25 February 2007

Superceding the Self-as-Other

Filed under: Culture, Ktismata, Psychology — ktismatics @ 10:30 pm

Self-consciousness exists in and for itself when, and by the fact that, it so exists for another; that is, it exists only in being acknowledged.

In this first sentence of his “Lordship and Bondage” discourse Hegel isn’t just saying that I go around seeking others’ recognition. He’s saying that I am self-aware because the other is aware of me.

Self-consciousness is faced by another self-consciousness; it has come out of itself. This has a two-fold significance: first, it has lost itself, for it finds itself as an other being; secondly, in doing so it has superceded the other, for it does not see the other as an essential being, but in the other sees its own self.

What? I think it goes like this: First there’s consciousness — awareness of the world and other people in it. When you become self-conscious, you come to know yourself: this is the first self-consciousness. But you also become aware of yourself at a distance, as someone in the world — almost as if you were someone else: this is the other self-consciousness. The second self-consiousness, by seeing self as other, loses self as self. At the same time, by looking upon yourself like you were outside of yourself, like an other, the whole sense of otherness gets absorbed into the self.

Does this seem right? I think so. By becoming self-aware, on the one hand you transcend yourself, you know who you are. But you also become alienated from yourself, because now you can observe yourself from a distance, as though you were someone else. It’s as though you were two people: the transcendent observer, and the object being observed. By placing your self under observation, your self is no longer you: you’ve placed yourself outside yourself, in the place that the other occupies. But now, since that other is really you under self-observation, it’s as if you’ve absorbed all otherness into yourself. All others now come to seem like manifestations of your own self. You’re both self-alienated and self-absorbed at the same time. You lose the ability to differentiate yourself from others, but at the same time you’ve opened up a division within yourself. That doesn’t sound so good. What’s to be done?

It [i.e., self-consciousness] must supercede this otherness of itself.

Right; so I have to stop holding myself at a distance when I’m aware of myself. I’ve become internally divided: self as me, the subject who is aware; and self as the object of my own self-awareness. I need to pull myself back together. But now Hegel throws me off the track:

First, it [self-consciousness] must proceed to supercede the other independent being in order thereby to become certain of itself as the essential being; secondly, in so doing it proceeds to supercede its own self, for this other is itself.

What other independent being? It is the self-as-0bject of which the self-awareness is aware, this sense of self-as-other. Hegel says that self-awareness can reunite with its self only by dominating the self of which it is aware, to make self-as-other subservient to self-awareness. Self must come under the control of self-awareness. Otherwise, says Hegel, self-as-other comes to dominate, which externalizes the self and enslaves the self to the other. The self must dominate the otherness within itself if it is to become autonomous. When this happens self loses its otherness. This releases otherness from its captivity within the self: the other person becomes truly other again, an autonomous being in its own right, rather than merely something absorbed inside the self.

Thus ends the first page of Hegel’s discourse, which focuses on the self. The second page shifts the focus to the other and to the interaction of two separate conscious selves. At least that’s what I think — but I could be wrong.


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