Psychology. An often idealized image of a person, usually a parent, formed in childhood and persisting unconsciously into adulthood.
Perhaps I have been missing something all along?
It seems that key to Western self-conception is that having of an Imago. When I reflect back upon my teaching practical for middle school, I realise, belatedly, that what we had been called upon to do was to mould and represent ourselves as an Imago. This is the fundamental role of a teacher of children. To be such is considered more important than educating them on narrow and specific topics.
It is this sense of the representational whole that I had been missing, through not being brought up within Western culture. Not to have an Imago — or to have a very weak one — is to see the world and the people in it as being open to all sorts of possibilities and permutations. It is to judge neither oneself nor others very much.
At the age of 16, my outlook on the world was defined by the paragraph above. I had no conception of identity as such (except that bounded by my skin — the limitations of my body) — only of a world of possibilities (this is possibly why the concept of identity fascinates me so much as a cultural construction of complete artifice). It is this characterological construction that puts me in touch with shamanistic ways of viewing things in the world as very much unbounded via the imagination and infinitely mutable (at least in principle). Shamanism is more extreme in its imaginative postulations than this cultural viewpoint I’m describing, but in both cases the world is seen to be more mutable than it is seen to be by Westernised consciousness.
This is the aspect of pre-industrial “wildness” that I was brought up with — not to view myself or others overtly in terms of identity. Of course there are distinguishing marks that come to define someone — but these are determined on the basis of observation and experience (a kind of empirical practice that has as its starting point the open acceptance of the unknown-on-principle. (Observing that someone matches or fails to match their Imago is based on a feeling — not empirical data. So, what jars me about Western epistemic practice is the presumption to know something on principle, along with the presumption to judge something against an Absolute standard or “Imago” – ie. I am not your mother and I don’t care to be seen as such!)
When I speak to people of African origin I am often delighted by the randomness of their perceptions — which on a deep level reflects my own. For instance, when Letwin called from Zimbabwe suddenly on the phone the other night (she said she’d noticed my business card and decided to keep in touch), she spoke to Mike at first.
She said a weird thing when she called: “Is it raining there?” — he told me. “Why would she ask that?”
It is in the spontaneousness and unpredictability of this question that I recognise aspects of my own culture. (I think that this is, indeed, a great question to ask, if it comes to mind!)
My Zimbabwean culture is chaotic and sometimes frightening. It is undertood by instinct and intuition rather than by the rational mind. In a world without imago, anything can happen.
And this must be why, when dyed in the wool Westerners come up to me to assert, “Hey , guess what? You’re not perfect in X or Y area!”, I feel inclined to answer thus: “And what is that to you, since you haven’t even taken the trouble to get to know me?”