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Neohelicon 30 (2003) 1, 4348

ENRIQUE PREZ-CASTILLO

HISTORY, HISTORICITY AND THE SELF

The purpose of this paper is to emphasize the diegetic, that is narrative, quality of two similar but also different kinds of constructs: collective and historical consciousness, as well as the personal, individual consciousness we call the self. To begin, we assume that both are dynamic constructs, that is, that they have a diachronic, diatopic and diastratic quality, and that they can be defined at a certain moment or point only as a heuristic and systemic model and with a synchronic or similar reduction. I need to make a difference between what I will call (following Gadamer, Ricoeur and hermeneutics), (Gadamer, 1975, 263, 354) historicity, and what we may call history properly. Historicity is a basic existential quality of being for all entities, that is, the manner in which they preserve their identity and structural relationships. Living beings keep this quality throughout their lives, and generally show a tendency to preserve their formal and structural qualities for as long as possible (Maturana, 1995, 318). In humans, this condition has been taken to a self-conscious and reflexive level through the mechanisms of memory and the awareness of self-identity. However, not only individual beings share in this historicity, but also groupal constructions (all the way from a herd to nations and social institutions such as universities, corporations and churches), which are in different manners and at different levels aware of their historical trajectory and its residue in their configuration. With the term history I will refer specifically to the human historiographical exercise of collecting, organizing and setting down in some medium a record of the historical existence mentioned above. Therefore, while historicity is basically an existential quality, history is a discursive process, bracketed in human behaviour by our linguistic communicative procedures and their corollaries such as writing, as well as painting, photography, and other various iconic ones. The manner in which I use here the concept of self is rather general, and tries to avoid specific epistemological and psychological positions (mostly doctrinary ones), and therefore I will not very clearly distinguish between what may be called self as against ego, or consciousness, mind, etc. However, if I should choose a position it would be the one shared by contemporary phenomenological schools, as well as the epistemology of the cognitive sciences and constructivism.
03244652/2003/$20.00 Akadmiai Kiad Akadmiai Kiad, Budapest Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht

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If we take a diachronic point of view, we may say that the manner and modes of narrating the self that humans have had throughout history, our social contexts and constructions, have also changed due to the different existential modalities, both phylogenetic and ontogenetic, under which we have found ourselves. This view is supported by Mark Freeman, (1993) and Anthony Giddens (1991) in their works. Freemans book, subtitled History, memory, narrative, uses textual examples (mostly autobiographical) to show how the construing of lived experience in the postmodern sensibility has a particular taste and feel which recovers some of the features of the modes that preceded it, but also advances and modifies them. Giddens considers the possibility that the quest for self-identity is mostly a modern problem, having its origins in western individualism. Perhaps, in pre-modern times the emphasis on individuality was absent, and each person did not had to have a unique character and special potentialities. However, he argues that within limits individuality and the cultivation of certain traits have been valued in all cultures. He diagrams some of the specific points of the therapeutic approach to self-construction, following Janette Rainwater (1989). 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. The self is seen as a reflective project, for which the individual is responsible. The self forms a trajectory of development from the past to an anticipated future. The reflectivity of the self is continuous, as well as all pervasive. Self identity, as a coherent phenomenon, presumes a narrative, and this narrative is usually made explicit. Self actualisation implies the control of time, essentially, the establishment of a personal time distanced from the external temporal order. The reflexivity of the self extends to the body, and the body is part of an action system instead of a merely passive object. This follows the position of MerleauPonty (1955) regarding the corporality of consciousness and intentionality, as well as Francisco Varelas (1990) discussion of the embodied mind. Self actualization is seen as a balance between opportunity and risk, and follows a synergistic course that alternates steady-states with changes, both gradual ones as well as sudden ones. The moral ground of self-actualisation is authenticity: a base support of being true to oneself. The life course is seen as a series of passages. The individual goes through them in a casual or a necessary manner, but they are not institutionalised or defined by formalised rites. The line of development of the self is internally referential, and the threads that connect it are memory and the life trajectory itself. (Giddens, 1991, 75)

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Cognition and historicity, are therefore inescapable consequences of our embodied existence, of our linguistic and communicative action and belonging in a social community which at the same time is and produces (that is, enacts) the history of its existence. This cognition, this understanding, is at the same time a continuous interpreta-

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tion which is not rule directed in the strict sense, but only in that its rules are those of a belonging and a sharing of that action and that understanding. On the other hand, History, the story of a country, a group or an institution, is a linguistic artifact, a rethorical construct, the meaning and understanding of which depends as much on its mimetic aspects (as a verbal model of a set of events external to the mind of the historian) as on its fictive components, since it is a product of the mind of the historian/writer, from whom it has received a certain structural linguistic organization in its emplotment. Also, its referential qualities depend heavily on the contextual conditions at its moment of production, as well as those surrounding its use and reception during its existence as a verbal artifact. In words of Hayden White:
historical narratives are not only models of past events and processes, but also metaphorical statements which suggest a relation of similitude between such events and processes and the story types that we conventionally use to endow the events of our lives with culturally sanctioned meanings (White, 1985, 88).

Historians, therefore, do not strive to tell facts as they really were, but to construct a coherent narrative under the parameters of language and speech: figurative language and its strategies and techniques of characterization. White proceeds to characterize most historical narratives under the dominant tropes of language, through which we would have narrations that are predominantly, though not exclusively, metaphorical, metonymical, synecdochic or ironic. This is because, for White, following Vico, the logic of all poetic wisdom is contained in the relationships provided by language through these four modes of figurative representation (1985, 95). Then, narrative, the syntagmatic dispersion of events across a temporal series presented as a prose discourse, in such a way as to display their progressive elaboration as a comprehensible form (96), would be the main manner of the process of the configuration of discourse, both for the intended presentation by the author, and the form presented to the reader or recipient. Our interest here, on this approach, is to extend this typification of diegesis to the experiential component of history, that is, historicity as experience. Gadamer discussed extensively the primacy of this experience and its being a basis for hermeneutical understanding (1975, 264). He also discussed the need to avoid the impasse of historicism that arose if this narration were viewed as detached from life experience and phenomenic (mostly linguistic) presence. History, as well as historical consciousness, arise from immediate experience (Erlebnis) and through interpretation; and meaning and understanding are the intelligible but continuously transformed products of a never-ending process of narration. Paul Ricoeur proposed that we could see our life histories and ourselves as texts (1981, 145, 197), although Mark Freeman argues that these are sui-generis texts in that we are continuously acting both as the authors and readers. We interpret texts that we ourselves have fashioned: our thoughts, our feelings, our words, our actions. (Freeman 1993, 146)

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However, the point remains of what Ricoeur came to realize from his interpretation of Freud: both the limits and the process of the establishment of self-reflection:
there is no direct apprehension of the self by the self, no internal apperception or appropiation of the selfs desire to exist through the short-cut of consciousness, but only by the long road of the interpretation of signs (1974,169).

At this point of the development of semiotics, however, the handling of signs cannot be understood any more as a mere manipulation of codified items, but mainly as a participative, that is both an interactional and transactional process in which narration and narrator complement each other in a structural coupling that makes a world (a Lebenswelt) emerge. Historical consciousness then, may be viewed now diegetically, as a narrative form of cognition that is enacted from a background of preexistent signification and meaning, and is continuously refigured as effective action and presence in this life-world. We can refer this back to Giddens claims mentioned before, and say that living cognition, as the manifestation of our self, consists to a great extent in progressively stating the pertinent questions that appear in each moment of our life. These questions are not pre-defined, but enacted, and must be made to emerge, brought forth, from a more general ground. Their pertinence is that which our common sense judges as such within a given context. Since the revision of the perspective of pure mimetic representation by the cognitive sciences, we view cognition as a basic component of self actualisation, and we must insist in the central position of co-dependence and interpretation for all this, with the latter understood as a hermeneutic circularity that links action and knowledge, the knower and that known. The point I wish to make here is that in spite of the apparent difference and distance between the construction (the narrative construction) of the self and that of historical consciousness and historical discourse, they all are intertwined in a dynamics of codependence. It is nothing new to say that the self is to a great extent a socially construed structure as well as an intrapsychic system, but the diegetic and even textual relationships between these two phases are the ones that have to be accounted for. Again, we have to refer to Ricoeur, White and Freeman for their indications on the procedures of emplotment and tropification that go to select a specific set of circumstances that will make up one consistent story, out of the numerous ways in which it could have unfolded. Freeman (1993,198) particularly insists in the similitude with the case of the text, where there is the role of the narrator and the manner in which it guides the social world in which the story unfolds and the horizon of expectations of the possible readers. Discussing the idea of freedom, regarding one of his autobiographical cases, he says:
does the idea of freedom imply, then, that we can in fact step out of our own history? no, not necessarily. What it does mean is that the life we live prepares us for a multiplicity of possible projects it also means, that we need to think beyond the freedom-determinism antinomy and see if there isnt a better way, a way that abides by our own immersion in

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history and acknowledges the circumscribed discursive space in which we exist, and at the same time allows for the possibility of saying or doing something new and original (1993, 216).

This possibility of freedom and of self-history emerges from our immersion not only in history, both personal and social as experiential background of precomprehension, but also as a rational participation in the discursive processes of communities. Thus our personal self emerges as a diegetic and experiential structure and entity, i.e., not only epistemologically but also ontologically, as a part of the larger narrative of the social construction and the historical consciousness we belong to. The best possible application of this is what Freeman proposes as a poetics of life-history, or rather, a poiesis, following Vico and George Steiner, and as a conscious, continuous creation and recreation of the world, both the world as an environment and context of a subsequent elaboration, and as this plot that develops against that background. As a consequence, the relationship between world and word, language, is not of the primacy of one and the subservience of the other, but of the power of language to disclose the extent of an ever expanding world and an ever growing consciousness. As Vico put it, we are cocreators of our world, and also of the historical discourse that contains and describes it. Narrative imagination begets consciousness, and this is extended in the experiential and discursive existence of historical consciousness. The stuff the poets deal with are not only dreams, since language is a counterpart of the hardest aspect of reality that we usually constitute as experience. We cannot help but continue narrating our shared existence, our shared experience and our shared discourse, and contribute with the communal narration and the collective consciousness of our species, fixed in its history.

NOTES Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Phenomenology of Perception. London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 19621981. Rainwater, Janette. Self Therapy. London, Crucible, 1989. Varela, Francisco. Thompson & Rosch. The Embodied Mind. MIT Press, Bradford Books, 1990.

REFERENCES Bateson, Gregory. Mind and Nature. E. P. Dutton, 1979. . Steps to an Ecology of Mind. Ballantine Books, 1983. Freeman, Mark. Rewriting the Self. History, memory, narrative. London, Routledge, 1993. Gadamer, Hans Georg. Truth and Method. New York, Seabury Press, 1975. . The Problem of Historical Consciousness. In P. Rabinow and W. M. Sullivan (eds). Interpretive Social Science: A Reader. Berkeley, U. of California Press, 1979. Giddens, Anthony. Modernity and Self-Identity. Self and Society in the Late Modern Age. Stanford U. Press, 1991.

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Maturana, Humberto. El rbol del conocimiento. Madrid, Ed. Debate, 1990. . La realidad: Objetiva o construda? (I, II). uia, Iteso, Anthropos; Barcelona y Mxico, 1995. Pakman, Marcelo. Ed. Construcciones de la experiencia humana. Barcelona, Gedisa, 1996. Ricoeur, Paul. The Conflict of Interpretations. Nothwestern U. Press, 1974. . The Rule of Metaphor. Toronto, U. of Toronto Press, 1977. . Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences. Cambridge U. Press, 1981. . Time and Narrative. U. of Chicago Press, 19841988. White, Hayden. Tropics of Discourse. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins U. Press, 1985.