But, I always have difficulty with Fumerton's work on subjectivity. On the most basic level, Fumerton explains (regarding the mariner Edward Barlow)
that for all his unsettledness, Barlow has a very strong sense of himself as an enduring subject. He may not be a unified or consistent "I," but an "I" he is. This is evident in his prolific use in his narrative of the personal pronoun. (82)That is, at base, one's ability to use "I" in a meaningful subject position to refer to oneself demonstrates one's subjectivity. I get that. It makes good sense to me.
But there's more to this quotation. In the second sentence, it's implicit that Fumerton sees a different kind or level of subjectivity, a subjectivity that involves a unified and consistent "I." And that's where I have difficulty, because I really don't feel like I have that on some level. Yes, sure, I recognize myself when I wake up in the morning, but I don't feel consistent or unified. And that makes me wonder what Fumerton is after, and what other peoples' experiences of self are. And the more I think about that, I think that Fumerton's unified and consistent subjectivity is a very western, humanist construct. I like humanism lots, but I don't think that a western, humanist construct really represents human experience in a full way. Instead, I think it represents a fantasy of human experience. For all I know, some people may live that fantasy, but mostly I think it's one of those masculinist, western constructs that doesn't really work even for most people in western cultures.
Further, Fumerton's use of the unified and consistent subjectivity seems to set it up as a goal; there's a sense in this short quotation that Barlow may not have it yet, but he's "on his way" towards something she'd recognize as that subjectivity (whether he'll get there or whether the next generation will isn't important). In other words, it looks like for Fumerton, there's a teleology of human development towards a unified and consistent "I." And that seems wrong to me, because I'm convinced that different human experiences at this time and over history aren't teleological; we're not progressing towards some sort of higher consciousness so much as continually organizing and re-organizing our brains and experiences through evolution. But evolution is unlikely to make big changes in our brains in a short time, certainly not over a couple hundred years, or even a thousand or two.
What would be interesting, I think, would be to learn about how linguistic usages organize our brains and contribute to evolutionary change. I need to ask a linguist for some help on that one, don't I?
For all my criticism, I think Fumerton's work is well worth reading, and (from my lowly position), would be a good place to start thinking about a seminar or something.
Fumerton, Patricia. Unsettled: The Culture of Mobility and the Working Poor in Early Modern England. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2006.