Recovering the Conscious Agent

  • Michael Grant


In this reading, from Enemies of Hope (1997), Tallis argues that a major problem with theories that downgrade the significance of consciousness is the extent to which such theories themselves embody higher levels of consciousness than they would seem to allow. This implies that anyone convinced of the truth of such theories is going to be involved in a high degree of self-deception about their nature and origin. Unless one accepts that the very existence of theories like those of Freud and Marx is evidence of high levels of disinterested consciousness — and of our ability to get at truths that are not ruled out by their ultimate roots in unconscious processes — such theories must undermine their own credibility. The Interpretation of Dreams is evidence of the domination of a high order of consciousness over the unconscious. Explicitness is manifest everywhere in its pages. Furthermore, there is an unacceptable sense of helplessness induced by theories that displace consciousness to the margins. Post-Saussureans, like Derrida and Lacan, believe that language can never express intentions, wishes, feelings and aspirations because the system dominates over the speaker, producing effects that are signs of nothing other than the operation of its own rules. To adapt a remark of Lacan’s, representation represents nothing other than the lack of the function that engenders it. One must despair of effective intervention in the life of the world since language is the site only of error, exile and loss. Tallis seeks to reassert the reality of the self and by so doing to reassert the centrality of individual experience and individual agency as expressed even in the most commonplace actions and off-the-shelf utterances such as saying ‘hello’. Our own actual and unique experience is proof of the distance between us and the systems for whose domination over us too many in the twentieth century have argued.


Marxist Theory Cultural Constraint Critical Legal Study Inaugural Lecture Interpretive Community 
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Copyright information

© Raymond Tallis 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Grant
    • 1
  1. 1.Rutherford CollegeThe University of KentCanterburyUK

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