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The Relationship Between Self And World

1978 words - 8 pages

According to the Central Argument the relationship between consciousness and self bears the same structure as that between consciousness and world. The self and the world are thus linked together as “two objects for the absolute, impersonal consciousness” (Ibid, 57). As a philosophy of human experience7, this account of the relationship between self and world seems to leave out too many aspects of our actual experience to provide a satisfying theory. As we look at the counterexamples above – the reading example and the up-bringing example – it seems quite clear that consciousness is not a function disconnected from the rest of the person; and that the complexity of the human person cannot be reduced to the relation ‘consciousness of the self’. Rather than thus simplifying the interplay between consciousness, self and world into an intelligible geometric structure (Bachelard [1958] 1994, 215), let us have a look at an example which may further blur those distinctions.
1. The Poetry Example
Consider the following lines from Wallace Stevens’ poem “The Idea of Order at Key West” ([1923] 1993, 62):
It was her voice that made
The sky acutest at its vanishing.
She measured to the hour its solitude.
She was the single artificer of the world
In which she sang.
We will look at two different agents that are involved here; the person in the poem, and the reader or recipient. But let us first analyze this example from the perspective of the Central Argument of Sartre’s theory. These lines, then, form an object in the world; call it x. Now consider a person A, who is confronted with x for the first time. In order to explain this through the Central Argument we would have to split A into the consciousness (C) and the self (a) of person A, and thus get the following result for any given moment: C(x) or C(a); consciousness of the object x or consciousness of the self.
This simply is not how we read poetry, and more generally it is not how we encounter objects in the world. The idea of a separation of the consciousness from ‘the self’ is not only counterintuitive, but also fails to explain how it is possible for two different people to experience the same object differently. When the reader of the poem, person A in this case, is conscious of x, she is conscious as the very specific person that she is8, and this has a significant influence on what she understands and interprets from the object at hand. Of course one may point out that linguistic signs do have specific meanings assigned to them, which are shared by the users of a language; but these meanings are often ambiguous and open to speculation, especially in the case of poetry. Therefore, whatever interpretation person A makes will partially depend on for example what associations she gets from specific words, which has to do with her past experience. The idea of an empty consciousness, relating to the object without the presence of ‘the I’ cannot account for the very personal relationship which we can...

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