Where the hand enters – Introduction : What is the self ?

Text in pdf : clémence ortega douville – where the hand enters – introduction – what is the self

In the past articles, we spent much time presenting the theory of the three paradoxes and its consequences in various fields of investigation. Yet we did not fully answer to that question : what is the self, and where does it locate ?

The question is not easy, but posed our setting of the hand paradox, we can finally come up with the beginning of an answer.

The self is a nowhere. It is a proper u-topos. The self is an open shell, kept open because of the lag we introduced in neural responses with the hand paradox.

In fact, we said that the hand was the vector of intention towards objects ; and that in the paradox of gazing my own hand, at a certain distance where it appears like an object that is full, that is plain, similar to itself, I cannot go for it without making it disappear. The hand that is the vector to grasp things outside cannot be the same hand that I grasp with itself. I have to choose whether I stare at it, keeping it still, or resume my other interactions with the world.

Then, there is the self. I ask a question, raising my hand before me : can I eat the hand ? Can I swallow it ? If I get it closer to my face and mouth I realise it is foolish, that it is an illusion. And I know that, so when I do it again, I ask another question : can my hand enter me ? Can it enter my body, disappear and be resolved into me ? No, it can’t. And that is it.

In the moment I hold it, paralysed in the paradox of not being able to decide what to do with this hand, whether it is an alien object or not, the possibility that it is, I open a breach. I open this moment of indecision, of non-determination – hence, of non-definition because of a non-action.

The sensorimotor system of the body is defined by its interactions with its stimulating environment, reshaping it in its own behaviour. Then if one situation cannot define me to be on one side or another – the one that does and acts to the object, or the one that is the object – I am an open subject, indetermined, possibly nothing, possibly everything. I am a place that is nowhere and going nowhere, treading water, impossible.

That is what we described with the idea of the tensor and the paradox of the word me. Somehow, when the subject is trying to aim at the source of their ability to use language and speak, to reverse the sight backward, they confront a contradiction. Because language is like the hand, vectorial, tense toward the outside. Even the body becomes an outside object, that you have to get out from to describe it to others.

Then language, the symbolic system, is an intermediary structure, a middle space between the world, the others and the life of the body. But the body itself is kept on hold. The sensorimotor activity is suspended, dominated by the social and moral conduct, dictated by rules.

And in fact, the self is justly where it can never be reached, non-communicable, unattainable.

Why so ? Let us go back to the example of the hand paradox. The hand cannot enter me, the body, even the mouth or I eat myself. But still the room, the door is left open to something to come in. Something would come in eventually. In my fascination for the hand, as I don’t decide to go for it, it means that it is up to go for me. I enter a negative place where the hand is alien, shaped by its agressiveness on making me unable to react, subjugated. Yet it doesn’t enter into me. A space is left untouched, incompressible, unfathomable : the space where me and my hand can or cannot be.

In this distance, I find the object. In fact, the idea of the tensor is that we trained ourselves throughout the evolution of our species to make this distance hold without having our hand remaining in front of our world. We learned to hold without thinking of it, in an autonomous way – hold the body, and wonder.

When your are in the street, walking and you start looking at the buildings around, you know that they can’t enter you, and that you can’t seize them to make them disappear. Here is the self again.

The only way to relieve the activity of the tensor, this suspension of sensorimotor interaction kept on hold, just to maintain this distance necessary so that there can be an intermediary structure such as the symbolic system, the only way would be that I could swallow the indestructible object. But then, the indestructible object, such as the hand, cannot be resolved. It can only be maintained, keeping the body on hold, taming it, dividing it in its relations to the symbolic world.

So there is Logics to the tensor, because the self is the point of view, and the hand, the object, the point of the mark, the traumatic point. The tensor is the neutral, holding factor. The symbolic system is in-between with the outside. The body is kept behind, waiting, listening, seeing, expecting for action, that ultimately is to be decided by the symbolic structure of the self.

But in case of danger, when an outside shape is moving toward us, it makes an exception. The body is called to react instinctively, in the sheer sensorimotor way, or stay petrified.

When staring at the hand, the subject is in-between. The hand pushes us back- and inward in the negative way. It is an agent of fear but we can’t move. The intention of the subject on its side pushes to the hand in the positive way, eager to resolve the call for assimilating the hand, but it can’t either. So it will keep on holding the possibility to let something enter, and turn to something else.

We just trained ourselves very hard throughout the milleniums to keep this door open, and try that other shapes in the world would give a different answer to our call. Yet we don’t receive other options, unless we consume the object and then it doesn’t exist anymore. We destroy the shape that calls and get to something else.

Only the indestructible objects solely become objects of the symbolic.

That was an introduction and synthesis to the theory of the topology of the self, to say that the self cannot be decribed. It cannot be located and it cannot be defined, because its proper nature is that it is waiting that something would fill it, and never does.

It is like drawing a circle and its centre. Once existing that space, that place, this territory, you can draw outside of it or inside of it. Yet the fact that there is a circle is in itself a most intriguing and shivering thing. If you leave it open and be and calling for you with deciding that you would make it more perfect than it is, you would feel a kind of uneasy fascination and heartbreaking dizziness.

The self, pushed by the tensor, wants to be filled. And if you leave it be and try to get closer to it, you will realise that you cannot fill the self with yourself. You can’t without trying to annul that the self cannot be swallowing its own tension to the outside without collapsing to the abyss. It is a paradox really.

The self is kept in the background, supporting the structure of language and the symbolic. Otherwise, the self is useless. Because in the meantime, the body isn’t working like it is supposed to be. The body isn’t interacting with its environment the way it is naturally set to do. It is only working the way we trained it to do, and the way our cultural, social and moral surroundings taught us that we should.

In the meantime, we forget that we are living on this planet with very few means to really know what we are. So leave it be, and simply save whatever can be saved that makes this life worth living for a while.

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