The Mysterious “Self”: Autobiographical Subjectivity

Personally, I resist the idea that Smith and Watson continually make in their book Reading Autobiography, suggesting that a “self” is not unique, but rests on the basis of pre-determined languages and politics, influences, etc. While it is true that a “self” consists based on a multitude of differing elements, the combination of these elements form a unique and original “self” distinct to each person.

They list the reasons of autobiographical subjectivity as memory, experience, identity, space, embodiment, and agency, complicating ideals of “self” legitimacy.  They claim that memory is changing, experience is merely interpretation, identities are conflicting, and that agency is influenced. (Their arguments of space and embodiment do not make particular points that are important enough to pertain to this discussion.)  However, it is precisely within these concepts that the unique and individual “self” is born.  Multiple categories constitute as part of an identity:  gender, race, nationality, and sexuality, among dozens of others.  Each person has all of these in whatever sequence they may come in, whether a person be male, African, and gay or female, Russian-American, and straight.  These form the basis of individual selves and directly reflect the experiences people will have.  Where, how, and when a person grows up will determine the experiences he or she witnesses.  They will then interpret these experiences based on the knowledge they have and commit them to memory based on their mental capabilities.  This particular point creates more room for diversity as each person interprets events differently and has varying levels and modes of memory and remembering.  A person’s identity, experiences, and memories all influence the agency of that person–reflecting from the start a particular set of ideals and beliefs that they have come to harbor and that influence their day-to-day thoughts and actions. In conclusion, Smith and Watson’s claims are correct, sort of.  Based on pre-determined beliefs and institutions, some factors of identity can be conflicting.  Experiences, while many may have similar ones, are all interpreted differently by each individual.  Memories change with age and based on initial commitment, gained knowledge, and life experiences.  And in turn, all of these factors do influence the agency of an individual.  However, while they say this complicates the self, it merely offers a more defined interpretation of who one is.

We all begin as a set of differing identities, undergo particular experiences based on these identities which we then commit to memory, that in turn affect how we act and what we think.  So while they are correct in their claims about autobiographical subjectivity, each autobiography (written or unwritten) is precisely that–subjective, based on the “self.”  Each individual self, while it consists of multiple influences and elements, exists as an individually unique combination of these. To further elaborate, the complex number of influences and elements offers ample room for individuals to be a unique combination of these, rarely coining two people as the same “self.”  Smith and Watson ask, “How do we know what we know about ourselves? How do we know who we are?” (31).  We know who we are based on our identities, experiences, and memories which translate over time into beliefs, likes/dislikes, thoughts, and actions. This in my opinion constitutes a “self” ultimately unique to every individual.

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