“Who am I to myself? Just one of my sensations.”
Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet, A Factless Autobiography, 138.
In “Giving an Account of Oneself”, Judith Butler aligns the failure of memory to the opacity of the self. Trauma, either as an event in adulthood or as the inability for one to possess agency while being acted upon as an infant (Laplanche), incites the self into an incapacity to either give an account of the event or to comprehend the structures saturated into consciousness through naïve observation. Due to the incapacity of absolute memory accessible to the self, the self remains opaque to the “I” or the “me”. Yet, must absolute memory dictate self-knowledge? and are the primary events of childhood (outside of critical periods that mark attachment, speech, motor skill development) as essential as claimed by psychoanalysis?
The intuition involved in transference, in seeking out structures that mirror early home life, astounds me when I realize their existence in my present life. However, once these structures are realized, a break in the pattern occurs as the self, which was obscured or compartmentalized, structurally melds with the conscious self. Once this event occurs we immediately become opaque to ourselves anew. A new system becomes possible yet remains outside our capacity to observe it. Freud considered this event a counter-cathaxis, or a repressive desire by the subconscious. Perhaps the catharsis which occurs following realization briefly suspends the system, and the only opportunity for existence of the mythological subject occurs within this joy of sublimation. Is this renewed opacity a direct result of the learning of structure prior to comprehending it or simply an interaction with a system independent of memory, where function preceeds understanding, where self-knowledge exists as luxury rather than as necessity?
If we take Pessoa’s notion of the narrative of self as sensation itself rather than a perceiving body, perhaps the mind then acts as a sensory organ of structure, and identity acts no more than as a signal of our position within that structure. Anticipating a repetition of structure, we are geared towards a reaction to that structure, although our reactions no longer fit the situation. The adaptive reuse of morality upon new subjects allows for the social to renew old stimuli in order to not require a readjustment of reactions. The stimulus is valued over the response.