Sincerity is a complex and rich subject of literary history.
For one, does it even belong to literary history? One could easily imagine histories of sincerity from perspectives like the theory of self-consciousness in German Idealist thought or in Rousseau’s notion of selfhood and self-truth. We can also look farther back toAugustine’s Confessions or to the self-critical irony and satire of Dryden. How have literature and literary criticism contributed to our received notions of authentic selfhood?
In this issue of Christianity & Literature we ask specifically how “sincerity” emerges within the intersection of literary studies and Christian thought and history. My co-editor, Caleb Spencer, and I present sincerity as a dialectic between expression and interiority, expanding and contracting through various articulations of self-truth. And the essays in this volume address particular literary moments of the sincere in the works of Augustine, Thomas à Kempis, Shakespeare, Milton, Puritan preachers, Swift, Byron, Blake, Rousseau, Wordsworth, David Foster Wallace, and Ben Lerner.
My own essay contribution to this volume is entitled, “w/Sincerity, Part 1: The Drama of the Will from Augustine to Milton.” In this essay I locate some of sincerity’s recognizably modern fault lines in late classical and medieval philosophy. And I attend, in particular, to the question of how and when an individual came to be understood as able to “sin sincerely.” When did morality and selfhood diverge at least to that extent? The answer, I argue, is found in the writings of Anselm and Scotus, and in particular to their responses to the distinctly narrative problem of Satan’s first sin.