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Our secret, inner, sense of self – what we feel makes us distinctively 'us' – seems a natural and permanent part of being human, yet in fact it is surprisingly new. Over the last 2,000 years we have increasingly felt old sources of identity, such as family, tribe, or social status, as intensely personal, even unique to us. Confessional religious writings and novels, from Augustine to Jane Austen, or diaries even of 20th-century holocaust victims, took the same path to self-discovery and exploration inwards – as did the cinema. Artistic realism began with internalization.
In the last few centuries our inner space has expanded far beyond any possible personal experience. Our knowledge of history, other cultures, the world, and the cosmos, and has vastly enhanced our capacity not merely to write about what we have never seen, but even to create fantasies and impossible fictions around them.
Yet our secret selves can also be a source of terror. Dreamers and visionaries often fear rather than delight in what they have uncovered. We all have specific nightmares. Identity theft has a long history – going back at least to 15th century Florence. Mystics and poets, from Dante to Newman or Hopkins, sought God in their secret spaces not least because they feared the 'abyss beneath'. The medieval three-storey universe reappears in modern psychoanalysis. The fringes of our secret selves are often porous, ill-defined, and, if some wilder prophecies of cyborgs or reincarnation have any validity, open to frightening forms of external control.
Please note: this is an uncorrected proof and is not final.
“This is a fascinating book, written with clarity and charm. What is engaging as well as convincing is how Stephen Prickett traces out the visible emergence, usually in literature but also painting and film, of a conception of the interior life, suggesting how we might read evidence of it even in a single word or phrase. An impressive, memorable study that will, aptly, linger in the mind.”
- Francis O’Gorman, author of Worrying: A Literary and Cultural History