Enigmas of Identity

Enigmas of Identity

Enigmas of Identity

Enigmas of Identity

Synopsis

"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 in Enigmas 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 Identity offers new insights into the questions and clues about who we think we are.

Excerpt

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 is a new valuation of the individual, the obsession with identity follows almost inevitably. Modernity, confessional discourse, the novel itself as genre, identity as an enigma and an object of quest and questioning: these are all related phenomena, and the coming of psychoanalysis at the dawn of the twentieth century merely confirms a process begun by such as John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. And it seems to be the case that the individual search to know the self is matched by society’s concern to know, to classify, and to order the range of selves that are out there.

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