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On Self-Forgetting: Receptivity and the Inhuman Encounter in the Modernist Moment


The site of this study is the zone of indistinction between the human and the object. Looking to the writings of Sigmund Freud, Walter Benjamin, Franz Kafka, and Virginia Woolf, this dissertation offers reflections on various attempts to let go of the self (qua human) as the cardinal point of reference for value—whether epistemic, aesthetic, economic, or otherwise. Both forget and the German counterpart vergessen are composed of a prefix that rebuts a stem, meaning “to get,” “to grasp,” “to seize.” Self-forgetting names a range of heterogenous practices, not always located in the field of intentionality, which involve losing hold of the self or loosening the grip of possession over what is proper to the I.

Distinct from post-structuralist critiques of the subject, these modernist experiments in selfforgetting are animated by an effort to refuse or improvise a momentary reprieve from the

imperatives of anthropocentrism. My dissertation follows, in other words, thinkers who regard desubjectivation as related intimately to the capacity to imagine an otherwise to the primacy of the human. In addition to calling into question the masculinist thrust of Enlightenment ideals of self-determination, these writers prompt a reconsideration of receptivity as a (sometimes non-volitional) faculty that helps to negotiate the threshold between anthropos and the inhuman. Newly imagined as a form of praxis, receptivity discomposes commitments to aesthetic autonomy, as well as to the fortified individual that is its subjective analogue. These visions of the human as decidedly nonsovereign—and taken aside from the scene of assertion over the object-world—comprise a forceful rejoinder to capitalist modernity’s legitimation of (epistemic) violence against nature, so as to serve the ends of productive enterprise.

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