In our clinical work, the thing-self can surface through gross symptomatology or through subtle derivatives. Thus, a patient who says, “I’m as big as a house” or “I look like an eggplant” may be attempting a dual narration. She communicates hate for an existent sexed and gendered body, and she communicates the thing-self, a nonhuman identification that subverts her human form.
Four years ago Olympia, a youtuber drag queen, became famous because of her parody of the American documentary series My Strange Addiction. The parody was titled “I Want To Be A Sofa” and depicted Olympia’s addiction to becoming furniture and her partner going mad about her weird habits. Back then, I thought this was real and her addiction didn’t feel any stranger than those from the TV series such as eating concrete or getting married to summer balloons. The thing-self is not a stranger; it has been made a stranger. The thing-self comes from our childhood toys, imaginary friends, the environments in which we grew up, and also from abuse and trauma. I remember my bed and Tobias, who was a pile of trunks under a blue plastic cover. Perhaps we have something like a nonhuman mental ego, constructed in relation to nonhuman “culture,” and generative of both anxiety and “centeredness.” Anxiety since the thing-self reveals the nonhuman that has been socially rejected. Centeredness because the thing-self may be the true self. Disembodiment as a way of getting rid of the human body and shifting into a nonhuman form is a place for the more-than-one. Connecting with the thing-self is recognising that one is always more-than-one. Being more-than-one with our thing-self is the precondition for a different hierarchy of possibilities.
This is not a metaphor. Consider this image:
You have something here.
-What do I have?
Like next to your eye.
Fuck man. Wait!
-What's going on? Take it off.
I can't. Stop moving!
-Take it off!
It's, like, stuck in between your eyelashes... What kind of mascara are you wearing?
-I don't know, I always take the one that's lying on the bathroom sink, maybe it's yours.
When I remove the thing in the mascara, the eyelashes come off the skin forming a very thin string like a coloured sewing thread. As I pull off the eyelashes, my sister's eye crumbles and dissolves smoothly in the string. I hold the thin cord in my hand. The string is wet but dries as it touches my skin. Time seems to have stopped. The eye opens like an event horizon. My sister's body slowly moves far from where I was as if a force was pulling her back. I watch my sister folding into a curve while I hold the string tighter.
I can't remove that from your eye.
The thing-self may manifest as a hallucination, a feeling of being another body, an absence of fear when in danger, a voice without a body or a confession without a mind. The intensity of belief attached to delusions indicates that the individual is trying to hold fast to a terrifyingly important dimension of his own story. The thing-self claims to be recognised, witnessed and reintegrated into the structure of relations of beings.
What do you do with the thing-self when you catch it? Do you take it to the forest and release it there? Do you bring it home and lock it in the closet? Sleep with it? Eat it? Kill it? Would you show it to me? What for? We tried not to rush the decision. We were scared; we were wondering whether to relate to the thing-self by the numb representation of what we cannot feel or through raw feelings,
like meat to metal blade.
None of them made sense.
I don't know how I ended up saying it. I didn't talk, I projected it onto you but it wasn't me who spoke. Shame on me anyway. Don't tell me, I remember well. We were eating grapes in bed; the sun was burning on your back and our fingers playing skin songs. I talked and cut the wrinkle of your left eye,
You bled a little.
Afterwards, I fucked you and told you how to go down and up and deep.
Now you know I regret I told you what I told you because I fucked you without tenderness like never before. You felt my vulnerability coming out of my hard dick and against the roof of your mouth. I wish you would have sneezed my cum on my ass and tossed your anger off because I was rough and distant so I could protect my weakness.
I didn't mean to tell you shit.
I cannot answer the question of how frightening the mind as more-than-one may feel to you nor how you may perceive mine. I don't know who you become when the self is broken into parts and you speak from the nonhuman ones, but I learnt from Ferenczi that there is neither shock nor fright without some trace of splitting personality. So my only plan is to stay away from those who claim never to have been frightened.
The thing-self talks because when it is damaged is neither replaceable nor fixable. It just needs to find a solid shelter and a clever companion. Like that. Irresolvable ambivalence. Guilty yet innocent, frightened yet aroused, pleased yet disturbed, broken yet fixed, one yet more-than-one. I told a friend that I was writing about how to keep the self together after releasing the thing-self, after the narrative of the self is broken. I said, “I don't believe in fixing it, I believe in making kin with all the inappropriate parts of one’s own story.” She said, “I don't understand why things need to be either fixed or broken.”
This text is inspired by the Reading Group: Always More Than One organised by Anthony Nestel and Esther Arribas. All the phrases in italics in the text (left corner in the video) are quotes from the following references. These references were the basis for me to write a response to the reading group's question of how to think about being more-than-one.
-Ferenczi, S., “Confusion of the Tongues Between the Adults and the Child—(The Language of Tenderness and of Passion)”, in International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 1949.
-Grand, Sue, “Unsexed and Ungendered Bodies. The Violated Self”, Studies in Gender and Sexuality, 2003.
-Grand, Sue, “Fantastic Dangers. Reality Meets the Edge of the World”, in The Hero in the Mirror. From Fear to Fortitude, Routledge, London, 2009.
-Negarestani, Reza, “The Psyche and the Carrion”, 2018.
Proofread by Josie Cousens.
Thanks to Esther, Anthony, Anna Maria, Josie, Andrés and Carolina.
take me back