The Non-Identical 'Self': Nonlinear Ontologies as Incompatible with the Self

Naomi Grotenhuis

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis will argue that nonlinear ontologies are incommensurable with a notion of self as an embodied, enduring agent. Nonlinear ontologies are centred on contingency and dynamism, as opposed to the stasis and predictability of linear ontologies. As a result, nonlinear ontologies engender multi-directional conceptualisations of development, complicates the notion that elements are separable and often locates agency below the level of the individual, as it is seen as an assemblage of forces. These tendencies problematise notions of the self, as it is predicated on the idea that it is delineable, constant and capable of acting independently.

In order to substantiate this argument, I will explore three different nonlinear ontologies, each with its own implications for the concept of the self. First, I will show that the concepts of the will to power and the theory of the drives in the work of Friedrich Nietzsche problematize the assumptions of agency and unity of the self. Second, I will argue that Bergson’s understanding of the world as composed through duration and materiality engenders two incommensurable conceptualisations of logic and causality - as emergent and efficient respectively - which creates a split sense of self. Third, I will demonstrate that Serres’ attempt to approach the ‘multiple as such’ expresses nonlinearity in the form of productive chaos, which problematizes the notion of the individual as a “unity” and an agent.

The final chapter explores how Connolly and Bennett use nonlinear ontologies to create a sense of fluidity and contingency in a self that can resist the tendency towards dogmatic and monolithic understandings of itself. However, because nonlinear ontologies are incompatible with the self, these attempts to combine the two create various tendencies, which I will show to resonate with the accounts of nonlinearity by Nietzsche, Bergson and Serres, upon which they based their theories.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Widder, Nathan, Supervisor
Award date1 Oct 2020
Publication statusUnpublished - Aug 2020


  • Nonlinear Temporality
  • Bergson
  • Nietzsche
  • Serres
  • Identity
  • Self
  • Time
  • Connolly
  • Bennett

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