Identity   /   Fall 1999   /    Articles

Healing the Fragmented Self

Joseph E. Davis

Detail from Harlequin with a Guitar, Juan Gris.

In affirming the  “decentering of the subject,” and even the “death of the subject,” many seem to suggest that the question of personal identity is no longer important. Upon closer inspection, however, it appears that they have been sorely disappointed. For, despite predictions to the contrary, questions of subjectivity and multiple identities have reemerged with a new force and a new urgency.

We should not have expected otherwise. The destabilizing and uprooting social forces that created the “homeless mind,” that pervasive uncertainty about how to place oneself in an increasingly pluralistic environment, have, if anything, only intensified. The social conditions of advanced capitalist society have rather served to accentuate the plurality of authorities, the de-institutionalization of private life, the multiplicity of role expectations, the disembedding from geographical place, and the loss of overarching systems of meaning that so strained the task of establishing and maintaining a coherent sense of self in modern times. While by no means affecting everyone equally, many well-documented features of contemporary life, from consumerism to new technologies, can have a powerfully fragmenting and relativizing effect on personal experience and on the continuity and content of the self-narrative.

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