Of Metals and Men: Kofman, Conversion and The Merchant of Venice

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Abstract

Mindful that philosophy is for Kofman always sublated (relevé) by literature and psychoanalysis, this essay examines Kofman's rarely discussed text ‘Conversions: The Merchant of Venice under the Sign of Saturn’ (1987) in the light of themes from elsewhere in her work. Typical of her method, Conversions is a richly philosophical reading of a psychoanalytic interpretation of a literary text. It is also Kofman's most sustained engagement with Shakespeare. In the study she builds on her earlier interest in the trope of metaphor and, drawing on Freud's reading of Shakespeare's play, derives a generalized theory of convertibility or ambivalence. Where the play seeks to establish symbolic equivalences between men and metals — between the triads Antonio/Bassano/Shylock and the lead/gold/silver of the three caskets — Kofman's analysis focuses instead on their respective Janus faces and alchemical transmutations. Beneath the explicit thematizations she follows Freud in discerning the interconvertibility of love and death, but she also goes beyond Freud in arguing that its condition of possibility is the structural ambivalence of time itself.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)26-40
Number of pages15
JournalParagraph
Volume44
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2021

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