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Regarding Homer/Homer Regarding: Odysseus' Scar, Time, and the Origins of Subjectivity in Myth

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As the historian Martin Jay and others have pointed out, continental thinkers in the twentieth century have been especially critical of the "scopic regime" of modernity: for Sartre, reflexivity emerges under the imaginary gaze of the other, for Hannah Arendt, the rise of the totalitarian "social" means the disappearance of the private, and for Foucault, the quintessentially modern way of seeing is surveillance, which is intimately and inextricably tied to punishment. These critiques imply a predmodern understanding of subjectivity free from the Cartesian grid and Baconian "prevision and control." What I argue for instead is the existence of a totalizing scopic regime present in one of the foundational and consitutive texts of the western tradition, Homer's Odyssey. I do this by way of revisiting and extending Erich Auerbach's wellknown exegesis of a passage from Odyssey 19, wherein the perfect tense and the present are temporally collapsed. Auerbach notes that this collapse - which occurs as a result of the discovery of a scar on Odysseus' body by his nurse Eurykleia - is not a "flashback" like what occurs in modern narratives, but an especially powerful example of a narrative gaze that seeks to expose and illuminate everything, for the sake of rendering a story that is complete and encompassing. I argue that this suggests a tension, and a constitutive moment whereby subjectivity emerges, not in a moment of awareness of the "gaze of the other" (Sartre), but rather as an attempt to "privatize" one's own story against the totalizing power of a narrator. Consciousness of a punctual "present" here means an effort to carve out a subjective space against the narrative power of one who would collapse such distinctions. I conclude with the stor y of Prometheus as a counter-myth, one which points forward to the theologically-important construction of consciousness-as-rebellion.


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