Self-Creation (Odette's Face)

Joshua Landy

in Philosophy As Fiction

Published in print June 2004 | ISBN: 9780195169393
Published online September 2007 | e-ISBN: 9780199787845 | DOI:
 Self-Creation (Odette's Face)

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This chapter discusses Proust's theory of selfhood. It argues that throughout the novel, Proust's protagonist struggles with the problem of finding or constructing a self that is both unique and enduring, in the face not only of change across time but also of serious division at any given moment, as the various faculties vie for control. Involuntary memory offers a partial solution, by revealing the existence within us of an aspect that is both individuating and stable — namely, the very perspective discussed in Chapter 1. Our perspective, however, is far from exhausting what we think of as our identity, since the numerous temporal selves, which never really disappear altogether from our psychic apparatus, also constitute an important part of who we are. The second suggestion, then, would be to gather these temporal selves together into a narrative. This narrative would require a certain amount of self-deception (ideally lucid): while it would need to be considered definitive in order to be of use, it would in reality, always be provisional, governed by a telos that is in principle unknown to us and therefore continually reimagined. Or, more consequently perhaps, we may dispense with actual narrative and instead simply live our lives as though they were works of literature. Stylizing our physical appearance is one possibility, but a more promising one involves the stylization of our very existence: imagining a future self and proceeding as if every aspect of our lives were directed toward this goal, asking not who we are but who we will have been, living life, in short, in the future perfect.

Keywords: self; personal identity; self-fashioning; narrative selfhood; life in literature; life as literature; future perfect; involuntary memory; perspective; self-deception

Chapter.  13595 words. 

Subjects: Literature

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