Sussman here explores the relevance and value of object-relations theory to literature and literary studies. His study of character treats literature as a medium in which important relationships to conceptualized others—artifacts, mentors, activities, and schools of thought—are being worked through. Although rooted in the psychoanalytical model, this book is ultimately a study of character and of the conditions of subjectivity and intellectual work in the contemporary world. No background in literature or psychoanalysis is necessary for its understanding and productive use.
Beginning his study of character with Sophocles' The Antigone and Shakespeare's Othello, Sussman then goes on to locate the underpinnings of twentieth-century notions of the grandiose and of subjective emptiness in the Romantic exploration of the sublime. Discussions of characterization in Kafka, Joyce, and Beckett lead to an extended reading of Musil's A Man Without Qualities. To show the increasing awareness of narcissistic psychopathology in contemporary popular culture, Sussman also includes readings of "Citizen Kane" and "The Silence of the Lambs. "
Henry Sussman is Professor of Comparative Literature at the State University of New York at Buffalo.
"Sussman's concluding survey of the situation of literary studies today places this work at the center of any possible current discussion of 'whither literary criticism. ' The issues he alludes to could scarcely be more important in the context of contemporary critical discourse. " — Ruth V. Gross, University of Texas, Arlington