Friday, 3 April 2015

Catherine Conybeare: Confessing Without Augustine

The Confessions of Augustine of Hippo has dominated narratives of the rise of autobiography in the West (building on Misch 1950) and of the “discovery” of interiority and of the self (notably Charles Taylor 1989) to such a degree that other manifestations of the autobiographical impulse in late antiquity tend to fall away from the discussion. Yet it is clear that a turn to autobiography and narration of the self in the period was not restricted to Augustine’s precocious sensibilities. Recent work on individuality (e.g. Torrance and Zachhuber 2014) is broadening our scope; this paper will expressly set aside the Confessions to consider other manifestations of self-narration, and begin to give an account that is independent of the highly idiosyncratic Confessions. It will focus on three narratives from very different times and places: the autobiographical parts of the Passion of St Perpetua; the De Vita Sua of Gregory of Nazianzus; and the Confession of St Patrick. Each is individually well-known; but this paper will put the three in conversation with each other to investigate the larger phenomenon of the turn to the self in late antiquity.

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