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Race and Renaissance Literature  

Dennis Austin Britton

There is no single understanding of race to which everyone subscribes; it is a protean concept, accommodating various notions of human difference at the historical moments in which they emerge. Literary texts therefore do not represent a singular racial epistemology shared among Renaissance authors, readers, and audiences; rather, they demonstrate conflicting views about race, how it is determined, and what it tells us about individuals and groups of people. Scholars of Renaissance literature have explored what concepts of race do in specific cultural contexts, and the various ways racial differences were represented and understood before the advent of racial science in the late 17th century. Renaissance usages of the words race, raza, razza, and their linguistic equivalents denote, in their most benign sense, genealogy and lineage. Usages of these terms, nevertheless, locate individuals within genealogical and biological networks and insist that such networks are important to social organization. Race works as a tool for social organization that justifies varied types of domination, and in the Renaissance it drew from and informed established discourses of power—primarily religion, gender, and class. The concept bares vestiges of the word’s original definitions, asserting that certain aspects of identity are inheritable and inalterable, and then uses those aspects of identity to naturalize social hierarchies—White over Black, Christian over non-Christian, European over non-European. Race thus is a concept that intersects with cultural, somatic, sexual, and religious difference, and the Renaissance may be understood as a moment when race competes for dominance as a system of classification, justifying the rights of individuals and groups to rule over, disenfranchise, violate, and enslave others.

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Bildungsroman  

Anne Rüggemeier

The Bildungsroman, or novel of formation, is one of the most widely used and most adaptable genres in literary history. Characteristically, the plot unfolds through the narrative of a young person’s development and formation that ideally results in “maturity”—a rather contested concept, which is traditionally understood as the harmonious integration of personal aspirations and the demands of the social. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, 1795) has traditionally been discussed as the urtext of the Bildungsroman. The genre has been interpreted as a form of self-expression of the intellectually emancipated but economically powerless German bourgeoisie. The tension between inner aspirations and outer limitations remains a key topic of the Bildungsroman throughout the centuries. The history of the Bildungsroman is closely interrelated with the emergence of the novel and with the idea of Bildung as it was discussed and refined in post-Kantian thought, German Idealism, and also the movement of German Pietism. Despite critical attempts to deny the existence of the genre, the Bildungsroman continues to enjoy tremendous popularity and has been adapted, developed, parodied, and rewritten in various European and non-European literatures. Throughout the centuries, as the genre takes on ever new forms, the idea or ideal of Bildung is constantly renegotiated. The generic demarcations between Bildungsroman and the so-called Anti-Bildungsroman continuously blur as the latter marks the shortcomings of the former, demonstrating how modern understandings of self-formation and social success are unavoidably marked by contradictions.