Postmodern Personality: Ontological Self-dependance

UDC 130.2

Hanna Chmil
Institute for cultural research of the National Academy of Arts of Ukraine, Kyiv.
ORCID 0000-0001-6569-1066

Nadiia Korablova
V. Karazin Kharkiv National University, Kharkiv
ORCID 0000-0001-7520-8701


Keywords: ontological dependence, postmodern identity, simulation, virtual reality.

Abstract. The article focuses on the triggers of ontological dependence as well as elucidates the construction / deconstruction of being by contemporary humans from the perspective of self-dependence. As a result, the real identity is substituted by simulacra and simulation in their different forms: avatars, images, masks in virtual reality. In view of this, ontological self-dependence cannot have any grounding because the identity serves as its basis.

A paradoxical situation has come about with respect to the growth of irrationality, which testifies to the unreasonableness of technological society in which even a rational and appropriate idea turns into irrational one. It makes humans trespass the boundaries of space and time, which leads to their addiction to modern technologies.

It should be mentioned that the concept of ontological self-dependence is a very urgent topic. It is associated with the implication of various meanings apart from those ones discussed in this paper. The recognition of the plasticity of the subjectivity seems to be important from the perspective of heuristics. The subjectivity seeks to be adequate to informational society and “the flowing present” (Z. Bauman) with low social dependence and the freedom of choice, with the feeling of social rootedness and at the same time the freedom to be whatever they want to be. Being self-dependent, such a personality manifests itself in the destruction of social fabric as a total representation and makes this fabric discrete, which allows the personality to regain the wholeness of ontological being both in the society and culture.

Authors Biography.

Hanna Chmil, D-r hab. of Philosophic Sciences, professor, academician of the National Academy of Arts of Ukraine, Institute for cultural research of the National Academy of Arts of Ukraine, Kyiv.

Nadiia Korablova, Dr. phil., Professor V. Karazin Kharkiv National University, Kharkiv.


Nancy, J.-L. (2009). Neproizvodimoe soobshhestvo [The Inoperative Community]. Translation from French by Zh. Gorbyleva, & E. Troickiy. Moscow: Vodolej. (in Russian)

Agamben, G. (2008). Grjadushhee soobshhestvo [La Comunita che Viene]. Translation from Italian by Dm. Novikov. Moscow: Tri kvadrata. (in Russian)

Metz, C. (2010). Voobrazhaemoe oznachajushhee. Psihoanaliz i kino [The Imaginary Signifier: Psychoanalysis and the Cinema.]. Translation from French. St. Petersburg. (in Russian)

Lacan, J. (1999). Seminary. Kniga 2. «Ja» v teorii Frejda i v tehnike psihoanaliza [Le Séminaire, Livre II: Le moi dans la théorie de Freud et dans la technique de la psychanalyse]. Translation from French. Moscow. (in Russian)

Zizek, S. (2008). Ustrojstvo razryva. Parallaksnoe videnie [The Parallax View]. Translation from English. Moscow: Evropa. (in Russian)

Ivanov, D. I. (2008). Gljem-kapitalizm [Glam-capitalism]. St. Petersburg: Peterburgskoe Vostokovedenie. (in Russian)

Bondarenko, N. G., & Przhilenskij, V. I. (2009). Social’naja real’nost’: obrazi i konceptualizacija [Social Reality: Image and Conceptualization.]. Moscow–Stavropol’: Izd-vo SGU. (in Russian)

Korablova, V. M. (2007). Liudyna yak virtualnyi konstruktor [Man as a virtual constructor]. Philosophical Thought, (6), pp. 25–33. (in Ukrainian)

Eco, U. (1998). Otsutstvujushhaja struktura. Vvedenie v semiologiju [La struttura assent]. Translation from Italian by A. Pogonjajlo, & V. Reznik. Moscow: TOO TK «Petropolis». (in Russian)

Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (2007). Anti-Jedip: kapitalizm i shizofrenija [Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Anti Oedipus]. Translation from French by D. Kralechkin. Ekaterinburg: U-Faktorija. (in Russian)

Zizek, S. (2005). Matrica, ili Dve storony izvrashhenija. «Matrica» kak filosofija: Jesse [Matrix, or Two sides of perversion. The Matrix as a Philosophy: Essays]. Translation from English by O. Turuhina. Ekaterinburg: U-Faktorija, pp. 329–371. (Series «Masskul’t»). (in Russian)

Quote. (No date). Retrieved from https://zn/ua/SOCIUM/my-vse-popali-v-informacionnoe-stado-297647_html (in Ukrainian)

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Published: November 22, 2018.

Vol 14 No 2 (2018).



Full Article.

Topicality. The research centres on the emergence of a new subjectivity, i.e. humans who handle their self-creation at their own discretion in order to adjust to informational environment in which technical reality is of major importance as it engenders a new kind of humanity treated not as a value but as a product of technological processes. A human being uses roles, masks, and images provided by the culture and society to the consumers of symbolic products and include the features that ensure personality functioning and social recognition. Symbolic construction of personal space involves a human as a creator of self-image into decoding symbolic entities as means of the formation of that image as well as comprehending human existence in order to construct / deconstruct an array of images in the proliferation of self-images. In this context, the aim is to establish the technologies of identity simulation and identify the means of its imitation. These problems are raised in the works of contemporary postmodern scholars (e.g. Z. Bauman, D. Bell, Guy Debord, G. Agamben, Ch. Metz, S. Žižek, G. Balandir, G. Deleuze) that are concerned with the conceptualization of information society, electronic technocentrism, individualistic culture, narcissism, and chaos.

Postmodern identity does not manifest itself through historical time parameters since it is not possible to be modern in the situation with all the grounds being on the surface and the time entirely focused on one point. This is an elusive absence / presence striving for eternity. Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht contrasts the meaning culture with the presence culture. His theory Production of Presence poses new challenges for philosophy: to resist the inclination of modern culture to leave and even forget any possibility of the relation to the world based on presence. He defies the tradition according to which the only practice of the humanities is to assign the meanings to the world through the discourses that determine its existence. Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht distinguishes two types of humans: a human of meaning culture that perceives himself / herself as a subject and a human of presence culture that is grasped as part of our being-in-the-world. The inherent feature of contemporary personality as well as modern epoch is the presence as a principal uncertainty, the unsubstantiated nature, refusal of rootedness (i.e. refusal of a steady place), which leads to groundlessness involving the abandonment of personal existence in favour of imitation.

According to the results of the last World Congress of Philosophy in Beijing, the human is viewed as a generation of structures. New humanity is mainly constructed through its irrelevance and non-genealogy. The absence of origin means the absence of future and presupposes ‘broad present’ (Gumbrecht Our Broad Present). The future is viewed as a catastrophe, as a source of threat and danger. Thus, the only way out is to extend our present. Time in its reference to a human being cannot be defined without its value. The latter attributes to time an anthropological dimension entailing thus an axiological approach, the desire to treat time as the mode of life, as well as understanding time as an existential and ontological caring about temporality of our being. At the same time, caring about time from an axiological perspective on the part of the Present Person means caring about himself / herself. Comprehension of presence time is closely intertwined with the perception of present as the time of modern culture.

This is a postmodern culture that does not possess any private space and is characterized by an endless play with images and image constructs. Such subjectivity makes use of a market, ‘masks and images parade’ having no fear of getting lost in a fake and strange imagery since due to this it can transcend borders, overcome bans and taboos that seem not to exist. Such a personality is nameless (it has a wide array of names, avatars, images); it is the last invisible point, not the beginning and not the end that are viewed as finiteness overlapping with each other. This personality belongs to timelessness that has no transcendent pole and goes beyond the time. Moreover, it does not have depth as it is bottomless (Deleuze), deprived of the centre and the defined tops constantly rising to the surface.

This kind of a human being is a challenge for the society as a total project aimed at eliminating of personality and its dissolution in the social being. “An individual is just the residue of the decomposition reaction of the community … Societal issues are an important absent link of metaphysics of the subject” (Nancy, 2009, р. 27). “Hypocritical fictions that support the myth about a unique and indispensable nature of individuality whose single function in our society is to guarantee the possibility of a certain general manifestation of individuality” (Agamben, 2008, р. 29).

Another parallel refers to Lacan’s psychoanalytic theory and his differentiation between the Real, the Symbolic, and the Imaginary. In this paper we focus on the Imaginary that plays a crucial role for ontological self-dependence. The Imaginary is part of contemporary democratic societies in which it is nourished by freedom to create its life project. Life-creative processes are not possible without imagination involved in the creation of projects, ideal images, and matrixes that let a person adjust to the society.

It is possible to identify those aspects that are essential for ontological self-dependence: those ones that have captivated us and guide our actions and the Imaginary created and constructed by us. The Imaginary is characterized by its dual nature: something that keeps us within the boundaries set by the society and something that restricts the will of the society since it is the field of my own initiative protesting against total symbolic representation that hide a whole personality. Referring to imagination and its role in the construction of life projects, it is worth mentioning that this imagination is formed under the influence of social institutions (schools, TV, cinema, mass media), which means rationality and practically no creativity. At the same time, imagination can be both constructive and destructive power that allows the human to experience something that does not exist in reality.

While speaking about our Real and Imaginary from the perspective of ontological self-dependence, it should be underlined that the Imaginary is not secondary to the Real. My imagination is formed on the basis of the Real, which results in the symbiosis. It makes sense to develop imagination because the latter enriches our world making it colourful and serves as the ground for the power of art. In the context of the topic under consideration, several types of the Imaginary can be distinguished: the individual (my own, intimate) Imaginary and the collective Imaginary in which sociality and culture are made tangible. These registers can be switched. Imagination can capture us making us admire its images and not allowing us to get rid of them. At the same time, it can cause the desire to break its spell.

This can lead to variations. There are such personality types that do not want to break the spell and live in the imagined world as if it were the real one, while the others aspire to live in the reality no matter how it is. However, the prevailing personality type is Aristotle’s golden mean, i.e. imaginary-real being. Imagination is not a stable entity as it is changeable just like modernity and is characterized by the absence of structure. From the perspective of those structures, we ‘die’ in our old image and ‘are born’ in a new one. This leads to an endless play of our existence as self-dependence and the emergence of hybrid, half real, and half imagined self-images (Metz, 2010; Lacan, 1999).

The approaches mentioned above seem to be a patchwork of methodologies and approaches combined by parallax vision. S. Žižek argues that such diverse points of view that cannot be synthesised should be combined through the shift of author’s perspective (Zizek, 2008). In this paper we draw on the constructive methodology and the metaphor of virtual reality in order to identify the technologies of life project creation from the perspective of ontological self-dependence as virtual realities. The term virtual reality was introduced by J. Lanier at the end of 80-s and became an indispensable part of philosophical lexicon within a short period of time. We use this term as nowadays virtual has become a trendy means of definition and allows us to use an array of heterogeneous definitions. As the referent of virtual has not been legitimized in science and philosophy by now, it is possible to apply it in different fields. It correlates with contemporary glam culture oriented at marketing demands and consciousness consuming intellectual products (Ivanov, 2008).

Virtual is a heuristic concept allowing us to set new priorities and identify implications concerning ontological self-dependence since the notion of virtual covers the ontological status of reality differing from natural reality that does not depend on a human being. Virtual does not equal reality, it entails being and not existence, it is potential and not real. Virtual is opposed to real as a theoretical construct. The absence of referent is caused by the simulation of the capacity to generate an infinite number of worlds and not the simulation of the result.

Virtual reality is characterized by so called engrossment effect, being inside this reality we cease to perceive this type of reality as unreal. Consequently, it allows us to study the processes and mechanisms of decoding, change the orders of reality, the modes of its functioning, and mix the registers of reality. The latter can be illustrated by a famous example of the first film demonstration arranged by the Lumière brothers during which the spectators started running away from the train, which was later called a destroyed frame by E. Goffman.

The concept of reality construction by the self-dependent subject bears a lot of connotations highlighting the role of a human being as creator of his / her life project. It is necessary to combine the components and be able to change them if needed (construction / deconstruction) with ‘the attention to life’ (A. Schutz).

Virtual reality is viewed as a metaphor, which allows us to distance from the tangible reality and implications envisaged by virtual reality as an established concept with its cyberspace, network society etc. However, ‘the complex of ontological assumptions can be substituted by another variety of ontological hypotheses, as well as metaphor can be substituted by a new metaphor’ (Bondarenko & Przhilenskij, 2009). We find the theatre metaphor offered by Guy Debord the best one among all the metaphors coined by contemporary scholars. This metaphor is the ground for the formulation of object and the development of the research strategy.

A human being is a virtual creator, a unique creature capable of virtual worlds construction emanating thus his / her own self (Korablova, 2007). Contemporary discourse presupposes emanation of the Self as a devastation of life in the cyber reality as self-projection. In this respect, we differentiate between phenomenal objective-subjective reality and social intersubjective reality. The former is the product and the reaction of human psyche to the world. It emerges on the intersection between the subject and the object, their correlation engenders the world of phenomena as a phenomenal world initially given to the human (a monosubjective reality). The reference point is an isolated experience related to the new information. This reference point has become flexible due to postmodernism. Moreover, cyber reality permits the research into virtual reality in the context of various social technologies of self-affirmation of a human being in the world.

Not only the role but also the face serves as a mask with all the attributes of the mask being deprived of the depth. Such a personality is screening of the program of functioning in culture determined by subject’s ideology. Hierarchical screen surface of self-dubbing gradually constructs human life ‘in situation’, ‘injecting’ its images into the network of circulating images of the network society. A French film 99 Francs based on the novel by Frédéric Beigbeder shows the self-aggrandizement of such a personality. The film begins by depicting a suicide committed by the main character and debunks the self-aggrandizement that does not know any repentance with the help of an array of images of the main character’s life and career.

Analysing the phenomenon mentioned above, a renowned British scholar William Van Gordon established a new type of dependence in analogy with alcohol and drug addiction as well as gambling addiction: “Self-obsession becomes exhausting and makes us overlook the truth and wisdom of the reality” (Quote). Screens make people construct another level of self by virtue of posts, likes, and selfies in virtual reality.

According to Ernst Cassirer, a human being creates and decodes the symbols, consequently, the loss of the capacity for symbolic behaviour means the loss of the depth and height, as well as the loss of verticality and hierarchy in the situation described by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche: God is dead and the verticality is ruined, the human is running on the surface (Deleuze). This is not a systemic homogeneity of humans. It rather involves their shadows that are practically the same, cloned and packed, which ensures the presence / absence of Nobody, a behind-the-scenes player.

This results in ontological theft meaning the loss of human integrity. A human being used to rely on social relations, and now that completeness has broken into an infinite number of pieces, the multiplicity of local items, fractal spaces and never-ending self-demonstration. Such a human being opposes the Absolute, the Eternity, being turned into a discrete one-dimensionality. Having put on a mask, a human being skilfully hides the initial image that practically does not exist. The strategy of a new type of human is imitation, his / her intrinsic quality is a mask, and his / her skills are formed in the cultural space that has turned into a play area. Shadows, masks, avatars are the main surrogates of a personality.

The anthropology of uniqueness focuses on the conceptualization and redefinition of serial items of the possible infiniteness in which one and the same is reduplicated. Ontological self-dependence has a deficient status of simulacra and requires a constant construction, imitation of completeness and integrity of being. Imitation technologies are not treated as forgery in the absence of the referent because imitation is not the search for the true Self. This is not even a simulation since imitation does not simulate anything being the sign of the sign itself, the manifestation of one-dimensionality and multiplicity. Ontological self-dependence is characterized by destructive means of life project creation, involving redefining, montage / demontage, changing the formats, reloading, and upgrading etc. It results in the absence of imagery in the image, the expression of the unconscious that endlessly demands psychoanalytic techniques and therapy sessions. It has its logic as an illogical deconstruction cannot exist without logic. The rejection of logic entails a different kind of logic that is not grounded on imagery and is necessary for the utterly incomplete wholeness. The mask is the sign of the absence of the face as a symbol deprived of symbolism and serves as the projection on a horizontal of multiplicity of meanings with excessive recurrence.

The expressions like “I am self-sufficient”, “This is my point of view” etc., which we hear quite often, testify to the transition from “the being that determines consciousness”, from collective consciousness to personal consumerism (one of the trends of consumer society in which everything is consumed including signs and images) of products of that consciousness from the privileged position of self-affirmation in the society and culture. As a result, we deal with technological society ‘playing life’ instead of living, ‘sexual techniques’ in place of love etc. A human being is an imitation of the being of humanity. Imitation becomes the main product of software industry since it works not for a human being but for a system that ensures human existence and self-realisation even in such forms. The key claim made at the last World Congress of Philosophy in Beijing is that a human is the product of systems. Systems engender and maintain life. “I think so” means that the system thinks so, “I want this” means the systems wants it. A systemic human cannot have a non-systemic motivation.

“Post” system is realised as an absent structure, it ceases to function as wholeness and receives integrity as an interactive way of existence. U. Eco argues that the metasystem is not systemic but personal. Only personality of the “post” system remains latent and its lack of imagery entails the plurality of verities and a decentralised person. “Thus, a philosophical outcome of the Proto-system recognition is the negation of the structural method as a means of getting a grip on reality. If the structural method is based on the Proto-system, the reality recognized as a structure is a pseudoreality and the structural models do not work. The structural models only conceal the Truth” (Eco, 1998), р. 23).

In the “Post” epoch the systemic principle is hypostasized as a ground for the reality in order to ensure the absence of personality and to create an ideal system of its denial. A system that can generate an impersonal image must be created to achieve this. Nihilism as a philosophical concept becomes a productive technology, the womb of virtual personality that confirms its existence through total annihilation. Virtuality is the simulation of the Absolute that incorporates any possibility, any variations of being, including logically impossible ones, opening thus the space for endless groundlessness perceived as freedom. Consequently, the self-realisation of personal being as self-dependence is grounded on self-denial.

New technologies lead to considerable changes both in natural and social being. Technologies are based on natural capacities and technological reality has turned into human environment. It offers an infinite number of virtual worlds and a human being can be part of each of them. These worlds exist as multiple realities, each of them having its own purpose. They cannot be reduced to one common purpose. This purpose can be discovered after the rejection of meta-narratives but its principles are scattered in different systemic parameters. These parameters are underpinned by the plurality of produced concepts but the reality as a stable system vanishes. That is why postmodern aesthetics defines art as a machine of desires, which models hyper-reality as a machine of desires by virtue of simulacra. Possible worlds are the spaces inhabited by their adepts (Deleuze & Guattari, 2007).

Personality in his / her virtual being is a virtual world that humans create at their discretion, turning it into the environment of personal freedom and realizing themselves as free personalities ontologically dependent on themselves. Rapid growth of technologies fosters the emergence of a new image of human existence. Thus, even having no motivation of influencing human life, technical world adjusts to a human being and opens possibilities for self-realisation (similar to film development), allows humans to use creativity and construe the world dependent on the self and capable of meeting the demands of personality as a creative person.

It is demonstrated in films aimed at mass-market audience (e.g. The Matrix, The Thirteenth Floor, Inception) whose main focus is the reflection of humans on their place in the world. Matrix has become a philosophy as it epitomizes and compares two aspects of distortion. On the one hand, it shows the reduction of reality to the virtual sphere regulated by arbitrary laws that cannot be suspended. On the other hand, it shows the concealed truth of this will, the reduction of the subject to a complete instrumental passivity (Zizek, 2005, р. 371). In fact, a human being does not adjust to the world and its structures but rather integrates the world into the Self and transforms it into an expanded self-image. Humans receive themselves through grasping the world.

During the times of Skovoroda the human epitomized Macrocosm, while contemporary Microcosm is a subsystemic unity of the globally absent system. Consolidating this principal incompleteness in the self, personality complements it by virtue of assigning to it the self-image, the face, the image of existence in the self-created life project. This image depends on the human-creator and is theologically bound.

At first glance, a human seems to be a free creature that realizes freedom being ontologically self-dependent, proves the rationality of the world and its regularities. A paradoxical situation has come about with respect to the growth of irrationality, which testifies to the unreasonableness of technological society in which even a rational and appropriate idea turns into irrational one. It makes humans trespass the boundaries of space and time, which leads to their addiction to modern technologies.

In conclusion, it should be mentioned that the concept of ontological self-dependence is a very urgent topic. It is associated with the implication of various meanings apart from those ones discussed in this paper. The recognition of the plasticity of the subjectivity seems to be important from the perspective of heuristics. The subjectivity seeks to be adequate to informational society and “the flowing present” (Z. Bauman) with low social dependence and the freedom of choice, with the feeling of social rootedness and at the same time the freedom to be whatever they want to be. Being self-dependent, such a personality manifests itself in the destruction of social fabric as a total representation and makes this fabric discrete, which allows the personality to regain the wholeness of ontological being both in the society and culture. This concept is parallax vision. It lets the personality diversify the approaches to human self-presentation in the contemporary culture, combine social and essential characteristics of the personality as part of the society and culture by means of virtual as the referent of the real for ontologically self-dependent personality. Sociality is inherent to humans and is not imposed on them. Emanating themselves into the virtual world, humans act in a real social world since this world determines the set of social roles, masks, and images as well as effects the reification and naturalisation of the virtual. However, in such a way humans destroy social fabric.

The Culturology Ideas, Volume 14 No 2 (2018), p. 7—18.