“I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” The Problem of Narrative Continuity in Goethe’s Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre
How do novels generate in the reader the expectation that the story they tell goes on, from page to page, chapter to chapter, book to book? How do they negotiate the division imposed by the book market and the demands of the genre? And what conception of continuity is involved in the novelistic enterprise? This paper takes Goethe’s Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (1795–96) as an example to highlight some of the philosophical implications of modern narratives, and to outline a practice of interpretation that pays attention to visual and technical material.
Helmut Müller-Sievers is Director, Center for Humanities and the Arts Eaton Professor of Humanities, and Arts Professor of German, University of Colorado at Boulder