Re: [xmca] ego, self, etc.

From: Steve Gabosch <sgabosch who-is-at>
Date: Tue Jan 29 2008 - 06:43:46 PST

Yes, it certainly is a huge and muddy territory. Thank you for your
thoughts on these terms, Andy. I found your response very helpful.

Part of what I am looking for, by thinking and asking about terms like
ego and self and the others you touch on, is a vocabulary with which
to describe a person's subjectivity in terms of their specific class
and cultural experience. "Habitus" is one term that comes to mind.
What does that particular term mean to you, and what terms do you
suggest for endeavoring to create that kind of description?

- Steve

On Jan 29, 2008, at 1:30 AM, Andy Blunden wrote:

> Isn't this a huge and indescribably muddy territory, Steve? It would
> be interesting to hear the range of views we have on xmca about the
> usage of these terms. Can I just give you a one-liner on each
> perhaps and let's see where it goes:
> "SUBJECT" as you mention I have tracked in
> but the most common relevant usage today is that dating from Kant,
> in which the subject is "nothing real", but that which is the
> subject of all the predicates attributable to a person; it is both
> that which knows and that which wills - being a nothing it is not
> possible to differentiate between the two I think. Hegel rejected
> this idea of the subject as a "nothing" behind cultural-historical
> determination (though he also occasionally uses it just to confuse
> things) and his notion is the origin of the idea of "collective
> subject" when one talks of parties and classes as agents, but I will
> not try to go into it here. Hegel's subject is a kind of "node" in
> social consciousness, cutting completely across the idea of society
> as a sum of individuals.
> "EGO" I believe is the Latin word for "I" and in German philosophy,
> e.g., Fichte, the word was "Ich" but translated into English using
> the Latin word instead to make it sound better, I suppose. For
> Fichte and Hegel the Ego was "pure activity." The Young Hegelians
> developed the idea of the Ego as SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS a lot and I
> think it became associated with extreme libertarianism. Freud then
> so far as I know gave it the most dominant contemporary meaning as a
> certain neurological formation which is understood within
> psychoanalysis:- EGO, ID and SUPER-EGO.
> "SELF" is surely the most neutral and vague of all these words as it
> can be applied to any process. Since it always plays the role of an
> OBJECT in a construction in which the Subject or Ego acts, it can be
> likened to Mead's ME, in his construction of the SELF as I/ME?
> "IDENTITY" seems to have two shades of meaning and is highly
> contested. For postmodern theorists, deconstructionists and so on, I
> think "Identity" is like an Althusserian subject position, it is
> something imposed upon an actor from outside (a slot into which you
> are inserted), by "society" or the action of the structure, and in
> general these people understand it in terms of binary, abstract
> categories: woman, gay, working class, etc., etc. On the other hand,
> even this interpretation does not seem to me to close off the idea
> that an identity or "subject position" is voluntarily adopted by an
> actor, even if only under determinate social conditions. The other
> shade of meaning is what people sometimes call identity as a "verb",
> especially that process whereby a self-consciousness identifies
> itself as an actor continuously throughout a lifetime as "the same"
> actor. This same idea applies well to "extended" concepts of Mind as
> well, e.g., the idea of the nation (or state, or class) as being an
> actor in history over an extended period of time, and an individual
> "identifying" herself with that extended Identity.
> "PSYCHE" I have tried to retain as a word for "CONSCIOUSNESS"
> limited to the INDIVIDUAL moment of consciousness. Like Kant's
> SUBJECT, the Psyche is not anything real, it is just a concept in
> its individuality. One could say it is a "STATE OF MIND" if it were
> conceivable to talk of the "MIND" as something which has a certain
> "state" or even had "contents" as in the ideas which are in our
> mind, or psyche. (I would not accept any of these approaches as
> scientific or consistent.) Nevertheless, "EXTENDED MIND"
> notwithstanding it is inescapable that there is something individual
> and private about consciousness, and that I call PSYCHE. It is not a
> "brain state" though, do not misunderstand me.
> As to "SOUL", while it is quite possible to use the word in a poetic
> way, to me "Soul" connotes something separable from the body, but of
> course many have used the concept in a non-religious way. For Hegel,
> "soul" meant the feeling self, "awareness" what a human beings has
> before or underneath any conception or communicative relation. There
> is also "SPIRIT", which I insist on continuing to use, as in
> Zeitgeist (Spirit of the Times) or "Spiritual" meaning needs over
> and above material needs.
> I use "COGITO" to designate a knowing consciousness, the implied
> subject in "I know" as an aspect of Mind which is not necessarily
> human, but is essential to humanness - the "subject" of Kant's
> epistemology, suitably extended for Hegel and Marx.
> There is likewise "AGENT" which for Althusser is a mere carrier of
> something, as in "The mosquito is the agent for the spread of
> malaria" but I take it to be in the sense of moral responsibility
> for an action, as when one signs a form on behalf of an invalid as
> their "agent", acting on their behalf. Acting of a natural process
> has to be distinguished from action by a subject who has moral
> responsibility. So "the market" is a process without a subject and
> cannot bear moral responsibility, but one could argue that capital
> always has a personification and therefore the capitalist class
> bears moral responsibility, insofar as there is a corporate
> consciousness acting for it.
> Marx uses the term "PERSONAGE" in "The 18th Brumaire" to indicate
> the players on the stage of history.
> What do other people think are the key concepts here?
> Andy
> At 12:36 AM 29/01/2008 -0500, you wrote:
>> Andy, (and anyone else interested) if I may take advantage of the
>> momentary lull in xmca messages (or is my email malfunctioning?) ...
>> and see if you would be willing to weigh in with some more of your
>> interesting perspectives on human subjectivity. You have studied the
>> colorful history of the term "subject" - I looked at an article you
>> wrote on this that you had mentioned a while back. Lots to learn
>> there (perhaps you could summarize that study?). I am particularly
>> interested in your thoughts on some of the other words often used to
>> refer to individual selfhood and significant aspects thereof. I am
>> thinking in particular about the words "ego" and "self." You have
>> adopted the term "identity," a term I would also like to understand
>> better. Other terms also might be worthwhile taking a look at, such
>> as "psyche" and "soul." And of course, there are other such words
>> and
>> terms - not to mention, of course, the many variations of these
>> concepts in other languages. From the Hegelian-Marxian-CHAT
>> perspective that you are developing, perhaps using the tripartite
>> criteria you introduced in your paper, how might these words and
>> their
>> evolving meanings be better understood?
>> Best,
>> - Steve
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> Andy Blunden : tel (H) +61 3 9380 9435,
> mobile 0409 358 651
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