Modern Intellectual History 5 (2):279-307 (2008)

The meaning of “identity” in its contemporary sense of “who—or what—I am” is of relatively recent vintage. It became current as a concept of individual and group psychology only through Erik Erikson's work in the 1950s and its extension to collectivities in the social and political upheavals of the 1960s. But an important strand of European literature began calling the possibility of fixed self-definition into question in the 1920s, occasionally even deploying the word “identity” explicitly. In the work of Hermann Hesse, Virginia Woolf, Luigi Pirandello, Robert Musil, Hermann Broch and Franz Kafka, the dualistic representation of selfhood prevalent in much of prewar modernism gave way to the image of an infinitely fragmented and ontologically unfounded self not exhausted by any, or even the sum, of its many possible designations. For these authors, the events and aftermath of World War One desacralized a whole range of abstract collective identities—national or imperial citizen, cultured European, gebildete bourgeois, manly male, the spiritual “eternal feminine”—which had furnished the most deeply rooted and honored individual identities of prewar Europe. As a consequence, identity itself was undermined. The paradox of the birth of identity is that it was discovered in the negation of its very possibility.
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1017/S1479244308001650
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 52,739
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Foreign Policy and European Identity.Edelgard Mahant - 1995 - History of European Ideas 21 (4):485-498.
European Citizenship: Towards a European Identity?B. P. - 2001 - Law and Philosophy 20 (3):239-282.
Quasi-National European Identity and European Democracy.D. J. - 2001 - Law and Philosophy 20 (3):283-311.
European Identity in the Process of European Integration.Zhi-Cheng Qu & Miao-zi Gong - 2007 - Nankai University (Philosophy and Social Sciences) 1:22-30.
Quasi-National European Identity and European Democracy.Jos De Beus - 2001 - Law and Philosophy 20 (3):283 - 311.
Rediscovering Culture: The Unexplored Dimension of European Democratic Identity.Dana Irina - 2012 - Journal for Communication and Culture 2 (1):88-104.


Added to PP index

Total views
9 ( #858,989 of 2,340,252 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
2 ( #333,940 of 2,340,252 )

How can I increase my downloads?


Sorry, there are not enough data points to plot this chart.

My notes