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Trosman, H. (2009). The Ironic Detachment of Edward Gibbon. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 90(3):581-593.

(2009). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 90(3):581-593

Interdisciplinary Studies

The Ironic Detachment of Edward Gibbon

Harry Trosman

(Final version accepted 10 November 2008)

Edward Gibbon, the author of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, has been widely recognized as a master of irony. The historian's early life with parents he found self-serving and unreliable, his reaction to the events surrounding the death of his mother at the age of 9 and the decline of his father, left an impact on his personality and played a role in determining his choice of his life work. Irony has been approached from a psychoanalytic perspective as a mode of communication, as a stylistic device, as a modality through which one might view reality and as a way of uncovering the linkage between pretense and aspiration, between the apparent and the real. Gibbon's ironic detachment can be understood as rooted in his life history. He felt detached from his family of origin, in need of a protective device which would enable him to deal with passion. Sexual and aggressive impulses mobilized defensive postures that were later transformed into an attitude of skepticism and an interest in undercutting false beliefs and irrational authority, positions he attributes to religious ideation which served to instigate historical decline.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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