Vol. 45 No. 3 1978 - page 344

self which we have repeatedly alluded
is seen dramatically in the
shift of values from the Victorian era to our own. In the Victorian era,
the predominant value scheme held that one sought to achieve preemi–
nence within an established moral order. For many centuries, artists
were given various degrees of license to live outside the boundaries of
conventional society but precisely because of their unique contribu–
tions to culture. This ethic served a dual purpose for conventional
society; the life of the bohemian artist both allowed vicarious experi–
ence and was simultaneously an object for censure. In the late nine–
teenth century, li cense became detached from achievement. A different
conception of the individual good was emerging-for example, as
portrayed in the exhortations of Pater and Wilde-a conception which
elevated experience above both duty and productivity, and in which the
abdication of a bourgeois identity became a virtue in itself. These
aspects of the exaltation of the self, so frequently associated with
dandyism, focused on the person , not his accomplishments. In terms of
the monomaniacal celebration of the self, dandyism as an end unto
itself marks the beginning of the narcissistic trend which so dominates
the contemporary cultural climate. Estheticism and hedonism were to
be superimposed on, and dominate, the natural order. Thus, that
li cense which had been the province of the artist was democratized and
separated from any endeavor. At the same time, in bourgeois culture,
enormous importance was placed on the mastery of men over nature
which, at least prior to the problem of environmental and genocidal
destruction, promised a superior man-made order.
The most widely heralded shift between the Victorian era and our
own is the sexual revolution. But the sexual revolution must be viewed
as a paradigm for a much broader shift, a shift both in the concept of
the ideal self and the concept of the good society. While such an
expansion of the self as accrues from this shift may be experienced as
liberating and self-enhancing, it also carries a hidden negative valence.
As traditional relations have broken down, not only has greater
freedom accrued to the individual but the burden on the self has
expanded. With increasing social mobility the belief has gained more
and more adherents that we are masters of our own fates and conse–
quently the individual is viewed as personally responsible for any
failures in his life.
Despite the subjective experience of the sovereignty of the self, the
individual is dependent in an unprecedented way on both the services
and decisions of others. Few of us are even able to supply our own food,
light, or shelter and virtually none of us can claim to control our
political destinies. This decline of self-sufficiency coexists with an
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