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The Abyss of Freedom: Legitimacy, Unity, and Irony in Constant's Adolphe


Despite its superficial similarities with Rousseau's Confessions, Constant's Adolphe functions in fact as a devastating critique from within of the entire autobiographical project. Proceeding from the threefold assumption that the soul is irremediably divided, self-opaque, and untranslatable into language, it interrogates the very feasibility of autobiography, implicitly presenting its protagonist's maxims (which only appear to be the fruits of experience altruistically shared) and his claim never to have loved (which only appears to be brutally honest, but is a curious act of self-slander) as desperate attempts to produce the illusion of unity. Behind everything stands the spectre of the French Revolution, its excess of liberty engendering relentless, paralyzing doubt – a thoroughly modern species of self-division from which it is difficult, if not impossible, to recover.

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