Once self-talk has been established, the self is no longer consciously experienced as a gift from a flesh-and-blood Other (see the previous blogs, starting here). Playing the role of this or that Other when talking to myself, I bestow my own self-awareness, which is now automatic, predictable, secure, and therefore rather boring. Also, the You no longer appears in the aura of importance that she had when she made me self-aware, because I no longer need her for that: I do it myself. Self-talk precludes the You (see the third blog). There remains, however, an unconscious yearning for the original joy and richness. The yearning is countered by dread of reverting to absolute dependence.
Note that the self-talker’s unconscious yearning for a precluded You has a parallel, at an earlier stage, in the infant’s conscious yearning for the absent carer. What does the infant do with her yearning? She plays with the You-imbued things that remain (i.e., the things associated with the carer), making effects that substitute for the carer’s responses until the carer returns (Blog 2). Is there anything like that in the case of self-talkers? Yes. The precluded You is a kind of absent You. But are the things we perceive imbued with her? Yes, in a peculiar way. Recall that, prior to self-talk, I got myself from people and things, and now I do not. Consequently, in all encounters, there is a felt insufficiency. We can find expressions of this in art: “I cannot get you close enough” (Ellen Gilchrist), “Is that all there is?” (Peggy Lee), “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone” (Joni Mitchell). Also: “Everything will pass”; everything meaningful will be swallowed up by all-devouring time.
The joy is lost, the richness is lost, and the loss is felt as a universal insufficiency, “a slight ache,” Harold Pinter called it. This insufficiency is not consciously felt as a yearning for the You. Why not? Well, for one thing, I am always busy with something. When not engaged in a framed derivative of the You-I Event (see Blog 6 on art, coming soon), I am reminding myself to buy coffee or what-not: inner chatter refuses to stop. In other words, when not engaged in a framed activity like watching a film, I am busy bestowing existence on myself. But it is not just busy-ness that keeps the yearning and dread out of my awareness. It is also a difference in structure. To this we now come.
The precluded You has the ontological status of a thought—but an unconscious thought. Someone may ask what makes the unconscious unconscious and keeps it so. Freud arrives at the following answer: the drives coming from the id would destroy society, but the superego (a product of internalized Others) orders their banishment from consciousness; the ego mediates between id and superego.
The You-I account is different. After self-talk is established, as said, conscious experience has the structure of an independently self-aware subject relating to objects. Yet the older structure persists outside awareness: I yearn for the Event while dreading the dependence it would entail. Between these two structures – subject-object versus looplike Event – exists no easy connection. I cannot just dip down from the secure structure into an altogether different way of being. Even if I could, I’d be blocked by the dread of absolute dependence. This dread represses the yearning for a full You. In sum—to repeat a thought from Blog 3—self-talk transforms the original, looplike structure of existence into what we adults commonly know: A subject faces objects that no longer seem essential to its being, while yearning and dread lock jaws beneath the surface.
To make contact with the unconscious yearning and dread, one must have the courage to suspend self-talk, like Freud, the modern Odysseus, when he sat back in the face of his dream-transcriptions and let associations come. They did not come from some Other whom he played toward himself, as in self-talk, but rather from the split-off self.
“The answer to the ‘Why’ is lacking” (Nietzsche). When we ask about life’s meaning, the life to which we refer is life as we typically know it under the dominion of self-talk. But the life that covertly motivates the question is an unconscious memory of the Event as it was before self-talk, when I was wholly given over to an Other from whom I received myself or not. Arising amid the counterfeit Events of inner speech, the question expresses yearning for the true.
Is this theory of the unconscious broad and deep enough to account for the whole range of psychopathic phenomena? Can depression, psychosis and the transference neuroses be explained as vicissitudes in the conflict between yearning for the precluded You and dread of it? Many know these phenomena better than I, so I’ll be interested to hear what you say.
A self-talker has at least two selves. (1) There is the secure self that I bestow on myself by playing the part of the You toward myself, especially in speech. But who is the self that does the playing? It is (2) the original, now unconscious self who yearns for and dreads the precluded You. Someone cries, “Aha! The old homunculus!” Fine, call it a homunculus! The self is split. We’ve long known that. Now we know why. Take slips of the tongue—for instance, the fledgling academic who tells a colleague, “I must get this article punished.” He didn’t mean to say “punished,” so who did? There are two selves in him. One of them is up front, intending to say “published,” and another self, who dreads the exposure of publication, exploits an unguarded moment to smuggle its dread into the vocal cords. Or take an interpreted dream. What wizard gathered my memories, wishes, worries, and fears, disguising them in images and weaving these into a story—say, a visit with my high school class to a pool of fighting fish? It wasn’t me who disguised them and did the weaving! I was asleep. It was the original self, split off from me like the You it precludes.