Writing the Self: Chapter 13 (Public and Private Self)


In chapter 13, "The Search for Authenticity," Heehs summarizes the psychological focus of the 19th century. To sum up: “people are unaware of much that goes on within them and these unconscious activities have important effects on their conscious minds and bodies” (195). Freud aims to explain the inner conflict with his id, ego and superego.
Jung focused not on the individual per se, but on the collective unconscious, or the inherited meanings all individuals share. To Jung, an individual had to go through an unending process of inner reflection to become “individuated” or realize the many parts that make up one's self. Overall, the 19th century understood the “self” as “not unitary, harmonious, and transparent but multiple, conflicted, and wrapped in obscurity” (195). 
Heehs provides an ample section to explain Marion Milner’s contribution to the perception of “self”. Milner used a diary to explore herself, and she did so through a type of free-writing in which she refused to self-censor: “‘fine words would not get her where she wanted to go. Better, she thought, to let the pen run on” (199). 
Around the mid-1900s, philosophers began adopting eastern principles of “letting go” in order to achieve the best self, or the “true” self. A mind of "emptying out" one's self was necessary (no attachments) in order to gain a clearer perspective of one's self.
Additionally, and I believe more importantly, thinkers pondered on the fact that humans are able to construct a self for the masses, and still have a private self in which they are truly themselves. Those like Thomas Merton (Wisdom of the Desert, Zen and the Birds of Appetite) asserted that individuals already have a real self inside, but there is also a “false personality that is the creature of [their] own appetite for esteem” (Merton qtd. in Heehs 205). 
The idea of a true/ private self vs. a inauthentic/ public self has obvious implications in our world today, so I'm not even going to go into that. But it does make me wonder how the present generation, who may have truly very little “private self” time, can ever begin to understand the point that Merton is making.

When I consider travel diaries, which are my primary research focus right now, I often see the public and private self in terms of inner and outer journey. I recently read a great anthology, Women, Travel Writing, and Truth, and one of the essays, "Women Travel Writers and the Question of Veracity" by  Maureen Mulligan explained how "emotional or spiritual journeys" allow more “literary” conventions such as poetry, suspense, characterization, symbolism, for example; so while the truth of what happened is questionable, the writing will point out what Mulligan refers to as “inner truth,” or as I like to see it the “inner journey” (171) of the writer. Sometimes that “inner journey” requires some help that comes in the form of exaggerations or outright lies.
I also thought of Borges’ “Borges and I” (1960), written at the heart of this discussion, where the private Borges laments about his relationship with the public Borges: “I am doomed- utterly and inevitably- to oblivion, and fleeting moments will be all of me that survives in that other man. Little by little I have been turning everything over to him, though I know the perverse way he has of distorting and magnifying everything” (804). The confusion in the last line of this story sums up the arbitrary narrator commonly referred to in diaries: “I am not sure which of us it is that’s writing this page” (805). 



Works Cited

Borges, Jorge Luis. "Borges and I." Gateways to World Literature. Ed. David Damrosch. Boston: Pearson, 2012. 804-805. Print.

Heehs, Peter. Writing the Self: Diaries, Memoirs, and the History of the Self. New York: Bloomsbury P, 2013. Print.


Mulligan, Maureen. "Women Travel Writers and the Question of Veracity." Women, Travel Writing, and Truth. Ed. Clare Broome Saunders. New York: Routledge, 2012. 171-184. Print.