The German concept of Bildung refers to the partly experiential, partly willed, potentially destined; developmental unfolding of a person from the advent of adulthood in adolescence to some kind of viable spiritual maturity. In its highest form it describes a seeking for 'the answer' to living, and its finding (to at least some significant extent).
The proper form of Bildung is therefore some kind of linear, biographical account - necessarily in an abstracted, often actually fictionalised, form - and always, underlying, there must be autobiography: a true and honest work of Bildung must be rooted in personal experience or powerful imagination of the phases depicted and described.
Such a work only became both possible and necessary with the advent of Romanticism in the late 1700s - and the Bildungsroman, the novel-of-Bildung. This hit the European mind with Goethe's Wilhelm Meister novel, and has been theorised by many philosophers since.
A debased modern offspring of the Bildungsroman is the coming-of-age movie or series, which typically focuses almost wholly on sex. Indeed, the post-mid-twentieth century cult of youth seems to be a selective, distorted, fixated conceptualisation of the interest in the process of personal transformation.
It all began for me in my middle teens and associated with the area of Bristol which is centred on College Green - beside the City Library and Cathedral; and runs up Park Street past coffee shops and esoteric suppliers to George's Bookshop. JRR Tolkien was the first and enduring talisman, Robert Graves another, Thoreau followed soon after. There was a deep dissatisfaction with the thinness and futility of modern life, and a yearning for something deeper, more mythic.
This was the continuation into adulthood of that Golden Thread of the most intense, significant and memorable events and impressions of childhood.
Since then certain places have drawn me repeatedly - often with obscure reason - to live, to stay for holidays, to visit - while other places, books, music, ideas, themes, activities - theoretically, perhaps, better suited? - when experienced and lived left me... well, perhaps diverted; but at depth unmoved; they failed to ignite the fire which turned out to be so essential, and lacking which life was drained of meaning.
Life was a zig-zag of trial and error; knowing better what was wrong than what was right - indeed (in retrospect) I certainly lacked any correct or clear understanding of what was right: what I was and should be aiming at, and why. There was certainly, I see now, a lot less 'luck' in it than I supposed at the time; and much more of destiny, and consequences.
(Making mistakes, and suffering for them - making partially correct decisions but misunderstanding and following false leads until I bogged down in the slough of despond.)
There was, in fact, no possibility of getting anywhere until I became a Christian: the Christian context was vital. But, after becoming a Christian, there was (for me) no possibility of getting very far until I could escape the vitality-draining sensation and conviction of suffocation and constraint, the 'school dinners' aspect of churches etc, which came from my trying to accept 'on trust' and without personal revelation (without working through for myself) the spiritual authority of actual Christian institutions.
In sum, there was an absolute necessity that my Christianity be based upon personal conviction and personal experience; and that this was known to be non-arbitrary, indeed the ultimate authority.
In sum, I remained true to the aspirations of Romanticism, but needed to move beyond its errors: in particular the error of aiming for the past, at tradition. I explored this option, in imagination, to a possible conclusion, and found that it was mistaken and unacceptable in multiple ways, as well as being incoherent here and now.
The key was provided, in the past three or four years, by Mormon theology, the work of Owen Barfield, Rudolf Steiner's early philosophy, and William Arkle's overall context: all of these remain crucial, and continue to yield depths and delights; motivation, direction and purpose.
Key elements needed to come together, among which are the following... that there is a universal realm of thinking (pure thinking, primary thinking of the real/ true/ divine self), of think-ing, conceptualised as a dynamic activity that need perpetually to create-itself; and does so from polarities that are regenerated.
This conceptualisation means that our personal thinking is involved in this dynamic process of universal thinking - so that such thinking is true and universal reality. We participate in reality by this thinking - which means that we both experience and know reality as it already is; and at the same time from our unique perspective (and because reality is always re-making) we are reshaping the context of that universality. We add our personal selves to the multiple polarities that maintain the livingness and development of reality.
Since we may (in principle, although perhaps seldom or never in actual practice) participate in reality; then all problems and paradoxes of 'communication' are abolished - all concerns about the limitations, distortions, and misinterpretations of communication are deleted; all fears that there is no real and reliable communication... all these are superseded by the actuality of direct knowing, including direct person-to-person and person-to-God knowing.
So there is the incremental, then sudden, dawning of clarity and comprehension which comes as the conclusion of a Bildungsroman; and the motivated purpose that points forward to more Bildung. I
Isn't this what most thoughtful persons have wanted since Romanticism? - if they are honest with themselves, and are able to put aside paralysing fears? I mean a general understanding of their destiny and purpose, which is based in the reality of God, and aligned in accordance with God's hopes and plans; yet unique, personal, needing me-specifically?
Isn't this what is implied by 'the meaning of life?'
But/ And we also see that each of us must attain this meaning of life for himself or herself - it cannot be attained at second hand: certainly not for us here and now. Thus Bildung remains, as it has been for more than 200 years, the quintessential Western form.