The Invention of the Self: The Hinge of Consciousness in the Eighteenth Century

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Southern Illinois University Press, 1978 - History - 268 pages
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The absence of self in Classical litera­ture and the emergence in the eigh­teenth century of the concept of the unique and individual self asserting its existence and seeking its truth in pri­vate experience and feeling is often touched upon in cultural histories but little explained. Seeking the reasons for and the effects of the change of attitude toward one’s concept of one’s self in the “new” eighteenth-century attitude to­ward history, biography, travel litera­ture, pornography, and the novel, Lyons finds, first, that the term self is deceptively vague. It evolved, he notes, to fill the vacuum created by doubt about the existence of the soul.

Second, Lyons finds that without a concept of the self—that ineffable something in a human being that to its inventors and their followers was an abstract of pure and intuited natural laws—the revolution and romanticism of the modern age would have been very different from what it has been. More importantly, Lyons concludes that the concept led to monumental error and to bitter disappointments rooted, as his il­luminating history shows, in the im­possibility of defining that which never was.

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Out of the Void
Dancing On the Head of a Pin

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About the author (1978)

John O. Lyons is a professor of Eng­lish at the University of Wisconsin.

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