Erik Erikson: Self-invention Takes a Lifetime

Erikson’s work-always interesting

Feral Philosophy

‘Anything that’s in your character at twenty-one,’ says a businessman in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel Tender Is the Night (1934), ‘is usually there to stay.’ By the age of 30, most people’s ‘character has set like plaster, and will never soften again’, wrote the psychologist William James in 1890. The exact timing varies, but it’s an old idea: there arrives a moment in life when we become essentially fixed, psychically unmalleable.

Anything that’s in your character at twenty-one is usually there to stay.

The psychologist Erik Homburger Erikson, a Jew born in Germany, would develop a more expansive view of things. In 1927, when he was 25 years old, a spell as a wandering art tutor landed him in Vienna – home and hotbed of psychoanalysis. Erikson made the acquaintance of the Freuds, and the discovery of the talking cure ‘opened a life’s work’ for him. Soon after Erikson completed…

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