Recent criticism dealing with early modern subjectivity has been shaped by rarely-acknowledged disciplinary ambitions and habits. Subjectivity, as a topic, has clear links to issues of professional status and celebrity: those who write about this topic often gain status as important "subjects" in the field. This kind of canonizing is also at issue in the works we read for representations of subjectivity. Despite stated interests in the non-canonical, critics still tend to focus on a handful of selected texts. Critics also affirm the canonicity of the "Renaissance" itself when they ignore topical continuities between earlier periods-whether we speak of the medieval, the pre-modern, or the early "early modern"-and the era we study. Greater attention to issues of methodology and text selection could help us overcome some of these disciplinary habits, and give us new insights to representations of subjectivity.
Impostors, Monsters, and Spies: What Rogue Literature
Can Tell us about Early Modern Subjectivity
Renaissance "rogue literature," in its concerns about vagrants' physical mobility and reputed ability to "pass" as respectable citizens, reveals a deep discomfort with newly-developing interiority and subjectivity. What seem to be investigative reports that bring to light hidden practices are actually borrowings from earlier texts; they shed light not so much on the activities of vagrants as on social anxieties around the inner self. If people cherished their own inwardness, they also feared it in others. Vagrants represented synecdochically the dangers of interiority itself; the fact that everyone was in some way passing: preparing a face to meet the faces that they met; protecting a newly-privatized heart.
Public/Private Subjectivity in the Early Modern Period:
The Self Colonizing and Colonizing the Self
The colonizing experience of early modern Europe led not to the establishment of a monological European identity, but rather, frequently produced split subjects and split interpretations of people and events as individuals found themselves situated between cultures. This split vision can be seen in the essays of Montaigne, who was not content simply to condemn the Spanish for colonial excesses, but who also ironically critiqued the idea of discovery in French expansion. Moreso, split subjects are to be found in instances of kidnapping and mediation, both situations in which members of one cultural group find themselves crossing over into the identity of the other, precariously occupying a place between resistance and capitulation. The new identities created under such circumstances were disturbing for colonizers and colonized alike and frequently led to the rejection of the ambivalent middle party.
© 2002-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).
(PD 23 January 2002)