The Woman Who Pretended to Be Who She Was: Myths of Self-Imitation

By Wendy Doniger | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
Reincarnation

[A] secret, partial, tangible and true aspect of our resistance to
death, is the long, desperate, daily resistance to the fragmentary and
continuous death that insinuates itself throughout the whole course
of our life, detaching from us at each moment a shred of ourself,
dead matter on which new cells will multiply and grow
.

Marcel Proust, In a Budding Grove (1923)


DÉJÀ VU ALL OVER AGAIN

Where the mythology of lost love and recovered love, lost memory and recovered memory, is generally limited to a single life, the mythology of reincarnation employs the same imagery but jumps the barrier of rebirth, imagining the survival of consciousness on the other side. In this mythology, the new self is literally a part of the past not merely of the present life but of another, previous life. Such stories suggest that each of us, in our present lives, may at any moment be awakened to the memory of another, lost life, that we all constantly reinvent ourselves out of the scraps of the past, so that, in a sense, we are always imitating our past selves. The signals we send to ourselves from our former lives are wake-up calls, like the message the Chippendale Mupp, one of the creatures in Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book, sends to himself: at bedtime, he bites the end tuft on his very long tail, so that the ouch will work its way up the whole tail and, finally, wake him up in the morning.1

These myths ask: Where is memory, in the mind or in the body? How can our bodies remember things that our minds have forgotten? Indian philosophy locates

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