Carlyle, Descartes, and Objectivity

George Levine

in Dying to Know

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print September 2002 | ISBN: 9780226475363
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226475387 | DOI:
Carlyle, Descartes, and Objectivity

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This chapter explores the story that Thomas Carlyle tells in Sartor Resartus. It suggests the degree to which fear and hatred of the body dominates Victorian thought. Sartor Resartus is a gesture at demonstrating what might be called an adequate “method” of knowing—but it is cast in part as biography and enwound with the ethical and the material. In the nineteenth century, Carlyle's strange book overtly enacts the way the ethical and the epistemological are sanctioned by the same values. His demanding and unresponsive body became his enemy, especially in sex and in defecation. The significance of the body in his engagement with himself and resistance to Enlightenment rationalism makes his ultimate choice of career seem inevitable. Carlyle was too much a man of the body to succumb to the pure disembodiment toward which Selbstödtung pointed.

Keywords: Thomas Carlyle; Sartor Resartus; knowing; Enlightenment rationalism; Victorian thought; body

Chapter.  8878 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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