Tag Archives: Selves

Poetics, Aesthetics and Vocation

I’ve been trying to understand poetics and aesthetics, and I was wondering if you could consider vocation as an aesthetics of the self – or of the person sans self, which is something I mean to ask you about – a sort of rule as to what “fits” and what doesn’t. I’m asking because I read about Emerson’s book Representative Men, a book about 6 men who exemplify some quality or vocation. Swedenborg, the Mystic, Goethe, the Writer. What shapes can the brain take? I know there’s the self, there’s perception – what else? And what shapes can they take, perception and self? There’s two questions I’ve been asking – what is the self-in-vocation, and what is the self under addiction?

I think the establishment of a deficient self is the establishment of aspirational self – I think we have within ourselves a space which is filled with certain things, which is contented – that is, filled with content. We are content, we are full. We can empty ourselves and create spaces of lack – and spaces of lack are made to be filled. Hungry mouths. I get the feeling there’s a lot to be learned by analysing the metaphorics of being “swallowed up” in something. “Devouring” books too. I hit upon it in my essay on the interview but I didn’t have the time to explore it properly, to do it justice. Look at the old language of anxiety in “Born Under Punches” by Talking Heads – “I’m so thin.” – language of hunger. The conflation of ambition – aspiration – with hunger.

When we create a void, I think it’s in the shape of something – we make voids in the shape of what we want to be. And so while I’m not that thing, and while I’m speaking about my inner space and what I am, I say “I am not this”. But as I said, spaces of lack are made to be filledThe shape of the space is how we determine what fits. The space of lack is gluttonous, endlessly hungry, just like a junkie. It’s a bottomless, sucking void of a thing and it acts as a self-shaped vacuum. Negative space as negative charge, negative polarity – the deficient self and the aspirational self struggle to reconcile them selves. In the space of ideas, moving towards something is the same as having it move towards you. The space of lack is only full so long as you’re feeding it, and this goes back to my investigations into the self under addiction. We know there’s a pleasure not just in achieving your aspirational self, but in tracing it, moving towards it. That the pangs of lack are left behind so long as we’re approaching it with the fullness of our being. Like the self were a strand of sphagetti. And I think this goes back to the language of space – the language of the way, of the path, of the strand.

I also get the sense there’s a difference between an archetypal form of mind – exemplary – and a vulgar self of constraint and negative space. I think we can craft ourselves into a punctum, make ourselves the model of something – be without precedent and so form the basis of precedent. As there is a canon of art and literature – and here I conceive of the canon as a history of innovation – there is a canon of selves. You know that understanding good art is like learning a language. In fact, it is learning a new language – new terms, new bunches of meaning. This language is the language of punctum, of the canon. The canon is a history of punctum, of new, living language. Innovation is life is language is the canon is the punctum.

Now I think the reason why some people believe the canon is defined by some vague “essential” quality is the same reason we have something like gender – which is itself a stockhouse of aspiration and deficient selves, a divisionary practice. In fact, this problem of the “essential” is the problem of the self – that anything is meant to be anything. Essences are an assemblage of processes producing their own truth effects, producing the illusion of their having always been. And certain things are so powerful that they seem as though they always were. The ideal doesn’t exist until it’s been achieved. The “end” only appears retroactively – there’s only an end once it’s ended. You’ve only achieved your aspirational self once you’ve achieved it. We are nothing, but we are produced as truth effects.

If we are a punctum, if now this process of being punctum, of filling these spaces of lack as soon as they are created, can only occur on the frontier of experience. Pioneering. Once we reach the frontier, every advance is a meeting of limits. There is no problem with need so long as it is fulfilled instantly – otherwise it becomes a blockage. That’s what’s happening now. Now that I’m writing this. I’m tracing need, I’m riding it, I’m keeping at the frontier – don’t get ahead of your self.

Because when I asked you if you could say “I am” without saying “I am not”, it’s because I think you can say “I am” without getting negative space involved – a purely positive conception of the self. It’s the process I outlined in my last email – a process in which the aspirational self is fulfilled in the moment of its creation. I suppose that’s a bit of a cheat though – you’re getting negative space involved on the condition that it’s filled in the instant of its creation. There is a process of writing your self – and this is something else I’ve noticed, that there’s no problem with having a self so long as you’re aware of it, so long as the unconscious is unearthed and made conscious. The purely positive, archetypal self never butts up against negative space, lack, boundaries, because it knows what it is. It knows its limits such that they are not limits.


The self and vocation – what has a vocation? The self or the person-mind-observer?

Tarde’s social virality. Sampson’s generalised virality.

Aesthetics of the self – The vocation is a purely positive calling

This is the secret of metaphorics: We always speak the truth – we just need to figure out what we’ve said. But how does this function in the context of writing-reading? If there are no essences, what is “clarification”?

Negative-exclusive divisionary practice. Positive-inclusive nondivisionary practice.

The old rule – there is no such thing as synonyms – every word is perfectly unique – and there is no such thing as homonyms – every meaning ascribed to a word is used simultaneously.


Gambling, Suicide and Doppelgängers

Gambling, Suicide and Doppelgängers

Gambling is very immediately a process of establishing an aspirational and a deficient self. The aspirational self of the gambler overlaps completely with the gambling-selves of the other parties. Only one party walks away having achieved the aspirational self. This refers back to the logic of the doppelgänger.

The gambler, by virtue or by vice of his aspirational self, demands perfect reflexivity with his gambling-self. Where the doppelgänger is a self, a master self encompassing the whole of the self without perfect self-reflexivity, the stakes are life and death.

The overlapping, mutual space of the gambling-self can be represented quite easily with a venn diagram. The overlapping is the stake of the gambling-self. Where the money gamble is a slight overlapping, the status gamble of “deep” play a significant overlapping – a “deep” overlapping, intrusion of one sphere into another – and the life gamble of war a total overlapping. The doppelgänger is, as we will see, a total overlapping.

In the end, the winning circle takes a bite out of the losing circles in the process of achieving its aspirational self. The waveform collapsed into pure lack – the bite – and pure being – the congealing, the consumption, the achievement.

Where the gambler risks a piece of himself – the gambling-self – in a process of collapsing the difference between his deficient self and his aspirational self – towards on or the other – the self and the self of the doppelgänger compete over total stakes – the whole of the self. Because neither is the ‘true’ self, and both aspire to be the ‘true’ self. The achievement of the aspirational self by the one – pure self, ‘true’ self – necessitates the annihilation of the other – pure void, pure lack, Death – “I am the untrue self. I don’t exist”.

This is the same cause as suicide, and doppelgänger stories are in a sense tales of a suicide, the murder of self by self. It’s just in doppelgänger stories you’ve got one to spare. With the suicide and the doppelgänger, the aspirational self has strayed too far from the deficient self – the deficient self is consumed entirely by lack, and is driven toward death – “I am the untrue self. I don’t deserve to exist.”

Thoreau’s Love and the Self

The aspirational self should only exist so long as it’s dragging us up, and so long as the gap between ourselves and the aspirational self – that is to say, the deficient self – is nonexistent. That is, that the aspirational self is fulfilled in the instant of its creation.

This then is the most perfect expression of Thoreau’s ‘Love’, as a means to the nondual. The aspirational self may exist so long as it is indistinguishable from the master self.

The Doppelgänger and Victor Turner’s ‘Social Drama’

I’ve remembered one circumstance in fiction in which both the ‘original’ and the doppelgänger are allowed to go on existing – when there is an irreparable schism between the two, when one is transformed beyond recognition with the other.

And of course we can draw parallels here with the final stage of Victor Turner’s ‘Social Drama’, the point at which one of the two outcomes will occur: Irreparable schism or reintegration into the whole.

Now given I’ve just covered the process of irreparable schism, the process of reintegration considered in the context of the doppelgänger and the two selves – aspirational and deficient – is especially interesting, and shines light on both processes.

Firstly, the reintegration into the whole is identical to the annihilation of the elements of the breach, and vice-versa. Killing the doppelgänger injects ‘realness’, ‘wholeness’, and ‘trueness’ into the survivor of the pair, as if the stolen half-essence resulting from the initial division between the two were poured back into one vessel.

Simultaneously, consider a process whereby the doppelgänger is absorbed by its other half. Absorption is murder, murder is absorption. What matters is that one half ceases to exist independent of the other. The outcome is the same.

This is also the logic of nondual processes – the realisation that there was only ever one of the pair, that only one was ever real. The nondual is not an essence, but a process. The nondual is not the indivisible, but the undivided. That is to say, it’s only “the Indivisible” until we decide to divide it. It’s not an essence which flits in and out of being, it’s a process – but it is fleeting. The indivisible is timeless until it’s not, but when it is, it is. More explicitly, timelessness is a process, and that something is timeless is no reason why it should never collapse into time, and vice versa.

Addendum to the Sections on Selves

Consider the venn-diagram-selves of the gambler and the doppelgänger. We can make another rule – no sphere may exist unless it is overlapping with another sphere. There is no difference between total overlap and zero overlap – both are nondual, total overlap is the reintegration and zero overlap is the schism. If there are two circles, one must be destroyed.
Consider a self in two parts – the divided self, aspirational and deficient. There is either a total overlap – the achievement of the aspirational self, the reconciliation of the aspirational with the deficient, reintegration – or there is a schism. In the case of a schism, there are two outcomes – the aspirational self is destroyed and the nondual is achieved, or the deficient self is destroyed and you cease to exist.
There are two more things – the first is that the process of the divided self may encompass any portion of the agglomerate selves of which we are composed. In the case of a schism destroying the deficient self, suicide would only occur in the case of an all-consuming cleavage of the self. Otherwise, it’s just a little death – embarrassment, self-harm, loss of assets. As I’ve mentioned, we don’t have, we are. When we no longer have, we no longer are. What we hold onto is the self, and the self is what we hold onto. I don’t have, I am.
Lastly, I notice that whenever I use the term “deficient self” I could just as easily use the term “current self”. They are the same. They are both what I amam not – the aspirational self is what I could be.


I remember when I had my HSC trial exams I hadn’t studied for English at all and I was overcome with a perfect sense of loving calm because I knew I didn’t have to expect anything of my self and I could experiment.

This is the theme I’m exploring in a short play I’ve written about a struggle between identical twins, occurring inside a womb. The struggle is over which twin will be absorbed by the other, as in Vanishing Twin Syndrome. The struggle is not only bodily but psychical, a matter of dominance and submission. This raises an interesting point in regards to the distance between deficient selves and aspirational selves – where some collapse themselves – the deficient – towards the aspirational, others collapse the aspirational toward the deficient, or render the deficient aspirational. There is an ecstasy in living down to your expectations, in degrading yourself.

There are only two actions possible:

Solve et Coagula

Schism and Integrate

Divide and Unite

0 = +1 -1 = 0 = -1 +1 = 0

Diagram of the Split Being

+1 – Aspirational Self

-1 – Deficient Self

0 – Nondual Self, unified self

Addendum 2 – 3 Pages

Addendum Page 1 JPG Addendum Page 2 JPG Addendum Page 3 JPG


Essay on Barthes’ ‘Camera Lucida’ – Philosophy of the Self

The heart of Barthes’ philosophy of the image, and in turn the heart of Barthes’ essay, is the utopian pursuit of truth in photography – the attainment of what Barthes refers to as “the impossible science of the unique being”. Throughout this essay I will demonstrate the intimate relationship between the pursuit of this ideal and Barthes’ conception of the punctum. Firstly, I will set out the terms of engagement – what is Barthes referring to when he describes the studium and the punctum? What is “the impossible science of the unique being” ? Secondly, I will relate these concepts to Koen Wessing’s image of mourning in the Nicaraguan war.

In order to understand the relationship between the punctum and Barthes’ pursuit of “the impossible science of the unique being”, we must first understand what Barthes means when he describes the studium and the punctum. By Barthe’s account the studium is an affect “of the order of liking, not of loving“. It is that affect resulting from the rational apprehension of certain properties through cultural channels – a comprehension, a registration of authorial intent. Barthes describes the studium as “a kind of education which allows [him] to discover the Operator,” (Barthes 1990: 28) and it is through that education, that cultural knowledge of the signs and symbols present in the work of a photographer that we may perceive whatever meaning the author intended to convey. But the studium is by definition a bloodless thing – a “polite” awareness, something “vague [and] slippery”, lacking in the power to provoke “[their] delight or [their] pain”. Its truths are external – they are about the image. The studium is what the author, the culture, history and precedent have to say for the image.The punctum is what the image has to say for itself.

The punctum is that which “pierces” the Spectator, that feeling which is beyond their control, which penetrates their cultural conditioning and affects them on a more personal level. The nature of this punctum ranges from puzzlement and curiosity (“why this sheet?”) to a sudden revelation, an epiphany as to “the impossible science of the unique being”. Whatever the intensity, the punctum is something which strikes us, bruises us, leaves us tender – those focal points which we find so compelling. On some level, we find ourselves challenged and changed by the punctum – what separates a mere registration of the sheet from a fascination with the sheet – the punctum sticks out, rises above the rest of the image. And the punctum is inevitably incongruous – if it made sense, if it was old news, it would not affect us in the way it does. The punctum is that which we cannot account for. It is in all senses of the word a culmination – that thing towards which the image is working, the peak, the very point of the image. The punctum is that which speaks to us. It is an is an encounter with something beyond ourselves, something undeniable. It is in this way that the punctum is the truth of the image. What Barthes pursues in those pictures of his mother is the “truth of the face [he] had loved,“ that character which cannot be ignored or filtered through some cultural channel – a deeply moving, deeply personal experience.

But what does all this have to do with “the impossible science of unique being” ? The essence of the impossible science is the pursuit of truth in representation. The punctum pierces us, bypasses our cultural channels because it can not be likened to anything else. It can not be represented away or rendered down to an expression of authorial intent – it is a matter of unique being, irreducibly a truth in its own right. The process of each attainment is a science in itself, a pure, dialogic work tailored to its subject – the impossible science: that which can not be reproduced.

In order to illustrate these concepts, I will explore my relation to Koen Wessing’s image of mourning. In all honesty, I will only be able to illustrate a part of my argument – although this image has touched me, it has not provoked the revolutionary work of the impossible science. Firstly, I will describe the studium of the image – what I perceived through the medium of my cultural knowledge. Secondly, I will describe the punctum of the image – what struck me about it.

What is most clear about the image is that it is an image of mourning. This is the fact that struck me least – something so apparent as to be taken for granted. The two sheets are the centrepiece of the image, one the shroud of a deceased boy and the other held as surrogate by a woman who is presumably his mother. There is the tragedy of loss – the inability to accept what has happened. The people are arranged as if in a procession. The remains of the street are like islands. It’s an image of decay. The image tells a story – the war has passed through and we are confronted by the stark reality of death, the death of a loved one. The personal side of war. I can perceive all this, but I am not moved. I am aware that Wessing is providing an account of the horror of war, but the horror itself is encountered in an abstract sense – one step removed from passion, movement. The studium does not compel us to action – it is a “polite awareness”, a complacency. We are encountering a thing on familiar terms – the subject of the studium is neatly framed, caged in precedent. Above all the studium is that which can be resolved, which can be “finished with”.

Conversely, the punctum is that which can never be resolved. We do not resolve the punctum, we come to terms with it. The punctum is unprecedented, and so forms the basis of precedent – it is the unique being of the image. It is always the first thing that comes to mind when we think of the image, but it is never taken for granted. For me, the punctum in Koen Wessing’s image of mourning is the phrase on the door behind the mourners: “FSLN”. It produces the affect of a Tetragrammaton. The strange spots (bullet holes?) surrounding it, the fact that it’s just a few inches off the ground. The phrase is somehow foreboding – what does it mean? Was it left by the revolutionaries? Is it a ward, a warning, a claim to some territory? It intrudes on the scene, it distracts from the tragedy. The discovery of punctum reshapes the scene. What does this phrase have to do with the state of the street? It somehow surveils the image, imposes itself. It is the intrusion of language into the scene. Just now I discovered the letters stand for “the Sandinista National Liberation Front”. The object of the punctum may be grounded in history, it may be subject to studium, but there will always be some element which defies explanation, compels investigation. These are the mysteries posed by the punctum, this is the subject of the impossible science. It is in this way that we come to terms with the punctum – we inscribe it on the foundation of our being. We must become the punctum, transform ourselves into a vessel for the punctum. It compels us to do so. It is the nature of the mysteries that they never be solved, but this does not mean that we do not strive for them. From here I can see the beginnings of the impossible science, and I have discovered that the punctum is necessarily the subject of the impossible science. The punctum consumes the image – the tragedy is irrelevant. Not only does it reshape the scene, it reshapes the Spectatorthe impossible science is as much a work on the image as it is on the self.


Barthes, Roland (1990), Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. Glasgow: Flamingo, Excerpts pp. 23-28, 67-71


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