Selfhood and Stories: Narrative Conceptions of Identity and Agency
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David Carr, Paul Ricoeur, and Robert Pippin represent a spectrum of narrative conceptions of identity. On one end, Carr offers a highly individualistic model of agency. On the other end, Pippin offers a radically socially model of agency. In the middle, Ricoeur offers a model of agency that challenges the comprehensive unity and singularity of purpose that Carr advocates but does not move far enough into the social. In comparing these philosophers, I hope to show the progression from individualistic conceptions of narrative identity to highly social conceptions of narrative identity. Once this is accomplished, I hope to fully sound out the narrative implications of Pippin’s model of agency. In an analysis of T.S. Eliot’s poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” and Vladimir Nabokov’s novel, Lolita, I will demonstrate how both narrators in these works exhibit the problems of agency that Pippin poses in Hegel’s Practical Philosophy. I am offering an account of Prufrock and Humbert Humbert as agents within the modern world who are making sense of themselves in the stories that they tell to their readers but not to those who inhabit their worlds. Ultimately, I hope to show that when engaging with philosophy and literature, we find ourselves deeply engaged with ourselves as others and with others through stories.