– What do you think about the concept of the social other? Does it makes sense to you or do you have questions about it?
I found Fr Alison’s lesson to be an eloquent and a remarkably accessible presentation of a confounding idea. If I ask a nitpicky question or two, it is only because I’m enthralled by his manner of explication and want to learn a bit more.
“Who you are is something which the social other produces in you—making use of your body.” (8:43)
Wouldn’t the following a hair more precise?
Who you are is something which the social other produces—making use of a body.
There are two changes. The first change (deleting “in you”) avoids the implication that “who you are” is produced inside a pre-existent “you.” I believe, if I’m tracking the overall direction of the lesson, Fr. Alison would deny that there are any “you”s floating around the cosmic drink for the social other to grab hold of and fashion into a human. Rather, he would affirm that even the very selfhood of selves is also the production of the social other, wouldn’t he? It’s a small point, but it helps to prevent the pesky delusion of the self-starting “I” from gaining a foothold. The second change (replacing “your” with “a”) stands in line for precisely the same quibble. We can’t properly speak of “YOUR body” before there is a “you” to claim ownership of the body.
Toward the end, Fr Alison says the manner in which a parent looks at an infant will determine how the child will come to hold herself. After contrasting two hypothetical examples (looks from anxious parents vs. looks from serene parents), he concludes: “we receive who we are through the eyes of others.” (21:39) Or, he concludes “we receive who we are through the “I”s of others.” (ibid.) Perhaps this is an ambiguity afforded by English homophony that Alison would be happy to exploit; but I’m curious which word he uses when he teaches this lesson in Spanish or Portuguese.
– Why does James place so much emphasis on the social other being prior to us?
I suppose he suspects his audience has been raised in a society that regularly (if not exclusively) glorifies things which imply the autonomy and boundless vigor of individuated selves. It’s important for teachers to emphasize those features of their lessons that conflict with values their students haven’t had much occasion to question.