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McDougall, J. (1990). Who Am I this Time? Uncovering the Fictive Personality: By Jay Martin. New York/London: W. W. Norton & Co., 1988. 255 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 59:295-297.

(1990). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 59:295-297

Who Am I this Time? Uncovering the Fictive Personality: By Jay Martin. New York/London: W. W. Norton & Co., 1988. 255 pp.

Review by:
Joyce McDougall

Jay Martin's book opens with these words: "When I was seventeen years old, my aim in life was to become a poet." In a sense, Martin has achieved this aim, for he has not only become a sensitive poet of the psyche, he also writes with poetic beauty.

He approaches the "fictive personality" as a psychoanalytic poet, stressing first the universality of the fictive elements in everybody's character structure: "It is a central fact of human life that each person invents a reality in which to live. We do not discover reality, we construct it" (p. 26). Martin then takes into consideraton the cultural potential of personal fictions: "The profusion of fictions is central to creativity" (p. 13). Finally, he refers to their "darker side," that is, their pathological dimension: "The fictive personality originates when the self or the world seems inauthentic, fragmentary, or unavailable, so that only ready-made fictions seem whole or complete" (p. 28). The major part of this work is devoted to exploring these three aspects of the fictive personality.

Martin then demonstrates the way in which the pathologically fictive personality is built up from childhood onward, beginning with the unconscious problems of parents. He demonstrates convincingly that when parents fail in their task of helping their children construct a reality sense, a "vacuum of attachment" may result and children must then invent their own personalities. As children develop, social influences also come to play an important role: the fictive personality will use novels, plays, television, and social myths to fill this vacuum.

Through his clinical observations Martin came to feel that one of the central therapeutic tasks with such patients is to "build up a kind of archaeology of the self, excavating layer after layer of older narrative lives" (p. 30).

From there on, the author provides fascinating clinical insight into these pathological character organizations, ranging from John Lennon's murderer to celebrated assassins such as John Wilkes Booth, who so carefully planned the killing of Abraham Lincoln. As Martin puts it, for Booth, "assassination was performance."

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