The Self

Part One:
Question: is it theoretically possible to become a propaganda writer without knowing it?
Part Two:

In an effort to learn a little more about what my sophist friends mean when they say that "identity is social," and stuff like that, and to draw them out, here's a short little imaginary dialogue:

Casey: Do you dig the image conjured by the title of this blog?
Unimportant Nitpicker (U.N.): Oh, I never noticed that--but yeah, it seems to reflect what you think about identity, right?
Casey: That's right, in a lyrical/inexplicable way.
UN: So you're not convinced that the Self is always already social, huh?
Casey: That's right. I've read a lot of books that have convinced me a of a certain way of understanding the world, and I'm having trouble seeing it your way. Have you heard Emily Dickinson's #822, for example? It goes like this. And you know about my long interest in Emerson. And to make matters even worse, consider the way Ahab (mad Ahab!) talks in Moby-Dick; he says: "Is Ahab, Ahab? Is it I, God, or who, that lifts this arm? But if the great sun move not of himself; but is an errand-boy in heaven; nor one single star can revolve, but by some invisible power; how then can this one small heart beat; this one small brain think thoughts; unless God does that beating, does that thinking, does that living, and not I." Or even Walt Whitman, uncle Walt!
There is that in me - I do not know what it is - but I know it is in me.
Wrench'd and sweaty - calm and cool then my body becomes, I sleep - I sleep long.
I do not know it - it is without name - it is a word unsaid,
It is not in any dictionary, utterance, symbol.
UN: I think I've heard some of that before. That's fun literature!
Casey: So, my problem/question is that you seem to talk as if you know who you are, but I'm not sure you do, because you haven't told me. And are you sure you know yourself? Who are you when you decide to masturbate, or half-ass it at work, or skip a day of working out? And who are you when you decide what to eat for dinner? See, you're telling me that reality is social, but that implies a group of individuals. And I'm not sure we have an understanding of what "individuals" are.
UN: Okay, let me explain...


Part 3: Another huge government takeover, Obama? Cool.


Anonymous said...

I guess I will need a lot.................................................................

Kevin said...

Woe--you've been posting on Levinas, I see. I've been out of the ether for awhile--and will eventually work my way up to present posts.

Not much time here, but one thing I think you're overlooking completely here--so much so that the critique is rendered toothless because of it, is the problem of the social nature of the intra-personal.

"See, you're telling me that reality is social, but that implies a group of individuals. And I'm not sure we have an understanding of what "individuals" are".

But, as you likely know, Levinas spends an ENORMOUS amount of time, in both major works, giving you an account of just that. In particular, the question for Levinas is not merely the duality of self--it's 'split-ness'--i.e. that the 'self' is 'other to itself'--is both something we are, and something 'we' venture out from--but that the self is something we question, and accuse, and doubt--and to be a self is to be always already subject to this authoritative accusing/doubting.

There is the 'I', we might say--but already there 'in' the 'I' is an Ombudsman, who authoritatively calls into question the actions and ideas of the supposedly unified self. This 'conscience', he argues (I think successfully) is the very quality that makes us rational--makes us conscious. For it is the sense of being under accusation, and OWING reasons for actions/attitudes--that is the very normative basis for, and mainspring of, reason-able activity.

Now the sociality: But TO WHOM do we owe these reasons? The drive to, not only navigate, but successfully JUSTIFY ourselves...to WHOM must we justify? Enter the Other, their ability to call us to give an account--and so their pre-rational relation to us as one to whom we are accountable. Interpersonal accountability prior to reason; interpersonal accountability as the basis of Reason.

Thus, insofar as your 'individual' is capable of reasoning, they are already 'broken into as if by burglary' by the Other, before whom one is driven to justify oneself. And this is the sociality of identity prior to the political sort (which is simply not what Levinas is talking about at all). You speak of individual subjects prior to sociality; but this, Levinas argues, is a mistake, and overlooks the fact that subjectivity is a function of a basic and ethical subjected-ness to each other