Writing the Self Diaries, Memoirs, and the History of the Self: A new book by Peter Heehs

Peter Heehs

Peter Heehs

Writing the Self: Memoirs, and the History of the Self

The self has a history. In the West, the idea of the soul entered Christianity with the Church Fathers, notably Augustine. During the Renaissance the idea of the individual attained preeminence, as in the works of Montaigne. In the seventeenth century, philosophers such as Descartes formulated notions of selfhood that did not require a divine foundation; in the next century, Hume grew skeptical of the self’s very existence. Ideas of the self have changed markedly since the Romantic period and most scholars today regard it as at best a mental construct.

First-person genres such as diaries and memoirs have provided an outlet for self-expression. Protestant diaries replaced the Catholic confessional, but secular diaries such as Pepys’s may reveal yet more about the self. After Richardson, novels competed with diaries and memoirs as vehicles of self-expression, though memoirs survived and continue to thrive, while the diary has found a new incarnation in the personal blog.

Writing the Self narrates the intertwined histories of the self and of self-expression through first-person literature.

Table Of Contents

1. The Self and History
2. The Soul from Animism to Monotheism [prehistory to medieval period]
3. Exercising the Soul and Mind [14C-16C] /
4. Self-Examination [late 16C-17C]
5. Reasons of the Mind and Heart [mid 17C-early 18C]
6. The Soul Dethroned [18C]
7. Rousseau and Romanticism [mid 18C-early 19C]
8. Revolution and Reaction [19C France] /
9. Idealism and Irrationalism [19C Germany etc.]
10. The Individual and the Crowd [19C USA]
11. Doubting the Soul and Discovering of the Body [mid-late 19C]
12. Evolution and Affirmation [late 19C-early 20C]
13. The Search for Authenticity [mid 20C]
14. The Death of the Subject [late 20C]
15. The Self is Dead, Long Live the Self [1985-2010] /
Bibliography / Index 


“What is the self? Do we exist? Aurobindo’s biographer embarks on a highly ambitious history of ideas of the self, embracing Asian and Islamic attitudes, but focussing on Europe and America, all the way through to the World Wide Web. Drawing on diaries and memoirs, poetry and novels, Heehs conjures up vivid portraits of all the leading contributors to this debate. It becomes an intellectual history of modern times. Essential reading for all those planning their autobiographies.” – Antony Copley, Honorary Reader, the School of History, University of Kent, UK,

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