Selfin' Others

John H. Stevens, Jr. (jhs14@CORNELL.EDU)
Sat, 4 Nov 1995 13:40:33 +0100

To Mike Salovesh, John McCreery, Matt Tomaso, Chris Colvin, and the
thousand eyes a'lurkin':

This whole "Self/Other" thing is particularly interesting to me because (1)
I'm interested in the construction/fashioning/invention of identity, and a
notion of self has to inform this, and (2) because I am currently in a grad
seminar called "The Cultural Construction of the Person." What's good
about this class is that we are indeed reading Mead and Lacan, as well as
Geertz's "Person, Time, and Conduct in Bali," Unni Wikan's provocative but
flawed *Managing Turbulent Hearts*, and a range of psychoanalytical,
marxist, and social constructivist perspectives on the subject. The
drawback, I think, is that what we are *not* reading is Buber!! What I
mean is, we've gotten a lot of theory about what intellectuals think a self
is, but have heard virtually nothing from the selves themselves!!! Even as
we move into ethnography (like Fred Myers' *Pintupi Country, Pintupi
Self*), I haven't seen a lot of satisfying material from the selves. It
seems to me that, from the matieral I have been exposed to so far,
academics like to talk about selves more than they like to hear the selves
talk about themselves.

This is problematic to me (and prob'ly will be the subject of my final
paper for the class), since I feelthat, ideally, we need to locate such
things within social life and emergent from the subjects. Myers' work does
this to a degree, but I think comes out too systemic given his general
thesis that Pintupis don't have a society per se, but a notion of
relatedness that creates opportunities for sociality to be created
situation by situation. So my pondering continues; how do we go about
fruitfully (and with analytic force) talking about "the self," as well as
"the person," "the subject," "the actor," and "identity" as categories or
tropes without losing contact with the selves under consideration?? This
is an important question to me beceause my diss ideas all center on rather
disembodied or situational communities where good ole
participant-observation may not be useful or possible, and I may have to
rely on short periods of observation and life histories as empirical
evidence (not to mention my desire to approach the problems I have in mind
with a healthy historical bent).

The whole "looking-glass" idea, or , in lacan's usage, the "mirror-image"
does not seem helpful to me, since it is obvious that, even at our youngest
age, we generally deal with more than one person. Are we then talking
about a hall of mirrors, where others reflect others reflects selves which
reflect others??? I am also suspicious of psychoanalytic approaches which
posit this lovely familial triad or dyad that does not reflect the fullness
of a child's social world, and which reduce everything to "the phallus" in
particular or sex in general. Sexual awareness is important, but only part
of what goes on in self creation, IMHO. I'm a bit more comfortable with
marxist-influenced ideas of sociality and alienation (Terry Turner's work
has some provocative elements in this regard), but I want more. Any

Let me begin to answer my own question, with Chris Colvin's query about
dialogue. The term "dialectic" has come up in several pieces I've read for
this class, but the idea of dialogue has not, at least explicitly (Mead
certainly seems to be talking about some sort of dialogue, I think). I
also start to think of Dennis Tedlock here, who has an idea of dialogism (I
think) that is not applied specifically to "the Self," but may point to
some possibilities for finding out more about "the Self" from the selves
(or others, depending on your perspective) that we study.

As for John McC's query about the "possible relations between Self and
Other," I'll have o get back to y'all on that.


John H. Stevens, Jr. snail: 265
McGraw Hall
Department of Anthropology Cornell
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853

(607) 256-1829
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"What we learn from history is that we do not learn from history."