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Modell, A.H. (1992). The Private Self and Private Space. Ann. Psychoanal., 20:1-14.

(1992). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 20:1-14

I Theoretical Studies

The Private Self and Private Space

Arnold H. Modell, M.D.

My thinking about the self has been guided by the fact that the self is fundamentally and deeply paradoxical. When we begin to formulate our ideas regarding the self, we are confronted with both clinical and conceptual paradoxes. In this chapter I focus on two such paradoxes, namely, that aspects of the self are simultaneously both public and private and that the self is simultaneously both dependent and autonomous.

There is another paradox concerning the self that will prove to be only an apparent paradox. There is a core of the self that remains the same over time; this is not to claim an absolute sameness but a recognizable sameness, an ability to recover one's identity despite whatever happens to oneself. This continuity of being is vital for our psychological health, yet the experience of self is also conterminous with an ever-changing flux of consciousness. Accordingly, the self has been described both as a psychic structure and as a state of consciousness.

Our reaction to paradox is probably a matter of temperament. Some of us love paradox while others seek to eliminate it by coming down hard on one wing of a paradox to the exclusion of the other. Sometimes entire literatures develop in this fashion and end up by not communicating with each other. For example, the paradox that the self is both structure and consciousness has led to very different literatures, which rarely keep both aspects of the paradox in view. One well aware of paradox was William James (1890), who wrestled with the problem of how a sustained sense of identity is possible if the self is experienced within the flux of consciousness. This paradox nearly drove him to distraction, and he was to struggle with this enigma until the end of his life (Myers, 1986).


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