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Search for Self in Other in Cicero, Ovid, Rousseau, Diderot and Sartre

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Mary Efrosini Gregory

Search for Self in Other in Cicero, Ovid, Rousseau, Diderot and Sartre examines how these five theorists recognized that searching for self in an idealized other can lead to a variety of perversions. Cicero warned against seeking friends whom we regard as being everything that we are not: he advised to first be a good person and then to seek other. Ovid showed that Narcissus, who had no close friends to reinforce his identity, was oblivious to his own assets and tried to live vicariously through other. Rousseau explained why modern man, while seated in a theater, feels compassion and is transported by pity, anxiety and fear for the welfare of fictional characters as if it were his own. Diderot showed how the absence of self can be exploited by the powerful to reshape the minds of the weak. He proves that given the right environment and length of time, any one of us, like the victims in The Nun, could just as easily have his life ruined. Sartre reminds us that it is impossible to be-in-exterior. We see ourselves according to the way that others perceive us based on conditioning and prejudices. Sartre untangles the snarled web of misperception of self that arises from «the look» of the other.
This book addresses man’s growing understanding of the death of self in the mirror of other across the corridors of time – from Narcissus’ ancient pool, to Cicero’s Roman forum, to Rousseau’s Parisian theater, to Diderot’s convent in The Nun, to Sartre’s twentieth-century hell.

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Conclusion 163

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Conclusion The “master,” the “feudal lord,” the “bourgeois,” the “capitalist” all appear not only as powerful people who command but in addition and above all Thirds; that is, as those who are outside the oppressed community and for whom this community ex- ists. It is therefore for them and in their freedom that the reality of the oppressed class is going to exist.1 —Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness (1943) Now let us fast forward to the present day and see how interconnecting net- works of giant corporations are exploiting the search for self in other to ma- nipulate our identification and thereby control our behavior. They can do this because today identity is defined by the mass media and the means employed is the computer. In a society in which billions are garnered through sales of apparel and accessories bearing designer logos, athletic attire displaying the emblems of professional teams, and full sleeve tats and body piercings, it is evident that identification with other and the tendency towards social conformity have become big business. Thus people are twice robbed—first of their identity and then of their money. Hence, it is arguable whether we have really advanced since the ancient Greeks devised the legend of Narcissus to describe the futility of attempting to seize self outside of self. Sartre created a term to identify it—being-in- exterior—and observed that such a state is impossible to achieve. Diderot demonstrated that given the right environmental conditioning, any one of us could...

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