In this essay, I offer an interpretation of Abelard's Historia Calamitatum and letters exchanged with Heloise, arguing that both are informed by the attempt to look below the surfaces of language, self, and action to a reality beneath and to achieve authenticity, by which I mean coherence between surface and depth. This reading shows an emerging sense of self and self-knowledge based on the relationship between external act and internal intention. While using traditional medieval narrative forms, I argue, Abelard gives his story a modern-sounding autobiographical twist: that its moral is about matching outer to inner self. While the project is never complete, the search itself becomes an identity; Abelard achieves authenticity in his rejection of all the models of it that were available to him. This is not done to unmask a self without place or parallel but to make the case for a new way of life in a new community for the inner self who is truly seeking God. Thus, like Augustine before and Rousseau after him, Abelard writes about his own life with a philosophical aim: to display the nature of what it is to be human and to make claims about how human life ought to be lived.
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Eileen C. Sweeney; Abelard's Historia Calamitatum and Letters: Self as Search and Struggle. Poetics Today 1 June 2007; 28 (2): 303–336. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-2006-024
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