Discussing Jean-Paul Sartre's The Transcendence of the Ego (written in 1934).
What is consciousness, and does it necessarily involve an "I" who is conscious of things? Sartre says no: typical experience is consciousness of some object and doesn't involve the experience of myself as someone having this consciousness. It's only when we reflect on our own conscious experiences that we posit this "I." The ego is our own creation, or more precisely a social creation. This means that far from being some primordial structure of all experience, this transparent thing inside us that we have more immediate knowledge of than anything else, the ego is an object: it has parts we don't see, and we can be wrong when we make judgments about it. Other people might even know us better than we know ourselves.
This is a difficult text, and we spend lots of time bickering about what Sartre might mean by terms like "transcendent" or "non-positional consciousness," so surely you will love that. Read more about the topic.
End song: "Thing in the World," by Mark Lint. This song was begun around 1996 but mostly written and wholly recorded just now, with Mark playing all the instruments, with lyrics actually motivated by this Sartre reading.
Read more about the Close Reading product on Sartre described at the end of the episode. Shopping cart functionality to allow you to get the song plus our other products on the Shop/Donate page.