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The Modern Self in the Labyrinth

The Modern Self in the Labyrinth

Politics and the Entrapment Imagination

Eyal Chowers

ISBN 9780674013308

Publication date: 06/17/2004

This book explores the distinct historical-political imagination of the self in the twentieth century and advances two arguments. First, it suggests that we should read the history of modern political philosophy afresh in light of a theme that emerges in the late eighteenth century: the rift between self and social institutions. Second, it argues that this rift was reformulated in the twentieth century in a manner that contrasts with the optimism of nineteenth-century thinkers regarding its resolution. It proposes a new political imagination of the twentieth century found in the works of Weber, Freud, and Foucault, and characterizes it as one of "entrapment."

Eyal Chowers shows how thinkers working within diverse theoretical frameworks and fields nevertheless converge in depicting a self that has lost its capacity to control or transform social institutions. He argues that Weber, Freud, and Foucault helped shape the distinctive thought and culture of the past century by portraying a dehumanized and distorted self marked by sameness. This new political imagination proposes coping with modernity through the recovery, integration, and assertion of the self, rather than by mastering and refashioning collective institutions.


  • This is an erudite and original study of the great entrapment and proto-entrapment theorists of the 19th and 20th centuries, namely, Kant, Mary Shelley, Marx, Nietzsche, Weber, Freud, Benjamin, Kafka and Foucault. As Chowers convincingly shows, these theorists argue that moderns have come to be subject to and subjectified by historical processes that govern their conduct. Nevetheless, they go on to argue that moderns are able to overcome this state of 'immaturity' and become 'mature' in two diametrically opposed ways: either to overcome this subjection and become sovereign and autonomous over these processes (in proto-entrapment theories); or to acknowledge and learn to live within these processes as an ineliminable condition of being-in-the-world (in entrapment theories). The interpretation of individual authors and the story as a whole are presented with an exemplary depth of scholarship and insight, and the cumulative effect is to throw a critical and foreboding light on the present.

    —James Tully, University of Victoria


  • Eyal Chowers is Senior Lecturer and the Chair of the Political Science Department at Tel-Aviv University.

Book Details

  • 260 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press