We experience the self, as an entity capable of making choices.
Though our paths and our fortunes may be linked, each of us experiences life as an autonomous individual. Fantasy though it may be, it seems as though we are endowed with an independence of person. The novel and film “The Exorcist” challenged this image with a horrifying image of its own: what if any of us could be taken over and inhabited by someone else, especially someone evil?
I am happy to report that I have never known anyone to whom such a thing has happened. Illusion or not, our sense of autonomy gives human life its particular shape, color and meaning.
Technical and Analytical Readings
- John Christman, The Politics of Persons: Individual Autonomy and Socio-historical Selves (Cambridge University Press, 2009).
- J.B. Schneewind, The Invention of Autonomy: A History of Moral Philosophy (Cambridge University Press, 1997).
- Catriona Mackenzie and Natalie Stoljar, eds., Relational Autonomy: Feminist Perspectives on Autonomy, Agency, and the Social Self (Oxford University Press, 2000).
- Jennifer Nedelsky, Law’s Relations: A Relational Theory of Self, Autonomy, and Law (Oxford University Press, 2011).
- Gerald Dworkin, The Theory and Practice of Autonomy (Cambridge University Press, 1988).
- James Stacey Taylor, ed., Personal Autonomy: New Essays in Personal Autonomy and Its Role in Contemporary Moral Philosophy (Cambridge University Press, 2005).
- John Christman and Joel Anderson, eds., Autonomy and the Challenges to Liberalism: New Essays (Cambridge University Press, 2005).
- Marilyn Friedman, Autonomy, Gender, Politics (Oxford University Press, 2003).
- Salvador Dali, Portrait of a Child (unfinished) (1951)
Film and Stage
- Dead Ringers, about“twin gynecologists teetering on the brink of madness”
- The Exorcist: I am one who does not see this film merely as cheap entertainment. Its terror is in cutting to the core of personal identity. (See the novel by William Peter Blatty.) Rosemary’s Baby is its vicarious precursor. In a similar vein is The Fly.
- Performance, a film dealing with “sanity and identity”
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Presenting a single voice in simple melodic line, John Dowland’s intelligently constructed music for solo lute expresses the idea of human autonomy as well as any music can. A lutenist as well as a composer, Dowland no doubt derived his consummate skill in this genre from his own experience with the instrument, another element that makes this music an excellent fit for this subject.
- Complete works for lute, performed by Paul O’Dette (326')
- Complete solo lute music, performed by Jakob Lindberg
- Here is an album of Dowland’s solo lute works, performed by Jonas Nordberg, in a style similar to O’Dette’s (72')
- Here is some of Dowland’s lute music, performed by an unidentified lutenist (113').
Works for solo violin:
- Merrill Clark: The Sorceress, Seiðkonan - Sigurjónsdóttir Sonata (2010) (approx. 30’)
- Jónas Tómasson, Winter Trees, Vetrartré (1983) (approx. 16’)
- Runa Ingimundar, From My Home, Að Heiman (2012) (approx. 9’)
- Alfred Felder, Variations on Victimae Paschali Laudes, Tilbrigði Við Victimae Paschali Laudes (1987) (approx. 8’)
- Karólína Eiríksdóttir, Meditation, Hugleiðing (1996) (approx. 9’)
- Hródmar Sigurbjörnsson, Kyrie, Kurìe (2012) (approx. 9’)
- Augustin Barrios Mangoré, guitar music (approx. 400’)
- James Aikman: Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra (2010) (approx. 25’)
- C.P.E. Bach, Flute Sonatas (approx. 144’)
- Robert Baksa, Sonata da Giardina (1998) (approx. 12’)
- Richard Wilson, Music for Solo Flute (1972) (approx. 10’)
Jazz pianist Horace Tapscott has produced a substantial volume of music for solo piano, which he calls “The Tapscott Sessions”:
- Volume 1 (1982) (43’);
- Volume 3 (1983) (41’);
- Volume 8 (1996) (49’);
- Volume 9 (2000) (66’);
- Volume 10 (2002) (75’);
- Volume 11 (2009) (72’).
- Matthew Shipp, “One” (2006) (41’) “With their compact, elegant architecture and measured elocution, One's 12 songs often resemble the early 20th century piano studies of Ravel or Debussy as closely as they do modern jazz.”
- Lee Jae-Hwa, “L'art du sanjo de geomungo (The Art of Geomungo Sanjo)” (2013) (50’): this Korean zither is played with a bamboo stick, often unaccompanied, as on this album, or sometimes with percussion.
- Lost Girls, “Menneskekollektivet” (2021) (44’), “is a statement about the beauty of slowing down, of not worrying about what you say and instead focusing on how you feel.”
From the dark side, the loss of autonomy and identity as an existential fear:
- William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist: A Novel (1971): an iconic tale of demonic posession.
- M.R. Carey, Someone Like Me: A Novel (Orbit, 2018): “Liz is horrified at her actions and at the feeling she had of being controlled by someone, or something, else. ‘She hadn’t willed this; she had only watched it, her nervous system dragged along in the wake of decisions made (instantly, enthusiastically) elsewhere.’”
- Alexis Schaitkin, Elsewhere: A Novel (Celadon Books, 2022): “In a remote mountain town scrubbed of identifying factors, new mothers risk succumbing to an “affliction” that causes some to vanish with no warning or trace.”
I exist as I am, that is enough, / If no other in the world be aware I sit content, / And if each and all be aware I sit content.
One world is aware and by far the largest to me, and that is myself, / And whether I come to my own to-day or in ten thousand or ten million years, / I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness I can wait.
My foothold is tenon'd and mortis'd in granite, / I laugh at what you call dissolution, / And I know the amplitude of time.
[Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (1891-92), Book III: Song of Myself, 20.]
Out of the night that covers me, / Black as the pit from pole to pole, / I thank whatever gods may be / For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance / I have not winced nor cried aloud. / Under the bludgeonings of chance / My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears / Looms but the Horror of the shade, / And yet the menace of the years / Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate, / How charged with punishments the scroll, / I am the master of my fate, / I am the captain of my soul.
[William Ernest Henley, “Invictus”]
- Pablo Neruda, “Cat’s Dream”
Music: songs and other short pieces
Laurie Lewis, “The Maple’s Lament”, among the saddest songs you will ever hear