How do we Know who we are? A Biography of the Self
Ludwig (Arnold)
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BOOK ABSTRACT:

Cover Blurb

  1. "The fundamental question is: How much control do you have over your life? Can you shape who you are or are you the inevitable product of multiple forces that shape you? Do you possess the narrative freedom to write your own life story or are you obliged to live out stories already written for you? Simply put, do you have freedom of choice or do you act out of necessity?"
    … from Chapter 11, "Biographical Freedom"
  2. How Do We Know Who We Are? is as stimulating and provocative an inquiry into the vexed question of the self, from the linked points of view of the psychiatrist's science and the biographer's art, as we have seen in recent years. Dr. Ludwig brings to the process not only his learning and complex experience as a psychiatrist but also a deep sympathy for and genuine understanding of the thorny challenges facing the serious biographer. Everyone interested in the field of biography, or the even more far-reaching problem of locating and then representing the self, should find this book both challenging and satisfying."
    … Arnold Rampersad, author of The Life of Langston Hughes
  3. "The terrain of the self is vast," asserts noted psychiatrist Arnold Ludwig, "parts known, parts impenetrable, and parts unexplored." How do we construct a sense of ourselves? How can a self reflect upon itself or deceive itself? Is all personal identity plagiarized? Is a "true" or "authentic" self even possible? Is it possible to really "know" someone else or ourselves for that matter? To answer these and many other intriguing questions, Ludwig takes a unique approach, examining the art of biography for the insights it can give us into the construction of the self. In How Do We Know Who We Are? A Biography of the Self, he takes readers on an intriguing tour of the biographer's art, revealing how much this can tell us about ourselves.
  4. Drawing on in-depth interviews with twenty-one of our most esteemed biographers — writers such as David McCullough (the biographer of Truman and Theodore Roosevelt), Wallace Stegner (John Wesley Powell), Gloria Steinem (Marilyn Monroe), Leon Edel (Henry James), Peter Gay (Freud), Diane Middlebrook (Anne Sexton), and many others — and interweaving fascinating observations of his own practice, Ludwig takes us through the labyrinthine hall of mirrors we term the self` and shows us how malleable, elusive, and paradoxical it can be. In chapters such as "The `Real' Marilyn," "Psychoanalyzing Freud," "How Did Hitler Live With Himself?" and "What Madness Reveals," we sit in as biographers talk not only about their work, but about their subjects (Allan Bullock on Hitler and Stalin, for instance, or Arnold Rampersad on Langston Hughes) and how their subjects saw themselves. Ludwig describes how biographers must impose a narrative structure on their subjects' lives to create order out of a mass of often contradictory views, baffling behavior, and inconsistent self-representations, much in the same way that psychotherapists try to foster self-awareness and understanding in their patients.
  5. In his concluding chapter, Ludwig introduces a new concept — biographical freedom — which brilliantly reconciles free will and determinism. We can, he asserts, become biographers of ourselves. Like the biographer, we are constrained to consider all the available facts of our lives — the personal experiences, cultural forces, and predetermined scripts that shape us but we remain free to interpret, emphasize, and fashion these givens into a cohesive and meaningful narrative of our own choosing.
  6. This thought-provoking volume offers not only a wide-ranging and informative commentary on the biographer's art, but also a highly original theory of the self. Readers interested in biography and in the lives of others will come away with a new sense of what it means to be a "person" and, in particular, who they are.
  7. Arnold M. Ludwig, author of the acclaimed The Price of Greatness, is E.A. Edwards Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine.

Contents
    Acknowledgments – vii
    Prologue – 5
  1. The "Real" Marilyn – 13
  2. Peer Gynt's Odyssey – 37
  3. Masquerade – 63
  4. Existing On Different Planes – 85
  5. Living Backwards – 101
  6. The Philosophers Stone – 123
  7. Psychoanalyzing Freud – 145
  8. How Did Hitler Live With Himself? – 171
  9. What Madness Reveals – 203
  10. Other Versions Of The Self – 233
  11. Biographical Freedom – 251
    Notes – 265
    Index – 287

Amazon Customer Review
  1. This book should have been far more interesting than it is. Can there be a more interesting subject than understanding who we really are, and if we can discover that?
  2. I had hoped that this book would give real insight into the way we know and define ourselves. From the chapters I read – and admit not to having read the whole – I did not have a sense that there was any development toward 'real understanding of the impossibly difficult and perhaps insoluble question'.
  3. What the book does have is a number of distinguished biographers telling something about the way they understand biography. There is also Ludwig's conception of biographical freedom and the way each of us may construct the narrative of his own life. I connect this with an idea in Judaism in which each great sage makes through the story of his life a Sefer Torah that can be read by the generations to come.
  4. I think that there is much more to this book than I have indicated. And I certainly would recommend that anyone interested in the subject of self-definition through biography have a look at this book.

BOOK COMMENT:

Oxford University Press, New York, 1997



"Ludwig (Arnold) - How do we Know who we are? Prologue"

Source: Ludwig - How do we Know who we are? A Biography of the Self


Full Text
  1. Standing before a mirror, Friedrich Nietzsche apocryphally asked the deranged image staring back at him — "Who are you?" — and then repeated over and over again, "I am who I am." This may be the answer to the central question of human existence. Then, again, it may not.
  2. Why write another book on the self? No matter what assumptions you make, you’re likely to arrive at the same tautological conclusion as Nietzsche. You can’t be other than what you are, unless of course, you believe that you can reinvent yourself or that your self is an illusion.
  3. The reason I decided to write this book is that I had no choice. I had been composing it most of my life, only I didn't know it. In my clinical work, I found myself intrigued by my patients who were struggling to give voice to their "true" selves. As a scientist, I was drawn toward investigating the contortions of the self when people became psychotic or developed multiple personality or displayed overpowering cravings for drugs or were exposed to such powerful mind-altering techniques as hypnosis, sensory deprivation, or hallucinogens. And in my own personal life. I've always collected anecdotes about people from biographies, newspapers, magazines, films, and personal encounters, any tidbits that could shed light on who they were and what made them tick. All this, I tell myself, established my credentials as a bona fide expert on the self, perhaps not on the same plane as Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Descartes, and other famous philosophers who wrote brilliant treatises on this topic, but somewhere among the lesser lights who sometimes had trouble figuring out what these immortals had to say.
  4. Why my lifelong interest in the self? I'm not sure, but I suspect it had something to do with the manner of my conception. I never should have been born in the first place since I am the result of pseudocyesis, the medical term for a false pregnancy1, which somehow always made me feel that my life was a disease or that my existence was unreal. According to my father, my parents were practicing a crude form of birth control when my mother miraculously became "pregnant2," complete with a swollen belly, enlargement of her breasts, and the absence of menses. After four months, when my father finally accepted the pregnancy3 as a fait accompli, he abandoned all forms of birth control, and it was then that I was conceived and born nine months later, after my mother's thirteen-month pregnancy4.
  5. The reason I'm writing this book now is that I can do so with a certain detachment. You see, by my calculations, after having lived a reasonably full life despite the manner of my conception, I should be dead now. At least, as a staunch believer in the genetic determinants of longevity, I lived a good part of my adult life expecting to die young. My father died of a heart attack at the age of fifty-two, and my mother died of cancer at the age of fifty-nine, so I had assumed that I never would live beyond the age of sixty. I lived my life accordingly, taking a final measure of myself during these past few years. Only here I am in my early sixties, healthy as far as I know, waiting for the tell-tale pang in my chest or the vague discomfort in my abdomen that I anticipated years ago. Though I continue to compose new chapters for my life story, they keep turning out as postscripts.
  6. Perhaps if I could believe in an afterlife5, I wouldn't be so preoccupied now with who I am and what life is all about. How comforting it would be to look forward to joining all my loved ones in heaven, as so many people look forward to joining theirs, except that I can't imagine what we'd talk about or do during our endless, incorporeal gatherings. The prospect of being with an omniscient God for eternity is no more attractive, since I always have been a bit of a loner and had trouble relating to people in authority. As for the pleasure I take in the extension of myself through my children and grandchildren, it's tempered by the knowledge that my genetic material will become progressively diluted, so that in five generations I'll only be one-thirty-second of myself, and in ten generations I may as well not have existed. Besides, I don't like the idea of sharing my progeny with so many strangers and having no say about who they are. So here I am trapped in the epilogue between a completed life story that should not have happened and afterlife6 I can't believe exists, and trying to make sense of both.
  7. I have another confession to make. While this book is mine, it was a struggle to keep it so. Let me explain. Struck by how much we live our lives in biographical format, progressing from birth to childhood to adolescence to adulthood and to old age, I was inspired after my first couple of drafts to test out certain ideas on a skilled biographer or two and see if I could learn something from them. After all, who should know better about the self than someone
    whose profession it is to reconstruct people from assorted information about them and, through the magic of the biographical process, give them the breath of life?
  8. Who else to interview than the dean of modern biographers, Leon Edel, the author of the five-volume work on Henry James that required more than twenty years to complete and was the modern equivalent of James Boswell's biography of Samuel Johnson? But was he still alive? If so, he would be over ninety and probably suffering from the ravages of old age. After some detective work, I secured a phone number in Hawaii, called, and on the second ring, Edel himself ansswered, in a clear, firm voice that belied his age. My interview with him went so well that I decided to contact other biographers.
  9. Leon Edel's name turned out to be a skeleton key for unlocking the do many of the other biographers. One distinguished biographer after an, agreed to be interviewed: William Manchester, Brendan Gill, David McCullough, Alan Bullock, Diane Middlebrook, Scott Donaldson, James Collier, Christopher Benfey, and Victor Bockris. The more I queried these individuals aout their famous subjects and themselves, the more obsessed I became with my pursuit. The project took on a life of its own as I found myself tracking other writers of well-known biographies: Gloria Steinem, Wallace Stegner, Peter Gay, Arnold Rampersad, Roxana Robinson, Joan Peyser, Linda Wagner-Martin, Humphrey Burton, Louise DeSalvo, Charles Bracelen Flood, and Donald Spoto. My collection of biographers soon swelled to twenty-one. Only two writers turned me down, and one studiously ignored my written requests. My success rate was phenomenal, not because of my powers of persuasion but, I believe, because of the appeal of the topic itself. I began compiling a list of even more biographers to contact. But then I had a sobering insight — I had become hooked on this investigative process and had lost sight of its original purpose.
  10. With this realization, I wrested myself away from the addictive pursuit, but I still wasn’t able to break away entirely from the spell those biographers cast over me. When I undertook the next draft of the book, I found myself becoming an emcee for all the famous celebrities who were the subjects of their biographies — Marilyn Monroe, Winston Churchill, Laurence Olivier, Georgia O'Keeffe, Anne Sexton, Ernest Hemingway, Sigmund Freud, John E Kennedy, Alfred Hitchcock, Leonard Bernstein, Adolf Hitler, Sylvia Plath, Langston Hughes, Arthur Ashe, John Cheever, Douglas MacArthur, Virginia Woolf, Theodore Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin, Harry S. Truman, Andy Warhol, and many others. I also served as a solicitous talk-show host for my collection of biographers, although I often disagreed with their views. This made interesting reading, but it wasn't the book I had planned to write.
  11. It took two more drafts before I could reassert authorial control over my own manuscript. I decided to use excerpts from my interviews with these biographers to illustrate various points and, on occasion, as a basis for formulating and developing my own views. Although I believe I have succeeded reasonably well in matching these excerpts to the issues under discussion, I hope that I'll be forgiven when the fit is less than perfect. In these instances, I left the excerpts in because of their inherent interest.
  12. Now a word about the contents of this book. The terrain of the self is vast, with parts known, parts impenetrable, and parts unexplored. As the first order of business, I examine what we know about the self and what we don't, and point out paradoxes about its properties — for instance, how a self can reflect upon itself, or deceive itself, or actualize itself, or be false. Adopting a narrative framework, which seems well-suited to a conceptualization of the self, I then discuss what it means to know ourselves or others, and whether it's possible for us to know anyone at all. Other issues I deal with are whether psychological truth is really true, whether sanity offers a better perspective of reality than madness, whether all personal identity is plagiarized, how people cope with the potential meaninglessness of their existence and the inevitability of their nonexistence, and whether personal authenticity is possible. I then address the crucial issue of whether we have the power to control our own lives, or whether all of our thoughts and actions are rooted in necessity.
  13. Just as the task of a biographer is to fashion a man or woman out of his or her diaries, documents, dreams, memories, works, and assorted other materials, our task will be to form a coherent picture of the self from its many properties, paradoxes, and contradictions. Though interrelated, the chapters in the book can stand alone as essays, and don’t necessarily have to be read in order. However, each of them fills in missing parts of a mosaic, and all are necessary to make the design clear. Viewed in its entirety, this mosaic reveals a new theory about the self, which has implications for who we are and what our existence is about.



"Ludwig (Arnold) - The 'Real' Marilyn"

Source: Ludwig - How do we Know who we are? A Biography of the Self



"Ludwig (Arnold) - Peer Gynt's Odyssey"

Source: Ludwig - How do we Know who we are? A Biography of the Self



"Ludwig (Arnold) - Masquerade"

Source: Ludwig - How do we Know who we are? A Biography of the Self



"Ludwig (Arnold) - Existing on Different Planes"

Source: Ludwig - How do we Know who we are? A Biography of the Self



"Ludwig (Arnold) - Living Backwards"

Source: Ludwig - How do we Know who we are? A Biography of the Self



"Ludwig (Arnold) - The Philosopher's Stone"

Source: Ludwig - How do we Know who we are? A Biography of the Self



"Ludwig (Arnold) - Psychoanalyzing Freud"

Source: Ludwig - How do we Know who we are? A Biography of the Self



"Ludwig (Arnold) - How Did Hitler Live With Himself?"

Source: Ludwig - How do we Know who we are? A Biography of the Self



"Ludwig (Arnold) - What Madness Reveals"

Source: Ludwig - How do we Know who we are? A Biography of the Self



"Ludwig (Arnold) - Other Versions of the Self"

Source: Ludwig - How do we Know who we are? A Biography of the Self



"Ludwig (Arnold) - Biographical Freedom"

Source: Ludwig - How do we Know who we are? A Biography of the Self



Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2019
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)



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