Radical Psychology
Winter 2005

Surviving Psychology:

Subjectivity between Discourse and Performance

Tudor Balinisteanu

Abstract : In this paper I regard patients as actors in order to point out several important aspects of their drama: the patients' performance of multiple identities, the public character of their performance, its socially participatory aspects and its 'unreality' labeled neurotic in traditional psychology. I feel that this shall prove fruitful since both the patients‘ and the actors’ performance is perceived as located beyond the 'real' social stage. Actors’ performance is judged by an audience representing the voice of society; neurotic patients perform in front of the psychologist who is the vehicle of the social voice and the arbiter of its normality standards. Therefore it seems appropriate to use drama theory, and since much of it relies on semiotic concepts this analysis will have a relatively strong semiotic dimension. I will argue that psychology should concentrate on the fact that patients possess inherently changeable and divided selves. The self’s many components can be ascribed to various paradigmatic ensembles. But the self comes before the character, which is to say that psychological characters grow out of the attempt at self-expression and not the other way around. While I acknowledge the importance of consulting accounts of neuroses in defining a psychological case I am arguing that using discursive procedures in psychological investigations misses important aspects that define one’s experience of the self. Dialogue as methodology of enquiry presupposes rigid communicational exchanges that rely on pre-constructed (sentenced) patterns. It misses the actual drama of the patient’s self. In the following I will argue in favour of a performative approach to psychological investigation. Traditional discursive therapy regards the self as a monolithic subject and therefore cannot conceive its contradictoriness except as the breaking of an internal harmonizing rule. The self is continuously placed in a network of oppositions and resemblances and its expression (if it has to be voiced) cannot be but referential, metonymic or metaphoric, therefore eluding its reality. In traditional psychotherapy the self must learn to work with relationships of equivalence and substitution which guarantee its reasonableness; but the self is never reasonable. I should emphasize that the discussion proposed in this paper is by no means definitive, nor does it do sufficient justice to the wealth of research that it invokes. It is an exploratory narrative essay through which I wish to share a number of questions that I find intriguing, and the discussion of which, I believe, could lead to further systematic study that might confirm as much as it might refute my often overconfident assertions.

Keywords : drama theory, semiotics, psychotherapy, identity, neurosis, neurasthenia, social construction, performative psychology


Psychologists often rely on a repertoire of case studies when defining their patients’ neuroses. They resort to dialogue in order to negotiate the patient’s reality in a process that ascribes her to a paradigm of possible subjectivities. Eventually the patient becomes subjected to the pathological discourse that relies on the unitary concepts of normality vs. the neurotic. The patient is read (even reads herself) as an abstract, complex sign that replaces the experience of the self. The criteria helping to define psychological standards rely on frequency: the frequency of similar cases creates categories where the patient (mis)fits. In the process of constantly referring the patient’s situation to similar cases her personality construct emerges. But such characterizations are built on yet other schematic constructs borrowed from the available case pool. They are therefore bound to reproduce accounts of subjectivities that have been diagnosed and classified. Discourse based psychotherapy leads to the creation of an identity that is politically loaded since it reflects the same selective criteria that operate in society. The patient’s identity emerges from rearrangements of what has already been socially indexed.

In my analysis I regard patients as actors in order to point out several important aspects of their drama: the patients’ performance of multiple identities, the public character of their performance, its socially participatory aspects and its 'unreality' labeled neurotic in traditional psychology. I feel that this shall prove fruitful since both the patients’ and the actors’ performance is perceived as located beyond the 'real' social stage. Actors’ performance is judged by an audience representing the voice of society; neurotic patients perform in front of the psychologist who is the vehicle of the social voice and the arbiter of its normality standards.

Psychological theory provides the concept of multiple identities. We may regard these identities as masks, each yielding an individual’s character. An individual’s public performance is a performance of such multiple identities. Different constraints pertaining to different social situations require different roles to be performed. But the entire range of social situations one may find herself into share the common ground of their sociality. Thus, it is never possible to define two utterly different ontologies of the patients’ worlds. Ultimately, these definitions would have to share the framework of social communication (as one of the purposes for which they are used). If multiple realities are seen as a symptom of schizophrenia it is so because of how social communication functions at a given moment in history. While traditional psychology may accept that different social situations require different roles, it is not prepared to accept that these roles may entail a patient’s world construct that, being at odds with the legitimized one, is still not necessarily a sign of psychological disturbance. Multiple situational role-playing is perceived as a sign of disturbed, schizophrenic subjectivity because traditional psychology is predicated not on the acceptance of the fact that multiple possible social situations require multiple social world constructs but on a type of behaviour that, even though diverse, suits a single possible world construct: that of an idealized society. In promoting the image of such a society as the only 'normal' one, traditional psychology forces patients to isolate their unwanted other in negative terms and prevents them from gaining a sense of solidarity with other 'disturbed' peers which might be of help. The contemporary and popular group therapy indeed allows for such a solidarity feeling. Yet group therapy often isolates the entire group as socially undesirable.

I will argue that psychology should concentrate on the fact that patients possess inherently changeable and divided selves. The self’s many components can be ascribed to various paradigmatic ensembles. But the self comes before the character, which is to say that psychological characters grow out of the attempt at self-expression and not the other way around. In the psychological tradition the psychological character is a formulation of identities in behaviour of individuals made possible by the forced cohesion of their selves within an imagined homogenic and homologic society, to use Gramsci’s (1971) concepts. This serves a normative purpose embedding the very conditions of rationality (thinking through categories) and implying strategies for the social management of difference.

Based on Phillipe Hamon’s (1977) semiological research we may attribute three main functions to dialogue in psychotherapy, which are simultaneously at work in different degrees in the constitution of the self in discourse:

a) Referential function: the self uses representations of historical, mythological, socially successful / unsuccessful characters. These grant the self a 'reality effect’, i.e., they make possible the conception of a unitary, integral self. This ambiguously provokes both a sense of necessity and of suspicion on the patient’s part regarding social myths. Social myths should serve merely as references for self-guidance. Their use in psychotherapy to equate the self with the social myth’s constructions of the self has damaging effects because of the constraints tradition imposes upon modes of socialization.

b) Metonymic function: the self is attributed a voice; the patient imagines a spokesperson for the self who is her 'herself'. 'Herself' is only part for the whole self.

c) Metaphoric function: the self re-enacts (‘quotes’) memories, characters, dreams, visions, etc.

Traditional discursive therapy regards the self as a monolithic subject and therefore cannot conceive its contradictoriness except as the breaking of an internal harmonizing rule. The self is continuously placed in a network of oppositions and resemblances and its expression (if it has to be voiced) cannot be but referential, metonymic or metaphoric, therefore eluding its reality. In traditional psychotherapy the self must learn to work with relationships of equivalence and substitution which guarantee its reasonableness; subjectivities are related to social myths objectified in standards of social and psychological normality.

If patients have different social objectives conflict is generated. The patient only is seen as the source of conflict while in fact her deviant action is taken precisely in order to overcome constraints of social norm. The patients’ behaviour, by appearing neurotic, justifies psychological discourse for correction, generating further conflict and thus perpetuating not only an artificially created conflictual subjectivity but also the legitimacy of norms of psychological sanity and of procedures required for correction.

In being given psychological character the self becomes involved in a syntactic structure whose 'grammar’ is that of social standards. As with any grammar, which is an abstract standardized construct, society’s rules provide models of social performance with a well-defined function. Therefore psychological character can be explained as deviant and idiosyncratic, which in psychological terms spells neurosis. But the self is not an abstract character; it is performed experience of reality.

In becoming subject to psychological discourse the self is spoken about both by the patient and by the psychologist. We have two stories of the self that must settle the self’s reality between them.

Discursive Psychotherapy

There is a strict dependence between constructions of the self and the use of language. In psychological interrogation the patient is forced to use the first person, while the psychologist always uses the second person. Discourse is thus centered on the patient who must conceive her self after the interrogator’s directions. According to John Lyons:

'The Latin word 'persona’ (meaning 'mask’) was used to translate the Greek word for 'dramatic character’ or 'role’, and the use of this term by grammarians derives from their metaphorical conception of the language-event as a drama in which the principal role is played by the first person, the role subsidiary to this by the second person, and all other roles by the third person.' ( Lyons, 1977, p. 638, emphasis in the original )

Lyons’s assertion makes visible important features of discourse as a technique of psychological investigation: it forces the patient to assume a persona, a mask; and it forces the patient to conceive similes of her self in order to construe a subject for the discourse she is engaged in. Basically, the patient must give up a divided self in order to enter a discourse of healing which presupposes a unitary subject. The conception of self as unitary subject is only possible through the objectification of the self, through a forced union of its centrifugal impulses which must be held together. But unitary subjects are ideal, corresponding to the modernist foundational project of psychological science that sought to provide a basis for self-knowledge conceived in terms of scientific certainty.

Dialogical interrogation techniques accord primary importance to the patient’s speech. Speech connects with the idea of making visible what lies within the folds of silence. What is not spoken about cannot be made sure of in psychology’s knowledge system. These modernist tendencies of objectification of the unknown may have yielded results in other sciences; however, the psyche cannot be spatialized and structured except by ignoring its fundamental character of unpredictable becoming. The psyche simply is de-centered and impulsive. Centering it through the creation of a unitary abstraction called subjectivity reflects the centralizing ideology of the modern age. The ideological is inserted into the psychological and this has had damaging effects upon how we conceive the self because any psychological characterization of the self is closely dependant on an ideology of the sciences that requires objectification of that which cannot be objectified. For instance, conceptions of unitary national spaces in the age of nation states required the creation of a unitary but ideal subject against which standards of sociality, and therefore normality (including the psychologically normal) and social goals (presupposing behavioural prescriptions fitting definitions of normality) were measured. The psyche’s pulsation has been thus related to imaginations about the destiny of the human. Its only possible associations within traditional psychology are linked to an economy of desire that helps define the neurotic in connection with the ability to possess sociality as prescribed by ideologies of human destiny. But sociality is instinctual and real while its channeling and regulation in terms of the neurotic and the normal is scientific and abstract (idealized). Sometimes even murder is made possible through the very channeling and regulation of the social instinct and not because of an imagined anti-social type no more real than are constructions of normality. Defining a murderer as neurotic is a futile exercise: the very projections of impossible realities that yet seem to pass as achievable stimulate one’s frustrations and may lead one to conceive the self within a dialectic whereby achievement is possible through murder. One need only think about any war to realize how murder has been given legitimacy in the name of idealized social or political projects, for instance that of democracy. Yet democracy as it is envisioned by sciences and the media, i.e. ideal, can never be achieved. Instead compromises and negotiations maintain flexible social standards; but society can never be perfect since it is itself an abstract term in the social-political discourse.

The forced unification and structuration of the psyche under the term 'psychological character’ affords the representation of the self in a rhetorical manner so that the patient can be discussed metonymically and metaphorically. For instance, her acting in compliance with social norms makes her metonym of the greater social power that institutions wield (including the medical institutions). Her acting against social norms makes her metonym of an imagined evil that threatens social unity and coherence. Definitions of sanity emerge from such dialectic.

The patient once defined in terms of, and therefore her reality as a person replaced with, psychological character she can also be judged according to her metaphorical relations to social ideals. A loyal young wife is a metaphor of the stability, prosperity and fertility of the future, a project envisioned by current economic practices. Her opposite is deviant and neurotic. Thus psychology’s view of the self is based on opposite categories (reflecting the perspectives of logic and reason). The self is forced to enter constant dialogue with society on the latter’s dual terms: love / hate, fear / security, peace / crime, etc. Consequently, metaphorical psychological representations of the self seek to define two opposite realities, or rather two cultural projections made to pass as reality: one positive that justifies itself against the other one, threatening the former. Psychology then attributes to the self an impossible desire (since the self’s nature is contradictory and not harmonious) which must be regarded as the status quo of normality: the self must reconcile in its socialization such opposites as passion / duty, personal / state affairs, national pride / evil threatening the nation, etc.

In psychological practice, under the pressures of psychological discursive norms enacted in psychological interviews, the patient conceives a deformed subject that she imagines herself to be. The doctor (re)forms her fiction of the self according to the guidelines discourse can enforce. The patient thinks she is cured but in the long run it turns out that this was a temporary solution and she must visit the psychologist again for a new problem. Once she has entered psychological discourse she can never get out since all subsequent constructions of her subjectivity are built on the fiction of the self created when she first subjected herself to discursive interrogation techniques. Obviously she thinks she is the fiction that has been legitimated in the cabinet. This fictional self cannot permanently mystify the real self and conflict is born between the two. The fiction of the self must be reinforced permanently by conceiving new neuroses in order to keep the patient confined to discourse’s functions and guidelines (to which she has been subscribing). It seems quite possible that disturbances of the self are triggered by discursive techniques of psychological investigation while what passes as 'neurotic' in traditional psychology are self-legitimating and self-gratifying fictions.

Through psychotherapy the patient is characterized metaphorically or metonymically in relation to a socio-historical referent. This influences the patient’s subsequent behaviour. The psychologist devises her psychological and makes her accept it as a substitute for the self.

The patient’s behaviour must gratify both herself, who seeks cure, and the social group, wherein psychological norm envisions her as functioning. She is handed over an elucidation of the meaning of sociality. The patient becomes thus situated in a conceptual reality, which distances her from the reality of the self. She is placed in the gallery of psychological portraits.

Centre Stage. Standing Accused

During psychological enquiry the patient is forced to select certain actantial models (*) that allow the psychological medical text to enact its own signifying systems in a spatial geography wherein the patient ‘performs' under the guidance of the psychologist. In this process the patient’s 'theatrical’, fictional self is constructed and gains legitimation as the real self. The psychologist directs the play wherein the patient’s role is that of the neurotic, which is precisely why she is the patient. It becomes possible for the patient to conceive that her discourse has no meaning beyond the established conditions of expression which belong to the psychological character. Eventually the patient’s behaviour begins to enact the psychological character’s drama outside the cabinet as well.

The situation of the patient under the investigator’s focus has broader implications in social terms and in terms of personal history. A gifted psychologist can interfere with the patient’s self by giving concrete solutions to the ambiguity she is experiencing in terms of the social norms that legitimate medical practice. This also creates a kind of dependence of the patient’s self on tyrannical social standards whose charismatic representative is the psychologist.

Masking the Self

Once the patient has prepared under medical guidance an actantial model that she has decided to follow, her subjective self begins to be (re)formed. She becomes the attribute of the actions prescribed; her speech enacts her new self. Therefore only those actions that can be translated into the interview’s cultural language will become visible. She will tell only that which is intelligible in the framework of psychological interrogation.

The psychological character the patient is taken for is expressed in discourse using a text determined by social myths: it is a negotiation of the self directed by the specialist. Her expression depends on social context and codes. But we deal with two enunciators: the psychological character speaking the text of psychological discourse and the patient speaking her self. The psychological character enters dialogue with other social entities (people, institutions, etc.). But the self speaks the language of an Other. Hence the separation between the true self and the socialized self. The socialized self’s voice is the imagined voice of the social community even though it appears to be the patient’s personal expression. Therefore, in a sense, the patient must deny her true self in order to enter dialogue on society’s terms. She can only assert her true self through the voice of an Other whom the social voice suppresses. She must mask her self.

On the other hand, the psychologist’s function is to organize the context of utterance or the speaking situation while denying his responsibility for the patient’s speech. What we have here is a dialogue voiced by human subjects but which remains a variety of the society’s language sets. The patient is granted individuality and uniqueness, such as are available through the mystification that various social projects effect, but only as long as it serves the purpose of grafting sociality onto her animal body while conceiving the body and its impulses as asocial and unreasonable.

If we adapt Jakobson’s (1963) six functions of the communication process to the situation of psychological counseling the process of masking the self in order to adjust it to discourse’s demands becomes clearer:

a) The emotive function can be associated to social instinct;

b) The conative function forces the patient to deliver replies to psychological enquiries, therefore to adopt a legitimate discursive position;

c) The referential function makes sure the patient never forgets the context (social, political, historical);

d) The phatic function reminds the patient of the conditions governing the communicational exchange: she is there for psychological counseling which assigns her a certain position. This position is guaranteed through the renewing of any interruption of the special relationship between psychologist and patient;

e) The metalinguistic function refers to the global discourse of rational sciences and to the social codes that condition rationality’s success;

f) The poetic function allows the semblance of the self to be performed as the real self. It integrates the real self in the relationships between textual semic networks (of sciences, society, etc.) and behaviour. In conjunction with the other functions it socializes the self.

The following remarks sum up the ideas presented so far:

a) The psychological character analysis uses opposition and similarity to relate the patient’s concrete self to the abstract selves of psychological characters available from the repertoire the psychologist consults.

b) This referential relation serves to the construction of an artificial self that is assumed by the concrete patient as her self.

c) Endowed with an artificial self (whose construction and functioning is based on traditional psychology’s norms rooted in the dichotomy neurotic / normal) the patient functions as a psychological character mediating between psychological text and behaviour, psychologist and society, non-meaning (chaotic self) and meaning (settled ordered social self).

d) However, all the above transform the real patient, who is an ensemble of conflicting impulses and desires, into the ghost of a social ideal whose natural behavioural tendencies remain suppressed and who sooner or later will seek professional help again in order to re-secure her prescribed social identity. Therefore, discursive psychotherapy cannot resolve the self’s conflicts but will only create a barrier between the social being and the 'insane' being, which perpetuates a state of neurosis. This is so because through psychotherapy the self is denied its conflictual nature (and therefore its natural reality) being replaced with a coherent ideal artificial construct (that masks the real self) that can but defer the self’s reality. Instead, performative psychology should be based on the premise that the self’s natural state is that of conflict, this being a state of normality. The patient should be allowed the experience of migrating subjectivity or multiple subjectivities while the specialist oversees the context wherein these are in the patient’s opinion required. The specialist should help the patient realize that society and normality are ideal and artificial constructs seeking only to counsel her regarding the mastery of the versatility of the self.

The Metaphoric Order of Discursive Psychological Investigation

In the process of interrogation by the specialist, the patient first construes her subjectivity out of the many impulses of the psyche. She is required to do so in order for her to be able to see herself as subject that can be an imagined doer in the discourse she speaks. But during many sessions the subject tends to be objectified. The patient distances subject from self, being happy that she has given it a rational scaffold. She objectifies her self as a formal subjectivity construction. This objectification of the self is contiguous with the patient’s desire to become an accepted member of the community. This desire is manipulated through the constraints of traditional psychology so that sociality is equated with arbitrarily established normality. The patient then uses the strength of desire for sociality to develop and organize her actions according to norms; i.e., she centers her self into a social performance model adjusted to the standards of normality stemming from psychological discourse. But the reverse is also possible, and psychological practice should focus on it: regarding psychological and social norms as abstract, equally valued and valid opportunities for socialization, the patient may gratify her accepted conflictual self with the freedom of migrating across a wide range of possible subjectivities.

While traditional psychology emphasizes how different patients enact a prescribed actantial model (i.e., one that becomes apparent from a synthesis of similar cases), we should beware of the fact that one patient, in fact, enacts various actantial models that lay competing claims upon the patient’s subjectivity. She then seeks to form these into action by centering her behaviour onto a single actantial model made up by forcing the various possible models expressing her self into coherence and unity -- which is what the medic requires.

The objectification of the self entails the creation of a fictive subject and its insertion into objective forms of expression. The patient uses similes borrowed from the available paradigms of social normality in order to construct her subjectivity. She then objectifies subjectivity in her behaviour. The patient’s subjectivity becomes a metaphor of the self. Her objective behaviour is a metonym of the self. She first creates a fiction (subjectivity) that replaces her true self then acts accordingly. But her acts are determined by the requirements of the fictive self (subjectivity) and can never be fulfilling for her true self. What she does reflects only part of what she is. From these distinctions it can be inferred that the patient, in what regards the range of possibilities offered for self expression, steps unto the common ground various social myths share. Consequently her behaviour reflects the integration of possible subjectivites into a single, monolithic narration, that which the psychological discourse on healing permits.

The psychological character is the pillar of psychological discourse. In it there meet the fictional and the behavioural. The patient becomes an element of psychology’s narration but also its enunciator. She therefore becomes a sign, an icon or the double of the abstract self present in the story psychology tells. The patient while being a fiction is not its author. The author is the authoritarian figure of the psychologist -- a reflection of authoritarian figures of social myths (saviour, God, father, etc.)

Yet we may watch out for those activities that remain peripheral to or estranged from the artificial subjectivity she is forced to enact on the social stage. What we should be concerned with is the passage from the legitimate subjectivity to one that is based on an 'illegitimate’ actantial model, as much as we should beware of the simultaneity of actantial models that are being enacted: one centered on social myths, others invisible or silenced yet allowing by coincidence or at the patient’s secret convenience the one that passes as legitimate, in order to satisfy social demands.

The self is in fact fragmentary; it is prone to enact different performance roles taken from various models. Its definitions can be amended:

a) The self’s experience of sociality is private, encompassing both definable and unnamable forms of socialization. The self can accommodate many more activities than psychology can define and rationality can register. Take mythic, a-social, non-narrative, 'irrational' actions (for instance religious faith or fanaticism). Unlike in traditional psychology’s modes of socialization, which demand that the self learns to offer the body publicly, for the society, the self’s true nature demands that the body perform privately, for one’s own sake.

b) The self migrates across the continuum between the a-social and social forms of presentation, never quite social, never fully given over to the chaos imagined at the antipode of reason. Traditional psychology institutes opposite discourses of the self. It professes that the opposite discourses of the social and a-social selves lay different, competing and conflicting claims upon the body (influencing how the patient behaves). But traditional psychology fails to see that the fictional dual self it has created is in conflict with the plural performing self. The patient’s manipulation through psychotherapy runs counter to the natural state of plural autonomy of the self. Hence the patient’s strain: she is an element in a dual psychological discourse while also the producer of an autonomous plural discourse.

c) The self uses many more paradigms than psychological discourse does. While the latter groups these in dual pairs (feminine vs. masculine, loved vs. non-loved, etc.) the self accommodates their nuances to various degrees (femininity impregnated with masculinity, loved but not in the way of a shared social myth but in another 'illegitimate' one). Being driven by social instinct and not by social ideals the true self relies on creating subtle bridges between people in order to satisfy the body, while psychology is mostly concerned with creating bridges between the self and social ideals.

d) The self facilitates the understanding of the relationships between possible subjectivities. Psychologists should try to point this out to the patient rather than force patients to concede equivocal relationships between one self -- one coherently integrated subjectivity. The many possible subjectivities drive the body to adopt various attitudes towards other people. These attitudes may be characterized as fragmentary and chaotic from a psychological point of view, even as psychology concedes that they reflect different approaches to social relationships. There is a subjectivity befitting the self in its self-contemplation, another for 'use' between two people forming a couple, yet another that adjusts the body’s performance to the common behaviour of a group while yet another may be taken up for settling within the collective representations of nationhood. If these subjectivities are at odds with each other, that should be taken as a state of normality, because the nature of the self is contradictory. Instead of promoting a global vision of the self where normality is defined on grounds of the self being coherently reflected as much in one’s behaviour as, in various measure but essentially similarly, in one’s behaviour in a couple, group or nation, psychology should allow the self’s anarchic choices.

In order to correct neurotic behaviour the psychologist permanently uses an abstract self. Therefore only actions compatible with the abstract self can be revealed during interviews. While these actions may according to given norms allow the diagnosis of correction, the corrected self remains a fiction as well. The patients’ actions that are not compatible with the abstract self remain invisible, and the true source of psychological disturbance remains unrevealed because there aren’t conditions created for its expression. Traditional psychology proves to be a science of ideals, categories and abstractions. If the patient’s performance gains reality under the rule of psychological science, and if such reality allows by the same rule diagnoses of psychological normality, the patient-performer becomes but a simulation in scientific thought play. Psychological dialogue (discourse) becomes more real than the patient’s self, serving to convince the psychologists of the legitimacy of their discourse. This is to say that traditional psychology assigns the patients’ various roles, ignoring the self’s complex and contradictory reality. It situates the patient in relation to a general behaviour pattern. It cannot really accommodate individual characteristics because it can only construe individuality by joining together traditional and typical aspects of selected behaviour samples often connected to social class and always connected to social myths.

The patient learns to constantly control her gestuality in order to indicate that she has acquired the proper social attitude and way of behaving. Psychological practice controls her modality of expression in what regards the kind of knowledge she must acquire, what kind of beliefs she should harbour, what is permitted and what social obligations she has, basically all that she should desire in order to integrate socially.

The patient is thus placed in a converging net anchored by social myths and suffers the pressure of a general, non-individualized social force that prescribes for her how to act. In this light it can be said that traditional psychology requires the transition from chaotic performance of various subjectivities to concrete performance of determinations present in legitimate psychological texts (treatises, etc.).

Studying the alienation effect that such practices produce, a psychology concerned with performance becomes aware of the ideological structure of the social relationships wherein the patient partakes. Such performative psychology would regard alienation symptoms as grounds for analyses of sociality instead of using them for the critique of the self. The attribution of social significance to the self cannot be but forced since the self is real while society is ideal, i.e., it does not exist except as an abstraction representing a sum of individual real people.

The performances allowed under psychological normality guidelines are coded by social myths that rely on universalized, and therefore ideal characteristics and action patterns. Even though the social stage allows variation of physical signs (dressing for various occasions, make-up and other social masks) these must be confined to tolerated social forms (for instance eccentric electronica club dress and make-up is socially accepted but only as long as it stays within the clubs). The roles of normality are requested by various social functions that social myths or codes impose. They require predictable, unchangeable, functional behaviour. This leads to the definition of neurosis in terms of unpredictability, changeable, moody nature, dis-functional behaviour. But it is precisely the nature of the self that is unpredictable, changing and seldom technical. The true self will always be neurotic, but perhaps this is why psychology was born in the modern age as a tool for psychological management that seeks to fit the individual into a society built on machine-age rationality. Traditional psychology is interested in the self only if it can ascribe to it social value.

It passes as sane to acknowledge a re-presentation of the self in psychological discourse as the real self, while it appears as neurotic to conceive a reality of the self beyond rational notions of subjectivity and normal behaviour. The notions of subjectivity and objectivity in psychological science must be revised. These notions allow the psychologist to witness and regulate the shifting from subjectivity to objectivity, i.e., from actor / behaviour to role / social codes. But the science of psychology has created subjectivity as an object correlative to social codes. This is to say that subjectivity may exist only to the extent that it helps objectify social codes in the patient’s behaviour. Thus the psychologist may reencode social norms within behavioural patterns whereby he places the patient and heris problem into the sociocultural network. This is not helping to deal with the conflictual nature of the self and its crises.

The self’s qualities are individual and contiguous with one’s bodily instincts. Overarching the body’s demands the social instinct provides the basis for one’s spirituality. People will suffer hunger, but they can’t stand lonesomeness. People’s spirituality is contiguous with that of the community of persons they have joined. Traditional psychology severs the real self from its natural state of socialization by instinct within unregulated communities or groups of people and transforms it into an ideal self: a manageable social unit for an ideal society. This in turn leads to the breaking up of social affinity groups and their remaking within abstract social categories that serve the social project of the modern age, whose painful on-going crisis we have inherited. Psychology has helped create a split between a normal state of being and an ideal but unreal, imagined state of being. This can only lead to the aggravation of the neuroses so often encountered on such large scale in contemporary society.


This discussion (above) leads to a number of suggestions for rethinking of psychotherapy’s methodology.

To allow the patient to enact her true self we must start with a careful consideration of the range of possible subjectivities she may construe for herself (she will creatively assemble these according to cultural competence, social environment, etc.). Then we must analyze both the relationship between subjectivity and psychological text and that between subjectivity and the patient’s behaviour in order to distinguish how socio-historical and ideological aspects are concealed or reinforced.

We must allow the patient to accommodate a wide range of social performance models, using which she may objectify her self; this uncovers the presence of more than one voice within the self. We should be concerned with how these voices settle and resettle subjectivity (the patient’s imagination of the self). The self is not occult nor is it made up of essences. There is no essential self (except in an imagined transcendental space) but the self is rather an ensemble of conflicting tendencies subsumed to social instinct. I must emphasize that in my understanding 'instinct' is not our subtle, or covered-up and mysterious link to some animal or mythic source of vitality. Knowing the self will not bring any revelation or epiphany, but should simply lead us to accept that we socialize through our humanity and not through models of humanity. Our humanity exists because of the social instinct and it can be manifested without a transcendental god’s vouchsafe.

Social performance models should be analyzed carefully in order to make visible the transformations, the conflicts between them. The patient should be aware that the contradictions and conflicts that fuel the self do not qualify a state of illness.

We should beware of the ideological forces at work in the selection of subjectivity models. This permits the analysis of the ideological significance of the patients’ behaviour. Their reactions to social types reveal the degree of abstractization of social instinct; their reactions to stereotypes reveal the degree of mechanization of social instinct. The patient’s’ lived experience are conflictual and because they enact such conflicts in their behaviour / performance it is considered that they need psychological investigation, i.e., patients are seen as subjects in psychological discourse. As patient’s behaviour is referred to similar cases; an abstract case is being created for the patient. Through counseling an abstract subjectivity is created using the structures and norms of psychological science. At this stage a social role is presented for taking up (for socialization). Thus, possible solutions for the case arise, but all will depend on the subjectivity that has been created for her. These solutions rely on models of social performance that underlie social myths. Psychology should encourage a critical approach to these myths.

Allowing multiple subjectivities to develop reveals the multiplicity inherent in the self. In traditional psychotherapy the sane self is centered and unitary. We should allow the patient to see possible alternative centers. The development of psychological science has generally led to the sublimation of the real patient into an abstract subjectivity resembling social ideals. Psychology produces a reality effect whereby the subject identifies with a social role. As such, she can be read as the complex sign the psychological character is, displaying socially approved psychological traits: an ensemble of characteristic features helping to define abstract categories of temperament, vices, qualities, etc.

The traditional position construes the self as an entity caught between an (im)penetrable unconscious and an ordered consciousness. Solutions to psychological problems couldn’t have been based but on definitions of the unknown in ideal social terms. The unknown termed unconscious is a representation of the fear of dissolution of the centered self. However, the self is contradictory, while indissoluble, because fluid. It knows experience. It may have troubles legitimating that knowledge: not expressing or defining it but creating the possibility for alternative expression and definition. We should place the question of what passes as knowledge and how it relates to socialization of the self at the core of psychological work instead of dealing with a projection of the split self because we cannot deal with the issue of monolithic conceptions of knowledge.

Throughout modernity scholars sought a priori categories for defining reality. This is reflected in early psychological projects of masculinization of the self. Freud connects the self’s development to a dialectic of presence / absence centered on the a priori category of the phallus. What the self can be becomes more important than what the self really is. Standards of normality of the self no longer accept unpredictability nor do they envision each individual self as withholding the unique Grail of our personal psychological nature.

Freud’s use of the patient’s childhood experience does not mean valuing the uniqueness of her private history. It means canceling her real private history in order to acknowledge a past that is always present, for it must always lead to the same categories en-corseting present experience. It is as if private histories must be made public on society’s terms authorizing only one version of the psychological past. Therefore idiosyncratic private past is never allowed to form part of how we socialize except within a dialectic of psychological illness. This permanent urge to give up personal idiosyncratic experiences can only lead to schizophrenia. The foundational discourse of modern psychology relies on breaking the self into dual pairs the terms of which are opposed and from which schism illness arises. The modernist project intertwines with such ways of perceiving the self that the self can no longer be conceived as wholesome even though psychology withholds a promise of wholesomeness it can never fulfill.

In sum, it may be said that the self can be inferred from the study of conflicting subjectivities and not by considering it in its relationship to a social code (traditional or contemporary). But although a site of conflict, the self functions par excellance as the locus of mediation between different possible realities.


The concept of actantial model was developed by Algirdas Julien Greimas throughout his work. I find especially relevant to this analysis his "Les actants, les acteurs et les figures" (1973). In Greimas' theory an actant is a structural position emerging from a text's deep structure. Some of these structural positions are instantiated by characters in narrative representation, and may be enacted by actors who figure actantial models in their portrayal of a character (note that abstractions such as 'victory' may also be actants representing deep structure functions). In my analysis, I am using the syntagm 'actantial models' to refer to the ensembles of character roles and their patterns of interaction offered in narrative representations of the self that are based on psychology's textual grammar. I should point out that in the above 'grammar' refers to the organization of meaning achieved with a text. Just like a sentence makes sense only when its parts are properly organised grammatically, so a text (literally) makes sense through structuring meanings according to a grammar of meaning that is considered legitimate.


Elam, K. (1980). The semiotics of theatre and drama. London: Methuen.

Gramsci, A. (1971). Selections from Prison Notebooks. Trans. Q. Hoare and S. G. Nowell. London: Lawrence & Wishart.

Greimas, A. J. (1973). "Les actants, les acteurs et les figures." In Sémiotique narrative et textuelle. Ed. C. Chabrol. Paris: Larousse.

Hamon, P. (1977). Pour un statut sémiologique du personnage. In Poétique du récit. Paris: Seuil.

Jakobson, R. (1963). Essais de linguistique générale. Paris: Minuit.

Lyons, J. (1977). Semantics. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Van Dijk, T. (1977). Text and context: Exploration in the semantics and pragmatics of discourse. London: Longmans.

Institutional Affiliation and Correspondence : Tudor Balinisteanu is PhD Student in the Faculty of Arts, University of Glasgow. Address: Flat 3/2, 12 Cromwell Street, Glasgow G20 6UL, Scotland, UK. Email: balin@assist.ro

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