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REFLECTIONS ON THE SELF / Vol. 54, No. 1 (Spring 1987)

Arien Mack, Editor

Academics have welcomed the self as “a respectable explanatory concept” in the human sciences or denounced it as a tune we whistle in dark times to pretend that individual experience is more orderly than it is. In any case, the visibility of the term in public and academic discussions is a sure sign that we can no longer take for granted that we all mean the same thing by the word.

We seem to have no other way of describing “lived time” save in the form of narrative. Which is not to say that there are not other temporal forms that can be imposed on the experience of time, but none of them succeeds in capturing the sense of lived time: not clock or calendrical time forms, not serial or cyclical orders, not any of these. The second thesis is that the mimesis between life so-called and narrative is a two way affair... Narrative imitates life, life imitates narrative. [reprinted in 70th Anniversary issue, 71:3]

To be oneself, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is “to be in one’s normal conditions of body or mind” or, even better, to act according “to one’s true character without hypocrisy or constraint.” On the other hand, to be outside oneself (archaic) or beside oneself (contemporary) is to be deranged, “out of one’s mind or senses.” But when I criticize myself, so it is usually said, I deliberately take a stand outside myself, detached, removed, looking on from a distance, the stern inspector of my “normal condition” or “true character,” always found wanting.

If an individual can in fact deceive himself about himself, then two things seem to follow: first, the self is dividable; and second, the self is something one can be wrong about. Our knowledge of the self, though often tantalizingly similar to other kinds of knowledge, is never entirely the same, for the representation one forms of oneself are part of the very self one seeks to represent. This essay concentrates on the nature of the mismatch involved in self-deception, though the problem of the divided self also surfaces here and there.

There is a philosophical dream, a dream that moral and political ideals are not only grounded in and explained by human nature, but that fundamental moral and political principles can be derived from the narrower conditions that define persons. Though sometimes bold and wild dreamers do go so far, this dream is not normally metaphysical: it could not be satisfied by showing that subjectivity is irreducible.

Art history scholars must pay closer attention to artist's psyches and other personal characteristics in researching and judging their work. Neglect of the artist's self and self-image particularly harms scholarship addressing modern art, where the artist is very accessible.

The work of Michel Foucault is haunted by a strange absence—a central character who never directly appears. The primary goal of his study of knowledge and power in modern society is what he called "a genealogy of the modern 'soul'."

Leonardo da Vinci's (1452–1519) ambiguous sexual self-realization manifests itself in his first drawings of human anatomy. Rejecting homosexuality and heterosexuality as pathological, Leonardo was primarily motivated by his interest in human anatomy; however, his early drawings, which represent textual imagery, reveal that the body of "him" is that of the "self."


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