The Dark and Light Gods: Essays on the Self in Modern Literature

The Dark and Light Gods: Essays on the Self in Modern Literature

The Dark and Light Gods: Essays on the Self in Modern Literature

The Dark and Light Gods: Essays on the Self in Modern Literature

Synopsis

". . . [Guiterrez] examines the existence or reality of the self through a scrutiny of late 19th and 20th century works of fiction and non-fiction. . . . Methodology and style are accessible to undergraduates, and the study should prove useful background for modern literature courses."¿CHOICE

Excerpt

This study attempts to examine the character of the self in selected works of modern prose. More precisely, it is concerned with examining the existence or reality of the self through a scrutiny of late 19th and 20th century works of fiction and prose non-fiction that embody and test the self.

Such an enterprise is likely to be "self"-fulfilfing or tendentious. It would show its hand at every juncture, from the authors and works chosen to the interpretations and conclusions elicited from them. Most literary studies of this nature are unavoidably committed to a particular perspective or attitude on the topic, for the self is, of all topics, one of the hardest to write about dispassionately or objectively. Most people, if they even think about the self, are likely to assume and accept its existence. The self seems too integral to our deepest sense of our own being to warrant questioning; it is or seems as much a part of our existence, even of the same repository of existence, as our breathing. It is rooted in old traditions in Western culture that relate it to the very pith of our physicality, mentality, and emotional substance and experience, and through Plato and Christianity has been regarded as being concentrated more finely and even ultimately in the soul, our best and most ideal or most spiritual self.

Yet there are also traditions in Western thought that deny the existence of the self. They can be isolated or are implied in writers like Pascal, La Rochefoucauld, and Hume, and find their counterpart in certain areas of 20th century art and thought. The idea that the self does not exist, or no longer exists, or that the character of the age is destroying it, is implied in some of the radical scepticism and nihilism of Modernist literature, beginning with Dostoyevsky's Underground Man in Notes from Underground, and continuing in the socially fractured self of Kafka's hunted and questing protagonists, of Beckett's disembodied voices and minds, of William Burroughs' drugged zombies.

Yet these and other profoundly pessimistic and even nihilistic writers, by the very substance and force of their case for the . . .

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