Trying to pin down what we mean by selfhood, and how we might identify it and extract its essence, is a conundrum that has exercised thinkers since our early ancestors came down from the trees. So by tackling that subject head on – and in just 180 pages to boot – Dickie Bellringer sets himself quite a task.
Needless to say, he reaches no clear-cut conclusions. But in (not) doing so, he takes us on a captivating journey of mind and spirit, with the abstractions of philosophy as its point of departure and a rich vein of humanism at its core.
‘Tales of the Self’ acquaints us with plenty of other -isms too – disquisitions on empiricism and existentialism are prominent – with the author, in what is this little gem of a book’s most notable achievement, generally managing to make them accessible and relevant without dumbing them down.
He sets out their tenets and then paraphrases and places them in broader contexts, overlaying the whole with a rich and often witty narrative that features members of his family – notably his alienated and asylum-confined grandfather – and their roles in his own quest for identity. It also encompasses the birth of the universe, the enlightenment and romanticism and the retreat – at least in the West – of organised religion, and examines how present-day society struggles to reconcile that quadrumvirate. Yes, Donald Trump (inevitably) makes the odd appearance, but so do far more compelling characters. Ever hear of a (proto-)feminist who believes in witches? Well, you’ll find him here – and plenty more besides.