Naturellement, il pourra y avoir des traits pris dans d’autres oeuvres, et ces oeuvres-ci, peut-être fourniront peu de traits = les aléas de la recherche. Le systématique (“les lectures systématiques”) s’effrite, est déçu – le non-systématique bourgeonne, proflière. Cependant, un certain direct doit être mise en place, afin précisement qu’il y ait un indirect, un imprévisible. Ceci est la démarche de la paideia, non de la méthode. (Barthes, Comment vivre ensemble, p. 49)
Naturally, there will be lines taken from other works, and these works will perhaps provide few lines = randomness of research. The systematic (“systematic readings”) crumbles and is disappointed – the non-systematic buds and spreads. However, a certain direct element must be put in place precisely so that there is an indirect element, an unforeseeable. This is the process of paideia, not of method. (Barthes, Comment vivre ensemble, p. 49)
If no hierarchy of laws governing self’s evolution can be established, the question then becomes whether there remains any point in pursuing such an object of study. It is here that Barthes’ answer to a different, though related, question can provide some direction in the matter. In that the self, as a determinable, non-empirical object resists systematic exposition following from any universal model, systematic approaches, as Barthes suggests, will meet with frustration and discourage research. If, we go in, however, knowing that non-systematic approaches remain on the table, drawing elements from here and there and pursuing them wherever they might lead, then fruitful approaches to self remain open.
Yet we can approach self from any which way, from any which element. Indeed, it is of great importance to place some constraints upon our research. As regards Barthes’ own study of idiorhythms, he organizes his presentation in a series of “traits” (here, translated rather inadequately as “lines” as in the line of thought opened by the making of a mark) which he then develops via slowly expanding inquiry and, at times, digression. Each line captures something about the object (here, the fact of living in community) all the while not claiming to exhaust the broader object.
In setting out from an object and its subelement or “trait” (direct element), Barthes arrives via mediate steps at provisional conclusions and novel approaches (indirect element) to that same object. In other words, it is necessary to impose certain constraints in order to give the object shape, a point brought out quite well by Stout’s discussion of blueprints and design requirements in Ethics After Babel. Moreover, he organizes the lines in alphabetical order so as to avoid the sense of logical or ontological hierarchy that the presentation order might otherwise suggest. The object thus takes on progressive and illustrative form without systematic bases.
As important as these considerations are to metaphilosophy and methodological questions of all sorts, particularly in 20th century philosophy, the question of method here addressed has likewise important contributions as regards our object of study: the “lines” of the individual. Just as Barthes presents “living in community” from the lines of “animaux”, “athos”, “autarcie”, etc., it might prove possible in our own study to set out from lines like “nationality”, “ethnicity”, “language”, “upbringing”, “class”, etc.. This would provide a considerable advantage in that it precludes establishing the precise causal links and universal laws of transformation between these elements of self, all the while allowing a thoroughgoing and fruitful exploration of the constituent elements of self and identity.