Emergence of Self

So, this semester I took a class called Social Theory, where we studied all of the philosophers and theorists that talk about social phenomenon. At the end of the semester, we were to do a final project that incorporated these ideas into what could be an art project, or a paper if we chose to write one. I decided to write a poem that explored George Herbert Mead‘s theories about the self. I’m really excited about this poem, I haven’t written a long poem like this in over four years. It will definitely be a good addition to my portfolio. I am even more excited about this project because I received a high grade. To quote my teacher, “Really, really beautiful work… You manage to keep Mead at the center of the work without it being clunky or distracting.”

You can view the poem by clicking here, the poem can be found on my portfolio page.

Below (after the jump) is the artist statement for the poem.

Emergence of Self – Artist Statement

The self is constantly emergent. From one moment to the next, as I reflect on how others see me, how they might see me, how I want them to see me, how I would see myself if I were them, I change and a new self emerges. Underlying this, is something that I have begun to understand about myself; my own direct experience is the realest thing that I have in my life. When I sat down to begin this project, I imagined an “I” from the philosophy of G.H. Mead, but I did not simply see an “I,” I saw myself as a baby having emerged from my mother’s womb, covered in fluid, my eyes squinted shut, my little legs kicking spastically. I began to write from the perspective not of this “I,” but of this babe, me. Almost instantly, my own self emerged within this work, as it had cause to do.  So I began to understand that I could not write this story, about the emergence of the self, without it being the emergence of myself. I also quickly understood that this was not only acceptable, but it served a purpose. The writing that I do has always served a purpose, which is to reflect. For me, poetry is where this process begins and ends. (A note on style: The line breaks are intentional, if this were being read I would pause a second at most line breaks, as well as periods.)

For some people the writing is removed from the writer, the words on the sheet are mere stains that represent words with more or less meaning. For me the writing is me, and it is I. The written word itself is this same process about which I am writing. The story begins on my bike, where better a place to start, but it also begins out in the world, as I begin to trace backwards through time to those moments when the self first began to emerge from nothingness, that wondrous moment when I first saw my mother’s eyes, the first time in my life when I was seen.

But there is something here that Mead did not discuss, the pain. This is something I spent much of my time thinking about as I worked on this project. Why do newborns cry? Is it instinct? Or is it painful to be thrust out of comfort and warmth and nothingness and into somethingness. To suddenly be, when before there was nothing, to suddenly exist, I imagine it to be one of the most agonizing moments in life. This is the encapsulation that I discuss. Because if there is nothingness before, and the being comes from being seen, from being recognized as Hegel would say, then what is there that gets wound up into becoming the self? These interactions, of being seen, of seeing and hearing and learning, they are the light of knowledge and like light approaching a black hole, they give it shape, and meaning. While there is a being that is fit to process these symbols it encounters and the interactions it has, without the light it would be emptiness without form. Without form we are mere vegetables, but I believe it is important to remember the pain involved in coming into form. I imagine it to be a tingling sensation, like the feeling deep inside the nose during a nosebleed, except covering the whole body.

But out of the pain comes comfort. At first the light of knowledge is blinding, but it quickly becomes subsumed by the warmth of parental love and affection, shock turns into trust and awe and peace. From this point on, the self emerges slowly with each new breath, and each new touch, and each new gaze into someone’s eyes. The “I” engages with the world and slowly I begin to see how the world engages with me. I tug at my legs and realize that they are attached to something, I look down and see my arms but I cannot trace their origin completely. There is something here, I begin to realize it, and in short order I begin think about it, and about how the rest of the world engages with it. I begin to see what it means to be a “good boy.” I begin to learn what is right and wrong; I take the bubble-gum from the store without telling anyone and I know enough to hide it behind my dresser, even though I do not yet understand how it is that I have become a person that would steal bubble-gum from the store. It takes time but I eventually begin to understand this as well.

These are the first of many stages of an emergent self. Beyond this point I cannot be certain because it is the point where I now stand. This project’s goal was to tell the story of the emergence of the self; instead this was the story of the emergence of myself. It is the story that continues to be written and re-written every second of every day. It is the story about which I spend the most time contemplating. That boy, the boy who wonders, and regrets, and learns, and loves; every day, that boy is I and that boy is Me.

Posted in Poems, Sociology by Preston on May 21st, 2013

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