Introduction: Classical and Contemporary Forms of Alienation
This book is a collection of essays based on lectures delivered at the Academy of Ideas Academy in July 2017. The Academy that year was devoted to an exploration of the rise and the fall of the self. As organisers of the event, Angus Kennedy, Josie Appleton, Tim Black, and I were particularly interested in exploring the peculiar ways in which selfhood is problematised in contemporary society—for example, on the one hand, there is our increasing obsession with the fixed corporeality of selfhood (biology, sex, colour, and so on) which, on the other hand, sits beside a rather hollowed out, and increasingly abstract, form of universal selfhood (the cosmopolitan self who is a citizen of the world but with nowhere to call home). We began by considering a more or less classical, Enlightenment-liberal, notion of the self which emerges historically through the location of human subjectivity in some variant of individual freedom or autonomy: freedom or autonomy is taken to be the condition for individuals to undertake projects, often in collaboration with other individuals, in the pursuit of common interests. By contrast, formulations of the self that we can begin to uncover in much contemporary social and political discussion seem to begin from a disavowal of the self as a subject or agent in the world in favour of a self that is conceptualised in terms of more rigid categories of identity: what I am, it seems, has become more important than what I might make of myself.
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