Making Up Selves: The Operating Instructions

April 8, 2022 at 8:00 am - April 9, 2022 at 5:00 pm EDT

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Making Up Selves: The Operating Instructions

April 8, 2022 at 8:00 am April 9, 2022 at 5:00 pm America/Virginia

A symposium to explore how voice, narrative, rituals, and imagination—from antiquity to present-day—are practiced in the ‘making of ourselves.’  

“Our experience of ourselves,” the French philosopher Michel Foucault said, “seems to us, no doubt, to be that which is original and immediate; but we have to remember that it has been constituted through historically formed practices. And what we believe we see so clearly in ourselves…is given to us via techniques.” American writer Ursula K. Le Guin noted that “All of us have to learn how to invent our lives, make them up, imagine them. We need to be taught these skills; we need guides to show us how. If we don’t, our lives get made up for us by other people.” What is true of our experience of ourselves and our lives goes for the worlds we take ourselves to inhabit and experience: the ones we find apparently ready-made for us; the ones we narrate into being and enact in our rituals; the ones we dream ourselves into.

But let’s get serious. To adapt a question a few Buddhist monks once asked an unhappy traveler whose body was swapped with one made from the re-assembled limbs of a corpse after an unlucky run-in with a pair of demons: “What manner of beings are we?” What can we imagine ourselves as being? And how do we make ourselves up?

Over two days an anthropologist (Tanya Luhrmann), a classicist (Sarah Iles Johnston), and a philosopher of religion (Niki Kasumi Clements) will discuss voices, and how people use social practice to shape inner worlds and moral purpose; how ancient handbooks of spells in Greek dating to the first six or seven centuries CE narrate worlds into which one can immerse oneself; and how we might think of the difference between practices, technologies and hermeneutics of self in the work of Michel Foucault.

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