Rereading Goethe, Rethinking Culture

Rereading goethe front cover

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Abstract

In this critical reading of Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister novels, Gerald Peters re-evaluates Goethe’s “theory” of aesthetic self-fashioning, or Bildung, as an educational model for a modern capitalist meritocracy. Drawing on his background in autobiography studies and incorporating perspectives from anthropology, literary criticism, gender studies, performance theory, philosophy, and religious studies, Peters turns a personal reading of a once influential text into an interdisciplinary reflection on individuation and self-culture in America. Rereading Goethe, Rethinking Culture treats various aspects of human self-development—love, work, family life, social status—in relation to topics as diverse as initiation rites, physiognomy, secret and utopian societies, craftsmanship, popular culture, exteriority, and the human face. Written in the spirit of Goethe’s Bildungsroman, Rereading Goethe illustrates the power of a book to shape a life, demonstrating that Goethe’s philosophical novel of culture and self-development can still be used as a critical “lens” through which readers can re-examine their own cultural assumptions and “rethink” the choices they have before them.