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Genevieve Lloyd THE SELF AS FICTION: PHILOSOPHY AND AUTOBIOGRAPHY And so it goes on. All the time I'm dressing up the figure of myself in my own mind, lovingly, stealthily, not openly adoring it, for if I did that, I should catch myself out, and stretch my hand at once for a book in self-protection. Indeed it is curious how instinctively one protects the image of oneself from idolatry or any other handling that could make it ridiculous, or too unlike the original to be believed in any longer. Or is it not so very curious at all? It is a matter of great importance. Suppose the looking-glass smashes, the image disappears, and the romantic figure with the green of forest depths all about it is there no longer, but only that shell of a person which is seen by other people — what an airless, shallow, bald, prominent world it becomes! A world not to be lived in. Virginia Woolf, "The Mark on the WaIl" ' The anxiety Virginia Woolf describes is, at one level, a familiar, everyday one of self-esteem. But the passage can also be read as expressing a more metaphysical unease about our conception ofwhat it is to be a self at all. Our difficulties in preventing the "romantic figure with the green of forest depuis all about it" from collapsing back into mat "shell of a person which is seen by other people" have philosophical roots. We have inherited ideals of objective knowledge which put severe restraints on the capacity to construct our selves as fictions. Our selves are part ofthe world and our representations of mem must conform to standards of truth. Yet we also want to separate our selves out from the world we know. As a knowing self, I am not merely an object of knowledge, but its luminous, though elusive, source and structuring center. My subjectivity seems to give me a special status in the world. But it is difficult to see how mat special status is to be reconciled with ideals of objective knowledge. As Thomas Nagel sums up the philosophical dilemma, in Mortal Questions , we are impelled, on the one hand, to resist an entirely "external" view ofwhat we most essentially are and do. But this sense ofour irreduci168 Genevieve Lloyd169 ble subjectivity comes up against an equally strong drive to include human beings and everything about diem as contents of a world mat can be understood "objectively." Our awareness of ourselves involves a sense of how the world is experienced from a particular point of view. But this idea of what the world is like from different points of view is at odds with our inherited ideals ofknowledge. To qualify as real, diings must be there independendy of particular points of view. Objectivity demands setting aside the "internal" viewpoint in an attempt to see die world, as it were, from no point of view at all. Yet we do feel mat our awareness of being ourselves cannot be reduced to the awareness of being the particular persons with the determinate properties we have, there to be perceived from perspectives not our own.2 As Arthur Prior puts the point, in his paper "Identifiable Individuals," an exchange of properties between Julius Caesar and Mark Antony might leave the world looking exacdy the same to us, but certainly not to Caesar or Antony. The experience of being called Julius Caesar or being murdered on me ides of March are very different experiences from being called Mark Antony or dallying on the Nile with Cleopatra.3 This seems to suggest mat my awareness ofbeing myself cannot be equated wim awareness of being some person with a determinate set of properties. It was, of course, precisely that kind of consideration which prompted Descartes, in the Meditations, to postulate the self as a pure ego, which remains the same regardless ofany imagined change in outer circumstances. It is the thought experiment of shedding all his actual properties which prompts him to treat the self as a special kind of object, immune to the fluctuations and uncertainties that afflict others. But, as Bernard Williams has pointed out, in his article "Imagination and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 168-185
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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