Lost But Still There
Loss of the Self: In Literature and Art, by Wylie Sypher (Random House, 1962, 179 pp., $4), is reviewed by Robert M. Davies, Professor of English, Thiel College, Greenville, Pennsylvania.
The Puritans thought themselves wretched sinners in the sight of God, but without serious qualms they cut off the head of Charles I. This was the paradox that so intrigued Macaulay in considering the Puritans: their almost abject self-denial because they were sinful human beings, yet their self-investiture as political regents for Almighty God because they were his sons.
Is man a little lower than the angels, or is he the dust of the earth? In this highly recommended book, Wylie Sypher follows the great change that has occurred in man’s concept of himself since the early nineteenth century. Then the Romantic hero was at the very center of the universe, and, in a measure of speech, he almost became his own universe. His personal emotions, seeking unbounded personal freedom, knew no restrictions.
But in seeking freedom, he modified and attacked the social and political systems so that increasingly he was swallowed up by the statistical mass man his own liberal statism created.
Building upon this historical background, Sypher shows the recent struggle of literature and art to find the authentic self. The existentialists, says Sypher, always assumed that the self has an identity, but the great question has been whether one is being honest in finding it.
Now, however, we are in post-existentialism, and the question arises: What if the self has only an uncertain existence? Suppose the realities of our situation seem to be more actual than the self on which these experiences are imposed? This is the question treated in what has ...1
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