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On socio-cartographing the self in an age of hegemony in transition: Reflections on the thoughts of Robert Kegan, Lorenzo Simpson, and Frederic Jameson*

Essay-Roadmap

My plan for this reflection paper is to first situate some of the themes from the work of Frederic Jameson, namely from his essay “The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism”, and next look at Robert Kegan’s idea of a “Constructivist Self”, and finally offer some of my revelations on the means and methods I have formulated a personality of the self, i.e. the post-scripting and sub-texting of the self as inspired by the quote from Lorenzo Simpson. “Jamesonian analysis” Rather than reiterating what the Jamesonian article is about, I begin my essay with the essential points he raised in the conclusion section particularly the idea of social cartography.

          Jameson is inviting us to engage in a critical examination of the most fundamental aspects of our location in this ontological vocation of things, i.e. how we interact and act in the space we inhabit—our personal and communal and national as well as global spaces. Metaphoring this call for praxis with the notion of social cartography, Jameson believed that this is an important step to understand how the self ought to be positioned in this paralyzing state of postmodern beingness. He writes about this cartography in his conclusion:

…An aesthetic of cognitive mapping – a pedagogical political culture which seeks to endow the individual subject with some new heightened sense of its place in the global system-will necessarily have to respect this now enormously complex representational dialectic and to invent radically new forms to do it justice. This is not, then, clearly a call for a return to some older kind of machinery, some older and more transparent national space, or some more traditional and reassuring perspectival or mimetic enclave: the new political art-if it is indeed possible at all-will to have to hold to the truth of postmodernism, that is, to say, to its fundamental object-the world space of multinational capital-at the same time at which it achieves a breakthrough to some as yet unimaginable new mode of representing this last, in which we may again begin to grasp our positioning as individual and collective subjects and regain a capacity to act and struggle which is at present neutralized by our spatial as well as our social confusion. The political form of postmodernism, if there ever is any, will have as its vocation the invention and projection of global cognitive mapping, on a social as well as a spatial scale. (paragraph 110)

Jameson’s dissection of the logic of late capitalism (dialectical materialism)


          Essentially and hence, Jameson’s argument goes like this: That postmodernism. From a “periodizing thesis” point of view cannot hold if we are to understand this “fashionable” terminology of social change as yet another stage in the development of capitalism. One can look at the styles of postmodernism through architecture, the visual arts, literature, and the range of aesthetic populism and call it an extension of modernism or a maturated version of high modernism.


          However, Jameson offered another lens to look at this seemingly periodized change in a cognitive-social moment in our history from a critical perspective fashioned after an analysis of the base-superstructural dimension of change. Jameson spoke of the death and horror underlying the change wrought about by postmodernism that is, under the shibboleth of liberal democracy and free-market lies the withering of the individual and the triumph of materialism and the reigning of an Orwellian version of authoritarianism.

          The individual, a product of the powerful forces of social change in the invisible hands of those who own the means of material production whether hegemonized or not, becomes cogs in the wheels of this newer, smarter, and more highly systematic and digitized form of the machinery of oppression. Hence Jameson elaborated extensively on the idea of the erosion of the moral, spiritual, cognitive, and emotional strength of the individual; a process of erosion which is consequenced upon the thematic forms of depthlessness Jameson spoke of as “waning of affect”, “death of the subject”, incongruency of the inside and the outside, the prevalence of the separation of the inside and the outside, and a range of other themes of alienation, disjuncture, and fragmentation characteristic of the self-corroded by the ebbs and tides of technological and materialistic life.

          Jameson extended his analysis to the way the themes of alienation are presented in the variety of visual experiences and the architecture of thinking which dominates the so-called postmodernist movement. Rather than these presentations become lessons in what has gone wrong with civilization, where we are heading pathologically, and what kind of horror underlies what we have built our civilization upon, Jameson writes that these themes are presented as styles of the high modernist and postmodernist movements. There is hence no moral lesson to be learned from the lessons in social decay. Jameson offered a way out of this condition of oppression although not exactly clear to whom he is addressing his suggestions.

         He writes about socio-cartographing oneself in this architecture of socio-cognitive oppression. This is to be done by first looking at one’s location in the weltanschauung or worldview constructed by forces of multinational capital. This ought to be the beginning of, borrowing the Brazilian educator’s words, understanding of one’s “ontological vocation” in which, through the power of critical consciousness or conscientization and Subjectivizing one’s objective condition, the path to freedom can be found.

“Whose “Information Society” are we in?”

If we are to locate the source of our civilization’s discontent, we might find it in the way we have structured our thoughts and in the way Pinker might speak of, as to how we have built a prison house of language in the way we make sense of phenomena. We are asked to believe that we are in an “Age of Cybernetics”, in an “Age of Information”., functioning in a “Networked Economy” and living in a “Borderless World”. Our consciousness is constantly bombarded by the images of success via competition, cut-throat competition that is, and in the way, we are told how economics operate and how our lives are ordered by the bulls and bears of the Stock Market. Many a philosopher of language might agree that language mirrors thought and the mirror which mirrors our understanding of ourselves might have been the same one hung in the Cave in which Plato spoke of the Allegory.

          But instead of asking the question “What is the Information Society”? we might best ask “Whose Information Society are we in?” The latter demands a reconceptualization of the meaning of this overused word, which has the hegemonizing effect upon us. The question too demands us to ask questions of power-relations and in the manner of Jamesonian critique, demands us to locate ourselves in the abyss of data smog. Jameson eloquently writes about the nature of the technological ontology our consciousness inhabits, one which mesmerizes and homogenizes, and one in which the ideology of multinational capital dominates:

 …I want to suggest that our faulty representations of some immense communicational and computer network are themselves but a distorted figuration of something even deeper, namely the whole world system of present-day multinational capitalism. The technology of contemporary society is therefore mesmerizing and fascinating, not so much in its own right, but because it seems to offer some privileged representational shorthand for grasping a network of power and control even more difficult for our minds and imaginations to grasp-namely the whole new decentered global network of the third stage of capital itself. This is a figural process presently best observed in a whole mode of contemporary entertainment literature, which one is tempted to characterize as ‘high tech paranoia’, in which the circuits and networks of some putative global computer hook-up are narratively mobilized by labyrinthine conspiracies of autonomous but deadly interlocking and competing information agencies in a complexity often beyond the capacity of the normal reading mind. (paragraph 77)

          Having stated the main points of the Jamesonian critique o technological-based transnational capitalism and how the hegemony embedded in the base-superstructure of the system, I now turn to how the question of alienation can be looked at from the point of view of constructivism as proposed by psychologist Robert Kegan in his work The Evolving Self. “Kegan’s constructivist philosophy” (personal construct philosophy) Robert Kegan in The Evolving Self writes about the stages of cognitive, emotional, and moral development of the human being and how the individual maturity, progress, and transformation can be ascertained by one’s recognition of the stage one is in. He writes of the five stages in the development of the individual: In the ‘Evolving Self’, Kegan discusses constructivism and developmentalism. what he terms as “two separate Big Ideas” (p.8)

          The former proposes that “persons or systems constitute or construct reality” (p. 8) while the latter proposes that “organic systems evolve through qualitatively different eras according to regular principles of stability and change” (p. 13). Kegan observes that although in somewhat different ways, both ideas insist on recognizing that behind the form there exists a process that creates it. Kegan suggests easing the tensions within personality theory, there is a need for a sophisticated understanding of the relationship between: (1) the psychological and the social, (2) the past and the present, and (3) emotion and thought (p. 15). In his quest to provide a broader context for the study of personality,

          Kegan articulates in this book, a framework that brings together the big ideas of construction and development. This constructive-developmental framework studies the phenomenon in nature which Kegan calls the evolution of meaning. The theory outlined in this book suggests a life history of what Winnicott, referring to the infant, called the “holding environment.” I have proposed that we are “held” throughout our lives in qualitatively different ways as we evolve. The circumstance of being held, I have suggested, reflects not the vulnerable state of infancy but the evolutionary state of embeddedness. However, much we evolve, we are always still embedded. Development at any period in the life history, involving an emergence from a psychobiological evolutionary state, must also involve an emergence from embeddedness in a particular human context. This is analogous to transcending my culture and creating a distinction between what now appears as the culture’s definition of me and what is “really me.” (p.256-257)

          In the earlier sections, I have alluded to the Jamesonian notion of the individual trapped in this monad, this moment in time of structural oppression mistaken as the technological culture. Kegan would say that we are qualitatively held by this cybernetic culture throughout our lives and failed to see the path we are to free ourselves. If we extend further Kegan’s analysis of the embeddedness of our culture which determines the kind of person we are as opposed to who we really are, then there is a disjuncture. It is in the idea that much of how we define ourselves as modern or postmodern, technological or cybernetic, or this or that based on some material conception of life, are a result of a language play of the culture we are in. In other words, we let the technological-ness of our surroundings define who we are and in due course of our life, we become defined and acted upon rather than be the definer and the actor of the life we are living.

          We thus are defined as individuals who are “developing” and in being defined as such, we are to be developed by some unseen forces such as society or culture which might be disabling to the naturalness of how we ought to order our lives. Parallel to this example would be the idea of a nation that is defined as “developed”, “developing” or “underdeveloped”. Who defines at what stage these nations are developing? What criteria or indicators of development are used? In the situation of international dependency, who will rely on whom to develop? Would Bangladesh, defined as an “underdeveloped” nation be perpetually dependent on the criteria of development set by the so-called “developed nations” such as Great Britain, United States, or Japan, to succeed in the arena of global development and competition?

          These are the issue of language as a prison house and the question of a nation being internationally cartographed by the powerful economies of the world. What about defining the nation as sovereign, independent, and constantly evolving based upon its own cultural and moral constructivist uniqueness? Would this then be a more progressive conception of the evolution of the meaning of nations? I would say that when we juxtapose the notion of constructivism with the development of nations, hence, we would call the nation a CONSTRUCTIVIST nation which progress based upon the principles of PHYSICAL ECONOMY rather than from any notion of a borderless world operating on touchtone virtual capitalism which destroys economies and renders millions jobless?

“Back to the individual.”

          Not the developing individual but a Constructivist and Cartographic individual who is on his way to becoming one who lives on a unique personal construct philosophy. If we are to design a program of praxis based upon the suggestion of Frederic Jameson and based upon the conception of the Constructivist Self proposed by Kegan and situate this program within a perspective which will optimize one’s understanding of human and self-agency, and begin to build the cognitive capacities for the individual to intelligently play out the protoscripts, what would the educational program look like? I now turn to Kegan’s stages of one’s personal development of meaning.

          Kegan’s fourth and fifth stage of development Particularly interesting and pertinent to the discussion of the self-cartographed as a Constructivist being is the idea of the last two stages Kegan writes about. The evolutionary balance and psychological embeddedness which Kegan proposes constitute the following: (0) Incorporative (embedded in: reflexes, sensing, and moving) (1) Impulsive (embedded in: impulse and perception) (2) Imperial (embedded in: enduring disposition, needs, interests, wishes) (3) Interpersonal (embedded in: mutuality, interpersonal concordance) (4) Institutional (embedded in: personal autonomy, self-system identity) (5) Interindividual (embedded in: interpenetration of systems) (pp. 118-120). Kegan explains that stage 4’s wider appropriation brings inside those conflicts between shared spaces that were formerly externalized. This makes stage 4’s emotional life a matter of holding both sides of a feeling simultaneously.

          In contrast, stage 3 tends to experience its ambivalence one side at a time. But what is more important according to Kegan, to the interior change between the interpersonal and the institutional, is the way the latter is regulative of its feelings. Kegan explains, having moved the shared over from subject to object, the feelings which arise out of inter-personalism do not reflect the structure of one’s equilibrative knowing and being. But are in fact, reflected upon that structure. The feelings which depend on mutuality for their origin and their renewal remain important but are relativized by that context, for example, the psychic institution and time-bound constructions of a role, which maintain that institution.

          Kegan argues the sociomoral implications of this ego balance are the construction of the legal, societal, normative system. Kegan also suggests that these social constructions are reflective of that deeper structure that constructs the self itself as a system and makes ultimate (as does every balance) the maintenance of its integrity. The “self” at ego stage 4 Kegan postulates is an administrator in the narrow sense of the word—a person whose meanings are derived out of the organization—rather than deriving the organization out of his/her meaning, principles, purposes, or reality. Stage 4 has no “self,” no “source,” no “truth” before which it can bring the operational constraints of the organization, because its “self,” its “source,” its “truth” is invested within these operational constraints. In this sense, Kegan observes, ego stage 4 is inevitably ideological. Kegan states every ego equilibrium amounts to a kind of “theory” of the prior stage. He explains stage 2 is a “theory” of impulse.

          The impulses are organized or ordered by the needs, wishes, or interests. Stage 3 is a “theory” of needs. That which is taken as before them, the interpersonal relationships, orders them. They are rooted in and reckoned by institutions. Stage 4 is a kind of theory of interpersonal relationships. They are rooted in and reckoned by institutions. Stage 5 is a theory of the institutional. The institutional is ordered by that new self who is taken as before the institutional.

“To live an intelligible life”

          Lorenzo Simpson writes:

To live an intelligible life, I have suggested, is to act out interpretations of the social roles or protoscripts that form our sociocultural horizon. Coherence and meaning can be achieved at the level of understanding just what protoscripts and roles one is living out. This gives us coherence but not closure, for, unlike an actor in a play, we do not know how the play will end, what will become of the characters, how roles will intersect, conflict, and so on. An awareness of the roles we are enacting will give us some guidance concerning how to act, but otherwise, we are inventing ourselves in a field of contingency as we go along. Life is thus more like improvised acting, with a theme but not much in the way of a script, with coherence but not closure.

          Simpson’s idea of us as protoscripts acting out roles to make sense and shape the socio-cultural horizon we are in is indeed a creative way of looking at the idea of the human being as makers of history. The idea of living an existentialist life and to roll the rock not quite like Sisyphus I think is a tempting notion to grasp; one cannot feel freedom when the essentials questions of life are not asked, or when the questions asked are the wrong ones instead. But there are also questions concerning the quote by Simpson. For example, what is the role of Fate and Divine intervention in the scheme of things we think we have a sense of? Where is the question of the ultimate truth we human beings are so obsessed with in the stories we tell about ourselves? Yet, in making sense of our lives to ourselves and to others, we do tell stories, with beginnings, middles, and ends.

          This sense-making is enabled by provisional points and hypothetical projections of closure; thus St. Augustine tells the story of his becoming a Christian, or Proust, of having become a writer. To find meaning is to be able to tell such provisional stories, such petits recits (little narratives), each with its kind of closure.” Lorenzo C. Simpson, Technology, Time, and the Conversations of Modernity.

“My experience is a text, as I suggested above, but it is one that is being continually written. It is a text, in the making. This endows it with an openness over and above even that of a completed text or historical epoch. The latter is, in a sense, definite and finished but open to an indefinite number of appropriate interpretations or appropriations. Experience, then, has the openness of being incomplete as well as that of being open to interpretation. (I return to this in Chapter Five, when I discuss some disanalogies between life and texts.) The meanings which I extract from my experience contribute to and point to, intend, and always incompletely realized sense of my life which furnishes me with further anticipations for interpretation. In the sense, then, in which it might be reasonable to speak of a perfect knowledge of a text, or of history, or of a perfect appropriation of the meaning of experience.”

“Cartographing the self”: Being and Peronacracy

          The quotes from Lorenzo Simpson are powerful indeed. I cannot elaborate further on his sense of understanding oneself as a bricolage, except to construct my understanding of what those postscripts mean. I have then, attempted to construct a statement of personal philosophy below which I believe at this point, at this moment of writing, best capture a vignette of the self I inhabit and define myself as. The question is: How individual am I?

          How limiting can the term “individualist” mean if it hovers merely within the realm of one’s beingness concerning this world wherein information is mistaken for knowledge and propaganda for truth within the assumption that what we know can merely be grasped by the senses five? If one’s entire beingness and becomingness are shackled by it being shaped by the apparatuses of the modern state, as Gramsci once said, and if one’s understanding of the world is merely a mimic of what politics, culture, and scientism have dictated, then the word “individualism” is but a term coined so that the personhood in each one of us becomes an object to be studied through the process of Othering. Within this delimiting and shackling context then, I must name myself less as an individual and more as a “personacrat.”

          My personacratic self primarily aims at understanding first and foremost my Inner World with its attendant beauty and self-government, evolving personhood, destroying of paradigms, and perpetual awareness of the supra consciousness of what lies within. I am a personacrat derived from a conceptual meadow I coin as “personacracy”; a government (kratos) of the self, by the self, for the self. I reject all forms of democracy; the illusionary system of government that has lost its meaning since it was first conceptualized. Personacracy allows me to be in this world of illusion, of MAYA, but not be and become part of it. I am thus in this world but not of this world.

          The government I have created in my wakefulness entails me to mediate between the I and the Thou-ness of the scheme of things. I conjure Existence as the highest ideal, going beyond merely thinking therefore I exist, rather believing that I exist within a universe of Existence. I persist to exist within this encapsulated notion called the mind and body and persist to believe that when this body rots, Death becomes the beginning of perpetual existence. I am eternal within this form and shape of beingness until Eternity calls upon me to be me with Nature and to be a witness to the Truth I have longed to meet. I am truth within a Truth of greater magnitude. I am one and indivisible within a greater design of Oneness and Indivisibility. I utilize my senses five with guidance from my Inner Self in turn guided by a counter-balancing self within.

          And within these faculties and the political organs within, my entire personhood is a government in itself to be ethnically mastered and maneuvered through the Oceans of Mercy I call the World outside. I am thus as such, closer to my Self than my jugular vein! In what ways then, am I not individualistic? Here are a few: I once wept when I had no shoes until I saw a man with no feet; I once believed that man can rise to become Superman, until I sank deeper within myself to become a vicegerent of the Supreme Spirit; I once believed that life is to be lived until I heard one said the life unexamined is not worth living;

          I once believed that we live once and then die until I discovered that Death to me comes by every nightfall and I live a new life by every break of day; I once heard of distant heaven and hell, until I name them so as I can be in them; I once let time pass, until I became it and gave what it asked for; I once thought loneliness is bliss until I began to desire of its unspeakable beauty; I once asked who should govern and why must I be governed until I found the ways to govern those within me who longed to be governed; I once marveled at creation, destruction, and sustenance until I found that I am all in one Creator, Destroyer and Sustainer.

          I am this world within and the world without but not with it. Because if I am part of it, I will be apart from the Thou I longed to be part of! I am a traveler passing through Time. In my journey, I have met mice and men, savages and savants, politicians and philosophers, economists and ecofeminists. In my journey, I have met Marx, Nietzsche, Sartre, Foucault, and philosophers beyond the individualism I have been told to mimic. I am taking to the road not taken, for it should make a difference and as I pass through, I kept looking at open windows lest I be oblivious of what this world may teach. And as I pass through I become more subdued in my anger of what has wrought this world and made men wretched of the earth as I know that this journey is an arduous one; one which begins with a web of guesses but will end at a point of certainty.

          And at the moment of death, the end of the road, I am meeting a self with whom I am familiar, who I once met before this journey begins. I create the rock I choose to roll so that one should imagine me happy. I can soar among eagles and dwell among sparrows. Life, to me, is not an end game but a journey towards Light, which has neither a beginning nor an end. And hence, why am I not an individual? Because the world is too much for me. If all the world’s a stage, I insist not being a mere player but to create one for myself so that I can, in the end, hold it like a crystal ball – the world and the stage and its players in all. Is there not beauty in personacracy, than in democracy? I believe, therefore I am a personacrat!

Concluding Remarks

          In this brief reflection paper in which I have attempted to synthesize some of the notions of alienation, technological hegemony, the constructivist self, and my notion of personal democracy I call personacracy I have drawn ideas from the work of Frederic Jameson, Robert Kegan, and quotes form Lorenzo Simpson. This synthesis of thoughts is at best, depthless in that it would require elaboration and in-depth scrutiny and expansion to do justice to the theme of Communication Studies. This will come at a later stage, I believe. For a starting point nonetheless, I think this synthesis I hope has done justice to the roadmap I created at the beginning of this essay.

*Essay in memory of Frank A. Moretti, Professor of Communication Studies, Columbia University, New York; Teacher, Humanist, Friend.

WORKS DISCUSSED

Jameson, F (1990). Postmodernism, Or the Cultural Logic of Capitalism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press

Kegan, R. (1983) The Evolving Self: Problem and Process in Human Development. Boston: Harvard University Press.

Simpson, L (1995) Technology, Time, and the Conversations of Modernity. New York: Routledge

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DR. AZLY RAHMAN
DR. AZLY RAHMAN
DR AZLY RAHMAN grew up in Johor Bahru, Malaysia and holds a Columbia University (New York City) doctorate in International Education Development and Masters degrees in six fields of study: Education, International Affairs, Peace Studies, Communication, Creative Non-Fiction, and Fiction Writing. He has written more than 350 analyses/essays on Malaysia. His 30 years of teaching experience in Malaysia and the United States spans over a wide range of subjects, from elementary to graduate education. He is a frequent contributor to scholarly online forums in Malaysia, the USA, Greece, and Montenegro.
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