Re: [xmca] Subject and Self

From: Andy Blunden <ablunden who-is-at>
Date: Tue Dec 18 2007 - 22:31:36 PST

I did want to just let this discussion take its course, but perhaps a
couple of words of clarification from me would help.

1. Thank you Steve for that link and Mike for the observation about
"ideographic/nomological" and yes you are right Steve, my approach is both
ideographic and nomological.

2. David, Geoff and others asked me to clarify what I mean by culture. At
the bottom of p. 255 I say:
"The Hegelian roots of this conception are examined shortly, but in CHAT
terminology, the
trichotomy is (a) the individual, that is, the single, mortal human psyche;
(b) **culture, that is,
the mass of objects or artifacts that are inherited from the past and only
spring into life when
they are used by individuals - buildings, languages, crops, laws,
libraries, technology, and so
on**; and (c) society, that is, the particular, continuing corporate
activities in which individuals
use culture in collaborative activities or conflict and are taken up by one
individual as another
leaves off."
I think it is pretty unambiguous. "Culture" is the mass of artefacts. So
far as I know this is consistent with the conventional usage within CHAT,
though it is eccentric outside of CHAT, so I usually say "material culture"
in other forums.

3. What do I mean by "subject"? I definitively do *not* mean it in the
Kantian sense as an individual "agent" or "self", a sense which is most
common amongst CHAT theorists even though the origins of CHAT are in Marx
and Hegel, and not Kant. I use the word "subject" in a sense consistent
with Marx's use, though Marx does not tend to use the word "subject" very
often or with precision; he says "personages" occasionally that is all, and
I use the word "subject" is a sense derived from Hegel, but by means of a
"pragmatic interpretation" of Hegel, i.e., from the point of view of CHAT,
so it is not quite Hegelian either, but closest to Hegel. In other words I
use it in a way no-one else does. So I do not mean "self" or "individual"
or "person" when I say subject. But nor do I mean the "subject position" of
structuralism, and nor do I mean the idea of "collective subject" which is
either an anachronism or a confused conception, since if being a subject
entails consciousness and will or moral responsibility, then obviously only
human individuals can be conscious, have a will or be morally responsible,
or for that matter, have rights.

So I guess I have to say that "subjectivity" is a social relation, in
exactly the same way that "capital" is a social relation to Marx. The
individual of a utopian future or an ancient city-state are **limiting
points** of the concept of subject. We are in between.

4. The introduction of the ideas of nomological vs. ideological was a good
move. Ideas are essentially both. Ilyenkov offers the best clues here.
Everyone knows about Marx's contribution to the idea of value. This story
has been told endless times. But this is not just the one concept involved
here. The same observations apply to *all* thought objects. Value is a most
important one for our times, but the process of abstraction is always
cultural-historical, not only with respect to "value" and exchange. The
question of hte meaning of "Activity" is therefore required, but an
immanent notion of Activity is necessary.

5. Finally, this article is already almost a year old and my ideas continue
to develop and change. C'est la vie. I think the word "society" is somewhat
unfortunate in the above quote for example. Much is still in gestation for
me here.

So, sorry if it is still unclear. I have done my best to explain myself in
the article. Just keep in mind that this paper is *very* broad brush. There
are not meant to be any nuances here. It is intended to help solve the
"problem of the individual" and is aimed at the very fundamental
philosophical categories which will hopefully allow good nuanced work to
bear real fruit.

At 09:34 PM 18/12/2007 -0800, you wrote:
> Since you are addressing the foundations of CHAT in your article I'm
> wondering why the equation between individual (self) and subject seems
> implicit.
> What happens when we ask about the subject of the capitalist society or
> even like Hegel history, as a whole?? Who is the subject of our social
> system as a whole? Sinced Rousseau we have the idea that the people are
> represented through their democratic institutions? Some subject
> that!!! I think we're on more solid ground when we understand the
> subject to be a contradictory unity, that no indivdual is ever the
> subject of an activity system and that the relative balance of power
> between the contradictory and competing forces in a subject/agent don't
> share any common "consciousness" of the process.. It's commonplace that
> the winners write the histories. But it's these histories that human
> individuals internalize.
> At the social level the subject would seem to be a dialectical unity,
> e.g. capital and labor, whose contradictions and relative forces
> determine the object and the instruments of the systems of activity
> systems integrated in "society"as a whole. How could such a social
> subject (ie, agent determing object and outcome), be "self-conscious"
> in the commonplace sense applied to the self-conscious of a human
> individual? Would that mean that every individual understood his or her
> position in the socio-historical process,, an element of the subject of
> that process, as constituting his or her own innermost self as
> understood in terms of say Maslow, for example? Or is it that there is
> no conscious social subject? Then how could it be possble that any
> individual be conscious? Or is it that humans are stuggling to wake up?
> I really have a problem with the equation of "subject" and "self". I
> find that it makes more sense to consider the social subject as a
> contradictory unity rather than as some monological identit;. The idea
> of conscious agency totally abandoned. Society is made up of systems of
> activity systems and the fundamental contradictions of the "subject", say
> capital and labor, propagate through all the levels until we arrive at
> the wee babe learning in ways that are defined by the unconscious
> (echoing marx here) forces, the agents of what's going on, the
> subjects, of human history, sturggling to deal with the probllem ofr
> waking up from the nightmare.
> Self and subject really need to be distingushed. I can't see how they
> have much in common.
> Paul
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  Andy Blunden : tel (H) +61 3 9380 9435,
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Received on Tue Dec 18 22:34 PST 2007

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