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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: January ::
Re: Development of Individualism
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0060. Wednesday, 24 January 1996.

(1)     From:   Chris J. Fassler <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 23 Jan 1996 14:31:51 -0500
        Subj:   Development of Individualism

(2)     From:   Stephanie Hughes <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 23 Jan 1996 16:09:31 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: Development of Individualism

(3)     From:   W.  L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 23 Jan 1996 15:32:17 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0037  Re: Development of Individualism


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Chris J. Fassler <
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Date:           Tuesday, 23 Jan 1996 14:31:51 -0500
Subject:        Development of Individualism

Jonathan Sawday's comments (SHK 7.0055), including a (to me) obscure reference
to past dialogues on Cartesian fish, prompt me to attempt again to convey this
message on this thread:

1)  When Gertrude expresses doubt about the player queen's sincerity, if not
veracity, she says (I think):  "The lady doth protest too much, methinks."

2)  If I remember what I learned when I studied Russian, "methinks" is a
reflexive construction, a not uncommon grammatical type I would suppose, more
common in earlier English than modern.

3)  DeCartes wrote, "Cogito, ergo sum" (I have no idea how to punctuate this).

4)  What happens to our notion of self, individuality, etc. if we imagine this
most recognizable Cartesian claim translated as "Methinks I am"--or some such
Bottomian phrase?

5)  Is there any good work out there about the evolution of English and its
effects on the self in language?  (I vaguely remember a job candidate coming to
my alma mater and discussing the introduction of "was now" into the novel, but
I can't remember any conclusions or speculations that might be germaine.)

6)  BTW, while I do not share the reverence for Shakespeare and everything
Shakespearean that is common on this list, I must question Jonathan Sawday's
great confidence that "the historical Shakespeare" must have shared Spenser's
genocidal contempt for the Irish.  The evidence seems to me, at best,
insufficient with regard to Shakespeare in particular, and the view seems to me
hardly to have been universal (though perhaps nearly so) in early modern
England.

Curiously,

--Chris Fassler
  Winthrop University

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephanie Hughes <
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Date:           Tuesday, 23 Jan 1996 16:09:31 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Re: Development of Individualism

Jonathan Sawday;

Thanks for the interesting response to my reference to "stone age" communities.
I agree with everything you said. In my use of the term I was (hopefully) not
exhibiting developmental snobbery. That I feel no such snobbery I try to
express by putting quotes around the term "civilization". I am a believer in
the symbol of the snake eating its own tail (alas, can't draw it here) for the
"progress" of human development. What we gain at the head we lose at the tail.
Penelope's web is another good image. What is woven at one end is unravelled at
the other, and so on and on, for eternity. We can learn a great deal from stone
age communities, not only tips on how to live more happily and less frantically
in the present, but as a guide to what we once were. (I use the term "stone age
community", but what I really mean is communities that have changed minimally
since the stone age in comparison with ours.)

My original point was that the concept of "individualism" arises out of a sense
of separateness that only comes to a society when it fragments at a certain
stage of "civilization," and that this "stage" repeats as the level of
"civilization" rises and falls with the rise and fall of cultures. The ancient
Greeks had this concept, so did the Romans. With the fall of the Roman empire
and the subsequent return to a less "civilized" culture, this concept
disappeared, then rose again towards the end of the renaissance, as society
again reached the level of fragmentation. Of course I could be altogether in
left field on this, but this was my point.

You're right, we're way off the track of Shakespeare here. Didn't it start with
Jesus Cora commenting on a possible connection between the soliloquies and a
rise in a sense of the individual?

Stephanie Hughes

(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W.  L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Tuesday, 23 Jan 1996 15:32:17 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 7.0037  Re: Development of Individualism
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0037  Re: Development of Individualism

Robert Appelbaum writes (cold and lonely):

>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.

Let me suggest that he's looking in the wrong place.  Ask a Jehovah's Witness
about the connection of the soul with the body, and you will get an answer
that's straight out of John Milton who held that there was no soul apart from
the body (to put it crudely). The tradition survives, make of it what you will.

Of course, one should make as many distinctions as possible, and remain as
skeptical as one may -- about everything, including changes in the way "we"
perceive ourselves, the way technology affects individualism, and so on.

Yours, Bill Godshalk
 

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