The Private Self

The Private Self

The Private Self

The Private Self

Synopsis

The concept of the self is the subject of intense debate in psychoanalysis - as it is in neuro-science, cognitive science, and philosophy. In The Private Self Arnold Modell, a leading thinker in American psychoanalysis, studies selfhood from the inside by examining variations on the theme of the self in Freud and in the work of object relations theorists, self psychologists, and neuro-scientists. His significant contribution is an interdisciplinary perspective in formulating a theory of the private self. Modell contends that the self is fundamentally paradoxical in that it is both dependent and autonomous - dependent upon social affirmation, but autonomous in generating itself from within: we create ourselves by selecting values that are endowed with private meanings. (Modell presents an extensive view of these self-generative and self-creative aspects.) The private self is an embodied self: the psychology of the self is rooted in biology. By thinking of the unconscious as a neurophysiological process and the self as the subject and object of its own experience, Modell is able to explain how identity can persist in the flux of consciousness. In arriving at his unique synthesis of psychoanalytic observations and neurobiological theory, Modell draws on the contributions of Donald Winnicott in psychoanalysis, William James in philosophy, and Gerald Edelman in neurobiology. The Private Self boldly explores the frontier between psychoanalysis and biology. In replacing the "instinct-driven" self and the "attachment-oriented" self with the "self-generating" self, the author offers an exciting and original perspective for our understanding of the mind and the brain.

Excerpt

Some people would argue that a cobbler should stick to his last and not attempt to do that which is above his station. They would claim that a psychoanalyst should stick to what he knows best, which is clinical psychoanalysis, and leave philosophy and neurobiology to experts in those fields. This advice can be followed if the subject being investigated lies nearly entirely within the borders of psychoanalysis, such as the concept of the id or of the superego. The topic of the self, however, which is of recent clinical interest to psychoanalysts, has been explored by philosophers for at least two millennia. My critics may respond that the self of the philosopher is not the self the psychoanalyst observes in his or her daily work, and that therefore the psychoanalyst can safely ignore the philosopher's self. But the concept of a self cannot possibly be derived entirely from clinical observation, for whether or not we are aware of their influence, philosophers have shaped certain assumptions regarding the self that are part of our modern sensibility.

There is an additional reason the contributions of philosophers cannot be ignored in this book: one must take into account the unavoidable epistemological dilemma posed by an outside observer's observing the private self. I suspect that because of this dilemma, Freud, instead of embracing a phenomenology of self and basing his theories on the subjective experiences of the self, chose a more "scientific" path describing an "ego," a mental apparatus. How can the individ-

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