Self-discovery is the process of acquiring self-understanding. The process can be as memorable and as enduring as the result.
Technical and Analytical Readings
- Stanislav Grof, The Adventure of Self-Discovery: Dimensions of Consciousness and New Perspectives in Psychotherapy and Inner Exploration (State University of New York Press, 1988).
Documentary and Educational Films
- Racing Dreams – Coming of Age in a Fast World, on pre-teenagers with “Full-Throttle Ambitions” as go-kart competitors, who also provide a glimpse “into a time in life when all of us are just beginning to figure out who we are”
- Susan Orlean, The Library Book (Simon & Schuster, 2018): “What makes “The Library Book” so enjoyable is the sense of discovery that propels it, the buoyancy when Orlean is surprised or moved by what she finds.”
- Siddharth Dube, An Indefinite Sentence: A Personal History of Outlawed Love and Sex (Atria, 2019): “Work helped Dube find himself. And work allowed him to live a life he could be proud of.”
- Dierdre Bair, Parisian Lives: Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir, and Me: A Memoir (Nan A. Talese, 2019): “Her career has been steadily productive, but Beckett and Beauvoir retain a special significance for her; in tracing their lives, she began to live her own — and received a bitter education in the world.”
- P. Carl, Becoming a Man: The Story of a Transition (Simon & Schuster, 2020): “On its surface, this is the story of one man’s awakening, at the age of 50, after living life visibly as a queer woman.”
- Jenn Shapland, My Autobiography of Carson McCullers (Tin House Books, 2020): “. . . a hard-won inquiry into how we seek out the truth of ourselves and others in ways that often, by necessity, aren’t straightforward, that arrive in our lives in glimmering bits and shards.”
- Rebecca Solnit, Recollections of My Nonexistence: A Memoir (Viking, 2020) is “an un-self-centered book that often reverses the figure-ground relationship, portraying the emergence of a writer and her voice from a particular cultural moment and set of fortuitous influences.”
- Harvey Fierstein, I Was Better Last Night: A Memoir (Alfred A. Knopf, 2022): “From a young age he wanted to dress up and make up and make believe, including as a mermaid, and wondered if he was a girl. Now he recognizes that he was a '7-year-old gender warrior.'”
- René Magritte, Discovery (1927)
Music: songs and other short pieces
- Johann Sebastian Bach, Solo Cello Suite No. 2 in D minor, bwv 1008: (3) Courante
- Johann Sebastian Bach, Solo Cello Suite No. 4 in E-flat Major, bwv 1010: (1) Prelude
- Russell Banks, Rule of the Bone: A Novel (Harper Perennial, 1996).
- Uzodinma Iweala, Speak No Evil: A Novel (HarperCollins Publishers, 2018): “A young man’s journey of self-discovery runs into opposition from his parents and their church.”
- Elizabeth Acevedo, The Poet X: A Novel (Quill Tree Books, 2018): “The book’s enduring popularity is a powerful reminder that teenagers groove on poetry, especially when it’s geared to the realities of their lives.”
- Peace Adzo Medie, His Only Wife: A Novel (Algonquin, 2020), about a woman entering an arranged marriage: “Afi finds her way from the crowded courtyard of her uncle’s house to a luxurious city apartment where she finally meets her husband and tries to make the best of an impossible situation.”
- Asha Bromfield, Hurricane Summer: A Novel (Wednesday Books, 2021), “a powerful coming of age story that deals with colorism, classism, young love, the father-daughter dynamic―and what it means to discover your own voice in the center of complete destruction.”
- Vendela Vida, We Run the Tides: A Novel (Ecco, 2021): “Vendela Vida captures the unstable sensation of early adolescent reality, that period teetering between childhood and young adulthood in which outlandish lies can seem weirdly plausible and basic facts totally alien.”
- Nicola DeRobertis-Theye, The Vietri Project: A Novel (Harper/HarperCollins, 2021): “This complex, substantive debut offers a singular and transfixing take on the nature of identity — both national and personal — and the dangers of secrecy, both national and personal. And, of course, what it means to come of age in a broken world, a world that has been broken for generations.”
- Malindo Lo, Last Night at the Telegraph Club (Dutton Books for Young Readers, 2021): “Lo’s lovely, realistic, and queer-positive tale is a slow burn, following Lily’s own gradual realization of her sexuality while she learns how to code-switch between being ostensibly heterosexual Chinatown Lily and lesbian Telegraph Bar Lily.”
- Lily King, Five Tuesdays in Winter: Stories (Other Press, 2021): “She knows that what we call coming-of-age doesn’t happen in a single electric moment at age 14, but that part of being human is to keep discovering, in our seasons of euphoria and sorrow, new corners of being.”
Yuko Tsushima, Woman Running in the Mountains: A Novel (1980): “. . . the book captures the intimate transformations, physical and existential, of a solitary young mother.”
- Margot Livesey, The Boy in the Field: A Novel (Harper Collins, 2020): “. . . a Grisly Discovery Leads to Self-Discovery”.
- Jonathan Escoffery, If I Survive You: A Novel (MCD, 2022): “The reader is invited to share in Trelawney’s search for an authentic self, if such a thing exists, by enduring the frustrations and microaggressions he faces.”
- Elisa Shua Dusapin, The Pachinko Parlor: A Novel (Open Letter, 2022): “. . . the novel is a slow, meditative portrait of one woman finding herself, as well as a moving reflection on language’s capacity to divide us from others — and ourselves.”
Film and Stage
- Wild Strawberries (Smultronstället): in this “classic study in isolationism”, an aging medical professor reflects on his life, wistfully and with regret
- Wild Reeds (Les Roseaux Sauvages), a coming-of-age story about a youth wrestling with sexuality amid a political storm
- Only Yesterday: In this animated film, a young woman returns to her “fifth-grade self,” then comes to terms with herself.
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Johannes Brahms was twenty years old when he composed his Piano Sonata No. 1 in C Major, Op. 1 (1853) (approx. 25-32’). Hearing it, Robert and Clara Schumann instantly recognized the young man’s burgeoning genius. The music fairly screams of a young composer discovering his own talents. Excellent recorded performances are by Katchen in 1964, Zimerman in 1979, Knardahl in 1986, Richter in 1987, Oppitz in 1990, Vogt in 2002, Beatson in 2014, Plowright in 2017, and Kodama in 2022.
Self-discovery can occur late in development – at any time. In his Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 37 (1802) (approx. 36-43’), Ludwig van Beethoven was trying to advance himself beyond his first two piano concerti. “If your picture of Beethoven is . . . of a dramatic, dark personality whose tragic life events shaped him and his music, then the Piano Concerto No.3 is the man personified!” Success did not come easily. The premiere performance was chaotic, and Beethoven’s page-turner could not make out a score. Pianist Byron Janis says: “It’s really the first concerto where Beethoven shakes his fist at the world . . . It’s when he leaves Mozart behind, and becomes Beethoven.” Top recorded performances are by Schnabel in 1933, Kempff in 1953, Fleisher in 1961, Kovacevich in 1972, Perahia in 1986, Brendel in 1999, Goode in 2008, Brautigam in 2011, Pires in 2014, Zimerman in 2021, Korstick in 2022.
Though he showed signs of becoming a musical prodigy as a pianist, the introspective César Franck lacked a temperament for public performance. He went on to become one of history’s greatest composers for organ, a grand instrument not often associated with shyness. In his compositions, we can hear what seems to have been a lifelong process of self-discovery. His most famous compositional series is the Six Pièces pour Grade Orgue, Opp. 16-21:
- Fantaisie, Op. 16, M. 28 (1862)
- Grande Pièce Symphonique, Op. 17, M. 29 (1862)
- Prélude, Fugue et. Variation, Op. 18, M. 30 (1862)
- Pastorale, Op. 19, M. 31 (1862)
- Prière, Op. 20, M. 32 (1862)
- Final, Op. 21, M. 33 (1862)
- Weinberg, Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 1 in C Major, Op. 21 (1945)
- Ernest Bloch, Symphony in C-sharp Minor (1902) (approx. 55’), is “a work of youthful bombast, in four movements which originally had subtitles reflecting the autobiographical self discoveries of Berlioz or Mahler which evolve through struggle self doubt to faith happiness.”
- Mascagni, L'Amico Fritz, an opera about a man and woman who discover that they love each other (performances conducted by Gavazzini and Bargagna)
- Karol Szymanowski, Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 35 (1916), evokes a personal journey. It is at turns assertive, then introspective. Szymanowski composed it for violinist Paul Kochanski, inspired by a poem about an important event in a young man’s life. “The work is recognized as the first 'modern' violin concerto, in which the composer rejects the 19th-century tradition and the major-minor system, and introduces a new music language full of ecstatic raptures and tension. The lack of a dramatic kind of expression, which is replaced with emotional intensity, means that the piece is closer to the aesthetics of expressionism than to the Romantic convention.”
- Ysaÿe, Sonata for Solo Cello, Op. 28 (1924)
- Nitin Sawhney, “Beyond Skin”, about “identity and the search for self in a conflicted world”
- Duncan Lyall, “Windsong” (2021): This Scottish bassist draws on influences from his musical background to expand on and express his own voice: “While writing this music I drew inspiration from memories, and cultural references that have resonated with me. I have tried to explore my experiences of friendship, adventure, surrealism, love, loss, determination, grit and happiness.”
- Alyssa Morris, Ruminations (2022), including Morris’ works: Four Personalities for Oboe and Piano (2007), based on the Hartman personality test; Forecast for Oboe and Four Percussionists (2009), “a . . . work for an instrument pairing not often utilized, oboe and percussion”; Ruminations for Solo Oboe (2021) [“Each movement is a personally expressive etude, meant to depict the feeling of obsessive thinking about an idea, especially when it interferes with normal mental functioning.”]; Parable of a Stormy Sea for Two Oboes and English Horn (2016); and 27-72, a Sonata for Oboe and Piano (2019)
- Espen Berg, “The Trondheim Concert” (2022), consists solo jazz piano pieces, increasing in energy and complexity throughout the album. “The music, created in the moment, reflects his emotions in a profound way, and every time he plays, it’s different.”