The Protean Self: Human Resilience in an Age of Fragmentation / Edition 1

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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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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The ``protean self,'' as psychiatrist Lifton defines it, feeds on bits and pieces of experience in our fragmented, deracinated society and continuously reinvents itself. In an ambitious, highly stimulating, original synthesis, the prolific author of Death in Life and The Nazi Doctors contends that the protean self is a phenomenon unique to our centruy. Lifton's growth-oriented, malleable achievers improvise upon the conventional life cycle and seek alternatives to narrowly defined career paths. He profiles protean individuals such as Vaclav Havel, photographer/novelist Gordon Parks and social activists. He tracks the ever-changing self in the fiction of Kurt Vonnegut, Don DeLillo and Gunter Grass. He also interviews Christian fundamentalists, said to be in flight from protean openness, and black ghetto dwellers in whom he found alarming psychic fragmentation. This inspiring essay veers off into social commentary, discussing the U.S. as a laboratory of self-invention and the worldwide plunge into ethnicity. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Over the past few decades, many scholars have theorized that the average person's sense of self is being attenuated by historical dislocation, the influence of mass media, and the threat of extinction, a development Lifton refers to as ``proteanism.'' While most scholars see this development as entirely positive or negative, Lifton argues that proteanism can function as an alternative to violence or as a stepping stone to either crime or fundamentalism. As in such earlier works as The Future of Immortality and Other Essays for a Nuclear Age ( LJ 3/15/87), Lifton places much greater emphasis on exploring his subjects' apocalyptic fears and fantasies than do other authors who have written on similar themes. However, the author's subjects--social activists, slum dwellers, and religious fundamentalists--are so far out of the mainstream that his conclusions seem inappropriate; indeed, at times his subjects appear to be chosen to support his contentions. While this is not a necessary purchase, academic and large public libraries may want to acquire to satisfy fans of Lifton's earlier works.-- Mary Ann Hughes, Neill P.L., Pullman, Wash.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226480985
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/1999
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Table of Contents

1. The Changing Psychological Landscape
2. History and the Self
3. America, the Protean Nation
4. Odd Combinations
5. Sources of Flux and Form
6. Poise and Equipoise
7. Enduring Connections
8. Life Stories
9. The Fundamentalist Self
10. The Dark Side
11. The Protean Path

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