“Nos yeux doutent d’eux-mêmes, tant que les autres ne nous ont pas aidés à établir en nous la réalité de ce que nous voyons. Notre conscience s’égare: car cette conscience, que nous croyons être notre bien le plus intime, n’est que la présence des autres en nous. Nous ne pouvons nous sentir seuls.” Pirandello, ‘Un, personne et cent mille’, p. 149, L’imaginaire de Gallimard, 1930.
[Re-posted from The Old Site, original dd. 27/09/2008. Let’s see what we got ;-]
[Amateuristic English translation: “Our eyes doubt themselves, as long as others have not helped to establish in us the reality of what we see. Our conscience dissipates: because this conscience, that we take to be our most intimate asset, is nothing else than the presence of other is us. We can’t feel alone.”]
It is the last certainty: our self, our individuality, our personality. Few ventured to boldly go where the self evident simplicity of the self is no longer an unspoken premise. Pirandello was one of the first. Many have put nuances, almost nobody dares to get so bold as to attack the first pillar of dualism: the “I”.
Some day, with sufficient hindsight, people will wonder about why this was taken for so long to be self-evidently primordial. After all, concepts as ‘personality’, ‘self’, ‘conscience’, ‘I’ are, historically, pretty recent. These later day people will wonder how it could take almost half a century before Davidson put insights like those of Pirandello to a serious and systematic criticism of the construct of ‘self’ (and it will probably take another half a century at least before Davidson will be interpreted as having done primarily that).
No doubt our self is a most useful invention, no doubt there are many things we want to cling on that are based on this sense of self. Individualism for instance – as expressed in the creative imagination of the individual – is a clear keeper (if not “the” good thing). Again, don’t interpret any of this as a step to woolliness; my criticism is not going in the direction of recuperating old group-think notions. It is not nostalgia to days of yore when cosy togetherness outweighed individual expression. In fact, it is my firm belief that we need to criticize (yes, why not, deconstruct) the notion of ‘I’ precisely because we will find in this way a nucleus of universality that binds us, that provides us a direction (even if never a definite goal).
Precisely here Pirandello goes astray, whilst his notion of self as consisting of others is right, he stops prematurely &, often, gets stuck in an almost nauseating
relativism. Quod non, making the self relative to others is the real universalizing step, beyond subjectivism, particularism, ethnicism and the like.
“The others disappear when the self is no longer there. Otherness is central to those with a strong personality. Individualism is altruism.” Three paradoxes not taken from other people’s quotes. Forgive my paradoxical indulgence, it is there to illustrate my point and hopefully allow you to appreciate the direction of my criticism: integrating the notion of others in a notion like the self is precisely the meaning of the word ‘conscience’. And that concept does a world of good.
I can feel so clearly how much good it does. I can only hope I can convince one person with better skills than mine to convey the feeling because it’s hard to break all of the resistance built around the concept of ‘I’. It is not a comforting quought but it is a quought that dynamizes (sorry for the ugly word).
And again (and again – and again, and again): nothing woolly is present as it is not a matter of conforming yourself to something external invented by others – in yet another attempt to go after your money & happiness. It is a matter of finding in yourself the others, whatever their shape or conviction. It isn’t finding the conviction of others in yourself but finding the others there & appreciating how they came to a conviction whether deplorable or not.
Expressing your individuality is the only way of respecting those others and also therefore respecting yourself. Everybody lives on and it is only possible because they live on via others after others have lived on via them.
[Whilst writing this I was listening (or trying to) to Stockhausen, Tierkreis, Laborintos.]
[Wow, I do start realizing that I need to take more time in clarifying my points.]