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The Subject and Other Subjects

On Ethical, Aesthetic, and Political Identity

Tobin Siebers

Publication Year: 1998

The Subject and Other Subjects theorizes the differences among ethical, aesthetic, and political conceptions of identity. When a person is called beautiful, why does it strike us as an objectification? Is a person whom we consider to be an exemplary person still a person, and not an example? Can one person conceive what it means to have the perspective of a community? This study treats these thorny issues in the context of recent debates in cultural studies, feminism, literary criticism, narrative theory, and moral philosophy concerning the nature and directions of multiculturalism, post-modernity, and sexual politics. Tobin Siebers raises a series of questions that "cross the wires" among ethical, aesthetic, and political definitions of the self, at once exposing our basic assumptions about these definitions and beginning the work of reconceiving them. The Subject and Other Subjects will broaden our ideas about the strange interplay between subjects and objects (and other subjects!) that characterizes modern identity, and so provoke lively debate among anthropologists, art historians, literary theorists, philosophers, and others concerned with how the question of the subject becomes entangled with ethics, aesthetics, and politics. As Siebers argues, the subject is in fact a tangled network of subjectivities, a matrix of identities inconceivable outside of symbols and stories. Tobin Siebers is Professor of English at the University of Michigan, and author of Cold War Criticism and the Politics of Skepticism; Morals and Stories; The Ethics of Criticism; The Romantic Fantastic; and The Mirror of Medusa.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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p. xiii

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1. Introduction: Ethics ad Nauseam

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pp. 1-28

One of the great temptations regarding ethics is to view it as cumulative, as if history provided the occasion to practice and to perfect our moral knowledge. History repeats itself, people say, because the idea of repetition is the necessary corollary to our desire to redirect old events toward better conclusions, to redeem failures of the past, and to...

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2. What Does Postmodernism Want? Utopia

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pp. 29-46

We conceive of our age as existing beyond the normal frames of time and space. Time flies, and yet each instant is crammed with things to do. Time-saving devices create more time but also require us to save more of it. Vast distances are crossed in no time at all, and yet we seem to spend all of our time either going from place to place or watching...

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3. Multiculturalism, or the Ethics of Anti-Ethnocentrism

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pp. 47-76

My goal in creating this collage is to assemble a variety of opinions, anecdotes, and arguments found at the crossroads where current debates about multiculturalism and ethnocentrism may be said to meet. My first presupposition is that the West is an “anthropological culture” in which self-image is constructed within the history of an...

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4. Reading for Character: Where It Was, I Must Come to Be

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pp. 77-94

The persona of the critic is an enigmatic construction, if we consider the resources that are and are not permitted to it. When is a critic toopersonal? When is he or she too impersonal? Modern theory, thanks largely to feminism, has discovered the personal voice of the critic. But the institution of literary criticism still renders the reading...

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5. What Is There? A Dialogue on Obscenity, Sexuality, and the Sublime

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pp. 95-114

Q: You suggested that we call this interview, “What Is There?” What is this all about? We are supposed to be talking about sexuality and the sublime, but I don’t see the connection. A: Sexuality and the sublime are, of course, fashionable topics today. They seem to be talked about in the same breath. In this sense,...

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6. Politics and Peace

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pp. 115-130

My goal is to work my way back to Kant’s defensive preface to Perpetual Peace, the prophetic essay situated by many at the origin of modern conceptions of peace and international diplomacy. Suffice it to say for the moment that the following reflections are intended to reveal the epitaph in Kant’s epigraph—the eternal repose residing in perpetual peace...

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7. Conclusion

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pp. 131-136

In some high schools in the American South, two prom queens are chosen each fall, one black, one white. A young woman’s name has been submitted in nomination. Her mother is white, and her father is black. The school officials require that she declare herself as one color or the other if her name is to be placed on the ballot. She refuses and...


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pp. 137-143


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pp. 145-149

E-ISBN-13: 9780472022168
E-ISBN-10: 0472022164
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472096732
Print-ISBN-10: 0472096737

Page Count: 168
Illustrations: 4 B&W within text
Publication Year: 1998

OCLC Number: 593242031
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Subject and Other Subjects

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • Self (Philosophy).
  • Subject (Philosophy).
  • Identity (Philosophical concept).
  • Aesthetics.
  • Postmodernism.
  • Ethics.
  • Political science -- Philosophy.
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