Chapter 2. Axes of identity

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This chapter explores the notion of persona, focusing on two interrelated “axes” of identity, the first tied to time and the second to what might be termed “relatedness to the Other.” Drawing especially on William James’s seminal reflections on self and identity, it is suggested herein that an important aspect of identity concerns the degree of congruence, or lack thereof, between the various stories told by oneself and others about the meaning and movement of one’s life. Also important, in James’s view, is the issue of personal continuity and how it might best be understood. These ideas, taken together, lead him to conceptualize identity in essentially narrative terms. In order to address the notion of persona via the idea of narrative identity, I turn to Keith Richards’s recent book Life (2010), which provides a vivid illustration of the process of negotiating one’s own and others’ perspectives on who and what one is. For Richards, the widely-circulated public images that had been on display throughout much of his life had been in tension with what he regarded as his innermost interests and desires: In Jamesian terms, his Spiritual Self had been belied by the rather more colorful Social Selves on view. By Richards’s own account, these images had been folded into his identity, such that it became difficult to disentangle the authentic person from the persona. Ultimately, there may be no way of doing so. This does not mean abandoning the idea and ideal of personal authenticity, however. On the contrary, it means reimagining it, in full recognition of the multiple paths through which narrative identity comes into being.


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