The Site of Our Lives

The Self and the Subject from Emerson to Foucault

By James S. Hans

Subjects: Comparative Literature
Series: SUNY series, The Margins of Literature
Paperback : 9780791424322, 385 pages, July 1995
Hardcover : 9780791424315, 385 pages, July 1995

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Table of contents

Introduction: Heavy Construction

1. The Essential Self (?)

2. An Untimely Meditation

3. The End of Humanism

4r. The Unnameable

5. The Nightmare of Self-Loathing

Conclusion: Invasion of the Body Snatchers



This book addresses the question of human uniqueness at a time when academic discourse has all but abandoned its long-held commitment to the value of individuality. Through an appraisal of the works of Emerson, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Derrida, and Foucault, the author establishes the ways in which the current critique of the self has grossly distorted the nature of the debate by reducing it to a simple choice between essential or constructed selves. Hans argues that the tradition that emerges from Emerson's work is based on a relational sense of the individual as much as it is devoted to the premise that we all have a specific form of integrity. Likewise, even though Nietzsche's critique of the fictional nature of the subject is the origin of contemporary visions of the fabricated self, Nietzsche is equally insistent that each of us is a productive uniqueness: we are all principles of selection whose links to the world embrace more than the social circumstances around us. Nietzsche's vision of our productive uniqueness is carried on in larger and smaller ways by Heidegger, Derrida, and Foucault, each of whom entertains a far more complex vision of the individual than those which currently dominate our ways of talking about what it means to be human.

James S. Hans is Professor of English at Wake Forest University. He is the author of The Value(s) of Literature; The Fate of Desire; The Origins of the Gods; Contextual Authority and Aesthetic Truth; The Mysteries of Attention; and The Golden Mean, all published by SUNY Press, as well as The Play of the World, Imitation and the Image of Man and The Question of Value: Thinking through Nietzsche, Heidegger and Freud.


"Hans has given a searching and magisterial assessment of the current idols of critical discourse—Nietzsche, Heidegger, Derrida, and Foucault—from a point of view inside their very discourse. Hans tracks down the tiny nubbin of uncommon commonsense at the heart of these thinkers that is the foundation of everything else: Nietzsche's 'instinct'; Heidegger's 'Dasein'; Derrida's 'bricolage'; and Foucault's 'body.'" — Frederick Turner, University of Texas at Dallas