The house of fiction does not readily admit the self… Your relationship with it, as its creator, is tenuous, complex, subtle, utterly demanding. You are in it: you are absolutely stripped bare in front of it, exposed; yet somehow you are supposed to make sure that, at the end of the day when the lights are dimmed, the fire’s blazing and everyone is sitting comfortably, it isn’t you they see. Sue Roe, ‘Shelving the Self’, 1994, p. 51. In her reflections on her experience of working on a novel Sue Roe captures the paradox of the self in the writing process. The self is deeply involved in the process – ‘stripped bare’, ‘exposed’ – but at the same time it has to be ‘shelved’, removed from sight. How can we understand the self as reflexive in the way Roe suggests? In this first chapter we provide an overview of dominant trends in thinking about the difficult and much-contested concept of self, in order to locate our own approach and to provide a context for the remainder of the book. When we ask people, as we often do in our teaching, what they think of as their ‘self’, we get a wide variety of answers. Yet one particular idea looms large: the self as an entity existing somewhere inside us, a single real or true self which we are constantly searching for and will someday discover.
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