Academic journal article The Comparatist

The Fragmented Nietzschean Subject and Literary Criticism: Conflicting Images of Woman in Jacobsen's "Arabesque to a Drawing by Michelangelo"

Academic journal article The Comparatist

The Fragmented Nietzschean Subject and Literary Criticism: Conflicting Images of Woman in Jacobsen's "Arabesque to a Drawing by Michelangelo"

Article excerpt

An artist is a sort of Sisyphus that is compelled to roll a stone to the top of a slope. But for himself the stone always escapes him near the top and rolls down again, although one would prefer to have an audience that believes that it has stayed at the top.

--J. P. Jacobsen, letter to Axel Helsted, 1880



Structural versus Dynamic, Diachronic versus Synchronic

When Nietzsche addresses the question of subject and mind, he always assumes a dynamic model of the psyche. A dynamic representation, in contrast to a structural or topographical one, depicts something as a flow in time, as ever-changing becoming. On this level of representation, various features of the mind have no actual existence in a topographical sense; they have no existence as identifiable entities.

If topographical and structural representations depict something in spatial terms, dynamic representation depicts something as movement or a fluctuation of forces. As an example of the two modes of representation, we may resort to an ordinary political world map. Great Britain, for example, is well defined and easily identified on a map of Europe. Suppose that instead of defining Great Britain as a nation, we define it as where British citizens happen to be living. We now have a first approximation to a dynamic model. According to this definition, Great Britain is no longer identical to the British Isles because, owing to emigration and immigration, some British citizens live outside the borders of Britain, and some non-British live inside them. The topographical model has already become so complex that it is difficult to maintain. We could at best talk about different concentrations of British citizens and of a worldwide diaspora. According to this definition, our new "Great Britain" would have to be drawn as an indefinite number of clusters on a world map. Furthermore, the model is no longer static, since the influx of non-Britons into Great Britain and the dispersion of Britons to other countries constantly change the demographic pattern of areas we would want to define as Great Britain.

Introducing this distinction, we have a first outline of Nietzsche's model of the mind and a first simple rendition of Nietzsche's objection to subjective unity and self-identity: various features of the mind have no existence as identifiable entities, and Nietzsche can say without committing a self-referential contradiction: "There exists neither 'spirit,' nor reason, nor thinking, nor consciousness, nor soul, nor will, nor truth: all are fictions that are of no use" (Will to Power, [section] 480). If "existence" implies that entities occupy place and topos, these features of the mind do not exist. In a so-called dynamic model, these attributes are not unified and identifiable like a country shown on a map; they exist as a play of forces, as migrations and immigrations of quantities, as fluctuations and shifting concentrations of energies.

In this model of the psyche, not only have we replaced structural with dynamic representation, we have also replaced diachronic with synchronic representation. The self is not here seen as layered in strata from the superficial and manifest to the still deeper and latent. Rather, desires are seen as organized on a synchronic surface. Desires may be emerging from the dark and obscure terra incognita of our unconscious underground, but as they manifest themselves, they are not unconscious, but rather hyperconscious. If they are not noticed, it is because they are all- and everywhere-present in the fleeting instances of enunciation. Desires make up the foreground of discourse, and as such they go unnoticed. Thus, we envision only one surface on which a struggle is carried out between local configurations, internalized imperatives, which are at best only locally rational and self-consistent but which time and again collide because of the lack of super-rationality, the lack of a logical super-self. …

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