In human existence, a question commonly asked is, "Who am I?" This question is the heart of the quest for the Self. This is a quest which may take a lifetime, sometimes longer, to fulfill. One path, of self-discovery, is when people turn to their surroundings in their search. In turning to their surroundings, people are able to see their Selves by the things around them. In observing the surroundings, people may, not only, find their Selves, but establish their Selves. This path, however, is not the only way people search for the Self. Another path is when people turn to something higher than themselves for answers. This path is lined with the hope the answers can be given by the, "something higher." These two paths represent two preceding forces in people's search for the Self. The two forces are the Absolute and the Other. The Absolute is the something higher, and the Other represents people the Self comes in contact with. Only through interaction and contact with the Absolute and the Other, can the Self discover itself. In the interaction with these two forces, a balance must exist. The balance allows for the contact with the Absolute, and the interaction with the Other, to complement and enhance each other. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach's novel, Das Gemeindekind, displays the necessity of the relationship between the Self, the Absolute, and the Other, in the search for the Self. Ebner-Eschenbach uses an orphaned boy, Pavel, and his sister, Milada, to demonstrate the relationships between Self, Absolute, and Other. The setting is a mid-eighteenth century Catholic community in Eastern Germany. Pavel demonstrates a Self, who has strong interaction with the Other. Pavel then shows how interaction with the Other, balanced with contact to the Absolute, is the best way to find the Self. Milada, on the other hand, is a Self with almost exclusive contact with the Absolute. She is evidence for the danger of being in complete isolation from the Other, and in exclusive contact to the Absolute. In order to approach the issue of Self-discovery through the Absolute and the Other, definitions and roles of the Absolute and the Other, in the context of Das Gemeindekind, must be established. The Absolute works as a far more abstract idea than the Other, and therefore requires more discussion in establishing what the Absolute is. The rest of the examination of the Absolute is a view of the Absolute's relationship with the Self. The Other, in this context, is the people in the community of Pavel and Milada. The discussion about the Other focuses on how the relationship between the Self, and the Other, is necessary in Self-discovery. Once the definitions and roles of the Absolute and the Other are established, Pavel's and Milada's characters are analyzed to show how their experiences with the Absolute and the Other are necessary in the characters finding their Selves.
The role of the Absolute, in self-discovery, can best be understood by first exploring what the Absolute is. There are many philosophical definitions of what the Absolute is, but in relation to the novel, Das Gemeindekind, the Absolute fits the description of, "The Supreme or Creative Power." William Reese's Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion describes the Absolute as, "
a noun standing for the name of God
used in the East in recent years as an alternate term for Brahman" (Reese 2). The reference of the Absolute as God, according to this definition, takes a universal appeal as non-western religions adopt the term to fit their idea of God as well. The Absolute in Das Gemeindekind is God as viewed by the Catholic community in which Pavel and Milada live. God, in the novel, plays a subtle yet profound role. To understand God's, or the Absolute's, role in the novel, and in finding the Self, more must be known about God. Harry Waton describes the nature of the Absolute, when he explains, "
the Absolute comprehends itself in an idea of itself, and that this idea is the...
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