The childhood of a self: "I am a self"


(Extract from The Psychological Comedy . Corti Edition 1932


The problem common to all

Race, caste, class, etc ... whose self, character in training, will assume the characters, will not change the fundamental nature of the self. What interests us here is not to know how the laws of heredity, or those of economic determinism, work in the development of ego, but to understand the nature of the entity which will in any case say " I am m e, whatever its heredities, whatever its economic and social conditions.

The child prodigy, the fool, the genius, will all have one problem to solve, the same one: that posed by the very existence of their entity. It is evident that certain individuals are more favored by nature than others, that they are more easily inclined to discover their essence; but these differences are not essential as far as we are concerned here. They do not create scales of values, of hierarchies. It is not a question here of quantities, small selves or large selves: that any individual perceives his existence as selves, that is enough for him to be able to resolve this selves and reach Knowledge.

The child prodigy, the fool, the genius, will all have one problem to solve, the same one: that posed by the very existence of their entity. It is evident that certain individuals are more favored by nature than others, that they are more easily inclined to discover their essence; but these differences are not essential as far as we are concerned here. They do not create scales of values, of hierarchies. It is not a question here of quantities, small selves or large selves: that any individual perceives his existence as selves, that is enough for him to be able to resolve this selves and reach Knowledge.

The subjective, overcome by universal permanence, has not renounced its permanence

The process of forming the ego is therefore essential to understand, because it is there that the functioning of its inner contradiction will be revealed.

Thanks to a long series of victorious defeats, the subjective has reached the point of forcing himself to be recreated by the present moment, but this change of state involves no renunciation: quite the contrary, this adhesion to the present has was obtained only thanks to the accumulation of millennial efforts all made in the same static direction, all having tended towards the search and the maintenance of a specific, subjective permanence, in opposition to the rest of the world. The subjective, far from having renounced its permanence, of the fact that this permanence is defeated comes precisely on the contrary to acquire the feeling of it. This contradiction is total, and it is on it that the self will be built .

The central core of reactions

Evolution has not resulted in the formation of indicating devices capable of responding objectively to the succession of moments present, without these leaving the traces of their passage on the devices. Such devices should already have their own balance, which is precisely what human organisms lost when they were born. Evolution has simply resulted in the creation of organisms in which the first reactions that the outside world provokes in them are stronger than the specific, inherited reactions. Therein lies all the difference which separates man from the rest of organized beings. The human organism, at birth, is the only one that has lost its own equilibrium, but it has not given up finding and establishing it: on the contrary, it has only lost it because it l 'found. He has perceived the permanence of the universal balance, and seeks to use it for his own account. His first reactions, which knead him, adhere to the present. His first contact with the world is a contact with eternity, but which immediately constitutes itself in the past, to bar the road to the present. The ego is composed, built around this first response to the presence of the world. The formation of the self is the transformation of the present into the past . When the past has taken shape, the self is definitively constituted. The physiological necessities, the first sensations, the desires, the satisfactions of these desires, the discomforts, their reliefs, etc. constitute at every moment a game of associations and dissociations, which reinforce the primitive vibrations of the not yet conscious subject, which are added to them. And as these primitive vibrations are unique for each subject (for the reasons that we have already studied), it will express more and more, taking shape on the nucleus that constitutes its starting point: its particular response, to the "more" Universal.

This central core of reactions, this primitive response to the eternity of an instant, is the very essence of the self, it is the most universal that the self covers, and loses sight of, by constructing its own static structure. It is not surprising that this essence, perceived through the dream of the Myth, took the name of soul and the attribute of immortality.

The search for a unique balance

Just as the human embryo goes through all the phases of evolution without stopping there, so the child, from birth, goes through all the stages of the evolution of the subjective in nature. While an insect is born almost as awake as it will be during its existence, the child must start from much lower than the insect. It starts, so to speak, from zero, and moreover it is obliged to create at every instant the negative pole which it now lacks, this pole being the self.

The I, drawn into universal dynamism, will vibrate between the dynamic pole of the "plus", and a negative pole, made of reactions, which it will raise behind it in its course, with the mad hope of no longer being trained. Its reactions will be opposed to the outside world, and the I will thus intensify the irreducible and total opposition of its two poles, to the point where the excess of intensity of the antinomy will cause its condensation in a character. Let us imagine for a moment that the social milieu welcomes this ego in formation, in the best possible way. Let us therefore imagine a society founded on knowledge of the antinomic nature of the ego, a society without classes, without spiritual hierarchies, without religions, without private property, without moral authorities, in short a human society. This society, instead of intervening in the particular balance of the child, instead of imposing conformisms, beliefs, ideas, roles of mythical characters, would have as educational goal to intensify as much as possible the provisional equilibrium that the child's ego builds up, on its own antinomy, on the antinomy which is completely particular to it as regards the elements which compose it. This edifice, built on particular reactions, by means of unique experiences, by means of a character, a temperament, distinct aptitudes, would increasingly express a distinct, clear, precise note, which, emanating from of an antinomy, would end up breaking it by the intensity of its vibration, as a very pure crystal breaks under the pressure of its own song.

The bursting of the self-contradiction would be as natural a phenomenon as the flowering of a flower. It would be an explosion from the inside, the thrust of which would begin by being the conscious conquest of genius, but would go beyond this stage, still self-centered (therefore mythical), to dissolve the entity in absolute Knowledge, in the present moment. The process of development would not be a search, an asceticism of the selves, of these compound and absurd characters, who cling to their entity. No, development would occur naturally during the maturation of the individual, and would be the scent of this maturation.

By studying, at the beginning of this talk, objects according to the universal "plus", we saw that an object is adequate to this "plus" insofar as it expresses only one equilibrium at a time. So if the social environment, education, etc ... allowed the child to build his ego on a single datum, that which belongs to him own, that which results from his original reactions, the child would have all the possibilities to lead in the long run the construction of his self.

ut the social environment, but all the values ??of an affective, intellectual material order, oppose this natural development of man. The selves, these frightened shells, antitheses of the life that must be born, take shelter in the fortresses of their civilizations, antitheses of Nature. The ego in power, antitheses of the dominated ego, drag the slaves into their terror, by bloody repressions, even by extermination. Thus the birth of the human liberated from the ego, and the social birth by the violent advent to power of the lowest class, on the social scale, are one and the same phenomenon. In one case as in the other, birth is only accomplished when the elements most deeply buried under the oppression of static equilibria, which have been built on them, spring up outside, breaking them .

The vibration between two poles

The way in which the I, from the birth of the child, works to strengthen the two poles which constitute it, is very simple: a desire, hunger for example, projects the I towards the object which will fulfill the desire. The emptiness that being experiences is identified with being itself, with the whole being, incapable of dissociating itself from its desire. This emptiness, this negative sense, brings out from the being all the reactions which oppose it, all the dynamic movements which tend towards the object of desire, which call it, etc. Thus the negative reinforces the positive. Our example of hunger then shows us the I of the child perfectly identified with the act of feeding.

During all the time that hunger is satisfied, the object of desire is associated with the I, the subject and the object become one. Desire was therefore a need for an intimate association between the I and that, the I suffering from not being that. At the beginning of the child's psychological life, this suffering is vague, dull, confused, so even if only unconsciously that the child associates with a determined object to satisfy a determined need. It is an organic permanence which suffers from being unable to maintain itself and the restoration of this permanence, and therefore of well-being, by means of food. Food is therefore a contribution of permanence, it is permanence itself. Hence the association. But just as the need, the lack of something, the negative pole, was only expressed by a positive reaction (which developed the positive, dynamic pole of desire), likewise the satisfaction, provoked by its positive fullness a static relaxation of being. Desire is dissociated from the object that filled it, it is no longer it, it abandons it. As the desire disappears, the organism recomposes its static, negative permanence, which opposes "that", until another desire arises, and so on.

During all the time that hunger is satisfied, the object of desire is associated with the I, the subject and the object become one. Desire was therefore a need for an intimate association between the I and that, the I suffering from not being that. At the beginning of the child's psychological life, this suffering is vague, dull, confused, so even if only unconsciously that the child associates with a determined object to satisfy a determined need. It is an organic permanence which suffers from being unable to maintain itself and the restoration of this permanence, and therefore of well-being, by means of food. Food is therefore a contribution of permanence, it is permanence itself. Hence the association. But just as the need, the lack of something, the negative pole, was only expressed by a positive reaction (which developed the positive, dynamic pole of desire), likewise the satisfaction, provoked by its positive fullness a static relaxation of being. Desire is dissociated from the object that filled it, it is no longer it, it abandons it. As the desire disappears, the organism recomposes its static, negative permanence, which opposes "that", until another desire arises, and so on.

Associations and dissociations

The I is thus developed by successive associations and dissociations. We will see later that the whole psychological life is made up only of oscillations of this order. Let us note here an extremely important fact: what provokes both associations and dissociations is the push, in the individual, of universal permanence, and this permanence is satisfied both by associations and by dissociations . Desire is the feeling that permanence has of being in danger; satisfaction is the feeling she feels of not being in danger. These sensations both tend, by their repetition, to be established in the organism, and this is the awakening of consciousness. Thus each of the two poles works to develop consciousness , and therefore it cannot at any time be interrupted, although it can "sleep"; it is similar to an induced current which necessarily strengthens all the oscillations of the I, these oscillations being experience. At maturity, we will see these oscillations decrease more and more, and finally die because of hardening, ossification of the ego, and the consciousness slowly die out in indifference, or on the contrary (which is, alas , very rare) we will see these vibrations break, because of their intensity the very instrument which produced them, and release the consciousness itself, like a flower releases its perfume. Thus man can reach the point of refusing the experience out of indifference, or of going beyond it by breaking his own entity .

We see the I pass, without association with a dissociation, and vice versa. These oscillations are grafted on its initial movement, on the reactions which, at the origin of its existence, associated it and dissociated it (at the same time) from the present moment. These new oscillations are both determined by external circumstances, and by heredity. To this belong group characters and particular characters. (The very complex way in which all these elements are intertwined can only be studied by experimental psychology. But this can only give good results if it is guided by an understanding of the phenomenon that creates the ego, in relation to the whole evolution of the subjective in Nature, and in relation to the dynamic permanence of the World). In any case, the I will one day have to say "I am I", and that is what makes us here.

He will be brought there by the repetition of associations and dissociations, which will create increasingly strong tendencies to associate and dissociate from certain objects. Thus certain associations-dissociations become permanent; they constitute all that the I never doubted, all to which he attributed an absolute reality, from the fact that his own permanence was developed from it to the point of becoming self-conscious. Indeed, before the self condenses in its isolation and in the clear perception of its antinomic nature - which will make it doubt its own reality (phenomenon which in a very large number of people never happens elsewhere) - he lives in a universe which he accepts purely and simply, because he is one of the elements of it, like a dream character, who being one of the elements of the dream, is thus immune from doubt. The child can dissociate himself from certain objects, reject them as not being an integral part of his I, but this I, which thus regains its freedom, is itself only a compound of subconscious associations. Thus, when the child begins to associate with his first name, it is his first name which is himself, and if we pretend to call the child by another first name (which is already very difficult to make him understand) one can cause in him extreme despair and terror, because he has the feeling of being truly destroyed, as a permanence.

Later, if for his misfortune the child belongs to a family, which from generation to generation, boasted, not to own but to be a name, he will say "I am a duke of Guermantes", and this association, which he will never succeed in breaking, will act as an entity, especially if, physically resembling some ancestor portrait, he will endeavor to conform his character and his actions to those of this ancestor. We see by this example how the social environment can provoke associations, in order to mark in the individual the imprint of specializations which tend by inertia to be prolonged indefinitely from one generation to another. These specializations are less hereditary than caused by associations that the environment imposes on the individual. This amounts to saying that the environment intervenes in the particular and unique balance that the individual would naturally tend to build, by making him stumble in a balance of species, specializations, automatic constants. While this unique balance, built on an antinomy, must normally solve its own enigma thanks to a dynamic doubt without ceasing growing, the environment disintegrates and this balance, and this fertile doubt, by the incessant action which exerts against the individual a balance imposed from the outside.

Conflicts with the group

The group seeks to distance the individual from his essence, to sterilize him, in short to make him harmless for the established order, by imposing on him a conformism, that is to say one posing a balance, which, because 'he is foreign to the individual, will disintegrate him. Now this conformism is called by him, by the ego, the whole activity of which consists in erecting barricades between him and the final doubt which would bring about his destruction and the fulfillment of the Human. The ego in formation is therefore only too happy to slide down the fatal slope of social, moral, religious conformism, etc. and to barricade itself against eternity in it, which will die of it suffocated.

We see that the ego is only composed of what it has not doubted. Note that each association has its dissociation counterpart and vice versa. Indeed, to associate with a name means to dissociate from all other names, and conversely, to dissociate from an object the I must rely on a stronger, more obvious association, of which it does not have still doubted. The social milieu tends to replace all associations with other associations, more and more precise, more and more limited and specialized, to the point of making the individual a mechanism; on the contrary, the normal development of doubt in the individual tends to break all successive associations by increasingly general associations, to the point of bursting, which we describe at the beginning of this presentation, where, associated with the 'universal, the ego realizes that it is also dissociated from it (because the two poles of the antinomy have developed at the same time), and is faced with its irremediable death.

It is this last step that we are studying here, that of a self that will liberate consciousness, which will destroy itself in the universal, and not that of a self that will lock itself into increasingly close associations until 'to sterilize.

In our civilizations based on the reality of the ego, the child who can best break, as far as he is concerned, the collective bewitchment, will be the one who will purely and simply refuse to submit to social values. He will be maladjusted, and will suffer from it. Or else he will be crushed, suffocated by an environment with which he will not be able to associate, and because he will miss the vibrations of associations, his I will fall into a kind of torpor, and the development of his consciousness will be considerably delayed ( sometimes until maturity, around thirty, sometimes until it is too late). Or else, instead of getting bogged down in this subconscious torpor, he will revolt and fight with unequal weapons against society, which will break it all the more easily since he may never be able to get completely out of his subconscious state

The mystic

In the first case, the almost complete dissociation of the individual and the world around him finds expression in a dull, imprecise, but constant suffering. The child is unhappy without knowing it. Its dissociation, by accentuating one of the poles of the I, naturally provokes an equivalent association, since the I is a perpetual attempt at equilibrium between the two poles. Here the dissociation being formulated, and not applying to specific objects, provokes in the child a desire to internally seek its primitive, vital reactions, determined by the eternity of the present moment, and to associate with they. The child develops in him this inner search, he strives to establish in him the contact between his forming self, and the essence of his self. He immerses himself in his own dreams, he has a tendency to listen only to his inner voice, to seek mystical experience, in short to submit his self to eternity.

The hero

In the second case, dissociation is expressed at all times by revolts, determined refusals, precise rejections, which provoke in children opposite and extreme associations. His ego is built on data which he defines, and which consequently lead him to action. Here, the self tends to doubt the reality of the outside world, while in the previous case it tended to doubt its own reality. Here the self asserts itself, there it denied itself. Here he developed the pole of the intellect, there he developed that of love. Here, because society appears to him clearly cruel in some of its contradictions, and because he discerns in men the inhuman character of the characters they play, he would like to change both the world and men. There he strove first to reach his own enlightenment.

Bankruptcies and achievements by the absurd

We separate these two types only for the sake of convenience. It is obvious that between these extreme examples, all combinations are possible. The most remarkable fact is that society, established on the desire of the ego to last as ego, therefore to sterilize itself, provokes the very reactions that will destroy the ego, in the first case, and society itself - even in the second case. Here, as always, we see the self-destruct mechanism of the whole system working. However, when the selves of these two children are definitively formed, we will see a character emerge in each of them, who will use for their own benefit the inner thrust which had brought them to maturity. The character, assuming a value of being, will vampirize eternity . The contemplative will attribute an immortal soul, having firmly established his own salvation, and socially will become the instrument of psychological exploitation (called spirituality); the man of action will change the world for his own benefit, and will be the material exploiter.

Let us note here an important fact: a society acts all the better as it is more absurd, by provoking in the individual reactions all the greater as the individual is more human. Does this mean that this oppression is good, and that we must wish children to be born in an inhuman society? Such a thesis would be worthy of an asylum for the insane. A normally human society, in which individuals would be exploited neither psychologically nor materially, would be an environment as fertile and natural as that of Nature itself, it would offer to each human being a flexible and varied game of associations and dissociations , he would offer her human contacts devoid of mythical roles. In such a society, the contemplative and the man of action would both find their natural development, without sinking into their own myths of mysticism or conquest. The mystic as well as the conqueror would disappear, as the antediluvian monsters have disappeared from the surface of the globe . These two types, which until now have been the best that subhumanity has produced, created by dissociations imposed by the absurd, are themselves absurd.

For the moment, however, we can only study developments that occur through the absurd, since these are the only ones that allow our civilizations. The ego that we are studying here is driven to mature by the sense of loneliness that it experiences more and more, because loneliness is the ego itself. The child no more than prehistoric man, properly speaking, does not have states of consciousness. Before the total individualization of the ego, the ego, by definition, is not conscious of itself. Let us remember that according to our definition self-awareness, that is to say the notion that one has of being an entity, a self, is not yet what we call a conscious state, since this awareness is the identification of the I and the character who affirms this reality. It is only when self-awareness begins to develop, to feel, so to speak, in order to seek to eliminate from the self all that might not belong to it, that what we call consciousness is born. Thus the effort towards self-awareness awakens consciousness, as we define it, and this effort destroys the very foundations on which the self is based , since it reduces to dust all the elements that make up the character. Thus, the more the character is aware of being him, him without anything foreign to him, him in a pure state, the more he truly melts in the notion that he has of his reality, until he literally disappears. We find here, again and again, the self-destruction of the self and its works, this fundamental principle which is opposed to all the cultural heritage that all civilizations have bequeathed to us, principle on which we must rebuild everything today, by finally dominating the determinisms of Myth.

" I am me! "

The way in which the unconscious I of the child manages, when it is ripe, to detach itself from the subjective universe which created it, and from which it had not yet been clearly differentiated, is d 'of extreme importance, because it characterizes the self that arises, its tendencies, its possibilities, and reveals to us its most intimate nature. This phenomenon of individualization has never been studied, to our knowledge under this aspect. Since we can only rely here on our own documentation, which is still very limited, we will limit ourselves to indicating avenues of research, as they presently present themselves to us.

a) The self who does not doubt . - It seems that the I can acquire a personal consciousness in two very distinct ways. In the first way, he can associate himself so intimately with the universe in which he lives, that the character emerges slowly, made up of very powerful associations-dissociations, that is to say deeply subconscious. The ego in the making so envelops the primitive, original reactions of the individual that it slowly stifles the present, lifting around it an increasingly dense fog, composed solely of its accumulated past. From then on, the self is purely and simply its own past . This definition of self is true in all cases; but here the consciousness that he has of being an entity, that is to say his individual consciousness, is in no way shaken by doubt. Doubt is the present . This is also always true, as long as the present is not entirely victorious, in the individual who has freed himself from his own consciousness. Doubt is therefore, more precisely, the action that the present exerts on the past, that is to say, on the ego. But the character who is constituted according to this unconscious modality never doubts, at any moment, either of his own reality, or that of the universe in which he lives. For him, he says to himself: "parbleu, je suis moi, et le monde c'est le monde", and all that we write here would be perfectly incomprehensible to him. The fight will continue between its entity and daily life, which by striking it, as it strikes everyone, in its attachments, in its affections, in its health, which, by physical and moral suffering, by pain, and above all, by the spectacle of death, can be right in their certainty, or ossify the individual in a rigid shell, in a sterile wreck, from which life slowly retires.

b) The self that doubts . (The case of Jean-Paul) . - The second way that the ego has to build itself can itself present two aspects. These aspects relate to the two types of individuals, studied above, which we have called the contemplative and the active. Their common character is that of a discovery, a stir, a trigger, a well-defined moment in the psychological life of the individual. Here is an example, of the contemplative type as it is described by the subject himself, the German romantic Jean-Paul:

"One morning, when I was a child, I stood on the threshold of the house and I looked to the left, towards the stake, when suddenly came to me from the sky, like a lightning bolt, this idea: I am a me, who therefore does not left more; my self had seen itself for the first time, and forever. "

This example is extremely precious, because not only is it rare for the subject to describe this extraordinary moment of his psychological life with as much accuracy, but Jean-Paul's lucidity allowed him to recognize the value of this moment. He tells himself, in fact, how this observation, so simple, was however so strange, so prodigious, that it constituted the greatest revelation of all his life. The flavor of this revelation never left him, it did more than permeate all his work, it provoked it. This observation was a real fertilization of the entity that had seen itself, fertilization that the ego in building itself, took on its mythical flesh, its subconscious, giving it a body of feelings, emotions, beliefs and ideas, but which, stronger than the entity itself, led Jean-Paul, triumphant, towards the age of thirty at its birth, to what he himself called his "transfiguration "

To understand this phenomenon, we will remember certain remarks we made at the beginning of this talk, about the finding, which is a doubt. If a dream character manages to see that the dream is a dream, or (which amounts to the same thing) that he is a dream character, it is at that moment, he has doubted. Without doubt, he would not see himself, he would not see the dream, but he would simply dream.

We are such stuff

As dreams are made on, and our little life

Is rounded with a sleep.


"These lines by Shakespeare, writes Jean-Paul in his Journal, made whole books spring from me" (Jean-Paul: Choice of dreams, Iditions Fourcade, Paris 1931). And indeed, these lines of Shakespeare must have, with each repetition that Jean-Paul made of it, have the power to resuscitate in him this observation of the dream, this observation of the self, this doubt that is awakening. The objective perception that the fertilized self has of itself (the self having seen itself) is an inexhaustible creative source. We will develop this point further.

In the form that, for convenience, we call contemplative, the entry into conscious life can be expressed by the astonishment that the child suddenly experiences about his entity: "how is it made that I am just me, and not another? ... And if instead of being me I was another what would happen? ;... etc ... These questions are sometimes accompanied by great anxiety. What characterizes them most is the astonishment, the feeling of revelation, the feeling of something absurd, which is immediately repressed by the self who stiffens, who defends his threatened life. In the second form, the child suddenly doubts the world "how is it that this world is precisely this one, and not another ... What chance that it is precisely this one?" ;... etc ...

Most of the time, it seems that the shock of this real momentary awakening, is caused by an external fact, by an observation that the child intends to formulate about himself, by an abnormal situation where he is, which suddenly seems absurd. This shock can be associated with a particular faculty: "If I want, it is because there is an I who wants, here, in me " ... etc ... It can sometimes be associated with a particular object, with a a detail which seems insignificant, but which therefore persists throughout life in memory, as a symbol of the whole road which the self will now have to travel, and which is already determined as to its nature, since this road will consist for the self, untie as you untie a knot. The past arises, brandishing the instrument by which the present will dissipate it.

It is not without reason that Jean-Paul associated with his decisive experience, as a child, memories as precise as that of the morning , of the threshold of the house , of the glance cast to the left towards the stake , and an idea that like lightning fell from the sky . An analysis of the symbols that cling to this first awareness, the examination of the associations that are involved (will, affectivity, reasoning, actions, etc.), the observation of the moment when this phenomenon occurs, and of its modalities, could allow the educator to grasp on the face the absolutely unique nature of each child.

Importance of this awareness

When we understand that this birth of the ego, its development, and its rupture by hatching, are the only facts that count in the whole history of humanity, we will see that the goal of social organization, therefore let alone education, is to foster this process. We will show in our Moral Comedy how this process is on the contrary broken, destroyed in its vital push, by the companies established on values ??of spiritual and material possessions, on social and religious hierarchies, etc ... The future educator, not only will understand and will favor this process of psychological development, not only will it guide and protect it, but it will even learn to provoke triggers, by placing each child in its most favorable environment, even before its ego can take shape. For this, the in-depth study of the point-time-space where the child was born, and of the way in which the birth occurred, would be very useful since it is around its first reactions that the human organism builds. its me. All the rest of education and instruction, everything that is taught to the child, will be subordinated to the unique nature of his inner realization, and will be given to him as an instrument: double instrument, of social work, collective and absolutely impersonal on the one hand, and on the other hand, inner work, absolutely unique and personal. But we can hardly dwell here on this question, which is so important. We must first study the ego, which has just constituted itself, through some main stages of its development, to follow it until the light of the present, in which it will dissolve, and will disappear.





L'enfance d'un moi : +Je suis un moi; par Carlo Suarés - 3e millinaire