Falling out of paradise and cascading into an amorphous space: Processual self, truth, and meaning

Sibel Sayili, Purdue University


This study examines the existential crisis brought on by consciousness and the subsequent ontological quest of the modern self to construct, de- and reconstruct herself and her world. Kleist, Hoffmann, and Wilde are linked in a semiotic framework, in which Peirce's concepts of Firstness, Secondness and Thirdness are related to different phases of existence and knowledge, emphasizing their interdependency. It is demonstrated that these authors' texts display a nostalgia and longing for paradise, for the state of preconsciousness or Firstness. It is argued that the problem in these texts lies not in questioning the existence of an absolute truth or external reality, but the characters' access to it. The problem arises when the characters enter Secondness, that is, they become aware, and then fall out of Paradise into Thirdness, the realm of consciousness. The study concentrates on humankind's access to truth and meaning and argues that it is the acknowledgement of an objectively existing, external reality that poses the dilemma. This predicament is unsolvable, as human consciousness is incapable of gaining absolute insight into the 'Ding-an-sich' and, therefore, has to tolerate knowing only phenomena or semiotic realities.




Merrell, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Comparative literature|Germanic literature|British and Irish literature

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