The Comic Self

Toward Dispossession

2023
Authors:

Timothy Campbell and Grant Farred

A provocative and unconventional call to dispossess the self of itself

Challenging the contemporary notion of “self-care” and the Western mania for “self-possession,” The Comic Self proposes an alternate and less toxic model for human aspiration: a comic self. Campbell and Farred range across philosophy, literature, and contemporary comedy to uncover spaces where the dispossession of self and, with it, the dismantling of the regime of self-care are possible.

Intelligent, persuasive, and compelling, The Comic Self transcends disciplinary boundaries, hovering somewhere between philosophy, theory, and criticism. Timothy Campbell and Grant Farred offer a clear notion of the comic self that they then proceed to brilliantly embody in their own writing, ingeniously defining the comic self not in sheer opposition to the tragic self but in a kind of dialectical relation against it.

Dimitris Vardoulakis, author of Spinoza, the Epicurean: Authority and Utility in Materialism

Challenging the contemporary notion of “self-care” and the Western mania for “self-possession,” The Comic Self deploys philosophical discourse and literary expression to propose an alternate and less toxic model for human aspiration: a comic self. Timothy Campbell and Grant Farred argue that the problem with the “care of the self,” from Foucault onward, is that it reinforces identity, strengthening the relation between I and mine. This assertion of self-possession raises a question vital for understanding how we are to live with each other and ourselves: How can you care for something that is truly not yours?

The answer lies in the unrepresentable comic self. Campbell and Farred range across philosophy, literature, and contemporary comedy—engaging with Socrates, Burke, Hume, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Derrida, Deleuze, and Levinas; Shakespeare, Cervantes, Woolf, Kafka, and Pasolini; and Stephen Colbert, David Chappelle, and the cast of Saturday Night Live. They uncover spaces where the dispossession of self and, with it, the dismantling of the regime of self-care are possible. Arguing that the comic self always keeps a precarious closeness to the tragic self, while opposing the machinations of capital endemic to the logic of self-possession, they provide a powerful and provocative antidote to the tragic self that so dominates the tenor of our times.

Timothy Campbell is professor of Italian at Cornell University. He is the author of Improper Life: Technology and Biopolitics from Heidegger to Agamben and Wireless Writing in the Age of Marconi (both from Minnesota).

Grant Farred is author of several books, including An Essay for Ezra: Racial Terror in America, Martin Heidegger Saved My Life, and Only a Black Athlete Can Save Us Now (all from Minnesota).

Intelligent, persuasive, and compelling, The Comic Self transcends disciplinary boundaries, hovering somewhere between philosophy, theory, and criticism. Timothy Campbell and Grant Farred offer a clear notion of the comic self that they then proceed to brilliantly embody in their own writing, ingeniously defining the comic self not in sheer opposition to the tragic self but in a kind of dialectical relation against it.

Dimitris Vardoulakis, author of Spinoza, the Epicurean: Authority and Utility in Materialism

A bracing and beguiling set of reflections, intense and playful, on the possibilities and parameters of the comic self. The authors make a passionate and principled plea for dispossession, with one eye trained on its genealogy and another on its charged present, real and virtual.

Ian G. Balfour, York University

Contents

Preface: The Art of Self-Dispossession

Introduction: The Fallacy of Self-Possession

1. The Sunset of the Self

2. Renunciation and Refusal = Rupture and Rapture

3. Elide Tragedy

4. The Comic Self Is Not Comic

5. “I Think”

6. David Hume: The Master Critic of Identity

7. Temporality contra Cogito Ergo Sum

8. From a Terminal Walk to a Tightrope Walker

9. Don Quijote’s Comic Selves

10. The Unequal

11. Tragic Repetition

Acknowledgments

Notes

Index