Humans are aware of themselves at a level and to a degree not seen in any other species. The human child progressively becomes self-aware during the first four or five years of life. This self-awareness is the cornerstone of the intellectual component of self-worth.
- John Updike, Self-Consciousness: Memoirs (Knopf, 1989).
- Sara Shandler, Ophelia Speaks: Adolescent Girls Write About Their Search for Self (Harper Paperbacks, 1999).
- Gail Levin, Lee Krasner: A Biography (William Morrow/HarperCollins Publishers, 2011). “ . . . by the time Krasner met (Jackson) Pollock she was was already extraordinarily self-aware. She had a profound grasp of modern art, deeper though less instinctive than Pollock’s . . . And she knew she enjoyed being with exciting, challenging men . . .”
- Sue Prideaux, I Am Dynamite!: A Life of Nietzsche (Tim Duggan Books, 2018): “Freud said that of all men only Nietzsche truly knew himself . . .”
- Edmund White, My Lives: An Autobiography (Ecco, 2006): “He has a luxuriantly observant memory, and his past is evoked with keen feeling as well as a pervasive self-deprecating wit.”
- Liz Phair, Horror Stories: A Memoir (Random House, 2019): “More often than not in this uniquely thoughtful, self-aware memoir, the horrors she describes are mistakes she made, ethical challenges she failed, and moments of anxiety, bewilderment and being lost, often literally and sometimes because of her own flawed decisions.”
- Darryl W. Bullock, Florence! Foster!! Jenkins!!!: The Life of the World’s Worst Opera Singer (The Overlook Press, 2016). People said she could not sing. She sang anyway.
- Pankaj Mishra, Bland Fanatics: Liberals, Race, and Empire (Farrar, Straus & Giroux): “. . . Challenges America’s Self-Deceptions”
Technical and Analytical Readings
Academicians discuss self-awareness from many perspectives. For our purposes, I will divide the analyses into two categories: those that explore the experience of self-awareness and personal development (mainly in the realm of psychology) and those that explore the foundations of self-consciousness (mainly in the realm of neuroscience). As usual, philosophers want their hand in both, though most of their work has focused on the essence and foundations of consciousness.
- Antonio Damasio, Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain (Pantheon, 2010).
- Michael Ferreri and Robert J. Sternberg, eds., Self-Awareness: Its Nature and Development (The Guilford Press, 1998).
- Uriah Kriegel and Kenneth Williford, eds., Self-Representational Approaches to Consciousness (MIT Press, 2006).
- Uriah Kriegel, Subjective Consciousness: A Self-Representational Theory (Oxford University Press, 2009).
- Christopher S. Hill, Consciousness (Oxford University Press, 2009).
- Douglas R. Hofstadter, I Am a Strange Loop (Basic Books, 2007).
- Stephen Fleming, Know Thyself: The Science of Self-Awareness (Basic Books, 2021): “The real challenge isn’t being right but knowing how wrong you might be.”
- Jerome Kagan, The Second Year: The Emergence of Self-Awareness (Harvard University Press, 1981).
- Philippe Rochat, Others in Mind: Social Origins of Self-Consciousness (Cambridge University Press, 2009).
- Sue Taylor Parker, Robert W. Mitchell and Maria L. Boccia, eds., Self-Awareness in Animals and Humans: Developmental Perspectives (Cambridge University Press, 1994).
- G. Lynn Stevens and George Graham, When Self-Consciousness Breaks: Alien Voices and Inserted Thoughts (MIT Press, 2000).
- Andreas Demetriou and Smaragda Kazi, Unity and Modularity in the Mind and the Self: Studies on the relationships between self-awareness, personality, and intellectual development from childhood to adolescence (Routledge, 2000).
- Bernard D. Beitman and Jyonsa Nair, eds., Self-Awareness Deficits in Psychiatric Patients: Neurobiology, Assessment, and Treatment (W.W. Norton & Company, 2005).
- Thomas Shelley Duval, Paul J. Silvia and Neal Lalwani, Self-Awareness & Causal Attribution: A Dual Systems Theory (Springer, 2001).
- Richard E. Nisbett, Mindware: Tools for Smart Thinking (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2015): “You’ll learn about our overzealousness to see patterns, our hindsight bias, our loss aversion, the illusions of randomness and the importance of the scientific method, all in under 300 pages of text. But there isn’t much in ‘Mindware’ that is new, and if you’ve read some of the many recent books on the unconscious, randomness, decision making and pop economics, then the material covered here will be familiar to you.”
- Sebastian Rödl, Self-Consciousness (Harvard University Press, 2007).
- Dan Zahavi, ed., Self-Awareness, Temporality, and Alterity: Central Topics in Phenomenology (Springer, 2010).
- Dan Zahavi, Subjectivity and Selfhood: Investigating the First-Person Perspective (MIT Press, 2006).
- Dan Zahavi, Self-Awareness and Alterity: A Phenomenological Investigation (Northwestern University Press, 1999).
- Dan Zahavi, Thor Grünbaum and Josef Parnas, eds., The Structure and Develpment of Self-Consciousness: Interdisciplinary Perspectives (John Benjamins Publishing Co., 2004).
- Donald Davidson, Subjective, Intersubjective, Objective (Oxford University Press, 2001).
- Robert W. Lurz, The Philosophy of Animal Minds (Cambridge University Press, 2009).
- Hector-Neri Castañeda, James G. Hart and Tomis Kapitan, eds., The Phenomeno-Logic of the I (Indiana University Press, 1999).
- Andrew Brook and Richard C. DeVidi, eds., Self-reference and Self-awareness (John Benjamins Pub. Co., 2003).
- David Woodruff Smith, Mind World: Essays in Phenomenology and Ontology (Cambridge University Press, 2004).
Documentary and Educational Films
- Pablo Picasso, Girl in Front of Mirror (1932)
- Edouard Manet, Woman Before a Mirror (1877)
- Peter Paul Rubens, Woman with a Mirror (1640)
- Giovanni Bellini, Naked Young Woman in Front of the Mirror (1515)
Music: songs and other short pieces
- Johann Sebastian Bach, Solo Cello Suite No. 3 in C Major, bwv 1009: (1) Prelude
Film and Stage
- Face to Face, about a woman who “comes to the realization that she doesn't understand the nature of her own inner reality”
- Raging Bull: after years of self-destructive behavior, a world-champion boxer“emerges with a gleam of self-awareness”; one review calls the film “a landscape of the soul”
- Marguerite is a wealthy woman who thinks she can sing, and is cruelly encouraged by her “friends”, who want something.
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Coleman Hawkins brought the saxophone into the jazz mainstream, so we could say that the made the jazz world aware of the instrument’s potential. However, in doing that, he also made saxophonists more aware of the possibilities open to them.
- Grandes Maestros del Jazz 16
- Blue Moon (1935)
- Stardust (1935)
- Sheik of Araby (1940)
- Art Ford’s jazz party, 9/18/58
- "Night Hawk" album
- "Cool Groove" album
- "At Ease with Coleman Hawkins" album
- Live 62-64
- Brazilian Mozart Camargo Guarnieri (1907-1993) composed five books of Ponteios, short pieces for piano in the style of preludes. Their atonality, combined with the preparatory style of the prelude, suggests the process of becoming self-aware.
- Boulez, Sur incises for three pianos, three harps and three percussionists (1998): composed to reflect the piano’s internal life.
- Widor, Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 13/1 (1872)
- Widor, Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 13/2 (1872, rev. 1887)
- Sarah Elizabeth Charles, “Inner Dialogue”
- Geoff Eales, “Invocation” (2014): Eales writes: “One of the biggest challenges facing an improvising musician is to deliver a performance that holds the attention of the listener when playing completely solo. To achieve success, one must dig deep into one’s musical psyche in order to invoke the muse within.”
- Soft Works, “Abracadabra” (2003): Elton Dean’s saxophone is forward among the quartet, as if in a conversation with himself.
- India Gailey, “To You Through” (2022): “For this, her second solo album, Nova Scotia cellist India Gailey (b. 1992) put together a program of six works from a multigenerational selection of living composers—five by others, and one by herself.” She says that each selection “feels like a part of me”.
- Yulia Ayrapetyan, “Komitas: Songs” (2022): these songs, arranged as short pieces for piano, convey a sense of self-awareness. The composer became a priest but then pursued other paths, leading to irresolvable conflicts with the church. His music suggests that he was clear about who he was.
- Lockhart, We Were Liars: A Novel (Delacorte Press, 2014): “A privileged teenager named Cadence, who spends summers on an island owned by generations of her mother’s family, narrates an addictively enigmatic story. Something is amiss on the island, and a sudden tragedy only deepens the mystery — until all is explained in a shocking ending that will make you want to start the book all over again.”
From the dark side:
- Kate Elizabeth, My Dark Vanessa: A Novel (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2020): “There are flashes of clarity. When Vanessa sees Strane shove her dog off the couch. When he continues to have sex with her for the first time even though she is crying. When he threatens that she will have to go into foster care if she tells anyone. When she finds out he betrayed her at a crucial moment. But then she reverts to the love story. She protects the idea of their being in love because she needs it.”
My parents thought that I would be
As great as Edison or greater:
For as a boy I made balloons
And wondrous kites and toys with clocks
And little engines with tracks to run on
And telephones of cans and thread.
I played the cornet and painted pictures,
Modeled in clay and took the part
Of the villain in the “Octoroon.”
But then at twenty-one I married
And had to live, and so, to live
I learned the trade of making watches
And kept the jewelry store on the square,
Thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking, —
Not of business, but of the engine
I studied the calculus to build.
And all Spoon River watched and waited
To see it work, but it never worked.
And a few kind souls believed my genius
Was somehow hampered by the store.
It wasn’t true. The truth was this:
I didn’t have the brains.
[Edgar Lee Masters, “Walter Simmons”]