Recent scholarship on the bildungsroman highlights the ideological implications of bildung in relation to empire and human rights discourse. This essay adds to that scholarship by reading the postcolonial bildungsroman as an expression of the erosion of national sovereignty after decolonization. Bildung in post-SAP (Structural Adjustment Program) novels is contested because the development of a fully modern personality—rational, cosmopolitan, economically agentive, entrepreneurial, nonadversarial—privileged by modernization theory and global institutions symbolically undermines the political sovereignty promised by decolonization. Through an analysis of Pankaj Mishra's The Romantics, this essay argues that such contestation of bildung in post-SAP postcolonial bildungsromans generates narratives of negation in which the imagining of bildung is always deferred to imaginative and political futures. In The Romantics, bildung turns into an enduring historical trauma; Mishra juxtaposes various trajectories of individual and national growth both before and after India's adoption of SAP policies in 1991 to show how the symbolic realization of full and free personality development would paradoxically negate the claims to sovereignty that elevate such personality development as an expression of successful modernization. In The Romantics, as in Chimamanda Adichie's Purple Hibiscus and Mohsin Hamid's How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, the negation of successful bildung—and the deferral of fully formed visions of “development”—become the only registers in which to register liberatory growth in the peripheries of the capitalist world-economy.

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