Walker Percy Wednesday 138


As a consequence of the unprecedented appearance of the triad in the Cosmos, there appeared for the first time in fifteen billion years (as far as we know) a creature which is ashamed of itself and which seeks cover in myriad disguises.
One semioticist defined the subject of his study as the only organism which tells lies.
The exile from Eden is, semiotically, the banishment of the self-conscious self from its own world of signs.
The banquet is still there, but it is Banquo in attendance.
The self perceives itself as naked. Every self is ashamed of itself.
The semiotic history of this creature thereafter could be written in terms of the successive attempts, both heroic and absurd, of the signifying creature to escape its nakedness and to find a permanent semiotic habiliment for itself—often by identifying itself with other creatures in its world.


As soon as the self becomes self-conscious—that is, aware of its own unique unformulability in its world of signs—from that moment forward, it cannot escape the predicament of its placement in the world.
An organism exists in its environment in only one mode, that of an open system responding to those segments of its environment to which it is genetically programmed to respond or to which it has learned to respond.
But a self must be placed in a world. It cannot not be placed. If it chooses by default not to be placed, then its placement is that of not choosing to be placed.


In a post-religious technological society, these traditional resources of the self are no longer available, leaving in general only the two options: self conceived as immanent, consumer of the techniques, goods, and services of society; or as transcendent, a member of the transcending community of science and art.
(a) Self as Immanent. The self sees itself as an immanent being in the world, existing in a mode of being often conceived on the model of organism-in-an-environment as a consequence of the powerful credentials of science and technology.
Such immanence is a continuum. At one end: the compliant role-player and consumer and holder of a meaningless job, the anonymous “one”—German man—in a mass society, whether a backfence gossip* or an Archie Bunker beer-drinking TV-watcher.
At the other end: the “autonomous self,” who is savvy to all the techniques of society and appropriates them according to his or her discriminating tastes, whether it be learning “parenting skills,” consciousness-raising, consumer advocacy, political activism liberal or conservative, saving whales, TM, TA, ACLU, New Right, square-dancing, creative cooking, moving out to country, moving back to central city, etc.
The self is still problematical to itself, but it solves its predicament of placement vis-à-vis the world either by a passive consumership or by a discriminating transaction with the world and with informed interactions with other selves.