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William Wordsworth and William Blake are both inheritors of the newly demystified Enlightenment anatomies of the self (Locke, Hume, Hartley), and each of them writes about divisions within the self, and yet each is also partial to older concepts of the soul, less Christian than Gnostic and Neoplatonic. These rival legacies do not simply contradict one another nor exist in tension in the works of these poets, but each of them in his own way draws on both, complementarily, in his exploration of selfhood and of the self's relation to itself. Both are concerned with a certain bewilderment in the self’s relation to the world and to itself. The two different legacies come together particularly for these poets (and this is original to the Romantic concept of self) in the connection they find between a psychology of self-alienation (the self's experience of itself as fragmented) and ‘existential alienation’ (the self's feeling of being homeless in the world or what the Gnostic and Neoplatonic tradition calls ‘the exile of the soul’).

in Writing and constructing the self in Great Britain in the long eighteenth century
Grotesque selves and self-fashioning in Pope’s Dunciad

This chapter examines the notion of the eighteenth-century male self, at least in its Augustan formulation and constructed by Alexander Pope in his various Dunciads, as a conflicted entity riven by the discourses of gender, physical norms based on classical precedent, the ever-rising middling orders and consumer mercantile capitalism. It takes its cue both from the theory of Bakhtin’s grotesque and classical bodies, subsequently revised by Stallybrass and White’s now seminal Politics and Poetics of Transgression, and more recent critical notions of the historical specificity of the (medical) body in Pope’s own time, when a shift was occurring from the idea of mechanical body to one more centred around the nervous system. Helen Deutsch has productively discussed Pope’s construction of his own body in terms of deformity - one that Pope self-fashioned to his advantage as far as was possible (Resemblance and Disgrace). Here it is argued that Pope displaces his anxieties (consciously or not) about his own masculinity, poetic productivity and physical legitimacy onto a series of alternative selves, either grotesquely monstrous women, or chaotically effeminate men, most notably his poetic alter ego, the poet laureate Colley Cibber.

in Writing and constructing the self in Great Britain in the long eighteenth century
The portrait of Man in late seventeenth-century sermons

This chapter examines the idea of self-love and its development in the published seventeenth-century sermons of Isaac Barrow (1630–77) and John Tillotson (1630–94). The approach is twofold. First, by briefly presenting the idea of passion and self-love in the seventeenth century, the position of both clergymen on this issue is clarified and defined. Second, Barrow’s and Tillotson’s sermons are analysed to show how self-love can be reconciled with religion and obedience to divine law. Finally, by examining Barrow’s and Tillotson’s charity sermons, the way in which both clergymen encouraged ‘mild self-love’ to increase the benefit and happiness of society is illustrated and explored.

in Writing and constructing the self in Great Britain in the long eighteenth century

Evolutionary biology, in particular evolutionary psychology, has tended to replay some of the arguments about value and motivation that were first debated by the economic psychologists or psychologically oriented economists of the Enlightenment, from Locke to Bentham. The basic point of contention is whether motivation can be reduced to a single (and therefore tautologically selfish) goal – whether pleasure or reproductive success – or whether we ever act on motives that do not reduce to the optimal means of getting what we want. It is possible to stage this debate as an argument between Bernard Mandeville and those like Hume and Adam Smith who wrote in Hutcheson’s wake. Evolutionary game theory has recently shown how second- and third-order motivations – motivations to have or to spurn certain motivations – might evolve; it has had to do so, since the evolution of such higher order motivation is central to human cooperation. Smith and Hume anticipated the ideas of such contemporary economic evolutionary psychologists as Robert Frank and George Ainslie: their insights derive from and cast light on the experience of the literary experience of tragedy, or of the sublime, in which we take pleasure from having our own wishes balked and baffled. The debate between Joseph Addison and Samuel Johnson on the death of Cordelia in King Lear instantiates and helpfully clarifies the psychological dynamics of these issues.

in Writing and constructing the self in Great Britain in the long eighteenth century
Tristram Shandy and the quest for identity

The long eighteenth century witnessed a renewed interest in the philosophical and psychological problem of the ‘self’ and the related notions of subjectivity and self-consciousness – all issues and discussions so brilliantly parodied in The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. This chapter proposes a rereading of Laurence Sterne’s masterpiece in the light of the contemporary debate about selfhood. Despite the veiled allusion to Locke’s theory of personal identity within a novel which explicitly refers to An Essay concerning Human Understanding, the most important influence on Sterne’s narrative seems to be the ‘method of soliloquy’ or ‘self-discoursing practice’ recommended by Shaftesbury. The ‘soliloquy’ Shaftesbury proposes is a kind of ‘self-dissection’ in which an individual ‘becomes two distinct persons’ in order to achieve integrity and self-unity within his or her mind. The result of this dialectical process is the construction of a unified ‘self’. Shaftesbury’s dialogical lesson becomes even more significant when applied to Sterne’s novel. When Tristram takes on the identity of the other characters, interpreting their actions and their words, the narrator constructs his own self through an authentic inter-subjective relationship. Indeed, the underlying interior dialogue of Tristram’s ‘conversation’ achieves a passionate quest for identity.

in Writing and constructing the self in Great Britain in the long eighteenth century
Eliza Haywood’s Love in Excess

Over the course of the seventeenth century, French thought developed a rich and finely textured language of the self. English writers of turn-of-the-century England, and most significantly women, drew on that language in their imitations of the French ‘nouveaux romans’ of the last three decades of the seventeenth century. This provenance explains key features of the representation of self, and of the individual’s interaction with others, that we find in this fiction: the self of self-interest, the empire of passion over reason and the consequent torments only truly experienced by ‘nobler spirits’, and the importance of affective states which escape the perception of the perceiving subject. This chapter demonstrates the importance of this French language and perception of the self to an understanding of the early novelists in a close reading of Eliza Haywood’s Love in Excess (1719).

in Writing and constructing the self in Great Britain in the long eighteenth century
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Johnson, Boswell and representations of the self

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.

in Writing and constructing the self in Great Britain in the long eighteenth century
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The introduction provides a general background to the notion of the self while focusing on the long eighteenth century, and the way writers of the period perceived and expressed the self, and framed their arguments in the domains of literature and philosophy in particular. In so doing it underlines the importance of the elaboration and expression of the self and its recognisably modern identity. It emphasises the decisive contributions of John Locke and David Hume, of Blaise Pascal and Alexander Pope, to a debate on the self that informed the long eighteenth century, contributions which still provide significant elements of the ongoing debates on the self and individualism today. As an overview of the volume’s chapters and arguments, the introduction gives a brief presentation of each of the contributions, sketching out how they constitute at once a patchwork and a chronological narrative, and examine the self from different perspectives related to gender, philosophy, religion, morality and politics, where the protean nature of the self is expressed and explored in different genres and discourses: sermons, poetry, philosophical texts, novels and diaries.

in Writing and constructing the self in Great Britain in the long eighteenth century
The example of Oppression!!! The Appeal of Captain Perry to the People of England (1795)

This chapter explores the tensions between individual identity and the collective whole raised both by and within the self-defence testimonies published by radical activists in the French revolutionary era. The particular focus is on a pamphlet published in 1795 by radical editor, Sampson Perry. What is emphasised through this study is the need felt by radical reformers to reassert their individual agency in a climate of persecution. Yet not only did radicals redefine their own sense of self, but they portrayed their individual causes as inseparable from the good of the community. Hence self-defence tracts and speeches were also a way of mobilising support for wider political reform at a time when open criticism of existing institutions could lead to prosecution. Finally, Perry’s direct address to his fellow citizens can be seen as performing some of the changes that reformers hoped to see adopted in the country at large, namely an unmediated form of democratic control of government and a heightened role for the people in decision-making.

in Writing and constructing the self in Great Britain in the long eighteenth century

Francis Hutcheson’s first two works, An Inquiry into the Original of our Ideas of Virtue and Beauty (1725) and An Essay on the Nature and Conduct of the Passions and Affections (1728) are to a considerable extent a refutation of the theories of self-interest and self-love developed by Bernard Mandeville, notably in the 1723 edition of The Fable of the Bees. Hutcheson’s attempt to prove the existence of a moral sense and so to defend Shaftesbury against Mandeville’s cynicism regarding the desirability of self-denial and altruistic behaviour, does not deny the existence of self-love as a motivating force in human behaviour, but attempts to subordinate it to the moral sense with which it can be made to work towards general human happiness. This chapter examines Hutcheson’s critique of Mandeville and seeks to show how the debate on self-love raises the issue of the definition of the self, one that Hume would address in the Treatise of Human Nature (1739-40). While more often discussed in the context of Locke’s theory of personal identity and of the sceptical philosophy of Berkeley and Hume, the self is also a central issue of moral philosophy where it functions as a reflexive and relative rather than an absolute entity, thus anchoring it in questions of ethics, social behaviour and religious belief.

in Writing and constructing the self in Great Britain in the long eighteenth century