Lloyd Wells' four examples of loss of self challenge both philosophers and clinicians to ponder just what it is that has been lost in such cases. If a self has been lost, who lost it? And how can personal identity be so insecure that it can be lost in so many different ways? Empiricist thinkers, both Western and Eastern, have questioned the very existence of a self; much recent thought about the nature of the self has converged on notions that it is not a substantial reality, but a narrative, the product of the stories that we tell ourselves about our lives so that we can knit together our experiences into a continuous plot. Owen Flanagan and Valerie Hardcastle have already brought one version of this theory to bear on one of Wells' cases and James Phillips explores the capacity of narrative theory to account for each of these cases in an accompanying essay. In this essay, I challenge the adequacy of narrative theories of the self in general and their application to these particular cases. The details of Wells' cases highlight the limitations of narrative theories to discursive, secondary process thought by directing attention to the richer and more expressively forceful resources of metaphor and nondiscursive forms of symbolism. Narrative unity or continuity is no guarantee against experiences of the loss of self. The monological character of narrative masks the sociality of the self, the ways in which each individual self is constituted and threatened by interactions with other selves. I argue for the power of drama, opera, music, dance, and spatial forms of symbolism to cope with the diversity of what Flanagan has dubbed the multiplex self, (Flanagan 1994) especially when narrative fails. Language and narrative certainly play a crucial role in human self-consciousness. But human imagination and art command other resources as well and a theory that acknowledges their contributions can accept and incorporate the insights of narrative theories without confining itself to the limitations of story telling.


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 329-345
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.