Aspects of Individualism in Fourteenth and Fifteenth Century Medieval Texts
Ainsworth, Breeman Neal, III
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Many scholars have noted the rise of the individual in medieval Europe. In spite of this claim however, many continue to maintain that there is a fundamental difference between the medieval, or pre-modern, and modern eras; in terms of the individual, this generates scholarship that posits the medieval individual as nothing more than a member of a group, not in fact an individual in modern terms. Nevertheless, the shifting dialectic concerning individualism reveals a similarity between medieval and contemporary conceptions of the individual. Although the modernist interpretation that the individual supersedes the group and erases historical, political, and religious subjection remains common, the postmodern individual focuses on a distrust of narratives that clarify existence. Similarly, the high and late Middle Ages manifest a strong suspicion of both individualism and communal hegemony. Despite the argument that medieval man was imbedded in the community and, therefore, distinguishable from modern man (the praiseworthy individual), a postmodern perspective emerges when one considers the contradictions and problematics of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century texts. This convergence centres around the idea that the medieval individual combined a both sense of self and a sense of being subject, indicated by the term subjectivity. Thus, by tracing this subjectivity in specific texts, the rise of a problematic individualism elucidates the similarities between contemporary and medieval individuation.