The Mole and the Multiple: A Chiasmus of Character


In this essay, the return of character as a literary-critical concept is explored for what it tells us about the intricate relations between the one and the multiple in the long modern period. The contemporary resurgence of character studies stops short at the dawn of the twentieth century; and for good reason. It is with the modern novel that literary character begins to undergo, and rapidly develops, its most radical encounter with multiplicity—to the extent that its achieved unity gives way. At the same time, the emergence of commercial cinema, which typically regressed to a very primitive model of character in its narrative logic, stimulated these literary experiments with characterological erosion from within. However, the subsequent trend of novels being written for the screen, and of films beginning to do their own multiple-thinking, suggests a curious double chiasmus, whose logic might provide a key to the thinking of subjective constitution in the late modern period.