorp into a mature member of society, with his own world view and greater self-knowledge, ‘Der Zauberberg’ ends as it has to for “life’s delicate child” as a simultaneously anonymous and communal conscript, one of millions, under fire on some battlefield of World War I (Weltkrieg).
Significantly, the sanatorium situated in the mountains is referred to as the ‘Berghof’.
While this had little significance when Mann wrote the novel, subsequently the appellation developed interesting associations.
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In conclusion, according to the German Bildung tradition, philosophy and education are virtually synonymous terms that designate an ongoing process of both personal and cultural maturation.
This maturation is evidenced in a harmonization of the individual’s mind and heart and in a unification of society.
Harmonization of the self is achieved through a wide variety of experiences and challenges to the individual’s accepted beliefs; in Hegel’s writings, these challenges entail agonizing alienation from one’s “natural consciousness” that leads to a reunification and development of the self.
Learning requires a passionate search for continual growth, tempered by reason that is developed through intense study of one’s intellectual tradition.
Fulfillment comes through practical activity that promotes the development of one’s talents and abilities as well as development of one’s society.