Self and Other in Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften

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Abstract

Anti- or non-essentialist ideas about the self have been common enough in contemporary thought since Nietzsche, especially in modern feminism. But these ideas are easier to state as a matter of philosophical principle than to show. The work of Judith Butler, for instance, is not free from this difficulty, despite her emphasis on the importance of “performativity.” This paper proposes that literature may offer a more fruitful and productive approach than philosophy to the general philosophical problem of selfhood and to the particular version of it found in the work of Butler and others. Here I consider the depiction of gender relations in Musil's Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften, in particular its exploration of hermaphrodism in the relationship between Ulrich and his sister Agathe.

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