Introduction to Unified Personalities?

Journal Editor


Unified personalities?


Freud’s psychoanalytic theory shattered the faith in the unity of the subject – most clearly expressed through the Cartesian cogito, ergo sum – that had long supported Western thought. Since then a diverse range of disciplines have broadened the challenge to unified selfhood – modernist aesthetics, post-colonial and feminist thought and post-modern explorations of the inter-text are but a few examples. Perhaps we have even reached a state where we can reverse the Cartesian dictum and say that ‘I am essentially that which I am incapable of thinking’ as it increasingly seems that the only unified personhood we possess is the illusion of self-presence that the first person pronoun gives us.

The papers that comprise this section explore examples from three very different literary traditions and yet all three offer readings that reveal how the author stages socio-political conflicts by endowing his or her protagonists with disunified selves. Stefanie van Gemert combines feminist and post-colonial perspectives to examine the performed literary identities of Jean Rhys and Hella S. Haasse, both of whom were born in the colonies and ‘repatriated’ to Europe in their early adulthood. Metodi Metodiev turns to a reappraisal of two Bulgarian novels written during the severe oppression of the Stalinist period (1948-1953), which subvert the state’s cultural ideology by ‘disunifying’ their characters from the ‘Socialist Man’ (or Woman). Peter Sloane’s paper on the works of David Foster Wallace deals with the opposite of ‘Socialist Man’ – the post-modern individualist of the early twenty-first century. Grounding his reading in Wallace’s disappointment with his own body, Sloane examines the metaphysics of embodiedness – while everyone’s experience starts from their own body, cultural discourse teaches us to see ourselves in opposition to our own body, making the body both that which is most and least our own. The disunity of body and mind in a unified human figure is a fit image to end this selection of papers, as they, too, are a disunified assembly of explorations, critiques, and spurs to further thought that are bound together in this first issue of Tropos.

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