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  • Response to Øivind Varkøy, “The Concept of ‘Bildung’”
  • Frederik Pio

The process of Bildung has to do with something that “becomes.” The dimension of moving and developing makes the Bildung-metaphor of ‘the journey’ come into focus in Øivind Varkøy’s paper. As Varkøy states in his article, in relation to the Bildung concept one can see that “[the] relation between what is known in everyday life and what is new, unknown, and strange, can in a sense be regarded as the meaning and intention of the concept.”

This tension between that which is known and that which is unknown is handled by means of the metaphor of the journey. The journey is about leaving one’s homeground behind. The homeground is all that which is known. Then there is a venture into something not yet known. And then finally the individual returns home, enriched with a new experience, as a deeper and more encompassing human being. This is the blueprint of ‘the journey.’

Thus the metaphor of the journey tells us that the crucial Bildung-factor is connected with a transgression of all that is familiar and well-known. So an experience is conducive to a process of Bildung to the extent that a transgression [End Page 97] occurs. That is as a movement that takes place beyond that in our ordinary lives which is all too well-known. Varkøy puts it this way:

To have an experience is to be stricken, shaken, and affected. In this way, an experience is something which exceeds all boundaries, it notifies the arrival of something new and unknown. The subject is jerked out of its usual pattern and meets something that makes it look at itself with new eyes, experience its own subjectivity from unfamiliar quarters. Such experiences, such journeys, mean that we come into contact with important sides and dimensions of our way of being human.

This translates into an educational context where a focus is on subject content “which enable[s] the students ‘to make journeys’ . . . so that students can thereby not only emerge as educated music educationalists, but also as cultured (bilded) people.

All this belongs to the dimension of freedom. But as mentioned by Varkøy, Bildung is also about that which is authoritative and un-free. Thus Varkøy mentions Jon Fosse who found that “Norwegian schools certainly need a dose of Harold Bloom” and his book The Western Canon.

So we have a tension between freedom (the journey into the unknown) and that which is un-free: the score we all have to settle with a great tradition that was there long before we arrived here and broke the surface of existence. In continuation of this I sense that Varkøy is touching upon a theme that tells us this: Today a process of Bildung should neither reject the tradition (to become anti-traditional). Nor should a process of Bildung become something that is just blindly reproducing the tradition and its values. So, it is not about being either anti-traditional or completely traditional, but about a quality which could be termed un-traditional. Varkøy says it like this:

It is true to say . . . that the concept of Bildung’s cultural heritage perspective does not nescessarily mean a one-sided backwards glance focusing upon old masterworks . . . but also that it can to a considerable extent open up for focusing on the new and unknown.”

So the Bildung concept contains simultaneously a directedness towards the past and a tradition which is authoritative, coupled with a directedness towards the future: and all that which is new and unknown, the open horizon of existence. It is in the light of this double directedness that Varkøy questions whether “the concept ‘cultural heritage’ should be considered, as something static or as something which is continually moving and developing.”

So the past and our cultural heritage and the masterworks our cultural heritage is based upon, do not belong to bygone days. They do not belong to a finished [End Page 98] past. On the contrary, it is all still with us. That is how I read Varkøy. And this reading has a tremenduous resemblence to...


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pp. 97-100
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