Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Sublimity and Seduction of the Death Drive:: The Unconscious Subject in Virginia Woolf's The Waves

Ms Shuhui Tsai.

Nowadays, as the self-referential world is driven by its own course toward death or infinity, the social-cultural structure seems to reveal more and more its hidden core: madness. Yet, madness or insanity can be hardly observed outwardly, especially in artists' creativity or in the terrorists' acts guided by some charismatic cult-leaders. While some artists or thinkers, as psychoanalytically diagnosed, have mental problems and some have committed suicide or homicide, not every suicide or madman has the gift of creativity; while suicidal bombers in Middle-East terrorism with a firm belief in their sublime God create disasters, not every faithful believer attempt to commit mass homicide or suicide. All these problems lead to one question: the universal cannot encompass the particular. Another question is the realm of void beyond language is either related to the charm of metaphysics or the enigma of the death drive beyond the pleasure principle that either generates killing, terror, and madness, or create art. This void in the beyond presents bi-polar enigma that confuses the ontological notion of the being as either a unified totality or the multiplicity. The seduction of metaphysics, though once pronounced dead, has survived as a phantom and now still as an ongoing battlefield between universal ethics and the unconscious subject. Almost every philosophical investigation aims at this problematic realm outside/beyond the language. Yet from Lacanian psychoanalysis, we all understand that his notion of the Real as an unsymbolized excess exists disturbingly within the Symbolic order that forever opens for its own re-structuration. Then we may ask: Is the Real the Universal as Lacan might claim? Does the notion of the Real correspond to the sublime metaphysics from which our primal signifier is derived? Is the notion of ontological being related to the Real? And is the passage of death the destined path to God or an encounter with one's unconscious subject? Or God is nothing more than one's unconscious object, that is, this metaphysical transcendentalism is a mere mirage.
Are these psycho-philosophical notions of the Real, the unconscious subject, the death drive, God and Being interrelated to one another? In this paper, I am going to focus on this contestation: the realm of void beyond language whether it is the Lacanian unconscious subject related to the Real that leads to death or the transcendental-metaphysical realm from which all knowledge and creativity are derived, by using one of Virginia Woolf's novels, The Waves, as the textual analysis.


Ms Shuhui Tsai  (Taiwan)
Assistant Professor in Southern Taiwan University of Technology
Applied English Department in Southern University of Technology

Ms. Shuhui Tsai is an assistant professor in the Applied English Department in Southern Taiwan University of Technology, offering courses such as Modern English Fiction, Films and Contemporary Cultural Theories, Postmodern Fiction. Her academic specialty in psychoanalytic- cultural theories has prepared her to attend several international conferences with her presented papers on the contemporary social-cultural issues: the unconscious subject, ethics in question, terror and the sublime. She is also a poetess, with her first collection of poetry sponsored by Taiwan Culture and Arts Foundation in 2002

  • The death drive
  • The Lacanian Real
  • The unconscious subject
  • The seduction of metaphysics
  • Sublimity
  • Madness
  • Terror
  • Creativity
  • Self-destruction (suicide)
Person as Subject
  • Shuhui Emily Tsai

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)