Inventing the Self

Strategy 1: Picking a Fight

October 1st, 2013 by Jason Scaglione · No Comments


Before I lay out in earnest my own story dealing with McAdams, I’ll just comment that László provided a nice survey of this new landscape—but really I’m not that concerned with things like verifiability and prediction in narrative models for personhood/consciousness. If there is “narrative truth in life,” I’d use McAdams’ words to say that the really interesting part is “quite removed from logic, science, and empirical demonstration” (McAdams 1993a The Meaning of Stories).

When I began reading McAdams I found myself refreshed. Not only did the load of this week’s assignments seem manageable within normal time constraints, but the content of that first chapter kind of cleansed my palette in this transition into a different mode of inquiry. “I can dig this,” I thought to myself,  reading about myth and its place as part of our social and personal psychologies. Our myths are constructed as a kind of personal history—a re-creation of the past in the present moment—to deal with circumstance and identity. It makes sense that a myth is more like chronicling a personal history, “judged to be true or false not solely with respect to its adherence to empirical fact,” but rather “with respect to such narrative criteria as believability and coherence” (28:1993a). By the conclusion of the chapter, I was on board with the approach—that we should explore how, thru our personal myths, we “help create the world we live in, at the same time that it is creating us” (37:1993a). That right there is a crux for me; I am all about explicating the subject-object relationship.

Then… in the next chapter we deal with Character and Imago (McAdams 1993b)… Yes, there is something to these concepts—there is something to be revealed, or appreciated, or at least discussed in the thought that our dealings with our own identity involve developing certain patterns of thought and behavior that are in fact based on an idealized personification we create as part of some personal myth (124:1993b). Sure, okay… It’s… It’s just… There is something I find intolerable about the way this is discussed here. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but I found myself literally mumbling obscenities aloud in parts, fuming to myself over McAdams’ presentation. And it was something quite different from the obscenities I mumbled reading Noë. Where Noë makes me roll my eyes all over, McAdams makes me fume about… what?

It’s like I am pissed about how irresponsibly he is deploying language for his argument. Not that it’s imprecise per se, but I feel like his structure leads to intolerable conclusions. An example is in this passage (127:1993b):

Imagoes may personify aspects of who you believe you are now, who you were, who you might be in the future, who you wish you were, or who you fear you might become. Any or all of these aspects of the self—the perceived self, the past self, the future self, the desired self, the undesired self—can be incorporated into the main characters of personal myths. [emphasis mine]

Gods, with this line of thought it’s no wonder McAdams talks about needing a unifying frame for a fragmented identity! How many selves are we supposed to account for? These are assumed in the argument, but this is the fucking part we need clarity on!! We don’t need an explanation about the self that further invokes this self, that self, red self, blue self!!!


Okay I guess what’s at issue for me is this assumption of a multiplicitive self that needs unification thru narrative devices like imago. This “underlying self” is implied by the structure of McAdams’ argument, and I find it a harmful assumption—not just harmful to the strength of his argument, but harmful in a real way to people carrying out his line of thinking.

While imago contains useful content as a concept, I think it needs a much subtler deployment for any positive use.

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