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To Mme. JEANNE VIAL

THE EGO AND ITS RELATION TO OTHERS*

IN OUR SUBJECT to-day we shall find that the distinction, in

any case uncertain, between child psychology and psychology

pure and simple has practically no importance. Ifwe forget, as

I think we should, the theories and definitions ofphilosophy in

order to learn all we can from direct experiences, we are led to

the conclusion that the act which establishes the ego, or rather

bywhich the ego establishes itself, is always identically the same:

it to is be this led actwhichwemusttry astray by the fictitious to graspwithoutallowingourselves speculations which throughout

human history havebeen accumulating in this field. I think that

we should employ current forms ofordinary language which dis-

tort our experiences far less than the elaborate expressions in

whichphilosophicallanguage is crystallised. Themostelementary-

example, the closest to earth, is also the most instructive. Take,

for instance, the child who brings his mother flowers he hasjust

beengatheringinthemeadow. "Look",he cries, "Ipickedthese."

Mark the triumph in his voice and above all the gesture, simple flowers, don'tgo thinking it wasNanny ormy sister; it was I and

"It was I, I who am with you here, who picked these lovely

ment. The child points himselfout for admiration and gratitude:

and rapid enough, perhaps, which accompanies his announce-

no one else." This exclusion is ofthe greatest importance: it seems

that the child wants to attract attention almost materially. He

claims enthusiastic praise, and it would be the most calamitous

thinginthe I do notbelieve world it is ifby possible mistake to insist it was too bestowed muchuponthe onsomeonewho presence

ofthe other, or more exactly others, involved in the statement:

offers himself to the other in order to receive a special tribute.

did not deserve it. Thus the child draws attention to himself, he

"It is I who

." It implies that "There are, on the one hand,

those who are excluded about whomyou must be careful not to

1 Lecturegiven to the Institut Suptriewr de Ptdago&e at Lyons, December I3th,

1942-

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HOMO VIATOR

think, and, onthe other, there is thejww to whom the child speaks

andwhom he wants as a witness."

The same affirmation on the part of an adult would be less

openly advertised; it would be enveloped in a halo of false

modesty where the complexities of the game of social hypocrisy tion, we shall recognise the fundamental identity ofthe act. The

on one side, as we should, all the elaborations ofsocial conven-

difference has only to do with the attitude adopted or simulated

regarding the expected tribute.

are discernible. Thinkoftheamateurcomposerwhohasjustbeen

singing an unknown melody in some drawing-room. People

etc. exclaim: "No, "What as a matter is that? of fact, Is it it an is unpublished myown song by Faure?"

." etc. Ifwe leave

Togoonwithour analysis, weobserve that this egohere before

us, considered as a centre of magnetism, cannot be reduced to

certainpartswhichcanbe specified such as "mybody, myhands,

my brain"; it is a global presence a presence which gains glory

from I have the brought magnificentbouquetwhich you; and I do not I know myselfhave whether picked, you should which

admiremore the artistic taste ofwhich it is a proofor the gener-

osity which I have shown in giving it to you, I, who might so

easily have kept it for myself. Thus the beauty ofthe object is in

afashionreflected uponme, and ifI appeal toyou, then, I repeat, shouldwenot concludefrom this that the ego lierepresent certainly postulated, and ifwe try to describe it, we can only do so nega-

tively, bywayofexclusion. Ontheotherhand it is veryinstructive

to give a careful account ofthe act which establishes what I call

to fall into a trap oflanguage. This pre-existent ego can only be

myself, the act, for instance, by which I attract the attention of

is necessary to define." I think that here we must be careful not

love: all this takes for granted a selfalready established which it

I do so as to a qualified witness whom I invite to wonder at the

whole we form the bouquet and I.

But we must not fail to notice that the admiration which I

expect from you, which you give me, can only confirm and

heightenthe satisfaction I feel inrecognisingmyownmerits. Why

involves a reference to someone else, only this other someone is

treated as a foil or amplifier for myown self-satisfaction.

"But", you will object, "self-satisfaction, self-confidence, self-

EGO AND ITS RELATION TO OTHERS

15

others so that theymaypraise me, maybe, orblameme,but at all to the level ofa child's experience. A little stranger stretches out his

events so that theynotice me. In everycaseIproduce myself, inthe

etymological senseoftheword, that is to sayI putmyselfforward.

Otherexamples bring us to the same conclusion. Let us

keep

hand to take the ball which I have left onthe ground; Ijump up;

the ball is mine. Here again the relationship with others is at the

root ofthe matter, but it takes the form ofan order: Do not touch.

I have no hesitation in saying that the instantaneous claiming of

ourownproperty observed without is any oneofthemost great subtlety significant that the ofourexperiences. sense ofpossession

Here again I "produce" myself. I warn the other person that he

must conform his conduct to the rule I have givenhim. It canbe

was I, here already before implicit you, possess in the previous the ball, examples, perhaps I only might it was consent posses- to

sion of-a virtue rather than a thing. Here, however, more clearly

thanjustnow, the ego is seen as a global andindefinablepresence.

lend it to you for afewmoments, butyoumust quite understand

that I have it is I used whoamverykindlylending the term presence several it times; to youand now that, I will in try con- as

sequence, I can take it backfromyou at anyminute ifI so wish;

I

the despot, I the autocrat.

far as possible to define what I mean by it. Presence denotes

something rather different andmorecomprehensive than the fact

ofjust being there; to be quite exact one should not actually say in the development ojfja hjm&n being tjiis consciousness ofexist- place in the Met ofconsciousness can vairy almost indefinitely. course to thewhole ofmy experience, but to thatpartofit which

element or a principle, but as an emphasis which I give, not of

that an object is present. We might say that presence is always

dependentonanexperiencewhich is at thesame timeirreducible

and vague, the sense ofexisting, ofbeingintheworld. Verjr^aily

ing, w|uclTwe surdy have no reason to doubt is"co^i^n;;i3d^^itp

ammals, is jinked upwiththeUrge to make ourselves recognisedfey

some other person? ''scone witness, fcelpeft ri^al or adversarywho,

whatever may be said, is needed to integrate tlie self, but whose

IFtihis analysis as awhole is correct, it is necessary to see what

I

call my ego in no way as an isolated reality, whether it be an

l6

HOMO VIATOR

possible infringement. It is in this sense that the impossibility of

establishing any precise frontiers of the ego has been often and

rightly pointed out. This becomes clear as soon as one under-

stands that the ego can never be thought ofas a portion ofspace.

On the other hand, it cannotberepeated often enough that, after

all, the selfis here, now; or at anyrate there are such close affinities

between these facts that we really cannot separate them. I own

From which that I this cannot I have it follows in spoken any paradoxically way cannot conceive avoid enough how tending a being that to conceive the for whom emphasis of there itself of

was neither a here nor a now could nevertheless appear as "I."

as an enclosure, that is to say as exactly the thing it is not; and

it is only on deeper reflection that it will be possible to detect

what is deceptive in this localisation.

I spokeofan enclosure, but it is an enclosurewhichmoves, and

what is even more essential, it is vulnerable: a highly sensitive

enclosure. The incomparable analyses of Meredith in The Egoist

would fit in very naturally here. Nobody, perhaps, has ever gone

love so far is manifestlyincomplete. in the analysis ofa susceptibility Actually, this for susceptibility which the term is rooted self-

in anguish rather than in love. Burdenedwith myself, plunged in

from this disturbing it which might world, either sometimes soothe threatening or ulcerate me, the sometimes wound I bear my

accomplice, I keep an eager look-out for everything emanating [is that it is above all the experience ofbeing torn by a contra*

within me, which is my ego. This state is strikingly analogous to

that ofamanwho has an abscess at the root ofhis tooth andwho

experiments cautiously with heat and cold, acid and sugar, to

still get relief. more absurd, What then to monopolise, is this anguish, and the this obscure wound? consciousness The answer This contradiction is constantly appearing here. Nowhere does

jdiction between the aH which f^'Si^pire'to possess, to annex^ or,

|that after all I am nothing but ah

ejnpty

void; for,, still,

I can

jaffinn nothing about myself which vrould ^be really myself;

nothing, either, which, would be permanent; nothing which

would be secure against criticism and the passage oftime. Hence

thcr^iagLtp be confirmed from outside, by another; this pifaJ

? Jay ^

most seffceiatred among us

Lto^

EGO AND ITS RELATION TO OTHERS

I*J

it showup in greater reliefthan in the attitude which our every-

daylanguage so aptlyterms pose. Theposeurwhoseems only to be

preoccupied with others is in reality entirely taken up with him-

self. Indeed, theperson he is withonly interests himinsofar as he sensus ofopinion is almost certain to be formed against him, his

barracks the poseur has practically no chance of success. A con- certain reality in whicheach oneparticipates and this play-acting

which degrades and betrays it. On the otherhand, the more arti-

ficial, unreal and, in a certain sense, effeminate the environment,

but it is a distinct perception of the incompatibility between a

munity to whichhe belongs. It is not easy to formulate it exactly,

him of infringing a certain implicit pact, that ofthe little com

companions see through him at once, each one ofthem accuses

the less the incompatibility will be felt. This is because in such

circles everything depends upon opinions and appearances, from

which it follows that seduction and flattery have the last word.

Now, posing is a form of flattery, a manner of paying court

while seeming to obtrude oneself. Beneath it all we invariably

find self-love and, I might add, pretension. This last, by its very

ambiguity, is particularly instructive. To pretend is not only to

aspire or to aim high, it is also to simulate, and actually there is

simulationin allposing.Torealisethis weonlyneedtorecallwhat

posing is unmaskedimmediatelyandmadefun of. At school or in

courage it. It might generally be said that in a virile atmosphere

what on the other hand are the conditions most likely to dis-

find out what social climate is most favourable for posing, and

picture which he finds so enchanting. It would be interesting to

receive back. The other person reflects him, returns to him this

is likely to form a favourable picture ofhimwhichin turn he will

knowwhatevenastudied affectation is in all its forms. or FromthemomentthatI affected simplicity can be. becomepre-

occupied about the effect I want to produce on the other person,

my every act, word and attitude loses its authenticity; andwe all

Here, however, wemustnotesomething ofcapital importance.

Fromtheveryfactthat I treat theotherpersonmerely as ameans

ofresonance or an amplifier, I tend to consider him as a sort of

apparatus which I can, or think I can, manipulate, or ofwhich

I can dispose at will. I formmyown idea ofhim and, strangely

enough, this idea can become a substitute for the real person, a

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HOMO VIATOR

shadow to which I shall come to refer my acts and words. The

truth ofthematter is that to pose is always to pose before oneself.

"To play to the gallery

.", we are accustomed to say, but the

imagemightbe gallery is still the self. To be more exact, we might say that the

other person is the provisional and as it were accessory medium,

throughwhich I can arrive at forming a certain image, or idol of

myself; the work as ofstylisation by success. Whenhe by which who each poses ofus is scoffed fashions at this by

his companions, traced hedecides, step moreoftenthannot, by step. Thiswork is that helped hehas by social to do

failure as much

with private Here imbeciles we are and in line shuts with himselfup the merciless withjealous analyses care to which in a little the

sanctuarywherehe canbe alonewith his idol.

anti-romantics havesubjected the cult ofthe ego. "But", youmay philosophy, with which we are not dealing here and which

one. It must in no way be mistaken for a problem of technical ushere is only to knowunderwhatconditions I become conscious exasperate this consciousness ofthe ego, I have no hesitation in

is subjected in the world of to-day cannot fail to increase and

that the system ofperpetual competition to which the individual

are essentiallysocial. There is, in particular, everyreason to think

ofmyself as a person. It must be repeated that these conditions

ofunity which guides our personal development. What concerns

involves the question ofthe very existence ofa superior principle

saying that ifwe want to fight effectively against individualism

in its mostharmful form, we must find someway ofbreaking free contrast against him. amonganyteamworthyofthe Moreover,we must notice a name, thingwhich has beenrendered is essential

ask, "should we not take care not to go too far? Is there not a

normal condition of the ego which should not be'confused with

its abnormalities or perversions?" The question is avery delicate

from the asphyxiating atmosphere of examinations and com-

petion in which our young people are struggling. "I must win,

not you! I mustgetaboveyou!"Wecannever insist enoughupon

howthe real sense offellowship whichshows itselfin such striking

weakandanaemicby thecompetitive system. Thissystemdoes in

fact encourage each one to compare himselfwith his neighbour,

to givehimselfa mark or anumberbywhichhecanbemeasured

in our argument: such a system, which makes self-consciousness

EGO AND ITS RELATION TO OTHERS

IQ

or, if you prefer to call it so, self-love ten times worse, is at the

sametime themost depersonalisingprocess possible; for^the thing

in us which has real value cannot be judged by comparison,

having no common measure with anything else. Unfortunately,

however, it seems as though people have taken a delight in accu-

mulating every possible confusion concerning this point, and I

haveno hesitation in saying that the responsibilities ofthose who

claim to celebrate the cult of the individual are overwhelming.

Maybe there is no more fatal error than that which conceives of in no sense the owner, only the trustee. Except in the realm of

gifts. The bestpartofmypersonality does notbelongtome. I am

this we must here introduce the wrongly discredited notion of

the ego as the secret abode oforiginality. To get a better idea of

metaphysics, with which we are not dealing to-day, there is no

sensein enquiringinto theorigin ofthese gifts. Ontheotherhand,

it is very important to know what my attitude should be with

regard to them. IfI considermyselfas their guardian, responsible

for their fruitfulness, that is to say ifI recognise in them a call or

evenperhapsaquestiontowhich I mustrespond, it will notoccur

onwhom tometobeproudaboutthemand these gifts were bestowed toparadethem in virtue ofcertain beforeanaudi- rights, or

ence, which, I repeat, really means myself. Indeed, ifwecome to

think ofit, there is nothing in mewhich cannot or should not be

regarded as a gift. It is pure fiction to imagine a pre-existent self

as a recompense for some former merit.

This surely means that I must puncture the illusion, infinitely

persistent it is true, that I am possessed ofunquestionable privi- escape completely here below from the preconceived idea which

the sun and stars go round the earth, so it is not possible for us to

cosmography do not rid us from the immediate impression that

makes each one tend to establish himself as the centre around

which all the rest have no other function but to gravitate. It is

equallytruethatthisideaorprejudice^ nomatterhowbecomingly

in our very nature. In fact, just as any notions we may have of

centricity, thus marking clearly how deeply it has becomerooted

my self-complacency. I propose to call this illusion moral ego-

vented, or else those echoing amplifiers, whosepurpose is to foster

people are either mere obstructions to be removed or circum-

leges which make me the centre of my universe, while other

20

HOMO VIATOR

it maybe adorned in the case ofgreat egoists, appears, whenwe

comedown to a final analysis, to bemerely another expression of

a purely biological and animal claim. Moreover, the ill-starred self, must necessarily be met by a rationalistic and impersonal

doctrine? Nothing, I believe, would be farther from the truth.

Whenevermen have tried to putsuch a doctrine into practice we

Does it, however, follow that this egolatry, this idolatry of the

present time.

mustown that it has proved itselfextremely disappointing. To be

precipitate mankind into the chaos where it is struggling at the

but, it cannotbe disputed for a moment, have directly helped to

as far as the secular wisdom ofcivilised humanitywas concerned,

attempted tojustify this position not only marked a retrogression

philosophies which, particularly in the nineteenth century,

more exact, such an experiment has never been and never could

be effective. Actually it is ofthevery essence ofthis doctrine that

it cannot be really put into practice, except perhaps by a few

theorists who are only at ease among abstractions, paying for this

faculty by the loss of all real contact with living beings, and, I

might add, with the great simplicities of existence. For the

rationalism immense majority claims to of set human up as beings, the object the ofeverybody's entities which reverent such a

attention are only shams behind which passions incapable of

recognising themselves take cover. It has been given to our

generation, as to that of the end ofthe eighteenth century and

that ofthe Second Empire, not only to observe but to suffer the Moreover, this same point will enable us to understand the

disastrous effects ofthe sin ofthe ideologists. This consists, above

all perhaps, ofinfinitely intensifyingthe inner-falsehood, ofthick-

eningthefilmwhich as the meaning ofthe is interposedbetweenahumanbeingand term "person". Nowadays, the individual his

true nature until it is almost impossible to destroy it.

mostcharacteristicelementsinwhatto-dayis commonlyaccepted

allows infinity himself, ofothers, legitimately since the opinions, enough, whichhe to be likened thinks are to an his atom own,

caughtup in a whirlwind, or, ifyou wish, a mere statistical unit;

because most of the time he is simply a specimen among an

are merely reflections ofthe ideas accepted in the circles he fre-

quentsandhandedround inthepress whichhereads daily. Thus

EGO AND ITS RELATION TO OTHERS

21

he is only, as I havehad occasion to write, ananonymous unit of

that anonymous entity "one". But he almost inevitably has the

illusion that his reactions are authentic, so that he submits, while

all the timeheimagines he is taking action. It is, onthe contrary,

in the nature ofa person to face any given situation directly and,

I should add, to make an effective decision upon it. But, it may

be asked, is not this the ego appearing once more? I think not. The person cannot be regarded as an element or attribute ofthe

Let us understand each other. There could naturally beno ques-

tion ofconceivingofthe person as ofsomething distinct from that

ego other either. thing, It would the ego; be as better if they to were say that in separate it is something compartments. compel-

Suchan idea would be completely fictitious. Wemustgo further.

ling, which most certainly takes its birth in what appears to me

to be mine, or to be me myself, but this compelling force only

becomes conscious ofitselfwhen it becomes a reality. It can thus

in nowaybecomparedwith a slight desire. Letus saythat it is of

the order of"I will" and not of"I would like

.". I c^aiir^to be

a person in so fajr as J assume responsibility for what I dolaid junction is precisely characteristic ofan engagement of the per-

responsible both to myselfand to everyone else, andthat this con-

son, that it is the markproper to theperson. We will notstay any

ledge my responsibility?