In the great shift in modernity from being to doing, the human person was pulled along in its wake. If there is no doer behind the deed, then there is, practically speaking, nothing but the doxic. In a sense, all of my actions would be deceptive, because they would not—could not—ever express my character. If my identity is the residue of my performative actions, rather than the other way around, then I am never expressing myself, only creating it. Being would follow upon doing. It might sound liberating, but Austen would recognize it as a world tailor-made for Elliot, Wickham, the Crawfords, and all the rest who prefer to trade in appearance rather than reality.
Austen would recognize this world, because she saw it in a less overt form in her time. She knew that the more attenuated a person’s inner life is, the more comfortable he is in living in appearances. This is why, ultimately, her charming villains are so pitiable, because they are so hollow. Because they have not prioritized their being over their appearance, they become insubstantial. The forces that, in her world, rewarded the doxic over the substantial have accelerated rapidly in our day. Today we live in a world in which, as Roberto Calasso puts it, “What prevails is a ubiquitous lack of substance, a deadly insubstantiality. It is the age of the insubstantial.” It is the age of the triumph of the doxic over the real. One can only imagine the novels Austen would write today.
Writer - Critic - Poet - Editor