Scholars have noted the relation of the rise of the novel to the emergence of a particular form of subjectivity, of interiorized selves. Connected with this self is the cultivation of an interior emotional life. Already in Hobbes we find an interior realm of conscience understood as separate from a person's actions. Architectural styles, particularly in urban environments, also attest to the new, bourgeois, interiorized subjectivity--dwellings start to have more separate and separated rooms for individual occupants, singular pursuits, and the relating of one's thoughts and feelings to an audience of others (the salon). Of course, these interiorized selves do not arise full cloth in the 17th century. The practice of confession had already introduced a certain reflexivity (even as the rarity of mirrors in most of Europe up until later in the 18th century provides a physical reminder of the limits of this reflexivity). By the end of the 19th century, the presumptions of a rich interior life, an interior world beyond even the subject's own awareness, enabled the emergence and establishment of psychoanalysis.
There are no doubt variations on and disagreements over the details of this quick and superficial sketch. These don't concern me here. What does concern me are the changes in selves, the new conditions of subjectivization. For it seems clear to me that contemporary mediatized practices lead away from interiorization, displacing subjectivity onto surfaces and screens. Another way to say this: contemporary subjects lack depth; they lack rich interior lives but instead endeavor to 'get it all out,' to express everything, to share their feelings and experiences. This drive to express eliminates the very interiority it endeavors to exteriorize.
Our media--blogs, journals, television, ipods, podcasts, music, magazines, commercials, greeting cards, films, all of it--overflows with expressions of feelings, opinion, and sensibility. We are overcome by, awash in, feelings. Before we breathe, before we think, voices have already intervened, telling us how they feel, how we feel, that we should put it all behind us before it was ever in front of us. Intensive therapeutization makes every move or gesture a sign of past trauma that has always already been recovered, interpreted, 12 stepped, and rehabilitated. The pre-expression of feelings prevents the development of a separate interior life. Selves are rather conduits for a set of already expressed feelings. We can't feel anything without it already being a cliche.
This is a problem in current political campaigns. The media strives to capture the character of the politician. They criticize each other--and the campaign--for slickness and spin. But, they are after something nearly impossible: finding character on a surface. Character names a lack, what is missing--permanently?--from communicative capitalism.
We have drugs to prevent interioization--anti-depressants. Behavioralist approaches train us not to think about things too much. What really matters is how we act.
Argumentation is lost: we have opinions (everyone is entitled to one) that precisely because they are our own become constitutive of our fragile, exteriorized identities--criticisms are attacks, not of our deepest core, because that's what we lack, but of our fragile, thin, exteriorized self. No wonder we are defense, afraid. If we crack, there is nothing inside. We crumble into dust.
My friend, Hubertus, finds that novels stir and enlargen his soul. I don't--but I wish I did. Instead, novels are what I read before I go to sleep. They are like any other entertainment--less noisy and stupid than television. But, they've been reduced--for me, at least--to just entertainment. A good turn of phrase is fun whether I read it or hear it.