Toward a Developmental Theory of Self-Identity
For the early Frankfurt School theorists, the capacity for critique was the essential achievement of individuation. But in the melancholy story of the “Dialectic of Enlightenment,” the development of the individual’s capacity for critique entails the internalization of authority which, paradoxically, obliterates all motives for critique, and inhibits any capacity for genuinely independent thought.10 Jessica Benjamin argues that Adorno’s problem was that he was unable to shake his liberal bourgeois faith in reason and the autonomous individual, abstracted from contexts and relationships, and thus was unable to imagine any process of self-development besides the internalization of dominating reason.11 Benjamin argues that the way to get out of the circle of internalizing domination for the development of reason is to reject both internalization and reason—to reject both internalization of social norms as the means, and autonomous rationality as the goal, of self-development. Benjamin’s solution is to shift to a different model of self-development, focusing on spontaneous self-assertion and affective identification with particular others. But Benjamin’s model of a spontaneous and embedded self provides the self with no capacity for abstraction from or critique of given contexts, and thus no capacity for participation in a social world. As a result, she is left advocating that we accept the paradox between spontaneous practices of self-assertion, on the one hand, and experiences of attunement with others, on the other.12 This is a variation on the old opposition between the individual and society, the paradox of social identity and self identity, identity with and difference from others, which is a false paradox.13 Like Adorno, Benjamin is unable to mediate the paradox of the self, because like Adorno, she equates the development of independent and critical reason with the development of domination.
In what follows, I propose that Jurgen Habermas’s model of the development of self-identity as the development of a capacity for critique will serve feminism better than models of the self which reject resolution and abstraction, and hence, participation and critique. I shall supplement Habermas’s model with Julia Kristeva’s model of the development of self-identity through practices of affective identification and expression. Both Habermas and Kristeva, I shall argue, theorize the identity of the self in relation to both the identity of meaning in language and the identification with, or relationship to, others. But where Habermas focuses on the interaction of identity of meaning in language with intersubjective recognition, which underlies the development of moral identity through an orientation to normative validity, Kristeva focuses on the interaction of identity of meaning in language with affective relations with others, which underlies the realization of a self through a capacity for expression.
Both Habermas and Kristeva propose models of individuation as a capacity for participation in a social world, and both presuppose that this capacity depends on a capacity for mutual understanding through the internalization of linguistic and social norms. Both develop theories of internalization which are very different from Adorno’s, and from Benjamin’s. For Habermas, what is internalized is not simply authority but an experience of mutuality and a capacity for critique. For Kristeva, internalization is not simply a response to threat (as it is, still, for Habermas), but a source of pleasure.