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Title page for ETD etd-04232005-033746

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Holman, Donald Wood
URN etd-04232005-033746
Title The Death of Dionysos: Formative Experience and Human Autonomy in "Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre"
Degree PhD
Department Comparative Literature
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Prof. William P. Franke Committee Chair
Prof. Christoph Zeller Committee Member
Prof. David C. Wood Committee Member
Prof. Robert F. Barsky Committee Member
  • human
  • autonomy
  • experience
  • Dionysian
  • Dionysos
  • Lehrjahre
  • Wilhelm Meister
  • Goethe
  • von Goethe
  • Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre
Date of Defense 2004-12-07
Availability unrestricted
This dissertation will undertake to determine the role and concept of experience in the development of the title character of Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s novel, Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre. Given the novel’s traditional status in German literary criticism as an (in some sense) exemplary Bildungsroman, the psychic development of Wilhelm Meister will be scrutinized especially insofar as it represents a model of the formation of modern human consciousness. I point to the distinction that the novel makes between the objective experiences that Wilhelm lacks and the subjective experiences that contribute to the formation of his personality: the biography or Lehrjahre of which the Tower Society finally includes in its pedagogical archive. Turning to critical reception of the secret Society of the Tower, I undertake to outline the scope and character of its interests, in order to explicate the interpretation that its humanistic pedagogy and liberal social agenda give to Wilhelm’s individual life and development. In the light shed more recently on the turn of the nineteenth century as a watershed of aesthetic humanism and its ideal of free humanity, I stress how erotic love changes in the modern social context of the novel from a binding moral relation to a subjective aesthetic experience that constitutes self-consciousness. The erotic Abenteuer or adventures of Lothario are identified both 1) as the Tower’s humanistic standard of healthy formative experience, and 2) as an anticipation of the nineteenth-century neologism, Erlebnis. Finally, love as adventure or Erlebnis will be situated within the psychological landscape of Wilhelm’s modern consciousness, so as to determine the reasons for his growing immunity to guilt, grief, and other negative psychic experiences, once he has been introduced into the modern Society of the Tower and has absorbed its humanistic ideology.
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