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Enigmas of Identity

Enigmas of Identity

Peter Brooks
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Enigmas of Identity
    Book Description:

    "We know that it matters crucially to be able to say who we are, why we are here, and where we are going," Peter Brooks writes inEnigmas of Identity. Many of us are also uncomfortably aware that we cannot provide a convincing account of our identity to others or even ourselves. Despite or because of that failure, we keep searching for identity, making it up, trying to authenticate it, and inventing excuses for our unpersuasive stories about it. This wide-ranging book draws on literature, law, and psychoanalysis to examine important aspects of the emergence of identity as a peculiarly modern preoccupation.

    In particular, the book addresses the social, legal, and personal anxieties provoked by the rise of individualism and selfhood in modern culture. Paying special attention to Rousseau, Freud, and Proust, Brooks also looks at the intersection of individual life stories with the law, and considers the creation of an introspective project that culminates in psychoanalysis.

    Elegant and provocative,Enigmas of Identityoffers new insights into the questions and clues about who we think we are.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3969-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Psychology, Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[viii])
  3. To Begin
    (pp. 1-9)

    Take a nightmare situation evoked by Jean-Paul Sartre to image his childhood sense that he was a fraud, lacking all authenticity. He has sneaked onto a train from Paris to Dijon and fallen asleep, and when the conductor comes to ask for his ticket, he has to admit he doesn’t have one. Nor the money to pay for one. Yet he makes the grandiose claim that he needs to be in Dijon for important and secret reasons, “reasons that concerned France and perhaps all mankind.”¹ This scenario—in which the conductor remained mute, unconvinced, and the boy talked on and...

  4. 1 Marks of Identity
    (pp. 10-34)

    I would guess that we share an obsessive interest in identity, however defined. It’s in any case my belief that such an interest is nearly definitional of modern human beings and the societies in which they live. While the notion of identity is not new—especially as a philosophical topic—a widespread concern with one’s personal identity, and its relations to “the others” among whom one lives, seems to have emerged with greater intensity with the Enlightenment, and to gain force throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and into our own time. To the extent that a characteristic of modernity...

  5. 2 Egotisms
    (pp. 35-59)

    Clues to who we are: that has long—at least since the time of Jean-Jacques Rousseau—been an object of our introspective imagination. John Locke, in hisEssay Concerning Human Understanding, may be the first thinker to address the issue of our personal identity in a way that resonates with our modern conception. Theprincipium individuationis, says Locke, is “existence itself”—that is, the continuous sameness of an entity or combination of particles throughout time.¹ What assures us as humans of a personal identity is our consciousness of our having had experiences in the past that we can recall as...

  6. 3 The “Outcast of the Universe”?
    (pp. 60-91)

    In 1935, the Supreme Court of Minnesota had to deal with the case of Ira Collins Soper—to give him what the court assumes to be his real name. Justice Julius J. Olson, writing for the majority, begins, “Ira Collins Soper, a native and resident of Kentucky, was the central figure in the drama now to be depicted. In October, 1911, he and plaintiff Adeline Johnson Westphal were united in marriage. She was a widow with three young daughters, the issue of her first marriage. She and her daughters lived with him until August, 1921, when he suddenly disappeared, not...

  7. 4 Discovering the Self in Self-Pleasuring
    (pp. 92-116)

    Much of the detection work that becomes so obsessive in the nineteenth century has to do with identifying the individual responsible for whatever may be the case—indeed, the “case history” and the “case method” that become characteristic in medicine and law around 1900 are generally etiological explanations of present circumstances, and most often concern an individual case. The problem of detection corresponds in part to a new recognition that individuals are just that: integers, whose privacy matters—and is recognized, as Justice William Douglas famously noted, in the “penumbra” of the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution—yet...

  8. 5 “Inevitable Discovery”: Searches, Narrative, Identity
    (pp. 117-146)

    In the law as in detective fiction, finding and determining someone’s identity often entails a search. It’s a problem not only of identity but of identification. In American law, searches and seizures are governed by a set of fairly elaborate (though confusing and contested) rules derived from the Fourth Amendment, which states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the...

  9. 6 The Derealization of Self
    (pp. 147-169)

    A curious late text of Sigmund Freud’s—from 1936—is the letter he sent to French novelist Romain Rolland on the occasion of Rolland’s seventieth birthday. It bears the titleA Disturbance of Memory on the Acropolis. ButDisturbance—the German isErinnerungsstörung—seems an overstatement. The story Freud tells is of a planned trip to Corfu with his younger brother, Alexander (in 1904), and their discovery during their stopover in Trieste that it would make more sense for them to give up Corfu—much too hot in early September—and take the Lloyd steamer to Athens that afternoon instead....

  10. 7 The Madness of Art
    (pp. 170-194)

    There have over the ages been artists in all sorts of media who have had the capacity for self-renewal late in their careers, almost a capacity for self reinvention—often involving a whole new manner, a “late style” that is often their principal claim to greatness in the eyes of posterity. I am thinking, for instance, of William Butler Yeats’s late poetry, explicitly a poetry of old age and the resistance to it (“Why Should Not Old Men Be Mad?”); of Victor Hugo’s astonishing last novel, on the French Revolution,Ninety-three(Quatrevingt-treize); of Paul Cézanne’s final works in Provence, from...

  11. Epilogue: The Identity Paradigm
    (pp. 195-198)

    As Marlow famously says of Kurtz, in Joseph Conrad’sHeart of Darkness, “He had summed up; he had judged.” But then when we come to Marlow’s report of Kurtz’s summing up, it turns out to be the dark utterance: “The horror, the horror!” Which may not only figure a loss of personal identity and morality on the part of the colonial exploiter in the Congo—which comes close to undermining the forthright seaman’s morality that Marlow thinks he subscribes to—but also a more general modernist suspicion of summing up. It’s not surprising that Kurtz’s death reappears in T. S....

  12. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 199-200)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 201-216)
  14. Index
    (pp. 217-226)