Jean-Paul Sartre, known and adulated for being — practically speaking — the founder of “Existentialism,” became famous because of a short, innocuous essay he wrote in 1934. “Innocuous” because on the surface at least, it was brainy, esoteric philosophical analysis. Small audience of specialists … but. The world or a small part of it discovered a new brilliance when the essay was published in 1936. Called The Transcendence of the Ego — the title does not mean at all most people will think it means. Its ideas were arresting, vivid, and different. –As it looks to me now, it had a depth, plus … as I now think of it, the spell of witchcraft and transcendence.
“The unconscious,” says a piece in Psychology Today, “is the vast sum of operations of the mind that take place below the level of conscious awareness.” Consciousness, the article goes on to say, requires attention, but information can register in the absence of directed awareness, in the unconscious. Read the article here.
This undirected mental material is part of how witchcraft works. But– one thing at a time.
Witchcraft and sex
Transcendence of the Ego — and Sartre did not say this — but I am saying it, is about witchcraft and sex. It’s really about the power of witchcraft over contents not in the control of conscious effort.
To be clear: Sartre wrote this book as a refutation of Edmund Husserl’s idea of consciousness. I doubt the words “witch” or “witchcraft” appear in it. It is straight philosophy – cognitive science if you will. But Sartre’s theory creates a basis for understanding mind dynamics that make witchcraft possible.
Well, transcendence, sex, imagination, spiritual imagery of ascending — they all contain elements that involve things not in conscious control. How something rises in consciousness, assumes a great power. The Secret of Halloween is not sex — but the spell of witchcraft and transcendence go together.
And there is a magic spell, a witching season, as Freud and Jung knew; and we respond to it, though we don’t know how it works. To analyze what witches are, in imagination and reality, is not a fool’s errand.
That group affirmation thing
I am guessing what you will probably think the title Sartre’s book means, because I know what I thought when I first laid eyes on the book. It is not, however, about transcending our ego or anything to do with California-style group therapy. You know, where we rediscover our mutual interdependence. It is not a self-help book or a New Age didactic sermon. — Nor something you might have glimpsed about the anima mundi while skimming the introduction to The Diamond Sutra in an occult bookstore, before deciding not to buy it.
The I? it is an object — a thing in consciousness
What Sartre meant by the “transcendence” of the ego, was actually something quite visionary. He meant, that the “ego” — our sense of self — was “transcendent,” that is to say it exists outside ourselves. That “I” that I think I am, the self, is in fact an object of consciousness. A thing of which I am aware. When the prose poet Arthur Rimbaud wrote, in 1871, at age 16 to his professor, Je est un autre — meaning, “I… is someone else,” he anticipated this insight from Sartre. It literally means “the I is an other.” Young Rimbaud saw what Sartre saw: he was not the self. He was not who he — naturally — thought he was, 24/7.
The persistent object… the hypnotic spell
If we were to take this as not just a curious bit of writing, but as the description of actual experience, what it would mean is something pretty amazing. We walk around every day thinking we ARE this thing, this self. Rimbaud said, no no, I see I am not that persistent object; not the self I’ve thought I was.
— We’ve written a few articles on the Witches and Halloween theme in the last week or two. For instance:
Also, on a purely practical level, y0u might check out my colleague’s article on the Stanley Adventure All-in-One Boil + Brew French Press coffee pot. Almost a must-have item for yours truly (am also a coffee addict).
The field of consciousness
This self, it is an object, an item of consciousness, a perception. A thing. A hypnotic object. Sartre talked about it, so did Rimbaud, so did Baudrillard. And St. Augustine of Hippo. And Plato. There is witchcraft in it — the witchcraft of immanence, something deep within us, the spell of thinking that object is different from or above the rest.
(We rediscovered this concept because as part of our Halloween series of articles, we’ve been thinking about, well, witches. Spells, magic, warlocks, conjurations, dark scenes under moonlight. Willing hypnotic subjects…)
And Rimbaud set out to find out what he would experience if he rejected that false “me.” He was not the first — the idea had floated around in Persia, in Zoroastrian faith; in ancient Greece, in the fragments we know of Heraclitus; and in Plato; and it is present in the Christian era, as witnessed and attested to by certain mystics. St. Augustine knew it also. It is the realization that consciousness constitutes and maintains this theater of objects, and my “self” is one among the things arrayed for exhibit.
More to come…
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