Effacing the Self

Mysticism and the Modern Subject

Expected to ship: 2023-08-01

Argues that self and selflessness are aspects of the same insoluble problem at the very heart of modernity.


In spirituality and mysticism, many seek a counterbalance to the strong emphasis on the self that modernity demands of us: We desire a fixed self on the one hand and are fascinated by selflessness on the other. But is our fascination with selflessness not a ruse to make that self of ours even stronger? And is that self-critical question not the kernel of even traditional mysticism? Marc De Kesel investigates some dark rooms of the mystical tradition to clarify this. This is a book for all who want to free themselves from the conceptual frameworks and rigid dogmas of late-modern religiosity.

The first part of the volume deals directly with early modern Christian mysticism, and more specifically with the French spiritualité and discussions centered around the problem of what it means to love God in a pure, radically unselfish way. The second part explores the paradoxical dialectics between self and selflessness in relation to the way Christian religion deals with its own identity. If Christian love is selfless, why has Christianity in the end not given up its own self, its own identity? The third and last part of the volume discusses the dialectics between self and selflessness in three other domains: popular spirituality, politics, and modern science. It makes clear that "selflessness" is not limited to mysticism but is both a fascination and a problem/paradox for modernity in many fields.

Marc De Kesel is Professor of Theology, Modernity, and Mysticism at Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands. He is the author of Eros and Ethics: Reading Jacques Lacan's Seminar VII, also published by SUNY Press.