As Mikhail Bakhtin put it: “I am conscious of myself and become myself only while revealing myself for another, through another, and with the help of another. The most important acts constituting self-consciousness are determined by a relationship toward another consciousness (toward a thou)… The very being of man (both external and internal) is the deepest communion. To be means to communicate… To be means to be for another, and through the other, for oneself. A person has no internal sovereign territory, he is wholly and always on the boundary: looking inside himself, he looks into the eyes of another or with the eyes of another… I cannot manage without another, I cannot become myself without another; I must find myself in another by finding another in myself (in mutual reflection and mutual acceptance).”
Bakhtin’s notion of “intertextuality” is similar to his concept of heteroglossia, and just as important. Intertextuality is the “voice of the other” within you; the interiorized text of the “other.” An example of an intertext would be when you are reading a book, and the author quotes another other. This quote is literally someone else’s voice speaking inside the main text. Not so remarkable, but for Bakhtin, your identity is an intertext too. That is, everything that you are is made up of pieces that came from elsewhere. There is nothing original about you, as every aspect of your self is a gift of “the other.”
If this makes you ill at ease, fear not, for there is at least one way forward that might agree with you. If, at any given moment, you are an event that comprises any number of simultaneous conversations (interior and exterior) that have no originality within you, and which can always be traced to an exterior source, then at least you can say that no one else is standing where you are, representing your particular heteroglossic, intertextual combination. You are singular and unique in space and time. And if you are worrying about being deeply, irredeemably plural at every level of consciousness, then just think of everything you value, love, cherish; none of these things would exist for you if you were a truly separate being with rigid boundaries. Just think of Nikki S. Lee: what she has been able to create as an artist would have been impossible had she not acknowledged a Bakhtinian type of identity. In fact, her work might well be the epitome of intertextuality and heteroglossia: multiple voices speaking through the artist at all times, making her a truly unique singular combination.