Formative Fictions: Nationalism, Cosmopolitanism, and the Bildungsroman

Formative Fictions: Nationalism, Cosmopolitanism, and the Bildungsroman

by Tobias Boes


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The Bildungsroman, or "novel of formation," has long led a paradoxical life within literary studies, having been construed both as a peculiarly German genre, a marker of that country’s cultural difference from Western Europe, and as a universal expression of modernity. In Formative Fictions, Tobias Boes argues that the dual status of the Bildungsroman renders this novelistic form an elegant way to negotiate the diverging critical discourses surrounding national and world literature.

Since the late eighteenth century, authors have employed the story of a protagonist’s journey into maturity as a powerful tool with which to facilitate the creation of national communities among their readers. Such attempts always stumble over what Boes calls "cosmopolitan remainders," identity claims that resist nationalism’s aim for closure in the normative regime of the nation-state. These cosmopolitan remainders are responsible for the curiously hesitant endings of so many novels of formation. In Formative Fictions, Boes presents readings of a number of novels—Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, Karl Leberecht Immermann’s The Epigones, Gustav Freytag’s Debit and Credit, Alfred Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz, and Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus among them—that have always been felt to be particularly "German" and compares them with novels by such authors as George Eliot and James Joyce to show that what seem to be markers of national particularity can productively be read as topics of world literature.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780801478031
Publisher: Cornell University Press
Publication date: 11/15/2012
Series: Signale: Modern German Letters, Cultures, and Thought
Pages: 214
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Tobias Boes is Associate Professor of German at the University of Notre Dame. He is author of Formative Fictions. Follow him on Twitter @tobiasboes.

Table of Contents

IntroductionPart I. Methodological Background1. The Limits of National Form: Normativity and Performativity in Bildungsroman Criticism2. Apprenticeship of the Novel: Goethe and the Invention of HistoryPart II. Comparative Studies3. Epigonal Consciousness: Stendhal, Immermann, and the "Problem of Generations" around 18304. Long-Distance Fantasies: Freytag, Eliot, and National Literature in the Age of Empire5. Urban Vernaculars: Joyce, Döblin, and the "Individuating Rhythm" of ModernityConclusion: Apocalipsis cum figuris: Thomas Mann and the Bildungsroman at the Ends of TimeBibliography

What People are Saying About This

Todd Kontje

"Formative Fictions should appeal to multiple academic audiences. Anyone interested in the genre of the Bildungsroman will want to read Tobias Boes's work. What elevates the book above individual genre studies, however, is its effort to redefine comparative literature as world literature. Boes does this in a very careful way, steering between the Scylla of nationalist essentialism and the Charybdis of an empty universalism. That is, he recognizes the importance of national and linguistic difference, but demonstrates how the national is caught between the global and the local, how the cosmopolitan can coincide with the national, and how the novels express the 'synchronicity of the non-synchronous' in the societies from which they emerged."

Jeffrey L. Sammons

"In Formative Fictions Tobias Boes seeks a new perspective on the perennial topic of the Bildungsroman, to relieve it of its traditional understanding as a national form, sometimes regarded as peculiar to Germany. Boes places the form in a context of increasing historical awareness and finds cosmopolitan sensibilities between nationalism and individualism that, drawing on Homi Bhabha's 'vernacular cosmopolitanism,’ allow comparisons of texts across literatures."

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