Ishran Comes to Town

Ishran Comes to Town

What follows below is a story engaging a limited debate of what constitutes the subject and object.  I would have liked to produce the course map regarding this topic, but chose to limit the discussion to the tension between the subject, who forms himself via his interconnection of his object of desire and the other’s object of desire, and the subject that produces himself via self-reflection.  I then proceed to have a stable society (but on the verge of instability) confront an external social actor emanating from the former society’s past.  In this way, I will be able to confront the two different subjects with contemporary questions.

A Shadow Appears

A being forages in the presumed safety of the forest.  Experience, guidance, and experimentation have congealed into an established world of objects and subjects.  Roots and berries are the objects of desire, their purpose is to stave off hunger and sustain life.  Other foragers are independent subjects.  The community shares this perception.  One day, another being is perceived on the horizon (at first not unlike the shadows cast upon the walls of Plato’s cave).  Each being glances around the shared recognition of family, friends, or unconstituted allies.  A communal question forms as the shadow approaches: Is the apparition subject or object?

In an earlier time, two beings met, each desiring the recognition of the other.  The first meeting resulted in the death of one (ignoring other possible outcomes for now), leaving the victor without confirmation of the existence of his self and his relationship to other animate and inanimate forms.  The victor wanders alone until encountering another form in his likeness.  His determination and past experience identified the folly of vanquishing the other being utterly.  Therefore, he exerted his strength to force the other into submission, to recognize his existence.  Thenceforth, the master and slave began their mutual dance of conscious awareness and recognition of the other, albeit in different stages.

The slave began to work for the master, providing for his needs.  This arrangement encouraged the slave to create for his master’s desires.  The master, although satisfied by the services rendered to him, was unsatisfied with his existential meaning because he remained unrecognized by an other of equal form.  The slave was merely an object to the master.  The slave’s creative labor awakened his mind.  He ceased to live in fear of the master’s independent consciousness, but had an epiphany of self awareness, a recognition of his conscious self.  The slave was able to make this distinction that signified his independent being on account of his creation of use-objects.  Much as the master objectified the slave, the slave objectified nature as he developed instruments designed to accomplish the manipulation of natural resources.  Therefore, master and slave possessed degrees of freedom that Kojève distinguishes as idea and ideal, respectively (O,58).  The master’s idea of freedom is formed by his reality (as subject), as measured against the slave’s reality (as object).  The slave, conversely, conceptualized an idea of freedom that is, more importantly, not measured against the master’s state of freedom.  The slave envisions a realm of freedom unknowable to the master and as yet not posited in the real world by the slave.  For this reason, it was the slave’s consciousness that would consummate a state of mutual recognition that satisfies both beings (no longer master and slave as such).

The Fireside Discussion

The foraging community acknowledges the possibility that the phantom may not reach their location; nevertheless, they decide to discuss how to proceed with preparations should the phantom arrive after crossing the plains.  Gathered around the fire’s radiating warmth, the foragers ponder the immanent future.  After considerable excitement, the group decides to address two important questions: Does the phantom on the horizon exist as another being, as a subject?  If so, how should the other be recognized?

It is Kojève, who begins the discussion by reminding the foragers of his grandfather Hegel’s perspective.  It was prior to the first struggle adumbrated above.  Upon meeting a phantom, Hegel was still unsure of his own subjectivity.  He ate and slept, but did not dream.  The other fueled his desire for existence, which he came to understand as a mediating phenomenon.  Interaction with the other would affirm his existence as being for-himself.  Hence the importance of the other.  Kojève reminds us what his grandfather did to the other being and how he returned to his former activities and desires, but with an unrealized dream desiring recognition from the other.  Although he was bored for a time prior to receiving recognition from an equally independent being, Grandfather Hegel eventually ceased being for himself and commenced being for the other. Kojève continues the story of how his grandfather’s slaves transformed society into what evolved into their current community.

During Kojève’s monologue, young Sartre remained silent, for he has an alternative view of subject formation and achieving.  Sartre believes that consciousness exists in the shadowy phantom already, that it may have already achieved self-consciousness without having resorted to a death match (murder) or objectification (enslavement) of the other.  You see, he explains, the phantom is conscious of itself prior to encountering the other.  It does not require the other-as-object to affirm his being. The internal contemplation by the phantom makes it a subject not an object as reflected by an external other-as-object.  The phantom’s other is independent of itself and exists as a result of its own internal contemplation.  Sartre excitedly states: “even if I could attempt to make myself an object, I would already be myself at the heart of the object that I am; and at the very center of this object I should have to be the subject who is looking at it” (O,94).  When Sartre saw the other (the phantom), he saw a being for-itself without knowing the content of his contemplation.  Accordingly, the phantom cannot determine the content of Sartre’s consciousness, he can only observe his being for-himself, not as an object but as an independent being.  In this case, neither of them can know what the other is for-himself, which Sartre designates “ontological separation” (O,95).  Each of us will contribute to forming what it is like being-with-others just as all of us around this fire continually do.  A murmur of approval emits from the firelight and vanishes in the cool night air.

The foragers agree that the phantom possess its own consciousness formed independent of their collective.  Since none can know the contours of the phantom self, the second issue arises anew.  How should the phantom other be treated?  Whereupon Schmitt comments “I do not care who he is.  If he poses an existential threat, I will kill him.”  The resulting clamor subsides as Foucault’s voice emerges.  Assuming that the phantom is the inhabitant of another community, he says, then one can presume that he has undergone a process of self-formation mediated by his community.  Arising from contemplation, his being is not only for-itself, but also for-others.  The community is bound to treat him as we treat one another here.  In this case, Foucault continues, the phantom will encounter numerous relationships in our society that are a result of similar contemplative energy.  He will not see his own reflection in us, for he is not of our community, but he will exhibit the capacity to navigate our collective consciousness in order to communicate with us.   The phantom will discover an ethical social apparatus that should accommodate his needs and desires.

Not only will it our society accommodate him, but it should strive to become conscious of his potential suffering, says Levinas.  Maybe the phantom has been ostracized or is fleeing some despicable technique superimposed on his being.  We can act as a mirror-of-consciousness in that we reify that which his consciousness could not accept prior to his departure.  He may be confused in his post-object state.  Here, in our community, we can introject his dissonant consciousness, rearticulate it by giving it meaning, and project it back to him so that he may find meaning in being once again as his suffering fades.  Therefore, if he is the object of Kojève ’s grandfather, we need not kill or enslave him.  We can heal him, for we are ethical beings committed to determining otherness as a basis for recognition as opposed to struggle.  At this point Levinas seats himself amidst nods of approval and an audible dissenting sigh.

Taylor, representing the generation most recent to reach adulthood, has read about Grandfather Hegel and has listened to his seniors.  He has not experienced the former’s world and was raised in the latter’s society where the debate concerning recognition rages.  The position of society is not to incorporate the phantom other, but to recognize the phantom’s otherness and provide a space for it to flourish in perpetuity.  The phantom should not be coerced into Foucault’s paradigm of self-consciousness because it is tantamount to objectifying the phantom as the social subject at the expense of his freedom in being for-himself.  Taylor’s phantom subject is not only independent, but also sui generis, which compels each forager to project the phantom’s alterity from their collective misrecognition.  Should this not be the case, the phantom would gaze into the social mirror and not see himself, but a distorted (perhaps wicked) caricature of himself.  This indeed, Taylor turns to Levinas, would abet useless suffering in the other.  To which Levinas responds: on the contrary young Taylor, our collective ethical gaze would only free the phantom of his own misrecognition.  In any case, Foucault interjects, the phantom will establish various relationships with us that will reveal a multiplicity of selves constituting his being-with-others that originated elsewhere.  Perhaps our society will even change.  Taylor is content with the possible change of the forager’s community, but only as long as the phantom’s alterity is protected and ensured to continue in successive generations.

The fire’s warmth is waning as the congregation stretches prior to retiring to their beds.  No one notices a lone figure, lurking in the shadows.  It is Schmitt, of course.  He wants to prepare for the phantom’s arrival just in case his desire is not the desire for the forager’s desire, but one of Grandfather Hegel’s time.  Schmitt realizes that the other may possess a different object of desire that requires struggle.  Should the forager’s method of recognition prove unsatisfactory to the phantom, Schmitt will be prepared to battle him.

The Arrival

The foragers awaken and begin their day according to habit.  The prior night’s deliberations weigh softly in their minds as they dress, prepare meals, and organize their ritual activities.  After a few days, the phantom’s existence no longer captivates the fireside interlocutors.  It is for this reason that the foragers are startled by the arrival of a stranger.  After eating and bathing, the phantom is taught the forager history.  A signal to gather is given in order for the community members to listen to the stranger, the material presence of the apparition.

I am honored by your hospitality, announces the phantom-become-a-man.  Ishran is my name and I come from beyond the mountain range far to the east, across space and time different than your own (Ishran says so because of the forager history replete with new and all too familiar ideas).  My community is suffering the ravages of contradicting formulations of subject and object.  Recognizing the other in my clan occurs with relatively little dissonance; however, it is in reaction to the demand for recognition by another clan that significant discord reverberates throughout our society.  In fact, it is quite violent and seemingly unrelenting.  While the elders of both clans collaborate to achieve a peaceful resolution of the recognition debacle, I chose to depart and quest for different solutions.  I am aware of your early history and wondrous of your current social organization.  I am also puzzled by your recent fireside debate and fear that clan peace may be only temporary.

Ishran explains that both the Arev and Anzrev clans desire recognition from the other.  Each clan perceives the other as object and struggles for recognition.  On account of similar proclivities and resources, neither clan is able to enslave the other.  Some elders in both clans proffer a solution whereby mutual recognition is assured and communal power shared in the spirit of sating common desires.  Their idea is to create a unifying social ethos so that everyone can become a being for-itself and for-others in an atmosphere of mutual recognition absent of deadly strife.  Ishran was a supporter of this idea until arriving in the forest.  He realized that mutual recognition, as stabilizing as it may appear, was doomed to disintegrate into struggle again.  The foragers were curious why he should consider this so.

Forager society has demonstrated that a social ethos is conducive to harmony among beings.  It is the eventual peaceful outcome of the “fight for prestige.”  After a period of successive generations, persons such as Taylor and his followers are born feeling Angst.  Is this because the master and slave’s progeny do not viscerally remember the fight for prestige?  Nor do they recall the realization of an idealized freedom conceptualized and implemented by the slave.  Does Taylor identify himself as a master seeking recognition from a slavish social virtue?  Living in society, Taylor feels akin to the being for-itself, an animal without prestige.  The vita contemplativa is insufficient for him, he must be recognized in a tangible manner by the others.  He cannot abide another day of “metro-boulot-dodo” and seeks himself in the external world.  Why else create otherness in a coherent society?  Since Taylor did not fight to the death for his recognition, his boredom as master of himself (or as master with a “slavish consciousness”) may be so extreme that he yearns for the first fight because his desire to be recognized has been muted by a relativistic society.  Therefore, Taylor concocts a notion of tolerance that Brown characterizes as inherently antagonistic of difference.

If difference is guaranteed in society, then difference can be objectified.  This ensures that another subject-as-object is a source of tension which could provide the agency for Taylor’s desire for recognition (or at least to quell his boredom as a relativized self).  In confronting the other, in this case, he confronts himself, recognizes himself, and demands it from the other.  If Taylor’s movement gains momentum in the forager society, Ishran believes that it will be reduced to a state of nature where enmity flows through persons and institutions.  If this occurs, then the foragers will be in a similar state of being as the Arev and Anzrev clans, the difference being a level of organization and continued production.

After Ishran’s monologue, the various factions loosely confederating the forager society explode into verbal exchanges arguing the merits and demerits implicit in Ishran’s observations.  What is Ishran to do?  How can he formulate the subject without the initial fight?  What can he deliver to the clan elders that will succeed in bringing peace without the future enmity commensurate to what is developing in the forager society?  Ishran must continue his journey and locate other societies that may pose a different method.  Ishran quietly exits the forest with his head hung in dejection.  And Schmitt smiles.


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