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The Vanishing Subject: Empirical Psychology and the Modern Novel

Judith Ryan
PMLA
Vol. 95, No. 5 (Oct., 1980), pp. 857-869
DOI: 10.2307/461762
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/461762
Page Count: 13
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The Vanishing Subject: Empirical Psychology and the Modern Novel
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Abstract

The interaction between literature and psychology in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is an important factor in the transition from realism to modernism. Empirical psychology, as developed by William James and Ernst Mach, unmasked the traditional concept of "self" as a delusion, replacing it by a new emphasis on the intentionality of consciousness. Writers such as Henry James, Robert Musil, and Hermann Broch had direct contact with empirical psychology and experimented overtly with modes of rendering this new understanding of consciousness; others, like Alfred Döblin or Virginia Woolf, while less directly influenced by empiricism, nonetheless reflect in their novels a similar attempt to abolish the "self" as a discrete entity. In this respect they differ radically from other modern novelists (e.g., Joyce and Faulkner), and they also resolve quite differently the technical problem of presenting consciousness in fiction.

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