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Title: Executing character : of sympathy, self-construction and Adam Smith, in early America, 1716-1826
Author: Cook, Kristin A.
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2012
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This PhD thesis asks the following question: how does Adam Smith's moral sense philosophy, particularly his notion of sympathy, as articulated through his Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) and his Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (delivered 1762-63), rationally and relationally inform an understanding of socio-political character in Early America? Prioritising the American Revolutionary period, broadly marked by the years 1716 and 1826 (introduced by the opening of the first theatre in Williamsburg, Virginia), my analysis employs Smith's theory as a rhetorical device for understanding discursive fields of human interconnection, wherein "sensible" selves are being rationally constructed and theatrically conceived. I read the culture of sensibility and the language of sentiment as underpinning legal and logical intellectual development within this context (drawing upon scholarship by Andrew Burstein, Gary Wills, Sarah Knott and Nicole Eustace in this regard), where sympathy is foregrounded as one particular aspect of sensible self-construction. I understand the sensible self within this environment as a conceit that is always already theatrically informed and performed: this character is ever responsive to surrounding audiences and 'interpretive communities' (a la Stanley Fish, and Rhys Isaac in his dramaturgic and ethnographic approach to The Transformation of Virginia), and is bound up in underlying rhetorics of costume, composition and comportment (engaging with Jay Fliegelman's study concerning the performative underpinnings of American Independence: Declaring Independence: Jefferson, Natural Language, & the Culture of Performance). I develop this thesis through the course of four illustrative case studies wherein sensible American characters (in principle) and American characters (in fact) are standing trial. With respect to these, I enact a series of rhetorical executions, engaging with Adam Smith's notion of sympathy - which is itself theatrically informed - alternately as follows: as a dialogue of conviction; as a grammar of economy; as a translative rhetoric passage; and as a rhetorical conceit of logic and law. Each study depicts a different historical narrative relative to specific modes of sensible self-construction and "transformative" character development, and I treat each scenario with the same tool in order to effectively delineate and examine the original point. This approach is timely insofar as it qualifies Jonathan Lamb's investigation into The Evolution of Sympathy during the Long Eighteenth Century (2009): it usefully extends Lamb's work on the sympathy more generally by prioritising Adam Smith's theory in particular, and by reading Smith's paradigmatic conceit (distinguished via the impartial spectator) into legal and logical fields of "lived interactions". This thesis argues that Smith's sympathetic system offers a uniquely incisive mechanism for engaging with the socio-political processes whereby American characters are being transformed into "sensible" American citizens.
Supervisor: Manning, Susan; Cogliano, Frank Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: English Literature