14 July 2014
¶ At Prospect, Jim Holt reviews a couple of books that diverge on what the self is while agreeing that it does exist. (via 3 Quarks Daily)
If the spectrum of selfhood begins with the roundworm, surely it ends with Proust—whose own oversubtle explorations of memory and the self are sadly neglected in these two otherwise estimable books. Moving from Barry Dainton’s philosophical conception of the self—pure, pristine potential—to the endlessly variegated empirical self traced by Jennifer Ouellette, I was reminded of Proust’s description (near the beginning of The Guermantes Way) of what it’s like to wake up out of a leaden slumber. At first, there’s just a glimmer of undefined consciousness; you’re not even a person. Then gradually, in a sort of resurrection, you recover your thoughts, your memories, your personality; you become you again. Proust’s narrator likens the awakening process to finding a lost object. What baffles him is how, “among the millions of human beings one might be,” he unerringly manages to lay his hands on the very self he was the day before. Puzzling as the self is, that might be one puzzle too many.
We feel that there is something very “modern” about the quest for the self — something that we have moved beyond, in our attempt to grasp the civil.