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The Phantom of the Ego: Modernism and the Mimetic Unconscious

Nidesh Lawtoo
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 424
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  • Book Info
    The Phantom of the Ego
    Book Description:

    The Phantom of the Egois 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 Egoopens up a Nietzschean back door to the unconscious that has mimesis rather than dreams as itsvia regia,and argues that the modernist account of the "mimetic unconscious" makes our understanding of the psyche new.

    eISBN: 978-1-60917-388-3
    Subjects: Philosophy, Psychology, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (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. Rather, the modern ego seems to be tracked, haunted, perhaps even possessed by such a phantom, during its waking daily life. This, at least, is what Friedrich Nietzsche claims as he writes that “the greatest part of our being is unknown to us…. We have a phantom of...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Nietzsche’s Mimetic Patho(-)logy: From Antiquity to Modernity
    (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. As Nietzsche diagnoses inDaybreak(1881):

    Whatever they may think and say about their “egoism,” the great majority nonetheless do nothing for their ego their whole life long: what they do is done for the phantom of their ego [Phantom von...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Conrad and the Horror of Modernity
    (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. It scares the hell out of the slopes. My boys love it!” Then the thundering music begins, and so does the slaughtering. The cinematic pathos of this scene is tremendous. No viewer of Francis Ford Coppola’sApocalypse Now(1979) will ever forget its breathtaking and yet...

  7. CHAPTER 3 D. H. Lawrence and the Dissolution of the Ego
    (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. InThe Plumed Serpent(1926),¹ his last and most infamous leadership novel, Lawrence picks up Conrad’s investigation into the dark power of mimesis. Ramón Carrasco, a Spanish aristocrat, anthropologist, and charismatic leader figure, functions as Kurtz’s mimetic counterpart. Kurtz’s “ceremonies” are prolonged by Ramón’s “rites,” the former’s “grave, profound, vibrating” voice reechoes in the “solemn, powerful voice of Ramón” (337), and in a passage that suggests the reappearance of...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Bataille’s Mimetic Communication
    (pp. 209-280)

    The opening chapter of D. H. Lawrence’sThe 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. Lawrence describes the climax of this dramatic scene in cinematic detail. In an instant of lacerating violence, the bull’s horns hit one of the horses from below:

    Down went the horse, collapsing in front, but his rear was still...

  9. CODA. Mimetic Theory Revisited
    (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 siécle Europe, protean forms of psychic dispossession take place in a widening number, with increasing speed and power of infection. It also has revealed that the problematic of mimesis, though rarely discussed in the context of modernist studies, is one of the most intense preoccupations of modernity. Mimesis affects...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 307-346)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 347-360)
  12. Index
    (pp. 361-366)