The Unknowing Self: Knowledge, Ignorance, and Early Modern Subjects
AuthorPaul, Ryan Singh
Committee ChairBrown, Meg Lota
McBride, Kari Boyd
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractThis dissertation explores the role of ignorance in the process of early modern self-fashioning. Renaissance historiography has, by and large, been based on a Cartesian-cum-Hegelian understanding of the subject as a subject of knowledge. An individual's recognition of her self-motivated agency, her power to act as an independent self, has been read as the product of the generation of knowledge and epistemologies that assert human ability to pursue and master knowledge. Critical theories of subjectivity have challenged the humanist subject and its epistemological foundations, but ignorance and the unknown have rarely been theorized as anything more than empty spaces to be invaded and filled by knowledge. Building on recent philosophical and cultural materialist investigations into knowledge, ignorance, and the subject, my work studies how ignorance can operate as a positive force in the production of the self and how, paradoxically, knowledge can erode the epistemological foundations of subjectivity. Primarily focused on the literature of early modern Europe, this dissertation advances the study of early modern subjectivity as well as the relationship between epistemology and the self as perceived in contemporary theory by tracing the hitherto ignored operations of ignorance and complicating the assumption of a teleological connection between knowledge and subjectivity. In particular, the major areas of study are: how hegemonic discourses produce not only knowledge but also ignorance in order to stabilize the existence and authority of social hierarchies and empowered subject; how the creation and pursuit of knowledge outside of these demarcations can erode the foundations of social identity and individual subjectivity by revealing the fiction of cultural "truths"; how cultural spaces of ignorance can provide disempowered individuals opportunities for resistance and self-fashioning against socially prescribed norms; and how submission to or acknowledgment of one's own ignorance can become internalized as an essential part of a subjectivity that does not rely on knowledge as a form of power.