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Self-Making Men

Self-Making Men

Chapter:
(p.85) 3 Self-Making Men
Source:
Accounting for Capitalism
Author(s):
Michael Zakim
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226545899.003.0004

If growing and making things no longer served as the foundation of a stable social order, what was the proper object of man’s prodigious powers of production? The response to this industrial-age predicament was that man himself would become that object, “necessarily an end, not a means,” as William Ellery Channing explained in Self-Culture. This was not the quixotic solution of a handful of arcane transcendentalists, however, as evidenced in the popular embrace of a new cultural hero, a “self-made man,” who literally declared himself to be the ends of his own conscious productive efforts. Because “I” was an organic whole, identical with itself, these self-made men were supposed to be immune to the transmutations of form and constantly renegotiated value that now defined all other forms of property. And yet, rather than offer protection from capitalist revolution, the new, liberal self operated by the same logic which governed the market, removing knowledge from one context and rearranging it in another in order to enhance performance. Paperwork thus proved as relevant to making persons as making profits, which is why individualism and capitalism became the two most prominent neologisms of the age.

Keywords:   self-made man, diary, individualism, mental labor, masculinity, selfhood, self-knowledge, Bartleby, leisure time

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