The Unique and the Self

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'The question is not how should man behave towards God but how should God as a free entity be viewed by man and this is a question of yearning for time.' - Max Stirner

By the time we get near the end of Stirner and His Critics, by Max Stirner - which is, as the title would suggest, a response to some of his most famous critics - Stirner gives us a picture (non-picture) of his idea of The Unique that is not unlike Tao or Attman in eastern metaphysics (not that these are the same; they simply cleave together in the confusion of their awkward western counterparts).

      'The unique is the frank, undeniable, clear — phrase; it is th keystone of our phrase-world, this world whose “beginning was the word.”' The Unique as the Logos.'

      Further on:

'The unique is a word, and everyone should always be able to think something when he uses a word; a word should have thought content. But the unique is a thoughtless word; it has no thought content. So then what is its content, if it is not thought? It is content that cannot exist a second time and so also cannot be expressed, because if it could be expressed, actually and wholly expressed, it would exist for a second time; it would exist in the “expression.”'

The Unique here is almost a sort of accretive, dialectically registered monad monad, recognized only in the memory, as something unrepeatable, as if uncaused. This calls to mind Nietzsche's project to 'turn being into becoming.' It is being AS becoming; being as constant motion; the center by which we can even distinguish change.

      'In the unique, science can dissolve into life, in which your this becomes who and this who no longer seeks itself in the word, in the Logos, in the attribute.'
      'Everything turns around you; you are the center of the outer world and of the thought world. Your world extends as far as your capacity, and what you grasp is your own simply because you grasp it. You, the unique, are “the unique” only together with “your property.”'

One ascertains more of one's own agency toward experiential reality when one assumes the space before one; one's property is reality itself. We go here far beyond any economic distinction of 'property' which one might use to counter a Proudhon.

      'Meanwhile, it doesn’t escape you that what is yours is still itself its own at the same time, i.e., it has its own existence; it is the unique the same as you. At this point you forget yourself in sweet self-forgetfulness.
But when you forget yourself, do you then disappear? When you don’t think of yourself, have you utterly ceased to exist? When you look in your friend’s eyes or reflect upon the joy you would like to bring him, when you gaze up at the stars, meditate upon their laws or perhaps send them a greeting, which they bring to a lonely little room, when you lose yourself in the activity of the infusion of tiny animals under a microscope, when you rush to help someone in danger of burning or drowning without considering the danger you yourself are risking, then indeed you don’t “think” of yourself, you “forget yourself.” But do you exist only when you think of yourself, and do you dissipate when you forget yourself? Do you exist only through self-consciousness? Who doesn’t forget himself constantly, who doesn’t lose sight of himself thousands of times in an hour?
This self-forgetfulness, this losing of oneself, is for us only a mode of self-enjoyment, it is only the pleasure we take in our world, in our property, i.e. world-pleasure.'

Like Karma, the message of the Baghavad Gita; one attains the whole of the world in order to sacrifice it; in order to assume one's place as an agency of both destruction and creation, a part in the whole of the process of the whole universe.

      'If you take just one sacred interest to heart, you’ll be caught and duped about your own interests. Call the interest that you follow now sacred, and tomorrow you will be its slave.'

Stirner, at times, treats 'the sacred' in much the same way the Buddha speaks of bonds and entanglements. Stirner, however, focuses on active interest rather than negative entanglement; they compliment one another. As long as one seizes desiring what is no longer unique, one is unique; free.

             'The spirit alone has raised difficulties and created scruples; and from this it seems to follow that they could only be eliminated by means of the spirit or thought. How bad it would be for those poor souls who have let themselves be talked into accepting these scruples without possessing the strength of thought necessary to become the masters of the same! How horrible if, in this instance they would have to wait until pure critique gave them their freedom! But sometimes these people help themselves with a healthy, homemade levity, which is just as good for their needs as free thought is for pure critique, since the critic, as a “virtuoso” of thought, possesses an undeniable impulse to overcome scruples through thought.'

This calls to mind the concept in Eastern thought that one's karma is free when one freely accepts all the consequences of one's actions, good or bad, without caring for the result. One's action becomes pure, or in Stirner's case, 'Unique'

   'If, after a few attacks, much free thought has come to a stop, after a few attacks, before a new sacred scruple, which would disgrace egoism, nonetheless free thought in its freest form (pure critique) will not stop before any absolute scruple, and with egoistic perseverance desecrates one scrupulous sanctity after another.'
    'It might seem that it must, indeed, be left to every individual to rid himself of scruples as he knows how, but that it is still the task of history to dissolve scruples through critical reflection. But this is just what Stirner denies. Against this “task of history,” he maintains that the history of scruples and the reflections that relate to them is coming to an end. Not the task of dissolving, but the capriciousness that makes short work of scruples, not the force of thought, but the force of a lack of scruples seems to come into play. Thinking can serve only to reinforce and ensure the lack of scruples.'
  'The worth of this thought lies not in the thinker, but in the egoist, who egoistically places his own power, the force of thought, above sacred scruples, and this doesn’t weaken you and me at all.'   

This calls to mind Julius Evola's interpretation of Stirner. A 'scruple' is then privation turned into a being, rather than something which has yet to be overpowered. A limit of logic is then only a limit of power.

  'To describe this lack of scruples, Stirner uses (p. 197) expressions like “jerk, leap, jubilant whoop,” and says “the vast significance of unthinking jubilation could not be recognized in the long night of thinking and believing.” Do we have here something similar to Kierkegaard's leap of faith? We get something of an answer in the next passage. 'Jubilation and rejoicing becomes a bit ridiculous when one contrasts them with the mass and volume of deep scruples that still cannot be overcome with so little effort. Of course, the mass of scruples accumulated in history and continually reawakened by thinkers cannot be eliminated with mere rejoicing. Thinkers cannot get past it if their thinking does not receive full satisfaction at the same time, since the satisfaction of their thinking is their actual interest. Thought must not be suppressed by jubilation, in the way that, from the point of view of faith, it is supposed to be suppressed by faith.'
  'Since you have the need to think, you cannot limit yourself to driving scruples out through jubilation; you also need to think them away.'
   'Egoism, as Stirner uses it, is not opposed to love nor to thought; it is no enemy of the sweet life of love, nor of devotion and sacrifice; it is no enemy of intimate warmth, but it is also no enemy of critique, nor of socialism, nor, in short, of any actual interest. It doesn’t exclude any interest. It is directed against only disinterestedness and the uninteresting; not against love, but against sacred love, not against thought, but against sacred thought, not against socialists, but against sacred socialists, etc.
The “exclusiveness” of the egoist, which some want to pass off as isolation, separation, loneliness, is on the contrary full participation in the interesting by — exclusion of the uninteresting.'

   Here we are closest to the approximation between Stirner's thought and Eastern wisdom, even if Stirner had never read eastern texts (and it is likely that he didn't). One's attention is placed, fixed on something, and an action results. The interest itself becomes the locus of the relationship between subject and object. One is reminded of the concept in Buddhism of Vipassana, in which one becomes aware of all one's thoughts and passing sensations. A striking thing occurs: the mere act of attention, of interest, dissolves what is not essential and accentuates that which is.

   Hakim Bey, in his book TAZ, elucidates this relationship and its wider implications in Stirner's work, far beyond what is often accepted amongst self-described 'egoists.'

   'The translation of the title (& key term) of Max Stirner's magnum opus as The Ego & Its Own has led to a subtle misinterpretation of “individualism.” The English-Latin word ego comes freighted & weighed with freudian & protestant baggage. A careful reading of Stirner suggests that The Unique & His Own-ness would better reflect his intentions, given that he never defines the ego in opposition to libido or id, or in opposition to “soul” or “spirit.” The Unique (der Einzige) might best be construed simply as the individual self.
Stirner commits no metaphysics, yet bestows on the Unique a certain absoluteness. In what way then does this Einzige differ from the Self of Advaita Vedanta? Tat tvam asi: Thou (individual Self) art That (absolute Self).
Many believe that mysticism “dissolves the ego.” Rubbish. Only death does that (or such at least is our Sadducean assumption). Nor does mysticism destroy the “carnal” or “animal” self–which would also amount to suicide. What mysticism really tries to surmount is false consciousness, illusion, Consensus Reality, & all the failures of self that accompany these ills. True mysticism creates a “self at peace,” a self with power. The highest task of metaphysics (accomplished for example by Ibn Arabi, Boehme, Ramana Maharshi) is in a sense to self-destruct, to identify metaphysical & physical, transcendent & immanent, as ONE. Certain radical monists have pushed this doctrine far beyond mere pantheism or religious mysticism. An apprehension of the immanent oneness of being inspires certain antinomian heresies (the Ranters, the Assassins) whom we consider our ancestors.
Stirner himself seems deaf to the possible spiritual resonances of Individualism–& in this he belongs to the 19th century: born long after the deliquescence of Christendom, but long before the discovery of the Orient & of the hidden illuminist tradition in Western alchemy, revolutionary heresy & occult activism. Stirner quite correctly despised what he knew as “mysticism,” a mere pietistic sentimentality based on self-abnegation & world hatred. Nietzsche nailed down the lid on “God” a few years later. Since then, who has dared to suggest that Individualism & mysticism might be reconciled & synthesized?
The missing ingredient in Stirner (Nietzsche comes closer) is a working concept of nonordinary consciousness. The realization of the unique self (or ubermensch) must reverberate & expand like waves or spirals or music to embrace direct experience or intuitive perception of the uniqueness of reality itself. This realization engulfs & erases all duality, dichotomy, & dialectic. It carries with itself, like an electric charge, an intense & wordless sense of value: it “divinizes” the self.
Being/consciousness/bliss (satchitananda) cannot be dismissed as merely another Stirnerian “spook” or “wheel in the head.” It invokes no exclusively transcendent principle for which the Einzige must sacrifice his/her own-ness. It simply states that intense awareness of existence itself results in “bliss”–or in less loaded language, “valuative consciousness.” The goal of the Unique after all is to possess everything; the radical monist attains this by identifying self with perception, like the Chinese inkbrush painter who “becomes the bamboo,” so that “it paints itself.”
Despite mysterious hints Stirner drops about a “union of Unique-ones” & despite Nietzsche's eternal “Yea” & exaltation of life, their Individualism seems somehow shaped by a certain coldness toward the other. In part they cultivated a bracing, cleansing chilliness against the warm suffocation of 19th century sentimentality & altruism; in part they simply despised what someone (Mencken?) called “Homo Boobensis.”
And yet, reading behind & beneath the layer of ice, we uncover traces of a fiery doctrine–what Gaston Bachelard might have called “a Poetics of the Other.” The Einzige's relation with the Other cannot be defined or limited by any institution or idea. And yet clearly, however paradoxically, the Unique depends for completeness on the Other, & cannot & will not be realized in any bitter isolation.
The examples of “wolf children” or enfants sauvages suggest that a human infant deprived of human company for too long will never attain conscious humanity–will never acquire language. The Wild Child perhaps provides a poetic metaphor for the Unique-one–and yet simultaneously marks the precise point where Unique & Other must meet, coalesce, unify–or else fail to attain & possess all of which they are capable.
The Other mirrors the Self–the Other is our witness. The Other completes the Self–the Other gives us the key to the perception of oneness-of-being. When we speak of being & consciousness, we point to the Self; when we speak of bliss we implicate the Other.
The acquisition of language falls under the sign of Eros– all communication is essentially erotic, all relations are erotic. Avicenna & Dante claimed that love moves the very stars & planets in their courses–the Rg Veda & Hesiod's Theogony both proclaim Love the first god born after Chaos. Affections, affinities, aesthetic perceptions, beautiful creations, conviviality–all the most precious possessions of the Unique-one arise from the conjunction of Self & Other in the constellation of Desire.'

Pointing Stirner east and making him march that direction will lead to inevitably richer, more interesting conclusions than what we're left with when we try to inaugurate him into the realm of rational, western philosophy, or when we try to tame and economize him by stripping him down to a rambunctious theorist on property ownership.

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