Promise in early eighteenth-century England: Reading Hobbes and Addison
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How does a postmodern cultural position that questions "acknowledged authority," to use Dr. Johnson's terms of art, develop an interpretative practice that can be "reduced to method?" This enquiry into the early 18 th century public sphere in England questions current interpretative histories when it brings into critical contact cultural practices whose relation is not contained by those histories. To read Hobbes' contractarianism and Addison's essays on culture and aesthetics is to locate national and aesthetic contracts. Interpreting their relationship locates dispositions that contribute to an emerging cultural logic, an enlightened perspective that shapes the print culture of a public sphere. A constant dialogue with a postmodern theoretical tradition on the Enlightenment means that the dissertation reads eighteenth-century texts through the critical lenses of Jameson, Habermas, Eagleton, Bourdieu, and Lacan. The consequence of this practice is a revised understanding of eighteenth-century literary history. Postmodern antifoundationalism is not properly a critical posture applied to Enlightenment texts, but comes from those texts. "The cultural analysis undertaken by Hobbesian political science inscribes a skeptical consciousness that anticipates postmodern strategies of enquiry." To describe that "consciousness," this dissertation deploys a complex heuristic structure that delineates the "social psychology of the early eighteenth-century public sphere." This structure, which begins by radically renovating Kenneth Burke's performative categories, sorts definitive, associative and prospective promises onto Bourdieu's economic, social and symbolic capital. A history of the semiotics of the promise in late seventeenth and early eighteenth-century England emerges. The dissertation is principally concerned with two conceptual and institutional locations for this history: law (or contract theory), and the aesthetic (which implicates a politics of "friendship," the articulation of an imaginary, intimate community). It analyses how the rhetoric of promise--and its theoretical avatar, contractarianism--form the psychic life of civil subjects. It analyses contractarianism from the inside, rather than (solely) from the perspective of literary-historical or political-philosophical teleology--to see the contradictions, both conceptual and material, that structure its "rise." As such, it reengages the central terms of eighteenth-century socio-political discourse--consent, contract, friendship, imagination--in order to show that the ideological condition of the Enlightenment does not involve fantasies of self-possession (freedom of contract, possessive individualism, companionate affiliation) but a kind of "narcissistic subjection."