The first chapter of Eakin’s book How Our Lives Become Stories opened up an infinite amount of questions and perspectives to consider as I continue to flesh out my capstone project.
Early on, Eakin writes about the definitions of “I,” “self,” and “subject.” In terms of autobiography and memoir, these words can carry various meanings. According to Descartes’ philosophical writings, the bodily “I”/subject differs from the “thinking I.” Descartes posits in one of his first writings:
“On the one hand I have a clear and distinct idea of myself, in so far as I am a thinking, non-extended thing; and on the other hand I have a distinct idea of body, in so far a this is simply an extended, non-thinking thing. And, accordingly, it is certain that I am really distinct from my body, and exist without it.”
But how does this theory of dualism interact with individual experience? Eakin continues to explore this idea. He cites several scenarios, in which a person loses “body awareness” in one way or another. After this loss, these people have experienced a transformed sense of identity. Eakin introduces several other psychologists and theorists, who support this connection between the physical sense of self and the sense of identity.
Gerald Edelman, a neurobiologist, emphasizes the brain’s ability to adapt to the “ever-changing demands of experience.” Each individual will have unique and distinct experiences. Edelman continues to explain the “higher order consciousness, as the ability to construct a socially based selfhood, to model the world in terms of the past and the future.” Humans are unique in this ability because of the developed language system we possess. The brain is constantly experiencing various events and actively creating impressions. However, every time a memory is recalled, the recollection differs based on the context and circumstances. Some questions: Because this higher order consciousness is based in our language system, how does later developing language (especially in Deaf children) impact this ability? What is the impact on social development and selfhood development when the language system differs from most peers?
Eakin goes on to explain Kerby’s five registers of self: ecological (related to physical environment), interpersonal (relations with others), extended self (existing outside of the present moment), private self (not available to others), and conceptual self (self-information). These selves are developed throughout childhood by the home and school environments. Once again, how are these registers affected by language differences? What creates autobiography/memoir? The private self or the conceptual self or the interpersonal self?
Eakin’s writing presents some very interesting cases of the interaction between the physical body and the identity of self. One case discusses a male who injures his leg and as a result experiences an injury in his identity. No longer able to feel and utilize an essential part of his physical being, the man lost his sense of selfhood and identity. This idea of sensory deficit leading to an identity deficit was confirmed in a study of congenitally blind children that developed the pronouns “you” and “I” much later than sighted children. As I continue my project, I think this difference in self-identity will also be relevant to the Deaf community. It will be interesting to see how age influences the formation of self in this particular population.
Finally, Eakin emphasizes “every experience takes place within a vast background of cultural presuppositions.” Yet another point to consider. Deaf culture is incredibly specific and unique. It functions with its own rules and expectations. As Eakin already stressed one’s identity is influenced by experience, but that experience is informed through culture.