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My Many Selves

The Quest for a Plausible Harmony

Wayne C. Booth

Publication Year: 2006

In his autobiography, My Many Selves, Wayne C. Booth is less concerned with his professional achievements---though the book by no means ignores his distinguished career---than with the personal vision that emerges from a long life lived thoughtfully. For Booth, even the autobiographical process becomes part of a quest to harmonize the diverse, often conflicting aspects of who he was. To see himself clearly and whole, he broke the self down, personified the fragments, uncovered their roots in his experience and background, and engaged those selves and experiences in dialogue. Basic to his story and to its lifelong concern with ethics and rhetoric was his Mormon youth in rural Utah. In adulthood he struggled with that background, abandoning most Mormon doctrines, but he retained the identity, ethical questions, and concern with communication that this upbringing gave him.

The uncommon wisdom and careful attention that empower Wayne Booth's many other books cause My Many Selves to transcend its genre, as the best memoirs always do. The book becomes a window through which we who read it will see our own conflicts, our own ongoing struggle to live honestly and ethically in the world.

Wayne Booth died in October 2005, soon after completing work on this autobiography.

Published by: Utah State University Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

Every autobiographer faces problems that no novelist faces: as I write, my actual story still runs on. How can any first-person memoir present anything like a completed plot? It simply can’t, and...

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Part One. My Toughest “Self-Splits” and What Produced Them

It’s a bit hard to distinguish those Self-Splits that have been potentially destructive, those that have contributed to my growth, and those that in retrospect merely amuse me. But for now, here are ten of the most intense conflicts that life has inflicted on the diverse Wayne Booths. Or perhaps it should be...

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Chapter One. A Devout Mormon Is Challenged by Rival Selves

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pp. 3-32

Recently at a University reception, as I sipped my glass of wine, I spotted across the room the bishop of my LDS ward, who knows me quite well even though I hardly ever attend services.1 The immediate impulse of the hypocrite in me, based on almost a lifetime of faked “observance,” was to hide the glass. “That’s absurdly dishonest,” the Moralist...

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Chapter Two. A Pious Moralist Confronts a Cheater

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pp. 33-48

They still sit on my—not his—shelves, reproachfully but usefully. I would now return them to anyone from that family, if I could ever find the name. MoralB finally, in one sense, wins—but to little effect. He often sneers at...

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Chapter Three. The Cheerful Poser Comforts a Griever: or, A Would-be Tough Guy Meets Grief and Conceals the Tears

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pp. 49-76

The fact that we felt our lives totally shattered by that should surprise no one. And you readers can predict that my attempts to write about it will land us all in muddy waters. If the organization of the next few pages confuses you, please forgive the Griever, now having to pose as...

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Chapter Four. My Many Selves Confront the Man Who Believes in LOVE

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pp. 77-94

One morning back in 2002, I received an email from my friend Homer Goldberg informing me that the “Millennial” issue of PMLA1 has a long list of selections from past presidential addresses. “And for some reason yours is just ignored.” This message instantaneously provoked a silly, internal...

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Chapter Five. Ambition vs. Teaching for the Love of It

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pp. 95-116

My lifetime choice of teaching as a vocation may at first glance seem utterly predictable, revealing no soul-splits whatever. For one thing, the entire Mormon enterprise was evangelical, didactic, preachy. Our communal task was to change the beliefs of...

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Chapter Six. The Hypocritical Mormon Missionary Becomes a Skillful Masker, and Discovers “Hypocrisy-Upward”

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pp. 117-134

He said that everybody was at home in America because nobody was. Each one of us is out there every day creating himself for the crowd. The ones that start out knowing who they are, they are just repeating what they’ve been told.Literary egotism consists in playing the role of self, in making oneself a little more natural than nature, a little more oneself than one was a few minutes before....

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Chapter Seven. The Puritan Preaches at the Luster While the Hypocrite Covers the Show

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pp. 135-152

I often have wondered whether the fact that I’ve had only one “consummated affair” in my life—my marriage to Phyllis—should just wipe out this chapter. How can full monogamy in two descendants of polygamists be anything but boring? Or does the fact of my having had “real sex” with...

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Chapter Eight. The Lover Becomes a Trapped Army Private

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pp. 153-166

As a private, trained as a “clerk/rifleman,” longing for undelivered letters from my true love, I was for quite a while just idly, miserably waiting for assignment. We were stationed at a “replacement center” in Givet, France, the “prick that France sticks into Belgium,” sleeping on the ground on straw ticks. One day a sergeant snarled at...

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Chapter Nine. An Egalitarian Quarrels Scornfully with a Hypocritical Bourgeois

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pp. 167-180

As I came out of our drugstore this morning, a man came toward me to sell a copy of StreetWise, our Chicago newspaper sold by the homeless. As usual, I took a dollar from my pocket and accepted the copy of the journal. Then he said (almost predictably)...

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Chapter Ten. A College Dean Struggles to Escape

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pp. 181-195

On the plane very early in the morning, I have the following wild fantasies: I’m chatting with Ed and say, “I’m tired of pulling your chestnuts out of the fire.” I’m asked to take over on Levi’s resignation....

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Part Two. The Splits Multiply—in Somewhat Less Torturous Form

As I’ve explored my many “splits,” it’s been hard to rank their importance. At times this or that one feels most important of all, and then, once ThinkerB intrudes, it seems trivial—not worth including. As I now introduce...

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Chapter Eleven. The Quarrel between the Cheater and the Moralist Produces Gullible-Booth

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pp. 199-208

You might expect that being an (almost lifetime) cheater, I would have become unusually suspicious of cheaters. But for some reason, it’s been the opposite. I’ve turned out to be gullible to many con artists. People who know....

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Chapter Twelve. A Wandering Generalist Longs to Be a True Scholar

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pp. 209-220

I pass for a great scholar with him, by relating to him some of the Persian The world’s great men have not commonly been great scholars, nor its great Where there is much desire to learn, there of necessity will be much arguing, much writing, many opinions; for opinion in good men is but knowledge in the Here is a journal entry by the Wandering Generalist, from fi ve years ago....

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Chapter Thirteen. A Would-be Novelist Mourns behind the Would-be Lover and Would-be Scholar

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pp. 221-234

Once I’d become hooked into reading famous novels and poems in my midteens, I inevitably had dreams of becoming a novelist or poet. I had always enjoyed making up stories, some of them the outright self-serving lies that I’ve reported here, some of them jokey stories intended only to entertain. But the dream of turning...

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Chapter Fourteen. The Committed Father and Husband, as Lover, Shouts “For Shame!” at All the Other Selves

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pp. 235-250

Long before Phyllis and I were married, I had developed “indubitable” convictions about what marriage should be—of course, with the male in charge. Many of those views had been changed by the time I found the girl of my dreams. I was sure that she and...

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Chapter Fifteen. The Man of Peace Tries to Tame the Slugger

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pp. 251-262

Most people who know me would be surprised, I think, if they saw a tape of that outburst. They think of me as an unusually peaceful, nonviolent man—a “dialogist” or “rhetorologist,” always working to achieve peaceful reconciliation between disputants through the pursuit of understanding. Many have accused me...

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Interlude. A Potpourri of Chapters I Refuse to Write (Let Alone Include)

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pp. 263-268

My colleague James Chandler has been working for some time on a book to be called England in 1819. He and I have been discussing hoaxes of various kinds, so I decide to test him. After obtaining some stationery...

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Part Three. Aging, Religion, and—Surprise!—the Quest for a Plausible Harmony

As you would predict, the following two chapters have been the most challenging. How is one to complete a book like this without dealing with every major question that theologians and philosophers have faced since somebody, somewhere, first asked, “What is the meaning of life?”...

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Chapter Sixteen. The Old Fart Debates with a Bunch of Young Booths, While Posing as Younger Than 84

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pp. 271-287

Yesterday decided to begin a chapter on Youth and Timeflow (really on Aging). Did a bit [which became a first draft of this chapter]. Phyllis interrupted to ask if I’d be interested in reading a journal entry of hers. First time ever,...

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Chapter Seventeen. Harmony at Last?

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pp. 289-309

Other LIFERS' efforts to pursue harmony of soul have always at least half failed, as mine must do. Sometimes the LIFERS do attempt to present a full harmony throughout, behind the many threats that life presents; careful readers then detect the deception. The more serious...


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pp. 310-321

E-ISBN-13: 9780874215359
Print-ISBN-13: 9780874216318

Publication Year: 2006