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"According to my bond": Intimacy and Attachment in Early Modernity


This dissertation studies the history of intimacy from late humanism through the Enlightenment by examining how the abstract concept of attachment becomes both a primary preoccupation and a crucial stumbling block in imagining subjectivity throughout the period. Examining a series of authors (Shakespeare, Descartes, Milton, and Rousseau) who ask what it would mean to be essentially without social ties, this project reveals the early modern period's ongoing conflict between a primary solitude associated with autonomy, isolation, and detachment and a primary sociality that assumes a natural order of attachments, bonds, and interdependence. This dissertation challenges the conventional story of the birth of "interiority" or "the invention of the human" with Shakespeare (or even Montaigne) by revealing a resistance to a conception of attachment that assumes inwardness; instead, it uncovers a more gradual historical shift in models of primary attachment from external to internal bonds, from attachments understood to occur outside the subject to those forged by an immanent or internal principle of relationship.

Chapter one argues that Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice and King Lear reveal a commitment to exteriority rather than the interiority so often attributed to Shakespeare as it attempts to conceal the fragility of social bonds and the ease with which they - and social life - can be destroyed. Chapter two examines Descartes' Meditations and locates in the defensive strategies of the meditator an attempt to evade the threats of attachment through a negotiation with poetics that leaves dependency precariously outside the self. Chapter three finds in Milton's Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained a turn to an immanent sociality in the figure of the Son; in Milton's monism, a principle of relation inheres in all matter, suggesting that even total isolation is attended by this principle of relation. Chapter four studies Rousseau's Émile and shows how the autonomy and even the solitude of the subject is secured by placing a relational principle around the subject's soul. Finally, a speculative coda turns to Kant to consider the legacy of solitude and autonomy in the Enlightenment's most famous moral philosopher.

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