Unselfing: Global French Literature at the Limits of Consciousness
Published: October 2022© 2022
278 Pages, 6.25 x 9.25 x 0.75 in
Altered states of consciousness – including experiences of deprivation, pain, hallucination, fear, desire, alienation, and spiritual transcendence – can transform the ordinary experience of selfhood.
Unselfing explores the nature of disruptive self-experiences and the different shapes they have taken in literary writing. The book focuses on the tension between rival conceptions of unselfing as either a form of productive self-transcendence or a form of alienating self-loss.
Michaela Hulstyn explores the shapes and meanings of unselfing through the framework of the global French literary world, encompassing texts by modernist figures in France and Belgium alongside writers from Algeria, Rwanda, and Morocco. Together these diverse texts prompt a re-evaluation of the consequences of the loss or the transcendence of the self. Through a series of close readings, Hulstyn offers a new account of the ethical questions raised by altered states and shows how philosophies of empathy can be tested against and often challenged by literary works. Drawing on cognitive science and phenomenology, Unselfing provides a new methodology for approaching texts that give shape to the fringes of conscious experience.
1. Toward a Cognitive-Phenomenological Approach to the Self
2. What Is Unselfing?
3. Unselfing as Disruption: Self-Knowledge and Pain in Paul Valéry and Charlotte Delbo
4. Unselfing as Mutation: Hallucination and the Remains in Henri Michaux and Yolande Mukagasana
5. Unselfing as Fragmentation: Languages of Alterity in Abdelkebir Khatibi and Hélène Cixous
6. Unselfing as Destruction: De-creation and Inner Experience in Simone Weil and Georges Bataille
Conclusion: The Promise and Peril of Unselfing
"Hulstyn’s fascinating studies of different kinds of experiential unravelling – disruption, mutation, fragmentation, and destruction – show how the consequences of boundary loss are not preordained but depend on the self’s situation, resources, and aims. Her exploration of ‘unselfing’ as both a transcultural, transhistorical structure of experience and a variable response to particular social and political circumstances is an exemplary cognitive-phenomenological exploration of our biocultural hybridity."Paul Armstrong, Professor of English, Brown University, and Author of Stories and the Brain: The Neuroscience of Narrative
"Unselfing makes the case for the phenomenological function of literature. Through meticulous readings, Hulstyn, who disregards the usual French vs. Francophone divide to instead bring together works from a more capacious Francosphère, shows how it is in literature – in narratives produced by seemingly solid and legible authorial selves – that we can find the most compelling accounts of subjectivity at its limits and the relationality to be found beyond it."Annabel L. Kim, Author of Cacaphonies: The Excremental Canon of French Literature