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"We are becoming fluid and many-sided. Without quite realizing it, we have been evolving a sense of self appropriate to the restlessness and flux of our time. This mode of being differs radically from that of the past, and enables us to engage in continuous exploration and personal experiment. I have named it the 'protean self, ' after Proteus, the Greek sea god of many forms." from "The Protean Self" "A fascinating and appealing book. . . . As he revises the psychology of the self, Dr. Lifton is subtle, even profound, in drawing a line between multiplicity and fragmentation. To those who are nostalgic for the age of the unitary ego, his message is that it is better to be fluid, resilient and on the move than to be firm, fixed, self-assured and settled. To those who worry that the post-modern age is an age of shattered selves, dissociative states, multiple personality disorders and identity diffusion, Dr. Lifton brings the good news that discontinuity can be a mirror of reality, and the standard for a reasonable life." Richard A. Shweder, "New York Times" "Lifton has challenged the conventional social-scientific wisdom of the last half century. . . .He has called attention to the emergence of a new form of self and considered it in a bold and imaginative light." Howard Gardner, "Boston Book Review""

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780226480985
ISBN-10: 0226480984
Format: Paperback
(229mm x 152mm x 17mm)
Pages: 272
Imprint: University of Chicago Press
Publisher: The University of Chicago Press
Publish Date: 10-Nov-1999
Country of Publication: United States

Reviews

US Kirkus Review » Noted psychiatrist and author Lifton (Psychiatry and Psychology/John Jay College) contends that the self is less traumatized by modern rootlessness than we might expect. Lifton's preoccupation with the macabre in his work on survivors of the Holocaust (The Genocidal Mentality, 1990, etc.) and Hiroshima brought to his attention the phenomenon of human resilience in the wake of the most terrible suffering. Here, he offers a sustained study of how people manage to take up new attitudes and endeavors in response to the constant change and instability of modern, especially American, life. Drawing on interviews with poor blacks, social activists, and the children of immigrants, and quoting Zeitgeist figures like Paul Klee and Andy Warhol, he argues that the self turns out to be surprisingly malleable: In true American fashion, it continually evolves into new possibilities. For Lifton, such transformation involves personal choice and effort, and the "protean" path is taken when we're open to change and respond positively to the lack of bearings in our world. Noteworthy here is the author's balanced and perceptive analysis of religious fundamentalism as a negative psychological response to change - but although he acknowledges that "proteanism" has its dark side, many of his informants seem to owe more to Kerouac than to Ben Franklin, and thus belie his basically upbeat tone. Moreover, while Lifton no doubt wants readers to make up their own minds, his text is so overburdened with quotes that it's easy to lose track of what he's trying to say. In particular, he doesn't tell us exactly what he means by "symbolization," by his vision of the greater "species" self, or, for that matter, by the "self" itself. An almost convincing account of how to make virtue out of a necessity. (Kirkus Reviews)


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