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The Self without Character: Melville’s The Confidence-Man and Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore

Humanities. 2018;7(1):25 DOI 10.3390/h7010025


Journal Homepage

Journal Title: Humanities

ISSN: 2076-0787 (Print)

Publisher: MDPI AG

LCC Subject Category: General Works: History of scholarship and learning. The humanities

Country of publisher: Switzerland

Language of fulltext: English

Full-text formats available: PDF, HTML



Jason M. Wirth (Department of Philosophy, Seattle University, Seattle, WA 98122, USA)


Blind peer review

Editorial Board

Instructions for authors

Time From Submission to Publication: 11 weeks


Abstract | Full Text

This essay explores the gap between character, that is, the habitual persona or mask that can be consistently recognized and represented, and the underlying self. If the self is conflated with the persona, the latter rings hollow. If the self emerges in the gap between itself and its persona, it is no longer hollow but rather empty in the positive Mahāyāna Buddha Dharma sense of śūnyatā (lack of a self-same self or identity). This essay disambiguates the hollowness of character from the emptiness of the self through a study of Melville’s The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade (1857) and Murakami’s contemporary classic, Kafka on the Shore (2002). Bringing Murakami into proximity with Melville not only highlights the originality of both but also affords a co-illuminating confrontation that brings Buddhist and Shinto insights to bear upon the problem of the self.