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KELLY BARRY Natural Palingenesis: Childhood, Memory, and Self-Experience in Herder and Jean Paul Eighteenth-century discussions of palingenesis present a challenge to intellectual history—an irreducibly "intricate" one, in the words of one scholar attempting to sketch their development from his own early twentiethcentury vantage point.1 The difficulty lies in the concept's inherent variability within Enlightenment and early Romantic discourses. In natural-philosophical and scientific writings, palingenesis indicates a doctrine of rebirth understood as a renewal of bodily material. Yet in the debates about immortality that typically constitute the broader discursive context for palingenetic conceptions at this time, the term is often used synonymously with Christian and non-Christian notions of the rebirth of a non-corporeal substance. Palingenesis is used to mean both a revitalization of physical substance and the flat opposite, the continuity of an immaterial soul that outlives any particular and finite material form.The semantic pliancy is compounded further by how the concept ranges beyond debates about immortality and into other contexts, serving as a proto-evolutionary model of development in natural-historical discussions, as a metaphor of cultural rebirth in historicophilosophical writings, and as a trope of aesthetic production.The history of palingenesis, its career as an idea, in the eighteenth century is shaped largely by how it moves among and is respecified to numerous discursive contexts. Any analysis of "palingenesis" must orient itself in response to this conceptual mobility, following its passages into broader, often overlapping fields of inquiry. This article isolates one transformation of palingenesis in the juncture of philosophical, psychological, and literary discourses. The aim is to consider how palingenetic "rebirth" fits into new definitions of the self that gain currency at the end of the eighteenth century. The guiding interest in palingenetic doctrine—how does life continue? what part of a life form must be preserved for life to continue?—feeds into questions of what constitutes the self and what is essential to personal identity. However else it contributes to a conception of self, palingenesis in its narrow scientific meaning stresses embodiedness, and thus runs counter to the "gradual disembodiment" characteristic of the modern self that underlies, among other things, our current brain-based conception of identity.2 In a recent article, Fernando Vidal has offered a history of this development particularly in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century thought/charting the self's disembodiment as a process Goethe Yearbook XIV (2007) 2 Kelly Barry of physical localization, a progressive elimination of the whole body toward an ever more specific body part as the site of identity. Is the soul what we really need to be ourselves, or the mind, or the brain, and then which part of the brain? That question and the historically shifting answers to it rest on a dualistic conception of the subject. Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1694) is worth recalling here, as a work decisive in Vidais account of the trend toward separating personal identity from the body and also because it isolates the very terms that I see palingenetic thought critically reshuffling. Locke's distinction between "man" as a continuation of "the same organized body" and "person" as "the same thinking thing" locates the person or self exclusively in the continuity of consciousness and memory.3 If the self does not depend on substance, the body is demoted from essence to accident. It is this view of the body that allows Locke to hypothesize about how an individual's physical substance can be modified—varied by gain or loss, annexed to more than one person—independent of the question of whether that individual's personal identity persists.4 The transformation of palingenesis into a conception of memory, which I will examine in the work of Herder and Jean Paul, resists a dualistic conception of the subject and thus fits in with the critique of the disembodied self that Vidais study undertakes. In different ways, Herder and Jean Paul introduce the body back into the equation between memory and self, and thereby alter Locke's proposal considerably. To the argument that memory constitutes the self is added the question: how is memory "vitally united"5 to the body? in what sense does memory...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1940-9087
Print ISSN
0734-3329
Pages
pp. 1-25
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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