Current Reading 3: Philosophy and Theory

This is part three of my current reading for my comprehensive exams. I’m reading on self-fashioning and modernism; the title of the three lists together is “The Role of Text in the Formation of Identity.” My reading list follows my introductory essay.


This list comes last because it is, by far, the most parasitic on the other two. It is entitled “Critical and Philosophical Studies of Legible Subjects,” and demonstrates the almost insuperable divide between the literary project of authorship, and the philosophical/critical project of readership, whether that means deciphering literary texts in a work of criticism, or deciphering the meaning of Being or the dialectic of subjectivity. The irony, then, is that in selecting theoretical texts that complemented my other lists, I tended to select philosophers writing at or after the so-called “end of philosophy,” with their gaze fixed on the imaginative work of literature as the legitimate undoing of the philosophical tradition.

Many of the analyses that justify my selection of texts for the other two lists are indebted to the theoretical work in evidence here. My description of modernist authorship as an ambivalent response to tradition is the central theme of Harold Bloom’s two studies of poetry, The Anxiety of Influence and A Map of Misreading. The term “self-fashioning,” and the original idea for a study of modernist self-fashioning, came out of reading Stephen Greenblatt’s treatise on Renaissance Self-Fashioning. Finally, my emphasis on Rousseau, my performative accounts of authenticity, and my use of scene in the analysis of rhetorical contexts are based on Jacques Derrida’s books Of Grammatology and Writing and Difference.

The moment at which philosophy transcends itself towards literature is also the moment when philosophy re-discovers itself as capable, like literature, of doing the work of authorship and self-fashioning. Alexander Nehamas, in his books Nietzsche: Life as Literature and The Art of Living, has brilliantly explored how Friedrich Nietzsche and his successors resumed the philosophical project of legible selfhood that was so important to earlier philosophers, including Plato and Michel de Montaigne. Texts like Montaigne’s Essays, and Plato’s Dialogues, which appear on the “B” list, are not easy to assign to either philosophy or literature. The same is true of Nietzsche’s epic poem, Thus Spake Zarathustra, and George Bataille’s Erotism. Even texts like Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble and Lionel Trilling’s study of Matthew Arnold are conspicuously framed by autobiographical self-reflection. Sigmund Freud was also highly autobiographical in his attempts to render psychical phenomena legible, and he wrote what amounted to psychoanalytic Bildungsromans in his case studies of Dora and other patients.

Some of the texts on this list have made a material contribution to the discourses of authenticity and performativity, and the argument between them. Works on authenticity include all of Jean-Paul Sartre’s writings, Being and Time by Martin Heidegger, Trilling’s Sincerity and Authenticity, and Adorno’s book on The Jargon of Authenticity. Simone de Beauvoir and Judith Butler have both considered the issue of authenticity from the standpoint of feminism. Key studies of performativity include Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality Volume 2, Constantin Stanislavski’s An Actor Prepares, Erving Goffman’s The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, and Richard Poirier’s book The Performing Self.

Finally, a number of these texts are critical studies that seek to understand literary texts through the self-conscious models of literary production that informed their creation. These include Bob Perelman’s work on genius, Franco Moretti’s work on the Bildungsroman, and Edmund Wilson’s exposition of Symbolism in Axel’s Castle.

In truth, the majority of these theoretical and philosophical texts are works of hindsight, creating theoretical vocabularies and analytical structures already mapped out (albeit in less systematic fashion) by the writers represented on the two other lists. They are also the most prone to disputation. Jean-Paul Sartre has suffered from Foucault and Derrida’s disdain, and Heidegger has been re-interpreted in ways that make his vocabulary of authenticity all but inaccessible to the discourse of self-fashioning. Still, because these texts are more systematic than their literary counterparts, they are more resistant to new modes of interpretation. Especially in the case of writers like Henri Bergson, John Crowe Ransom, or Sigmund Freud, who were producing theory when modernism was at its height, this list re-creates the constellation of ideas that most influenced the development of modernist literature.


Adorno, Theodor
Minima Moralia
The Jargon of Authenticity

Bataille, Georges

Barthes, Roland

Bergson, Henri
Matter and Memory

Burke, Kenneth
A Rhetoric of Motives

Bloom, Harold
Maps of Misreading
The Anxiety of Influence

Butler, Judith.
Gender Trouble

De Beauvoir, Simone
The Second Sex

Deleuze and Guattari

Derrida, Jacques
Writing and Difference
On Grammatology

Foucault, Michel
The History of Sexuality, Vol. 2: The Use of Pleasure
Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the College de France

“What Is An Author?”

Freud, Sigmund
The Interpretation of Dreams
Civilization and Its Discontents
Three Case Studies: Dora, An Infantile Neurosis, The “Rat-Man”

Freedman, Jonathan
Professions of Taste

Greenblatt, Stephen
Renaissance Self-Fashioning

Goffman, Erving
The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life

Hegel, G. W. F.
The Phenomenology of Spirit

Heidegger, Martin
Being and Time

Howe, Irving
Selected Writings

Jung, C. G.
Basic Writings

Kenner, Hugh
The Pound Era

Kojeve, Alexandre
Introduction to the Reading of Hegel

Marx, Karl
Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts

Moretti, Franco
The Way of the World: The Bildungsroman in European Culture

Nehamas, Alexander
Nietzsche: Life as Literature
The Art of Living

Nietzsche, Friedrich
Beyond Good and Evil
Thus Spake Zarathustra
The Genealogy of Morals
The Birth of Tragedy
Ecce Homo

Perelman, Bob
The Trouble With Genius: Reading Pound, Joyce, Stein, and Zukofsky

Poirier, Richard
The Performing Self

Ransom, John Crowe
The World’s Body

Richards, I. A.
Principles of Criticism (esp. early sections)

Sartre, Jean-Paul
Saint Genet: Actor and Martyr
The Family Idiot: Gustave Flaubert
Being and Nothingness

Stanislavski, Constantin
An Actor Prepares

Starobinski, Jean
Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Transparency and Obstruction

Trilling, Lionel
Sincerity and Authenticity
Matthew Arnold
Selected Essays

Weber, Max
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

Wilson, Edmund
Axel’s Castle

Published on April 24, 2007 at 9:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

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