Cento: Self Is

25 May

Well, hello again. Perceiving a slight challenge from a couple of you [cough Mary, Teri cough], I swung into action. Yes, I am sneaky. You remain in the dark about my particular self, but I had great fun working through the statements I gave you and coming up with a cento.

Cento: An I For An I

I know that I exist; the question is, what is this ‘I’ that I know?
What was I before I came to self-consciousness? I did not exist at all,
for I was not an I. The I exists only as it is conscious of itself.

Any fixed categorization of the Self is a big goof.
The tension between “yes” and “no,” between “I can” and “I cannot,”
makes us feel that human life is an interminable debate with one’s self.
A self is an abstraction, a mythical entity, a philosophical muddle,
a center of narrative gravity.
The self which is reflexively referred to
is synthesized in that very act of reflexive self-reference —
I think, therefore I am —
When Thales was asked what was difficult, he said, ‘To know one’s self,’
to know the malignancy of one’s own instincts
and to know, as well, one’s power to deflect it;
to discover that we are capable of solitary joy and having experienced it,
know that we have touched the core of self.

People often say that this or that person has not yet found himself.
But the self is not something that one finds.
It is something that one creates.

(Descartes, 1641) (Fichte, 1794–5)  (Ginsberg, 1963)  (Kenny, 1988) (Nozick, 1981) (Dennett, 1991) [Diogenes Laetius (fl. early 3d cent.) Thales. ix.] [Anatole Broyard NY Times 13 Jan 76] [Thomas Szasz The Second Sin Doubleday 73]  [Dr Karl A Menninger Vogue Jun 61] [Barbara Lazear Ascher Playing after Dark Doubleday 86]


Posted by on 25/05/2012 in exercises, poetry, writing


Tags: , , , , , , ,

27 responses to “Cento: Self Is

  1. Russ L

    25/05/2012 at 2:56 pm


    • margo roby

      25/05/2012 at 3:09 pm

      Thank you, Russ! I love working centos.

  2. tmhHoover

    25/05/2012 at 3:28 pm

    Wow! You did an amazing job weaving these together. I now can tell my husband about new poetry form you shared today. Of course I had to look it up first. I am over the moon with this idea… for my photography. You know that photo of mine you liked (the empty bedroom) it is a layering of 4 different photos/layers blended together. It appears many art forms find ways to bring bits together. And I like it. It is all about me right?

    Your last line brings a smile to my face.

    • margo roby

      25/05/2012 at 3:45 pm

      Teri, how about cento poems and cento photographs! This could be the start of something interesting!

      Yes, I may have said the poem doesn’t show my self, but… it is all about me, too, isn’t it? 🙂

      • tmhHoover

        29/05/2012 at 12:10 am

        I see you through those words. And centro is was my favorite new word last week.

    • julespaige

      25/05/2012 at 4:30 pm

      Teri I would love to see your ‘cento’ photo! I just looked it up. I think a collage could be a cento too couldn’t it. A cento of the dreams of the self… for that matter the ‘Bucket List’ is a type of cento too? Or is that just a list? 🙂

  3. seingraham

    25/05/2012 at 4:05 pm

    I thought I commented but don’t see it so here I go again … love your cento margo; it’s one of my favourite forms … also tried to write to this prompt myself but cannot remember where you like things posted for this so put it up on one of my blogs … here’s the link

    • margo roby

      25/05/2012 at 4:46 pm

      Sharon, I have more fun making centos.

      You can post as you prefer. If you are posting on your blog then leave a link in my comments. If, for any reason, you don’t want to post on your blog, stick the poem in comments! I’ll be over in a moment to read your poem.

  4. Mary

    25/05/2012 at 4:17 pm

    Bravo, Margo! (Cough) It is nice to see you write to your prompt, which definitely was not an easy one. I have the same question: What is this I that I know? There is no simple answer. If anyone has a simple answer, they are a fool. Self definitely IS an abstraction. I find my SELF, though I think the same as I did when I was ‘young’ still evolves in some ways, broadens.

    As far as “I think therefore I am” I cannot argue, as anyone who cannot think really does not exist, do they? I wonder about people with dementia or Alzheimers. ARE they, or not? Do they experience the “I am” or not?

    And yes, solitary joy, I know that joy; and I also know solitary sadness. Perhaps one cannot exist without the other.

    I somewhat agree that one must create oneself rather than find oneself. Or pehrpaps I would say SEEK oneself rather than find.

    Thanks for your writing!

    • margo roby

      25/05/2012 at 4:50 pm

      Mary, I love your path through the lines of the cento. Your question re people with dementia or Alzheimers is fascinating. If they are unaware of self, are they? How about a schizophrenics? Different awarenesses?

      This was fun. Thank you or the (cough) nudge.

  5. julespaige

    25/05/2012 at 4:32 pm

    Margo, I think I might try one of my ‘acrosTic’s’ for this….I just have to figure out the word I want to use…

    • margo roby

      25/05/2012 at 4:50 pm

      Jules, that will be fun to see. Good luck with the word!

  6. wordsandthoughtspjs

    25/05/2012 at 6:20 pm

    Margo, I love centos. You did a fine job of weaving the lines here. I am still polishing my contribution up for this prompt.


  7. whimsygizmo

    26/05/2012 at 12:22 pm

    Whew. Well-woven. This reminds me a little of sitting in an honors class I once took, where they were discussing Socrates and Plato, and all of the other students were just nodding and nodding, and I thought…What the heck are you all talking about? Ah, discourse. I guess I’m just a pithy gal at heart. 😉

    • Hannah Gosselin

      26/05/2012 at 3:18 pm

      I was one of those nodders too, it takes me a bit of time to realize true meaning if it’s stated abstractly.

      Great cento, Margo, I really feel something in this:

      “But the self is not something that one finds.
      It is something that one creates.”

      True. I too, love your title, so creative!!

      • margo roby

        29/05/2012 at 9:54 am

        Hannah, it takes me a lot of time, if it’s abstract, but sometimes I can hang on with my fingernails.

        The idea behind the last two lines was a great one for discussion in class. Agreers and disagreers felt equally passionate.

        I am rather fond of the title 😉

    • margo roby

      29/05/2012 at 9:51 am

      Hi, de! I’m back and so glad to be hooked up again. I can promise you that the statements where my thoughts started as “Whha…? went fast and that I didn’t think too hard on the logic of all I chose. Philosophy is not the way my mind goes 🙂 It hurts my head!

  8. whimsygizmo

    26/05/2012 at 12:23 pm

    PS: LoveloveLOVE your title! 🙂

    • margo roby

      29/05/2012 at 9:55 am

      de, I laughed when I thought of it 😀

  9. pmwanken

    26/05/2012 at 11:53 pm

    Way to throw your self out there and disappear for the weekend! 😉 Enjoy your days away and see you soon. ❤

    • margo roby

      29/05/2012 at 9:55 am

      I’m baaaack!

      • pmwanken

        29/05/2012 at 10:34 am

        Yay! (and…in case you were not caffeinated enough the first time you read it…”pun intended” in my comment!) 😉

        • margo roby

          29/05/2012 at 10:44 am

          I did get it, but on the read back through. That’s when the brain said “Hang on, she separated self. Ohhh!” 🙂

  10. brenda w

    27/05/2012 at 9:18 am

    I love what you’ve done here, Margo. This is a brilliant conglomeration of self. The ending is my favorite part. My family bought me a plaque for my classroom wall that says “Life is not about finding yourself, life is about creating yourself.”

    • margo roby

      29/05/2012 at 9:56 am

      Thank you, Brenda. I am so glad I was nudged into this. I love that your plaque is my ending.


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