HOW DO WE KNOW WHO WE ARE? by Arnold M. Ludwig


A Biography of the Self
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 In ``Leaves of Grass,'' Walt Whitman writes ``Do I contradict myself?/Very well then, I contradict myself;/I am large, I contain multitudes.'' This remarkable work explores the multifaceted, elusive, and ever-evolving phenomenon of each person's self. Ludwig (Psychiatry/Univ. of Kentucky School of Medicine) relies in large part on extensive interviews with such prominent biographers as Leon Edel and Peter Gay to ascertain how they arrive at the ``self'' of such subjects as Henry James and Sigmund Freud. Generally, he finds, they use four sets of data: a person's self- revelations through diaries and letters; the reactions of contemporaries to the figure; the behavior of the subject; and the creative works of the subject. Ludwig soon broadens this to draw on a wonderfully interdisciplinary range of material: A typical passage contains allusions to and citations from Nietzsche, Victor Frankl, and Samuel Beckett. Ludwig delineates a ``self-system'' that is divided into ``I'' and ``me'' subsystems. The ``I'' observes, internally narrates experience, and organizes the rest of the self, while the ``me'' perceives, experiences, and moves about in the interpersonal and sensory worlds. Ludwig delves into what mad and evil individuals reveal about the functioning of self, and how we experiment with creating ``new'' selves that really draw upon latent ``old'' parts of our personalities. He expresses skepticism about the distinction between a ``true'' and a ``false'' self, quoting Gay as observing, ``A facade is part of the self as well.'' Ludwig also provides a brief, quite brilliant exposition and critique of the concept of an ``authentic'' self, noting that it is rooted in a male Victorian ethos and that it has been overshadowed by the more contemporary American notion of self- invention. Ludwig's beautifully written and intellectually provocative book is one of those rare works that offer fresh, profound insights, moving the reader to think probingly about his or her own life and self.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-19-509573-1
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1997