Present, past and future selves

I appreciate Liz’s question about whether/how The Man Who Walked Away fits into the form of novel. Casey’s use of fragmentation and repetition is very effective. She conveys Albert’s sense of mystery and wonder and limited well of information by repeating images or sensations or stories throughout the narrative (the bells, the swan brothers story, listing city names). Continually referring to the Doctor, the Director and the great doctor by titles also mirrors Albert’s confused state and diminished capacity. My problem with this though is the similarity in voice when writing from Albert’s point of view and the Doctor’s. It winds up conflating their identities for the reader — identities that are actually very different. The fragmentary way Casey writes, using repetition and floral descriptions of settings, is certainly not clinical. But it is also not strictly literary. I wonder if I would have a problem identifying the book as a novel if it weren’t based in reality.

This returns me to what I keep focusing on throughout the semester and our readings: truth, time, subjectivity. I am fascinated with how individuals can be multiple selves throughout time and how two people can have conflicting realities — that subjectivity allows one situation to take place with two opposing results or truths. We see this all the time in politics or religion or the Oscars or even an argument between friends. Any past creation or remnant (like a tweet!) is a hologram of who I am. If I change, am I no longer that person even if it exists on record somewhere? What about a visual representation, or a video? I am interested in the tension in present, past and future selves.

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2 Responses to Present, past and future selves

  1. “A hologram of who I am” is a great phrase. It should be the title for something. Your idea reminds me of Jung’s imago concept. The idea is that our understanding of other people (and ourselves) always involves various kinds of projection. We don’t experience another’s identity fully or objectively. The same goes for our own past identities. Jung calls our conceptions of identity “imagoes.” (Other thinkers use this term differently.)

    I think Casey is partly experimenting with literary techniques that can account for the imago. We can learn about Albert from the historical record, but our imago of him is shaped by the distance of time, by Tissié’s medical records, by the history of medicine and diagnosis, etc. She’s aiming to give us another “vector” for experiencing him, one that puts us in a new subjective relationship to his symptoms and experience.

  2. I read the Hacking first, and it was good to see how Casey took certain points and embellished them, while not emphasizing others. I thought of the repetition as a device to create a constancy…almost a lyrical lulling as things were described and re-described throughout; a device to create intimacy between the two men, setting up a story of a man wanting to know the who, what, when, why, and how of another man who couldn’t know it himself, and how their purposes became entangled for that time. In terms of the Hacking (case study) vs. Casey (novel), I wondered what the implications are in piecing together bits of information, depending on who is doing the writing (biographer, historian, novelist, screenwriter, etc.)? What lens are they doing it through; for what purpose? Is Hacking’s write-up any more reliable than Casey’s toward us understanding the real Albert? I’m not sure.

    Your last line about past, present, and future selves made me think, what about extreme change? Like those stories we’ve read of someone selling all their things, leaving everything and everyone they know, and moving to another continent, leaving it all behind. What does that kind of change do to these selves we’re speaking of? Isn’t there always some bit of anchor to something known, at least via the past?

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