Benzon on persona(e)

From: Scott Chase (
Date: Sat 14 May 2005 - 05:51:31 GMT

  • Next message: William Benzon: "Re: Benzon on persona(e)"

    Having an armchair interest in musicology I'm finding Benzon's book _Beethoven's Anvil_ fascinating
    (although I'm a little hesitant on the triune brain stuff myself). Anyway he starts talking about something he refers to as *persona* at which point my ears perked up, since I have some intellectual investment here myself. Like the diagrams and how he defines (page 61) it as "the representation of an individual distributed across all individuals in the society". This overlaps with my understanding of the concept, but curiously he refers to some works by Erik Erikson (likening it to "a person's identity") and omits reference to Carl Jung, the guy with whom I most strongly associate this concept. Maybe I'm mistaken, but my trusty MWCD10 explicitly refers to Jung in its definitions of persona, so I think I have a case to make here (ie- "an individual's social facade or front that esp. in the analytic psychology of C.G. Jung reflects the role in life the individual is playing").

    Benzon's usage of the term is neutral and Jung likens it to the *mask* of an actor in his "Definitions" section of _Psychological Types_ (CW6). But here Jung is also talking about character splitting and the capacity of someone to engage in deception of themselves and others, so there's a negative connotation implied here. In _The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious_ (CW9) and the Glossary of
    _MDR_ Jung defines persona as "the individual's system of adaptation to, or the manner he assumes in dealing with, the world." He talks about the roles adopted in various occupations and then warns of identity with one's persona (eg- "professor with his text-book, the tenor with his voice"). That latter musical example would have fit nicely in Benzon's musically oriented book.

    As far as the negative implications of deception, I had thought somewhat idiosynchratically before of a syncretic mind-meld between Jung's persona concept and the political philosophy of Machiavelli. The way one portrays themselves in a social setting can be deceptive (eg- pick your favorite politico).

    The part of identity with the persona was explored, strangely enough in the TV series Miami Vice. In one episode during the first season, Crockett and Tubbs run into a character (federal agent) played by Ed O'Neill (of Married with Children fame) who gets too wrapped up in his undercover role. That kinda foreshadows what happens to Crockett in a couple episodes several seasons later when he survives an explosion while fishing on a boat in the ocean and loses his memory of who he is and identifies with his undercover alter-ego Sonny Burnett. I think he winds up shooting his partner Tubbs during one of these episodes.

    I don't see Jung listed in Benzon's bibliography or index, though he does talk about persona several times in the book, according to the index. I see Erikson listed though. I think it would have been fair to have referred to Jung when introducing the concept. The MWCD10 gives 1909 as a date of inception for the term. Not sure if this means Jung used it then, but Erikson
    (ca 7 yo) would have been quite young at the time anyway.

    Does anyone have an OED handy that gives actual dates and usage of this term?

    Nonetheless, when I read Benzon's adoption of the term, I'm carrying some conceptual baggage that influences my views on the matter. Should be interesting.

    The meme machinists might try approaching the persona as a memeplex or the outward face of the selfplex anyway. Interestingly Jung refers to the persona as a
    "functional complex" in CW6 on the same page as above. In the Jungian context, "complex" carries much conceptual baggage.

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