In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

A F T E R W O R D STOCK EXCHANGES “Man makes man,” writes Aristotle. His tersely worded observation might be read as a statement about biological reproduction, by which human beings make more human beings; about mimetic representation, through which human beings create legible images of themselves; or about thought, which generates and defines the very category of humanity.1 Literary fiction,an aesthetic medium that is inherently involved in problems of human identity and social organization,relates these three meanings of the Greek verb tekhne—the making of people, the making of art, and the work of the imagination.2 Pierre Macherey has interpreted Aristotle’s maxim as an intellectual cul-­ de-­ sac in which humanist thought and mimetic art are “dedicated entirely to the repetition of a single image,” the ceaseless discovery of “what is already there; creation is self-­multiplication.”3 Biological proliferation and the proliferation of mirror images are stock metaphors that express this scheme of sterile, narcissistic, endless self-­ sameness. The two metaphors are superimposed on each other when a literary character mistakes his own mirror image for the presence of his father—a trope that seems starkly to illustrate Macherey’s vision of modern life as a hall of mirrors, reproducing a single predetermined image in every field of human endeavor. The interaction of biological and specular identification in such scenes, however, yields an uncanny difference within processes of repetition and identification : the mirror image is not exactly that of the person looking. In their interaction , mimetic and familial identity make visible the possibility of error inherent in to reduplication. The Socratic imperative to “know thyself,” emblazoned at the entrance to the Delphic oracle, has often been understood as “know thy parents.”When Oedipus goes there to ask the sibyl who he is—who his parents were—the answer demonstrates the intimate relation, even the figurative identity, between knowledge of lineage and knowledge of self.Oedipus is able to answer the Sphinx’s riddle,whose answer is “humanity,” but he is unable to specify which human he is, or to which 140  A fterword humans he is related. Outside of the theater, it is tempting to think of these matters as pertaining to natural law rather than oracular proclamation, and therefore perfectly knowable. A late medieval travelogue describes “a manner of serpents, by the which men assay and prove whether their children be bastards or none, or of lawful marriage. For if they be born in right marriage, the serpents go about them, and do them no harm, and if they be born in avowtrie, the serpents bite and envenom them.”4 These vipers are privy to a class of knowledge that is not granted to humans themselves—exactly who their parents are, and by extension who they themselves might be. Contemporary legal evidence like genetic testing may have a more solid scientific basis, but it too is a fantastic prosthesis projecting an aura of infallibility; DNA tests come with a significant margin of error, compounded by their inability to account for widespread biological phenomena like twinning and chimerism.5 Juridical codes typically rely on legal fictions to establish paternity, such as the German Civil Code’s claim that “an illegitimate child and its father are unrelated,” or, conversely, English law’s presumption that a husband is the father of his wife’s children despite any contrary evidence.6 Perhaps most importantly, shared genetic material is too narrow to represent the complex range of actual family relations, which can include any number of elective or metaphorical kinships.7 Kinship looms so largely in our sense of identity because it articulates inherited social class and other aspects of the reproduction of labor.Because children in some loose sense assume the social places of the parent generation,despite having different experiences and bodies, they can be thought of as simultaneously equivalent to and different from their forebears. In a philosophical tradition stretching back to Hegel, self-­ identity is defined as “the process of its own becoming,” which takes place through the act of self-­ contemplation.8 Generational succession dramatizes how identity is constituted; it provides a stage on which to play out the formulation of identity. From this point of view, statements of familial identity provide an opportunity to look at how identity takes shape and to hazard guesses as to how identities might evolve. In literary structures grounded in kinship metaphor , we perceive the individual imagination and becoming of self together with the...


Additional Information

Related ISBN
MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.