Personages, not Persons

Is it possible that there are no such things as persons, but there are only personages? What I mean by this is, just as the medium of water serves as a propagation of waves, so might the medium of tissue, bone and nerves serve only for the propagation of trans-individual psychologies, ideations and other forms of cultural consciousness, that simply persist upon our material substrate. What we have come to understand as “I”, the “self”, one’s “character”, is simply the confluence of diverse impressions of cultural forms. In one “person” lives a gendered consciousness, a racial consciousness, a class consciousness, and even particularized (historicized) versions of these – i.e. a Lower East Side Jew consciousness, a Alabama Southern Belle consciousness, as these forms coalesce in a personage, which is their assemblage.

I mean this more than a trope; I mean it literally, there is no “I”. Take for instance a woman who has grown up with some coincidence of nature, looking beautiful to the standards culture at that time. Her nervous system has been codified by the products of looking like that, the reactions, biases for and against, her learned attributes of power and defense under the gazes of every kind, are so manifest that her material substrate propagates the very form of ‘woman’ in a cultural sense. And so much so, you are not dealing with a ‘person’ when dealing with her, but directly with ‘beautiful woman-ness’ as it is manifested in that culture. She might say, even cry out, “I am more than a beautiful woman!”, “Do not reduce me to a beautiful woman!”, but this is because other ideations, other cultural forms are propagated in her, and they speak through her flesh, animating her in opposition. But there is no “her”, that is if you strip away all the waves that are propagated, there is no ideologically pure ‘person’ left.

The same can be said to speak of aspects of race or class, that ‘people’ do more than belong to these groups, they propagate these cultural forms, in all their strengths and weaknesses. When they or others proclaim that these are more than that, this simply means that the substrate of material that makes ‘us’ up is capable of propagating other waves, other forms than the ones they have currently deposited and amplify.

What would this do for morality? Well in a certain sense it would suggest that we are all capable of being more, so that in our treatment of others under a certain ideation, a certain cultural conception – take gender or racial bias – we work to propagate that form, we re-enforce that resonant shape. We can therefore choose to change that shape, - usually into a humanist neutrality of soul which is its own personage with its own place within society – or we can take the occasion to address that form and learn from it. When dealing with others, we might in some sense be dealing with ‘gods’, that is, psychological forms reified by culture, amplifed by thousands and thousands of lives, gazes, coversations and actions, great repositories of both destructive and creative potential. When you address of man of color in some cultures of racial bias for instance, you are addressing a heritage, a god-form that has accumulated in this person. When you address a beautiful woman, this is not a ‘person’ but in many ways a ‘goddess’, a sum of cultural effects that perpetuates itself in the material of our organisms. She ‘speaks’ goddess.

We like to think of ourselves as persons of free agency, of certain qualities and of a certain kind, but that too is only an acculturation of our nervous systems. We each may be seen as an assemblage of gods – cultural effects - which operate and ventriloquize through us, with the ‘us’ being nothing more than the material upon which these cultural linguistic effects travel and endure.

Dunamis

An interesting idea.
But what then of the ‘I’ that posts on the interent? If ‘I’ is really just a reflection of all those historical effects then you should be able to tell much about the ‘I’ that speaks here from the words alone. Can you do this? Can you pick out the ‘beautiful women’ that post on this board?

And as you speak to Jerry of Spinoza, so I say to you, Dunamis:

You are getting closer to Sartre than ever before.

(You hate that, don’t you? Well, I’m not sorry)

Chet,

“But what then of the ‘I’ that posts on the interent?”

You know this idea has many deep roots for me, in very diverse fields of study, but it came together for me when thinking to myself “I am not this Dunamis character that everyone is responding to in one way or another”. The more I thought about it, the more fallacious this seemed. “I” must be this character, because “I” created it. But rather, given the seemingly independent nature of this character, “it” was worked through me, its ethics, knowledge and attitudes are real and coherent, and operative. They are real, but I sense they are not me. Our whole lives must be filled with this, the manifestation of coherent assemblages through our “matter”, all of which if they were stripped away, nothing but nerves and tissue would exist.

Can you pick out the ‘beautiful women’ that post on this board?

There are several candidates, “Bessy” speaks from this place sometimes, but “beautiful woman” may ventriloquize on and off, and philosophy boards are not the culturally usual place for her to appear. I imagine that no one “figure” speaks purely in the abstract at any one time, but that our persons are assemblages brought forth by circumstance and interaction. I say “beautiful woman” to take a stereotype that is easily understood and nearly universally referable. I do not take it to a reducible standard of the kinds of effects I mean.

Dunamis

detrop,

You are getting closer to Sartre than ever before.

I left Sartre about 15 years ago. You are simply noting his lineage and influence which is lasting. :slight_smile:

Dunamis

Why have you started talking so much about ‘substrate’ of late?

Obw,

Why have you started talking so much about ‘substrate’ of late?

I’ve done a little reading lately on classical philosophy’s conceptions of “matter”, particularly Aristotle and Plotinus, so the word/conception must have crept into my most-lucid-metaphor vocabulary. I honestly hadn’t noticed. Here it seems a fitting, though not complete, word to describe the relationship between water and waves.

Dunamis

Yes, but it’s good, I’ve been toying with using it full time too, recently!

Firstly isn’t it a bit odd to equate “I” with “character”. “I” is clearly manifest while “character” traditionally is partially revealed and partially hidden. Only through effort can character become more fully manifest. This requires introspection, reflection and just plain work.

Isn’t depersonalizing already a major force in the contemporary world? Why advocate a perspective where even people, the last remaining subject that is allowed to be personalized, are turned into mere objects?

So then what is it that speaks through her flesh and animates her? You make this woman sound like a puppet of flesh.

If humans only propagate waves then what is the source of those waves?

When we turn another person into a God are we forcing them to fulfill what they cannot possibly fulfill. We doom them to disappoint us. To paraphrase Hillman: This act of making them divine, simultaneously de-humanizes them.

  • Dunamis

Let me guess, your head came into a collision with the book and you heard a hollow sound, which you mistakingly assumed was the book, and not your head.

Chill, man, I’m playin’…but not really.

For whatever it matters, I think you got 'em all wrong. I won’t get started though. I would become the historian I despise, the “commentors” of other philosophies.

Hey, I left Plotinus ten minutes ago, but I won’t mention it.

Xander,

Firstly isn’t it a bit odd to equate “I” with “character”.

I don’t equate it, I suggest though that “character” is part of the conception of the “I”, particularly under “freewill” models of morality.

Isn’t depersonalizing already a major force in the contemporary world? Why advocate a perspective where even people, the last remaining subject that is allowed to be personalized, are turned into mere objects?

You suggest that the contemporary world is inherently deplorable in this trend, I assume based on a humanist (possibly religious) basis. If you look at the concept though, the “remaining subject” doesn’t become an “object”, but becomes a confluence of animating forces which are transpersonal.

You make this woman sound like a puppet of flesh.

There is no “woman” to be puppeted. The flesh is puppeted, the consciousness is an expression of diverse and living roots. Is a wave merely a “puppet of water molecules”? I suppose it is, but it is more than that as well.

If humans only propagate waves then what is the source of those waves?

That is the kind of question that this conception is meant to invoke. If you remain within the “I” as isolated and elementary unit, this question is not so easily, nor widely asked.

When we turn another person into a God are we forcing them to fulfill what they cannot possibly fulfill.

We don’t turn them into a “God”, they are “gods”, living expressions of transpersonal forces. They disappoint us because “gods” are not controllable, they act out the intentions and consequences of thousands and thousands of lives. The “gods” are not here to please us, but perhaps to inform us. So too, we might realize the forces that are working through what we commonly conceive as “us”, that we are operatively much more than the cultural conceit of “I”.

This act of making them divine, simultaneously de-humanizes them.

This is exactly my point. The “humanization” of “them” is also an acculturation, an attempt to populate the nerves and tissues with a certain standard and behavior. It too is a “god”, with a very long cultural history. The “soul” is a cultural objectification as much as any other.

Dunamis

d.,

Let me guess, your head came into a collision with the book and you heard a hollow sound, which you mistakingly assumed was the book, and not your head.

I read Being and Nothingness twice, every play and novel he had written, and a few critical essays. I was quite taken with the “last systematic philosopher ever”. Needless to say, I moved on, taking with me the most significant things.

Dunamis

A lie. Nobody has ever read that book twice, not even Sartre.

That’s better. I’ll let you live, I guess.

And quit responding to me, Dunamis. I have to go grocery shopping and I can’t leave if I’ve got to stay here to get the last word.

Just relax for a while and read some Feuerbach.

I was referring specifically to this line from your original post: “What we have come to understand as “I”, the “self”, one’s “character”, is simply the confluence of diverse impressions of cultural forms.”

The syntax there seemed to imply that “I” “self” and “character” are all the same.

How significant is morality in this idea of yours?

Yes. I will explicitly state that I consider the contemporary perspective deplorable for its tendency to depersonalize everything. My bias is primarily a humanistic one.

Transpersonal animated forces also implies impersonal animating forces. A purely mechanical motion. A complex mechanical motion, but mechanical none the less. I am seeing people as wind-up toys or maybe toy sailboat moving on the waves you point out.

I think you are stretching the metaphor too much. You are diminishing the woman if you compare her too closely with the wave.

If humans only propagate waves then what is the source of those waves?

There are other ways to connect the “I” to another “I” other than to dismiss the existance of the “I”.

What is the significance of calling them “gods” and not “Gods” ?

People are just as unconrollable if you consider them people.

Don’t we usually call this history?

Again, the same could be said for people.

This act of making them divine, simultaneously de-humanizes them.

I disagree with this idea. Humanization is not an effort to inject something into “dead” flesh.

Xander,

The syntax there seemed to imply that “I” “self” and “character” are all the same.

Actually the syntax was meant to be a gradation, moving from the less specific to the more, the more abstract to the more manifest, but not an terms of an equation of terms. My failing.

How significant is morality in this idea of yours?

It is clearly implicated, but I’m not sure that it can be assumed. One can either question traditional morality from this perspective, or seek to establish a new kind of respect from this perspective.

Yes. I will explicitly state that I consider the contemporary perspective deplorable for its tendency to depersonalize everything. My bias is primarily a humanistic one.

So this conception directly challenges your presumptions by historicizing them.

Transpersonal animated forces also implies impersonal animating forces. A purely mechanical motion. A complex mechanical motion, but mechanical none the less.

I don’t understand what a “mechanical motion” is. There is no definitive delineation between the “mechanical motions” of neurons firing in the brain and the production of consciousness, and the “mechanical motions” of cultural forms across the substrate of neurological individual organisms. In fact my model seems less “mechanical”, however you wish to define it.

You are diminishing the woman if you compare her too closely with the wave.

That is simply a matter of opinion that regards the “humanization” of woman the highest form of esteem. “Woman” becomes something quite beyond the person, a transcendental effect. Which is more diminished, water in a mental test tube, or water as a wave?

There are other ways to connect the “I” to another “I” other than to dismiss the existance of the “I”.

And I am investigating yet another.

What is the significance of calling them “gods” and not “Gods” ?

The emphasis is upon possibility of the plural, rather than the singular. The singular proposes a unified consciousness of central manifestation, rather I propose many cultural forces operating at mutual yet tensioned effect. God, capital “G” is associated with monotheism, “god” small “g” is associated with polytheism. Further, the evocation is back to the Homeric understanding of the “gods” as forces that expressed themselves through the human being. Mars manifested himself in a warrior in action. Aphrodite in an amorous lover. I take this as a fundamental departure, but then express it in a historic model of layered effects, a coalescence of archetypes and historical particularities.

People are just as unconrollable if you consider them people.

And just as “disappointing”, as you put it.

Don’t we usually call this history?

Yes. And a “person” is living-history, the historical force alive and expressive.

Again, the same could be said for people.

The reason for the coincidences of description is that the same effects are being described from a different set of assumptions. But what we learn from a “person” is individual (and impersonal to history). I advise that we are literally speaking to history and its forces when we speak to a “person”, not just a “I” with opinions and a “self”. People are more than they seem.

I disagree with this idea. Humanization is not an effort to inject something into “dead” flesh.

This is the fundamental trope of dualism, from Christianity on, which grounds humanism. Any conception of the “soul” or “self” is an animation of a “dead flesh”. Either the “soul”, “self” dies when the “flesh” dies, or goes on – I have no idea if you are an atheist or a theist, but it’s the same metaphor.

Dunamis

The original post reminds me of a paper that I wrote years ago. I proposed that humans aren’t “free” but rather a type of organic robot that runs on heuristics. I see that as your basic idea. Is that what you are saying.

Adl.,

I proposed that humans aren’t “free” but rather a type of organic robot that runs on heuristics.

Its not a particular conclusion that has to be drawn from this conception, but it could be. I am not a proponent of the “freewill” philosophical position, so in the traditional sense of what is meant by “free” would be denied here. There is no independent agent per se. But the concept of “free”, the ideation by which people experience “freewill” as a reality, as persons, would be a fundamental part of the structure of these animating forces. The “soul” is a propagation.

Dunamis

Are you indicating that “freewill” is a perception caused by a collection of cultural heuristics?

Adl.,

Are you indicating that “freewill” is a perception caused by a collection of cultural heuristics?

That would be one way of putting it. One acts “freely”, because “freely” is a conceptual conception which grounds the “self” as a subject. This “freedom” conception is radicalized in Capitalism where you are because you choose. It simply is the body’s way of relating to itself under a certain organization, an organization built upon the necessary ignorance of causes. We “have” a soul/self, because we act the soul/self, or rather it acts us, among many other things.

Dunamis