‘Sin your way to heaven and get slaughtered: A byzantine general problem of the self’ (part ten)

Filed under:Uncategorized — posted by Schizostroller on June 6, 2018 @ 12:45 pm

To illustrate elusion Laing uses Sartre’s example of the waiter in a café, who Sartre charges with playing at being a waiter. He is both ‘a waiter’, it is his job, but he has to play a social role, there are certain accepted behaviours expected of a waiter, and he tries to emulate them in order to do his job. According to Laing, “there is the sense in which no man can ever be entirely what he is. However, the man who is actually impersonating himself assuming a role, is assuming a relationship to himself which is a very ambiguous one, in that he is both pushing himself into what he is doing, and at the same time not doing what he is doing.” (p.28). The sociologist who examined this dramaturgical game most famously is Erving Goffman in his book the Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. In this book Goffman argues that the best way to understand human action is by seeing people as actors on a ‘social stage’ who actively create an impression of themselves for the benefit of an audience and, in the sense that we are discussing similarities between elusion and the creation of the idealich, ultimately themselves. When we act in the social world, we put on a ‘front’ in order to project a certain image of ourselves (call this part of our ‘social identity’ if you like) – we create a front by manipulating the setting in which we perform (e.g. our living room), our appearance (e.g. our clothes) and our manner (our emotional demeanour). In these social settings we are called upon to put on various fronts depending on the social stage on which we find ourselves and the teams of actors with whom we are performing – the work-place or the school are typical examples of social stages which require us to put on a front. On these social stages we take on roles, in relation to other team-members and carefully manage the impressions we express in order to ‘fit in’ to society and achieve our own personal agendas. Managing the impressions we portray in everyday life involves projecting an ‘idealised image’ of ourselves, which involves concealing a number of aspects of our performance – such as the effort which goes into putting on a front, and typically hiding any personal profit we will gain from a performance or interaction. Unfortunately because audiences are constantly on the look-out for the signs we give off (so that they can ‘know who we are’) ‘performers can stop giving expressions, but they cannot stop giving them off’. This means that we must be constantly on our guard to practice ‘expressive control’ when on the social stage. There are plenty of things that can go wrong with our performance which might betray the fact that we are not really the person who our act suggests that we are – we might lose bodily control or make mistakes with our clothing, or as is often the case in mental health lose our sense of controlled emotional expression.
In the documentary the Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, Slavoj Zizek takes the architecture of the scene in house in Psycho and applies it to psychoanalysis. The basement is the id, where his mother’s body is, the ground floor is the ego, and the upstairs, first floor, where he hears, or even ‘becomes’, his mother, is the superego. In the example we are setting here in our portrayal of idealich and eleusion, this is the relation of self to self, this is its dimension. Vertical. In the Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Goffman also architecturally describes the stage, as acting out social roles is quite demanding, in addition to the front-stage aspect of our lives, we also have back-stage areas where we can drop our front and be more relaxed, closer to our ‘real selves’ (true/real ego), and where we can prepare for when we again need to go back front of stage and act in the world. In this sense the back stage is our unconscious and the background feelings we have, and the front of stage is our ego. This dimension is the relation of self to others, and is horizontal. Or transversal as Felix Guattari would argue in the Three Ecologies.

Lacan argues that the eleusion from the real ego to the Ichideal and the attempt to return is the relation of the imaginary to the symbolic. But with regards this structuration of the ego, and the relation of the Ichideal to Goffman’s theory of presentation of self in everyday life I want ot bring up an idea sometimes used in analytic philosophy and game theory, Common Knowledge. Common knowledge is understood as form of knowledge shared amongst a particular group of actors. There is common knowledge of something, that could be an idea, or a belief, or set of facts p amongst the set of actors G in that all the actor members amongst the set G know p, they all know that they know p, they all know that they all know that they know p, and so on ad infinitum. The reference to Goffman here is that this is associated with convention, whether in argumentation, rules of games like chess, or social behaviours. In computing, the Two Generals Problem is a thought experiment meant to illustrate the pitfalls and design challenges of attempting to coordinate an action by communicating over an unreliable link. It is related to the more general Byzantine Generals Problem (particularly with regard to the Transmission Control Protocol where The General Problem shows that TCP can’t guarantee state consistency between endpoints and why. A key concept in epistemic knowledge, this problem highlights the importance of common knowledge. I will be returning to this with regards the Byzantine General Problem, but before that I want to consider Axel Honneth’s theories of Recognition and Disrespect, which requires looking at the concept of alienation, as well as problems of discursivity in the knowledge base which will return us to Lacan’s understanding of the Reality Principle. In looking at common knowledge I want to look at the possibility of the imaginary affecting common Knowledge, especially art’s place in this, returning to Foucault’s portrait of Baudelaire as Modern flaneur and De Certeau’s Practice of everyday life. De Certeau argues in what he calls Reading as Poaching. In this chapter De Certeau contests the idea that consumers are passively guided and moulded by the media-products that are imposed on them. The assumption that the public is a passive recipient of the text is rooted in the Enlightenment’s ideological goal of the necessity of educating and reforming the public. The book was thought of as the perfect instrument to instruct. One can think of the significance of being able to read for the purposes of manumission in Henry Louis Gates Jr’s Signifying Monkey. Today the message of the book is no longer of primary importance. Rather, it is the book as a means to read that garners significance. De Certeau argues that “every reading modifies its object” (p.169). As such De Certeau opposes the image of reading as being a passive matter and states that reading is also a process of creative production, for the reader must actively construct a meaning on the basis of a collection of signs that the text presents. In spite of the normative power and conventions of the literate elite, a common poetics is practiced behind closed doors, if we think here of Goffman’s back-rooms. This is a creative and transgressive reading by means of which the reader deterritorializes him- or herself by traveling through invented, unknown lands that exist between self and image, between text and the reader’s social milieu, between the text that is read and other texts that are brought to the imagination through the reading process, and we can think here of Lacan’s idea of the Ichideal, and Laing’s idea of elusion. The emergence of this sort of reading has come hand in hand with the change from reading aloud to silent reading. Even though in silent reading the bodily activity has been reduced to the mobility of the eye, paying attention to the body as it responds to the practice of common poetics might help us explain the dynamics of this type of reading, and here we can think of Vygotsky’s discussion of the child’s development of inner speech.

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image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace