Exotopic Processes in Emergency of New Positions in Self

  • Ramon Cerqueira Gomes
  • Maria Virgínia Machado Dazzani


This paper aims to present the exotopy as intrinsic characteristic of the dynamic of positions within the self through the analysis of one tale of a very famous Brazilian author, Machado de Assis: The looking glass: rough draft of a new theory of the human soul. It tells a history of a man, Jacobina, who conquered a new important military status in nineteenth century Brazil: “lieutenant” when he was 25 years old. However, after visiting his proud aunt, something unexpected happens with him; suddenly he gets alone in her house. We will discuss the role of the “other” as a person or character in our positions in daily life by exotopic process. This is a regulatory mechanism used in our relationship with the world. It allows us to occupy several outer positions through the distancing from here and now. Everywhere we are invited by other people, perspectives or voices to be in another outer position in relation to time and space, and in this situation, the self is mobilized to respond them by means of agency. Although it seems we define ourselves especially through the inner positions, each one of them is intrinsically related to some outer person/position. Everyone is looking for concrete or imagined responses with people, characters or things are originally out of him/her. Afterwards, when these responses are created and internalized, they become active respondent inner positions. The responsiveness is a need to become a dialogical human being. We will always need to respond to another whatever in concrete or imagined situations to be what we are, and we will see beyond and search exotopic positions in someone/something to exist, even if we appropriate or reject them.


Exotopy Dialogical self Self Bakhtin 


Source: Bakhtin, M.M. (1990). Art and answerability: early philosophical essays, Edited by: Holquist, M. and Liapunov, V. Austin: University of Texas

When I contemplate a whole human being who is situated outside and over against me, our concrete, actually experienced horizons do not coincide. For at each given moment, regardless of the position and the proximity to me of this other human being whom I am contemplating, I shall always see and know something that he, from his place outside and over against me, cannot see himself: parts of his body that are inaccessible to his own gaze (his head, his face and its expression), the world behind his back, and a whole series of objects and relations, which in any of our mutual relations are accessible to me but not to him. (p. 22)


This ever-present excess of my seeing, knowing, and possessing in relation to any other human being is founded in the uniqueness and irreplaceability of my place in the world. For only I—the one-and-only I—occupy in a given set of circumstances this particular place at this particular time; all other human beings are situated outside me. (p. 23)


These actions of contemplation do not go beyond the bounds of the other as a given; they merely unify and order that given. And it is these actions of contemplation, issuing from the excess of my outer and inner seeing of the other human being, that constitute the purely aesthetic actions. The excess of my seeing is the bud in which slumbers form, and whence form unfolds like a blossom. But in order that this bud should really unfold into the blossom of consummating form, the excess of my seeing must “fill in” the horizon of the other human being who is being contemplated, must render his horizon complete, without at the same time forfeiting his distinctiveness. (p. 24)


I must empathize or project myself into this other human being, see his world axiologically from within him as he sees this world; I must put myself in his place and then, after returning to my own place, “fill in” his horizon through that excess of seeing which opens out from this, my own, place outside him. I must enframe him, create a consummating environment for him out of this excess of my own seeing, knowing, desiring, and feeling. (p. 25)


Thus, the person suffering does not experience the fullness of his own outward expressedness in being; he experiences this expressedness only partially, and then in the language of his inner sensations of himself. He does not see the agonizing tension of his own muscles, does not see the entire, plastically consummated posture of his own body, or the expression of suffering on his own face. He does not see the clear blue sky against the background of which his suffering outward image is delineated for me. And even if he were able to see all these features—if, for example, he were in front of a mirror—he would lack the appropriate emotional and volitional approach to these features. That is, they would not occupy the same place in his own awareness that they do in his contemplator’s. (p. 25)


I am situated outside him, and the last, consummating word belongs to me. This last word is conditioned and required by my being situated concretely and completely outside the other—by my spatial, temporal, and meaning-related outsideness in relation to the other’s life as a whole, in relation to the other’s axiological posture and responsibility. (p. 128)


Being is, as it were, once and for all, irrevocably, between myself as the unique one and everyone else as others for me; once a position has been assumed in being, any act and any valuation can proceed only from that position—they presuppose that position. I am the only one in all of being who is an I-for-myself and for whom all others are others-for-me—this is the situation beyond which there is and there can be nothing axiological for me: no approach to the event of being is possible for me outside that situation; it is from here that any event began and forever begins for me. (p. 128)


In this outside position, I and the other find ourselves in a relationship of absolute mutual contradiction that has the character of an event: at the point where the other, from within himself, negates himself, negates his own being-as-a-given, at that point I, from my own unique place in the event of being, affirm and validate axiologically the givenness of his being that he himself negates, and his very act of negation is, for me, no more than a moment in that givenness of his being. (p. 129)

From Bakhtin’s perspective, I can only constitute myself as a character in other’s discourse, in his creation. The “other” is outside of me but he can give me a consummation, because he is in an exotopic position (exteriority position). This is the same when an artist creates or finishes some artistic product. He gives his perception, his worldview to build an image, a character, a history, and so on. Consummation is no imprisonment, instead it is a generous act in which one gives something from oneself, gives of his position, something that only his position can see and understand (Amorim 2014). Bakhtin (1997) explains that I stand outside of the “other,” and the last word, the consummating word about the “other,” belongs to me in dialogical relationships. Through this view, any person out of me is completed and interpreted (consummated) from my specific voice.

According to Bakhtin, thanks to this exotopic position, it becomes possible to validate values, to accept all the data of the inner existence of the other in its actuality. What the other has the right to deny in himself is what I have the right to validate and to safeguard in him; therefore, I am the cause of the generation of his soul in a new plane of values ​​of existence. The center of values ​​in another’s view of his own life does not coincide with mine (Bakhtin 1997). It is because the capacity of seeing beyond (surplus of seeing) is the most important aspect, to allow enough opening in the self system in order to promote developmental process towards to be a new person.

In front of the other, I’m out of him/her. I cannot live his/her life. Just as he/she cannot live my life. Even to understand the other, I go to his/her place, but afterwards, I return to my place. Only from my outer, unique, and singular place, I can understand the other and establish with him/her an interaction. Exotopy is my chance to respond to someone from my specific exteriority (GEGE 2009). Exotopy is a process in which an external position is related to the ability to occupy others positions in society and within the self (among inner positions) to produce unique voices/meanings from specific point where I can be in relation to someone in time space.

The dialogical self can be conceived as a dynamic multiplicity of I-positions in the society of the mind. As a “mini-society,” the self emerges from an intense interconnection with the (social) environment and is intrinsically bound to several particular positions in time and space (Hermans 2002). For explaining this matter, I would like to illustrate it through the small history of a very famous Brazilian author, Machado de Assis, of the literary school of realism. One of the most important characteristics of his literary work is the psychological analysis of his characters. One of my favorite tales is called “O espelho: esboço de uma nova teoria da alma humana” (The looking glass: rough draft of a new theory of the human soul). It tells a history of a man, Jacobina, that conquered a new important military status in nineteenth century Brazil: “lieutenant” when he was 25 years old. After that, he was invited to visit his aunt Marcolina who lived far away in a solitary little country place. She was a widow and lived with one of her brothers-in, and they seriously called Jacobina “Mister Lieutenant.” She swore that throughout the province there was no one else in better position than him. Jacobina says: “It was always lieutenant here, lieutenant there, lieutenant every second. I begged her to call me Joãozinho, as she used to do. She shook her head, exclaiming ‘No’, that I was Mister Lieutenant” (Assis 1966, p. 59). For him, to be a “Mister Lieutenant” started to have others’ meanings. He was treated by her as a “Mister Lieutenant” all day, and he had no idea exactly before of what this position could do in his life.

The character Jacobina goes changing little by little, as we can identify in this excerpt: “At table I was given the place of honor and I was the first to be served. You can’t imagine! If I were to tell you that Aunt Marcolina's enthusiasm rose to such a pitch that she had an enormous mirror placed in my bedroom! It was a rich magnificent piece that stood out grotesquely from the rest of the house’s furnishings, which were plain and modest”. After all, he confesses, “the certain is that all of these things, the petting, the attentions, the deference – produced a transformation in me.” His “external soul,”1 which was previously the sun, air, fields, and girls’ eyes became the courtesy and the eulogies of the household, everything that was related to the position Mister Lieutenant. So it happened that his aunt Marcolina was for him, his external soul presented to him the privileges of his new social and military position.

It is interesting to realize the role of Aunt Marcolina in Jacobina’s transformation. The tale calls Marcolina and all of her compliments to him as an “exterior soul.” The character of Marcolina was a significant other that presented to him a new position so that he would occupy in his social life with courtesy and much flattery. Considering the Bakhtin’s concept of exotopy, we can identify Marcolina as positioned as significant other in Jacobina’s life. She calls for change in his life because she requires that he respond to her as a “Mister Lieutenant.” According to Bakhtin (1986, p. 94), “from the very beginning, the speaker expects a response […] an active responsive understanding. The entire utterance is constructed, as it were, in anticipation of encountering this response” (Bakhtin 1986, p. 94) Little by little, Jacobina answers to her and creates necessity to be as she wanted: a delighted “Mister Lieutenant.” Jacobina becomes a new person because of the exotopical process he uses in his relationship with his aunt. He put himself in her place and then, after returning to his own place, he “filled in” his horizon through that excess of seeing she presented to him: “Mister Lieutenant” as a higher position than common people.

This literary happening can be related to many social events every day where people require of us new answers according to their interests and social positions. Several times, other people want to be listened in their positions. It is like if they asked us, “Please, see as I see….” This exotopic process is an important characteristic in daily life and in the developmental process of a human being. The unique way of creating possibility to become a new person in any aspect is the ability to see beyond of our current position. Through this excess of seeing, we can occupy others’ places we did not occupy before. This process of seeing beyond in another outer position and returning to our inner position can produce new meanings, because after I occupy the others positions I can see things I could not see before. Each outer position has a different voice by which to tell his/her history about who I am once, “the excess of my seeing must “fill in” the horizon of the other human being who is being contemplated” (Bakhtin 1990, p. 25). Only in front of another person/position, I can conceive new possibilities for me.

Afterwards, in the tale, Jacobina is surprised with a novelty: his cousin gets so sick and her aunt needs to go out to see her and keeps him alone in her little country place. Considering there can be no meaning without response, and there can be no response without future response (Sobral 2008), who will answer to this new position “Mister Lieutenant”? His aunt is not there anymore. In Marcolina’s house, there were some slaves could call him as “Lieutenant” but they abandoned the place suddenly and let him completely alone. What/Who could give him the outer position to cultivate his new position? Jacobina got very tense, and he did not know how he could appear as a “Mister Lieutenant,” his emergent position. For whom he would be a “Mister Lieutenant”? It is maybe the most important question to do to be something anywhere. How could Jacobina practice the exotopic process? In other words, how the “Mister Lieutenant” could exist? Jacobina tell us: “I got the idea of putting my lieutenant uniform. I put it on, the whole outfit. As I was standing in front of the mirror I raised my eyes […] It was me, the second lieutenant, who had finally found his exterior soul. This soul that had gone off with the mistress of the place that had scattered and fled with the slaves, there it was, put together again in the looking glass.” (Assis 1966, p. 64) Jacobina found his image (other) and created the exotopy with it to refer to the new position.

This exotopical process happens satisfactorily in a dialogical way. It is relevant to identify in this process the ability of agency of the self where the person needs to respond to somebody/something to create his/her meanings about the world. It is only possible due to outer position that we are in front of any other person. According to Hermans and Hermans-Konopka (2010), appropriation and rejection are as expressions of the agency of the self system that takes place both in the relationship of persons with themselves and in their relationship with others. As soon as an inner position is appropriated, it becomes “owned” and receives a place as an accepted position in the self. The function of “responsiveness” derived from Bakhtin (1997) is considered a constitutive characteristic for the processes of communication thorough cultural dialogical processes, where each person has the expectation all the time of some outer someone’s response. In his perspective, all utterance, voice necessarily waits for some response to support them.

With this, an analogy is proposed between Bakhtin’s notion of exotopy and the positions occupied by the person in daily life. First of all, each position needs at least one other (person) to refer to. If there is another (person, character, or object) referent, then there will necessarily be a positioning. An I-position is like an author who has his own voice and can create his own perspective on social events and by other people telling stories about those events. It is because Jacobina is tense searching for someone: he desires to keep his very new and fragile position “Mister Lieutenant.” In this situation, he does it in a negotiation that involves his agency in his positional choice in that context, especially with her aunt.

His tension illustrates how we need at least another (person, character, idol, God) to build any positions in our intra and interpersonal lives. Exotopic process is a regulatory mechanism within the self used in our relationship with the world. This process occurs when we occupy some outer positions to produce meanings. Outer position is any other position in time space. For example, aunt Marcolina is an outer position for Jacobina but when he internalized her voice: “Mister Lieutenant,” this supplanted his before inner positions: he liked the sun, air, fields, and girls’ eyes. Exotopy is related to the exteriority position and excess of seeing. He created a lot of meanings about his new life because he used exotopic process in his self. He saw beyond than his previous inner positions through the emergent “I-Mister Lieutenant.” Once this process is all the time regulated by signs, it is suitable to affirm it due to the whole semiotic mediation which according to Valsiner (2004) guarantees the person’s psychological distancing from the here-and-now setting. This ability is essential to the excess of seeing occurs and the person see beyond through outer positions.

Everywhere we are invited by other people, perspectives, or voices to be in the other position in relation to time and space. Each conversation can bring us new visions to our common visions that we have cultivated for a long time. If we can put ourselves in this new outer position and after return to our previous position, this last can be no more the same, because the last word about me is not necessarily mine but it is in other’s outer view; he/she will practice exotopy and create some perspective to build some idea about me related to his/her inner positions, that is, I can't control who I am in others' voices because they have an exteriority position related to me.

Exotopy is an intrinsic characteristic of the dynamic of positions within the self and works as regulatory mechanism in which some position (A) sees another (B) by means of exteriority position. When it happens, the “A” position can see much more things than “B” position is able to do alone. Because of it, the meaning making is activated: “A” position can see much more things about “B” position and in some cases of tension, the emergence can occur. In future researches, it would be interesting to understand how exotopy works within the self among I-positions. Is there any kind of specific dynamic to regulate this process? What would be the role of feelings and values in this regulatory mechanism? The responsiveness is a need to become a dialogical human being. We will always need to respond to another whatever in concrete or imagined situations to be what we are, and we will see beyond and search exotopic positions in someone/something to exist, even if we appropriate or reject them.


  1. 1.

    External soul can be understood in my view as everything is out belongs to us. All the important things or people are out but have relationship with us somehow.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ramon Cerqueira Gomes
    • 1
  • Maria Virgínia Machado Dazzani
    • 2
  1. 1.Federal University of BahiaCatuBrazil
  2. 2.Federal University of BahiaSalvadorBrazil

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