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date: 19 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Central to Charles Taylor’s account of secular modernity, in which divinely guaranteed truth gives way to the personal and human, is ‘the massive subjective turn … in which we come to think of ourselves as beings with inner depths’. This chapter approaches the ‘subjective turn’ of Romantic literature by way of its philosophical and literary antecedents in the eighteenth century, emphasizing the instability or inscrutability of personal identity as conceived in Hume, Sterne, and the emergent genre of autobiography. The most powerful autobiographies of the Romantic era—if we include such generically complex cases as The Prelude and Biographia Literaria—inherit and develop a Shandean sense of the problematics of their own enterprise. Yet their fascination with the processes of cognition, and more broadly with mental operations, conscious or unconscious, also bears the mark of more recent psychological discourses; they articulate a new sense of subjectivity as constituted by the creative perceptual activity of imagination.

Keywords: associationism, autobiography, consciousness, identity, imagination, psychology, self, Romantic irony, subjectivity

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