The Little Crystalline Seed

The Ontological Significance of Mise en Abyme in Post-Heideggerian Thought

By Iddo Dickmann

Subjects: Continental Philosophy, Literary Theory, Critical Theory, Post Structuralism, German Idealism
Series: SUNY series, Intersections: Philosophy and Critical Theory
Hardcover : 9781438473994, 286 pages, June 2019
Paperback : 9781438474007, 286 pages, January 2020

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Table of contents


1. The Literary Theory of Mise en abyme and its Philosophical Meaning
Mise en abyme and mirroring
The double-bind of the mise en abyme
Strata and undercurrents in the typology of the mise en abyme
Mise en abyme in the new New Novel: Reversing mimetologism “in one fell swoop”
Mise en abyme in reader-response criticism
Mise en abyme in analytic and possible-worlds semantics

2. Jacques Derrida: Mise en abyme and the logic of supplementarity
Mise en abyme and the infrastructural difference
Derrida’s denouncement of mise en abyme
Iterability and the “lacunal” conception of mise en abyme
Misconception of the mise en abyme and its consequences
On second thoughts: Intentionality and the “invagination” of text

3. Maurice Blanchot: Heading Toward Death as Mise en abyme
Death and “ambiguity”
Mise en abyme and the “night itself ”
“Worklessness” and Gide’s mechanism of retroaction
Worklessness and Iser’s “acts of fictionalization”
Mise en abyme and the “fatality of the day”

4. Gilles Deleuze: Repetition and Time as Mise en abyme
Mise en abyme and the ground of difference
Mise en abyme and the philosophy of affirmation
The prospective mise en abyme and the synthesis of the present
The retro-prospective mise en abyme and the synthesis of the past
Mise en abyme and “schema” in Kant and Bergson
The Klein-bottle and the synthesis of the future

5. Mise en abyme as a Paradigm Shift I: From Mirror to “Labyrinth of Mirrors”
The “mirror of nature” and the principle of adequatio
Three paradigms of imagination
Deleuze on Bergson: Crystallines, convex mirrors and double mirrors
Gasche on Derrida: The tain of the mirror
Borges and the “monstrosity of mirrors”

6. Mise en abyme as a Paradigm Shift II: From Play to “Divine Play”
The play of the world and the play of Being
Gadamer: Play and the hermeneutic circle
Eugen Fink: Play as the “symbol of world”
Caillois and Levinas: Play and the other-than-Being
Deleuze: The divine game and the ethics of becoming

7. The Rhizomatic Book and the Centrifugal Mise en abyme
“Minor literature” and the semiotics of “expression”
The rhizomatic book and its reader
The rhizomatic book as mise en abyme
An empirical example: The Jewish scripture as a rhizomatic book
“Diagrammatical” reality and the “sheaf ” of transcodation


Shows how contemporary French philosophy adopted this literary paradigm and argues for its significance for addressing concerns in ethics, ontology, and aesthetics.


Mise en abyme is a term developed from literary theory denoting a work that doubles itself within itself—a story placed within a story or a play within a play. The term flourished in experimental fiction in midcentury France, having not only a strong impact on contemporary literary theory but also on post-structuralist philosophy. The Little Crystalline Seed focuses on how thinkers invoke the concept of mise en abyme in order to establish ontologies that deviate from that of Heidegger. Iddo Dickmann demonstrates how the concept served in modeling Jacques Derrida's logic of supplementarity; Maurice Blanchot's mechanism of désouvrement; Gilles Deleuze's philosophy of repetition; Emmanuel Levinas's concept of "proximity," and in further circuit: the philosophies of Bergson, Kant, Leibniz, Heidegger himself, and more. Exploring the interpretative and generative potential of the mise en abyme for continental thought, Dickmann reveals new points of resonance between various philosophical topics including, aesthetics, ethics, time, logic, mirroring, play, and signification.

Iddo Dickmann is Lecturer in Jewish Thought, Culture, and Literature at the University of Colorado Boulder.


"The book is an excellent contribution to the understanding of several difficult 'post-Heideggerian' thinkers and to an understanding of the current state of continental philosophy. It makes a signal contribution to the understanding of Deleuze's thought and admirably works out the vertiginous logics of various kinds of mise en abyme, which have remained all too obscure and confused in the extant literature." — Andrzej Warminski, author of Ideology, Rhetoric, Aesthetics: For De Man