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  • An Inquiry into the Two Sources of "Self" and Their Two Modes of Existence
  • Prashant Singh

this article has three aims. Firstly, to elaborate the distinction made by Gabriel Tarde in Monadology and Sociology between "to have" and "to be" as a philosophy of being. In doing so, the concept of possession that forms an essential part of this distinction will be enriched from the insights of recent anthropological literature, especially anthropology of science. The distinction will be examined using the concepts of ambulatory and saltatory relations propounded by William James in his book The Meaning of Truth so as to enable the understanding of the processes through which relations are forged and networks are extended, and to see more clearly the fundamental differences between "to have" and "to be." Once these differences are established, the second aim of the article is to locate the various modes of existence of these two formulations—and in what ways one can encounter and identify them in the world. For this purpose, we rely on the description of collectives developed by Bruno Latour and the definition of crowds by Elias Canetti in Crowds and Power. The third aim is to engage with the question of multiplicity and unity, keeping the idea of self as a reference point, to find out a way for integrating both. The task is to articulate a position where the self is not tossed between the extremes of multiplicity and unity, where one leads to the other and vice versa, so that we can refer to the self in terms of fulfillment and not predicament.

The Two Sources of Self: "To Have" and "To Be"

Rishi Durvasa1 was famous for his anger, and he was not the only one known for this. There is a whole plethora of Rishis (poets, sages) one can find in ancient texts who had very fragile tempers or, to say more accurately, were always in a state of anger without reason. Even the name Durvasa is [End Page 1] an adjective that suggests a person whom one has difficulty staying with. These Rishis contradict the popular image of Rishis as peaceful and tranquil personalities. So what made these ancient figures full of anger, full of rage? One of the plausible explanations generally given associates these rageful manifestations of the Rishis with the state of Tapas, as understood in the spiritual traditions to be a state of a highly intense form of energy, and the person who embodies it is a manifestation of that sheer intensity. Pure rage, pure anger, without any reason or cause, not directed against anybody, has been one of the modes of existence of that sheer intensity of energy, and the people who sometimes enter into the field of that intensity become unwarranted victims of this high energy. The "self" possessing this energy in turn is possessed by this energy, and the possibility of differentiating between the two, as possessor and the possessed, simply ceases to exist. It is the possession itself that gives the particular personality its individuality. Without this possession, the individual loses a part of his individuality.

Consider another example of this intense possession in the Homeric tales of ancient Greece. The Greek epic the Iliad starts with the rage of Achilles, and Homer sings the verses of appeal to the higher gods and goddesses before the epic battle. And when the prayer is successful, the warrior hero becomes possessed with an intense energy unleashing its fury in battle everywhere and against everybody. Peter Sloterdijk, while analyzing this epic fury in terms of intensity, says:

[In the Homeric world] [i]t is not the human beings who have their passions, but rather it is the passions that have their human beings. The accusative is still untamable. Given these circumstances, the one God remains of course absent. Theoretical monotheism can only gain power once the philosophers seriously postulate the propositional subject as the world principle. Then the subjects are supposed to have their passions as well. Then the subjects are allowed to postulate themselves as the masters and owners of these passions, which can now be controlled. Until then, spontaneous pluralism reigns, a pluralism in which subjects and...


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