Miteinander im Nebeneinander.
Community and Society in Goethe's Wilhelm Meister novels

The modernity quest of the European Enlightenment produced highly developed societies whose communication infrastructures today are distinguished for rationality, technicality and global expansion.  At the same time modern societies engender increasing individualisation, a development that atrophies communal structures, local contexts of life and communication.

While globalisation undermines national identity it also poses the question whether the need for collective identities can be satisfied within a new, post-national framework. How would a post-national community generate a collective consciousness without losing the individual autonomy that was achieved during the enlightenment?

This issue is explored here in the literary work of Johann Wolfgang Goethe, focussing especially on how the Wilhelm Meister novels reflect and comment on the dialectical relationship between the progress of society and the destruction of community, Of particular emphasis is the way in which a reconstruction of the notions of collective identity which these novels generate can enrich a discourse on community, informed by Communitarianism and Cultural Studies.

The necessity of an interdisciplinary approach is recognised by exploring these texts from the perspective of a literary science which is oriented towards cultural science, thereby integrating sociological and socio-philosophical insights into the analysis.  Emphasis is laid on a close textual analysis aiming at a broader, deeper understanding of a novelistic discourse on community, in the light of changing social experiences.