DIMENSIONS OF A NEW IDENTITY by Erik H. Erikson

DIMENSIONS OF A NEW IDENTITY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Erikson is the only thinker who can assert that America is undergoing an ""identity crisis"" without iterating a cliche. His latest book -- two lectures delivered to the National Endowment for the Humanities -- explores the traditional American identity with particular emphasis on the personality of Thomas Jefferson, whom Erikson sees as the paradigmatic American: ""natural aristocrat,"" amateur (in its root sense), ideologue, educator, surveyor, designer -- the ""Protean"" man. He embodied a ""world view directed toward the future,"" ""the American dream [,] which anticipated what new things were going to be done."" In the light of Erikson's psychohistorical concepts in identity formation -- factuality, sense of reality, and actuality -- Jefferson's writings on the Gospels and his books on Virginia become important statements of the American vision. But today, ""our moral malaise at the height of our mechanized power of destruction"" -- not to mention our disorientation from bombs, moon landings, liberation movements -- is so disconcerting that we are re-examining the American Dream. A new identity -- one which maintains the sense of newness -- must entail an ""inner liberation"" informed, in part, by the intellectual contributions of Freud, Darwin, Marx, and Einstein; it ""will have to include a sense of its own relativity as well as a certain awareness of dominant unconscious processes involved."" In particular, we must admit that our incarceration of ""young deviants"" and the ""suppression of adversary opinions"" may be an indication of our own failure to face ""either those sinister impulses or those high ideals which led them to deviate""; that ""the Black, the young, and the female. . . have been the others, where the adult white male has been it"" (he coins the word ""pseudospeciation"" for such a process in cultural identity formation). The book lacks the control of Erikson's other writings: the coherence is sometimes elusive. But Erikson's innovative application of psychohistorical methods to cultural change is discerning, and his warmth, open-mindedness, and sagacity will thaw the coldest anti-Freudian.

Pub Date: April 22nd, 1974
ISBN: 0393009238
Publisher: Norton