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Fr. 653

July 21, 2015

To return briefly to Thompson’s discussion of self, consider again what falls out of his tripartite illustration of self:

In the waking state that has to do with bodily action and perception. Of course in daydreaming the sense of self shifts: We enact a mental autobiographical sense of self when we project ourselves in the past or the future, so we identify with a particular content of our awareness, which is a mental image of the self. That’s a different enacting of the sense of self. Then when we fall asleep that sense of self starts to dissolve; the boundaries between self and other start to come apart. But then they reappear in the dream state, which is very strongly connected to memory, so we enact within the field of awareness the difference between what is the dream self and what is not the dream self.

We distilled these senses of self as follows: self enacted as action in waking; as projection in daydreaming; as distinction in dreaming. Whatever the merits of Thompson’s own distinctions, his presentation brings with it a more important development in studying self. Namely, in delineating senses of self, do we come to know something of self’s interests or the interests with which the person has vested self? Moreover, can these interests be maintained independently of specific images of self?

The answer to the latter question is likely “no”. Given that each image posits specific purposes for person and self, purposes being similar in kind to interests, and the difficulty in divorcing observation from judgment, it seems probable that interests come bundled with purposes and, by extension, images. If any distinction between the two can be maintained, it owes more likely to level than kind: the image puts forward a certain vision of self for a certain context (purpose) to which the development of that vision of self responds in kind with the highlighting of different claims (interests) that self makes in turn to fulfill that purpose.

In the way of example, we can take the image of self which we have put forward elsewhere: linguistic polyrhythm. This image of self captures both the linguistic and processual character of contemporary self, as well as the multiplicity at work in its constitution. Such is (something like) its purpose: navigating and displacing indeterminacy in dialogue with others. In elaborating this vision of exchange, particularly within the contemporary context, we, like Thompson, have had to draw upon a number of conventional distinctions with regards to self: person, self, subject, individual, identity, agent. In using them, we have all the while attempted to untangle these from centuries of usage and confusion and thereby disperse something of their semantic overloading:

1.) Person: the biological substrate or vehicle for senses of self and personal history.

2.) Self: the mental or emotional correlate to person as substrate or vehicle for senses of self and personal history.

3.) Subject: a construct or property of self as bearer of rights

4.) Individual: a construct or property of self as bearer of a concrete, personal history.

5.) Identity: the more or less conscious synthesis or distillation of the above into a condensed formation permitting identification with; creation of a self-image for others.

6.) Agent: the more or less unconscious way in which the above hang together; everyday experience of oneself when not taken as an object of study or presentation for oneself or others.

The whole of these preliminary distinctions follow from the different needs with which self will be confronted when exposed to a context of dialogue with others: the need to make reference to our persons, to the deeper emotional resonance with oneself, to the rights with which one is endowed, to the personal history having been lived up until then, to the image which one presents to others, etc.  Whether they hold up to scrutiny remains, however, to be seen.


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  1. Fr. 662 | Anaesthete

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