Academic journal article German Quarterly

Phantom Formations. Aesthetic Ideology and the Bildungsroman

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Phantom Formations. Aesthetic Ideology and the Bildungsroman

Article excerpt

Redfield, Marc. Phantom Formations. Aesthetic Ideology and the Bildungsroman. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1996. 220pp. $35.00 hardcover.

For Redfield the Bildungsroman has an exemplary status in exhibiting-and thus exposing-the claim to a referential basis of literature. For insofar as the content of a narrative is taken to be Bildung-"the formation of the human" (42)-this very idea is derived from the form that the narrative as text, as aesthetic construct, provides. Robert Musil succinctly formulated the paradox: "with every true experience a cultured man educates himself. This is the organic plasticity of man. In this sense every novel worthy of the name is a Bildungsroman" (cited 42).

But it is not only the specificity of the Bildungsroman as genre that is at issue. Redfield extends his argument to a wide-ranging critique of the aesthetic emerging from German Idealism and Romanticism. His claim is that the Bildungsroman is not in the first instance a genre (such as the lyric) but "the genre of aesthetics" (65). In Bildung the inherent paradox of autopoesis-the self-constitution of a subject on a model that already presupposes that very subject- is played out in a scenario that draws on the career of the Hegelian World Spirit as filtered through a number of twentieth-century commentators. There is the endlessness of a process that can never find its telos, the pain and alienation of a constantly unfulfilled striving, the erection of highly restricted models-- the church, the state, an elite community-the lapse or degradation of the ideal-as melancholy or irony, as authoritarian politics, as mere aestheticism. These are branchings of a narrative that draws on Georg Lukacs, Paul de Man, David Lloyd, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, and Jean-Luc Nancy, and Redfield weaves them together with considerable skill.

He asks us to view literature in its post-Romantic, modern guise as the institutionalization of a process whereby the historico-critical debate perpetually works over a substance, a referent that, one presumes, has a kind of primal, originating status. What is at stake here is perhaps most interestingly developed in the sections on history and fetishism in the chapter devoted to Flaubert's L Education sentimentale.

At one level this chapter-like those on the other novels treated, Goethe's Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre and the Wanderjahre, George Eliot's Middlemarch, Daniel Deronda, and "The Lifted Veil"-is an exercise in deconstructive reading: the work in question is designed to serve as an instance (figure or trope) of a basic narrative, the "disruption" (171) or exposure of language's aspiration to meaning. …

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