Notes on Death and Love
by John Salter
[S]he said she would help me unconditionally in whatever way I needed it. Looking back, this unconditionality was more medicine for my soul than anything a doctor could give me … I feel a slight sense of redemption for having eventually come round to what my holistic self knew. … The egocentric self has such a hold on us that it acts in fear whenever faced with its own mortality … I’ve also made hypocritical choices I don’t agree with, which put my narrow egocentric self above that of the whole … Unconditionality creates powerful bonds between people.
The above is an excerpt from Mark Boyle’s book The Moneyless Manifesto.
The book relates the author’s experiences living without money, and this particular chapter concerns issues that arise when you’re moneyless and in need of medical care. In western societies vast amounts of money are consumed by ‘industrialised’ health services, so how to negotiate this, without any money at all, is definitely a matter for serious thought. Whether or not Boyle was successful in this attempt is, to some extent, beside the point here. This essay is concerned with the author’s comments concerning: death, love, the ‘egocentric self’ and the ‘holistic self’. The essay shows that of the two, only the egocentric self has a physical appearance and belongs to our everyday material world. The holistic self, on the other hand, is spiritual in nature and is therefore, much more mysterious – but reveals itself in acts of real love. [i]
First, an observation on death: The Moneyless Manifesto makes the point that modern western societies tend to regard human mortality as a “curable disease”. If this is so, will it, in time, be completely overcome by modern medicine? We spend a lot of energy and money trying to find ways to prolong life, and this highlights a basic absurdity in our understanding of death. A world in which no one ever dies, and into which more and more people are born, is inconceivable, and (obviously) unsustainable. There is a convincing argument that our efforts to push death away are driven by fear, so the question arises: why is death so feared? In a materialistic society such as ours, why not just accept that one day, that spark of life will simply go out? What is the need to push that day off as far as possible? Yet, this is not really a question for those who have no belief in a human spiritual dimension. For the true materialist, death means the end of everything. It is the point beyond which lies only the black abyss of nothingness. It is the end of, what the materialist understands as the ‘self’.
This brings us to the distinction the author makes between the “egocentric self” and the “holistic self”. This double-self person does not simply refer to another kind of consciousness, another way of viewing the world. It refers to another kind of being; another way of being. Thus the distinction alludes to a different kind of humanity to that understood by our modern materialistic society. The question now concerns the ‘reality’ of the two selves. Because the egotistical self has the ability to react to fear, we assume it to be ‘real’. After all fear, by definition, is the anticipation of a future disaster about to befall myself – and when we say ‘myself’ we mean that image of me that I see whenever I look in the mirror.
We can’t move our understanding any further ahead if we can’t overturn this assumption for if the egocentric self is real, the other one, the holistic self, is not. But the experience referred to in the above excerpt has, for the author, opened the door to another kind of human existence – one related to what he terms the holistic self. So the question now is: how can a human being with multiple selves be understood? And why isn’t that image of self (seen in a mirror) any more than an image?
French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan (1901-1981) gave us a way of thinking about this.
He showed that at about the age of eighteen months the child has an ‘aha’ experience (Aha-Erlebnis) when it recognises its own image in a mirror. This image is recognised as his or her self. He described this point in human development as the ‘mirror stage’, a transformation that takes the child in a “fictional direction” (p.2) because the image taken on is merely a gestalt that is, in fact, laterally inverted and in many other ways conflicts with the “turbulent movement that the subject feels are animating him” (p.2). In this process the child also learns to refer to this gestalt with the first person pronoun ‘I’. And this “prefigures its alienating destination” (p.2). Lacan went on: [ii]
I am led, therefore, to regard the function of the mirror-stage as a particular case of the imago, which is to establish a relation between the organism and its reality – or, as they say, between the Innenwelt and the Umwelt. (p4)
The further point Lacan made is that the practice of psychoanalysis should be guided by this misrecognition (méconnaisance) of the subject of its image of itself. This is, of course, the ‘egocentric self’ referred to in The Moneyless Manifesto. Lacan described the mirror stage itself as a “knot of imaginary servitude” (p.7). A point most relevant here is that this ‘knot’ can only be undone or “severed by love.”
Lacan then, effectively drew the line in the sand that separates psychology (in the wider sense) from spirituality when he pointed out that this transforming development in early human life occurs at the “junction of nature and culture”, for this implies that the two selves referred to in The Moneyless Manifesto, belong to two different orders of existence. The egocentric (or lower) self belongs to the everyday material world; the holistic self belongs to the world of spirit. This distinction was noted clearly in the closing lines of Lacan’s essay:
Psychoanalysis may accompany the patient to the ecstatic limit of Thou art that … but it is not in our mere power as practitioners to bring him to that point where the real journey begins. (p.7).
Where is this division between psychology and spirituality? Both are concerned with the innenwelt (the inner life) but what exactly is the ‘ecstatic limit’ of the Thou art that? The ‘Thou art that’ is mentioned in the Upanishads. The ‘Thou’ is the soul meeting its reality – which is, ultimately, the Creator.
Ecstasy refers, by definition, to an altered state of consciousness. Thus, the point made by Lacan is that the psychoanalyst can lead the patient to the lower limit where this state begins – but the patient must make the further ‘journey’ on his or her own. Also, he described the journey as “the real journey”. In other words, this is not any part of the life path of the mirror self; it concerns the real self. (And, significantly, this is not part of the vocation of the psychoanalyst). This ‘real journey’ is reminiscent of the ‘path’ referred to by Rudolf Steiner – that ‘path of knowledge from the Spiritual in the human to the Spiritual in the universe. [iii] Further, the notion that the patient is making a journey out of the world of psychoanalysis (the world of images, the symbolic order) and into the ‘real’ world clearly suggests that the transformation that occurred with the mirror-stage was a transformation from the real to the symbolic. [iv]
But this is not the whole story. Lacan’s account seems to suggest a unitary self image that has the capacity to conceal another mysterious self (one, he believes, that’s not the concern of psychoanalysis). The image self is the everyday self (the self seen in the mirror or in a photograph). Leaving aside the mysterious self for the moment, there is a fragmentary potential to this portrayal of the image self, which clearly is the business of psychoanalysis – which is the very reason Lacan believed that psychoanalysis should focus on the subject’s misrecognition (méconnaisance) of its own image, and also that it leads the subject on an alienating path or a “fictional direction.” This is the egotistical self referred to in The Moneyless Manifesto.
This everyday self has a chimeric quality, the ability to take on many forms. All of these forms are present in social situations. Martin Buber (1878-1965) showed this by describing a meeting of two people which includes several other (imaginary) participants as well – which he referred to as “ghosts.” Firstly, there is P1 as he sees himself, and P2 as he sees himself. Then there is P1 as he imagines that he appears to P2, and P2 as he imagines that he appears to P1. Then there is P1 as P2 actually perceives him, and vice versa – and these images all contradict one another in varying degrees (i.e. P1 and P2 don’t actually see similar images of each other). And finally, there is the actual P1 and the actual P2.
Thus, for each participant there are three ghostlike images, but only one actual person. This actual person is that mysterious self that Lacan believed existed beyond the scope of psychoanalysis for it is that self that became hidden to the subject during the mirror stage. [v]
This world of imaginary forms is our everyday world. In the light of Martin Buber’s description of everyday human relationships, one can readily see why Rudolf Steiner often referred to our everyday world as maya.
Buber examined the ‘I’ more closely than did Lacan and showed how we, in fact, not simply use this pronoun to refer to the self but that the ‘I’ itself has two formations. [vi] When the ‘I’ is used in the context of human relations it is always a double-word that also includes the person being addressed. It is a double word with two formations. The first Buber called ‘I-It’. When the ‘I’ is used in this way it assumes the person being addressed is merely an object of the outside world. From the above example of P1 and P2 all of the relationships between the ghostlike images are like this. All of our stereotypes, first impressions, personal likes or dislikes that we project onto the other, are ‘I-It’ relationships. This is the world of most of our human relationships: they are, firstly, (following Rudolf Steiner) non-substantial, and regard the other as an object – which in a world of maya is itself only an illusion. The further point to the ‘I-It’ relationship is that it degrades the ‘I’. Not only is the other degraded (to ‘It’) but the ‘I’ is also reduced to its materiality. [vii]
The second formation of the ‘I’ is ‘I-Thou’. Here the other is not reduced to an object. This other is that being who was obscured in the processes of the mirror stage. In terms of the P1/P2 meeting, it is the ‘actual’ self meeting the other ‘actual’ self. In this kind of meeting, to use Buber’s words, the one grants “a share of his being” to the other.
If ‘love’ implies ‘union’, then the reciprocation of this act constitutes such a union. Buber refers to this relationship as the ‘interhuman’ and it is difficult to construe this on the same level as our physical existence for it transcends materiality. And he added, that it is only at this level that humanity itself is authentic or real. The important point to note here, for the present purpose, is that an act of real love not only acknowledges the reality of another but also raises the self to its proper (higher) level. [viii]
We are now in a position to link Lacan’s “knot of imaginary servitude” with the “thou art that”, the notion of the “real journey”, and Martin Buber’s observations on the fictionality of the human ‘I’, with Mark Boyles’ conception of “unconditional love.” The context of the excerpt from The Moneyless Manifesto that we began with is that the author required medical treatment; he had no money and was very frightened; he asked a friend for a loan; she refused and condemned him as a hypocrite; so he asked another friend and she offered her help unreservedly. The point that he makes is that there is no point thinking of all this in terms of the outer appearance (egocentric self image) that a person projects. True love lies in the union of real self to real self.
To conclude, it remains to see what part death plays in all of this. On the one hand, death and the fear of death have nothing at all to do with the ‘real’ self, the holistic self. But, on the other hand, how successful are we, both as individuals and as whole societies, at living at the level of the real self? Even Buber says that we don’t sustain ‘I-Thou’ relationships continually, we move between ‘I-Thou’ and ‘I-It’.
So, in this sense, death remains a real issue still, although the fear of death may be mitigated by the knowledge given to us by writers such as Martin Buber or Jacques Lacan or Rudolf Steiner. Death, however, is far from dead for those of us who have not yet been able to escape the thraldom of the image of the egocentric self. And this suggests a necessary human life path. Having recognised the existence of a core of permanence, is one not then faced with a moral imperative, to use Lacan’s phrase, to begin the “real journey”? [ix]
There is another human life, another kind of life – a real life. The Moneyless Manifesto shows that a ‘more-than’ materialistic humanity is not only possible, but already exists and is waiting to be taken up. This other life is ruled by love not fear and death. The ‘Thou art that’ refers to the real self, the self stripped of all its external images – the permanent core of being. The ‘granting of a share of one’s being’ is nothing less than an offer of unconditional love. Reciprocation of this is the fulfilment. One can readily see this love in the friend who unreservedly helped Boyle, but he insists also that one should not be critical of the friend who rejected him. Surely, this alludes to an even higher level of love for here the offer is extended but there is no reciprocation. In terms of human evolution we can say that the one who offers is well in advance of the other who is unable to accept the offer. Martin Buber saw this as an issue of one person living at the level of ‘being’, and the other at the level of ‘seeming’. Its fulfilment occurs when the offer is accepted, and this Buber sees as the fulfilment of the potential of all human life.
There is one more question to answer: was Mark Boyle successful in his project to live without money? I believe the answer is ‘yes’, but his success may not be immediately obvious. All of the above has been deduced from his book, and the writings of Martin Buber and Jacques Lacan. The conclusion reached is a consequence of thought processes. But this is not the way that Boyle came to his conclusions. If we return to the excerpt with which we began it’s obvious that he was driven by the ‘unconditionality’ of his friend’s act of compassion and love. His knowledge was experiential. He did not engage ‘head thinking’ when he turned his bicycle around and decided to trust his deeper instincts. Boyle allowed himself to be guided by his heart rather than his head.
This is not simply a catchphrase. Rudolf Steiner claimed that heart-thinking is the next stage of human evolution. For him the heart is a thinking organ not simply a ‘pump’, as he said in a lecture in 1923:
The heart is no pump; the heart is the inner sense organ through which we perceive what the spirit-soul nature develops inwardly in connection with our blood, just as we perceive through the external senses the external world. The moment that we pass over from an intellectual analysis of the human organism to a vision of the whole human being, the heart reveals itself in its true essence, in its true significance — as an inner sense organ.
Steiner valued experiential knowledge higher than abstract knowledge – as did Mark Boyle when he followed his heart. The Moneyless Manifesto certainly tells the story of a death: the death of the lower self. But it is also a chronicle of unconditional love. It is the tale of one man’s successful attempt to ‘sever the knot of his imaginary servitude’ to (the imago of) his lower self and in ‘sharing part of his being’ in an act of true love, find the higher self and the true path of his destiny.
This, by any measure, is real success. [xii]
[i]Online at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1u56TfAKDsF6XxtuXKkWqX_8TlMvGU1i1POyrZE54Wec/edit?pli=1 pp.246-7; [retrieved 5 November 2012].
[ii]Lacan, J. 1949,’The Mirror Stage as formative of the function of the I’, in Écrits, A Selection, 1980, transl. Alan Sheridan, Tavistock: London.
[iii]Cf: “When a man is near his end, his friends gather round him: Do you know me, do you know me? they say. And until formative Voice sinks back into Mind, and Mind into Breath, and Breath into the Radiance, and the Radiance into the higher Divinity, he still knows them. But when formative Voice sinks back into Mind, and Mind into Breath, and Breath into the Radiance, and then Radiance into the higher Divinity, he knows them not. And that soul is the Self of all that is, this is the Real, this the Self. That thou art.”, Charles Johnson, 1899, From the Upanishads, Book III http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/ftu/ftu07.htm [accessed 22 January, 2014]
[iv]Cf: “Anthroposophy is a path of knowledge, to guide the Spiritual in the human being to the Spiritual in the universe. It arises in man as a need of the heart, of the life of feeling; and it can be justified only inasmuch as it can satisfy this inner need. He alone can acknowledge Anthroposophy, who finds in it what he himself in his own inner life feels impelled to seek. Hence only they can be anthroposophists who feel certain questions on the nature of man and the universe as an elemental need of life, just as one feels hunger and thirst.” Leading Thoughts, #1, http://wn.rsarchive.org/Books/GA026/English/RSP1973/GA026_a01.html
[v]Cf: “First, there is Peter as he wishes to appear to Paul, and Paul as he wishes to appear to Peter. Then there is Peter as he really appears to Paul, that is, Paul’s image of Peter, which in general does not in the least coincide with what Peter wishes Paul to see; and similarly there is the reverse situation. Further, there is Peter as he appears to himself, and Paul as he appears to himself. Lastly, there are the bodily Peter and the bodily Paul. Two living beings, and six ghostly appearances, which mingle in many ways in the conversation between the two. (Friedman, M.1965, Martin Buber, The Knowledge of Man, Selected Essays, Harper & Row: N.Y, p.77)
[vi]Cf: “We are accustomed to speak of ourselves as beings of space, and we are right; as human beings we are spatial beings. When, however, we come to consider what we are in reality, that is quite another matter. The fact is, man is in reality something altogether different from what we imagine him to be when we look at him only in the outer Maya, in the phantasmagoria of external appearance. There he appears of course as a being of space, spatially enclosed within his skin.” Lecture II: The Balance in the World and Man, Lucifer and Ahriman, Lecture: 21st November, 1914, Dornach, GA0158, http://wn.rsarchive.org/Lectures/BalWorld/19141121p01.html [accessed 24 January, 2014]
[vii]“To man the world is twofold, in accordance with,/ his twofold attitude./ The attitude of man is twofold, in accordance with/ the twofold nature of the primary words which he speaks./ The primary words are not isolated words, but/ combined words./The one primary word is the combination I-Thou./ The other primary word is the combination I-It;/ wherein, without a change in the primary word, one/ of the words He and She can replace It./ Hence the I of man is also twofold./ For the I of the primary word I-Thou is a different/ I from that of the primary word I-It.” Buber, M. 11237, I and Thou, transl. R.G. Smith, Clark: Edinbugh, p.1. https://ia700403.us.archive.org/22/items/IAndThou_572/BuberMartin-i-and-thou_text.pdf [accessed 24 January, 2014]
[viii]Whatever the meaning of the word ‘truth’ may be in other realms, in the interhuman realm it means that men communicate themselves to one another as they are … It does not depend on one letting himself go before another, but on his granting to the man to whom he communicates himself a share of his being. This is a question of the authenticity of the interhuman, and where this is not to be found, neither is the human element itself authentic. (Buber 11265, p.77, underlining added).
[ix]Cf.: “Every Thou in the world is, by its nature, fated to become a thing, or to continually re-enter into the condition of things. In objective speech it would be said that everything in the world, either before or after becoming a thing, is able to appear to an I as its Thou. But objective speech only snatches at the fringe of real life.” Buber 11237, p.17.
[x]Cf: “If a presupposition of human life in primeval times is given in man’s walking upright, the fulfilment of human life can only come through the soul’s walking upright, through the great uprightness which is not tempted by any seeming because it has conquered all semblance.” (Friedman, op. cit, p.77)
[xi]Steiner, R. ‘Supersensible Knowledge: Lecture II: Anthroposophy and the Ethical-Religious Conduct of Life’, Lecture: 212th September, 11223 Vienna (GA0084) http://wn.rsarchive.org/GA/GA0084/11223012212p01.html [accessed 22 January, 2014]
[xii]See also: “In the future the human being will live in a much more intimate connection with the lawfulness of the world than at present. And the esoteric pupil anticipates this intimacy in future development. The head with its brain is only a transitional organ in the evolution of human knowing. The organ that will actually be able to see deeply and powerfully into the world has its rudimentary seed in the present- day heart. But please note: in order to become an organ of perception the heart must still be transformed in manifold ways. But this heart is the source and fount of future stages of humanity. When the heart is the organ of knowledge, knowledge will be warm and intimate as only feelings of love and compassion are today.” Rudolf Steiner, Esoteric Lesson: Archive No. 61215, http://wn.rsarchive.org/Lectures/GA266/English/UNK112128/EsoC01_Arc61215.html [accessed 22 January 2014]
Dr. John Salter was born in Sydney, Australia. He was awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in 1995 from The University of New South Wales, for a literature dissertation entitled ‘Cultural Reading’. He has been a professor of English language and literature in various universities in Australia, the United States and Canada. He is currently Chief Judge (since 1999) for Language and Literature for Optiminds – which is a statewide educational competition for Queensland school students. The Sunshine Coast is now his permanent place of residence, where for the last few years his research has been devoted almost entirely to the study of the works of Rudolf Steiner.