JUSTDOLIT: a single tool to analyse all texts

Individuality

1 The problematic representation of I(ndividuality)

Initially, one could say that the representation of individuality is relatively easy, for the I is defined by only two features: uniqueness and freedom. Precisely because of this, however, the I ends up being extremely difficult to represent in texts. An example may help to clarify matters here: let's say you are unique because you have a unique talent for playing football. If we enquire further what your talent consists of, we could say it's either

  • your explosive change of rhythm; but if it's your explosive quality, your individuality is defined as nature, for physical qualities are natural
  • your team spirit; but if it's the team spirit, your individuality would be defined by the social dimension, for you sacrifice yourself for the group
  • or the kind of aura you display on the field; but if it's the aura, yours would be a metaphysically tinged individuality

A similar thought experiment could be performed with freedom. In the end, whichever characterisation we use for the individual, we will always arrive at a different dimension from individuality. So real individuality* is very difficult to locate in a text.

The work of Henry James is a sustained attempt to find real individuality, but also an acknowledgment of the impossibility of finding it. Click on the following picture for a brief discussion of individuality in James's "Daisy Miller":

Pure individuality

Henry James: "Daisy Miller"

Usually, what we do then when we analyse a text is not try to find out where individuality is, but which other dimension it refers us to. So your question when you read a text that seems to show you a pure individual should first of all be: which dimension does this unique individuality suggest?

To see an example of individuality deferred to other dimensions, click on the pictures below:

 

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Individuality deferred I

Harold Pinter's The Caretaker

Individuality deferred II

Kant and Orwell

2 Contemporary expression of individuality

In our contemporary culture, unique individuality expresses itself in very specific ways, in ways unthinkable before the eighteenth century:

  • Individuality is linked to nature understood as the individual's present feeling
  • Individuality understood in this way is usually separated from society (and often from metaphysics when metaphysics is seen as part of society; when it is seen as part nature the relationship is more difficult)

Let's look at two examples.

 

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Example 1: Individuality as feeling

From David Hume's

A Treatise of Human Nature

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Example 2: Individuality vs society

From Oscar Wilde's

The Picture of Dorian Gray

 

The two examples are typical modern examples, part of a way of understanding human individuality which would probably have been unthinkable before the 18th century. They are part of our modern stereotypes of individuality, and are bound to reappear in many texts. So please, with regard to individuality, do two things when you read a text:

  • Be on the lookout for these manifestations of individuality
  • Look for chinks in the stereotype; modern texts may become interesting precisely when they break such a stereotype

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For a discussion of a text with such a chink, i.e. which subverts our common assumptions about individuality, click on the following picture:

Individuality against the grain:

Angela Carter's The Lady of the House of Love

 

acknowledgements of sources for pictures:

 

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daniel.candel@uah.es | ©2008 Daniel Candel Bormann