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The Phantom of the Ego

Modernism and the Mimetic Unconscious

Nidesh Lawtoo

Publication Year: 2013

The Phantom of the Ego is the first comparative study that shows how the modernist account of the unconscious anticipates contemporary discoveries about the importance of mimesis in the formation of subjectivity. Rather than beginning with Sigmund Freud as the father of modernism, Nidesh Lawtoo starts with Friedrich Nietzsche’s antimetaphysical diagnostic of the ego, his realization that mimetic reflexes—from sympathy to hypnosis, to contagion, to crowd behavior—move the soul, and his insistence that psychology informs philosophical reflection. Through a transdisciplinary, comparative reading of landmark modernist authors like Nietzsche, Joseph Conrad, D. H. Lawrence, and Georges Bataille, Lawtoo shows that, before being a timely empirical discovery, the “mimetic unconscious” emerged from an untimely current in literary and philosophical modernism. This book traces the psychological, ethical, political, and cultural implications of the realization that the modern ego is born out of the spirit of imitation; it is thus, strictly speaking, not an ego, but what Nietzsche calls, “a phantom of the ego.” The Phantom of the Ego opens up a Nietzschean back door to the unconscious that has mimesis rather than dreams as its via regia, and argues that the modernist account of the “mimetic unconscious” makes our understanding of the psyche new.

Published by: Michigan State University Press

Series: Studies in Violence, Mimesis and Culture


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

I am grateful to the Comparative Literature program at the University of Washington for providing the intellectual freedom necessary to conceive this ghost-hunt, to the Collège International de Philosophie in Paris for a transdisciplinary spirit that allowed me to pursue it, and to the committee of the Pembroke College Fellowship ...

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pp. 1-26

A phantom is haunting the modern world—the phantom of the ego. This ghostly presence is not confined to the darkness of the night; nor is it simply the product of the oneiric imagination of the sleeping subject, something that can be willed away, at daybreak, when the light of reason returns. ...

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Chapter 1. Nietzsche’s Mimetic Patho(-)logy: From Antiquity to Modernity

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pp. 27-84

When Nietzsche claims that a phantom is haunting the modern ego, he is not only expressing a personal, mimetic anxiety; he is also diagnosing a wider cultural sickness that affects and infects modernity as a whole. This mimetic pathology condemns the modern ego to live in a world of phantoms where one is not oneself, but someone other instead. ...

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Chapter 2. Conrad and the Horror of Modernity

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pp. 85-142

Daybreak. Captain Kilgore’s squadron of helicopters ominously appears, soaring above the water, against the background of a fiery sky. “We are coming in low out of the rising sun and about a mile up we’ll put on the music,” shouts Kilgore (Robert Duvall) to one of the soldiers. And he adds: “I use Wagner. ...

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Chapter 3. D. H. Lawrence and the Dissolution of the Ego

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pp. 143-208

After Joseph Conrad, perhaps no modernist writer more than D. H. Lawrence invests the notion of “darkness” with mimetic affects that have the power to dissolve the unity of the ego. In The Plumed Serpent (1926),1 his last and most infamous leadership novel, Lawrence picks up Conrad’s investigation into the dark power of mimesis. ...

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Chapter 4. Bataille’s Mimetic Communication

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pp. 209-280

The opening chapter of D. H. Lawrence’s The Plumed Serpent (1926), entitled “Beginnings of a Bull-fight,” stages a repellent, yet disturbingly fascinating spectacle. Newly arrived in Mexico City, the novel’s protagonist, Kate Leslie, finds herself attending a bullfight in the company of Owen, an American acquaintance who is convinced he will find in such “native” spectacles the roots of “Life” itself. ...

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Coda. Mimetic Theory Revisited

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pp. 281-306

The spiraling movement of our mimetic inquiry has been turning around contagious patho(-)logies that traverse the modernist period and are responsible for generating what Nietzsche calls “the phantom of the ego.” What this ghost hunt through central figures in literary and philosophical modernism has taught us is that, in fin de siècle Europe, ...


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pp. 307-346


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pp. 347-360


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pp. 361-366

E-ISBN-13: 9781609173883
E-ISBN-10: 1609173880
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611860962
Print-ISBN-10: 1611860962

Page Count: 376
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: 1st
Series Title: Studies in Violence, Mimesis and Culture
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OCLC Number: 861532610
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Phantom of the Ego