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Stephen Frosh: Fragile Identities: The Self between Normality and Pathology
Fragile Identities: The Self between Normality and Pathology
(p. 27 – 36)

We are always part of an and and a between.

Stephen Frosh

Fragile Identities: The Self between Normality and Pathology

PDF, 10 pages



The title of the Panel, The Self between Normality and Pathology, which was part of a series of talks entitled Fragile Identities at the Academy of Fine Arts Munich, can perhaps be read as a provocation rather than as a neutral or scientific label. It would be possible to dispute every word, to offer objections and refutations: there is no singular self (the self); normality and pathology, classic bedfellows, are roped together to create a judgemental axis – there is a norm, the departure from it is pathological, we find ourselves between a rock and a hard place. I won’t do this, however; I will just note that I don’t think we can speak easily – maybe we cannot speak at all – about the self, normality or pathology. Which leaves me with only two useable words from the title: between and and.

As it happens, in relation to questions of fragile identities, I think these are very useful words. One issue that has been confronted in recent discussions of identity has been whether it is singular or plural and if the latter, which is the predominant critical view, what kind of plurality is being evoked by the term? Specifically, are we talking about something that is fragmented or something that is multiple? Is the human subject notionally one, but through exposure to forces of various kinds, ranging from the excessive competing demands of post-modernity through to devastating trauma, it becomes a split subject? Or does the multiplicity of selves and identities (to run the terms together for a moment) reflect the simple reality of life – we are multiple beings, and our task is to do something with this multiplicity, not to wish it gone? It is this position that I would like to maintain here, and to build it upon our small but ubiquitous conjunction, and. If integration suggests a mode of colonization in which one thing becomes another, perhaps is taken over by it or perhaps joins up with it, then multiplicity is characterised by leaving the different elements alone, by an addition rather than an equals sign. And suggests summation, one and one and one: with each addition something is added, something new, however much it might seem the same as what we already have. And is a term of inclusion and potentially of love, or at least of other-reference rather than self-aggrandisement. “I...

  • family
  • subjectification
  • Hannah Arendt
  • identity
  • subjectivity
  • Judaism
  • Judith Butler
  • psychoanalysis

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Stephen Frosh

is Professor of Psychology at Birkbeck College, University of London. Since 2003 he has been Pro-Vice-Master, first for Learning and Teaching and then for Research. He has researched and lectured at Birkbeck from 1979, first in the School of Psychology and since 2008 in the Department of Psychosocial Studies, of which he was a founding member and first Head of Department. From 1982 until 2000 he worked part-time at Birkbeck and part-time as a clinical psychologist in the National Health Service. In addition throughout the 1990s he was Consultant Clinical Psychologist and from 1996 Vice Dean in the Child and Family Department of the Tavistock Clinic, London. His main academic interests are investigating the applications of psychoanalysis to social issues and subjects such as gender, ethnicity and social identity as well as psychosocial studies.
Other texts by Stephen Frosh for DIAPHANES
Kerstin Stakemeier (ed.), Susanne Witzgall (ed.): Fragile Identities

What is the current state of the subject and what about the status of its self-image? In contemporary discourses we encounter more and more “fragile identities,” in artistic works as well as in scientific theories, and those are today much less referring to a critique of the concept of identity, but much rather to the relationship those concepts of identity entertain with the overall precarious state of the subject in current social conditions that are characterized by political upheaval and change.
The book Fragile Identities investigates among other things the chances and also the possible endangerments of such a fragile self and asks for the resurging urgency of a contemporary concept of subjectivity. The publication combines international artistic and scholarly contributions, discussions and project documentations in relation to the second annual theme of the cx centre for interdisciplinary studies at the Academy of Fine Arts Munich.