The unconscious Enlightenment: The origin of the novel and the logic of fantasy
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This dissertation examines Enlightenment notions of identity, community and aesthetics as they unfold in key eighteenth-century novels, and thereby rethinks earlier theories of the novel which hold it to be merely complicit with more important trends in Enlightenment philosophy and European social development. Against this position, I uncover the novel's relation to a crucial dimension of human experience that is at once radically personal and yet utterly unfamiliar – both internal and external – and thus both immune to historical analysis and beyond the agency of the subject in whom it resides. Later, Freud would call this hidden terrain "the unconscious," and would discover there an obscure logic of fantasy governing human desire. I reveal that this unconscious logic actually appeared well prior to the advent of psychoanalysis, since it resides at the heart of the early novel. Chapter one, "Origin and Repetition," outlines the theoretical foundations and stakes of my intervention. According to its psychoanalytic formulation, fantasy names the subject's unconscious attachment to an unknown and socially unacceptable object of desire. Fantasy abides by an obscure logic which may be read within the disruptive symptoms it produces upon the surface of conscious experience, since these symptoms actually signify this forbidden desire in a displaced form. I argue that these signifiers appear within the contradictions, inconsistencies, repetitions and digressions that interrupt the narrative order of key Enlightenment texts, and that an attunement to their logic demands a method of reading that emphasizes the novel's disunity and internal confusion. This approach further repudiates the basic distinctions between subject and object, self and other, individual and society, and desire and reason, upon which prior theories of the novel are based. Chapter two, "Education: Making/Unmaking the Man of Letters," puts this method into operation by situating Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Émile: Or, On Education along a thematic and philosophical continuum whose logical conclusion is not, as Rousseau might have hoped, the realization of a truly free human subjectivity, but the radical unfreedom of Eugenie, the depraved young inge ̧nue from the Marquis de Sade's Philosophy in the Bedroom . Rousseau and the champions of child-centered education to whom his novel gave rise held education to be the process by which a pre-social, unformed individual is crafted into a reputable citizen-subject. It was Sade, however, who first uncovered what I call the economy of enjoyment at work within this process, presenting the subject of Enlightenment education as nothing more than a wholly fictional object of its author's despotic desire to utterly control this imagined subject's development, personality and beliefs. This comparison troubles the distinction between philosophy and fiction, thereby exposing Rousseau's influential model of the fully realized, free and self-aware subject to be the product of an untenable fantasy of subjective autonomy. Chapter three, "Allobiography: Tristram Shandy and the Inscription of the Other” discovers this fantasy at work within a reflexive literary tradition that originates with Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote and culminates in Sterne's Tristram Shandy . Far from rejecting John Locke's widely-read defense of the autonomous, rational subject, I show that Tristram Shandy 's disconnected narrative emerges precisely from the fantasy of such a subject, and thus celebrates a recalcitrant kernel of non-sense residing entirely within the field of instrumental reason. By following the numerous gaps, miscommunications, ink blots and missing pages that interrupt Sterne's central storyline, and by referring these gestures to other historically foundational novels, I prove that this disruptive remainder is immanent to the novel form. Chapter four, "Contagion: The Politics of the Unpresentable in Daniel Defoe's A Journal of the Plague Year ," extends this discussion to the question of political community through archival research and a broad reading of Defoe's literary project. Following Thomas Hobbes' argument that the sovereign can only stabilize collective belief in its authority by threatening extreme violence, I find in Defoe's graphic representations of the 1665 plague an attempt to reassert God's sovereign command over a superstitious society that found itself on the brink of total irreligious disorder. At the same time, however, Defoe's frequent assertion that a truly stable authority may only exist where human reason is freely practiced complicates this position, and aligns the Journal with elements of Baruch Spinoza's Theological-Political Treatise . I thus reconceive the novel as an important fictional mediation between these key philosophical insights, and rethink politics as the way in which a population sustains a shared fantasy of social cohesion through its fictional relationship to the sovereign authority under which it is collected.