In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

!!he (People Things Mafy: Lock's !Essay Concerning !Human Understanding and the (Properties of the Seif MARKBLACKWELL Self is that conscious thinking thing, (whatever Substance, made up of whether Spiritual, or Material, Simple, or Compounded, it matters not) which is sensible, or conscious of Pleasure and Pain, capable of Happiness or Misery, and so is concern'd for it self, as far as that consciousness extends. —John Locke, Essay concerning Human Understanding (1690-1706)' Mr. Locke's Opponents needed but to examine, calmly and impartially, whether the declaring that Matter can think, implies a Contradiction; and whether God is able to communicate Thought to Matter. —Voltaire, Letters concerning the English Nation (1733)2 One of Citibank's recent television campaigns peddles the company's fraud-protection services by depicting identity-theft victims speaking in the voices of their impersonators. The advertisements construe the crime as a form of body-snatching, or at least as an uncanny assumption of another's buying power, and thus remind viewers that the virtual marketplace of credit cards and Internet shopping offers consumers opportunities to consume even as it simultaneously renders buyers vulnerable to possession; one's identity, the ads threaten, may circulate as freely as the goods one purchases. The humor of the commercials is conveyed through unlikely juxtapositions of class, age, gender, and ethnicity that tend to minimize the risk that identity theft poses to the victim's core selfhood. No one who knows these people, the ads suggest, could possibly confuse them with the disembodied, usurping voices speaking through them. Yet viewers are left with a disquieting sense that their identities 77 78 / BLACKWELL are somehow vulnerable, prey to "unbodied spirits" that lurk online or in unmarked vans parked near ATMs. Identity is but another type of commodity, a thing of which one may be dispossessed. Though identity theft of this sort is a peculiarly modem phenomenon, it nonetheless resonates with the distinctive conceit of numerous canonical eighteenth-century English fictions, including Moll Flanders (1722) and Tom Jones (1749), texts predicated on their title characters' tendency to lose themselves and assume the identities of others. Scholars eager to tell a particular story about attitudes toward human identity in the eighteenth century often invoke John Locke's Essay concerning Human Understanding ( 16901706 ) as one of the forces shaping the novelistic presentation of self in the period. Emst Cassirer long ago touted Locke as the "guide and master" of eighteenth-century psychology, and more recent historians and critics have cited the Essay in order to explain the increasing importance of the freestanding individual and the psychological self in Enlightenment writing.3 Thus, Ian Watt conjures Locke's authority in order to provide a philosophical basis for the novel's "truth to individual experience" and its "particularizing approach to character," while Hans Aarsleff credits Locke with inspiring the novel's "new intimacy and even inwardness in the conception and portrayal of character."4 Indeed, Locke's influence is especially crucial to the magisterial "rise-of-the-novel" thesis sketched by Watt, though the outlines ofthat thesis can perhaps be traced as early as Voltaire's Letters concerning the English Nation (1733). Voltaire distinguishes the romance-writing philosophers of previous generations from Locke, who offers what Watt might describe as "a full and authentic report of human experience": "Such a Multitude of Reasoners having written the Romance of the Soul, a Sage at last arose, who gave... the History of it. Mr. Locke has display'd the human Soul, in the same Manner as an excellent Anatomist explains the Springs of the human Body.... He takes an Infant at the instant of his Birth; he traces, Step by Step, the Progress of his Understanding."5 Voltaire constmes the Essay as a sort of bildungsroman of human understanding. However, Watt's compelling, still-influential story of prose fiction's growing emphasis on the "anatomy" of the individual character depends on a rather narrow reading of Locke's Essay, especially of its groundbreaking account of personal identity. Voltaire himself alludes to Locke's theory of identity-in-consciousness when he suggests that Locke's attention to the particularity of his own experience renders his "history" persuasive: "Above all...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1938-6133
Print ISSN
0360-2370
Pages
pp. 77-94
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.