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Self-deception and Self-conflict

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Abstract

Self-deception and self-conflict have always been major themes in literature — some might say the major themes. Oedipus and Don Quixote, Lear, Arsinoé, Philip Pirrip and Willie Loman — all are, in important senses, self-deceivers whose inauthenticity generates conflict within. But the Modernist project of fragmenting selfhood enormously complicates the issues involved in these themes. If selfhood is fragmentary rather than coherent, we are beyond the mere paradoxicality of the lie in the self, and the question of the relationship between self-parts and the possibility of self-acknowledgement becomes acutely problematic. In the first place, Modernism writes self-deception as the banal norm rather than the spectacular (and heroic) exception. If fragmentation is a reality of experience then self-deception can never be finally evaded. Thus there is no instance when, for instance, Prufrock or Mauberley or Bloom or Gerald Critch see themselves quite clearly — as Oedipus or Dickens’s Pip are represented as doing. Further, because awareness of fragmentariness is bound up with the relativities of language, there is no final formulation that might articulate full self-recognition. Where Oedipus can claim ‘Everything has come to light’ and spell out, in anguish, what he has been, the Modernist protagonist (or subject) is prone to testify, in bewilderment, the mismatch between experience and words: ‘It is impossible to say just what I mean!’

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim (Penguin, 1965), p. 103.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Herbert Fingarette, Self-Deception (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1977).Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons (Oxford University Press, 1984).Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    May Sinclair, Life and Death of Harriett Frean, edited by Jean Radford (Virago, 1980).Google Scholar
  5. 10.
    Peter Brooker cites the Pound interviews with Allen Ginsberg and Daniel Cory as evidence that Pound thought the poem merely a ‘botch’. See Peter Brooker, A Students’ Guide to the Selected Poems of Ezra Pound (Faber, 1979), pp. 362–3.Google Scholar
  6. 12.
    This is brought out convincingly in Bernard C. Meyer, Joseph Conrad: A Psychoanalytic Biography (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1967 ).Google Scholar
  7. 17.
    See F. R. Leavis, The Great Tradition (Penguin, 1962 ), pp. 196–202.Google Scholar
  8. 24.
    See Albert J. Guerard, Conrad the Novelist (New York: Atheneum, 1967) Chapters 4 and 5.Google Scholar
  9. 27.
    W. B. Yeats, Autobiographies (Macmillan, 1961 ), p. 189.Google Scholar
  10. 28.
    W. B. Yeats, A Vision (Macmillan, 1950 ), pp. 299–300.Google Scholar
  11. 29.
    W. B. Yeats, Essays and Introductions (Macmillan, 1961 ), p. 155.Google Scholar
  12. 32.
    Quoted by T. R. Henn, The Lonely Tower (Methuen, 1966 ), p. 36.Google Scholar
  13. 34.
    Denis Donoghue, Yeats (Fontana, 1971), p. 41.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Dennis Brown 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Hatfield PolytechnicUK

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