The Splintering of the Self in Everyday Life

by Dr Kokil Jaidka



Photo by Mandy de Jong on Unsplash is licensed with CC BY-NC 2.0.



The philosopher Erving Goffman theorized that every individual takes on different ``performances,'' that are complementary and consistently done to ensure a certain impression of the individual is given to the audience. Goffman says, “(the self) is a dramatic effect arising diffusely from a scene that is presented, and the characteristic issue, the crucial concern, is whether it will be credited or discredited.”

Justin’s predicament reminds me of Goffman’s thoughts. Justin plays out his fate, in a confusing cycle of birth, maturity, and death, but each time the focus changes, we recognize him differently – a “dramatic effect” arising from the scene that is presented to us and the witness who reassures him. The authenticity of this splintered self is bound or broken by the credence which he himself lends to the testimonies. Goffman warns us, too, of the alienation Justin feels, that the degree that the individual maintains a show before others that he himself does not believe, he can come to experience a special kind of alienation from self and a special kind of wariness of others.”

Research on social media suggests that we, too, perform to the gallery everyday, curating moments and memories that idealize who we are while perhaps obscuring our real concerns and day-to-day worries. We carry the yoke of societal expectations as we perform these chores, ever thinking of an imagined audience to our work and the need to be loved, and praised by them. Our curated, splintered identity refracts and shifts interpretation with different contexts, often collapsing when the contexts merge. Identities, then, become the blurred outlines of simple shapes that lack vividity or colour.

This piece is a reminder for us to sometimes “go out of play:” to drop our masks and reassemble our identity before it’s too late. 


NAF programme title:
 Blackout - NUS Stage




Goffman, E. (1978). The presentation of self in everyday life (Vol. 21). London: Harmondsworth.