Date of Degree
This dissertation addresses a crisis of modern collective identity by employing a dialectic of philosophical and literary "realisms." While both philosophical and novelistic discourses are premised on twin gestures (aspiration for correspondence between representation and reality), they arrive at radically different claims about how rational, self-governing individuals constitute - and are constituted by - "legitimate" social bodies. By foregrounding the internal complexity and empirical immersion of "real" individuals negotiating "realistic" social encounters, eighteenth-century novelists engage in a sustained critique of emerging concepts of "legitimate" community. Penetrating even the most basic foundations of social knowledge, such as the capacity to distinguish between "familiar" and "stranger," for example, they expose an unsettling porosity that fundamentally undermines critical assumptions of stable, legitimate social organization, such as consent, the "natural" primacy of the family, and "natural sociability." Thus the novel, as the following chapters argue, a popular literary form derogatorily associated (in direct contrast to works of political philosophy) with women, the young, and the "idle," facilitates critical engagement with historically privileged discourses about social and political legitimacy.
Dicus, Andrew Scott, "Traumatic Familiarity: Fictions and Theories of Community in the Eighteenth Century" (2015). CUNY Academic Works.