The I





© Copyright 1985, Norman N. Holland

Originally published in 1985 by Yale University Press
Published on the World Wide Web in 1998 by Norman N. Holland

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

Holland, Norman Norwood, 1927--
  The I

  Bibliography: p.
  Includes index.
  I. Identity (Psychology)   2. Ego (Psychology)
I. Title
BF697.H53  1985   155.2   84-20917
ISBN 0-300-03196-3 (alk. paper)


To my favorite I, Jane

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's
Bow swing finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves--goes itself; myself  it speaks and spells;
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.
--G. M. Hopkins


Part I/The Aesthetics of I

1. Themes and Wholes
  Holistic Analysis 7
  The Table d'hôte Dream 13
  426718 17
  Iiro 18


2. The Idea of Identity 23
  The "Promising" Writer 23
  Identity 33
  The Rat Man


3. Three Identities and an Identity Princple 51
  A Prostitute 51
  G. B. Shaw 56
  Dr. Charles Vincent 67
  The Identity Principle 73
  A Sixth Metapsychological Point of View


Part II/A Psychology of I

4. Symbols 85
  Sam and Sandra 95


5. Perception 107
  Perceptual Psychology 110
  Feedback 112
  Perception, Symbolization, and Identity


6. A Model of Mind 128
  A Linking of Loops 131
  Higher and Lower 139
  The Top 142
  Culture 145
  Model and Definition



Part III/A History of I

7. Development as Dialogue 159
  Characterologies 160
  Development as Hike 164
  Development as Dialogue


8. The Birth of an I 177
  The Baby-Watchers 179
  The Preverbal Dialogue 187
  Teddy Bears


9. Zones and Modes 203
  The "Nomic" Stage 203
  Planning 207
  The "Intrusive" Stage


10. Gender and Oedipus 215
  Little Girls 219
  Other Sexualities


11. Questions and Answers 233
  An Epigenetic Dialogue


12. After Oedipus 246
  Little Hans 250
  Not So Little Hans 264
  From Adult to Infant 272
  The Story of I


Part IV/A Science of I

13. Science and I 283
  This I 284


14. The State of the Arts 85
  The Experimental Psychologists 300
  The Psychoanalysts


15. An Idea of Psychology 315


Appendix: The I, the Ego, and the Je:
  Identity and Other Psychoanalyses
  Classical Psychoanalysis 334
  Ego-Psychology 340
  A Psychology of the Self


Bibliography 364
Index 383



In recent months, people have been asking me, "What's your new book about?" When I answer, "Human nature," or "the I," they simply look at me perplexedly, not knowing how to continue the dialogue. Let me try to explain.

Not long ago, I found a journal that I kept when I was in my twenties. It ended with these words:

I am glad to have kept this book, even as sketchily as I have. Someday I shall look back, and when I do I daresay the then-I will wonder what the now-I was like, just as the now-I wonders about the then-I. . . .
The I who at twenty-three wondered about the self wonders to find himself at fifty-six writing The I, in which he still wonders about the self. This essentially psychological book could not remotely have entered the thoughts of the young, passionately literary student who wrote those lines. How different those two selves of twenty-three and fifty-six are, yet we were and are ourselves in much the same way. Three decades ago this I was puzzling, reasoning, using abstractions like "self," turning even "I" into an abstraction, wanting the right figure of speech yet not finding it and using no imagery at all, left wondering, to borrow the words of the poet Hopkins, about
my selfbeing, my consciousness and feeling of my self, that taste of myself, of I and me alone and in all things which is more distinctive than the taste of ale or alum, more distinctive than the smell of walnut leaf or camphor, and is incommunicable by any means to another man (as when I was a child I used to ask myself: what must it be to be someone else?).

No wonder I still wonder. Nothing, they say, interests one more than one's self. It is, after all, the only thing we finally have, although nothing is harder to speak about or know in any systematic way. It is impossible, I think, to make any statement in either the sciences or the humanities without making some assumptions about the I, if only that the I can make such a statement. Yet rarely do we spell those assumptions out. The I speaks, but remains unspoken, unarticulated, unexplored.[ix]

I am honored to find that my wondering is like Freud's. He wrote to his friend and disciple Karl Abraham in 1924, when he was sixty-eight, "It is making unreasonable demands of the unity of the personality to think that I should feel myself identical with the author of the work [I wrote in 1878] on the spinal ganglia of Petromyzon. And yet, all the same it should be so. . . ." He saw the same unity that perplexes me in my twenty-three and fifty-six.

On January 15 in the last year of his life, Tolstoy wrote:

I am conscious of myself in exactly the same way now, at eighty-one, as I was conscious of myself, my "I," at five or six years of age. Consciousness is immovable. Due to this alone there is the movement which we call "time." If time moves on,, then there must be something that stands still. The consciousness of my "I" stands still.
I know that feeling. The way I am conscious of I remains the same despite the ways I have changed in age and state. That consciousness includes the knowledge of a personal history that traces unbroken connections from that bachelor student and would-be poet to the husband, father, professor, critic, theorist of today.

John Updike, commenting on that passage from Tolstoy's Diaries, speaks eloquently of old age as "a physical change bafflingly rung upon an immutable self," "the end stage of our adamant individuality." But is our individuality so immutable and adamant?

I know my own I, as I can never know yours, yet like a dim star, like an after-image, if I turn my vision toward it, it disappears. It is intense as long as I do not stop to name it. Once I do, it becomes not quite the same unmediated I, slightly alien, other, the subject of my intellection and inference--like your I.

Unreal, elusive as this "I" is, it is most intensely me, the innermost keep of me, yet not solitary confinement, not even a prison. "I," although it is more private than privacy itself, lies open to every sensation, every experience, every other thing from the kiss of a lover to the faintest, glimmering pinhole of the farthest star. All are immediately I. In the very moment they come into being as other, they become not-other.

Immovable, immutable, they say. I would say the self is completely paradoxical, adamant and quicksilver both, and it is the aim of this book to explore how that can be and how we can think about the paradox.

Yet we are reluctant to think about that I, "the selfless self of self, most strange, most still" (Hopkins again). To avoid "psychologism," the recognition that that changing, unchanging I is at the core of everything we do and think, philosophers make mind-wobbling phenomenological and deconstructive sidesteps. The psychologist tells us that we can talk about it only if we turn it into things we can count. The psychologist claims that he is being[x] scientific in this demand, and indeed science, so they say, has wrought its prodigies precisely by leaving the I out.

If I enters in, if my eye does not see what yours does when we look through the telescope, then either I am wrong or we are not doing science. Or are we simply--and inevitably--being I's?

There is, of course, one science that tries to deal with the self, although other scientists often glance askance at it: psychoanalysis. It is the one science of subjectivity, if there can be such a thing. I find it a notably powerful explainer of I's.

A cultivated European forgets a word from a line of Virgil. Why did he forget? And why this word? A man finds himself unaccountably thinking of a certain six-digit number. Why this number? A boy who was born with his fingers joined together and his toes unseparated surprises himself by doodling the deformity of his left hand. A reclusive, self-enclosed doctor, after three years of Chinese "thought reform," becomes a compulsively open, giving person. Then, on his release, he goes back to his former style. What had happened? A man dreams a dream that enables him to sleep through the sound of church bells that wake his wife. How did the dream function to filter out the noise? Anyone can ask these questions, but, so far as I know, only psychoanalysis, that highly "subjective" discipline, offers answers.

It is the purpose of this book to understand the psychoanalytic answers to such questions as a theory of the I. Someone has said that if an idea is any good at all, you should be able to write it on the back of a calling card, like Einstein's e=mc² or Newton's f=ma. Were I to try for such a dramatic concision with this large, long book, I would write, I ARC or perhaps I ARC DEFTly.

Very briefly, I act forth into the world from myself as agent (A) and the world acts back onto me, so that I am a consequence (C) of what the world does both on its own and in response to my agency. My I initiates feedback but is also the consequence of the feedbacks it initiates. One can spell out those feedbacks as: expectation (E), what I am habituated to seek in the timestream of my experience; defense (D), what I will admit into myself from the world; fantasy (F), what I project out into the world; transformation (T), the meanings outside of time that I make my experience into.

The I is agency and consequence, and something more. It is a representation (R) of an I, either the I's own or somebody else's. In particular, it is some I's attempt to put an I into words, and I propose one particular form of words.

We can reconcile the adamant and the quicksilver I's by representing them as a theme and variations (adapting an idea from the psychoanalyst Heinz Lichtenstein). That is, "I" feel partly like something that changes[xi] from instant to instant and year to year, the now-I of my journal, and partly like something less changeable, "immovable" in Tolstoy's sense. Further, if "I" is a whole, each of these aspects affects or, really, defines the other. We see difference against a background of sameness, and we see sameness by seeing what does not change in a world of differences. The idea of a theme and variations provides a way of structuring such a dovetailing of change and constancy, movement and stillness, sameness and difference, the now-I and the then-I and the I that writes about them both.

It is this theory of identity that the first part of this book develops: we can look at an I as we would a work of art. From this first part the rest of the book fell more or less naturally into three more parts: the psychology, the history, and the science of I.

The first part says we can think systematically, or at least aesthetically, about an I. We can trace the persistence of, say, Norman N. Holland in the way I use words or size up situations--in general, through my use of symbols or senses or skills. We can use the theme-and-variations concept of an I to understand how the processes that psychologists study--symbolization, perception, cognition, or memory--are all ways that an I ARCs, sustaining and re-creating an I. We can use a theme-and-variations concept of identity to develop a psychology of I, and that is part II of this book.

One can put an otherwise almost ineffable I into words as the history of such a theme and variations. The word "history" preserves a necessary ambiguity. History, in one sense, is the way things actually were. History is also somebody's--some I's--story of the way things actually were. We need both, since only an I can look at an I and try to say how things were.

There is another sense in which this theory leads to a history of I. It becomes possible, by thinking of an I continually confronting new situations, to imagine the recurring patterns in human development. As the baby moves from total dependence on another, to the first stirrings of self-rule and self-control and self-direction, to standing and walking and talking to loving and resenting its parents, and on through life, we can imagine an I confronting a series of riddles. Some of them are the same for all human beings (how will you accept death?). Some are the same for many human beings (how can you depend on others in a culture that prizes the lack of dependence?). Some will be unique to this or that individual (how will you stage operas in America?). The story of how this individual or some individuals or all individuals meet these questions and answer them becomes the history of an I (as developed in part III), and that history becomes in each of us a kind of paralogic by which we unite our experiences, a logic beyond ordinary logic in which eyes are like mouths or money like excrement.[xii]

Finally, part IV addresses the question of whether there can be a science of the individual, since such a science could never be independent of the scientist--the scientist is what is being studied. Can there be a science in which the "subjectivity" of the scientist is not only not a faint contamination but the very essence of the enterprise?

The ambiguity in "history" remains essential. I cannot bend to the usual pressure to choose between what are ordinarily called "objective" and "subjective." My goal is precisely to explore the way each is the essence of the other. Objectivity and subjectivity create each other, as stillness movement and movement stillness. To explore one is to explore both. Indeed, I believe that they so interlace that it is meaningless to use either word by itself.

Can such a study be a science? I may be offering no more than a method for thinking systematically about the I: wording the I as a theme in order to understand thoughts and actions as variations on that theme; thinking of that theme and its variations as a feedback ARC of agency, consequence, and representation.

Clearly there are other modes for putting I's into words--the poet's, the philosopher's, the novelist's--and there are obviously limits to this mode. The only way I know to find those limits, or to find the point at which some other mode of thinking about the I becomes more useful, is to test this one. I want to drive the idea of an I as a theme and variations governing a hierarchy of feedbacks as far into the problem as it will go, to see if it will enable us to connect aspects of self that we are otherwise unable to connect (like subjectivity and objectivity). To do so is precisely to feed the idea out into the world and see how it ARCs back.

Since the nearest thing we have to a science of I is psychoanalysis, you could regard this book as a rethinking or rereading of psychoanalysis as a theory of the I. You can, I think, use it as an introduction to psychoanalysis in the 1980s, if you are willing to accept one man's systematizing of psychoanalysis. And that brings me to the first and greatest of my


--to Freud. His was an incredibly gifted, severe, majestic, and even sometimes puckish I. It is impossible, I find, to explore his processes of thought or the elegance of his German without acquiring awe for his genius.

I am not, however, a "Freudian." Using the discoverer's name that way, it seems to me, beggars psychoanalysis, making it less of a developed science and more the "teachings" of Freud, as though he had created a dogma, a system of interpretations, or, as some French writers have suggested, a work[xiii] of fiction. "Freudian" confines and reduces Freud's great achievement to a sequence of small ones. It is with his great one that I am concerned here: the setting in motion of a whole new discipline, the systematic study of subjectivity, the science of I.

There comes a point in every new science when it divides into a present "state of the art" and a past of earlier ideas, some retained in the state of the art, some retained but changed to fit new contexts, and some put aside. Psychoanalysis has long since matured beyond that transition. One can teach a history of psychoanalysis, as for physics or biology, and it would be of use as any history is. To learn psychoanalysis or a theory of the I as it is today, however, one must judge concepts as they are, not as they once were--even for Freud. Limiting psychoanalysis to what Freud wrote (as is all too often done) curtails Freud's great achievement.

One of the great pleasures of writing this book has been working with my friend and former colleague Murray Schwartz. As we taught in each other's seminars over a period of ten years, we arrived together at many of the ideas that follow, particularly the great clarification of theory made possible by Heinz Lichtenstein's theme-and-variations concept of identity. We began this book as a joint project in the summer of 1975, and my only regret is that we did not complete it that way. As it is, in the chapters on symbolism and the first year of life, I worked from Murray's outline and notes, and throughout the writing, his comments, corrections, and suggestions have greatly enriched The I. It has been a constant source of reassurance for this I to draw on his encyclopedic knowledge of the psychoanalytic literature and on his remarkable sensitivity to the large implications of the smallest details.

I am indebted to my colleagues at the Center for the Psychological Study of the Arts and the Group for Applied Psychoanalysis in Buffalo who have read and listened diligently to sections of this book, offering their intelligent, helpful, and most welcome comments: Charles Bernheimer, Paul Diesing, George Hole, Claire Kahane, Paul Kugler, Theodore Mills, Robert Rogers, William Warner, David Willbern, and especially Joseph Masling, whose tact has so often calmed my fulminations about the scientific claims of psychology. Heinz Lichtenstein's ideas quite simply permeate The I. In many ways this book does no more than summarize my fifteen years of cheerful talk with this gifted, inspiring group.

I remember with gratitude and a pang of grief (for several have died) the warm and brilliant analysts who first introduced me to psychoanalysis and admitted me to psychoanalytic study: Joseph Michaels, Ives Hendrick, Robert Waelder, and my own analyst, Elizabeth Zetzel. I feel a very special gratitude to my uncle-in-law, Henry Katz, who made it possible for me to be analyzed. Among the present generation of analysts I am especially thankful to Otto Kernberg and Roy Schafer, who took time from their own work to[xiv] read and comment on sections of this manuscript. In the same way, I am grateful to Robert Silhol and Ellie Ragland-Sullivan, who aided me greatly in thinking about Lacan, and to Richard Held, Ulric Neisser, and Keith White, who helped me avoid errors in some of the material on perception. Bernard Paris generously provided me with a detailed and subtle commentary. Obviously, the final book is my own responsibility, but The I would have been much more questionable than it is without the expert help of these kind people.

Over the years many research assistants have searched out the references that appear at the end of the book: Mary Childers, Ellen Golub, Patrick Hogan, Laura Keyes, Kathleen McHugh, Judith Moses. All helped. To all I owe much, as I do to Patricia Berens of the Sterling Lord Agency and to Gladys Topkis and Lawrence Kenney of Yale University Press. Geri de Santis did her usual excellent work on HAL and the Electric Pencil, and John Bevis and Michael Pepper helped my own HAL convey the manuscript to a mainframe computer in distant New Haven. I hope they will all feel that the final version of The I justifies their efforts.

Three foundations, the American Council of Learned Societies, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, and the Research Foundation of the State University of New York, provided crucial support that made writing this book possible and even pleasurable. I have benefited also from the conferences on individual testimony organized by Paul Fussell, Peter Read, and the Social Science Research Council. I am indebted to W. H. Freeman for permission to reprint on p. 234 a diagram from T. G. R. Bower's Development in Infancy and to David Higham Associates for permission to reprint excerpts of Elizabeth's Jennings' poem "Identity" on pp. 81-2.

This book has had a long gestation, during which I have had the opportunity to try out some of the ideas as articles. I have adapted these as well as excerpts from two previous books (Laughing and 5 Readers Reading) into the argument of The I. To the editors of the journals and to the presses involved, Criticism, Critical Inquiry, The International Journal of Psycho-Analysis,and the Internaional Review of Psycho- Analysis, Cornell University Press, and Yale University Press, I am grateful both for the original publication and for permission to adapt.

Similarly, a number of universities and other institutions have provided me with a lectern from which to explore these ideas: in America, the universities of Chicago, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, and Virginia, Yale University, and Cornell University's department of psychiatry at New York Hospital; in other countries, the universities of Copenhagen, Delhi, Düsseldorf, Freiburg Hokkaido, Rome, and Würzburg, Banaras Hindu University, the Free University of Berlin, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, the Tavistock Clinic of London, and the Sigmund Freud-Gesell[xv]schaft of Vienna. I am indebted to my audiences for their patience and their willingness to exchange ideas, and I am grateful to my hosts for hospitality which ranged from postlecture conviviality at a Beisel in a time-honored quarter of Vienna to a motocab scattering pigs and chickens as Jane and I careened through the streets of the oldest city in the world. It is, of course, to her, my first and always editor, that I am most anciently and profoundly grateful.

Norman N. Holland


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