Unreal Nature

March 12, 2017

The Manifold Acts of Other People

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:51 am

… recognition or acceptance descends upon me from others like a gift, like grace, which is incapable of being understood and founded from within myself.

Continuing through the essay ‘Author and Hero in Aesthetic Activity’ in Art and Answerability: Early Philosophical Essays by M.M. Bakhtin edited by Michael Holquist and Vadim Liapunov (1990):

… The value of my external personality as a whole (and, first and foremost, the value of my external body — which is our exclusive concern in the present context) has a borrowed character: it is constructed by me, but is not experienced by me in any unmediated way.

I can strive in an unmediated way for self-preservation and well-being, defend my life with all the means at my disposal,and even strive for power and the subjection of others, but I can never experience within myself in any unmediated way that which constitutes me as a legal person, because my legal personality is nothing else but my guaranteed certainty in being granted recognition by other people — a certainty that I experience as their obligation in relation to myself. For it is one thing to defend one’s own life in fact against an attack in fact — animals act in exactly the same way in this case. It is an entirely different thing to experience one’s right to life and safety and the obligation of others to respect this right.

And, similarly, there is an equally profound difference between my inner experience of my own body and the recognition of its outer value by other people — my right to the loving acceptance or recognition of my exterior by others: this recognition or acceptance descends upon me from others like a gift, like grace, which is incapable of being understood and founded from within myself. And it is only in this case that certainty in the outer value of my body is possible, whereas an immediately intuitable experience of that value is impossible — all I can do is have pretensions to it.

The plastic value of my outer body has been, as it were, sculpted for me by the manifold acts of other people in relation to me, acts performed intermittently throughout my life: acts of concern for me, acts of love, acts that recognize my value.

… The outer body is unified and shaped by cognitive, ethical, and aesthetic categories, and by the sum total of external, visual, and tangible features that make up the plastic and pictorial values in it. My emotional-volitional reactions to the other’s outer body are unmediated, and it is only in relation to the other that I experience the beauty of the human body in an immediate way — that is, the human body begins to live for me on an entirely different axiological plane, on an axiological plane inaccessible to my inner self-sensation and my fragmentary outer seeing. … Only the inner body (the body experienced as heavy) is given to a human being himself; the other’s outer body is not given but set as a task: I must actively produce it.

… Such, then, is the difference between the outer and the inner body (between the other’s body and my own) within the concrete and closed context of a unique person’s life, for whom the relationship of “I and the other” is absolutely irreversible and given once and for all.

My most recent previous post from Bakhtin’s book is here.

-Julie

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