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Always More Than One
By ERIN MANNING
DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESS Copyright © 2013 Duke University Press
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Chapter One Toward a Leaky Sense of Self
In Esther Bick's psychoanalytic theory, the infant's relation to the world is mediated by the skin's capacity to serve as a container for experience: "In its most primitive form, the parts of the personality are felt to have no binding force amongst themselves and must therefore be held together in a way that is experienced by them passively, by the skin functioning as a boundary" (1987, 114). Before there can be introjection or projection, Bick argues that the infant must become "able to hold himself together in his own 'skin' in the absence of the external holding object, without spilling out and falling to bits" (2002, 209). As the infant develops, containment increasingly expresses cohesion of self, as fostered by the continued interaction with the caretaker: "if the caregiver is meaningfully present, then the infant's mind will likely be experienced as integrated—as bound and held together, while if the caregiver is meaningfully absent, then the infant's mind will likely be experienced as unintegrated—as broken and falling to pieces" (Lafrance 2009, 7). Through an emphasis on particular forms of interaction—forms that specifically involve skin-to-skin touch—an infant is given the receptacle necessary for eventual interactive self-sufficiency. With the skin closed by a sense of self-containment, the infant will not later risk the deterritorialization caused by leakage, a deterritorialization that, in true psychoanalytic form, will come with myriad symptoms associated with the necessity of creating "second skins."
What if the skin were not a container? What if the skin were not a limit at which self begins and ends? What if the skin were a porous, topological surfacing of myriad potential strata that field the relation between different milieus, each of them a multiplicity of insides and outsides? Following psychoanalytic theory such as that posited by Bick, skin-as-container reinforces feelings of aliveness and existence, whereas the lack of containment fosters a state of incoherence associated with anxiety and annihilation. Without self-containment, "the infant fears that its self will dissolve and, ultimately, leak into a limitless space" (Lafrance 2009, 9). To posit skin-as-container as the starting point for the notion of interactive self-sufficiency is to begin with the idea that the well-contained human is one who can actively (and protectively) take part in self-self interactions. Self-self interactions depend on a strict boundary between inside and outside. They occur within the realm of clearly bounded selves, including the clear boundedness of objects. Interaction is understood here as the encounter between two self-contained entities (human-to-human or human-to-object).
What if, instead of placing self-self interaction at the center of development, we were to posit relation as key to experience? Relation, understood here in a Jamesian sense, is a making apparent of a third space opened up for experience in the making. This third space (or interval) is active with the tendencies of interaction but is not limited to them. Relation folds experience into it such that what emerges is always more than the sum of its parts.
Finally, what if neither skin nor self were the starting point for the complex interrelational matrix of being and worlding? Being and worlding depend on the activity of reaching-toward. Reaching-toward foregrounds the relationality inherent in experience, a kind of feeling-with the world. This tending-toward is a sensing-with that does not occur strictly at the level of the sensory-motor. It happens across strata, both actual and virtual. A looking becomes a touching, a feeling becomes a hearing. But not on the skin or in the body. Across strata, both concrete and abstract, that constitute an assemblage. This assemblage is a sensing body in movement, a body-world that is always tending, attending to the world.
In equal measure, the world also tends toward the becoming-body. Body-worlding is much more than containment, much more than envelope. It is a complex feeling-assemblage that is active between different co-constitutive milieus. It is individuation before it is self, a fielding of associated milieus that fold in, on, and through one another. For the associated milieu is never "between" constituted selves: the associated milieu is the resonant field of individuation, active always in concert with the becomings it engenders. Becoming-self is one of the ways in which this folding (body-worlding) expresses itself, but never toward a totalization of self—always toward continued individuation. "To think individuation it is necessary to consider being not as substance, matter or form, but as a tensile oversaturated system beyond the level of unity" (Simondon 1995, 23). Self is a modality—a singularity on the plane of individuation—always on the way toward new foldings. These foldings bring into appearance not a fully constituted human, already-contained, but co-constitutive strata of matter, content, form, substance, and expression. The self is not contained. It is a fold of immanent expressibility.
Daniel Stern's account of infancy expresses this in psychological terms. For Stern, relation is always the first principle of worlding: "How we experience ourselves in relation to others provides a basic organizing perspective for all interpersonal events" (1985, 6). Stern's argument makes relation primary, constituting the relational as the very core through which any kind of sense of self is constituted. While Bick's and later Ogden's psychoanalytic theories make interaction a necessity, their matrix is not relational: it always presupposes a constituted, bounded self and other (or self and self ). Stern, on the other hand, treats the relation as the node of creative interpersonal potential, shifting, I would argue, from a self-self model of interaction (where the relation is posited as passive between active subjects) toward a radically empirical notion of immanent relationality where relation is considered as "real" as the terms in the relation.
Stern begins in the preverbal realm, suggesting that "several senses of the self do exist long prior to self-awareness and language" (1985, 6). With the assertion that there are "several senses of self," Stern emphasizes that tendencies outlined in early infancy do not build toward a contained view of self, but rather lead toward the creation of a multiplicity of strata, each of them differently expressive under variable conditions.
For Stern, a core sense of self involves a non-self-reflexive awareness (1985, 6). Preverbal awareness is linked by Stern to direct experience. Direct experience is of the order of the event. Similar to William James's concept of "pure experience," defined as the virtual (nonconscious) edge to all lived experience, direct experience is a form of immanent fielding (Stern calls this organization) through which events become experienced as such.
Direct experience takes place not in the subject or in the object, but in the relation itself. The associated milieu is active with tendencies, tunings, incipient agitations, each of which are felt before they are known as such, contributing to a sense of the how of the event in its unfolding. According to Stern, events in early infancy lead toward the creation of modes of organization. These modes of organization do not preexist experience—they are immanent to it. Through the fielding of relations (in the associated milieu of organization), the infant develops. Contrary to psychoanalytic theory, development for Stern does not come in discrete stages: "development occurs in leaps and bounds; qualitative shifts may be one of its most obvious features" (1985, 8). Quantum leaps of development occur in a fractal mode of relation where events build on events, each of them affecting at once the infant and the environment, altering what Stern calls the "social feel" of the infant. In a direct critique of a system that would seek to contain experience and development, Stern writes: "I question the entire notion of phases of development devoted to specific clinical issues such as orality, attachment, autonomy, independence, and trust.... The quantum shifts in the social 'presence' and 'feel' of the infant can ... no longer be attributed to the departure from one specific developmental task-phase and the entrance into the next" (1985, 10).
New senses of self are key to Stern's model of development. Unlike the idea that the self rests in a containment of skin, Stern proposes that selves build onto and through one another in intimate relation with a changing environment. These senses of self are defined as the emergent, core, subjective, and verbal selves, none of which is strictly successive.
Stern's senses of self are less bounded phases than fractal phase-spaces composed of interweaving strata. "Once formed, each sense of self remains fully functioning and active throughout life. All continue to grow and coexist" (Stern 1985, 22). No stratum is ever completely disarticulated from another in the creation of emergent senses of self. Rather, strata veer through and across one another in the associated milieu's intensive fielding. As the infant ages and becomes verbal, for instance, their sense of being a coherent, willful, physical entity—foregrounding strata phasing toward organization—may intermesh with the frustration of not being able to express the feeling-vector of intensity that remains a key aspect of the tending toward coherence—foregrounding the strata phasing toward the virtual or immanence. Every becoming is tinted with this double articulation. There is no stable pre-and postverbal state. There is no stable identity that emerges once and for all. Becoming-human is expressed singularly and repeatedly in the multiphasing passage from the feeling of content to the content of feeling, a shift from the force of divergent flows to a systematic integration. This is not a containment toward a stable self. It is a momentary cohesiveness, a sense of self that always remains colored by the interweaving of forces that both direct and destabilize the "self's" proto-unification into an "I." With all apparent cohesiveness there remains the effect of the ineffable that acts like a shadow on all dreams of containment. For double articulation reminds us that singular points of identification always remain mired within the complex forces of their prearticulation, prearticulation not strictly as the before of articulation, but the withness of the unutterable, the ineffable—the quasi-inexpressible share of expressibility—within language. There is no self that is not also emergent, preverbal, affectively oriented toward individuation.
Affect is central to Stern's analysis of how senses of self develop. Seeking to move beyond the limiting realm of the sensory-motor schema, which proposes direct linkages between organs and objects, Stern develops the idea of "vitality affects." More than any other aspect of his work on preverbal senses of self and emergent individuations, it is the concept of "vitality affect" that undoes the notion of self as containment.
Affect in this context can be understood as the preacceleration of experience as it acts on the becoming-body. Preacceleration refers to what has not yet been constituted but has an effect on actualization. In the context of a movement, it is the virtual experience of a welling into movement that precedes the actual displacement. Affect moves, constituting the event that, in many cases, becomes-body.
Vitality affects are a range of affect "elicited by changes in motivational states, appetites, and tensions" (Stern 1985, 54). To understand vitality affects and the role they play in emergent infant processes, Stern's concept of amodality is key. In a departure from the idea of sense-presentation—where a sense is located on the skin, associated directly to touch, for instance—Stern foregrounds the research that shows that newborns operate by cross-modal transfer. Cross-modal transfer—the feeling of touch that occurs in the seeing, for example—happens without a discrete learning curve. "No learning is needed initially, and subsequent learning about relations across modalities can be built upon this innate base" (Stern 1985, 48). Cross-modal correspondence, and, even more so, amodality (the idea that perception does not locate itself in a sense modality but courses between in rhythms that build correspondences rather than rely on already-occurring sites for sensation), Stern argues, transcends the sense "channel." This causes a shift toward a supra-modal in-betweenness where sense-events take form that are neither directly associated to an organ nor to an object. Amodality foregrounds not the sense itself but its relational potential. "It is not, then, a simple issue of a direct translation across modalities. Rather, it involves an encoding into a still mysterious amodal representation, which can then be recognized in any of the sensory modes" (Stern 1985, 51). Amodality makes apparent that the infant functions comfortably in the abstract concreteness of the radically empirical: the relation.
The infant is not a passive slate (or a proto-container) into or onto which the world can be written. The infant is itself an emergent experience (an experiment in emergence), an individuation of interweaving strata active in the creation of ontogenetic worldings. These worldings are affective. They meet the infant halfway, transforming, at each level of the co-constitutive strata of experience, being and worlding as they come together. This coming-together is not based on cognitive confirmation. It is preconscious, situated in a pure experience of proto-awareness. It is an immanent becoming-present of experience in experience, the feeling of a "déjà-vu" in a nowness without, as yet, a past or a future. In preconscious pure experience of ontogenetic worlding, we have not yet succumbed to the promise of linear time, living instead in the active topology of spacetimes of experience that many adults spend their lifetimes resisting. At the heart of these experiential topologies is vitality affect.
Affect can be thought of as supra-modal. It operates across registers: "an affect experience is not bound to any one modality of perception" (Stern 1985, 53). Preconscious, affects alter the force of the event, shaping it beyond its actual constitution. Affects exceed the realm of the modal, tending toward the edge of experience where amodality takes shape. Think of vitality affect as a species of affect, an affective tuning that operates as a kind of virtual event across myriad actualizations, creating dephasings in experience. If, for Stern's core sense of self, the organizational stratum is the dominant mode toward which direct experience unfolds, vitality affect can be understood as a co-constitutive qualitative infrastratum that provides a tending-toward immanent feeling in the constitution of the event. Organization is therefore always also experiential and affective—a fielding of relations. According to Suzanne Langer, this quality of life-living accompanies us through "all the vital processes of life, such as breathing, getting hungry ..., eliminating, falling asleep ..., or feeling the coming and going of emotions and thoughts" (qtd. in Stern 1985, 54). We are never without the presence of vitality affects. The associated milieu where the force of life-living agitates is first of all a fielding of affective incipiencies.
From its birth, the infant is immersed in feelings of vitality that transduce into vitality affects (Stern 1985, 54). These feelings double-articulate the relation between content and expression. They make palpable that content and expression are two aspects of the same stratum, "expression having just as much substance as content and content just as much form as expression" (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 44). Vitality affects express, shading into and out from content. Experience is, from the beginning, infested with this double articulation. Vitality affects are infinitely multiplicitous. They cannot be pinned down or associated with any finality to the content of an act. Stern speaks of "a thousand smiles, a thousand getting-out-of-chairs, a thousand variations of performance of any and all behaviors ... each one present[ing] a different vitality affect" (1985, 56). Vitality affects function in the associated milieu of relation: they merge with experience's tendings-toward feeling and emerge as the feeling of the event.
Stern writes: "The social world experienced by the infant is primarily one of vitality affects before it is a world of formal acts" (1985, 57). Vitality affects color immanent events. Not yet experienced as such, immanent events are the nexus through which experience begins to form. Stern's core sense of self is based on how these experiences veer the becoming-self toward new forms of relation. These new forms of relation in turn feed the process through which the infant becomes differentiated. Difference does not occur through the stratification of self and other or inside and outside. Difference emboldens processual shiftings between strata that foreground and background modes of experience, each of them affected by incipient reachings-toward, a reaching-toward not of the subject, but of experience itself. Senses of coherence emerge that unfold as feelings of warmth, intensity, texture, anguish. Coherence in the realm of the constitutive event.
The event, fed by vitality affects, prompted by amodal relays, and rerouted by senses of coherence (affective tonalities dephasing), takes the form not of discrete "things seen, heard or touched" but of "qualities of shape, number, intensity level" (Stern 1985, 57). Preconscious experience is pure and direct in the sense that it fields virtual events at the cusp of their becoming-actual. In this entwinement with the qualitative, a living of feeling creates a taking-form of expression. This taking-form of expression is the dynamic of becoming-selves.
Excerpted from Always More Than One by ERIN MANNING Copyright © 2013 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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