ABSTRACT

The notion of the subject has become commonplace ever since the assumption that identity is a product of choice and individual agency was questioned by structuralists and post-structuralists. Where modernist writers cultivated the notion of a unique autonomous self, the post-World War II aesthetic denied its very existence. Louis Althusser is representative in asserting that “the individual is interpellated [hailed] as a (free) subject in order that he shall [. . .] (freely) accept his subjection” (1971: 182). While most post-structuralists argued that the subject is entirely or largely a construct (whether of language [Derrida], of the imaginary and symbolic orders [Lacan], of discursive power [Foucault], or of ideology [Althusser]), more recent theorists have attempted to strike some balance between a totally subjected subject and one with a degree of agency. Building on Freud’s premise that subjects are split between a conscious and unconscious self, most post-structuralists have also maintained that the self, far from being unified, is split, or fragmented, or multiple, and that the earlier idea that we possessed a single identity was simply the effect produced by our performing the role of such a unified personality. Judith Butler, a poststructuralist feminist, typically asserts that “Identifications are multiple and contestatory” (1993: 99). Yet, she also believes that “being” may still be located in areas of the subject left untouched by the sum of interpellations that we embody (Butler 1997: 131). Obviously, these radically altered notions of the nature of subjectivity reflect the altered nature of life in the second half of the twentieth century, in which the encroachments on individual autonomy have become far more severe and evident with the globalization of production, media, and communications: All contribute to a sense that the power of the individual to choose his or her destiny has been hugely diminished (if not, as some maintain, taken away entirely).