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This essay traces the anti-Bildungsroman tradition under the influence of surrealism, in Georges Bataille’s Story of the Eye (1928) and Kathy Acker’s Great Expectations (1982). While Acker inherits Bataille’s fascination with violence and transgression, these themes are formally developed through the prism of punk and feminist conceptual art and performance. The recent resurgence of critical interest in Acker’s work prompts us to further consider her relationship to surrealism and the modernist avant-garde. While Acker’s homage to Bataille in the early novels signals a brazen ’theft’ of the male avant-garde tradition for feminist subversive ends, Great Expectations experiments with form and language in order to evacuate the Bildungsroman of its bourgeois (gendered) claims to moral authority and insight. While extreme experience in Bataille’s literary work holds out the promise of an affirmation of sorts, the excoriating emotional masochism of Acker’s characters tilts towards nihilism. And yet both Bataille and Acker draw on the Bildungsroman even as they decondition the humanist subject that lies at its very core, straining at the limits of language to represent the vertiginous intensity of affective life and the dissolution of desire into abjection.
Three Anglo–German Edwardian novels of Elizabeth von Arnim, Adventures of Elizabeth in Rügen (1904), Princess Priscilla’s Fortnight (1905), and Fräulein Schmidt and Mr Anstruther (1907), perform expatriate identity as theorised by Edward Said. Elizabeth and Her German Garden (1898), in contrast, is the most English of early novels by English-born German citizen von Arnim. The restlessness and contrapuntal perspectives of expatriate consciousness generate humour in the 1904 and 1905 novels, and in-depth adoption of an alternate German–Anglo subjectivity in Rose-Marie Schmidt. Fräulein Schmidt, von Arnim’s most sophisticated novel to that point, adopts the first-person epistolary narrative of a German professor’s daughter reared in a lower-middle-class home as she finds independence, self-respect, and a writer’s voice after being proposed to, then jilted, by a young Englishman. A subliminal narrative coursing beneath the surface of Rose-Marie’s letters limn the protagonist’s underlying psychological processes.
The third chapter shows that Vladimir Nabokov, seeking to replace the superannuated form of national allegory, constructs a figure of supranational metonymy through chess. Critics have explained that the Bildungsroman is a novel of socialization that displays how an individual finds his place in a social world and projects a trajectory of collective progress. Like Beckett, though, Nabokov was a post-revolutionary expatriate who made his career in another language. One of Nabokov’s targets was the notion that novels offer national allegories. Reading Nabokov’s early novels, which feature Russian exiles who rove across the continent as if across a chessboard, I reveal the writer’s interest in crafting a “personal world” that travels well across borders. The figure of metonymy presents advantages over metaphor. First, elastic in scale, metonymy represents spaces smaller or larger than the nation. Second, where national allegories had to install generic template protagonists at their narrative centers, supranational metonymies stress individual idiosyncrasy, accommodating abnormalities; they reject the premise that there can be such a thing as a generic national character.
Chapter 3 examines post-1873 depression-era Ottoman novels and plays that articulate a language of difference by juxtaposing the success of industrious heroes against the failure of consumerist dandy anti-heroes. The representation of industrious and dandy characters in fin-de-siècle Istanbul shows the interconnectedness and interdependence between novels and the discourses and practices of productivity, in sharing the same new moral universe. Differing from the normative and distant language of the morality authors, or the authoritative and punitive language of the bureaucratic reforms explored in Chapters 1 and 2, the playful voices of novelists displayed dynamic and at times ambivalent representations of the idle and dandy, as an alternate, yet socially undesirable form of self-fashioning. By pitting a hardworking and upwardly mobile hero against the dandy anti-hero, novels thematized the period’s concern with valuing work as a constitutive element of character and nation-building, and also drew boundaries that defined who was and was not included in the nation. As a forum in which citizenship was debated, fiction established difference using ridicule, marginalization, and even criminalization as a social intervention.
Along with industrial modernity’s obsession with planning came the idea that the state should take an active role in planning its population: in Foucauldian terms, the rise of biopower, or the idea that population was a political, social, and biological problem. Francis Galton’s ideology of eugenics, developed in the 1880s and at peak popularity in the early twentieth century, suggested that the state should encourage certain people to reproduce while discouraging others in order to address the problem of the differential birth rate, or the overbreeding of the ‘unfit’ poor, which, it was feared, would lead to the degeneration of the British race. A reformist agenda committed to rational reproduction and national efficiency became central to radical feminist and socialist politics. This chapter explores how literary writing from 1900 to 1920 reflects, circulates, and challenges this constellation of ideologies about gender, reproduction, and sexuality. In particular, it considers how and why early twentieth-century writers frequently turned to the Bildungsroman, a form whose generic conventions depend on and encode both the experience and the epistemology of transition.
Bakhtin's work continually develops, but on the basis of a few enduring concerns. The first of these is the belief that the fate of Europe depends on a new conception of historical life as an 'ethical reality', which is structured by the prospect of a messianic future. The second is the claim that this ethical reality depends on a crucial distinction between I and other. Finally, Bakhtin believes that this relationship is embodied in the form of literary works and their language, which transforms our everyday experience of the world into language and narrative that embodies 'historical becoming', the form history takes when it is ethical. Bakhtin's linguistic turn in the late 1920s focuses on how a new novelistic style infuses social language with this historical sense: double-voiced discourse recreates language as what Bakhtin calls 'social heteroglossia', which teems with historical becoming. But double-voiced discourse is always reliant on new kinds of narrative form, which probe and shape the 'languages' of the novel. Bakhtin's work from the late 1930s onwards is a sustaned effort to describe and specify the narrative forms that convey historical becoming.
Crystal Parikh’s chapter on dissolution takes up narrative fragmentation to thematize outward-moving fictions of “interruption, isolation, suspense, and precarity.” Starting with Valeria Luiselli’s interviews with migrant asylum-seekers, Parikh argues that a defining feature of contemporary literature is its formal techniques of “dissolution and the fragment as vital aesthetic and stylistic forms to convey the splintering effect that global modernity in the twenty-first century induces.” From Luiselli to George Saunders’s short stories and novels by Celeste Ng and Jesmyn Ward, among others, Parikh argues that nineteenth- and twentieth-century narrative techniques have been remixed by contemporary authors who draw on realism and experimentalism to tell stories of ongoing and unresolved dislocation and vulnerability.
The landmark texts of Asian American literature from the mid-twentieth century have often been classified as realist. Presenting “real-life” depictions of Japanese American incarceration during World War II and the immigrant experience, for instance, Asian American writing of the time is known for its referentiality to historical events. Recently, however, literary critics have sought to redefine the genre of realism, which has also led to a reconsideration of how canonical Asian American literature represented the deeper structure of Asian American life from 1930 to 1965. This chapter traces how Asian American literary critics have offered a more theoretically complex approach to realism in order to help draw out richer understandings of the way Asian American literature has articulated Asian American social experience. In addition, this entry provides brief readings of classic Asian American texts, notably John Okada’s No-No Boy and Carlos Bulosan’s America Is in the Heart, through a realist frame.
The themes from this book require extending into other research areas. First, the history of political thought and ideas: psychology itself is an idea, since modern political thought emanated not only from thinking about ‘man’ but also from what the thinker believed himself to be, qua man: that is, his interior religious and/or psychological status. Second is the history of education, where the importance of the German-language tradition (Schleiermacher, Herbart, Froebel) might lead to studying the idea of universal salvation as a founding discourse of modern schooling, and the ‘developer’ as the individual embodiment of social and national progress. Third comes disability history, concerning institutions and asylums, which has encouraged a single reified notion of developmental disability; a critical conceptual history should make it possible to stand outside this. The fourth area is literature. The novel is the classic literary ‘form’ of a linear developmental narrative, but its historical examples reveal it to be a constant subversion rather than reflection of the developmental idea, even in the typical novel of personal formation (Bildungsroman).
This Element looks at the publishing history of the genre, girls' literature, in the United States spanning 1850–1940. The genre is set in context, beginning with an examination of the early American women's literature that preceded girls' literature. Then the Element explores several sub-genres of girls' literature, the family story, orphan story, school story, as well as African American girls' literature. Underpinning each of these stories is the bildungsroman, which overwhelmingly ends with girls 'growing down' to marry and raise children, following the ideals outlined in the cult of domesticity.
Chapter Two, “The Social Life of Crime: Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations and Philip Meadows Taylor’s Confessions of a Thug” reads the oppositional evolution of criminal justice in England and India by comparing the two novels. I begin with the observation that the movement toward rehabilitation and the humanization of the criminal in nineteenth century England occurs in tandem with the rise of corporal punishment and penal transportation in India. Taking the two novels as instances of this contradictory impulse, I examine the figure of the thug as a cipher for racialized fears of Indian criminality. In particular, I look at representations of paternity and masculinity within both novels. I show that Abel Magwitch becomes humanized in Dickens’s novel by taking on the mantle of fatherhood for Pip. By contrast, Ameer Ali is condemned for his paradigmatic inability to foster a viable childhood. I argue that criminality emerges within a Victorian matrix of race and patriarchy in which to be a father, or father figure, is to be properly human.
This chapter examines the 1930s urban fiction of Mulk Raj Anand, who adopts a self-avowedly Joycean emphasis on local specificity and engages critically with the Indian cities imagined by contemporaries including Rudyard Kipling, Aldous Huxley and E. M. Forster. If the city in Forster’s A Passage to India affirms a sense of the text’s spatial and narrative limits, Anand’s detailed representation of Bombay in his novel Coolie (1936) – which follows the short life of a worker who migrates to the port city – enacts a shift away from this emphasis on unknowable cultural divides, presenting difference as integral to the organisation of the metrocolonial economy. Showing how this subverts the narrative of ‘imperial maturity’ central to the city’s colonial identity, the chapter aligns Anand’s writing with other modernist fictions from metrocolonial zones.
This chapter offers a new genealogy of Victorian character by tracing the development and influence of two prominent theories of subject formation that emerged out of the application of political economy to distinct forms of settler imperialism. Edward Gibbon Wakefield’s theory of “systematic colonization” posited a stadialist model of spatial organization as the means of replicating British character, while Alexander Maconochie’s “Mark System” for convict reformation was derived from the temporal logic of bourgeois financial discipline. Their contrasting impacts on the novel demonstrate the complexity and depth of the settler empire’s influence on Victorian culture. Wakefield’s prominent theories spurred a general imaginative expansion of British identity beyond Britain, but the impact of Maconochie’s ideas occurred through more intimate networks of influence. After Charles Dickens adopted the Mark System for his ambitious and long-running philanthropic experiment, Urania Cottage, I argue that it came to infuse his conception of character formation in Great Expectations (1861), notably in the portrayal of Pip, its metropolitan protagonist.
“No Plots for Old Men” argues that aging raised a problem for Charles Dickens’s literary project: the novel’s difficulty of representing temporal continuity over long spans of time. For the old man, the meaningful plots of the nineteenth century—such as the bildungsroman or the marriage plot—are behind him. An object of little narrative interest from the perspective of these plots, the old man is continually activated in Dickens’s novels, setting up a competition between the natural death he staves off and the closure of the narrative in which he is enmeshed. By examining three of Dickens’s early novels, this chapter shows how old men are excluded from the youthful plot of development central to the progress of a modernizing society. No longer the subject of the plot and yet bound by ambition, the elderly male engages in a narrative compulsion that underlines the imaginative power of what has been left behind by both the realist novel and the modernity it represents. By doing so, the old man serves as the site through which Dickens addresses an impasse of the novel form, where its duration is marked by its inability to faithfully represent the texture of passing time.
Bharati Mukherjee’s novel Jasmine works well in the multicultural North American classroom because it can inspire playful, mutually contradictory, inherently unstable readings. The novel must not be thought of as inviting one particular reading but as permitting student readers to find the potential for play in categories of identity that implicate them deeply.
The accusation that eighteenth-century Berlin was home to sexual affection between men presumably gained traction because of the rumors surrounding Friedrich II, known in English as Frederick the Great. While the Age of Goethe did not have a vocabulary of "homosexuality", "bisexuality", or "heterosexuality", it did possess an emerging rhetoric of "sexuality". The concept of the Bildungstrieb relies on the notion of Bildung, which is famously difficult to translate. The Age of Goethe's focus on Bildung produced a new genre, identified by Karl Morgenstern as the Bildungsroman in his 1819 lecture "Uber das Wesen des Bildungsromans" ("On the Essence of the Bildungsroman"), which was published in 1820. The bildungsroman is classically the story of the development or acculturation of typically a young man who discovers who he is and how he fits into society. A distinctive aspect of the Age of Goethe's discussion of sexuality is its fervent and sensual depiction of intense physical and emotional friendships between men.
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