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Bildung and Class Consciousness in Narratives of Political Formation in France and Germany, 1890-1938


This dissertation analyzes the centrality of the concept Bildung in the portrayal of the development of class consciousness in novels and autobiographical texts written by socialist and communist authors in France and Germany from 1890 to 1938. These texts follow Lukàcs’ typology for the Bildungsroman laid out in The Theory of the Novel, but significantly modify the reconciliation Lukàcs imagines for the problematic individual by deferring it to a post-revolutionary future. Class consciousness emerges out of these developmental paths, which include a negation of initial Bildung and a second-order, political Bildung that discloses the identity of the individual and the class through a recognition of shared material determinants. The first chapter examines the relationship between Bildung, associative life, and the early literary politics of the Socialist Party of Germany (SPD) and shows the importance attributed to Bildung by the German workers’ movement in an effort to reconsider the merits of these workers’ mediations and their relationship to the reproduction of capital at this particular historical moment. The second chapter reads the autobiographical life-writings of the Adelheid Popp, Wenzel Holek, Franz Rehbein, Theodore William Bromme, and Otto Krille as Arbeiterbildungsromane and argues that these texts show class consciousness to be inextricable from high levels of industrial employment. The third and fourth chapters examine the work of the French communist novelist, journalist, and philosopher Paul Nizan. Chapter three argues that Nizan’s concept of alienation as alienation from l’homme informs his portrayal of the development of political consciousness by allowing him to see the alienation of intellectuals as analogous to the alienation experienced by workers in capitalist production. Chapter four argues that Nizan’s Antoine Bloyé and La conspiration suggest that political consciousness is unlikely to develop without its material determinants.

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