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Production of the self during the age of confessionalism

Abstract

During the last several decades, the history of the self, its nature, essential shifts, and trajectory have undergone considerable re-examination. The Western Civilization textbook premise that the history of the West and the rise of individualism correlate closely with each other is being critically examined. There are a number of different historical, anthropological, literary, and sociological discourses about bodies, memory, conscience, subjectivity, identity, privacy, sexuality, and gender, which have developed separate narratives about the self, frequently (mostly) in isolation from one another. Some recent feminist theory finds the thesis of individualism irrelevant for women and suggests that the self as a continuing story (autobiography) is gendered. Some theorists counter the creative possibilities of forgetting to a self constructed around a memory core. Multiple selves, schizoid selves, and decentered selves challenge older ideas of identity. The dialectic between public and private produces new problems about who “owns” the self, its image, and its location. Bodies, sexualities, and desire turn out to be shaped and disciplined within hidden forms of power. Old ideas about the rise of the individual and new ones about the pathologies of the self make the self and its history a central issue for contemporary debate.

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