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Lomas, P. (1967). The Concept of Identity: By David J. de Levita. (Paris: Mouton. 1965. Pp. 209.). Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 48:124.

(1967). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 48:124

The Concept of Identity: By David J. de Levita. (Paris: Mouton. 1965. Pp. 209.)

Review by:
Peter Lomas

There are several words which may be used to describe that which we regard as intrinsic to us: being, self, person, individual, identity, and so on. Which word we select depends perhaps on arbitrary choice. In the field of psycho-analysis it has happened that this entity has been given its most adequate expression by Erikson and that he has selected the term Identity with which to label it. The author of The Concept of Identity is openly and profoundly influenced by Erikson's work.

De Levita traces the use of the term in philosophy from Plato onwards, regarding William James as the originator of the modern concept, and follows this with a most lucid and illuminating account and critique of the work of Erikson and others within the psycho-analytic movement who have focussed attention on identity.

In the latter part of the book the author develops a concept of identity based on role, defining it as the "cluster of roles one is enacting." He believes that

the assignment of identity means a particular kind of reduction in a relationship. In a way, the people who want to identify me treat me as if I were a thing with properties (by which it is identifiable) rather than as a living object. They reify me.

Identity is "the sum of the reifications". One has no identity on an uninhabited island. Individuality, in contrast with identity, is "the way in which I fulfill my roles, and … the unique combination of roles which I call mine."

De Levita advances his idea with great clarity and, in so doing, is very informative on the part which role-relationships play in personal development, but, in my view, he has not done justice to that part of life—which might best be called spontaneous—in which one's role is unimportant. Surely it is primarily during times when role is forgotten, when people in a relationship are unselfconscious, that belief in one's uniqueness grows? Moreover such experiences do not carry the disadvantage of interchangeability (as the author himself notes) inalienable from fulfilling a role. What De Levita has formulated would perhaps better be called "role-identity". We have still to find our way to a concept which would include uniqueness and mutuality, spontaneity, and unpredictability.

In spite of my disagreement with the final formulation I found The Concept of Identity to be among the clearest expositions of the subject.

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