Guernica Magazine

Merve Emre: Portals to Self Discovery

The author, scholar, and critic on her new book about personality testing, and the importance of holding women writers to high standards. The post Merve Emre: Portals to Self Discovery appeared first on Guernica.

When Merve Emre took her first Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, she was twenty-two years old, working as an assistant marketing consultant for Bain & Company. She was baffled by the test’s questions, which she found naïve and simplistic. But she also understood how the test seduces—how its clear and consistent message draws you in, promising to reveal your authentic self.

That was years ago, and Emre has since left marketing behind. “It seems like another life and another self,” she told me over Skype recently from her office at Oxford University, where she’s now an associate professor of English. Still, Emre never forgot the personality test, and after engaging in extensive reporting and research on the origins of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, she uncovered an unlikely narrative.

The result is The Personality Brokers, a gorgeously written and engrossing book, which tells the surprising story of the mother-daughter team that developed the test. It also explores the limits of personality testing and our moth-like attraction to discovering who we truly are—even if the instrument testing us is blunt and what we learn is crude.

I spoke to Emre about her latest book, as well as her literary criticism. Her reviews, published in outlets like the Boston Review and the Los Angeles Review of Books, are proof of a deep appreciation of literature and its powers; she tells us what makes a book tick, and how it might contribute to high art. If she doesn’t love a work, she doesn’t hesitate to point out its perceived flaws, which some have called harsh. Lena Dunham tweeted that one of Emre’s negative reviews was “rude, patronizing bullshit.”

But Emre says the backlash doesn’t phase her.

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