Inventing the Self



November 6th, 2013 by Adam Wagner · 1 Comment

Miller’s chapter struck me as intriguing.  I have never been one to read biographies/autobiographies/memoirs with frequency, but I have picked up a few along the lines; mostly dealing with musicians and comedians I admired.  However, what intrigued me about Miller’s piece is her self-reflective attention to how reading other people’s memoirs and stories structured her own.   Having not actively read these personal pieces with any attention but a passing interest in admired celebrity figures, I never performed the self-reflection of what actually happens as you read them.  While reading Miller’s chapter, I immediately began to consciously remember particular stories and moments of other people’s lives that I have  incorporated into my own through the process of “identification” and “disidentification.”  I then extrapolated that from the written word into other forms of narrative I have been a part of (stories, personal experiences, movies, books, television, etc) and realized that a large part of the formulation of my personality can be traced from this process.  It is pretty astonishing the pieces of personality you acquire in this way.

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A mosaic of anecdotes…

November 5th, 2013 by Alessandro Mitrotti · 2 Comments

I agree with John’s post that 2500 Random things About Me Too was “amazing fun to read.” I was so taken by this text that I brought it to my high school English class. After a quick reading of several lists, the kids excitedly cobbled together their own lists of 25 random things on the first day and set about on a second set today. It was not really surprising how quickly this group of 15 and 16 year olds took to the project, or how quickly they fell into the groove of writing in this style, breaking up anecdotes over several lines, engaging in witty word play, adding decidedly non-school-appropriate bits, but rather how eager they were to read their pieces aloud. The project was as much a game, as it was a writing exercise, as much forum as an act of memoir, and I took this eagerness to share their work as an indication of what Miller says memoir is about, namely “a rendezvous with others.” (2)

Viegener’s book taps into something that’s very much floating the social network ethos and fashions into art.  It is a collection of self-affirming statements, some memoir, some vaguely philosophical, some straight forward and humorous, even meta-textual:

1.When you list things everyday you create both a ritual and a vacuum. Every day you fill the vacuum and every next day it’s back. (liv pg. 139)

It is a mosaic of anecdotes from which Veigener fashions a portrait of self and takes what Miller calls “the well-worn culture of “me,” given an expansive new currency by the infamous baby boomers who can think of nothing else,” (12) to a different level.    Miller also says “if there is a lesson in the memoir genre, it’s that we all have flashes. Precious as they are, those flashes only take on meaning within a story.” (22) Flashes seem an apt descriptor for Viegener’s entries, but what we can make of his story, I’m not quite sure…

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November 5th, 2013 by Samantha Gamble · 3 Comments

When I read autobiographies, I often try to find a connection to the character. I try to figure out in what ways is this individual or the situations that they have faced similar to my own autobiography. In Matias Viegener’s book, it was difficult to find anything that I felt connected to.

The only theme in Viegener’s book that was familiar was love. When he wrote “At the time, everything about you was about me too. I couldn’t keep them separated. When you weren’t feeling well, I felt it too. If you were angry at me, I was angry at me too.” I think almost everyone knows the feeling of being deeply in love.

Miller states that “identification can also mean the desire to rediscover yourself across the body or under the skin of other selves, people who are nothing—seem nothing—like yourself, to time travel, to get away, to take a much needed vacation from….you” (13). In this way I can see the identification in disidentification. Although I did not have any of the same experiences as Viegener, I found his book very intriguing. I wanted to know more about the “you” he was referring to and the relationship between him and “you.”

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November 21: Nancy K. Miller’s Breathless

November 4th, 2013 by Jason Tougaw · Comments Off on November 21: Nancy K. Miller’s Breathless


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Viegener, and the Unabashed Narcissim of Facebook

November 4th, 2013 by John Giunta · 6 Comments

“Everyday I try to say something new, yet still random. And every day I have less to say. I tire of facts. I long for fiction.” #24, lviii

“Random”, in my understanding, is somewhat related to “coincidence”, except that coincidences have something that tie them together (usually the person who is perceiving the coincidences) but they must be, like, cousins? Or dependent upon one another – coincidences are random until they are associated by the perceiver (it’s getting complicated). In this way, “coincidence” is really a construction, in the mind of the beholder. Which unsettles the notion of “random”, I’d think, because randomness is so dependent on perspective, on appearances. In any case, I’m not sure if Viegener is providing a strong argument for the success of random listing, or destabilizing the idea of some kind of Platonic, chaotic Randomness and instead proving something that falls in line with what I’m struggling to say here, that is, that randomness under scrutiny becomes more and more patterned, structured, and intentional. Randomness practiced yields way to routine.

The truth is Viegener’s lists are amazingly fun to read – his project has yielded up some remarkable observations and a great many one-liners and non-sequiturs; a much younger me might want to re-tweet or facebook some of the less subjective blurbs, as they manage to convey a sort of worldly cynicism that is still funny, sad, and sometimes heartbreaking (I had typed heartwarming first, and now I don’t think either fits. Heart-something.) Facebook and the other great plethora of social networking cites thrive on a kind of economy of communication – there’s a skill to expression within specific constraints that I have not exactly mastered, that I think is interesting in light of Nancy K. Miller’s idea about the memoir as memorandum, the autobiography as prosthesis for memory. This is a very interesting wording – as I am interested in our understanding of technology and prosthesis and the line at which we draw a division between the two (or don’t). To extrapolate a bit, I’d argue that Miller is suggesting the readers use memoirs and autobiography (and celebrity? does that become too much like fiction?) as framework to help understand their own lives, to lend them structure by either association or disassociation, which become Miller’s terms of identification or disidentification. What would she make of current social networking sites, the rise of the hashtag or the meme, the apparent homogenization of communication through the popularity of certain recurring phrases or styles of speech? Again, this could be due to my relative lack of social networking skillz, but I become a bit dismayed by how similar people on my various friendslists end up sounding; there were pop songs and then pop stars and now there are pop phrases, pop activities made just for facebook and instagram, like hashtagging every possible emotion or photographing every meal. These frameworks for interaction become like zombie viruses – is this how the meme is supposed to behave? I have very little knowledge of the original context in which Dawkins introduces the term, so if anyone could summarize it for me that’d be awesome.

So is this contributing to narcissism (a narcissism, any narcissism), this ability to generate autobiographical material all day long, every day, and have it validated by hundreds of like-minded people? The anxiety about memory that Miller has located has only worsened, as the philosophical question of the age becomes “If it wasn’t instagrammed, did it really happen?” (and now I’m doing it, capitulating to popular phrases). It seems that the social network as memoir has found that collective community which Miller discusses, and is now merely propagating itself by generating new memes, new hashtags, new pop activities and crazes to document and discuss.

I’m being a bit unfair – it seems I have a tendency to attack that I picked up somewhere in undergrad (in the classroom or otherwheres) – as social networking at its finest can yield up things like Viegener’s duration project, and at its worse still act as a place where people can vocalize virtually anything they want, and it’s remembered forever on the internet, if you can find it.

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Sorry about the late post

November 1st, 2013 by Yitian Liao · Comments Off on Sorry about the late post

A few months ago, I was taking train 1 and seated opposite a woman with her headphones connected to her iPod, which was presumably playing music, whilst her mouth formed words that could not be recognized. Her voice modulated up and down, sometimes she screamed. I watched her for almost five stops, then I got off. During the five stops, I was wondering if someone was going to do something to her, and, in fact, no one did.

Some people laughed at her, two young college students secretly glanced at her her and whispered to each other. She was seated on the train, and people sitting next to her did not stand up and leave. At that time, I thought she must have a mental disorder, even though I barely knew what that meant at that time. It is only now that I realize that she may be able to hear voices inside her head.

I like the way Hornstein validates her research. She has a strong point to sell, which is that patients problem hearing voice should be treated in the way of helping and guiding by creating a safe space for them to communicate with normal people or others who face similar problems, instead of putting them in the therapy sessions that makes them ‘confront’ themselves. For some people, the fact of hearing voices could be twisted into inspiration to do creative work— for instance Virginia Woof and Carl Jung. These two individuals are well-known authors, and they took the voices they heard and turned them into characters in their books. Either they were being helped out by others or had overcome the problem themselves – people surrounding them, such as friends or family members, must have not treated them as psychopaths. She criticizes some institutions nowadays which force patients diagnosed as schizophrenics to have medication administered, forced to do CBT and be kept thinking that being able to hear voices is abnormal.

Hornstein, in the reading, interviewed two groups: HVN and the psychiatrist Marius Romme. Both of them use very ‘soft’ ways to approach schizophrenia patients by using no drugs, commutations, and reinforcing the message that hearing voices is not a horrible thing. This is one thing I found interesting in the chapters that hearing voices is actually a normal situation that everyone will meet—

“In an earlier period human history, everyone heard voices….For the first time, her own mental life didn’t seem so bizarre; at least at one time, voice hearing had been a common phenomenon (p. 31, Agnes’s Jack).”

There are several points to make a good “therapy method” to treat mental illness in Hornstein’s search by observing how HVN and Dr. Romme treat their members and patients. Most patients have experienced some form of trauma before they start hearing voices. The institution and doctors should create a safe space for patients to express their feelings. Helping them to find roles for themselves in the community is important as well.Instead of questioning them on how they hear voices, doctors need to show respect for “different belief systems” and a diversity of viewpoints. These rules also apply to people who join the safe space.

Hornstein also mentions when she first time attended HVN conferences, people there said the model to diagnose the level of voice hearing is 100% precise. This point is fully raised in McCarthy-Jones’s Chapter 8. He discusses many experiment and methods currently used in treating or identifying voice-hearing brain. However, none of them are prefect, even the most common used one; all of them have limitations or errors. Some of them are not reliable reference due to the insignificant quantities of sample size. And sometimes hearing voice is not totally equal to psychiatric patient.


When I got off the train, I told the friend I was going to meet about the woman on train, he told me not to worry because there were so many wired people in New York.

“So they are just out there?” I asked.

“Well, no one could actually do anything to them, they are not hurting people.” He said, seeming not care at all.

The conversation later on shifted to which train may have fewer weird people and where to eat. And I almost forgot about her. I do not know the reason that woman on the train was not questioned by other people orally is because New York does have many people like her, making sounds that are indistinguishable, and people are used to it. Or simply because people in New York are peaceful, so that if those strange people don’t cause damage, they just let them be whatever they are. Either of the two, I think, it is better than seeing them and overacting. Apparently, that woman was well taken care of: her clothes were nice and clean, plus her iPod was kind of new. I hope her situation would be one where someone in her family knows her problem and still loves her and understands her like nice people Hornstein describes in HVN.

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Rufus May – Living Mindfully with Voices

October 30th, 2013 by Kristina Bodetti · 1 Comment

I thought this was a great video. It had a lot of cuts and I might be cool to see his entire lecture. What he says makes sense and is consistent with most of the other things we’ve read about hearing voices. Treating these people through this unusual methods as opposed to drugs is a great thing. Medication can’t solve all the problems a mental illness causes and all medications have side-effects, which for some may be worse then their symptoms.

Its so important with any mental illness to treat the person suffering from it like any other person, to not make them feel like some sort of freak which is sadly often the case. Feelings of seclusion and being “abnormal” can only make such illness and the experiences of the individuals worse. What this guy does to help them is great. Helping them to live the way they want despite hearing voices is important.

He describes a lot of the same things we’ve read about. He describes patients doing better with mindfulness and by having a understanding with their voices that patients who do poorly don’t have. His lecture is just another piece of evidence for getting out of the chem lab and finding new ways of thinking about how we treat mental illness.

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Understanding the Voices

October 30th, 2013 by Sabrina Smith · 2 Comments

Hearing voices is not normal, especially for individuals who have never had the experience. But for people who live with AVH the interaction of themselves and the ‘voices’ is very real. The initial response for addressing this psychological interference is simple: medicate the problem and insist that the episodes need to be handled aggressively. It’s probably a relief that there are new approaches to dealing with AVH and both McCarthy Jones and speaker/psychologist Rufus May offer empathetic alternatives to the voice-hearing phenomenon.

Let’s begin with May’s discussion. He presents two particular ways that voice-hearers can lean seemingly normal lives, one of them being Mindfulness. The fact that a voice hearer becomes keenly aware of what’s happening and makes the attempt to positively address the voice(s) rather than being frightened or trying to desperately to get rid of the condition assists with the episodes. Even further, he makes this interesting statement that the voice(s) should be treated as colleagues to which the person has to understand their reasoning for existence. This is wildly outside the normative approach of psychological treatment because, frankly, why should an individual make conversation with the voice(s) when literature insists that they take drastic measures to not eliminate the “problem?”

But after listening to his talk, I’m not sure if the voice(s) are actually problematic. In fact they can be considered helpful resources to determining the underlying reasons or causes for why these inner selves are disturbed. The intent to learn and grow from their presence in the mind can certainly be helpful to the voice-hearers even though there is not enough computed evidence to suggest that. The camaraderie of these individuals & voices through means of these networks and movements are enough to allow them to function in their lives and eventually overcome the episodes, in due time of course.

McCarthy gives a bit of a contrast to May’s perspective, even though it is not directly stated. The entire article is dripping with empirical evidence and case studies as to how AVH is developed in the brain. Through stimulation of different regions of the brain, it is reported that certain places, when triggered, produce the gray matter that suggest the presence of AVH. When I was reading this, I thought, if psychologists are able to identify disturbed regions that indicate AVH, there might be an inclination to medicate or perform direct treatment on those areas to remove this so called problem, which is, essentially, exactly how this issue has been addressed.

Which brings me back to the idea that this mindful thinking process looks like a productive alternative. And I’m all for techniques that go against the status quo because that’s the only way this called psychology can potentially progress.


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25 (not so random) Reflections of Matias Viegener’s 2500 Random Things About Me Too (and me!)

October 29th, 2013 by matthew finston · 2 Comments

25 (not so random) Reflections of Matias Viegener’s 2500 Random Things About Me Too
1) A review of a text is an act of synthesis. It seems inappropriate to imbue synthesis into Viegeger’s lists, but as Viegener notes “Random: could be anything, but usually isn’t” (xx, 19).
2) Random implies the absence of pattern or an objective. To make 100 lists of 25 random things is impossibly random.
3) A synthesis: yet the lists have a “random” quality, in the sense that each item is not necessarily linked to the previous or following item. “You see a book not one thing. It’s many things in an arrangement” (xxxii, 8).
4) However, throughout the lists there occurs repetitions of themes, characters, settings, plots. Peggy the dog’s death; Einstein on the Beach, as a theatrical counterpoint, an opera that’s essence expresses the paradoxical nature of the impossibility of randomness while earnestly defying meaning (it’s 4 ½ hours of repetition without coherence, although this too is debatable); Kathy Acker; his mother; sex/sexuality/sexual encounters/sexual identity/perverse sexuality; fruit, etc.
5) The deconstruction of “narrative” appears as a through-line of the lists. For instance, Viegener invokes “post hoc ergo propter hoc” to point out the logical fallacy inherent in narratives (if something follows, it doesn’t mean it was caused by it). This famous latin phrase was used by semiologist Roland Barthes in his famous essay “Structural Analysis of Narratives,” in order to point out “that the mainspring of narrative is precisely the confusion of consecution and consequence.”
6) The etymology of “random” comes from Old French randon, from randir ‘to run,’ ‘to gallop.’ The implication being that randomness has an inherent urgency, which is evident in several of Viegener’s items “I am so tired of making lists I could cry. I’m tired of trying to get people’s attention. I just want to shut up and go to sleep” (lxxix, 19). And, “I’m going to finish these lists. It’s just hard now when the only ‘random’ thing happening to me is Peggy’s steady decline.” (lxxxi, 25).
7) While imposing a structure and a goal to create lists of random things is paradoxically nonrandom, it appears that the statements have an essence of randomness in that they are purposefully illustrating the “post hoc ergo propter hoc” fallacy as contiguous excretions.
8) The first item is particularly revealing of the (non)object(ive) of the lists: “People think I’m American but inside I am foreign” (i, 1). This has two meanings: literally being born outside the US; as well as the desire for sui generis, being wholly unique.
9) You could call my list a “random” essay. Or at least, an essay that would not fly. If you removed the rupturous structure of the “list” constraint, the paper would not have a clear logical flow.
10) You will realize how random 2500 Random Things About Me Too is when you try to search for quotes. While reading you may have put together a coherence to the statements, but the lack of organization of the statements underlies the actual randomness of the text.
11)While contiguous statements disclose motifs, plots, characters, the act of purging oneself of facts effects discontinuity of being by ex-silencio. Your identity forms by the absence of what it is not said.
12) Reading this “book,” made me think of the question “what are you?”
13) The question “what are you,” interrogatory in structure, is asked of me quite a lot. Because of my complexion, my “identity” is illegible.
14) I have been asked this question so many times that I now play dumb, pretending that I do not know what my interrogator is asking.
15) The reality is, people who ask me this do not have malicious intent. Or at least, I don’t think they do.
16) I used to respond simply, “I am Jewish.” This is sometimes satisfactory. “Oh! Okay. Funny you don’t look Jewish.” Sometimes they want to know more, “No, no, no. I mean where are you from, why are you . . .” “Brown?” I ask. “No. Not ‘Brown.’ Dark.”
17) Recently, I have been responding with, “I’m American,” or “I’m ‘white.'” To which I get, “No you are not.” And I sadly agree, I would hate to just be “white.”
18) I wonder if anyone is going to read my post?
19) What is funny about this is that as much as I hate this game, I play it. Playing dumb extends the inquisition, which I always find so disturbing.  Yet, that the game can go on for such a long time means that I have a legible “foreignness.”
20) I can see why Viegener feels so uneasy about the narcissism inherent in creating lists of self. During his 9th list with 91 more to go he says, “I am so tired of using I, me, my, and mine here” (ix, 24). It is not that people are uncomfortable with obsessing about themselves; it is that realization that our “self” is inclined to “self-obsess,” is a devastating revelation  of our “self.”
21) Just like in my game, “what are you,” I get to play guess “me” without it stemming from my desire for others to know “me.” The ambiguity of my complexion elicits the game, and I play along.
22) But it is not “my game.” It is a game people play. I wonder how many other people willingly play this game with others.
23) Viegener wants us to think that “narrative is something created by the reader’s need” (v, 24). This statement is about the ‘us,’ the reader, and ‘our’ experience of reading random facts. In a very interesting turn, Viegener unveils that, “I seem to have given up avoiding narrative” (xii, 24). The ‘narrative need’ that he describes is not just a “reader’s need” but the writer’s, too. The juxtaposition of these statements reveal that Viegener may have a misconception about narrative. According to Gerard Genette in Narrative Discourse, “narrative refer[s] to the narrative statement, the oral or written discourse that undertakes to tell of an event or series of events” (25). The essence of a “narrative” is it’s narrator. According to Oxford Dictionary, the word “narrative” comes from the french word “narratif” which means “telling a story.” Story, Genette defines, is “the succession of events, real or fictitious, that are the subjects of this discourse” (Genette 25). Inherent in the term “narrative” is “telling.” Viegener’s cause was lost from the start! Random or organized, telling random facts about oneself constitutes a narrative, even if it is an incoherent one. But perhaps Viegener wanted to draw our attention to this very fact to simultaneously critique and uphold Tzvetan Todorov’s dictum, “beware of coherence” (lxx, 24).
24) I find it odd, that the last four quotes I used are all from 24th random fact from the lists.
25) My list is not faithful to the structure. I have produced them simultaneously. Any resemblance to the “random lists” is sacrificed as a result. The act of ‘publishing’ random statements through ‘Facebook’ as an ongoing ephemeral exercise inhibits ‘self-censorship.’ But I never really meant to duplicate Viegener’s exercise, just borrow the structure.

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Making the right question.

October 29th, 2013 by Gabriel R. Seijo · 2 Comments

The juxtaposition between this week’s readings seems favorable to the process in which we find ourselves in the writing activity. On the one hand, a very academic and scientific scrutinizing of different ways in which to manipulate or understand the biological process of voice hearing; on the other hand a personal recount of how to manipulate and understand voice hearing through a psychological or holistic standpoint. The first, seemingly super technologically advanced, not necessarily reaching a conclusive and desirable effect; and the second having the capacity to be confidently helpful when considering a humane approach to a very human difficulty. This chapter and lecture rectified the need for balance, and a broader standpoint in order to achieve a better understanding of a complex query. Made me think of how the last class discussion lead to the point of knowing that the right question, will lead to a more confident answer.

I share Jason’s recalling of Alva Noe’s “something else going on”. The grasp for understanding the self seems unreachable from any of the standpoints that have been evaluated because the rhetoric always falls short. The self always seems to have the ability to elude a definite statement once the efforts within a school of thought have been exhausted. There is so much that biology can do, and there is also as much as psychology or philosophy can. In this sense, May’s recognition of the fact that insistent voices must have something important to say, makes me think that the insistent underachievement to finding the self within specific academic specters can only tell us that it is not to be found uniquely in any of them. In other words if consistently the self cannot be found through biology, psychology, philosophy, anthropology or any other ology individually, then maybe it never will. I guess it is just a matter of waiting for someone to make the right question.

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