Geoffrey Galt Harpham

Geoffrey Galt Harpham teaches English at Tulane University. His latest book, Getting It Right:Language, Literature and Ethics, was published by Chicago in 1992. Ascetic Imperative in Culture and Criticism, also from Chicago, was published in 1987.

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Geoffrey Galt Harpham, 20 April 1995

Of all the pills presented to the incredulous common reader by Continental philosophy and literary theory over the past generation, the well publicised ‘death of the subject’ was surely the bitterest – the most perversa instance of theoretical arrogance it seemed possible to imagine. The dying subject was not, however, well served by its defenders, who disagreed among themselves as to why it should live on. For some of them, the subject – a psycho-social entity capable of self-awareness and purposeful agency – was a simple fact: start pretending it isn’t there, and you introduce a virulent strain of fictionality into the world. Others, however, made precisely the opposite point, that to insist on the death of the subject was not to create but to expose a deep fictionally in all moral and political institutions, a form of pretence that must be repressed if civil society is to function.’



20 April 1995

A good sentence bears repetition, and since Charles Altieri repeats my quotation in his letter (Letters, 3 August) in response to my review, I can do no better than to repeat it once more: ‘I will ignore the many ways that this model can go wrong.’ Professor Altieri has attempted to write an account of ‘subjective agency’ – that is, of the ways in which people identify, articulate, establish...

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