Re: [xmca] ego, self, etc.

From: Steve Gabosch <sgabosch who-is-at>
Date: Thu Jan 31 2008 - 08:48:30 PST

Thank you for all these definitions, Andy. I have been finding your
responses helpful. I appreciate you taking the time to discuss and
compare these complex terms; ego, self, identity, cogito, psyche,
spirit, consciousness, mind, agent, personage, habitus, hexis, etc.

Before we let this thread dissolve, may I ask you yet another
question, touching off from an interesting point you just made about
objectivism. You state, pardon my paraphrasing, that the objectivist
underestimates the roles that human self-awareness and self-
determination play in human activities.

I have been wanting to ask you about the other side of that issue.
How do you describe subjectivism?

- Steve

On Jan 30, 2008, at 6:14 PM, Andy Blunden wrote:

> I only know the concept form Bourdieu though I knew it dates back to
> Mauss (and Aristotle actually). Whether the 1st definition is
> correct in going so far as hexis "anchoring" habitus or it's just "a
> part" of habitus is not important to me. I think it is arguable that
> habitus is anchored in the body. It has always been something of a
> natural wonder to me that within 2 seconds of a person walking into
> the room, we usually know most of what we need to know about where
> they are "coming from." (Mistakes in this respect are of course all
> about habitus as well. I mean habitus is about the practice of
> classification not objective truth.)
> Bourdieu is mostly regarded as an extreme "objectivist", that is,
> someone who estimates as low as possible the capacity of the
> individual person to be critically aware of themself as occupying a
> particular social position and act accordingly. But I find that he
> gives us concepts which facilitate a rational approach to
> subjectivity, because "habitus" gives one an objective standard
> against which to measure the degree of self-determination that an
> individual exercises.
> Andy
> At 05:21 AM 30/01/2008 -0500, you wrote:
>> Thanks, Andy. The definition of "habitus" in the Dictionary of
>> Anthropology has an interesting sentence: "Habitus may be understood
>> as a variant of culture that is anchored in the body."
>> "Concept from Bourdieu (with roots going back to Mauss and beyond),
>> denoting the totality of learned, bodily skills, habits, style, taste
>> etc. Habitus may be understood as a variant of culture that is
>> anchored in the body. "Hexis" is that part of habitus, where
>> communication between people takes place through fine-grained body-
>> language: tiny movements, micro-mimicking etc. Researchers like Hall
>> have, from a completely different point of view, done work on similar
>> problems."
>> How do the meanings you assign compare?
>> - Steve
>> On Jan 29, 2008, at 5:33 PM, Andy Blunden wrote:
>>> Paul Dillon may like to chime in on this one. Paul is far better
>>> read on Bourdieu than I am and disagrees somewhat with how I see
>>> habitus. I think the definition of habitus is a "social space" of
>>> shared, unspoken dispositions or "classifications" (what is good/
>>> bad, what we/they do, what is to be valued/decried, what is manly/
>>> feminine, etc.) what mark out and constitute a class-fraction.
>>> Although the word "habitus" is just the Latinisation of the Greek
>>> "hexis", rightly or wrongly until I am educated accordingly, I use
>>> "hexis" as in the phrase "bodily hexis" for the embodiment of those
>>> dispositions in an individual. I guess the difference is slight.
>>> I tend to associate "habitus" with Hegel's Subjective Spirit, in
>>> contrast to Objective SPirit. I think any individual does have the
>>> possibility to actively appropriate or challenge their habitus and
>>> innovate it through their interactions with those around them, in a
>>> way which I distinguish from the larger society occupied by law,
>>> political parties, legal institutions, science and so on, which
>>> constitute "objective spirit" though the two of course mutually
>>> constitute one another.
>>> Andy
>>> At 09:43 AM 29/01/2008 -0500, you wrote:
>>>> 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
>>>>>> _______________________________________________
>>>>>> xmca mailing list
>>>>> Andy Blunden : tel (H) +61 3 9380
>>>>> 9435,
>>>>> mobile 0409 358 651
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