In conscious life, we achieve some sense of ourselves as reasonably unified, coherent selves and without this action would be impossible. But all this is merely at the ‘imaginary’ level of the ego, which is no more than the tip of the iceberg of the human subject known to psychoanalysis. The ego is function or effect of a subject which is always dispersed, never identical with itself, strung out along the chains of the discourses which constitute it. There is a radical split between these two levels of being — a gap most dramatically exemplified by the act of referring to myself in a sentence. When I say ‘Tomorrow I will mow the lawn,’ the ‘I’ which I pronounce is an immediately intelligible, fairly stable point of reference which belies the murky depths of the ‘I’ which does the pronouncing. The former ‘I’ is known to linguistic theory as the ‘subject of the enunciation’, the topic designated by my sentence; the latter ‘I’, the one who speaks the sentence, is the ‘subject of the enunciating’, the subject of the actual act of speaking. In the process of speaking and writing, these two ‘I’s’ seem to achieve a rough sort of unity; but this unity is of an imaginary kind. The ‘subject of the enunciating’, the actual speaking, writing human person, can never represent himself or herself fully in what is said: there is no sign which will, so to speak, sum up my entire being. I can only designate myself in language by a convenient pronoun. The pronoun ‘I’ stands in for the ever-elusive subject, which will always slip through the nets of any particular piece of language; and this is equivalent to saying that I cannot ‘mean’ and ‘be’ simultaneously. To make this point, Lacan boldly rewrites Descartes’s ‘I think, therefore I am’ as: ‘I am not where I think and I think where I am not.
Terry Eagleton
Professor Smith has kindly submitted his book to me before publication. After reading it thoroughly and with intense interest I am glad to comply with his request to give him my impression.The work is a broadly conceived attempt to portray man's fear-induced animistic and mythic ideas with all their far-flung transformations and interrelations. It relates the impact of these phantasmagorias on human destiny and the causal relationships by which they have become crystallized into organized religion.This is a biologist speaking, whose scientific training has disciplined him in a grim objectivity rarely found in the pure historian. This objectivity has not, however, hindered him from emphasizing the boundless suffering which, in its end results, this mythic thought has brought upon man.Professor Smith envisages as a redeeming force, training in objective observation of all that is available for immediate perception and in the interpretation of facts without preconceived ideas. In his view, only if every individual strives for truth can humanity attain a happier future; the atavisms in each of us that stand in the way of a friendlier destiny can only thus be rendered ineffective.His historical picture closes with the end of the nineteenth century and with good reason. By that time it seemed that the influence of these mythic, authoritatively anchored forces which can be denoted as religious, had been reduced to a tolerable level in spite of all the persisting inertia and hypocrisy.Even then, a new branch of mythic thought had already grown strong, one not religious in nature but no less perilous to mankind -- exaggerated nationalism. Half a century has shown that this new adversary is so strong that it places in question man's very survival. It is too early for the present-day historian to write about this problem, but it is to be hoped that one will survive who can undertake the task at a later date.
Albert Einstein