Alien Bodies: Seeing Myself Seeing Myself

by jdavidcharles

Perhaps the most sinister part of given gender-roles are their capacity to cover up the alienation of our own bodies—having a prescribed relation of gender correlated directly to physicality covers up this alienation and gives me the illusion of being “at home” in my own body. This ignores that there is a distance between myself and how I relate to myself, something fundamentally “other” about the self’s relation to body. I speak of my body as other, as something I “have” etc, but notions of given or normative gender present the illusion that there is something matter-of-fact about my relation to self, no dissonance between self and body—and where there is no dissonance, no distinction between the same and quasi-other of my own existence, there is no knowledge of the self, no distinctions. Rightly speaking, where there is a one-to-one relation of physical sex to social gender there is no knowledge of self as engendered, no knowledge of self by self qua self.

This fundamental rupture, my alienation from myself as quasi-other, is essential for self-knowledge—precisely the means by which I can speak of learning from myself, personal growth, etc. In other words, covering up the alienation of myself from my own body is true alienation, for covering up this alienation alienates the self from being able to move outside itself. Rank assumptions of societal norms don’t make communication “easier” but rather ignores and covers up the difficulty of communication, its complications, and, in short, the liminality of the gender “dialectic” (that all of us are between gender, always already becoming-male, becoming-female, becoming-neuter/de-sexed, etc). It is by being “between” gender, caught in a fluctuating, chimerical state of becoming, like Tiresius, that the notion of me as “having” a gender, a body, can emerge. It is only by being-between that a self and quasi-other can appear so as to have two isolate viewpoints, a self that sees itself.

Point being, I am always alienated from my own body, gender, self. I am not “at home.” But it is precisely in this liminal ambiguity that gender and self can emerge, albeit in a tentative and tendential way. The self always emerges in-between, because it needs to see itself seeing itself—the self alienated by its own otherness—in order to gain knowledge of self. To cover up alienation is the worst sort of alienation, stifles communication, and ultimately reduces to a solipsistic ignorance. “Know thyself” means moving outside yourself in order for the self that sees itself to emerge.