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Biography 25.2 (2002) 387-391

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Nicholas D. Paige. Being Interior: Autobiography and the Contradictions of Modernity in Seventeenth-Century France. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2001. 304 pp. ISBN 0-812-23577-0, $55.00.

Being Interior is ambitious, erudite, and elegant: the extent of Nicholas D. Paige's readings in the theoretical issues of modernity, subjectivity, gender, and (auto)biography is such that his discussion of the trope of interiority links together many of the most interesting debates in seventeenth-century cultural studies. Paige's approach is largely, though not uncritically, Foucaldian: the analysis of religious autobiography as playing into the modern demand for an interiorized subjection—the illusion of selfhood as a function of powerrelations—is tempered by a deconstructionist reading of autobiography's defacement of the subject it purports to express. Paige eschews the formalist idea of a subject constructed through its own literary representations in favor of an approach that takes into account the materiality of the book. He takes issue both with the historical, Habermasian view of modernity as an eighteenth century phenomenon resulting from the twin forces of Protestantism and nascent bourgeois capitalism, and with the traditional literary view, inherited from Burckhardt, of modernity as a product of the Renaissance's discovery of the individual. One of the most ambitious goals of this study is to examine modernity as a mentality that pervades both sides of the traditional opposition between secular and religious forms of identity. Reversing literary history's marginalization of religious autobiography, Paige argues that the path of secular autobiography is actually prepared by the deepening sense of interiority conveyed in the religious texts of the seventeenth century.

Being Interior is divided into two sections of two chapters each. While the first studies, grouped under the heading "Reading in," examine the dream of transparency—of a subject whose particularity can be communicated through writing—those of the second part, "Frictions," examine the social, juridical, and religious obstacles to the communication of self-authorizing experience, as well as the contradictions inherent in the utopian project of exteriorizing interiority. The first chapter, "The History of an Anachronism," contextualizes modern readings of Montaigne's Essais and Augustine's Confessions as precursors of autobiography by asking "Since when have Montaigne and Augustine seemed to readers to express their inner selves on the printed page?" Adopting Foucault's dichotomy between care of the self and the hermeneutic self, Paige situates the reception of the Essais in the context of increasingly interior readings. His opposition, for example, of La Croix du Maine's early reading to that of Montaigne's fille d'alliance, Marie de Gournay, shows a distinct trend towards a reading in which the Essais are the space of Montaigne's interiority—though one may wonder whether this shift is [End Page 387] not due as much to the more personal nature of the 1588 edition of the Essais as it is to any intervening sea change in patterns of readerly reception.

In examining the seventeenth century's reception of Augustine, Paige points out that the interior depths of the Confessions lead to God and not to the establishment of self-sufficient human agency. While Augustine's interiority is the obscurity that must be penetrated in order to reach beyond the falsehoods of self-love, the seventeenth century emphasizes this opacity through translations that greatly enhance the metaphor of interiority. Paige provides some illuminating comparisons of passages from the Latin of the Confessions with their counterparts in Arnauld d'Andilly's 1649 translation, and especially the answer to Augustine's famous question—What do I love when I love my God?—in which "the embrace of my inner man" [amplexum interioris hominis mei] becomes a "voluptuousness . . . found only at the bottom of my heart, in this part of myself that is all interior and invisible" (54). This tendency culminates in editions that expurgate all theological considerations in order to present an intimate portrait of the Bishop. Beyond the obvious differences between the skeptical, libertine prose of the essayist and the fervent piety of...


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