COMP 284 The Concept of Bildung: the Literature and Philosophy of Self-Discovery

Last offered Spring 2014

This course traces the influential concept of Bildung, or self-discovery, through the literature and philosophy of Germany, England, France, and other traditions, from the Enlightenment to the present. At the time of the French Revolution and amid the general fervor for democratic self-rule that it represented, a handful of German philosophers asked themselves a simple and yet profound question: If modern individuals could free themselves from dogmatic belief and from the political and cultural institutions that such belief supported, what new aesthetic, social, and political forms could express and support this freedom, and how might these new forms be discovered and maintained? The famously untranslatable concept of Bildung, whose meaning spans notions of education, cultivation, self-discovery, and self-actualization, was a response to this question that would inform joint projects of scientific discovery, artistic self-expression, and political self-determination well beyond the borders of Germany, and to the present day. Through careful analysis of key texts from this tradition, students will explore how representations of Bildung reflect changing ideas about identity, agency, pleasure, knowledge, and power. Readings will include literary works by writers like Goethe, C. Brontë, Wordsworth, Flaubert, Wilde, Equiano, Fanon, and Coetzee, in combination with critical and philosophical texts by figures like Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Freud.
Class Format: seminar
Requirements/Evaluation: one 5- to 7-page and one 8- to 10-page paper, a few other short writing assignments, and one in-class presentation
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Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preference: students majoring or considering a major in Comparative Literature or a related discipline
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Divisional Attributes: Division I
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Enrollment Limit: 25
Expected Enrollment: 15
Class Number: 3860
COMP 284 SEM Bildung: Lit of Self-Discovery Division 1: Languages and the Arts Walter Johnston
COMP 284 SEM Bildung: Lit of Self-Discovery Division 1: Languages and the Arts Walter Johnston
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