Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Little Big Self

The subject of this post strikes me as absolutely fundamental, bound to appear or reappear in some fashion, whether explicitly or implicitly, in any analysis of our existence, whether secular or religious.

Our subject is the "two selves" or subjectivities of every person; to be perfectly accurate, I should say "no fewer than two," but the multiple subselves that populate the psyche are generally on the same plane, and this post is more concerned with the dialectic of planes as opposed to the content of the fragmented selves of a single plane, i.e., with verticality rather than horizontality.

As alluded to in the first paragraph, everyone knows they are more than one self, because they experience the different selves from day to day and moment to moment. For example, our professional self is different from our family self, and this is different from our private self. There is no one to whom we say everything we are thinking, any more than civilization could exist if everyone walked around naked.

Speaking of which, I remember an essay by Schuon that describes our different subjectivities in terms of bodily location; here it is, in an essay called The Message of the Human Body. In it he describes various forms of our subjectivity, such as masculine and feminine, or adult and child. More generally,

The human body comprises three fundamental regions: the body properly so-called, the head, the sexual parts; these are almost three different subjectivities.

Indeed, think of how a good deal of "maturity" involves learning how to get these three on the same page and interacting harmoniously, both vertically and horizontally. As said in the bʘʘK, the vector of maturity is always toward actualization and integration. What's the alternative, regression and fragmentation? Sure. But this post is not about the left.

Note that you need both: actualization without integration leads to a kind of protean expressiveness with no center (a great many artists fall into this superficially open-ended but ultimately blind alley), while the converse would be a kind of static and repressive sclerosis. The first is all wet, the latter all dried up. You need both fire and earth. Not to mention wind.

Regarding the sexual center, Schuon makes the point that it manifests, "quite paradoxically, a dynamic subjectivity at once animal and divine, if one may express it thus." Yes you may, because it certainly helps explain the deep pain and confusion -- to oneself and others -- that can result.

As it so happens, I'm reading a biography of Leonard Cohen, and this is certainly one of the central themes of his life. I'm only about halfway through, and he's not close to sorting it out, i.e., integrating the two. You can't say he didn't try, as he later spent many years (when he was in his 60s) in a Zen monastery. That is a way of detachment from various subjective centers in favor of identification with the One Center, i.e., the Big Self (which for Zen is No Self).

I'm not sure if this is the best way, but we'll return to the question as we proceed.

At any rate, an essential ambiguity is introduced into the subject because all selves are in relation, and to a certain extent determined by the relation. Who would you be if you had had a different mother and father? Or a different spouse? Or a different culture, i.e., different cultural objects available to discover and express oneself?

Impossible to say, but you would certainly be different, and yet, somehow the same. We are always woven of chance and necessity, or music and geometry, or freedom and determinism, and that's just the way it is down here. It's why the future is always different from the past, and yet the same old same old.

Who am I now?

Well, when I blog, I am definitely interacting with Big Self, however you wish to conceptualize it. I like to call it O, since we can posit its existence without necessarily knowing a thing about it until it manifests through us, which is to say Lil' Self.

What we're really attemting is a kind of open, dynamic, and flowing Center-to-center communication. But isn't that just another name for "religion" -- or better, religiosity? I think it is what we're doing when we do religion. I'm just doing it in a certain way with the blogging.

As usual, Schuon describes what's going on with adamantine clarity and precision:

[H]uman nature is made of centrality and totality, and hence of objectivity; objectivity being the capacity to step outside oneself, while centrality and totality are the capacity to conceive the Absolute.

As far as the blog is concerned, "totality" is the integration of the One Cosmos, interior and exterior, subject and object, vertical and horizontal. The Absolute is O, while objectivity is detachment from Lil' Bob. "Centrality" is the ongoing process of metabolism and assimilation of O, in the dialectical space between it and (¶). (This latter might go by the name of Intermediate Bob.)

This was just the first blast at the subject, so don't expect any final integration. We'll continue blasting tomorrow. For now I have to revert to Lil' Bob and get on with the day.

2 comments:

julie said...

What we're really attemting is a kind of open, dynamic, and flowing Center-to-center communication. But isn't that just another name for "religion" -- or better, religiosity? I think it is what we're doing when we do religion. I'm just doing it in a certain way with the blogging.

Makes me wonder what is really going on when somebody decides to be "spiritual, but not religious". One way or the other, they must necessarily be lying to themselves...

Interesting topic.

Van Harvey said...

Julie said "...what is really going on when somebody decides to be "spiritual, but not religious"."

Yep, whenever I hear that, to paraphrase George Carlin, I suspect that there is a bigger than normal exercise in self deception going on.