Allan Ingram
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In two minds
Johnson, Boswell and representations of the self
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Johnson and Boswell displayed, both consciously and unconsciously, two very distinctive ways of dealing with their own selves within the period in which they lived. Each reveals, through his written work, just how and where the human mind is known – and not known – by the individual. Johnson’s is a far more deliberate and methodical process, one that approaches, but nevertheless refuses to engage with, those uncertainties and terrors that are as much part of the self as are reason and control. Boswell, perhaps, comes as close as anyone to the two-mindedness of Johnson in some of his descriptions of him. Boswell himself, on the other hand, adopted a far more open and enthusiastic attitude towards his own sense of self – one approaching, at times, even enthusiasm. Suffering, like Johnson, from deep depression, he nevertheless took the opportunity for most of his life to make even his own wretched mental state the subject of scrutiny. Each man, in conclusion, represents something of the major cultural currents of their time, albeit with one looking very much to the past, and one to the future.

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