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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: January ::
Re: Development of Individualism
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0037.  Saturday, 13 January 1996.

(1)     From:   Robert Appelbaum <
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        Date:   Friday, 12 Jan 1996 11:19:36 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: Development of Individualism

(2)     From:   Victor Gallerano <
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        Date:   Friday, 12 Jan 1996 15:17:56 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0028 Re: Individualism

(3)     From:   Thomas G. Bishop <
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        Date:   Friday, 12 Jan 1996 17:16:32 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0028  Re: Individualism

(4)     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Friday, 12 Jan 1996 16:12:48 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0034 Re: Development of Individualism

(5)     From:   Stephanie Hughes <
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        Date:   Friday, 12 Jan 1996 19:48:09 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: Individualism

(6)     From:   Terry Ross <
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        Date:   Saturday, 13 Jan 1996 08:10:13 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Thomas Aquinas, O.P.

(7)     From:   David Reed <
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        Date:   Saturday, 13 Jan 1996 10:59:36 -0800
        Subj:   RE: SHK 7.0034  Re: Development of Individualism


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robert Appelbaum <
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Date:           Friday, 12 Jan 1996 11:19:36 -0800 (PST)
Subject:        Re: Development of Individualism

If we members of the list want to go anywhere with the idea of individualism I
think we'll a little more conceptual clarity about what we're talking about.
So far the mere existence of something designated as an "individual" is about
all that is being queried; adding an "ism" to the end of the word doesn't get
us much farther into the question, even if this "ism" is taken to indicate not
only fact but also something like a value.

We need to distinguish theories of the self from representations of the self,
discourses of the self from technologies of the self, and all of these things
from that which concerning someone other than ourselves we can never have
direct knowledge, namely the experience of the self.

If we look at these various categories under which something like an individual
self could be intimated, characterized, invented, or understood, I think we'll
find many differences indeed among individuals from one time and place to
another.

I know that in our own fragmented times many of us -- myself included -- are
hungry for commonality and integration.  But I don't think we'll find either by
gazing back over 3000 years of (Western) history and saying, "By golly,
everywhere you look, everything is the SAME."

Recent work by Carol Walker Bynum (sorry, but I don't have the title in front
of me) shows that there was in fact an idiosyncratic valuation of the self or
the person in Christian culture prior to the Renaissance, especially with
regard to a doctrine of the individual body -- that body which was held to be
in an essential attachment to the immortal soul in life and death alike.  We
will not find this doctrine, however, in (say) Confucian culture; nor will we
find it in Proust, or in most of the songs that Madonna sings about her
personae.  As for Shakespeare, clearly there are many traces of this doctrine
throughout his work; but there are also many expressions of dissatisfaction
with it, anxieties about its inadequacy, fears about its slippages in the
course of experience ("She is, and is not Cressid," Troilus says), and
inspirations about overcoming its limitations by embracing other doctrines,
discourses, and technologies.  The "Will" of the sonnets is constantly looking
for a way to survive what feels to him like the incommensurability of his
impending fragmentation.

Part of the debate about the history of the individual has to to with the
development of structural changes like the invention of domestic privacy, of
commodity capitalism, of the secular consumer and the possessive individual --
doctrines, discourses, and technologies which obviously belong to complex
histories which obviously make for significant differences in what we make take
to be the experience of the self in Shakespeare's time.  Part of it also has to
do with the development of incommensurabilities.  The point about the
intensification of individualism in Shakespeare's work put forward by
poststructuralists in the last ten years isn't that Shakespeare finds a "self"
that no one had found before (that was essentially the argument of people like
Auerbach), but rather that Shakespeare loses the stable selves of earlier
traditions, and at least symptomatically signals a need for new forms of
constructions of the self -- new forms that we're often desperate to apply in
retrospect to his subjective intensities, but that really only come later, in
the work of post-Montaigneian philosophers and post-Shakespearean fabulists and
poets.

Sorry for having gone on so long.  This self has been experiencing a cold,
lonely, and quiet winter.  Take my word for it.

Robert Appelbaum
UC Berkeley

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Victor Gallerano <
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Date:           Friday, 12 Jan 1996 15:17:56 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 7.0028 Re: Individualism
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0028 Re: Individualism

FYI: Bill Godshalk,

Not only did Thomas Aquinas not "remain a nameless Benedictine Monk"...he never
became one.  The Angelic Doctor was of the 'Order of Preachers' (that's the
'Dominicans' when they're at home) although the Cistercians tried to hang onto
him after the demise of his corpulent delecti.  That contest between two of the
medieval orders is yet another indication that individuation did not wait upon
the moderns (or even upon Duns Scotus, thank you Gerard Hopkins) for its
importance to human beings.

It strikes me that the difference between other ages and ours is that, for most
of us moderns, individuation is a "problem to be solved" rather than a
characteristic to be recognized as inherent in every being we encounter and
eliciting a certain modesty (if not awe and wonder) in the beholder of that or
any other individual (including ourselves as we encounter our own individual
selves.)

From this perspecive modern "individualism" is simply the popular opinion that
all things, including our "selves" are properly and rightly subject to a "will
to power" (Augustine called this the libido dominandi and thought it a
consequence of original sin.)

That the self is constituted by an act of individual will is an opinion which
one way or another seems to suffuse all those thoughts we call "modern"
(including the material/historical since, when radicalized, they all
deconstruct into "will to power" philosophies rather despite themselves.)

Which opinion about the individual is more accurate?  We have to do the
a-historicized work of setting the two opinions side by side, testing them
empirically on the phenomena that present themselves to us and forming a
judgement of our own.  If our judgment happens to coincide with the judgment of
the likes of Thomas Aquinas,  then we can hoist our glasses to him and be
content that neither the Cistercians nor the Dominicans got the best part of
his corpus...and that the material-historicists are all the poorer for their
presumption.

(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Thomas G. Bishop <
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Date:           Friday, 12 Jan 1996 17:16:32 -0500
Subject: 7.0028  Re: Individualism
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0028  Re: Individualism

Bill Godshalk and I must beware of settling into folie a deux, but I would like
to follow up his citation of Beowulf and its profoundly individualist ethos
(which of course does not mean the social unit and its ideologies of unity are
not important), by referring interested readers to Calvert Watkins fascinating
and breathtakingly learned book _How to Kill a Dragon_, in which he
demonstrates conclusively (among many other things) how deeply into the
Indo-European poetic tradition the notion of the "imperishable fame" of the
individual protagonist goes. No-one who has ever read Pindar, as only one
instance, could possibly believe that the individual and his achievements were
unimportant in the ancient world. And, unlike Homer (or for that matter
Beowulf) these are not the achievements of mythical figures to be distinguished
from "real" anonymous folks without any individual destinies or value.

I do wish we could finally slay this particular dragon.

May your names all abide forever,

Tom

(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Friday, 12 Jan 1996 16:12:48 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 7.0034 Re: Development of Individualism
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0034 Re: Development of Individualism

Since a number of people (most recently Jesus Cora) agree that
self-consciousness cannot be historically located as originating in the
Renaissance, but nevertheless feel that it has special importance to the
period, could we say that it is newly "foregrounded" or perhaps
"defamiliarized"?

Perhaps the fact of self-consciousness simply becomes more remarkable to these
people, living in a period of metaphysical uncertainty, then it was to those
for whom it had a place in the more certain metaphysical system of the middle
ages.  Some people suggest that self-consciousness is a result of alienation
from a received place ("civilization").  But could we also say that
self-consciousness itself had a "place" to the medievals, as the Christian
soul, the nature of which is called into question by the reformation and its
various preludes?  Hence the new interest in self-consciousness at the time.

Cheers,
Sean.

(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephanie Hughes <
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Date:           Friday, 12 Jan 1996 19:48:09 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Re: Individualism

Perhaps I did not perfectly express my thought on the subject of the birth of
individualism, so, here goes again.

Individualism is not a thing that is or isn't here or there, it's a concept
purely. We are herd animals and we need and must have others like us. We will
always find a way to share part of what we are with others. We will always
feels ourselves separate from others as well. This is one of the primary
dichotomies of existence, like day and night, youth and age, male and female,
black and white. All life is a rhythm between the two. The glass is half empty
or half full. We yearn for contact, and when we have it, we begin to yearn for
privacy, for solitude. Once we get that, after a bit, we begin to yearn again
for contact. This occurs over longer cycles among human communities as well.

Stone age communities share each others lives in the way a herd of animals
shares each others lives. As communities become more "civilized", that is,
larger, urbanized, with individuals that are more and more interchangable, with
work ever more specialized, with the use of written language, and those who
specialize in written language increasing a special field of consciousness that
remains beyond the limits of the three generational limits of human memory. At
this point, concepts such as "individualism" are born. It is as though a blind
community began to see the world around them, and invented the word "blue" to
describe the sky. The sky wasn't born at that time, merely the concept.

To point to various peaks of consciousness along the path of "civilization" as
evidence of a continuing sense of "individualism" is to claim that because
these peaks are topped with snow, snow fills all the valleys and the regions
beneath. Certainly the great writers of the past were conscious of themselves
as individuals, and enough others like them to provide them with an audience
sufficient to ensure that their works would remain in print for centuries.
There seems to be enough evidence that the Middle Ages, also known as "the Dark
Ages", were among the valleys of human consciousness, not the peaks.  That's
not to say they weren't having a good time. Perhaps the concept of
"individualism" is less likely to occur with communities who have a good time.
Perhaps it is not pure coincidence that the rise of this particular form of
consciousness coincides with the repression of the revels on holidays by an
increasingly puritannical English establishment.

In other words, the reality of individualism is and always has been a given,
while "individualism" as a concept, arises wherever a certain kind of
consciousness arises. The rise that took place in Shakespeare's time was only
one such, but it was a big one.

Stephanie Hughes

(6)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terry Ross <
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Date:           Saturday, 13 Jan 1996 08:10:13 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Thomas Aquinas, O.P.

W. L. Godshalk said,

> And, if you take a glance at medieval history, you will see a chronicle of
> individualist assertion.  The Papacy fights with the Empire; the Christians
> invade the Holy Land, and so on.  The Popes take names and sign bulls. Thomas
> Aquinas did not remain a nameless Benedictine monk.

Thomas Aquinas couldn't very well have remained a nameless Benedictine monk:
the Angelic Doctor was a Dominican priest.

Terry Ross

(7)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Reed <
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Date:           Saturday, 13 Jan 1996 10:59:36 -0800
Subject: 7.0034  Re: Development of Individualism
Comment:        RE: SHK 7.0034  Re: Development of Individualism

Jesus Cora writes:

It is just that I think that individualism and self-consciousness are quite
relevant in the period, much more than in any other period. As to drama, with
the huge amounts of plays-within-the-plays and other insets, as well as
self-reference to the dramatic art in many of the plays, I think that
theatrical self-consciousness also becomes quite important and may be included
in a general drive to and interest in self-consciousness (but, again, I know,
we also find theatrical self-consciousness in Terence).

I am in accordance with his views, but I would like to find the terms that
express/define why individualism is quite relevant.   The boundaries between
public and private are a favorite and easy binary experienced "throughout
time", but we need to articulate the distinctive manifestation of this tension
in each age/culture.  Beowulf's individualism was, I imagine, very important
and relevant for entirely different reasons than it was for Shakespeare.  And I
too would look, with Jesus Cora, into theatrical self-consciousness in order to
begin plotting what is at stake in Renaissance English individualism.

Quite a bit of work has been done on 17th centuy conscience & casuistry; not
nearly so much on the construction of conscience in the 16th, however. If
conscience is the avatar of individuality in the 17th (and I'm not certain by
any means that it is -- perhaps its just a likely candidate), what did it come
from that was distinctly 16th/Renaissance?

I'm really not sure where this is going, but I am very engaged with the topic.
 

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