The Spiritual Self in the Age of Reason: Autobiographical Writing, 1700-1800
Reyes, Michelle A.
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My project explores how certain German autobiographical texts of the eighteenth century craft a spiritual self. The texts analyzed expand the established canon of autobiographical writing by pairing each male voice with a female counterpart. These pairs include: the Lebensbericht von Anna Louisa Karsch (1761/62), Johann Heinrich Jung-Stilling’s Lebensgeschichte (1777–1804), Karl Philipp Moritz’s Anton Reiser (1785), Angelika Rosa’s Lebensschicksale (1784/85), Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s “Die Bekenntnisse einer schönen Seele” (1795/96) and Friederike Helene Unger’s Bekenntnisse einer schönen Seele von ihr selbst geschrieben (1806). In each of these accounts the self does not replace the soul but rather incorporates it through its cultivation. Michel Foucault’s The Hermeneutics of the Subject (1981/82) and The Care of the Self (1986) as well as from Niklas Luhmann’s sociological model of the self as differentiated subjectivity, outlined in his essay, “Individuum, Individualität, Individualismus” (1989), provide the theoretical cues. I argue that the purpose of self-cultivation in the analyzed autobiographical accounts is to achieve socially recognizable individuality (Luhmann) through a transfer of spiritual practices into writing (Foucault). My study marks a significant departure from previous scholarship in revealing rhetorical, narrative, and conceptual continuities between Pietist confessions and supposedly secular accounts of individual life. Furthermore, my study finds significance in its ability to give voice to male as well as female perspectives in both canonical and non-canonical texts, showing how men and women take markedly different turns on the path towards the spiritual self.