Samuel Butler's "Life and Habit" and the Modernist Literary Character

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Samuel Butler (1835 – 1902) was probably the most original contributor to the debate on habit in Britain in the second part of the nineteenth century. He intended habit as the channel through which unconscious memory can be passed down from one generation to the next, preserved in the experience of the species and its determination to evolve into more complex forms. Butler thus used this notion of habit to challenge the Darwinian theory of evolution. Samuel Butler's theories have been disregarded among professional philosophers; nonetheless, several leading twentieth century thinkers, such as Gregory Bateson and Gilles Deleuze, have repeatedly extolled the visionary power of Butler's ideas and admitted their debts towards them. Moreover, Butler's theories of habit were influential among several modernist writers, such as H. G. Wells, Virginia Woolf, Valery Larbaud, and E. M. Forster, and they contributed both to these authors' understanding of the crisis of modern subjectivity and to their attention to the representation of habitual behavior and the everyday. In this paper I intend to show how Butler's theory of habit, – in particular as it is presented in his seminal work Life and Habit –, once disentangled from the anti-Darwinian debates on the theory of evolution from which it first emerged, can offer a considerable contribution to the contemporary philosophical debate and allow a better understanding of the history of the idea of habit at the turn of the century.
Lingua originaleEnglish
pagine (da-a)111-127
Numero di pagine17
Stato di pubblicazionePubblicato - 2016


  • Abitudine
  • Butler, Samuel
  • Deleuze, Gilles
  • Edward Morgan Forster
  • Forster, Edward Morgan
  • Gilles Deleuze
  • Habit
  • Literary Character
  • Modernism
  • Modernismo
  • Personaggio
  • Samuel Butler
  • Slavoj Žižek
  • Virginia Woolf
  • Woolf, Virginia
  • Žižek, Slavoj


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