Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Multiple Personalities, Multiple Souls?

I was reading a collection of short stories by Agatha Christie (from The Hound of Death) and while reading The Fourth Man, I came across this passage that introduced a concept to me that I had never contemplated before:

"'Are you so sure," he said gravely," that there is only one occupant of this structure-for that is all it is, you know-this desirable residence to be let furnished-for seven, twenty-one, forty-one, seventy-one-whatever it may be!-years? And in the end the tenant moves his things out-little by little-and then goes out of the house altogether-and down comes the house, a mass of ruin and decay. You're the master of the house-we'll admit that, but aren't you ever conscious of the presence of others-soft-footed servants, hardly noticed, except for the work they do-work that you're not conscious of having done? Or friends-moods that take hold of you and make you, for the time being, a 'different man' as the saying goes? You're the kind of the castle, right enough, but be very sure the 'dirty rascal' is there too.'" (The Fourth Man by Agatha Christie)

Three gentlemen, a doctor, a lawyer, and a canon (priest) are in the middle of a discussion about a woman who apparently suffered from multiple personalities. The doctor brings up the possibility that our bodies are capable of housing not just multiple personalities, but more than one soul

I thought that Agatha Christie's body/house metaphor was brilliant, a description of multiple personalities that I had never considered before. From what I understand of MP, there is one "dominant" personality, much like the master of the house, and then at least one more "behind the scenes" personality, the "servants" who are only occasionally seen, but whose presences are always felt. 

I did a quick search online to see if anyone had actually discussed this concept before, and came across a book written by Matt Ruff. I was immediately drawn to it's close similarity to Agatha Christie's description, as it is titled Set This Hour in Order: A Romance of Souls. Without actually reading the book, what I get from the description is that it's basically about a man named Andy Gage and the hundreds of "souls", as Ruff calls them, that reside within his head. There's a lot more to it than that, but I am more concerned with how Ruff refers to the personalities as souls

When I read his FAQ section, I was interested to see that he is claiming that the use of "souls" in reference to multiple personalities was an original term of his own.

"In the novel, you use the word “souls” to refer to your protagonists’ various personalities. Is this a term you came up with yourself?

Yes. Standard psychiatric labels like “personality” and “fragment” reflect a belief that the different characters in a multiple system aren’t true individuals, but pieces or facets of a single self. It seemed intuitively obvious to me that multiples who rejected this way of looking at themselves (or their selves) would also reject the language. So I needed to come up with another word, and “souls” seemed right."

Obviously he is not familiar with Agatha Christie's The Fourth Man to realize that it was not as an original concept as he himself believes. Which is understandable, because I'm sure that not everyone is as obsessed with Agatha Christie as I am to make a point of reading every single one of her stories!

The author does offer the first four chapters of his book as a sample online, and I think that when I get the chance, I will sit down to read them. Maybe it will give me more to think about and more to add to this post. 

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