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"Proteanism"--or the protean self--describes a psychological phenomenon integral to our times. We live in a world marked by breathtaking historical change and instantaneous global communication. Our lives seem utterly unpredictable: there are few absolutes. Rather than collapsing under these threats and pulls, Robert Jay Lifton tells us, the self turns out to be remarkably resilient. Like the Greek god Proteaus, who was able to change shape in response to crisis, we create new psychological combinations, immersing ourselves in fresh and surprising endeavors over our lifetimes.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780465064212
ISBN-10: 0465064213
Format: Paperback
(235mm x 156mm x 18mm)
Pages: 272
Imprint: Basic Books
Publisher: The Perseus Books Group
Publish Date: 14-Dec-1994
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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Author Biography - Robert Jay Lifton

Robert Jay Lifton is Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology at John Jay College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. He is also director of the Center on Violence and Human Survival. Dr. Lifton is the author of many books, including The Nazi Doctors and Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima, which won the National Book Award.

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Nazi Doctors by Robert Jay Lifton

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