This essay intervenes in the contemporary debate surrounding the Bildungsroman and its roots in German Idealism through a new reading of the idea of “life” in two major modern texts: G. W. F. Hegel’s Lectures on Fine Art and the famous “Research” chapter of Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain. I establish three key points: 1) Hegel pioneers a bio-aesthetics that grasps the work of art as a distinctly social and historical, reflective manifestation of organic life; 2) Mann’s novel achieves a kind of self-conscious knowledge of the Bildungsroman in particular as such a manifestation; and 3) Karl Marx’s analysis of the alienation of humanity from its “species-being” under capitalism accounts for the opposition between nature and culture, animality and rationality, that drives Mann’s modernist experiment with genre: his innovation of what I call “the novel of deformation.”
Novel, Organism, Form: Bio-Aesthetics in Hegel and Thomas Mann
JENSEN SUTHER is a former Fulbright Scholar and received his PhD from Yale University. He is currently a Junior Fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in a range of academic and public-facing venues, including Modernism/modernity, the Hegel Bulletin, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and the New Statesman. He is currently working on two books—Spirit Disfigured and Hegel’s Bio-Aesthetics—which explore Hegel’s legacy for Marxism in aesthetic, political, and philosophical contexts.
Jensen Suther; Novel, Organism, Form: Bio-Aesthetics in Hegel and Thomas Mann. Representations 1 November 2023; 164 (1): 80–114. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/rep.2023.164.4.80
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