Impersonality: Seven Essays
University of Chicago Press, 2009 M11 15 - 272 pages
Philosophers have long debated the subjects of person and personhood. Sharon Cameron ushers this debate into the literary realm by considering impersonality in the works of major American writers and figures of international modernism—writers for whom personal identity is inconsequential and even imaginary. In essays on William Empson, Jonathan Edwards, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Herman Melville, T. S. Eliot, and Simone Weil, Cameron examines the impulse to hollow out the core of human distinctiveness, to construct a voice that is no one’s voice, to fashion a character without meaningful attributes, a being that is virtually anonymous.
“To consent to being anonymous,” Weil wrote, “is to bear witness to the truth. But how is this compatible with social life and its labels?” Throughout these essays Cameron examines the friction, even violence, set in motion from such incompatibility—from a “truth” that has no social foundation. Impersonality investigates the uncompromising nature of writing that suspends, eclipses, and even destroys the person as a social, political, or individual entity, of writing that engages with personal identity at the moment when its usual markers vanish or dissolve.
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affect afﬂiction attention benevolence Bhikkhu Bodhi Billy Budd Billy’s body Brunetto Buddha faces called character child cited parenthetically Claggart claim constitute Dante dead deﬁned deﬁnition difﬁculty dissociation distinction divine Divinity School Address East Coker Edwards’s Eliot Emerson’s essays Empson entity essay’s Essays and Lectures existence experience eyes fact fate feeling ﬁgure ﬁnally ﬁnd ﬁre ﬁrst Four Quartets Further references ghost God’s grief hereafter abbreviated Herman Melville human idea identiﬁed imperative impersonal individual inﬁnite instance Jonathan Edwards Little Gidding man’s manifestation Melville Melville’s mind narrator’s nature object one’s Over-soul pain Parﬁt particular passage perception personal identity philosophy poem Press question Ralph Waldo Emerson references are cited reﬂections reiterated relation representation sacriﬁce sense Simone Weil soul speaker speciﬁcally spiritual suttas T. S. Eliot things thought tion trans True Virtue understanding Univ Vere’s violence voice Weil’s writing William Empson words