Bildung always comes late. This might well be the motto for any fiction that narrates self-cultivation, whether it takes the form of a classical Bildungsroman or any number of variants that seek to avoid its dialectical closure. The idea that Bildung comes late (sometimes too late, sometimes never) is implicit in the temporality of nineteenth-century Bildungsromane, which is characterized by an aspiration for an ideal that is yet to come.1 That same ideal, however, serves as a model that preexists the experience of aspiration, for while our experience toward the ideal makes achievement belated, we are at the same time engaged in another temporality, one that glances back to the model that’s been left behind. Our futurity is defined by a curious “afterwardsness” that leaves us traumatized for having aspirations at all.2 Modernism, by unveiling these temporalities of Bildung, opens new narrative horizons, in which the aspiration toward Bildung (even its failure) becomes an achievement in its own right.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Arts and Humanities(all)