Date of Degree

9-2018

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

English

Advisor

Joan Richardson

Committee Members

Wayne Koestenbaum

Alan Vardy

Subject Categories

American Literature | Philosophy of Language | Philosophy of Mind

Abstract

This study is an interdisciplinary form of literary criticism in conversation with science that goes to work for philosophy of mind and language in order to rethink descriptions of consciousness. It analyzes our common sense concept of self-knowledge into a matrix of fraught binaries, involving a theory of mind constrained by Cartesian mind/body dualism and a theory of truth trapped within an old debate between rationalism and empiricism about essence and construction, nature/nurture. Whereas it is more the custom of literary criticism engaged in the critique of binaries to adopt the tools of poststructuralism and deconstruction, this study takes its lead from the traditions of pragmatism and ordinary language philosophy. It provides 1) a theory on the origin of binaries that challenges assumptions about their nature, 2) a reading of James Baldwin’s 1956 novel, Giovanni’s Room, that traces salient aspects of American experience to our fraught concept of self-knowledge, and 3) an alternative model of mind hewn from the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, and based in concentric circles. It is the overarching aim of this study to describe how this alternative concentric model of mind supports pragmatism’s theory of truth, forming what I call the geometry of pragmatism, a signifying, imaginative structure designed to reshape, enliven, and thereby improve how we think when we think about self-knowledge, with farther-reaching implications for discourses of identity.

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