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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Shame and the Porosity of the Self


Shame is a complex emotion of selfassessment that works as a hidden subtext in our ability to negotiate our identity in our relations with each other. Shame is the emotive state that most poignantly underscores the degree to which the conception of the self is a perceptual product. Forever in an interlocking relationship with the eyes of the other, shame unveils the fluidity of our identity as it vacillates dynamically between our inner (psychic) and outer worlds. It is this emotion in particular that exposes the porosity of our claim to a clearly defined and fixed self. Whether we read shame as an affect or an emotion, what becomes clear is that to read for shame is, to borrow the philosopher Martha Nussbaum’s term, to create “upheavals of thought.” Shame collapses the self/other binaries with which we are comfortable and exposes our neediness, helplessness, weaknesses, vulnerability, and mutual dependence on each other.

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