Chapter

The internal statue

Giovanni Stanghellini

in Disembodied Spirits and Deanimated Bodies

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print September 2004 | ISBN: 9780198520894
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754302 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/med/9780198520894.003.0008

Series: International Perspectives in Philosophy & Psychiatry

The internal statue

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With the Seventh study we have entered the psychopathological core of this book, since it deals with manic-depressive psychosis as a disorder of self-consciousness, and more precisely of narrative identity. One way to pinpoint the (supposed) basic disorder from which the melancholic condition arises is putting into practice Ricouer's concept of narrative identity. Narrative identity is the concept one constructs of oneself, or the way I represent myself to myself. The genuine nature of narrative identity discloses itself in the dialectic of sameness and selfhood. By this, Ricouer means that at the core of narrative identity we find the balance between being-the-same and being-oneself. Whereas with ‘being-the-same’ he addresses the issue of permanence in time or idem-identity; the concept of ‘being-oneself’ (ipse-identity) entails a second dialectic – the one between the self and the other-than-self.

The melancholic type's anthropological configuration is an excellent example of what actually happens if someone escapes this latter dialectic between the self and other-than-self. The other-than-self – i.e. what one is not, but what one could be – is not lived by the melancholic type as a possibility towards which she could project herself, and in this project (re-) define her own identity. Gadamer, following Hegel, puts it this way: To recognize one's own in the alien, to become at home in it, is the basic movement of spirit, whose being consists only in returning to itself from what is other …. Thus what constitutes the essence of Bildung clearly not alienation as such, but the return to oneself – which presupposes alienation, to be sure.

The melancholic type experiences the other-than-self merely as a source of alienation or nullification. As a consequence of that, she avoids confronting with the other-than-self – with her own possibilities. As a rule, one's own narrative identity arises not only from the ‘I am's’, but also from the ‘I can's’. This is not so for the melancholic type: whereas another person could say ‘I could be that, but I am not that, although I may be that in future’, the melancholic type would say ‘I simply cannot be that.’

This tackles the dialectics of being-oneself, which usually takes place between self and other-than-self. As with Ricouer's ‘character’ – ‘Character is sameness in myness’ – the melancholic type's narrative identity is restricted to being-the-same (or idem-identity). In the melancholic type, as an existential type, actually the idem overlaps with the ipse: she over-identifies with her idem-identity, i.e. with an a priori finite perspective of openings to ideas, values, projects and experiences.

This intolerance to the other-than-self and the avoidance/refusal of the dialectic immanent in the constitution of one's narrative identity leads to an identification with partial, external and reified identities, such as role-identity, i.e. external/socially appreciated representations of identity. The melancholic type internalizes role-identities. Through this internalization, which ‘annuls the initial effect of otherness’, the melancholic type acquires a social identity and a stable, although inflexible, narrative identity. This identity is based, as again Ricouer has predicted, on the ‘what’ of the ‘who’, that is on a reified, sclerotic self-representation.

Intolerance of ambiguity, or more precisely of the complexity of reality and especially of human relationships, is part of this intolerance of the dialectic between self and other-than-self. It implies an over-simplified categorization of oneself and of the others, who appear in the light of their social roles, rather than in that of their ego-identity.

Chapter.  6412 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Psychiatry

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