October 26, 2010 Leave a comment
Phil at AVPS has inadvertently set the ground for a bad writing meme. Here’s something I found in my files, which I wrote in University. Makes for very embarrassing reading indeed – and it is called- prepare to cringe – “Be(ing) Your Self? Ignorance, Identity, and Father Ted”.
Have we not come to expect that beneath every surface is a foundation? Where there is skin there is bone; Crust and Core; body and inner self. The last example however is rather vague. Is the body unique in its being the human surface? Probably not for there are things like personality, emotion, instincts etc. These examples, unlike body, are not physical, but still, nonetheless, beg for the neologism surface. The other striking thing about the examples are that they are affected, by which I mean somewhat arbitrary. As if elements of our personality, our relation to emotional response, our innermost instincts, are swimming around in the world before striking us and sticking to us like PVA glue. Indeed, of the human, only his physical body is indivdualised, that is to say that its physical separateness is from other bodies – although having said this it is still part in the process of evolution.
The determinants that piece together the elements that we attach to the three examples – the metaphysical human elements – are not assigned to one man alone. Those floating elements arbitrarily stick to one man, to be sure not at the orders of some grand plan. What is more, one man’s reaction in the world can always be mirrored by anothers involving only the same referent in the world, the same emotional response and so on. Man’s (re)actions are not his own. Quite the contrary. Those elements we attach to the three examples are not individualised like the separate body is. One body one man, as it were. One emotion one hundred men, who knows? Man’s reaction to the outer world is not dictated by himself, but by the world itself.
In Will Self’s novel My Idea of Fun, Ian the protagonist ponders on his knowing the determinants that piece together the elements attached to personality, emotion, and instinct. Life for him is simply of choices – the active conquest of cognitive activity. ‘I can actually point to my determinants’, he boasts.
Three of the twentieth centuries greatest thinkers have each tried to – at least in the abstract – pinpoint the nature of these imposed metaphysical determinants. 1) For Marx, One’s class position determines their being. 2) For Darwin, one’s natural adaptibility (species unto natural environment, not man unto capitalist economic field) determines their existence. Literally that human’s are open to change in their immediate environment. 3) For Freud, man is the sum of his childhood. Having said this 3 may well be nullified in the event of 1 and 2 being overbearing or ‘overdetermining’ in the Freudian sense.
One lesson of Self’s novel is that ‘ignorance is bliss’ – ignorance of ones determinants in anything other than the abstract. Though, for the ignorant, in this strict context, one is just as ignorant to this bliss as to that which deems our blissful ignorance. Moreover, bliss in ignorance is never really bliss, unless comparitively, which is impossible because any insight into that which one is ignorant of – here ones determinants – negates the bliss. Bliss in this formal sense is the always already unknown emotion.
What is apparent here is that quite somewhere below the metaphysical elements there should be some flat, uninhibited foundation, as we have come to expect. These arbitrary elements of the material world that we recieve in order to personalise, feel, and do, surely go some way into distorting what lies beneath the surface. For a worm in the University of Utah very recently, the surface would be somewhere between Erik Jorgensen genetically manipulating its brain in order to determine its sexual preference, and its post weaning ego genesis.
Elisabeth Roudinesco has labelled them rival contemporaries but let us for sake of argument bracket Sartre and Lacan together. Imagine (if you can) there is a self (somewhere) that is entirely untarnished by the outside world. Furthermore, imagine, in Freud’s terms, a self not principled by pleasure, which, in harmony with the ego, is constituted with ones social environment as its most dominant referent. Rather, a self intent on satisfying its drive with death – to say jouissance; beyond the pleasure principle, in a position that is not hindered by norms and values.
Our being (pre-)conscious of this untouched consciousness within us is Prof. C. Strenger’s ‘impossible task.’ But, using Lacan’s terms, this conscious self would be the ‘real’ of the self. The inability to contact this ‘real’ of the self would constitute the self’s enclosure in the ‘symbolic.’ To remind ourselves, the real for Lacan is the completeness of the world that we are severed from on our introduction to language and all things attached with symbols, that determine the meaning which we ourselves attach to things.
Our entrance and position within the symbolic order regards our relationship with the phallus – the order of the Paternal law which symbolises the notion of being with its acronym. This law which is constitutive of the way we see (and are conscious) of ourselves is bound to, as Sartre’s existentialism would concur, position us into something ontologically skew-whiff. In this very sense a being without accordance to its foundations – bad faith. When one acts in bad faith, they do so in accordance with the symbolic order. Conversely, were one to accept the unlimited freedom of himself, no matter how illiberal his immediate environment, he would return to the real of his self, as Sartre’s example of the waiter in Being and Nothingness tells us.
In much the same fashion as Sartre’s waiter, Ardal O’ Hanlon’s character Dougal in Father Ted on being recommended to be himself around any women, goes on to display an overexaggerated version of his self:
NIAMH: You haven’t told me your name, Father.
DOUGAL: Mmmm … Be yourself … FATHER DOUGAL McGUIRE!
NIAMH: Oh, right …
The character Dougal’s bombastic introduction sets up his over-self as the comic focal point. A Lacanian reading of this would point out that the character is a priest, and whether consciously or not, carries on the Paternal law with his position – regardless of his particular subversions and comic scepticism. The important question remains – what is the real of the self? And moreover, what are the metaphysical qualities of the real of the self?
Let us analyse these following words: All is with cause – few with intention. It is a summery of the arbitrary sticking of floating determinants that piece together our metaphysical workings, the escape wheel, the gear train, and the pinion of our inner selves. The self is literally nothing but the
sum of its determinants – it is a blank slate metaphysically. This is the very real of the self – the un-self. As aforementioned, the body is separated from other bodies, the mind is constituive of the material world, of which is assigned to no one person. If, as Richard Dawkins has pointed out in his essay in the Companion to Genethics, anything genetically determined can be overcome, it is negated in favour of the view that the mind is – in its real state – nothing other than the format of its perceptions. Ignorance remains of the specific elements of what is most determining of ones determinants and, in order to pursue this impossible bliss, so it should remain.