Bildungsspiele: Vicissitudes of socialization in Wilhelm Meister's apprenticeship
This essay scrutinizes the narrative logic of Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship (1796), widely regarded as the most paradigmatic instance of the European Bildungsroman. Of particular concern is whether the formal and psychological self-organization of Goethe's narrative and its protagonist can still be articulated as an entelechy, that is, as a manifestation of a teleological framework whose (ontological) authority is absolute and independent of its fulfilment by a specific narrative. Focusing on the ubiquity of "play" (Spiel) throughout the novel, this essay concludes that, appearances notwithstanding, the Aristotelian/Thomist framework is no longer operative in Goethe's novel. Rather, Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship - herein differing from Goethe's botanical writings of the same period - presents us with an emergentist rather than teleological model of narrative rationality, that is, a progression that is neither predictable nor susceptible of repetition. © 2010 Taylor & Francis.
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