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Don Juan: Celebrity and the Subject of Modernity

  • Tom Mole
Chapter
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Part of the Palgrave Studies in the Enlightenment, Romanticism and Cultures of Print book series (PERCP)

Abstract

Don Juan presents subjectivity in stubbornly un-modern ways during the historical period when the emergent celebrity culture was helping to normalise modern ideas about subjectivity. In this final chapter, I will suggest that celebrity culture relied on elements of a distinctively modern understanding of subjectivity and therefore sponsored its normalisation, shutting down a variety of earlier possibilities in the process. The new understanding of subjectivity that emerged was linked to a new moral culture, elements of which Don Juan set out to resist. My reading of its moments of dissent reveals Don Juan’s attempt to think outside the moral prescriptions of modern subjectivity at the last historical moments before their universality became unquestionable.

Keywords

Moral Judgement Romantic Period Moral Culture Modern Understanding Modern Subject 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (London: Routledge, 1970; 1997)Google Scholar
  2. Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989)Google Scholar
  3. Dror Wahrman, The Making of the Modern Self: Identity and Culture in Eighteenth-Century England (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004).Google Scholar
  4. 2.
    Nancy Armstrong, How Novels Think: The Limits of Individualism from 1710–1900 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), p. 3.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Andrea K. Henderson, Romantic Identities: Varieties of Subjectivity, 1774–1830 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    By calling attention to the dialogic nature of Don Juan, Philip Martin warns against ascribing to the poem any stable position or consistent argument. See Philip Martin, ‘Reading Don Juan with Bakhtin’, in Don Juan, ed. Nigel Wood, Theory in Practice (Buckingham: Open University Press, 1993), pp. 90–121. Refusing or disrupting normative ways of thinking is itself a kind of argument, however, and while it would be anathema to the poem systematically to elaborate any thesis, distinct and complex antagonisms recur throughout.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Truman Guy Steffan, Byron’s Don Juan, 4 vols, I: The Making of a Masterpiece (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1957), p. 59.Google Scholar
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  9. 9.
    M.K. Joseph asserts that ‘Don Juanism has a good deal in common with the Brechtian Verfremdung, which likewise “distances” the spectator from the action and provokes his reaction to it by a calculated use of the strange, the unexpected or the discordant.’ M.K. Joseph, Byron the Poet (London: Victor Gollancz, 1964), p. 323.Google Scholar
  10. 18.
    Clifford Siskin, The Historicity of Romantic Discourse (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), pp. 3, 12.Google Scholar
  11. 19.
    Roy Porter puts it like this: ‘[t]here’s a standard way of telling the story of the self, one that embodies and bolsters core Western values. Its climax is in the fulfilment of the cherished ideal of “being yourself” […] In other words, the secret of selfhood is commonly seen to lie in authenticity and individuality, and its history is presented as a biography of progress towards that goal, overcoming great obstacles in the process.’ Roy Porter, ‘Introduction’, in Rewriting the Self: Histories from the Renaissance to the Present, ed. Roy Porter (London: Routledge, 1997), pp. 1–14 (p. 1).Google Scholar
  12. 21.
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  15. 34.
    Donald Frame notes that ‘[h]uman conduct is the central point of all. Keen psychologist though he was, Montaigne was always ultimately a moralist. […] All he learned about himself and others was only partly an end in itself. It was also a means to his only final end: to live well and appropriately and — when he had learned how — to teach others to do so.’ Donald M. Frame, Montaigne’s Discovery of Man: The Humanisation of a Humanist (New York: Columbia University Press, 1955), p. 10.Google Scholar
  16. 36.
    I therefore think Kim Ian Michasiw is mistaken to present Don Juan as promoting a social constructivist understanding of the self in opposition to conventionally Romantic essentialism. See Kim Ian Michasiw, ‘The Social Other: Don Juan and the Genesis of the Self, Mosaic, 22, no. 2 (1989), 29–48.Google Scholar
  17. 48.
    George Ridenour, The Style of Don Juan (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1960), p. 152. Ridenour’s reading of this passage can be found on pp. 117–18.Google Scholar
  18. 53.
    Jean Hall comments, ‘where the other Romantics believe that this turn toward innerness is both possible and desirable, Byron tends to doubt both the feasibility and attractiveness of the interior self. He tends to avoid self-exploration because it appears to him a futile process, an exercise in self-delusion.’ Jean Hall, ‘The Evolution of the Surface Self: Byron’s Poetic Career’, Keats-Shelley Journal, 36 (1987), 134–57 (p. 135).Google Scholar
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    Jerome Christensen, Romanticism at the End of History (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000), p. 188.Google Scholar

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© Tom Mole 2007

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  • Tom Mole

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