Spurred to action by The Corrections author Jonathan Franzen, Tim Clark takes a stab in the New York Review of Books at unravelling the idea that we need stories as Franzen maintains. Clark shoots for the self and argues that stories bring out a greater understanding of our own identities by locating and documenting them elsewhere:
Like God, the self requires a story; it is the account of how each of us accrues and sheds attributes over seventy or eighty years—youth, vigor, job, spouse, success, failure—while remaining, at some deep level, myself, my soul. One of the accomplishments of the novel, which as we know blossomed with the consolidation of Western individualism, has been to reinforce this ingenious invention, to have us believe more and more strongly in this sovereign self whose essential identity remains unchanged by all vicissitudes. Telling the stories of various characters in relation to each other, how something started, how it developed, how it ended, novels are intimately involved with the way we make up ourselves. They reinforce a process we are engaged in every moment of the day, self creation. They sustain the idea of a self projected through time, a self eager to be a real something (even at the cost of great suffering) and not an illusion.
The more complex and historically dense the stories are, the stronger the impression they give of unique and protracted individual identity beneath surface transformations, conversions, dilemmas, aberrations. In this sense, even pessimistic novels—say, J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace—can be encouraging: however hard circumstances may be, you do have a self, a personal story to shape and live. You are a unique something that can fight back against all the confusion around. You have pathos.
This is all perfectly respectable. But do we actually need this intensification of self that novels provide? Do we need it more than ever before?
For games, of course, the idea of “selfhood” is strange as you are both you but not you. Does Clark assessment though carry weight for us who do play?
[ via NYRB]