17.11.11, Stock, The Integrated Self

Main Article Content

Leonard Koff

The Medieval Review 17.11.11

Stock, Brian. The Integrated Self: Augustine, the Bible, and Ancient Thought. Haney Foundation. Philadelphia:University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016. pp. 269. ISBN: 978-0-8122-4871-5 (hardback).

Reviewed by:

Leonard Koff
 UCLA Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies
ljkoff@aol.com

This is a highly engaging book intended to help establish what Stock calls an Augustinian tradition about the nature of the self, the full historical context of which has not, according to Stock, been traced before, although significant aspects of Augustine's ideas about the self have, and by Stock himself. The book's chapters are individual case studies that, taken together, make Stock's argument for an Augustinian tradition about the self, a tradition that Stock argues should be acknowledged as standing alongside already recognized traditions to which--and against which--the Augustinian tradition is said to speak. As Stock puts it, Augustine replaces "a dualistic view of the self, which he took over from Platonic and Neoplatonic sources, with a view...largely inspired by the Bible, in which mind and body are given roughly equal roles in the self's makeup" (1). Moreover, according to Stock, Augustine's "attitude to questions involving the self, personal identity, or the notion of the individual is on the whole practical rather than theoretical, and even when theoretical, for example in speaking of will, memory, and time, [Augustine] is strongly influenced by his personal experience" (1) revealed through his intellectual and religious history as narrated in the Confessions in particular.

In defining an Augustinian tradition about the nature of the self, Stock argues that reading and meditation together are the source of knowledge for the self whose existence depends on the soul, "the source of life in all living things" (130). The soul is "eternal…nonmaterial and not subject to extension or division" (129), and the "awareness" of the "permanence" of the soul--the permanence of life--is a "product of self-consciousness" (130), as is the certain notion that the self "is finite and subject to ineluctable demise" (131). Although "like ancient authors in general," Augustine has "no specific term for designating the self" (129), he nonetheless distinguishes it from the soul on which it depends:

Because the Augustinian self is the impermanent but a continuously willed component of identity--in this way it exists--the title of Stock's book is misleading. The self is not an integrated component of identity, a final and stable center of identity, if this is what Stock means, but an ongoing, integrating component that requires self-clarifying attention through the strategies of self-examination and interior dialogue that reading and meditation, from religious to nonreligious contexts, provide: from lectio divina, to lectio spiritualis, to lectio saecularis, modes of reading that define an historical continuum of practical meditative praxis. Augustine's self is brought to self-awareness through its meditation on texts.

The Augustinian self, as an embodied dimension of self-awareness, needs texts for its continuous coming into being. But is the self ever integrated in any stable or final sense? Stock suggests that it isn't. Can--should--an integrating self ever value a fixed or final state of being? Stock suggests that it shouldn't--and can't. So how should we talk about a dynamic component of identity that continues to be created out of its engagement with texts? Isn't a text the affirming object, a permanent but changeable object, through which a self comes into being? Indeed, Stock suggests that it is through narrative, history, and memory that the self is continuously present to itself in religious and nonreligious contexts, but never resolved in the world: lectio saecularis, as Stock defines it, "refers to writings...composed by lay persons, dealing with religious topics, as well as the nonreligious contemplative practices accompanying the premodern reflective study of literature" (212)--for Stock, the Augustinian secular is an extension of the religious.

In writing about the range of medieval to early modern meditative and non-meditative approaches to texts, Stock suggests that they all put the reading self at the source of its own moral and spiritual life:

Stock has, I think, described the tradition of reading and meditation in masterful ways. But I am not convinced that what Stock argues for with respect to the tradition of the integrating self in a classical and biblical context that includes Augustine, of course, but also, for example--these are Stock's examples, Seneca and Plutarch, John Cassian, Benedict of Nursia, Cicero and Quintilian, Plotinus and Nebridius, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius and Boethius, as well as authors and philosophers in the premodern and modern world, need be called a specifically Augustinian tradition. As Stock himself explains, in some ways against himself:

Taken together, Stock's contexts provide illuminating analogues for any study of Augustine and the self, but they do not provide sources for what Stock wants to call an Augustinian tradition about the self. Perhaps a tradition of the embodied self, called, say, the self-in-the-world, gets at what Stock wants us to see about textual meditation for the sake of the self. Augustine is, as Stock finally argues, an original, clarifying point of reference--a defining high point--for ideas about the embodied self, anticipated by those who have come before him, by his contemporaries to whom he may or may not have been responding, and a presence for ideas about the self for those who have came after him. Augustine differs from the:

Augustine indeed stands as the crown--perhaps the center, but not the beginning or the end--of the very tradition about the self-in-the-world that Stock traces. That Augustine's notion about the nature of the self figured into the Platonic body/soul dualism up to and including the Enlightenment is true enough, but Stock only says, though what he says is true, that "in John Locke, who died in 1704, the notion of the soul was definitively abandoned, and philosophical writing on the subject was subsequently concerned only with the self" (6), and with the self, I would add, as a source of knowledge rather than a source of illusion about the world. I would mention here that Freudian psychoanalysis as a practice speaks to an Augustinian idea of an integrating self that marks Augustine as Freud's intellectual and indeed psychological heir. Stock does not take up this topic, which certainly deserves its own study. The Integrated Self thus offers the insights and, as I've hinted at here, the difficulties of a study of the philosophical mosaic that makes up, for Stock, a cultural tradition about the nature of the self.

The final chapter of The Integrated Self is, I think, of enormous cultural value, though Stock seems at pains to make it an unproblematic part of his book. I'm not sure why. Stock's specific argument in chapter 6 is that healing--bodily healing--can occur through reading and meditation: "Meditation [in the classical and medieval period] was proposed for the treatment of specific conditions, such as melancholy, as well as for creating a general equilibrium in individuals between mind and body" (195). Stock explains that in the classical and medieval period there existed "an alternative...to the purely naturalistic interpretation of disease" that rested on the distinction between "the cause of an illness and its meaning." The cause was "considered to be natural, but the meaning [was] cultural and perhaps religious..." The cause could be "understood through the analysis of material or physical conditions, but the meaning, however...conceived," had "to be taken up by means of thought and language" (216). Stock's discussion in chapter 6 suggests that the healing that attends the physical experience of "mind-body practices" (205) is the analogue of the psychological and spiritual healing that inner and outer dialogue provides. As Stock says:

Chapter 6 provides The Integrated Self with groundbreaking avenues for further study about the nature of the self, avenues I strongly suspect Stock himself will follow--or at least I hope he will. His argument for the connection between meditation and its religious and cultural developments in religious and nonreligious contexts, on the one hand, and, on the other, the therapeutic implications of meditation in classical and medieval theories about the diagnostic value of reading is extraordinarily fruitful.

Article Details

Section
Reviews