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Philosophy, Literature, and the Dissolution of the Subject

Nietzsche, Musil, Atay


Zeynep Talay

If philosophy has limits, what lies beyond them? One answer is literature. In this study, rather than seeing literature as a source of illustrations of philosophical themes, the author considers both philosophy and literature as sometimes competing but often complementary ways of making sense of and conveying the character of ethical experience. She does so through an analysis of ideas about language, experience and ethics in the philosophy of Nietzsche, and of the way in which these themes are worked out and elaborated in the writings of Robert Musil and the Turkish novelist Oğuz Atay.
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← 8 | 9 →Introduction


To the question ‘what is self?’ philosophers give a variety of answers. Some claim that such a thing does not exist at all, while others say the opposite and attempt to give us an account of the self by grounding it in God, spirit, substance, nature or brain, or body, or some combinations of these. Some turn to antiquity, claiming that we could understand things better if only we could establish a continuity between concepts at different times. In other words, they argue that when the ancients asked questions similar to today’s, like ‘what is the fundamental truth of human nature?’ or ‘what defines the identity of an individual?’ they were, in fact, dealing with the one and the same sort of problem.

Whether such continuity – between the conception of the self in antiquity and in modern philosophical thought – exists or not extends the scope of this book, and despite the fact that our contemporary ideas about self stem from Descartes, it is well known that Greek philosophy is a rich source for philosophers and that they often find themselves in a constant dialogue with the Greeks (Nietzsche). So, I will give a synopsis of the conceptions of the self in different eras before we turn to modern conceptions of the self, and, correspondingly, its ethical ramifications.

Richard Sorabji claims that there is such a thing as self and that there was in the ancient Greek world. He says that autos (‘same’, emphatic...

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