Thursday, February 07, 2008

My self and the motion detector

Today in class we talked about what we think of (or feel) when we think of our selves. We sense the presence of a self, but where is it located, and what is it made of? The discussion was in conjunction with psychologist Dan McAdams's article, "Personality, Modernity, and the Storied Self" (Psychological Inquiry 7:4, 1996). In one section McAdams paraphrases several theorists on the postmodern self:

Psychologically, what the I has traditionally considered to be "my" self--that which is mine, that which I have self-reflexively authored, made, constructed, explored, controlled--may no longer be mine...Persons are creatures whose very identities are constituted by their social locations or their momentary locations in discourse.

McAdams then asks:

It is difficult to know just how literally to interpret some characterizations of the postmodern self. One wonders: If the multiphrenia of postmodern life is [so] extreme... why is it that most men and women are still able to function more or less adaptively in daily life, rarely forgetting their names, histories, and goals?
I asked the class what constitutes their personal senses of self, despite what we know to be all its contingencies. We came up with notions like morals and values, memories of the past, a sense of consistent qualities or behaviors, the way others think of us--and the fact that they do. We didn't talk much about the physical aspects of selfhood--how important a role the body plays--though we described how we feel other things and people are parts of our selves (of the "me" that the "I" works to create, in McAdams's terms).

After class today, as I stood washing my hands in the restroom, the motion-sensing lights went off. I waved my arms and took a step forward, then back, but the lights stayed off. I dried my hands and left the room, and just as I opened the door the lights came back on. So I began wondering. Not whether I cease to exist when motion-sensors can't see me (I haven't gotten that Philip K. Dickian), but what aspects of self cease to be. It is quite humiliating to be ignored by a sensor--to not "show up," to have one's departure mistaken for an entry. I've found in airport restrooms that faucets won't turn on for me (and for me alone). At times like this my sense of solidity starts to frazzle around the edges. I'm not as "there" as some other people--bigger? Less transparent? Who move in a way that's more convincingly human?

No comments: