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Fictions de l'ipseite: essai sur l'invention narrative de soi (Beckett, Hesse, Kafka, Musil, Proust, Woolf).

Fictions de l'ipseite: essai sur l'invention narrative de soi (Beckett, Hesse, Kafka, Musil, Proust, Woolf). By LAURENT MATTIUSSI. (Histoire des idees et critique litteraire, 399) Geneva: Droz. 2002. 340 pp. ISBN 2-600-00691-5.

Opening with the contention that the invention of the self is one of the most fundamental aims of literature in the modern period, this book sets out to show how fiction was used in the first half of the twentieth century as a space for exploring the volatile boundaries of identity. A nineteenth-century text, Nerval's poem 'El Desdichado', is used to establish the basic problem of a self which can be grasped only indirectly. Hermann Hesse invents and theorizes a new genre through which Nerval's self-identification through distortion can be fully realized: fictive autobiography. Beckett, Kafka, Musil, Proust, and Woolf join Hesse as the most daring pioneers of the endeavour to find the self by first losing it. Through a series of detailed, subtle readings, the book traces the invention of the self through its abandonment, diffraction, metamorphosis, sacrifice, and death. The final chapter suggests that the musical model is most appropriate for capturing something of the self without fixing it in a rigid form, allowing for the permanence of a theme which binds together multiple variations. Fiction functions here as a privileged medium for overcoming the Romantic separation of self and non-self, individual and world, inside and outside. The writer traces the outlines of a possible self by projecting it into a fictional world in which it is finally at home. The readings of individual texts are knowledgeable and compelling, and the book persuasively describes the shared concerns and stakes of works written in French, German, and English. However, the breadth of reference to literary texts is offset by the restricted consideration of non-literary contexts. The problem of selfhood is discussed without substantial engagement with contemporary developments in, for example, philosophy or psychoanalysis. In consequence, conceptual precision suffers. Even the term used in the title, ipseite, receives little by way of clarification or justification, so that the terminological rigour which it seems to promise is not delivered. Beyond some references to Romanticism and the nineteenth century, the perspective is also historically and generically narrow, so that the fictive autobiographers appear to be working in curious isolation from other comparable projects. The book succeeds admirably within the parameters of its self-defined aims, though it would require more conceptual precision to be theoretically innovative, and specialists of the individual authors under discussion might prefer more sustained analysis than the comparative project allows.



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Author:Davis, Colin
Publication:The Modern Language Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2004
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