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Langan, R. (1999). Coming to Be: Change by Affiliation. Contemp. Psychoanal., 35(1):67-80.

(1999). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 35(1):67-80

Coming to Be: Change by Affiliation

Robert Langan, Ph.D.

IN HIS POEM “THE GOLEM,” Jorge Luís Borges (1990) describes the first coming to consciousness of an inert clay figure brought to life by the power of a word. A rabbi of medieval Prague utters this word, an arcane name of God, and the “earthen semblance” of a man raises his drowsy eyelids:

Gradually he saw that he was (like us, his brothers,)

A prisoner in this vast and sonorous net

Of Earlier, Later, Yesterday, Now, Not Yet,

Right and Left, You and I, those Others. [p. 45]

Are we, in the nature of being human, prisoners in a vast and sonorous net? Do we not also find with Borges, as the critic John Irwin (1994) puts it, that “self-consciousness comes into existence not as a single, isolated mirror fold of the self upon itself but rather as a complex, simultaneously given network of intersecting oppositions in which the self finds itself located, or, more precisely, caught as in a net”? (p. 119).

Borges does describe, to my ear, a fundamental constraint of human awareness. We each find ourselves enmeshed in time, in the possibilities of what was and what will be. We each are subjects, each experiencing our roiling Now. We each of us are objects in space, right and left around us. There is an intimate potential between you and me, as well as the option of distancing each into just another of those others out there. Self is constrained in a triadic context of I, Thou, and Other (Langan, 1995), netted in the flow of time through space, fettered by the seemingly hard edges of incarcerating reality.

Importantly, however, there is a way out. The way out, I propose, lies along aesthetic, ethical, and existential dimensions shared both by literature and by psychoanalysis. Both literature and psychoanalysis can provide a glimpse of the net for what it is, and a simultaneous glimpse of the void between its strands. The glimpse requires an affiliation with another person, in order to see through another's eyes.

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