This question of the subject and the living 'who' is at the heart of the most pressing concerns of modern societies. ( Derrida 1991, p.115)
What am I referring to when I say the word 'I'? This little word, which is somehow the easiest to use in our daily lives, has become the focus of the most intense—and at times the most obscure— debate and analysis in fin-de-siècle cultural studies. Where does my sense of self come from? Was it made for me, or did it arise spontaneously? How is it conditioned by the media I consume, the society I inhabit, the politics I suffer and the desires that inspire me? When I use the word 'I', am I using it in the same way as you, when you use it? Am I a different 'I' when I present myself in different ways to my boss, my family, my friends, social security, someone I'm in love with or a stranger in the street? Do I really know myself? It is these difficult and open-ended questions that—in different ways, and perhaps simply in different vocabularies— occupy the theoretical reflection of intellectuals and the anxious self-scrutiny of the citizens of the end of the twentieth century.
The 'I' is thus a meeting-point between the most formal and highly abstract concepts and the most immediate and intense emotions. This focus on the self as the centre both of lived experience and of discernible meaning has become one of the—if not the—defining issues of modern and postmodern cultures. As many postmodern theorists have tried to point out, the contemporary era is an era in which we must consistently confess our feelings: we answer magazine questionnaires about what we want, surveys about which politicians we like, focus groups about how we react to advertising campaigns; televised sport, war, accident and