The present paper is a story initiated by another paper, a paper
I once presented at a symposium on the ontology of person. That
paper dealt with post modernism and the subject, and more
specifically with the I. Somehow the paper stirred some of my
academic/scientific colleagues into action. And this is what
makes the story: These actions, which were aimed at opposing the
paper's message, in the end became reenactments of it's message,
namely that a whole ontology, and thus an entire psychology,
comes into being when the subject opposes itself to itself. Acts
of resisting the post modern I (in the initial presentation)
turned out to be confessions of that I. But this should not be
seen as a quandary. Rather, a very positive message presents
itself here: By opposing themselves to the I in the text of the
presented paper, and thus differing and deferring themselves form
themselves, these colleagues confirmed an active psychology, a
psychology/a science/a social reality that is constantly created
in and through our deeds. Such reactions are confessions of the
I. In what follows I relate three confessions, which I call
"Professing a psychology", "The murder of the messenger", and
"The announcement of a post mortem". I must begin, however, with
my own confession of the I.
THE CONFESSION OF AN I
My confession of the I begins with two quotes from the flyer
of this qualitative methods conference. According to the flyer
the conference is called: A spanner in the works of the factory
of truth. And the flyer further invites us to: ..... let our
data speak to us, data, which in this case, is ourselves. These
ideas neatly capture the theme of my paper, namely that the
subject's I is the spanner in the works of any factory of truth.
But who or what is this I? First a complication, before we
turn to its theoretical foundation: In traditional psychology the
subject is the object of study. Thus psychology is the factory
where I am being subjected to truth. But psychology of course
is a human enterprise. Thus, if I may be a spanner in the works
of this factory of truth, of this psychology, I would suggest
that far from being simply subjected to truth I am also always
already the very subject of this truth. Thus psychology is the
factory where my truth is fabricated. Can you see how quickly I
complicate things here? Can you still determine with any
certainty which I you are dealing with? Do you not find in
evidence here an I who I lives on both the inside and the outside
of the text? Think carefully and you will see that not only the
text of psychology, but also this present text becomes the fabric
(which is simultaneously a fabrication) of a subject differed and
deferred from itself.
This is a complicated beginning of what will turn out to be
three simple stories about I being a spanner in the works of the
factory of truth. But this beginning enables me to put the I on
the table. I am able to confess the I, to bear it's soul in all
complexity. And this demonstrates more economically than any
rational argument can, the nature of an I that is always present
in whatever we do, yet without ever being in presence. But I
must confess that this approach is inspired by another quote form
the conference flyer. This quote goes as follows: ..... step
forward and speak, .... make the difficult confession .... .
Therefore, thus is the I I confess (yes, it is always already
doubled): It is the dark spot I see when I close my eyes and
look into myself. It is simultaneously the surplus and the lack
in any attempt to reflect upon myself - the space between the
double layers of reflection. And in reflecting upon itself, it
is both older and younger than any ontology. It is a relation
between what is present and what is totally other to the present,
between this life world and it's absolutely other, the relation
between life and death. It is not a thing, it cannot be
objectified. It is not the self psychology speaks of. It is not
merely a position in language, but always already an opening (in
the double sense of this word) in language. It is this I that
is the spanner in the works of any factory of truth. It is this
I that is both and simultaneously the subject and the victim of
any fabricated truth.
LACAN, DERRIDA, AND I: IN JUSTIFICATION OF A CONFESSED I
Let me try to justify my confession, without wasting too much
space and time. The I has its roots (if it has roots) in Lacan's
mirror stage theory (Lacan, 1977, pp 1-7). Lacan says the I
comes into being in the constant projection and retrojection when
the subject sees itself reflected in the mirror (meant in the
abstract sense). We have a subject projected as an image, and
a subject that exists as the retrojection from that image. The
complication is clear: The source of the image becomes the
source of the image after the image. The true foundation, the
definite beginning, disappears in the undecidable interplay of
source and image. Let's now take another step further and
explore this I. I want to take this I, this complicated
beginning, which is also a complication of beginning, as an
example of Derridean diffèrance. Diffèrance is the play of
differing and deferring (See Derrida, 1973, pp 129-160). The I
is the subject differed from itself (opposed to itself) in the
sense that it recognises itself as other in the (abstract)
mirror. But it is also the subject deferred from itself (i.e.
postponed from itself), because Lacan says that in the mirror the
subject sees what it will have become. The language of the
mirror is spoken in the future perfect. The I is the
simultaneity of differing and deferring. But this is no simple
origin or beginning. The depth of this I is not to be fathomed.
According to Derrida (1976, pp 62-65) we cannot grasp diffèrance
in one go. The simultaneity of differing and deferring, which
is the simultaneity of space becoming time and time becoming
space, this "origin" of space-time, this playful I, lies outside
Now it takes only a simple calculation to show how this I is
always already a spanner in the works of any factory of truth.
At the present occasion we cannot deal fully with an argument
which situates the I as the differential between fact and
fiction, because this argument would require more time and space
than we have to our disposal. Therefore, I advance this position
as mere hypothesis, and not as rational(ised) fact.
Let's start with an objective position, meaning a position of
objectivity. If we find ourselves at a distance from the object
it is easy to work with oppositional structures. If there is an
inside, we can objectively consider the outside; if it is valued
positive, we can comprehend it's negative side; if it is present
we can imagine it's absence; if it is fact we know the fictive.
A whole reality spreads out before our (mind's) eye(s). A
seamless fabric(ation) of reality unfolds itself in front of us.
But what happens when the objective position fails us, as it
inevitably always does? What happens when we find ourselves in
a certain present (as we inevitably always do)? Can we then
recognise the absent for what it is? Certainly not. When we
find ourselves on the side of the present (inside the present)
our comprehension of the absent (of the outside of this present
inside) is always already founded in the present where we find
ourselves. Yet we must acknowledge that there is a non-present
(that which is absolutely other to the present) that captures,
yet exceeds, our understanding of the absent. In other words
there is a difference between non-present and absent that we
cannot take into account on the grounds of the present. This
interval between what refers to itself as non-present and what
we, on the grounds of what is present, understand to be absent,
splits the present from the absent. And this split between
presence and absence relates our life world to what is absolutely
other to this world. We cannot fathom the content of this split.
This fold or crease, in what we normally experience as a seamless
reality, is the intrusion of the unexpected into our life-worlds.
Such is the (hypothesised) position of I. It is the locus
where any comprehension of the difference between the non-present
and the absent fails, and thus it forms a certain lack in the
life-world that unfolds in front of our (mind's) eye(s). This
I is an eye, perhaps the pupil of the eye. But the I is also
always present in any understanding of the world, and thus it
forms a surplus that cannot be accounted for by whatever present
themselves to be the presences and absences that constitute this
world. This I relates our life-world to what is absolutely other
to this world. It is the differential between inside and
outside, positive and negative, presence and absence, fact and
fiction, perhaps even between life and death.
Let's now follow the workings of this hypothesised I as it
becomes a spanner in the works of the factory of truth.
I AS A SPANNER IN THE WORKS OF THE FACTORY OF TRUTH
The paper I gave at a symposium on the ontology of person
centred on the undecidibility of the being of person. I analysed
a portion of Derrida's text on diffèrence to show that the
undecidable moment in Derridean diffèrance could be identified
as I. My major proposal was that this I is both a lack and a
surplus in any ontology, in the sense that it is always already
both the subject of and subjected to its ontology. The paper was
written in a post modern idiom, and it relied a lot on word play,
such as that suggested in its title: The ontology of I, the eye
of ontology. In a brief introduction I explained the gist of the
paper's content as well as it's presentation methodology. Yet,
despite this precaution the paper was still perceived as
controversial, and in the week that followed the symposium it
stirred some of my colleagues into action. I relate three
stories from that week.
Story 1: Professing a psychology
The day after the symposium a professor of
psychology paid me a visit. The professor thought I meant my
paper as a joke. Even after reading the text s/he still
maintained that only the proper use of grammar saved the text
from being a word salad, i.e. from being absolutely nonsensical.
According to the professor, the presentation could not be counted
as a psychological paper. No wonder then that the professor
later on attempted to obstruct the publication of the text.
The moral of the story:
The discipline of psychology did
not fall from the sky. A number of pioneers had to work long and
hard to establish the field and to bestow it with credibility.
Today psychology still needs its professors, those who are
prepared to actively maintain the discipline of this subject
matter. This is (and I must state it empathically) a legitimate
project, for hopefully a beneficial capital is worked in the
mutual professing of the discipline and its professors. The
related event demonstrates clearly how the professor goes about
the business of professing his/her discipline. S/he sees the
discipline as (a) serious business (it's not a joke), and (b)
adhering to some form of logos (a certain grammar), which (c)
implies standards that need to be maintained by keeping a
watchful eye over what is allowed as the discipline's text.
The confession of an I:
But let's look closely at the
professor's actions. In judging the initial paper the professor
finds him/herself on the inside of a certain psychology. It is
from inside the discipline, and based on its logos, that s/he is
able to label the presentation nonsensical. The issue is not the
legitimacy of the distinction between the inside and the outside
of the discipline. What is at stake is the act of drawing this
distinction. In drawing the distinction the professor subjects
everything, and this includes the outside of the discipline, to
the logos of the discipline. The outside is calculated as the
negative of a certain positive. It is the irrational of the
rational, the nonsensical of the sensible. It is on the basis of
what the discipline already is that the professor is able to
reject the presented text, and to label it as something outside
the discipline. But in doing so the professor denies a self
responsibility. Thus the professor is not seen to play a role.
But this should not surprise us. Traditionally the professor's
discipline requires him/her to be objective. The logos of the
discipline commands the withdrawal of any subjectivity (also the
professor's subjectivity). All folds or creases should be ironed
out. The end of the discipline is to unfold a seamless reality.
And this is exactly what the professor is up to. S/he objects
to a text that suggests that a certain fold cannot be ironed out,
that a certain subjectivity can never be fully withdrawn from the
reality that is unfolded by the discipline. S/he claims that a
particular text cannot be accommodated by the discipline's logos.
But what is claimed here, if not a certain discipline? Declaring
a text to be unsuitable, draws the boarders of the discipline.
The claim of unsuitability, the disclaiming of the text, is
always already a deed of circumvention. But what a loaded word
we have in circumvention! At the very moment the professor draws
borders around (circumvents) the discipline (his/her subject)
s/he does so by rejecting/avoiding (circumventing) a certain
subjectivity. At the very moment s/he circumvents the subject
s/he circumvents the subject. The closure of the borders is the
loss of the subject. This moment(um) of the doubled
circumvention is always already inherent in the very
discipline/disciplining of psychology. And the essence of this
moment(um) is precisely what the professor cannot circumvent -
neither avoid, nor surround. The interval marked off by this
doubling, is his/her I. The professor's professing is the
confession of this I (a confession that never allows, not even
in this sentence, the subject to be distinguished from the
Story 2: The murder of the messenger
In the week that followed the symposium on
the ontology of person a number of tea-time discussions took
place. In the absence of the presenters these discussions
quickly turned into gossip, a carousal where truth was shunted
onto a lesser track; the discrediting the messengers.
The moral of the story:
The symposium on the ontology
of person was held under the auspices of a departmental
discussion forum, simply known as Forum. Thus the invitation to
the symposium read as follows: Forum: You are invited to a
symposium on ..... . Perhaps we should keep in mind here the
historical meanings of these terms: Forum is the place of
rational debate and justification, and symposium indicates a
drinking party. These are the contexts for both the professor's
actions as well as those of the murderous one. However, unlike
the professor the murderous one shows no interest in rational
discussion. The professor works hard at curbing the symposium
in the forum. But the murderous one pours wine at the tea-time
table, and toasts the death of his/her colleague. Why this
fierce reaction? One should perhaps not be astonished at this
behaviour, because the colleague is an angel of death, a
messenger who spreads the news that psychology can exist only in
the face of a certain intelligibility. The post modern
intellectual life of psychology depends on the death of a purely
rational-scientific enterprise. The original presentation refers
to the slight lunacy at work at the origins of knowledge: .....
not madness as the negative of saneness, the irrational of the
rational, but a slight infestation of the rational with the
non-rational. Derrida shows us the gap in our understanding
..... he traces out the hole in knowledge, a writing about the
eye of ontology, which is simultaneously the spring (in more than
one sense) of this knowledge. And in James Hillman's The myth
of analysis (1972, pp 137-138) we read: Perhaps the Age of reason
has reached its last borders, the borders of reason itself, the
mind and its own darkness. The light now turning towards itself
created a new science of the mind, psychology, and of the mind's
shadow, psychopathology. And the original presentation examines
these claims with reference to issues in modern day physics,
mathematics, psychology and philosophy (van Deventer, 1994). In
the face of (so much) death a frightening anxiety must close in,
an anxiety that dulls the mind into pre-reasoned and intuitive
actions of defence. Anxiety, says Lacan, introduces us to the
function of the lack (Weber, 1991, p 151). And it is in coming
face to face with ourselves, in facing our unveiled selves, that
we experience this lack, an thus an uncontrollable anxiety: If
we will imagine it, as an extreme case, lived in the mode of
strangeness proper to apprehensions of the 'double', this
situation would set off an uncontrollable anxiety (Lacan 1977,
pp 15-16; see also Gallop, 1985, p 63).
The confession of an I:
With the murderous one the
problem is not so much the action of murder (there may be
legitimate reasons for wishing one's colleague dead!), as it is
the meaningfulness of this act, because here the one murdered is
the angel of death. Is there any stronger way to convey the
message? Is the killing of the angel of death not the absolute
affirmation of his message? It takes a certain death to keep
psychology alive. A certain unreasoned act underscores the
reasoned fact. Has not the murderous one already dulled his/her
senses with the symposium wine when this senseless act is
committed? How much gossip (unconstrained talk about persons or
social incidents - Oxford Wordfinder) does it take to save the
scientific enterprise? How much slip of reason is necessary to
maintain the rational, how much subjectivity is required to
preserve the objective? Somewhere a cock crows thrice, and
behind the bloodied posts 30 pieces of silver change hands,
before the murderous one hangs him/herself.
Story 3: Announcing a post mortem
A week after the symposium I received an
anonymous note entitled: A post mortem of postmodernism.
The moral of the story:
The ideal of every objective
science certainly is the anonymity of its scientist. The
nameless one, the one who slips from the forum without a trace.
But can we say that s/he leaves behind an objective science, an
objective psychology? And can we conclude that this psychology
belongs to him/her, or that s/he belongs to this psychology? Who
is s/he? A professor? A murderer? Perhaps a murderous
professor? One cannot know. After all, s/he is the anonymous
one! With an anonymous note s/he leaves a trace that informs
you without naming the name, a note that obscures even the fact
of his/her existence, because the note is the announcement of a
post mortem. In the forum s/he marks his/her existence with the
absence of existence. An even here a particular strategy is
followed. The note is left strategically. It is left for a
specific messenger. It is the postmodern messenger who receives
this note. And of course the note nullifies the messenger'
message. If post modernism is dead the messenger's message is
worthless. Therefore, when the messenger points out the place
where the anonymous one died in the forum, when he indicates that
the psychologist leaves an interval of undecidibility in
psychology, when he describes the unintelligible moment of the
I, his message is always already nullified by this note of a post
The confession of an I:
The announcement of a post
mortem is a note that veils existence, yet it is still a trace.
The note is a trace of the nameless one. But this note is much
more. In declaring a post mortem it becomes the trace of the
erasure of the trace of the nameless one's existence. It erases
the trace of that place where the nameless one slips from the
forum. Thus the note is the trace of the erasure of a trace.
However, does the anonymous one succeed? Does the objective
scientist obtain the goal of pure objectivity? No, precisely
because the note, that which is present, the objective, is never
present in and of itself. It is always already a trace of the
erasure of a trace. It is the trace of the disappearing subject,
of the one who withdraws to be him/herself outside the forum,
outside the logos, or the scientific, and thus outside
psychology. But that which is left in the forum, the note that
defaults into a modern scientific enterprise by declaring the
post modern dead, this entire psychology is always already the
trace of the disappearing subject. An entire psychology is the
confession of I.
PS: A final confession of I
We have listened to three confessions of I, three confessions
that are presented in support of the notion that I am a spanner
in the factory of truth, in support of the idea that I am the
differential between fact and fiction. But is this the truth of
I, and is this the true I? Are these the same? We do not have
sufficient time for a full analysis. I can simply alert you to
Therefore, is this the truth of I? The issue has not been
argued. The rational argument has been avoided: Here I advance
this position as mere hypothesis, and not as rational(ised) fact.
We only have in evidence the repetition of the demonstration.
The story relating the confessions of I, is in itself a
confession of I. Why? Remember this story is about the I as the
differential between fact and fiction. In avoiding the rational
argument, I (the one who tells this story) situate myself as the
differential in which the truth of this presentation, and thus
the truth of the I, is founded (if we can still use this word).
But if truth is founded in I, can we still ask the question of
the truth of I? Is truth, and thus the truth of I, then not
always already a confession? I have confessed an I.
Derrida, J. (1973). Speech and phenomena and other essays on
Husserl's theory of signs. (Translation: D. Allison). Evanston:
Northwestern University Press.
Derrida, J. (1976). Of Grammatology (Translation: G.C. Spivak).
Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Gallop, J. (1985). Reading Lacan. Ithaca: Cornell University
Hillman, J. (1972). The myth of analysis: Three essays in
archetypical psychology. New York: Harper & Row Publishers.
Lacan, J. (1977). Ecrits: A selection. (Translation: A.
Sheridan). London: Tavistock Publications.
van Deventer, V. (1994). The ontology of I, the eye of ontology:
About the postmodern subject. In C. Plug (Ed.), Reports from the
Psychology Department. No 30.
Weber, S. (1991). Return to Freud (Translation: M. Levine).
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Department of Psychology
University of South Africa
PO Box 392