“Je est un autre”

Identity, Alterity, and Drug Use in Baudelaire and De Quincey


In Part V of Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, the character Ivan encounters, while in a state of altered consciousness attributed to a “brain illness,” his alter ego whom he will take to be a kind of modern-day devil. The novel also suggests that it might be an apparition of Smerdyakov—himself Ivan’s alter ego—who had just confessed to Ivan that he was the murderer of Ivan’s father and who had just committed suicide without exculpating Ivan’s half brother Dmitry, who stands accused of the crime. It is a fascinating scene in which the character introduces himself to Ivan by reminding Ivan of something that he (Ivan) had intended but forgotten to do; in other words, by reminding Ivan of a fact that only Ivan himself could know. Ever the rationalist, Ivan, in his state of delusion, attempts to place himself within the comfort zone of reason and intellectual discernment. He wishes to verify whether the character is a figment of his imagination, simply a hallucination, or whether the character has some degree of reality or objective existence. It is an interesting problem, though a natural enough reaction for a person of his temperament in such a situation. The “reality check” that Ivan will apply consists of attempting to determine, in a very explicit exchange with his interlocutor, whether his uninvited guest can represent to him something new, in other words, something other.


Death Experience Extended Metaphor Creative Transformation Poetic Vision Brain Illness 
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© Joseph Acquisto 2013

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