The Foundations Project – Identity and Being

Identity I sometimes feel caught in the oddest wars. My attempt to say who I am to others is confused with the same attempt to say who I am to my self. Sometimes these are the same attempts: what arises in my life arises equally in my life with others: who I am and who they think I am. But…take yesterday, for instance. Another person and I have to share a podium together in a few weeks. The subject I find interesting and have done a great deal of thinking about its problematic nature. It is not so alive in my current being as it was once for an extended period. Yet it is mine in a certain sense, and it is me; somewhat more youthful, in a time when I was both assaulted and assaulting, looking for truth or more complexity. Now, bemused, I try to tell my fellow who I am, and who I am not; or, who I was and was not. The certainty: I am not anyone who he imagined I am. Yesterday…trying to tell him what I thought and why: friendly, engaging, wondering, paranoid, hostile, amused, friendly – a progression I watched in him as I unfolded my tale. I? I remained a slightly anxious constant, retelling my self who I am, that I think…for the millionth time, to me; the first time, that I am, to him. I tell the story better now; so others can hear and understand it. But I, removed and distanced from earlier tellings and thinkings, still searching for new truths, telling an old story.





The Issue of Being and Identity…in this Time

I and We

Meaning and Identity

Being No one…In Particular

Doing or Being

On Purpose

The Selfish Gene


I The One


On meditations…on Next Places

The Essential Character

The Beginning and End of Being

The Enigma of Being/The Being of Being


The Origin of Consciousness

I Am that I Am (incomplete)

Being and Non-Being (inc.)

Authenticity and Integrity


Being and Time


And If I am-Not



Existence, Essence: Who’s on First?

The Grammar of our Being

Being Within Experience

The Actual Individual


Doing the Buffalo Dance

The Body Politic::The Organic Analogy

The Endangered Authentic Self

The Human Potential

Me, Myself, and I



Shells and Shills


II Social-Universal

Being Alone


Historical Positioning

Existential Angst

Authenticity (Individual)

The Stoic Self

Authenticity (Social)

Frozen Identity

Anthropological Nihilism

Emergent Identity::Emergent Literatures

Post-Colonialist Identity

Global Identiy


Negative Identity

Identity When the Oppressor has Disappeared (No Longer Appears)

Dreaming in Cuban

Assimilation To and Fro

Pride and Meaning

Yield and Surrender: Diminish or Grow?

Generational Identity

Life Paradoxes


Politics of Paradoxical Theories of Being

Paradoxican Tics


Birth Order


The Social Me


Being – of Several Minds




Being and Truth

Being as Knowing

The Others’ Me

Group Identity is Enduring Beyond the Individual

Identity and a Group

The I Which Responds to the Others’ Me

Identity Projected Forward

Body, Body Politic, Body of Knowledge

Nature and Culture

Tender Loving Care

Sex and Being

Who I Am-Not



The Historical Me

Geometrizing Being

God Said

Transforming Knowledge

In At the Womb

A Patina of Identity

The Essential Self: A Residual Notion?

The Necessity of Being a Who I Am

The Moral Necessity of Being a Who I Am




Love and Friendship

Wrestling with Irony


How Many am I


Hope, Transcendence, and Progress

The Actor




Who Am I: Exactly/Particularly/Precisely


Marriage and A Marriage


The Uniqueness of Being…Human

Homo Faber

Essentialism and Existentialism

Yang and Yin


The Schlemiel, Schlemozzel,…the Tzaddik

Identity Crises


On Re-Seeing and Seeing

Biology of Being

Models/Teachers for Being

Interdependence of Opposites: Romantic Solution to Being

Giving Voice to Others


No Nerve


III Reflections in Identity


Appearance and Being



Passing (Adrian Piper)


Pictures in Our Heads

Illusion, Magic, and Simulacrum

On Being Beautiful/Ugly

Becoming/Being the Gaze


The Reflective/Reflected Self

Representations (unwritten)

At Home/Not at Home


The Chemicals which ARE Me

Insuring the Future

Guaranteeing the Future

Not Here/You Won’t Be

Consciousness, Immediate…


Authority and Celebrity




Projecting Being Forward

Rights, Privileges, and So On

Why do Boys Grow Up to be Criminals?

Discipline, Disciple, Disciplined

First Full-Consciousness


Heidegger and Holderlein

Sickness as Defining of Identity

The Ages of Identity


Dependence of Being and Identity on Memory



Logic of One’s Family


Body as the Locus of Individuality

Creation of Image of Political Self


IV Seeking for Identity


On the Horizons of Being

Ways of Creating Identity

History in the Context of the Balkans

Transforming Knowledge



Public Life

Retreat from Public Life

Poets of Oppression

Hierarchies of Identity









(a work-in-progress)


Harvey Sarles






The Issue of Being and Identity…in this Time: A mere perusal of the global or local scene forces one to wonder who and where we are. Like Dicken’s Tale of Two Cities, the times are the best and the worst. Many of us live very well, at least ostensibly. Many of us live quite poorly in terms both of money/style of our lives, but particularly in the fact that being who we are seems more and more to involve struggles which have appeared but recently in our experience. Who I am and who are we rise persistently as questions which demand asking, demand responses.

Many of us participate now in a global culture, within a kind of cosmopolitan outlook which centers somehow upon America, perhaps as some kind of icon of being…Others of us look backwards to Biblical and other holy or theo-political texts; to philosophy; to geography; to ethnicity; to language and some force which will gather our being within…

I/We look forward with hope but also with a trepidation that all is not exactly well. Death and taxes: well, death is being pushed far, farther into the future even as many of us survive what would have been old age, now turned into an age of middles, with many years of life yet to come: productive vs. mere survival; healthy vs. being supported increasingly by technologies which may support our vegetative being, but do nothing for our being, our identity. Insured against…medicaid, social security, medicare,…life insurance.

It was in my imagination of my futurity, it seems almost clear in retrospective and hindsight, that at this point in my life I would be able to look back and judge that all was well; or not so well. But it rarely occurred to me that this time stretching out to years of…would need work, filling, more than a rest for the not-so-wicked, not all that good. The ordinariness of life’s vicissitudes has become problematic; summation no longer helps. Who am I? What do I do here?

A cursory glance around the world looking back wonders why all these modern peoples like to look back to find themselves. Why do our mirrors no longer tell us that we are what we see and what we do? Rather we take the pictures which we generate inside our own heads and believe the stories which we place about them: the what was or must have been (would have, should have…).

Who I am fades into the history of some collective sense of myself even as I gather its strengths, its insides and outsides. Experience and existence falter, blur. Weakness and courage find no home within our flesh. There is no longer any home, no one at home, no place to pitch our tents. Me? I? We? You? Who?


I and We: The paradox of the one and the many, of individual and society, particularly me and universally human naturally me, is one of the dozen and a half or so which affect – perhaps they help define – our very existence. Whether this entails issues of the universe, of being human, of the very nature of life processes…?! The paradox of life <—> life as a paradox?

I am that I am. But I am also an aspect – a persona, a role, another – who is significant in the being of some other(s). Who is the real me where my energies and definitions of being find themselves located, is clearly bound up with the way in which such paradoxes arrange our notions of identity. (Or we arrange such paradoxes by solving, resolving, complementatizing life experiences in which various issues seem opposed, different but within the same domains,…)

The temptation has arisen in different (theo-political) traditions either(!) to resolve such paradoxes: to say/believe that I really truly am the I which has a soul, the I which occupies the body which is born and eventually dies; or to say that I truly am s/he which is the child of my family, the believer in my religion, heir to a certain geography or ethnic history, a language, a gender,…But some (e.g., Confucian traditions attempt to complementarize rather than to resolve paradoxes: yin and yang, change and continuity in some complex of existential resonances.

These tastes in the handling of experienced paradoxes often seem to me related to how different traditions handle progress and utopic issues: whether life is seen as sufficiently/infinitely long (Confucian, Jewish), or utopia/heaven is available only after dying (Christian, Islamic, Hindu). Resolution of paradoxes is possible and often compelling within the strictures and structures of life defining death defining life; but may be complementarized within the idea of the longest life as sufficient to itself.

My observation and experience are that being and identity are (really, truly) paradoxical: yes! and yes! But, at many places and times in our lives, one or the other seems important or dominant, while the other side of the paradox backgrounds itself, dis-appearing. And, as the reader can discern already, talk about paradox already seems to contain its own paradoxes. Western thought – to which I seem heir though thoroughly critical – bathes the paradox by resolving being in the complications of being. I am that I am! The individual has a soul placed (!) in the body; the soul transcends physical being. The physical me is not me?

And we seem to be left with our being problematic: confused and caught in a vast set of dualisms beginning with mind and body, and going directly or indirectly to issues of essentialism and existentialism-experience. So I talk with you through an essential medium which certainly seems, at the least, to transcend physical being. But your trust in my existing much as you underwrites the possibility of mutual understanding – and illustrates the complications of the paradox of the one and the many.


Meaning and Identity: The quest for identity seems equally to be questioning/questing after meaning in a moment in history whose gatherings bring us all together in the arena of global being.

The facts and perceptions of others’ identities reflecting and impinging upon our own seems virtually to cause us to react and question and feel even that life is too…full, saturated. Perhaps it is, as Gergen has said, that technology and the pace of life itself so fill us with the sense of speed that we can no longer absorb even our own being. Perhaps it is that the age-old questions about death and life which had formerly been ensconced in socially scripted roles, no longer come wrapped: everything is up for grabs. Perhaps, as Nietzsche warned us, the Western quest for truth has seemed to prove to us that the truth we sought turned into truths each of which revealed some senses of emptiness or incompletness. We now see-through history, see through our own presentness, and revel in the futility of seeking meaning. Now this flashes signs back at us that whatever meaning was or seemed, it is now tied inextricably with our senses of being and of identity.

I am me, a son to now dead parents alive in my memory, a husband of many years counting but always a new day, a father to two children and their friends, a teacher, neighbor, a (relatively new) grandfather tempted to think that this is really who I am and was meant to be, a colleague, a worker, an ethnic of sorts of sorts alive and resonating with what it means to be a…(secular Jew, not a…), an American not a,…a world cosmopolitan citizen, an intellectual of sorts seeking and questing for all of knowledge ready and/in waiting for Faust’s temptations, a man not a but also a,…


Being No One…In Particular: There are modes of anonymity; there are processes by which one becomes no one rather than everyone. There is the question concerning these times in which the kinds of thought and organizational construction which seem to be operating in these moments, tend toward reducing being: going, going,…gone.

And if institutions and governments replace me with a number, with a location, with a fairness which distibutes being as if it were a not very precious commodity, where then am I? Does anyone care?

Is it that the entire world has become a caricature of Chaplin’s movie Modern Times? Have we modeled being upon the efficient machine, attempting somehow to capture the dualisms of Plato and transform the mind to a computer which directs the body which is us, and which is…stupid. Located, doing,…but no longer needed to think out its being? If we organize to beat off the organization or the capitalism which promotes – it seems – these movements away from being, do we recapture our identity? Lost? Me?

Why? What motivates me so that a few dollars, a little party of celebration would give me the sense of who I am that I am anybody at all? Incentives? Incentives! Meaning quests replaced by the carrot dangling marketeers who psychologize us in our minimal moments and captivate our being. No wonder Nietzsche and Emerson wanted us to need to transcend and overcome our own being which seems to be in a mode of reducing being. No wonder.

Is it change itself which turns us away from being students of our own being? Is it the experience of changing too quickly which urges us to look for fixes and guarantees which experience itself cannot contain? Is it the sense of loss of control, having imagined that we had found it once, twice, which moves us to seek for surety: looking backwards, looking for deities, looking anywhere but into our own being, trying to unpack the histories which have propelled our being into this moment? Globality? Bureaucracy? Wanting anchors in a too-fast world?

Where am I? Who am I? If I am certain today, will I be…tomorrow?


Doing or Being: Am I a person defined largely by what I do – an instrumental definition of oneself in which one can determine who s/he is by noting what one does? Or am I a person who wanders about my being, trying Oh so hard to be some one in particular, trying to engage myself and my life in its living being and processes?

The modernist Enlightenment model of externalizing the principal actuality and reality of being and attributing being to that externality leaves us in various senses objective and free, even from our own being. As long as we do well and do good, then we are in effect free; even from ourselves, even from engaging in the arduous task of self-examination to make sure that we are…good persons. We tend to attribute our own being to the realities of our (perceived?) being: genetically endowed in such and such ways and destined to become just who we find ourselves being; being attached to nature, being creatures of a nature which we find in various places outside our own being, we do what nature tells us is our own nature – a play upon play upon…words!? Multiply, seek to save our genes, we are responsible to the necessity of preserving and serving our species. Do whatever we need to do to be…ourselves.

But, but where am I within this instrumental definition of myself, at this point in existence, in my existence? Whence have I come, where am I now, will I be going with some sense of towardness which seems to me…thoughtful; some sense of an on purpose rather than being thrown about cast as it were upon the waves of the oceans of life’s vicissitudes? What now? What next? Why? Why not?

[Charles Taylor]


On Purpose: To put this instrumental notion of being and identity in another seeming context, I ask what purpose to my being one way or another…or yet a third. Why do this or that; think that I think this? It is often tempting to think that the thoughts I think are cast upon me by the necessities of existence. No why’s; just that’s. Not wise, I surmise.

Some confusion between the sense of teleology of an external agency, a deity, a nature which is like deity immutable and unchanging, and my sense of my own changing to be banished like Heraclitus, drowned in the river of paradox. It is as if my being is floating in a canoe drifting dreamily: “row, row, row my boat, gently…life is but a dream.” A nightmare. Better to admit that my suffering is part of my being, that I need to update, to see whom I have become, to examine habits of being contra being and to find my location where myself might be…might be being. Better a sense of purpose I impose upon myself’s selfing. Jump in, the water’s fine!


The Selfish Gene: The being who I am is hidden to myself, driven by some specie’s necessity to stay alive: I am no more than a set of genes bent on conserving, preserving, spreading myself as widely as I can, and will. No Camusian problematic here; no worry about the Shopenhauerian problematic of suicide. I have automatic and autonomic systems driving my genes in the passing lane down the Autobahn. Whatever it takes to do this, this will be proper, appropriate, moral. The questions some active I of my brain’s mind asks may swerve the real me of my genes from the task of human nature.

But this is a diversion. Really my genes ought to take care of themselves, and I my body like the body of Plato am not much more than the place in which my genes and Plato’s spirit happen to find themselves. Not my problem…unless it interferes with my proper tasks of preserving myself to preserve myself within the futurity of being human — a Sociobiology in which mind doesn’t really matter and being is some illusion which my genes use to do their business.






On meditations on…Next Places: The issue of who one is and what it means to be me – or anyone – is much more complex than any mere naming or signing of one’s name, affixing authorship or individuality to any piece of work; including oneself.

Who I am, what my possibilities and necessities, my dependence and freedoms…all these areas are issues of being and of identity. They are issues not only of structured thought, but also of each person’s ongoingness.

This does not mean that there is no continuous or central or integral me which is the me I usually say I am, that one which is the authoritative author of my writing(s). It is just that I am in many more relationships than that one with myself…as it were, alone.

I not only have a theory about my being – now, then, tomorrow and beyond – but carry it with me, as me, sighting the visage which is myself as well as those whom I know, and who have tried to tell me who and that I am: parents, spouse, children,…significant others. I am one and many; many thence one. The paradox is who I am.

Identity/being is, then, paradoxical.

Who, then, is anyone else? Do we remain stuck in some Cartesian meanders about the so-called problem of other minds? Do we approach being as some skeptics who, like Plato, really are dubious that my knowing something, some object, does not translate to knowing that/what someone else knows. This epistemological skepticism – doubt about the very possibility of knowledge – has been translated into doubting that others know, implying: 1) that the seat of being is the individual (the…thing I call myself), and; 2) that others are, like objects, mere externalities to my being. Instead, it now appears clear that we humans are social in our deepest senses, and that me – the individual I call myself – is not only invested in others, but is invested by others; in life in my living.

But this is all too quick! I exist within the time of my and others’ being: some senses of being as passing through; some notion that who I am (and others are) has much to do with the conjurings which we call memory; a will to live…

Part of being who one is in projecting forward some sense of future being, of oneself as seen into the world which is not yet. My meditations on…Next Places attempts to entice us to meditate on who we are as who we might be, or might want to be, intend to be, or not to be…next and next.

Looking backward at the photographs of one’s personal biography, one is able to say that this picture is of me, of someone in my immediate family, or of someone else. I do not think that this ability to see continuity into one’s photographic being is a very obvious fact of being. Merely it is a quite common, almost universal ability, which is usually not thought about because it seems so simple to us. But it is not so simple.

Rather, we have learnt to see who I am as some complicated notion of who others say I am, who I have been told to be, who I say I am – to significant others, and to not very significant others.

It is like looking in the mirror, and saying to oneself that one’s reflection which is twice the distance as it would be looking at anyone else, is precisely who I am. Here, it is clearer, I think, that one sees a mix of who I am, who I would like to be in some narcissistic senses, how I think others see me… Clearly, one sees some mix of what is, how one imagines that others judge one’s appearance, and so on. One can read beauty into one’s visage; as well, one can see and foreground that which is unpleasing and carry that vision back into one’s image of s/himself (Gray Gables).

And here I am writing about being me, as if there is a separable self which can contemplate the being which is myself. Is this yet another paradox of being? Or is the self multiple, and able still to find…itself?

This issue is, perhaps, made quite complicated for the Western mind because the question of identity is subsumed within the Platonic dualism of mind and body. In this tradition, the body has been effectively banished from the issues and quests for who one is, and granted to the realm of the mind-soul-spirit which has had effective hegemony over the body. Identity and being have been located within issues of mental uniqueness of humans: language, rationality, knowledge – as if these are all essentially mental processes. This is to say that much of what I will call actual being has been omitted from the Platonic quest for the nature of identity. Similarly and related, is the Platonic dualism of matching being (of the individual) with the non-being of death (Phaedo,Sophist), rather than examining being within life in all of its complications, including especially being in the world with others’ being…in the world.

As a partial critique and corrective, my meditations on…Next Places explores being and identity as if life itself reflects and is reflected in the mirrors of others’ faces and of their saying and affirmations of who I am, and of who I am that I might be…and will…to be.

How to update judgment of oneself is not removed from the updating of who I am per se. The problem of how to move on to one’s …Next Places at any moment in one’s life trajectory is a meditative one: how to enter into one’s being, such that one can do this better than, that one can do this well, that…?





Looking at the photographs which were taken

of that person who I am

who I call…Myself

I see an identifiable person: Me.


I was and I am

each yesterday; every now.


How have I changed: which visages gone,

which remain?

Do I see

the same person I am, now?


Who was; who now?

Where will the next place be?

How will I get there?

How will I know

I have arrived?


What lost

given up, gained

…what cost?



The Beginning and End of Being: At the risk of being part of the problem, of being ironical rather than critically foundational, it seems important (for me) to state that the Western predilection for presuming a picture of being which entails a vast framework of assumptions, lies at the heart of the problem of being as we have inherited it. It is as if we have either lost something in our existence and (changing) being – or it is that we have some necessariness of towardness in order to fulfill something about being human. If not…

If not, then we are not whole, not complete; we have no direction, no deity, no morality, no center to our being, no way of dealing with others or even with ourselves; there is not meaning in life, no meaning in the meaning of meaning. Life is a fall from a heaven in which we must either return to (that conception of) heaven or face the damnedness of an existence which has no meaning. It is as if we cannot be participants in our own existence because we do not and cannot own our own being. The freedom for which we are urged to search in our own being becomes chimera and condemnation.

Return to nature! Return to heaven! Are we so captivated with the idea of our own capture that we will not see what we have willed not to see? That we are children of others/mothers, that the language which we come to think is the self-same as theirs, and that it is generative beyond any finiteness, even in its finite structures – this remains invisible in our presuming what we need no longer presume.

For the truth of being is an emergent truth. We are not (very) continuous with the foetus which is the individual self, become person within the context of others’ imaginings of our being. The mechanical, material, physical individual is not the mark of our being in time, in every here and now. The (surviving person-) body is itself conceptual as well as physical. Life and being are intrinsically social: a body being in the universe of others’ bodies being. But all the mothers/others also will us to live as individual beings, interdependent, but also independent…and free to ask all these questions, to carry on the searches of identity.


The Enigma of Being/The Being of Being: Heidegger’s Being and Time takes up the question of being, attempting in some fundamental sense to situate the questioner asking the question of s/himself. “What is the being of being?” – he asks. What is the place or point of reference from which all else flows? When is the here and now which resides somehow in one’s being? Where is one’s being which knows all of this?

The enigma, deriving from some passages in Plato’s Sophist and reflected upon in Aristotle’s Metaphysics, reflected most recently in Wittgenstein’s thoughts On Certainty, is that the very existence of the existent being seems to have to be assumed.

The existent being flows from a Western skepticism about the very nature of knowledge; even of the possibility of knowledge, principally of the world of nature, external to being. The I am, and you are, and it is – the ontology of ontology – must already be presumed to exist even and especially for us to begin talking about any it. Are we any better off understanding the nature of being – of objects and persons – than in invoking a transcendent deity or Gaia or history or what have you…which is another reflection of the dilemma.

The enigma of the being of being is not so un-understandable as all that. After all, we seem to be able to do what Heidegger says is (intellectually, philosophically) problematic. But to see my position takes a bit of review, and a concentration more on the nature of our own (human) being than on any necessity, first and a priori – to say that the world of objects is.

In a sense, this is a move back to the idea of Protagoras that (hu)man is the measure of all things. But it is also a critique which attempts to place in proper perspective and importance some issues about human nature and our own being which have been uncritically presumed to this time – without, I think – lapsing into any easy (formalist-idealist) solipsisms. The first order of discussion is about the locus of the problematic of being.

A more thorough understanding of the being of being human is first in order. This is so because the being of being is the locus of our own knowing; and knowing about being, the without-which talk could not occur (at least in the terms in which we have made language central to knowing, thence to being!), seems like the central issue in the being of being: what is the it about which, from which talk begins? (In Platonist problematics: what is the difference between being and non-being? – a more technical issue which I will take-up later.)

The shift in understanding comes partly through the late works of Wittgenstein (Philosophical Investigations) based in no small part on the work on comparative thought of Malinowski (in Ogden & Richards, Appendix 1,The Meaning of Meaning), thence upon the knowledge gained about other species being (also) social. The first issue is about the nature of humans being social; radically altering our views about the nature of language: not primarily to know objects; but to talk (first) with one another, thence about the world.

The comparative (thought) view alters – also radically – our perspectives about our own viewing of ourselves. By going away and immersing ourselves in the viewing of others (cultures, species,…), we can return home to viewing ourselves often with new lenses, and in so doing can problematize the ordinary. In turn, this enables us to see ourselves somewhat anew, seeing as interesting and/or complex,…various aspects of ourselves which had been so ordinary as to have remained below orout-of-awareness. Examples: the ways in which we understand (phonemically, cognitively) our native languages; ways in which we use faces to judge character and being; the thoroughness of our knowing our own mouths and articulatory apparatus. Third: the importance we have granted to certain aspects of the human condition being particularly unique and radically different from other species, the raising of (certain views about) language to primacy, have to be rethought.

Briefly, the problem of the being of being is located in each of us – as young children – coming to know who and that I am. In the development of each of us, there is nothing obvious in parents’/others referring to a child, that s/he should understand that s/he is an I. I is not a reciprocal term; in any interaction, each person is a you or a s/he. In effect, each child has to invent s/his own being as an I. This, quite specifically, is the locus of the being of being. Once a child knows s/he is an I, then reference is clear, if not obvious. (But it does not necessarily or always reside in articulated language; e.g., it occurs among the deaf in sign language).

Thus any deepened understanding of the enigma of being requires study and understanding of how any child gets to know about s/himself. This includes a rethinking of the nature of grammar; of the locus of meaning, and so on. Grammar (see: Sarles 1985, Chap. 9) is not – as Western thought beginning from the physical individual – developed within each individual, as it were, independently. Grammar is about mothers/others presenting the world as a set of questions to which the infant learns the proper (to the parents) sets of responses. Meaning is located in, derived/inferred from such response sets. Parents merely assume/know the reality of the world of external objects and teach this to their children with the authority of their authority: why? – because I say so! (See: Origin of Meaning)


Purpose: Why…am I? What telos, what meaning, what direction, towardness, do I have? What telos, meaning, direction does fate and destiny have for me? (See: The Ideal)

What difference does it make if I have no purpose outside of my own being who I am? Does/doesn’t the question of purpose already take me outside of my being in order to figure out why I am who I am?

In tune with the order of the world? Is there one order; many? Out of tune…is being the attempt to improve one’s intonation?

[The Aristotelian attempt to judge present (!?) being in terms of some oughtness of existence, seems - like mysticism - to take us outside of ourselves. We arrange, we concoct some sense of the real purpose of life, then live our lives as if this were an overarching truth. Then live our lives...?]

But if there is no purpose, is there no point of my life; beyond this moment? What is a life lived well? Where can the purpose live; where is purpose proposed and enacted: acted upon?


The Origin of Consciousness: The temptation has been to equate being human with having consciousness. How exactly it happens that there is a thinking I – or my brain or my genes create the chimera that I think that I am and can think – remains an arena heavy with theory and with less observation and thinking about how I get/got to be conscious.

There has been a metaphor since the mid-17th century which has been much used (if not critically), enabling us to probe immediate consciousness (Hegel’s term – Bergson’s methodology): the speechless statue. Condillac’s protean notion is that the way to understand understanding is to wonder how an exact replica of my being – only cast in alabaster (the stone color seems not to be fortuitous) – could become a human (me, you). That is, the question of the origin of consciousness is still largely dominated by the idea and metaphor that consciousness is to be understood particularly by imagining that I can examine my thinking right now: even as I suspend or bracket (Husserl) my thinking about that thinking.

Instead, it occurs to me that the way toward understanding consciousness is to see how we humans go about it: from infancy (as the foetus) to developing bodily-intellectually. Much of the bodily development has been by-passed or neglected by those who seek the origins of consciousness, as if the body has little to offer being: a form of the speechless statue thinking.

Instead it seems important to examine the nature of the newborn, to watch the infant being watched, responded to, interpreted (!) by others, and responding in turn. The eyes: the infant sees in s/his mother’s eyes the self reflected. (Try feeding an infant while engaging s/his eyes!)

The other powerful metaphor/methodology which informs thinking about consciousness is that of Plato whose notion of being is intertwined with epistemology: we are what we know. And the known is external to us: generalized, universalized. Knowing the world of objects (the objective world), we reflexively come to know our own knowing. But we have never found ourselves – the I who is conscious of my consciousness – within this casting.

My first subject matter is (simultaneously?) other persons and myself: How different (if at all) these are is debatable? I come to be distinct, especially when my mother/others demand it, treat me as if I am, and urge-force me to be some-one. In the beginning, I may be no more than the constancy with which my mother sees (in) me. I respond, she interprets, and gradually I become…me.

Rather than considering the one which I am, the two of Plato, the three of Freud, it seems to be that I am intrinsically many: the question of self-conscious consciousness then comes down to how I find/generate a self which is constant and aware (conscious) and can find the self which others interpret and want me to be: this moment, tomorrow.

The fact is, it seems to me, that the demand of parents (mothers/others) for me to be independent-creative-consistent, is more powerful and extrinsic to my being (a body-mind) than that which is internal to my being a (potential) being.


I am that I am: When, it says in Genesis, Moses asked God for his name, he is said to have said, I am that I am.

In a discussion by the psychoanalyst, Erik Erikson, the question of The Galilean Sayings and the Sense of “I” (Yale Review, No. ?? : 313-62) contrasts this statement with the reports of Jesus having introduced rather than ended a number of his sayings with Amen, but I say unto you. The primary issue of the essay is how we know what we are: the I, the me, the is who I am…Being and Identity.




Being and Non-Being: (a Nihilism from First to Last to First – the argument against the Sophist/Oralists)

Much of the confusion and argument about the being of being has centered about where knowledge is located, what it consists in, who can know it…and how.

Part of the argument seems to reside in the sort of battle which Plato wages against the Sophists (Sophist) which concerns the nature of true truth. (In the post-modern climate of nihilism, the notion of truth is itself at serious risk, and demands that some new idea of its grounding be established if we are to proceed intellectually…or actually. See: The Crisis in Meaning)

Plato analogizes the formal truth of logic and geometry as being located in the unchangingness of figures and of ideas as represented by the universal idea of any object. This becomes the real. Just as Plato suspected, in controlling or framing the idea of the real – at least within the formality of dualist thought which he posits – a potential battleground over the nature of the real is set up. These days it is often called the battle between existence/experience and essence: note that existence is about knowledge being in or flowing from the human, while essence flows from the idea of objects; and humans also become objects, as it were, by an osmosis of ideality.

Plato is worried most specifically – as is Heidegger – that the Sophists cannot distinguish between being and not-being (an issue raised originally/mythologically by Parmenides, Frag. VIII). It is not, as I used to think, about death directly, but flows as all else – from objects – to our own being. It is about the being of being, the referential knowledge by which any of us (& all of us) can talk about what is and what isn’t…and, especially recently, how we know all this. Or that we cannot – the failure of Husserl to…

The problem (of course) is that knowledge of objects is not at all obvious: either we have built-in, preformed abilities to know (pure reason, or… – not a solution!) or we derive knowledge from experience somehow, or (is it possible) that we really do not and/or cannot know (…or be)? In the beginning of the modernist philosophical era Descartes solves or obscures this problem for a while, by assigning it to the examination of our thinking – something about language. Gradually, however, the question of our own being as subjectively knowing anything has penetrated the question of knowledge in ways which, at the moment, seem to have no apparent direction for solution.

As I have suggested, the understanding of the being of being is located in the human coming to know s/himself as an individual. The grammatical shift is that grammar is not merely the set of all sentences, or the collectivity of words about objects, but is a process by which children come to know the world of objects and sentences in the complex of the Question>Response System. Children do not know the world (in any sense, merely), but know the system in whose terms parents describe (and operate in) the world. In the context of human sociality, language is – early in development at least – toward mutuality of understanding, with the being of being located (in each individual’s experience) in the knowing of s/his mother/others, which s/he has to understand in approximately the same way as they. Independence of the individual person thence emerges from this relationship, rather than preceding it as the Western tradition has had it. The problem of the being of being is located in understanding how humans operate in the world, rather than being knowledge theoretically conceived by philosophers in their especial wisdom. The problem of being is in knowing how to see human development as it is! – including a problematizing of the ordinary from comparative thought.

Two arenas of example may aid in seeing the problematic anew: the ancient debate between the philosophical and the oratorical tradition (Kimball), and the ongoing debate within the context of Artificial Intelligence as the logical analysis of language vs. the engineering approach of expert system (cont)


the question of identity in the present age shifts the question of being and non-being quite radically toward the existential in a world in which existence has no apparent viable philosophy which includes doing and living. (Gergen’s Saturated Self).



Authenticity and Integrity: Am I the genuine article? Have I forgotten to say No! whenever the odors of life’s free lunches wafted before my nostrils’ tendrils? Has my stuckness in the past been thoughtful, forced? Have I preserved some sense of being in the present which is…strong enough, self-pleasing enough…that I can say that I am who I am, knowing mostly what this means; and meaning it?

Am I on the take: morally, intellectually derived from others who define who and that I am? And if I have based my life’s living on others’ stories – heroic, martyr-ic, brilliant, prophetic – is it enough to be me precisely, to live as they said or as they (would) have lived?

For whom/what do I do what I do? Do I please my own sense of self-being by pleasing and doing for others; or by hermitting myself in order that some inner sense of self-being finds itself and emerges and emerges? Is there no place to stop and to call myself…complete, who I am? Is there some place to stop and to call myself…who I am? Stop the world! Get off! Get a life!

Get a life…worth living… seems to ring hollow, reverberating in my thinking that who I am, what I do falls short of…of what!? Wisdom is a term which rings hollow: Bing-Bong, bing-bong, bing…bong.

Do questions, agitations, and issues of authenticity and integrity arise much because of the various assymetries of life’s relationships? As Teacher to others, I am perceived as steady-state, as being precisely whom I appear to be; a tower of knowledge and strength, a purveyor of others’ hopes and imaginations and inspirations toward their own futurities. And I am – to myself – in varying degrees, at various angles to my students’ perceptions of the me they see. If I am authentic, honest,…to them, can I remain authentic to myself…except as my students’ Teacher? And to the me who I am…to myself? (See: Teaching as Dialogue)

Is there some way, some way of being, of study, of finding a notion of the mentor-within, which could direct me directly to my boundaries of my integrity so that I can know at all points just precisely who and where I am; and am-not?


Authority: The question of and quest for being and identity entails authority – the sense that one is sufficient to oneself; that one effectively holds the ground upon which one finds oneself occupying. In a deep sense, authority in pomp, authority in its yielding, sits in relation to this sense of ground. And it is an arena where the one and the many portray together the power of being who one is and we are.

Authority resides in the sense not only of who and what one is, but also in what can happen with respect to one’s ground: if, for example, I move to occupy a place where others might want to be (or not want me to be), what then? Can they move me…out? How easily will I move? What context surrounds the places of my being? In these aspects of authority, the existential-processual elements of what is and might be, the if and would, powerfully circumscribe who one is; who one might be: the child growing, the teacher’s student who will (someday!?) overtake the teacher; the king and the peon, the question of relation between policing and the polis.

Authority possesses a sense of social legitimation as well as of context. The sceptre of Agamemnon in the Iliad represents the authority of kingship – which has its underpinnings and justification in the acts and assumptions of others, as well as a philosophical apologetic as, for example, in Aristotle’s Politics where he uses the mind/body dichotomy-hierarchy to analogize the authority of king over polis as mind over body (the natural order of director over directed). Who is perceived and treated as if proprietor of the place and of the podium? Who yields and how?

And in other traditions such as the Amerindian where space and place have no proprietary claim upon us or us upon them? Or in the martial art of yielding of T’ai Chi, where power and authority are located not in the occupation of the place, but in the ongoing ability to yield, to absorb, and deflect, the authority is located in the wise: s/he who knows, but also can do. In the Apostolic forms of Christianity and Buddhism, identity rests in the concept of selflessness, of giving up all earthly authority: authority is precisely ironic as the more thoroughly one ascetizes s/his existence and reduces one’s dependence on the power of others to authorize one’s own authority, the more complete one is; and likened to the deity.

Who writes is she/he who is the author, the source. Who becomes and develops and grows into the author is on the way to the power which defines and declares self-being and identity. Not only source, I-the-author am responsible for the words and the ideas and the thinking, the declaration and defense of this set of ideas, of analysis, of the mode of thought and the ways of thinking-through.

And within the concept of the bodily transcendent, the idea of taking one’s power and creating authority within the idea of deity has been awesome in its power of taking our own authority, authorizing some idea of a deity, who in turn grants us (lesser) authority. This, like in monarchical schemes of authority, asks us to yield authority in the name of being frightened (mortal, sick,…), so that we will be taught to live well and properly in the name of the deity. The solution to being, says Kierkegaard, is not to disciple ourselves to God, but to live like God…would live.

Authority is certainly the growing and coming to the power of one’s being, a wrap around identity.


Being and Time: The Western-idealist assumption that humans are distinct from other species due to our minds, has carried with it some powerful notions about our being in time. It has been thought that our physical being – like the physicality of other species in/of nature – exists particularly or only in the present here and now: some sense of the immediate. Immediate consciousness, an ongoing sense of phenomenology has been cast as opposed to the sense of past and of future; of memory and of the imagination.

Similarly, this thinking has developed the idea that humans are the generalizing and universalizing species: opposing the particularity and singularity and individuality of objects. We know human, while others existing in the present of immediacy only know this man or that woman.

Given this duple form of (our) being in immediate time, and of the notion that immediacy also entails individuality and particularity, a favorite method of exploring our subjective understanding has been – from Hegel’s Phenomenology of the Spirit to Bergson’s thought, to examine the contents of immediate consciousness, as if this would reveal much about our being and thinking.

Future and past, universalizing from the one to the many (and back, reflexively), has then been cast as a human ability which is beyond being: transcendent, concatenating, above the existential.


[As Martin Krieger asked me some years ago upon first reading Hegel, what/where is the transcendent, and I responded that this is it, I have been probing to find out what I meant by that ever since! Toward an anthropology of the ordinary.]

This seems to have left the problem of human understanding in its subjectivity as having to do with the nature of our understanding the objective/universalized world. And how we have come to be able to be both objective (to know objects) and to universalize them. The nature of our mind, then, is presumably reflective of how we do this.

Since my own understanding of how we come to know the world, is through the Question>Response Grammar, (Sarles 1985) – that is, we come to know the world as our parents regard it as being, learning simultaneously the particular and the universal in our coming to name objects in infancy (as our parents regard them) – this quest for our consciousness seems misplaced and simply incorrect in the human condition.

This notion of coming to know the world as our parents have constructed it (back eons, perhaps shared somehow with other species), means that it is probably more interesting and problematic to understand how we operate at all in the present, rather than to understand how we universalize, or live within the contexts of past and future. (I have supposed that we need to have ways – and ways to have ways – of knowing that we live in each present, perhaps a kind of memory itself; remembering to remember that we have to be present in our presence.)

But I also think that we live in the present in various/many ways, and to single out some sense of the immediate-immediate and give it priority, is to oversimplify the human condition.

This is all to say that the problem of being and/in time belongs in the first instance within the problem of Context, not of Being and Identity.


Am-Is-Be-Being: Multiple existential confusions between who I am which I carry with and as me even as I experience the present – ongoing, yet evented. The me I say I am to the various others who have or want to know, or to whom I confess and present myself – as in teaching, parenting, friending, even as I sit here watching the black symbols appear upon a mostly gray background; the me I tell myself I am contrasted with the sounds and feelings of right now playing against a future which aging seems to be shrinking even as I work at stretching it out; the senses which locate myself into the various parts and parties which I also am, and certainly am; the doing which confirms that I am, is, and be.

All of this is matched, contrasted with some ongoing sense of being in the world, of the world, against the world, changing it and me, and wondering about history and futurity and the human condition and the election next week and whether meaning and being will endure.


And If I Am-Not? There are some who live in mortal fear of mortality…or of immortality. It is difficult sometimes to distinguish whether or not one exists; whether or not one is…or is-not.

The understanding, the realization that one will die (I will die, it is only a matter of time and of circumstance!), can easily dis-inform existence and identity. I am, am I-not?! Or…am I?

Is this thing I call myself merely a shell, a temporary housing for a soul which (I hope, oh God knows I hope) shall carry my soul back to heaven? Oh dear Augustine who said that we had fallen to earth; that life itself is a cosmic error perpetrated presumably by the female who was tempted by evil to sup at the tree of knowledge; and here I am supping alone and feeling doomed rather than being at peace with the God of all souls in heaven.

If indeed, if in fact, I am…that this bodily existence which is full of feelings and desires which threaten to overwhelm me…all of this being is suspect, a momentary fragment in the firmament of all of time’s being whose enduring must last until my return. Return? Return? To what? What is this here and now? What, this earth? Who cares, should I?

And if I do not really exist? And if I do? What then?

Wither existence? Withered existence, a return to Cosmology.

[A Lament: of the narrative textualist whose reality derives from outside and remains outside of her/himself.]


Freedom: The notion of human freedom has been cast within the romantic-idealist tradition as the human ability to transcend the immediate of time and particularity. This has left the concept of freedom located intrinsically within each individual, and played into the Natural Law notion of Hobbes (from Aristotle), that we are by nature bound to immediacy, and open to pursuing freedom more out of fear than of…love or desire or our intrinsic nature. In nature: we are held to be rather fixed, unfree; in society, especially civilized society (implying an evolutionary history of the development of freedom of the individual, and the sense that this will be inevitably progressive in the unfoldings of history), we must seek our freedom by overcoming our nature, and the social ties which seek to imprison us, as it were.

Instead, it appears that we (like other similar/related species) are social by our nature. Freedom and individuality are emergent, even as we remain somewhat interdependent throughout our lifes. Again, like being and time, this seems to be less an issue of Being and Identity in the first instance, but more a problem of Context.


Context: As being, indentity, and meaning seem inextricably linked, the question of how meaning gains meaning rises to our thinking. Outside of the usual or normal senses in which objects or thought have meaning and names – names, thence meaning – there seems to be some loci or spheres of our existence which inform or frame meaning more specifically. Call this situation; call it the loci of context, it is usually a residual area saved (as it were) for the infrequent moments of our experience when we seem to have to appeal to some elements outside of the ordinary to tell us what means the meaning of some issue.

The same word or notion may take on different meaning, depending on…context. The idea of any temporality – piece of a sports game, a division of a musical piece, a discipline – seem to determine when what is ordinarily sameness, turns upon difference. When is something serious, commentary, a joke, is not obvious from outside; outside, that is, of whatever is or determines context.

Much of the meaning of being and identity resides here, in the context of context. (See: Context)


Justice: Whoever said that life would be fair? – a palliative said by others, said to cheerlead oneself on those down days when one’s sights are cast down and away; sad days, sick days,…

Justice: issues of power and control – In the world of inequality of our being, then she/he who is most important deserves the most. Here, the issue of justice reduces, reverts to the question of importance. Structure (the breadwinner, the mother, the hope for the future – the progenitor, the womb, child, royalty-aristocracy, the source, e.g., of religion and purpose, the teacher); Process (curers and healers, priests and pastors, and rabbis as carriers and interpreters of the law). Who one is, who one knows; who one is not, does not know!

Justice: within some sense of equality and the so-called rule of law applying equally to every-one, no one is above the law. Importance of personal strength, endurance, integrity, and hope (sustaining).

Justice: questions of evenness – eyes, hands, teeth for eyes, hands, teeth. Mutilation and wholeness. Punishment and asceticism.


Existence, Essence: Who’s on First?I am, therefore I think might seem somehow to replace Descartes’ dictum with its proper or appropriate antinomy, but in the issue of anyone’s being, thinking is not a precedent issue. There is no easy Either/Or of being which will solve the issue of being and identity; no internal deity which will tell us finally that we are and who we are. For we are creatures whose generation is a powerful aspect of our continuing existence, and whose maintenance of sociality virtually circumscribes being.

What this does not mean, is not that there is no point of departure for who I am; not that there is no subjectivity or a me which is precise enough to say that and who I am. My being does not require or necessitate a deity to say who and that I am; parents and community are usually sufficient.

To this time (in Western thought,at least), the issue of being particularly or uniquely human has been used as a framing architectonic for examining the concept of being: I say the concept of being, because much of the actuality of our being has been neglected in favor of the notion that our being would be revealed particularly in our being particularly human. The method of thought and investigation has thus been always in the Platonic/Pythagorean line: speculating (from some narrowness of observation of other species) on how we are especially as we are different from other…aspects of nature: species, machines.

[The issue of identity arises now to some large extent because it appears with more extensive observation of other species, and with the developing fields of machine intelligences, that our arena of uniqueness has been narrowing. This developing problematic of identity shows how fragile and speculative has been our concept of the human, faltering and hesitant at any moment of attack upon our sacred constructions rather than any celebrations of our continuing development and extent.]

There is reasonableness and objectivity within one’s being which is often and usually sufficient to the tasks of ongoingness. One is some one. But that one is also many: I alone; but also I and mothers, brothers, spouses, children; children and teachers. As being is enigma (Heidegger), so it is clarity and certitude.

The narrowness and particularity of the debate on who and how we are essentially/existentially has revolved as well on how we have constructed the notion of the ideal. Not finding continuing purpose in the purposivenesses we have hitherto constructed to account for life’s directions, we seem weakened rather than hopeful. In the case of the either/or of existence or essence, we are tempted to seek purpose outside of being in any present age; the ongoing present. Rather than enlarge the nature of life’s experiencings, we seem wont to focus on ends and eschatologies as they seem to frame being within the dimensions which our ancient frameworks have found more amenable to their theorizing.

The fact is that we are bodies living within the world of others’ (bodies); living as well within the mutalities of understanding which has hitherto been constructed as the dualisms of (cont)


The Grammar of our Being: One of the confusions of Western metaphysics, located within the presumption of mind and of body, is that each individual is the primary locus of knowledge. We must, say the Kantians, be like nature to know the nature of the things of nature. Since, they think, objective knowledge is of nature, since we exist bodily in the temporality of the here and now, how can we know infinity and be outside of our own physical being; symbolic, imaginative, able to see ourselves being ourselves even as we are?

Part of the response and answer is to note that the physical individual exists within the social construct of mothers/others responding to their infant within a depiction which is at once immediate and simultaneously projected forward into myriad expectations of what it means (to them) to be a person. Being is not merely vegetative survival, but requires the imaginative seeing of being an infant within the contexts of gender, adulthood, the morality of becoming as mothers/others construct those notions, and the idea that the infant will be much like s/his parents…through life; not just in this moment. Humans (other social creatures) simply do not exist in the moment. The human body is itself symbolic, with a beyondness which is limited but not bound: Promethean in its possibilities and towardnesses.


The question of who I am is frequently conflated with who I would be, who can I be, and who is it that I am.


In the “major” traditions, it seems, the question is implicitly answered as a kind of “built-in” to the self which is given physically as a presence in the world. In other traditions, who I am is sometimes a cyclical being (e.g., I am my grandmother), in other places an aspect of the spirits of other species whose quest I must journey upon. In all these cases, however, one “finds” her/his identity as if it is a set of old or new clothes which one can try on, and if it fits, must wear it…forever.

I wonder, instead, if being and identity isn’t an active process, a mode of generation, of “having” to be some one. I wonder, that is, if the idea of having an identity isn’t foisted upon oneself by one’s parents/family at a point of several years of age: requesting, then requiring one to act as if s/he is…some one. [I think this mode of considering identity bears certain similarities to Aristotle’s “self-caused-first-cause” and may find it reduced to the “homunculus” explanation for how thinking occurs. But it takes primary “causality” away from the (physical) individual, and sees sociality as the locus of the force-which-begins and requires (!) the physical individual to generate s/his “own” sense of being...else this entity is not truly a person in that setting.]

Who I am is then forever at some odds/harmony with whom I am said and told to be, who I think I am and am told I am, who I want to be and am told what is my destiny. Identity, that is, may have certain kernals of itself, but it is in part at least always on the move. (A way of understanding Heraclitus: but, if self is the locus of change, then what is nature?)


Who am I? Who are We? Who am I that I am-not you? Who are we that we are not-them?


Alternatively, the problematic of being raised by Plato in The Sophist and echoed over and over again within Western thought, and given its most recent shape by Heidegger in Being and Time is the opposition or antinomy of being vs. not-being: that is being has been contrasted in Western thought with death; and existence has been sometimes in harmony with, but often opposed to experience in life. This philosophical heritage has provided us with a conceptual baggage heavy with history, even foundational in its power truly to frame the problematics not only of being, but even of the very notion of reality which has been shaped in our thinking to include within existence both life and is opposition in some grand dialectic. Not for nothing has Western thought been described as an eschatology, a seeking for finality in cause, in truth, and – in the Nietzschean ironic – the truth that our attempts to describe being have been mostly an interesting fiction.

If we are, as Heidegger claims, an enigma to which only poets (Holderlein) can possibly be witness, then there is little testimony to our very existence. Overburdened in the West by an urge to explore the eschatological much as the ordinarinesses of our being, we want to live either in the middle range of the Aristotelian harmony or upon the edges and extremes of existence which will…illuminate, excite, confirm that we really are!? (Nietzsche, Bataille)

And the others who we are-not. Only, we are sure but much less sure in these days, we are not-animals. Can we explore being without having to ensure ourselves at each moment that we are rather than our being-not?

To-be or not to-be? Is that the question?

The will to live – an active process from Schopenhauer to Camus; a passive structure granted to our [socio] biology (E.O.Wilson); to give-in to death (give up the ghost); to suicide.


Being Within Experience: A major issue of being concerns the formation, sustaining, and/or alteration of [one's/our] identity. Much of Western thought is summed up by Rousseau in The Social Contract: “Man is born free, but is everywhere in chains.” In this particularly Western summation of being and identity, the notion of the individual is granted priority , even the absolute definition of identity. What is the social, any relationships or commonalities with others, is taken to remove something from the individual – to lessen him(!) usually, or her. Questions of role, of social identity, nationality, culture have tended to be backgrounded, called into suspicion or altogether neglected in this tradition.

In an elaborate history of law and so-called “natural law,” it is presumed that the individual (a priori given), at some point in linear history, discovered (via language) that he(!) had to come into relationship in a social “contract” with others, or risk annihilation at the hands of others who found themselves competing with him for food, sex, and the other necessities(!) of existence. Within this Western story, that is, sociality “reduces” being and identity. In this setting, the “problem of identity” is often cast as the necessity to heighten individuality and its attendant aspects: usually “political” issues such as competition, power, and so on.

But this is, like many other stories, just another story of being; but one to which many are partial, and one which others find onerous and destructive to being.

In other contexts, the notion of identity is equally or primarily a social-political idea. The question of “who I am” is deeply embedded within my relationships to others, theirs to me, and the issue of what identity we share or significantly do not. Some aspects of being which we may share may not always be related to identity in an important way; but others may be overwhelmingly important in particular times and circumstances: language, gender, religion, color, health/sickness, age, geography or nation, history. In some times and places an effective bond of identity may be woven through opposition to some others’ identities which we may oppose, or which may define and oppose us.

In some times and places, that is, the notion of identity has seemingly more to do with sociality and communality than with individuality. Whether and when the concept of identity fits both individual and group will be explored in various ways. In combatting the primacy of the idea of the individual as the locus of identity, various theorists have attacked the individual, and claimed that there is no real individual (Marx), or that the individual is an aspect of a deity, or that we are primarily within some covenant or other relationship.

Within (Western) philosophy (Garcia: “Individuality”), the question of identity is cast within the issue of the one and the many, and which is primary. The thinking usually proceeds from the one to the many in a kind of pyramidal organizing scheme much like the notion of military or the efficiency models applied to organization and business schemata during the past century. This seems to follow from the sorts of metaphors by which we derive the notion of the deity and grant agency to that idea, granting and organizing me/us within it. Similarly, within what is being called “modernism,” there has been a tendency to praise and to raise the idea of the individual (“genius”) who is creative, or the orchestral conductor over the players. That is, within the comparative contexts of the one and the many, the idea of the primacy of the individual is not only structural, but the dynamics of description tend toward identity of the individual as representing any group or organization. The recent tendency within the context of business organizations to talk about the “culture” of any organization has been effective in considering the dynamic elements of organization as a function of group-thinking as opposed to other modelings of the organization (but even this concept reflects the expansion of the individual head or boss effectively controlling the business within the context of s/his particularity of outlook).

The general Western mode of though follows or parallels the kind of hierarchic thinking which was developed by the Pythagorean-Platonic attempt (successful to this day!) to “solve” the “problem of death��� and of knowledge by banishing the body from personal existence. That is, within the focus on the identity of each individual, certain aspects of our being have been backgrounded to the point of virtual disappearance, while those which focus on the (individual) mind as the locus of being and of knowledge have been raised to primacy. So even in pursuing the notions involved in our very knowing, the focus has been placed on particular aspects of our being, and located within each individual – not noting, backgrounding, or not admitting that we are human bodies located together in the world of other similar human bodies.

Usually the experiential (“actual”) issue of identity shows up however within the context of an either/or of the paradox of identity. We/I are both an “I” and a “we” in a variety of ways, in and through time. I am noy any less a me and myself than I am her son and his father and a citizen of a variety of jurisdictions. In addition I/we are heir to “name” and to a variety of ideas and literatures some of which extend being, but many of which substitute certain ideas about being for ���being itself.” The quest in Western thought (and in perhaps most world world theo-political “traditions���) has been to attempt to “resolve” the paradoxes of identity on one side or the other of various of them. Western thought, for example, resolves the paradox of reality being while we are awake or asleep on the side of wakeful existence, and the question of change and non-change on the side of permanence. Identity – for example, the Christian notion of individual “soul” – is restricted to individuality, while one’s relationships are backgrounded to enabling or to be “blamed” for existence (the “sin” of one’s parents causing my pure sould to “fall” to earth).

Here, perhaps especially, the questions of being as one’s actual existence and experience come into some odds with theories about being. And as literature and philosophy have come into our lives and into the practice of politics and law and…it is often very difficult to distinguish who I am, from who I am told that I am, from whom I am treated as.

[...and the possibilities of governing others is variously restricted or strengthened depending on how the idea of the individual is lived-out or acted-upon by various constituencies/citizens.]


The Actual Individual: Apparently (this notion of) identity is not merely built-in to (individual) being, but requires affirmation, new, or changing ways of telling oneself who one is; that one is. Perhaps it is the case that we can effectively “lose” either our identity (Sacks: The Man who thought his Wife was a Hat) or the means for “re-generating” our identity. Death (and suicide) is – in many traditions – the ultimate definer/destroyer of identity. But in other traditions, the identity of the individual is seemingly eternal and/or can be recreated within the lives of one’s descendents (e.g., Cameroonian animism).

My sense and observation is that this is no mere aspect of the (physical/physically bounded) organism; nothing which is (essentially) born-in or inborn. As Montagu reported (1955) many years ago, most infants will perish if they are fed food alone. More seems “necessary” in the human condition: to be touched, talked to, “loved” – and to love, talk, touch in return. Whether “tender loving care” is what is necessary, is what we shall explore. Whether others can give, grant, or confirm our identity is at issue. Whether others can confirm us at all points in life is another issue…and whether they will or won’t, can or cannot…

An early introduction to this idea was from reading an ethnography of the Murngin people of northern Australia (W. Lloyd Warner), who on the occasion of condemning an “errant” person to death, could expect his actual death within three days or so. In this case, a death sentence was sufficient for the person “give up the ghost.”

Whoever one is, the definition and continuing suport of one’s being by the others who are significant in one’s life, is apparently necessary in one’s continuing existence; at least or especially in cultures in which the interaction is “high density” (E.T. Hall). True for infants in most/all cultures, the remainder of us have defined – have had defined by others – the idea that we are truly and sufficiently “individual” that we can survive, want to survive, have “a will to live” until…(Schopenhauer, Camus)

In America, the definition for many men, at least, of who they are, has been within the notion and confines of a work situation. Many who retire, die within a short period (six months or so) after retiring. Who they are is apparently heavily related to what they do, or how others in that work arena confirm their being, or…

And in many long-term marriages, the death of one spouse is not survived long by the other. Thus the boundaries of one’s being and identity are not always and not necessarily within the boundedness of one’s physical being.


Being: Western thought has held that the identity of the individual is overwhelming and obvious, (ought to be obvious, almost as a moral necessity) an aspect of the physical body. The physis, the mechanical-material aspect of being was considered to be primary; life and thought was held to be “after” (me ta) physics.

The metaphor of being and identity (and there have been a number of “metaphors” through and by which we explain ourselves to ourselves), is the comparison of our being with the same physical self (as if) without being: without that “life force” ( a vita activa or whatever). We are without life akin to a stone. Condillac’s 18th century invocation of the “speechless statue” which presumed that we come to being already fully adult in form, and then posits what we “need” to become fully human is informative. Like Pinocchio, who merely needed “heart” to become a real boy, the thinking about being and identity does not give very much attention to the developing child who grows and changes radically. Rather we seem to seek out primarily those aspects of our being which have as much permanence as that we grant to our very appearance.

The generalizing and universalizing tendency to find out “who and what” we are, has since pre-Platonic times been comparative in bent. Being – in Western thought (contrasted, say, with Confucian thought) – has invoked visioning us relative to non-being (Sophist/Heidegger), and in implicit relation to our being fully adult (complete) when compared to the material being without the life principle.

We have tended, that is, to seek the nature of our being and identity, with respect to non-being or death (Phaedo, Sophist) and to the animating force which “grants” us life (Aristotle: de Anima). Western thought was and remains enamored of eschatology and the directness of life toward death, and has been likely to attempt to define identity with respect to however the pathness toward and the “realm” of death has been depicted in any era.

Similarly the physical basis presumed for our being has convinced us that the persistent aspects of our being are variously “masked” by the changes which blind us to our actual being. This has led to the rise of geometry and the varieties of formalism and idea-lism which lead us to value being-as-object over being-as-living: statistics, I.Q. scores, and the rest; essentialism over existentialism and experience. Thus the pursuit of who we are as being and identity has been cast within various metaphorical frameworks whose seeing-through or deconstruction (Heidegger’s “destruction”) is necessary to see who and what we are. (The problem as it arose for Plato had to do with the apparent observation that each person likely will invent a different form of reality given even half the chance – thus the problem of any facticity and truth of being and the world is relative to whomever…



Doing the Buffalo Dance


This parable, from the Mesquakie Indians of the Great Lakes region, offers an ironic view of Indians caught between two cultures. It is from “Native American Testimony: A Chronicle of Indian-White Relations From Prophecy to the Present, 1492-1992,” edited by Peter Nabokon (Viking).


Once there was an Indian who became a Christian. He became a very good Christian; he went to church, and he didn’t smoke or drink, and he was good to everyone. He was a very good man. Then he died. First he went to the Indian hereafter, but they wouldn’t take him because he was a Christian. Then he went to Heaven, but they wouldn’t let him in – because he was an Indian. Then he went to hell, but they wouldn’t admit him there either, because he was so good. So he came alive again, and he went to the Buffalo Dance and the other dances and taught his children to do the same thing.

N Y Times Book Review 5/10/92


At certain moments in life – one supposes – the problem is more particularly how to “come alive again,” and to do it!


The Body Politic::The Organic Analogy: From the first pages of Aristotle’s Politics, the relational equivalence is drawn between the individual and the social-political.

The reasoning is directional: from the individual to the social, establishing or highlighting the primacy of the individual. Methodologically, the inference can be drawn that how we think about the individual; how we decide what individual contains, means, or entails, is applicable as well to the political.


As the individual –> is the social-political.

Individual –> thus/thence –> the social.


As the outlining, the specification and location of the individual is the physical body (materiality, physis ), the body is thus primary in establishing the very nature of being. While the physical nature of the individual body is (within the human condition?) essential and obvious, it is used, methodologically, for little more than to establish and to locate the subject: the political body. Then, the facticity and implications of bodily being are simply dropped, not attended to, dismissed, suppressed, downgraded,…

As did Plato, Aristotle uses the body to establish the essential locus of our being, then proceeds (again, methodologically) to empty the nature of the individual by effectively banishing the body. In the dialogue Phaedo, Plato wants to pursue the nature of being (as knowledge) and to “purify” being he literally banishes the body to “go with the mind alone” toward knowing and thinking; ridding us of the necessity of messing-up thinking with desires, sadnesses, or sickness. To add injury to insult, the mind is then granted directive power over body within the hierarchy of being which Plato develops to idealize the unchanging forms of being, thus including the human soul as if it were like the idea of the circle or triangle, of the universalized word representing the idea of any object: the idea of the table, of the man, of identity, of being, of existence. With the body effectively banished, existence even is turned back upon itself: an idea more than being-as-doing.

This leaves us investigating and/or understanding the human condition particularly as the mind – having used the body to locate the essential being (me), the body is then made to disappear whenever we discuss what and who I/we are. I am essentially my soul/mind – and the facts of bodily being, that others see me particularly as me as I appear bodily, and whatever else being a body entails (a great deal!), simply fall away from our thinking about identity. This leaves us living – actually – as bodies, even while we tell ourselves that we are our souls, essentially. The very notion of the essential me is dependent on ridding the context of discussion of identity of the body in order to rid identity of the changing aspects of being. This does not rid the problematic of identity of the fact of our continuing being, being paradoxical as the Heraclitean river (being continuously me even as changing each moment, each day, month,…). It just resolves the apparently loathsome fact of paradox of identity, and makes human existence a subject in the province of philosophy and narratology, but not of existence.

In translating or extending the notion of the mind (less body) to the body politic, the analogy is taken from the concept that the mind effectively “directs” the body. What Aristotle analogizes the to the mind utilizes the notion of directing within a hierarchy and elevates all of this within some concept of nature – “nature” taken to justify or to underline or (as in some laws) to “enforce” the actuality of the concept (as in: natural must be real; we can’t fight or change nature or human nature; we are natural, in nature,…).

Analogs of the mind are those parts of society which “direct” the polis, the body of the politic: the monarch/king directs the people…just as the husband directs the wife; parents, children; and people, slaves. The body of the politic is the fact/means by which we locate ourselves. Once there,…! Then the body is banished as having desires, causing sickness, death, and all of our attention is placed upon the mind/king which directs and controls the body politic – which, like the body, always threatens to do something which will muck up the clarity of the mind-alone. The polis becomes focused upon the king as representing all else, the citizens’ thoughts, wants, needs, are backgrounded just as they are downgraded in importance. The king, Leviathan in Hobbe’s articulation, is effectively granted and given power to draw attention to itself as the director, the effectuator of the notion of unchangingness. Having used physis and the material body to locate us, the body politic to locate the idea of the state, to justify it/them by the use of the notion of natural, then this is abandoned.

The lesson drawn within the Aristotelian tradition of how/what human nature means, is to locate the human by its body = not (other) species; thence to draw out not what is human which includes its body (literally, how we distinguish and locate humans), but to say what is particularly human by how we differ (putatively) from other species strictly within the domain of mind: humans are the reasoning creatures, that one which possesses language, intelligence, can think, can foresee futurity – the only one which is social. All (now – 1995) apparently wrong; but oh so seductive! That is, to deconstruct the issue of identity, we have to see how we have and continue to be Platonic-Aristotelian within our thinking; to note difference within hierarchies of dualism analogized to the putative mind-body split, thence to make disappear those who are not higher within and directive dualism; even to abandon our own bodies to decrepitude rather than to examine and to work (with) them as we age.

Interestingly, the facts of our social existence are particularly down-played within this “use” of the body politic to analogize sociality to the individual. This is so because the facts of our being children to our parents, the fact that we are not survivable without love and affection and talk beyond the mere food we may be given, is virtually written-out within this tradition. So the facts of our social existence, the relation of our human being with the other species with whom we have most (morphologically, behaviorally) in common, the facts of their prior social existence still have not come into the common mentality of most of those who think about the human condition.

And even for most of those who think well across species, who are comparativists, even for those, they tend to focus on the individual or the species as delineated by their bodily (analogized or direcly physical), rather then at the nature of their experience. The facts of any actual paradox of identity – being one and many – rarely enters into the discussion of what is human, why we live or should live as we do, and what is our destiny.


The Endangered Authentic Self


An unfortunate side effect of the almost constant presence of the media in our lives, the psychologist Kenneth J. Gergen suggests, is a loss of the small, subtle, authentic responses to life that compose a personality. This is from “The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life” (Basic Books)


“The media expose society to a massive array of self-representations. Our manners of friendship, family relationships, romance, and animosity are documented, scrutinized, rhapsodized, and satirized. We see how the lips are pursed in moments of quiet anger, the fingers move to the mouth as expressions of serious thought, and the tongue flicks backward in moments of cautious reflection. As these images are exposed increasingly to the culture, they become the standards for expression; a subtle Miss Manners for the world of informal relations. They inform the culture, for example, as to how sadness is done — its duration, its modes of expression, and its proper intensity on various occasions. Indeed, in failing to meet these commonly recognized standards, one cannot properly define oneself as “being sad” — either to others or oneself…Our actions are suffused with the sense of metaphor, and we ourselves lose the ability to differentiate between their authenticity and their artifice.” (N.Y Times Book Review: Oct. 20, 1991)


Like cartoons, the depiction of our being and identity in the popular media has tended to take on various lives of their own: the issue of movement in cartooning being several lines surrounding a figure or parts of a figure; talk being in balloons overhead or in captions. Are movies and video very different: the relation between what we see on a screen or CRT and what we see in everyday interpersonal-interbody interaction is not precisely one-to-one…or is it?


Human Potential: There has been a virtual movement in the past generation toward being all one can be. I sense that this movement which found its principal home and support among those who thought of themselves as Humanists – trusting in the human, but within some dialectic about being agnostic or atheistic – has been to a large extent a way of substituting a personal progressive scheme for one which was politically or socially progressive. It has been, that is, a way of directing life with a sense of purpose without falling into the politics of utopia or teleology.

It developed to some large extent within the beginnings of looking for a mode of health which seems, certainly in retrospect, to derive from South and East Asia: a sense of holism within the context of wellness. It opposed the Western allopathic medicinal approach of moving to relieve symptoms, to derive thinking about health from pathology without any necessary notion of health or sustenance or what each person might do to remain well or in shape. It derived as well from a hope and wish to shed the puritanical hang-ups that many of us had had about any possibility of enjoying life, especially the possibility of enjoying rather than enduring sex. It was a movement which brought medicine and talking therapies to the fore on the tails of a retreating religious outlook whose preachments went beyond souls to the restricting of anything which even felt of hedonism. And it was Kierkegaardian in the sense of a growing distrust of organized religions which took us out of our experience. It was apolitical if not antipolitical, asocial if not antisocial, in which we entered into our own individuality as completely as could be imagined.

It, this human potential movement, created a cadre of proessionals: a group of persons who we took to be somewhat greater than, somewhat beyond being in the sense of ourselves being…They were somehow clinical and removed from the ordinarinesses of everyday life, a bit beyond ourselves. They were a group apart; apart from us. Like teachers they gained our respect, and we yielded to them some aspects of our being; surrendered our bodies, our spirits in some increasing asymmetry, based on the promise that they would help us to gain our potential and be all we could be.

But, like other utopic schemes, the directedness and line of the potential did not always find placeness where any of us could see direction. We thought that someone else knew something we did not, and that any sense of transcendence – Emersonian/Thoreauvian, Nietzschean, Zen or martial arts master – would somehow reveal itself in some obvious ways. And they did not…for most people.

So most of us are seeking other directions, other mappings for our own and others’ futurity, seeking our Next Places: some of us in old, older, oldest places and texts; others of us in self-overcoming; others of us still seeking the directions which being seeks itself.


Me, Myself, and I: The search for who I am – especially and specifically – goes on. I am who I am for days on end, and then it occurs, suddenly it seems, that I forgot something, or there was an accident, or I did not attend to being as somewhat dubitable, or something seemingly important slipped from my tongue. I acted inconsistently with whom I had told myself I am. Do I have to “re-construct” my being, that it was apparently a construction whose identity was riddled with lies or vagaries or pressures to be somehow other?

How pleasantly easy it must be to be someone other than I: consistent – S/he knows who s/he is! – ease with self, others. More to the point, being seems enigmatic (Heidegger): me, myself, and I seem more multiple than tri-al. Life is more a trial, than the certainty with which I can say exactly who I am.

On other days I seem to be the Rock of Gibralter; absolutely certain of being who I am, was and will be.


Self: I am…much of who I am…has its amoeboid loci concentrated in who others say I am, and am to be.

It was the pragmatists – from Peirce to Dewey and G.H. Mead who said that we are, we carry, some deeply productive senses of self, of the I of who I am, as others images and depictions of self (oneself, myself). There seems to be, still many years after they both have died, of not being my parents’ son. I operate, in various ways, themes and variations of what they saw in me, what they wanted to see, what they liked and didn’t; and also a good bit of who they saw in themselves and would have, and did or did not. They lived, much, in terms of an ethnic enclave in America’s molten pot, responding to questions of their being as being ethnic, Jewish, or anti-that model of their being, but located well within its grasps and hooks. It was not religious it didn’t even seem particularly anti-religious, perhaps strangely now in the retrospection of trying to rethink myself. But frequently, my off-balance grapplings with self seem to harmonize with their modes of operating, and logics of observation and criticism.

The point is that the self I call me carries yet, is propelled as if upon unending waves of the logic of self-determination, some picture of who I am which sits within a household dynamic of many years and many places ago.

By now, worked over, working over the significance of who I am with respect to those whom I consider significant: family, the few friends who have stayed with me, and who I have stayed with…; the university in which I perorate and peruse and visit, and might have wished to belong; at home not at home, like Buber’s lament that certain times possess no stakes for the tents which we would have pitched, for which we would…

Self, me, a Marxian congeries of roles which others have assigned to me: a would-have-been worker afloat somewhere within a bourgeois mentality. A truth in here! But how broad, how deep, how changeable, how connected to history, to my history, to the experiences I have and watch the self I call myself, having?


Risk: Most days I feel it is important, often necessary, to place my being at some risk. Perhaps it is that life is never so certain – or that I feel that life is somewhat uncertain – that I must test, must risk, must challenge being as invested in issues of mortality. Perhaps this sense of the necessity of risking is intertwined with questions of social morality: that a driver of an automobile “should” or “should not” do something; that I “will-not” be intimidated by something or someone. It is as if I were still a teen-ager: not imagining or not being sure that I care about futurity.

Maybe it is that I’m particularly “nervy” or narcissistic, this stuff of personal risk. I’m not at all certain that it is “merely” physical risk – but this is an important component of whatever it means to “take a chance.” This business of risk reminds me somewhat of one of Chamfort’s aphoristic tellings about a Napoleonic general who used the moment of entering into battle literally to challenge his body to quit shivering from fright. It was as if his sense of being who he “would” be overwhelmed his sense of who he was – actually? – so that he could overcome by some sense of “nobility,” his actual-physical reaction of fear.

The miles each day I walk or ride my bike, I am very careful not to take unnecessary risks. It is only that some risks seem quite necessary to take, and to make myself…whole? A self…challenge? An integrity-check? Mere or not-so-mere stupidity?


Shells and Shills: He was bright and charming and had developed a slick presentation having to do, of all things, with therapizing the human condition by offering it new ways of being and thinking. And, no doubt, he was effective for many who suffered. He made gobs of money, in demand for large and small groups all over the country. He was developing an enormous…reputation.

Only it was all hollow within. The man’s external presence and presentation was just that, and hardly more. Mostly less.

He had become, at an early age, the sort of virtuoso that Kierkegaard had warned us against being. He was slick, meaning that others found in him something that they wanted to see. But he found, increasingly, that he was their person, their invention, and there was very little inside him, and what there was, was rapidly emptying out…gone.







(Still needs arranging/editing & more sections)



Being Alone: I am always alone::I am never alone!

What are the boundaries/connectedness between aloneness and loneliness?

No one else can occupy the ground of my being here and now. Do I? Can I? That my body is here and now only asks me to ask if I am my body; or do I have a body; or does my body have me?

How can I be both me and we if I “am my body”? Doesn’t the materiality of my bodily being contain and restrict being to the here and now, and limit knowing to the stimulus and the potentiality of response? (What is the body?) What did Nietzsche mean when he claimed that “I am body alone, and the mind is some story about the body?”)

Is my body (also) aspects of others’ seeing me, and reading into me the character and person whom they see, and I respond me and my muscles shaping the bones which harbor and are the face you see and is me – and you? My face: mine or the you who read-into-me the person I want(!) to be?

I wander alone in the primal forests of all of time and of being, and I am never alone. You are in my thinking. The very language which I apply to thought; the very language which speaks the ideas I generate in my head, generates the ideas which speak the language which I formulate in the terms you might understand that I understand. It is all…so complicated. No either/or!

But I often feel lonely. I – difficult to separate from the we (J) who have been “married” so long that the complications of knowing me from her are vast, so vast. But lonely; but isolated. Much more than the sense of being alone. No joy, in many senses, of seeing the sights of the world, or experiencing what there is, unless there is someone else with whom to experience. Not the existential loneliness of a Sartre who never, like Heidegger, was very certain of being. Not like conceiving life as an infinitesimally brief moment in the sands of all of time which I am as likely to spend in a hell as in the heavens of any imaginings. More the sense that if I am to remain growing, learning, moving on in my being, that identity must in some senses be kept…fragile, boundaries somewhat blurred, a kind of naive who can (still) see something freshly even as my lenses harden…


We: In many senses, life is so situated that I (beginning from the Western sense of the primacy of the individual) am mostly some aspect of one or more “we’s.” Although I am physically “alone” at this moment, my spouse will return(!) in just about an hour. And when I am “alone” and no other person/body is present within the confines of what I call my home, that other is present within various aspects of my thinking and being: present within me.

The antinomy, the notion that the very physical body which is me cannot be shoved aside within the presence of my presence, merely presumes that the physical and the mental exist in quite separate domains; that the body, for example, does not possess intellection in any deep senses, that the body cannot think. Nietsche was the first to refute this idea seriously in Also Sprach Zarathustra, by claiming that the body is all there is, and the mind is something, some story about the body. But this issue had risen earlier within the writings of Montaigne and others who wondered about the issue within the context of whether humans alone possess language (Montaigne: R. Sebond).


Historical Positioning: Powerful perhaps in even beginning to consider the nature of identity is the position within history within which we consider the human condition. Do we think of history as beginning with the birth of the newborn, trying to fill-in and develop all of knowledge, essentially de novo – the general epistemological-psychological view? Or do we take the general anthropological-cultural view of the transmission of culture from one generation to the other, as the beginning queston of our inquiry?

The question of identity thus flows to some extent from the positioning of the observer/theorist, leading us to concentrate on epistemology and development of the individual as the principal or sole locus of being or upon the relations and transmission of knowledge via culture, via teaching, and teachers. In both cases, the tendency also flows from this historical positioning to define the problematics of identity.

Theologically this has led to the Christian focus on the birth (Jesus, each and every child) containing already its most essential aspects (soul), and the Jewish notion of the Convenant in which each person is especially identified within the context of relationship with others.

Intellectually, it has caused us to focus on certain questons or issues rather than upon others: epistemology or culture – but not both. And it has shoved questions of ontology – of being in the some ongoing present with towardness – aside, or caused the tendency toward a totalizing solipsism as in Bergson, to self-examine one’s adult being as if it represents all of being in some essential ways – to the exclusion of others.

In, for example, Locke’s Two Civil Treatises on Government, the notion of the empty slate is useful in order to beat off the idea of hereditary monarchy, because it proclaims a new person and a new day as the foundation for government. And it tends to create the sense that individuality and discontinuity is always revolutionary, perhaps also that it is always necessary in the human condition. There is, no doubt, something very important in this thinking because the tendency of the the social/cultural overtaking individuality tends to freeze any present age and time into a version of the past.

Part of the solution – if there is any – of the idea of the present age, is to take seriously the fact that we are paradoxical creatures, and always noting that the transmission of culture is not necessarily opposed to creating a new present in each life in each generation: a both/and.

Within the very act(ivity) of historical positioning, the sense of distrust of the other node of any paradox can often be overwhelming: as if – as some colleagues have noted – one’s children’s maturing is causal to one’s own demise.

The question, perhaps in the “unraveling” of philosophy, is what else is entailed within the positioning of oneself in delineating the human condition at one node or another of human existence!


The Existential Angst: I think, therefore I am! I am, therefore I…? I am that I am. I am who I am. I am. Am I not?

The skepticisms about being have driven the Western consciousness since Parmenides first (?) contemplated the contrast/comparison between being and not-being (= being-not?). This drove Pythagoras to substitute the formalisms of logic and geometry for being, and led him to concentrate on the nature of our existence which is non-temporal: the quest for being which climaxes this century with Heidegger who attempts to locate being and time in some complex interweaving. Plato then seems to externalize existence in his solution to the problem of death; now taken back into the life of experience which then denigrates and distrusts itself. Time (and change) became the enemy of existence and being, and the aspects of being which are/were permanent and not susceptible to change overtook any notion of actuality.

The senses – so obviously open to occasional mistellings – but otherwise so central to much of who we are – are downgraded to aspects of superstition and the surreal. Our bodies are banished from existence, to the extraordinary, and the actuality of our being – and the ways in which we both are and know we are no longer count much in the exploration of being. The lament that within the antinomy of change and non-change we are ever tempted toward one and away from the other: either the senses or they are non-sense.

The arising of the severe skepticism which directs us toward the sense in which we think about being, and away from being in any sense per se. Do I exist? – begins a period of separation of our being from ourselves; our selves from our being, and calls any sense of attention away from the others in our lives who are now merely residual in being. How do I know…I exist? –> How can it be that I exist? – denigrates the presence of being and reduces us to some mere copy of self. The image in the mirror, the more real that the narcissistic visage which finds confirmation in its glassy copy.

“Give me an arm,” wails Wittgenstein and I can “prove” existence, proving only that the need to prove our very being rises above being itself. Why is life not sufficient unto itself that we think we have to spend eons in providing its “proof” in order to reassure us that we are? How have we exteriorized existence such that it could occur to us that we might not be? (Just who/what is the I that is posing this kind of question?)

The turn to the deity to provide solace in lieu of the impossibility of providing proof not to being, but to our skepticism which does seem to want to trust being, then distrusts any proofs which offer to tell us that we are.

An undermining of the challenges of life? A yielding to the wish to deny life by acceding to some eschatological demands to keep us focused on endings? Being-as-not-being!?


Authenticity (Individual): The problem of identity, at least in Western thought, relates to our inability so far to find some core of genuine being – a homunculus, a decision-maker, a driver of the rest of our being which is coherent, clear – at the least to itself, to oneself. Where is it and I located? If I cannot find myself, how do I know who I am; that I am consistent and possess identity to myself? Is it perhaps possible that I am shell and not substance? Who do I tell myself that I am? How do I locate the wants and wills and will-not and who I am-not that tells myself that I am me…that I might mean what I say? Where is the me who told the story, yesterday, that I am responsible for today?

It is certainly obvious that any notion of the self is pushed and pulled, shaped and framed by the relationships in which one is placed or finds oneself. I am child to my parents, still many years after their death; student, but lessening gradually to my teachers, husband to my spouse, father to my children teacher to my students, colleague to my colleagues, friend to friend, and there are plenty of those with whom I disagree, or am anathema. Just exactly and precisely who is the I who I am rings somewhat hollow in this realization.

Perhaps I am not anyone precisely, but a result, a development which is yielded from the myriad roles into which I have found myself cast. I am…no more than…the self who others have told my that I am: some amalgam, perhaps a residuum, a particular who that I am told I am – and I accede – or I do not. Attempting to be (and to remain, sustain,…) husband to my spouse, teacher to my students, father to my children, in which some of these relationships are more, some less dynamic and/or consistent, I might find myself essentially residual to my own being.

I think here of one of my teachers (GLT) who proclaimed at some point during the period when I studied with him, that he felt he had to represent the school of scholars who looked to him as their mentor. But his representation seemed stagnant, somewhat older in thinking than my teacher’s teachings to me, who had come later to him than many others. And this seemed to pull him back into his history – a yielding of self as I experienced it, and some sense of demand on my loyalty to him, to join him in this felt regression. Not exactly inauthentic; but neither true to the person who had till that time been growing intellectually, and changing conceptually. This seemed, to me, a decision to not grow any longer.

More a psychoanalytic movement toward the genuine person, the subject to whom and about whom one can be objective, includes a sense of dynamic and development which has various stages of being, each of which are variously granted temporal hegemony, then proceed to shape the future experiencing of one’s being: oral, anal, genital solidify being.

The body as the residual, Jungian locus: What is, as what was. If I am not precisely located anywhere in my sense of being myself, then I must be located in the body of my being at some moment earlier than my knowledge about my being. The metaphor that knowing emerges from physis – physical and material being – takes us back to the beginning not of ourselves, necessarily, but of Western thought. Rather than study the body in its intriguing developments and possibilities and talents, we attribute to it all those aspects of our knowing being, which we cannot somehow account for within being itself. It (goes our thinking about being) must be more archaic, older, built-in already to our being a body. As the metaphysical story goes, we transcend bodily being as we increase in knowing – but we seem not to acknowledge that we are body throughout this process, and are body this moment, and will be. (Levine)

Rather than grant primacy to our social being, we seem forever trapped in thinking that being-as-knowing is preceded by being a body. It is somehow easier to deny the very possibility of reality than to admit that our bodily being is social to its core. We do not, after all, merely exist in continuous fashion unless…unless our parents feed, love, speak to us, sustain us. If not…then we die early and do not persist. That being which is us which persists is that one which is the one which is loved and sustained. We exist within the contexts of the social: the person who I am is (includes) that one who others say I am; includes their attempt to get me to grab my own being as an independent being. But this is not in any deep sense derived from or continuous with my archaeus, with the body, with my biology which the true I of my being will transcend. The locus of my being is emergent: the who of who I am exists within a variety of existential/experiential processes – partly from the outside (including the sociality of granting the me who is the core of being the sense of continuity and persistence). To say that this has some necessary authenticity which precedes the processes of being who I am is necessarily to buy into the notion that meta-physics is truly after physics.

The who I am which is the core of my being is constructed and maintained in various ways. Like the Heraclitean river which is at once the same and changing, being goes on and is yet the same. What has been absent in this quest for identity is the sense that paradox is to be resolved rather than lived. (But, then, living occupies only the other side of the paradox!)


The Stoic Self: The lessons of Epictetus the slave, the crippled and lame, stuck in the prisons of life in virtual and total isolation, decided that he alone determined his understanding of the world and his experience. He decided that all the power in the world was available to him because he, alone, had the power to decide how to understand his condition, his being. And, lo and behold (as they say!), he became very powerful, wrote, taught, ruled. He was no longer ruled, no longer enslaved, but survived and prospered. And it is his words and ideas which also survived to teach us some of the lessons of the alone,the private, the solitary, and the deprived.

It is, I think, a philosophy for the extremes of isolation: being condemned to life in a real prison, to total isolation from the noises and the others of our being. And, in order not to give up, to die, to give in to the definition of others over our being, to agreeing that the dreams and hallucinations which become as much of experience as the intercourses of daily life in the by-ways of commercial life; in order not to give up, it is useful and perhaps necessary for each of us to summon the lessons of Epictetus within. Only I can determine who I am and would be and only I know how and why I got here and only I can move into my next places with some critical thought and, and…hope.

I deeply appreciate the fact that some of us are thrust into situations where we find ourselves in total isolation. Some of those who do have so aggravated that powers who be that this is done with purpose and malice, vengeance and a sense of true aggrievement. But many of those who find themselves in such scenes also were strong enough to bring it upon themselves with some reason, some anger. They know, somewhat, already, what opposition means, even though knowing this does not relieve the sense of total isolation.

Others of us find ourselves being the marginalized more or less by accidents of gender, age, color, language, or the givens of our being someone who was never wanted, never loved. For these, the isolation is often fatal. There is no reason, there was no opposition. Simply the facts of one’s being have been somehow…wrong.

And there are others – teachers, as a peculiar example – who find themseves alone in crowded worlds. It is those who operate within the idea of the sacred within a world of secularity and human bodies wandering about each others’ spaces. If one asks (or is asked) for others to yield or surrender some spiritual/bodily aspect of themselves to another presumably for their greater good (teachers, curers,…), then the person who asks becomes more and more a continuous and authoritative persona. More and more, s/he becomes the invention of the other. And there is less and less that returns to one’s own definition of self which is ordinary within, and changing much as everyone else. The isolation of authority, desired as a socially useful and important role and way of being, carries within it a possibility, even a likelihood that one becomes quite isolated and separated from the persona whom others may respect, even love.

Call Epictetus immediately: Epic. 911!


Authenticity (Social): Who are we: you, and them, and I and all of us?

We are the nation of —-, we are the speakers of —-, the children of—-, the members of —-.

We are in relation with —-, in covenant with —-, servants and/or masters of —-. We are a genealogy. We look alike, act like, believe in the same —-.

We are-not —-, —-, —-!

The issue of identity at the level of the group is understandable and experienced in several ways. In the sense of a psychology of being-individual which is considered to be primary, then a group is understood to be made up of a number of individuals who are then “members” of the group. Issues of consent, how freely given, how much is yielded or given up or sacrificed are often raised here. I “work for” my university, but resist being a member of the faculty in a number of senses. My identity is (to me) an academic-anti-academic; my bags remain half-packed. In many senses, this notion of identity presumes a fairly strong assumption of strong individual “free-will” entering (as it were) into contract – with some idea of retention of the individuality if and when things work out well, or do not.

Such groups (entended to entire ethnic, religious, cultural, or national groups, identity by profession or work) or referred to as “low density” by Edward T. Hall in the dynamic/processual sense of “reserving” aspects of being which are preserved for “oneself.”

Other groups or culture are, in the processual and membership or sense of roles, considered to be “high density,” where the interactions between group members is primary to one’s being and identity. I am, primarily and principally, a member of my family with no deeper longing than to be a good son/daughter, spouse, father, cousin,…Or I am, primarily, wed to a church, or committed to a particular tradition of politics (a “born again” Christian, a born Stalinist, a member of the clan of —-) which shapes and frames my being as totally as possible to be what I am told and aim to be fully.

If and when and I continue to live the life which is committed to my being a —-, then life is genuine and authentic. The knowledge of what this consists in is derived from parents and others who also “belong to” and live their lives within this commitment to being a “good —-.” Or it may be learned from the study of informing texts (Koran, Torah, the Gospels); or from engaging in study with the teachers who represent this knowing and tradition. Its reality is, in effect, “guaranteed” by the others who praise its virtue as well as “reward” one for living s/his life in this way. In the Confucian tradition, it means committing oneself fully to, and remaining “on the Way” to knowledge – a kind of utopia within life where growth is promised no matter how long the life – leaning toward continuing experience. In other traditions, the utopia is promised, but is not availble within life (“The God of the Koran is the God of the Day of Judgment.”)

In no case does the notion of the authentic life, of any true authenticity seem to be an essential or built-in aspect of being, although Plato and others in his long tradition, claim that aspects of character are innate/genetic or givens within the life of any individual – thus the idea of “education” to bring out that which is already within the individual in some sense of precognition. And we still are engaged in debating the “nature-nurture” battle on various grounds in which the limits and boundaries of the life condition are granted agency, thence “needs,” thence a sense of the fixity of any social condition.

It appears, to me, that the concept of “authenticity��� as a social idea is always available within various gathering ideas, and requires the affirmation (continuing?) of those in any context who are considered “significant” and informing persons – who treat, that is, the structural notion of the authentic as if it is truly authentic.

Members of a study group on The Body – who are curers – claim that the beginning and end of curing is to meet the authentic, the spiritual person, the inner-, the….Then the person can begin to cure her/himself, using the curer to enable…


Frozen Identity:


For, as Mr. Hoffman (Gray Dawn: The Jews of Eastern Europe in the Post-Communist Era by Charles Hoffman – reviewed by J. E. Young in the NYTimes Book Review: 9/6/92) makes clear, Hitler and Stalin both won their wars against the Jews. They did not extirpate every last Jew, but in a way accomplished something almost as historic: they displaced a millennium of vibrant European Jewish civilization with a grotesquely malformed version of it. Where Hitler had reduced a thriving culture to pictures of skeletons and piles of corpses, Stalin allowed most Jews to live, but only after he had beat their Jewish brains out by purging Jewish intellectuals. With their writers and cultural figures murdered, their literature and art outlawed and all Jewish religious learning banned, two generations of Jews grew up defining their Jewishness in Stalin’s terms alone. If this is all there was to being Jewish, the third generation is now asking itself, why bother.

In his interviews and biographical profiles, Mr. Hoffman shows that for young Jews in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, eastern Germany and Poland, the only Jewish ritual left is asking what it means to be a Jew, and answering with national variations on this theme. In the case of Czechoslovak Jewry, for example, he finds that a return to Judaism means not an embrace of the religion but a return to a traditional, if studied, ambivalence toward Jewish identity. Even the implulse to reclaim an otherwise unknown legacy seems to be due less to a flickering Jewish flame than to the Jews’ need to reassert some ethnic identity in the face of other ethnicities so menacingly resurgent around them.

Indeed, one would have thought that if 45 years was long enough to forget how to be a Jew, it might also be long enough to forget how to hate Jews. But as Mr. Hoffman soon discovered, anti-Semitism and all the other old national hatreds were never really extinguished by Communism, merely frozen in time. When the thaw came, the traditional conflicts bloomed with a vengeance, picking up exactly where they left off 45 years ago.


While some of Mr. Young’s comments about the re-invoking of anti-Semitism seem overdrawn (exactly where they left off 45 years ago), his other points seem very telling. In the present context, they raise questions of how much of identity is generated (as it were) from within, how much of it reflects various external or extrinsic definitions, and how this changes (and, amazingly, may not) over time.

In the context of a discussion between Lutheran-Christians and Jews held at a Lutheran Seminary in the Twin Cities several years ago, I discovered that the Christians ability to freeze in time the notion of Jewish identity had much to do with the very elaborate histories which they had of the past two millennia of Christian life even as they had only two moments of Jewish being in their thinking: within the context of New Testament stories of the era of Jesus Christ, and then jumped to the present moment. The Christians thus had rather full histories, while the Jews had none, and presumably did not exactly possess being (or identity) during this immense period of time. The Jews of the Lutheran construction was truly frozen in time, occasionally permitted a brief thaw to be placed back into the deep freeze when(ever) the situation demanded that their own identity be rethought.

And the Jew’s own identity? Do they (did they) ever possess an internal/integral identity without reacting to the extrinsic and partial placing of their being within the Christian context? (Isn’t much of Jewish identity within a Christian world dealing with the quest for eternity and messianism without any promise, and without any palliative for the fears of death which seem to fuel the verve of Christian life?)


Anthropological Nihilism: If there is no true authentic, no really authentic, is life and being and identity really a sham? Yes and No.

There really is no (really truly) way of stating that life is meaningful in any a priori sense. In some larger cosmological sense that many current millennialist fundamentalists around the world seem to take to heart, the question of whether we even “exist” is considered quite seriously. In Augustine’s version of Neo-Platonism, we �����exist��� as souls prior to our “Earthly Being” – but it is virtually a mistake (our parent’s uncontrollable, sinful desires) that we find ourselves as bodies upon this earth, and it is absolutely necessary to return to Heaven where our souls find abode, or they will effectively disappear, and we will be lost (lolling forever in limbo, thrashing ourselves in those other…places) – or God will be lost because our souls get lost, and… Meaningfulness is, within these traditions, not precisely available. We do what is necessary, think how we ought, in order to “get out of this life alive.���

The anthropological nihilists, noting the wide variety of attempts to discuss the authentic, seem to be of two minds more directed, apparently, by whether they are optimists or pessimists, than whether authenticity is a form of clothing which can be found and worn, provided us in our existence. In this position, there is simply no sense of human identity, no meaning to being in any a priori sense.

For the pessimist, this leads to the cynical view that how we live our lives (my life!) makes no particular difference: there are structures, details, we fall into patterns. But – in the end – nothing makes much difference. An intellection nihilism which may be quizzical or destructive, creative and/or productive, but it is all for nought (me?). One does her/his best; or not. Since meaning is not at all an obvious possibility, the pessimistic sense is that there is no meaning available in being. Vocationalism seems silly; destiny is always prefigured. A great sense of strength and endurance is available in this configuration of being in the meaningless “as if,” because what one “makes” of oneself has no relevance unless one “invents��� her/himself…and others.

The more optimistic – a kind of realist-idealist (me!?) – looks around and expects that the world is always falling apart; but it isn’t always. Things actually work, often, frequently. Expecting that they would never work, this position holds that somehow meaning and identity is somehow being created; that the world which is only a set of stories “about” being – an “as if” world – functions much better than one would predict if there were no meaning available for individuals or groups to structure or to understand being. But they do and they can, remarkably!

And this becomes the subject matter, the foundational project about the nature of identity and being.


Emergent Identity::Emergent Literatures: A current issue of identity has to do with the sorts of literatures and peoples who are recently emergent from colonialized and imperialized situations. Where the British or French or American, Portuguese, or various ethnic held sway over various internal populations of the world, those indigenous peoples were under the control of essentially foreign, alien, external powers.

The question of identity of post-colonial or emergent peoples has several phases having to do with the linear history of the indigenous people(s) in any situation, with the various adjustments to the colonial situation – especially but not only as oppressed peoples – with the development or overthrow of the colonial powers, and with the (re)establishment of identity after the colonial powers have lost their power and withdrawn from the areas in question.

It is usually the case that the colonial situation endures over several generations, so the question of identity prior to the colonial take-over is not directly available to the current people except through the memories of prior generations – and even then, after they had already become older than they were during the phase of the original colonization. So the question of “who we are” in any present which is post-colonial, is referenced to memory or to literature or other sorts of documents.

Secondly, during the colonial phase there are also a variety of adjustments and reactions to the colonizers. In retrospect – there seems to have been a rise in anti-oppression literature – a “poetry of oppression” – which characterizes the very important moments just preceding the release from colonial bondage. Some persons experience great oppression – and did during all phases of the colonization. Others were injured or killed during the initial phase – and may be remembered: especially some have “risen” in memory to the status of martyrs. Still others simply moved on in various aspects of a diaspora which they and their descendents may remember and celebrate, or continue to mourn and be lonely for the “old country.” Still others (“Raj Indians”) served the colonial powers more or less happily at various moments in the situation: as servants, slaves, as brokers, partners. Depending on various factors, various persons identify “with” or against or, at different times, were relatively neutral or unconcerned with the colonials. And, to further complicate things, bringing current peoples “back” to issues of identity remain alive at least as possibility for great periods of time – especially if other peoples in the present living situation respond to or define them as “other” (e.g., Blacks in America – 1992 – increasingly are defining themselves as African-Americans).

Thirdly, the moments after the colonial phase – probably with a period of development having much to do with an older generation or two who had more-or-less “successfully” adjusted to living with the colonizers, aging and dying off. The next generation, or the one after that, begins to redo and revision themselves – not having had to deal personally with the reduction and humiliation – both issues of (negative) identity. [Or - as in immigrant America during the 1920’s and 1930’s, there was in many populations the wish to assimilate as quickly as possible, and not to be “Greenhorns” (ironies of what it means to be “green”). A sense of “loss” occurs in the third, especially the fourth generation, seeking to find what it means to be a ----.]

In any case, there occurred in the colonizing situation a sense of loss of one identity, without – for many persons – any concomitant gain of new identity. Out of this – as well as actual physical or psychological beatings – arises the sense of oppression which arises especially near the effective ���end” of the colonial situation. Some people(s) seem to experience this “loss” as the end of hope – e.g., many Amerindian people with dispair, suicide, and the loss of any �������work” or reason for being. Others get outraged, and become the martyrs and poets of oppression who will (in memory, retrospect) become heroic figures – often defining who and what “not” to be, and in some cases, what it means to be…noble, a —-.

Since any actual – national, ethnic,… identity in the context of an emergent situation – occurred in the lives of persons long gone, the question of who they were, how they lived their lives, their aspirations, experiences, strengths (and weaknesses), is not any longer directly available to the experience of the current people(s). This leads to the notion of “emergence” – the sense of something new (in the sense of ���levels of organization” and of “systems”) – rather than to a newly “emerging” or “post-colonial” situation, although much of the grasping for identity continues long after the colonial situation, to be poetry of oppression. That is, identity for the immediately post-colonial is an identity “derived” strongly from being opposed to the oppressors, rather than being found within oneself, one’s generation, history, literature, or other traditions.

When this period of the experience and the testimony of those who experienced colonialism directly has disappeared or faded with the aging of those who were directly oppressed, the question of identity rises importantly and insistently in the lives of many persons. “Who am I, that I am a [religion, nation, culture]” “Who are we?”

There seem to be a variety of (typical?) patterns in whose terms people seek and “find” themselves – depending on various circumstances: geography, and/or nationality; varieties of history and/or ���roots”; religions; language; “color���; messianism; mysticism; philosophies (metaphysics, cosmologies – ontology seems to presume that the question of identity is either backgrounded or we shift from some structural notion of identity to a dynamic or processual sense of being).

A digression about Existence: The Koran, the Old or the New Testament re-reading of the Book of Genesis can certify that we do exist – if, as I have observed, this is some sort of ���lively” cosmological question. In the Christian panglossialia, the question of existence seems to precede or at least accompany the issue of identity, since the “purpose” of being on earth is due to the “sin” of one’s parents, and the “fall to earth” of one’s (bodily) being is held in some senses to be a mere cosmological error. For the rest of us, the question of existence is puzzling, but is rather more shaped by a variety of adjustments to the immanence of personal death. That is, in most traditions the question of one’s existence seems not to be so very powerful in informing the issue of identity (but more later).

But the invocation of historical texts is a primary and usual move in forging identity in moments when meaning and identity seem to be fragile or in some crisis. And the post-colonial situation is one of these moments. The use of these texts (theological, philosophical,…) is at least two-fold: first, to certify being – ownership of the texts means that we have a history, thus a continuing present and presence; second, to inform us of the actuality and reality of being – how we are and are to be. If the deity is in place and is thinking of us, has a purpose and a plan – then in order to have identity, we need to study the plan, then live our lives in accord with the stated purpose. The plan can be used in many ways to state, to justify, to change our thinking and behavior, and so on. But, particularly, since the notion of the deity precedes us (usually), this acts as a guarantee that all is alright in the universe, if only we learn to act properly – and that there is some proper way(s) to be: “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:26). It also sets out a fairly clear methodology for identity – in the image of God, and we need to determine what God is like (from a study of the scriptural texts), and we can derive ourselves from within this idea.

Within the philosophical textual history, the problem of identity seems a bit more complex, since one can live in “accord with Nature” – and the method from Aristotle is to determine what is Nature and/or what is our human nature. Or, from Plato, we can find ourselves as being of a class of slaves, or carpenters, warriors, or philosopher kings – as a kind of given – locate our identity within these ancient configurations of a sort of congential caste system and destiny, and act accordingly. It is, perhaps, not too strong to state that much of the scholarly work in the modern Humanities essentially follows these plans, and even leads to this exercise.

Other modes of the search for identity (and it is not too strong to state these as “methodological”) in the post-colonial situation include the “messianic” – where we search out or hope for some “White knight” figure to “rescue” us from our own fear and selves. This move is, perhaps, more out of desperation than some of the others – but is very appealing (“cargo cults,” etc.) particularly in the time just around the time of the departure of the colonizers. In this approaching moment of the Christian calendar “millennium,” the temptation is to defer till that moment the question of identity, when the “rapture” will take us (back) to Heaven. In either sort of case, the problem of identity is able to be, as it were, ���deferred” until the messianic moment which will apparently, grant us our rightful and proper identity.

National and cultural identities are variably historical, geographical, and theological. They grant forms of identity to a collective “us” as we “belong to” or derive from that history. Some senses of history seem to inform present identity generally or usually; others are more or less “useful” at particular moments or in certain contexts. The Jews in diaspora, at least in the Christian world, always remain in some senses in a colonized situation. The claim to Israel is particularly a geographical-historical one, in which the notion of identity is informed not only by the ancient covenant with the “people” of Israel, but also with the geography. Here, the Jews are no longer living in a colonized situation, but are living out the judgment and justification of claim to their land; even providing a kind of centrism of definition of identity even for the other Jews remaining in the diaspora. The Jews are, probably, one of the most interesting cases in all of history, in having been able to maintain a collective identity – using some very consistent ploys, but occasionally and contextually new (e.g., mystical) ones.

Similarly, the post-colonial peoples seem to find strong claims and bonds (in the present) from the historical sense that they “belong” to the land, thus to one another. If one can trace parentage to the land on which one sits (or would like to “return”), this seems to be very powerful in granting current identity to many of the areas of the world experiencing national or “nativist returns.”

The power of history (“roots”) to inform present being is particularly strong in the case of American “blacks����� – a term now transiting to “African-American.” In a “post-slavery” situation, in an earlier context in which slavery seems capable of stripping identity from being as completely as imaginable, the issue of identity has been particularly poignant. In many senses, the notion of being Black is an extrinsic idea, as identity often is in a colonized situation. One is “seen” as being…Black, and treated as if inferior. There (has been) no geographical or other bond (slavery has not been “useful” in granting positive identity) tying those who are seen as being Black together; no intrinsic collective sense of being. Slavery had effectively wiped out historical memory of being African, of even possessing ���language” – a mark of even being “human��� as those of Aristotelian/Platonic Christian heritage have calculated humanity. So the first (methodological) task of restoring identity to Blacks, was to show that they former slaves still possessed aspects of their (former) languages; that their form of English was not totally derived from whites (the Creolist conference in Jamaica in about 1970). And this, with Haley’s work on “Roots” has been fairly effective in getting Black identity on the map. Why/how the notion of history informs present identity remains less clear, than that it works to do this (why “revisionism” works, as well), at least in particular contexts, generations, moments of cultural history.

Color” has occasional utility in forging a “positive” (i.e., it serves to provide a unifying collective identity: the “White” race (which, in a majority situation in America only serves as an oppositional category to Black, or “persons of color”); a sense of the Platonic hierarchy of what is beautiful or desirable – the longing assimilation of various (male) Ethnic-Americans to some American “ideal” in the 1960’s being portrayed as marrying the WASP Bitch (Portnoy’s Complaint, Soul on Ice, The Arrangement). “Darker” has often been an observed category which has tended to discriminate against the darker – although there seems to me no reason why lightness has been more positive, except that lighter (or self-hating darker) people have gained power over the informing notions of beauty, power, etc. (e.g., Manichean ideas of white and black as good and evil, etc.)

Language, just as geography, is occasionally important in identity – e.g., the growing debate over “the” language of America being English, vs. the growing competition with Spanish; the situation in Quebec in which French has become the more official language – but it also threatens to divide just as it solidifies.

Finally – for awhile – the temptation toward “mysticism” is quite powerful in forging collective post-colonial identity (or other moments of crisis in meaning). I would include under the notion of mysticism the variety of ways of “escaping��� from one’s being and identity in which the search for identity is located (methodologically) in realms of being and ontology which are in various ways different from what is accepted as “ordinary” experience (grant that “ordinary” experience is somewhat variable from place to place and culture to culture).

Some of these I think of as very similar to theology, but without the informing texts being dominant (e.g., numerology overtaking the Old Testament for some Jewish mystics). Most forms of astrology appeal methodologically to mappings of the heavens and their reflexions in our being: calendrical, auspicious events. The notion of our being in some relation to various “saints” whose great deeds or thoughts or forms of martyr continue to inspire ours (or “great” persons or great deeds or great writings – but here mysticism overlaps with textual history).

Drugs and other intoxicants are useful in cementing bonds, giving and sharing blood, “sacrifices” of various sorts, oaths, promises, collective witnessing or involvement in “horrible” acts – or more simple “rituals.” Shared and unusual/privileged experience also serves to unite in various contexts; as can the prohibition of the same sorts of experience: denial, forms of asceticism; notions of strength, nobility, inspiration (having experienced the same “teacher” or guru , oracle, or sage). The counter-balance notion is put forth by Nietzsche who says we should (always?) be living at the edges of our being: comedy and tragedy, the Dionysian as critical commentary upon our being and identity. Issues of “masks,” issues of the various critical positions upon the ordinary: the sublime, the anarchic, the avant garde (post-modern) – all that is critical upon the present and every modern, seeking for sites of critical alterations upon being; the ordinary as extraordinary, and as problematic.

There is a “power” of the mystical to radically inform experience as we move from an �������ordinary��� predictive-causal world to a “prophetic moment” or time, when the very framing of reality and of being (thence of identity) is done (once again, as method) by appealing to the life or deeds of some great prophet. Present experience is virtually shaped (and shapeable) in terms set out by the claim of some prophet (prophetic figure) concerning “what would happen” in the context of the present moment (e.g., millennial). Questions of the variety of transcendental possibilities, of idealities, and of the real all arise within the notion of the mystical – the strangeness is that futurity and history can become the operative reality if and when…

[This section should not end without mentioning that any moment of collective identity includes the possibility/likelihood that there is great power “available” within any collective identity because group identity includes a “yielding” of some aspects of the individual identity which are able to be “used” in the sense of the “good” of the group, but also in any other sense of the utilization of power: i.e., power - like technology - can “travel” independently of the membership of any group. Whether such yielding of power is summative or even beyond itself is an interesting question.]

Post-Colonialist {Emergent Literatures} Identity: In the colonial-colonized situation, there is some external force which has overtaken one’s people, culture, and/or oneself. One’s prior identity has in many senses been suppressed, forgotten, mystified, hidden, or obscured more-or-less actively by that force. It may be the British or the Chinese, the Spanish or even us (in the case of Indians, or maybe of our children, or…). During slave days, the sense of one’s being is particularly defined by the incapability of one to define or to actualize what s/he may “want” to do or is wont to do – but is entirely captivated by what others want one to do. Similarly “they” cast one’s being in their terms, which they then attempt to “operationalize” – then, adding the final insult to any earlier sense of identity, they try to convince me/us that we ought to be like them, to be them – at least to be like they want us to be.

In some cases, one is truly encouraged to “join” the captive force: e.g., children becoming adult within their “own” society. But in many circumstances, one remains “other” within a colonized setting. Even in these cases, a few (e.g., “Raj” Indians of South Asia) become a “serving class” loyal and fairly successful in becoming the model of the “good” colonized person or type. Even in post-colonial moments, these (and often their children) bceome and remain “conservative” to the former notion of an external force which is above them; to whom they remain as loyal servants.

For others, in colonial moments, their identity was bound-up in rather complicated ways with being colonial-anti-colonial: nothing much to do about their situation, but always tossed about in a sea of waves in which being was always chancy and somewhat external to themselves. In certain moments of rebellion – especially in the past few decades in many places in the world; in these moments of multiculturalism in America – there is a kind of identity of heroism which one can pertain to – a kind of “poet of oppression” in which one asserts s/his being as being opposed to whatever the perceived/actual colonizers. But even here, perhaps especially here, one’s identity is principally worn like clothing that can be put on (but also can be removed), and is difficult to take “into” oneself.

Now, at long last, the colonizers have been overthrown, or they have left for any number of other reasons ranging from sheer inertia, to the decline of their interest or ability, or even on some notion of morality of no longer wanting to enslave to be colonizers, or there was a decreasing market for cotton, or…Now we, we who formerly cast much of being, the idea of our identity, as opposed, as trained by some others who treated us as if we were poor cousins or worse, now they are no longer. I, who was opposed, weaker/poorer, remembering perhaps in the marrows and the cells of my being that I was not-not anyone else, but who my ancestors might have been; now that I am-not the oppressed, still I am me.

I am “here,” but the location is not very clear. I discover that I have spent much of my quest for my being in not-being the others. Much of me is invested in the oppressors and I have become somewhat like them in the shadow of their being my invention. And I remain not so clear about who I am and am to be to and within myself. I find that I am either much older – or much younger – than the mirrors of life’s reflections tell me I am. But who I am seems amazingly up for grabs. What to do? Who to be? My parents’ parents’ parents? My sense for belonging to the land where they reside(d)? The others who they liked and were like? It seems like being very young once again.

Can I be like I am told my ancestors were and would have been, but who did not live through the colonial experience? Is being in the world, now of experience? Can I find once again the deities of the texts which are now paraded about publicly which were once hidden or suppressed and only whispered…about? The moments of post-colonial realization are so giddy, so full of possibility? The actuality of today and tomorrow and the facts of being who I am still – how heavily do they weigh against those newnesses of being which are reborn…but out of opposition, now out of myself!?

The relation between the not-being of Plato’s Sophist and Hamlet’s to…not-be which are both eschatological, and the not-being of the oppressed and colonized seems complex. On the one hand, the question of death (a quest for death in the realm of eschatology) frames being always in reference to the not-being of an existential question. On the other, the question of identity from the view of being oppressed and colonized, leaves the issue of existence and being lesser, reduced – but in the direction of death and non-being? For some people(s), at least, the moment of the stealing of identity and overtaking, may be like or likened to a death – of who they have been, a robbery of their existential history and a moment of the necessary recasting of their futurity which is, perhaps, unimaginable in any moment, and for a while. Like the victims of any holocaust, those who have had great losses of relatives have indeed lost aspects of themselves; many of them will mourn this loss and their own (“surprising”) remaining in the world as long as…sop the quesiton of existence in the context of being and not-being-who-I- imagined-I-would-be seem very similar in some senses: death and the murder of one’s self-image into futurity are not so different.

Several generations, some centuries later: the re-covery of identity is, perhaps, likened to the Platonic quest for identity…in the first place – and why the question of identity in Western thought is so wrought with the possibiliies and likelihoods of the thought path running from skepticism about truth, to skepticism about knowledge, to a cynicism, and now to a nihilism which is close to living within a vision of death.


Global Identity: We met in Minneapolis not so long ago; all of us.

The colors and languages, cultures and talk about the literatures of the world which were in the just ongoing now, arising and coming into our attentive and tuned mentalities, all these came together in an uncommon common space in the midst of America’s northern prairie. Shades of shades from pales and pallids to the darks and darkers of the reflective skins and minds talking about the peculiarities of our being together in this space in this time: ���emergent” literatures.

A sense of excitement touched this crowd, thinking that was no very ordinary situation, occurring as it did in the regulated regularities of the academic yawn. The invitation to discuss began the days: an administrative refugee from the Italian south of Europe; a South Asian, a Portuguese-American whose thoughts translate themselves even two generations removed, still in that language; a Larsen/Jenson/Johnson local person who had earlier in life been an ordinary Scandinavian-Minnesotan, an Englishman with the “wrong” accent displaced his yearning-learning to the Asiatic. This refugee from the Pale of Soviet settlement and the pogroms of the deeper Dnieper began the story:

I want to remind us that we are all visitors here, visiting upon the Indian soil of Ojibwe (Anishanabe) and Sioux.” Preparing the soil perhaps, readying the day for the principal speech later which would be the itinerary of an Ojibwe gone west, now returning home where we are visitors. We are all visitors. And we are all here. Here!

The world, the globe, some community, speaking all in this common tongue called English, we all guessed. We all in the room together. What is this “emergent,” this moment of return from the colonized lives which has not so long ago painted the global maps in shades of red: the red of the British empire, the red of the Soviet ambition, the red of the blood of the persons and peoples who would not survive being when they were forced to be other; all visitors in the land of those who have been called red of skin? What has emerged that we are here today, together, a gathering of the world? How came we to be here; how can we all be in one place?

I want us to consider that we are – we are – the global community. This moment is interesting, exciting, heady. But others who do not seek voice only, but seek once again in the contexts of power are studying the forms and content of global community; not necessarily seeking to diminish us yet again, but seeking to elevate themselves because: destiny, god’s will, avarice, greed, the loudest voice?! It is important to speak, but speech floats away like the smoke of a cigarette briefly lit, very soon ashes. What do we do here? Talk? Proclaim? Teach?”

The formerly dominated and displaced peoples, colonized, robbed, plundered, gradually enforced peaceable administrations whose time had so not recently passed. The south of Asia – the teeming India – the Africa colonized of Spain and Portugal and Netherlands and Germany and France, the women who are and were and remain colonized by the men who would seek power. Something about power in this time after colonization, in this time wishfully looking forward wishing to live less in the anger which looking back always instructed; still informing worry.

Finally being able to speak, to have found a voice which no longer wailed of daily oppressions and acts of diminution. Gaining a wavering strength of articulations and syllables which spun the tales as if certainly historical. All here, gathered, gathering.

Emergent” – a notion of newness, not of a history predetermined. Not “emerg-ing as a butterfly from some protective custody cocoon. Not “post-colonial” as if the “post” remained the outpost of the colonized troops set upon the peoples to remind them they were victims. Victims. Now, here, the time of no-longer victims; no longer seeking to find their reduced selves out of their anger at who they were not…allowed ever to be; no longer writers and poets of oppression storming out of themselves. Now looking backward very little; now staring outward very little; now a time of discovery, of looking inward and forward out of the experience of our being. Being here together…in Minneapolis of all places.

���������I am who I am,” stated, restated, reverberating to the corners of the space in the room inside all of our being together. “I am who I am,” moving from one to another and back astonished to discover that we were not talking past each other but with one another.

Questions, talk, not still of whether and the dubiousness of some other catching us, or catching us up. Questions rather of how and how soon and just now and right how and right here; and it doesn’t much matter that we are speaking English, but that we understand one another, then ourselves.

The quietings: of arrogance that I have suffered more and most; of shame and guilt that I have not and do not suffer still every day, but still do; of pity of others and of self in the knowledge that pity is borne out of the poetry of oppression still oppressing; of worries that enough and sufficient sense of who I am is neither too much nor too little.

Knowing we have plenty, that many others seek retreat in this moment which we experience as global community. Reacting to power of the past and present, sure that the are numerous outsides, but none with the power to state who and how and where anyone’s being is truly located: nationalism, messianism, retrieves of who I think I was that will tell who I am now…to be.

Rather we in this room which expands and expands, grows to the edges of all of our collective being, tell one another that the literatures now being written by people of the 3rd and 4th and 5th worlds to the end of geography are now seeming to be of a more singular piece. I do not seek who I am without joining your search for who you are.

We do not, we who gather here, seem to be blaming. We are not looking back to find some authentic bit of self reflecting in the pools of history. We all seem to be past those pasts. We are not any longer devoured by our reduced and oppressed selves knawing at one another. Rather we are seeking for some newly emergent ways of seeking. And we seem to expect now that we will find one another as our paths join, as our trajectories collapse the strands of divided temporalities across the bands of bounded spaces to find ourselves in the same search.

A newly neoromantic utopic vision? Some ideal form of community wanting to reduce our longings of transcendent self to live like the proverbial sheep – in peace? There were moments that expressed that sense of being: wishful, hopeful. But very little of this emerged from a sense of incompleteness or a mystical return to a simpler time in an Edenic paradise.

We were mostly, I think, well-trained in the cynicisms of futile longings; brought up to be critics; skeptical especially of our own yearnings, and knowing the no-ing and nothingness of nihilism. The writings, the idea that the angers of past wrongs no longer knawed at the being of the authors of all of the most obscure places on the earth; an earth whose face we begin to know in the exquisite detail of the grand variety of human life upon it. But we were surprised – now and again and over and over – that the cynicisms we all expected had fled from our being…together in Minneapolis.

We came away with the sense that something surprising was happening. And the surprise was ourselves.




Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.

Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.

Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.

Within the cycles of the roundness of time looking forward looking backward I look out now upon my visage and think it is myself. It pleases me this visage does. It is made in the image of…

I am this visage which is my image which is me looking back at myself, reflecting the way in which I see others seeing me. They are pleased; I am pleased; they are pleased, I…

Am I…not?


Negative Identity: (derived – e.g. – from the definition of the oppressor who tells me/us that I am “lesser than”)

I am precisely who I am-not. It is not so clear whether this is an “active” who I am, or something derived and left-over from who I am not permitted to be. I am a residual being, left over after the others who are real claim all the turf of being for themselves. I am slave at least in the necessity to grapple continuously with their definitions of me/us as having more validity than any which I might generate to myself.

I am sometimes pariah: the other whom one is not permitted to be: the Jew, the bastard, the fallen woman; a kind of extrusion and residuum from the categories of being allowable within the imagination and construction of existence.

In my own family I was both desired and a kind of accidental left-over from a set of parents who spent much time and energy finding out who they were: caught in their identity battles, each one, and with one another. Terrorized, threatened, loved, what chance have I to find out who I am in any way particular to my own being?

In Borges’ accounting, we all have to imagine that we could have been other than we are; that in our search for identity it is crucial to imagine that we have/are an identical twin to ourselves. This twin is the precisely oppositional force to the being who we happened to turn out to be, that the twin would find it compelling, even necessary to murder this person who I tell myself that I am.

In the case of “identical” twins in fact, the mirror-imaged left and right-handed pair whom others cannot distinguish, it had always seemed to me (growing up with such a pair – M. & E. Rivo), that they saw one another as the extension of their own visioning, and could not but help be the mirror of themselves. Each was, perhaps primarily, the reflection of the other. (And there are reports that when the twins grow up and move away from each other, many of them move far apart in their appearances within the first several months of separation = not seeing one another!)

In the colonial and/or racist situation (or youth or age), the category of being is so powerful, that all who fall within that category as the vision of our lenses of seeing construct their appearance, are all other: lowered or raised from where we place ourselves within our various hierarchies of being. It may happen that the particular one or ones of the others whom we happen to know personally, are all “good” persons, but this is often to judge every one of the others as an “exception.” The lines and category boundaries remain and are unshaken within the possibilities of our personal experience. (Sartre: Jew and Anti-Semite)

In fact, a “neighbor” who lives just below our apartment in a high-rise building, complained not to us about some noises which he things come from directly above his head, but to the external “authorities,” the management of the condominium. Rather than tell us what he is experiencing, so that we might (being “good” neighbors) attempt to change our habits or behavior, he accuses us of causing him grief. And we are grieved and we grieve because the concept of neighbor is reduced to one of an external legal structure in which we are presumed guilty, and we begin to think not about the problem of noise, but too much of the time to think that we are “not guilty” – being defined by another who has taken public a problem which he presumes we are causing. And we spend our energies defending ourselves, being defined already as ���other” than we think we are.

In any moment of transformation – personal, legal, political – the problem of change, even when desired, is that our vision is heavily constructed with these categories as active actualities even as we look out our eyes. How are these categories (lines) constructed in our being? Mostly they agree with the category lines of others (of “our kinds”), so they are learned established as our identity with, with respect to, against.


Identity when the Oppressor has Disappeared; No Longer Appears: When the gaze of the other attempts to define us, when this other is not at all me but the reflection of the other in whose eye’s mind I shine or am obscured, am beautiful or frightening; when the gaze of the other remains only in my mind’s eye…then, still I remain, wondering and worrying the who of who I am.

Who I am, who I supposed myself to be, who will I be, who can I will myself to be…these questions never quiet themselves, always murmur, whispering on, unawares but persistently.


Dreaming in Cuban: A book by Cristina Garcia. Reviewed in the NYT Book Review – 5/17/92 – by Thulani Davis.


Cristina Garcia���s marvelous first novel, “Dreaming in Cuban,����� is, as its title suggests, about the specific mysteries of place and the hidden passions people often carry into exile.

The members of the del Pino family, scattered from the Cuban village of Santa Teresa del Mar to Havana, Brooklyn and Eastern Europe, live in exile from home, lovers, family. Only Celia, the family matriarch who stayed on in her seaside home and who welcomed change, has managed to understand who she is and in what language she dreams. When Celia’s husband, Jorge, finally gives up on her beloved revolution and goes to New York, she replaces his bedside portrait with a picture of Fidel Casto, El Lider, and seems to pay it no mind. The politics of the Cuban revolution and its aftermath divide Celia’s fmily, as it did many families, yet at the same time some other inability to keep the family together continues its deadly work.

Only the unseen communications of Celia’s and Jorge’s spirits bring solace and healing to their children, who, for their part, accept these telepathies as commonplace and reliable…Celia’s daughters, Felicia and Lourdes, are both given to extremes; each is driven, almost hurtling through time, by vengeance and painful memory. In Cuba, Felicia has her mother’s lust for poetry and romance but suffers from months of syphilitic madness, finally committing acts of violence after days of dancing to the seductive voice of Beny More’, the king of Cuban balladeers – and making oblations to the still-lively African gods in hopes of salvation. Lourdes, blindly loyal to her father, a compulsive eater and a fanatical anti-Castro convert to American patriotism, runs a bakery in Brooklyn and dreams of taking her place with the nouvea-moguls she sees getting rich in the United States. Their brother, Javier, who ran off secretly to Czecholslovakia, finds he is fragile, too, when he loses his family. Celia���s grandchildren can only be described as lost and abandoned by the obsessions of the parents. Of these. Lourdes�������s daughter, Pilar Puento del Pino, a would-be-painter and student In New Yrk becomes the secret sharer, a distant repository of the family’s stories and some of its demons…

Ms. Garcia also tracks the subtle changes in language as the del Pinos cross borders and decades. ‘Pilar, her first grandchild, writes to her from Brooklyn in a Spanish that is no longer hers. She speaks the hard-edged lexicon of bygone tourists itchy to throw dice on green felt or asphalt.’ Lourdes runs around the island asking people what their hourly wages are and telling them what they would make in the States.

While taking very seriously those ideas that have truly riven so many families in recent years, leaving many obsessed with the politics of Cuba, Ms. Garcia also portrays the costliness of such an obsession and the fading of the light between mothers and daughters, between loves, as communication fails. The language of such love songs as once were sung must be saved, Ms. Garcia seems to say, so that we may make songs in exile…


This question of leaving what was as an ongoing aspect of one’s life is always complicated in its doing. Whether Cuba or China or America, the question and quest of leaving is rent with difficult issues because one’s own history is bound up with the lives – real and in one’s ongoing imagination – of the others from one’s childhood who run around still in one’s ongoing thoughts and dreams. It is not so different – growing up and leaving one’s parental home – this leaving and being in exile from one’s home country either: or church. The life of the exile never precisely sunders the connections with the “old country” no matter how cleanly and surgically disconnected is the “new.”

This was illustrated in a beautiful and poignant way by Florian Znaniecki some years ago in his study of The Polish Peasant. Most of the first section of the book, I recall, consists of letters between a young man who had emigrated to America from Poland, written to his mother who remained “at home.������� At first, the young man writes and sends home money – he had come to America because hard times had come upon Poland and there was no work there. His early letters were full of love and yearning for his family and the small town in rural Poland which were rooted strongly in his dreaming. Gradually, he takes hold, gets some land of his own, marries and has children, and the letters evolve as gradually and magically as his own growing accustomed to his being in this place. Slowly, slowly, it becomes his home and he is at home in his adoptive land. Slowly, the tone of the letters to his ever aging mother alters: his concerns for her well-being express themselves as loudly as ever, declaring his undying love and wish to see her. But, ever so slowly, ever so clearly, his need and wish to actually return home – his dreams in Polandish, as it were – fade and become less and less compelling. Gradually his life as a farmer in America, a life full of a spouse, children, and the need to maintain a farm, crop, animals, trees, fills his life and thought to the brim. He, ever so slowly, has become an American rather than a Pole. His dreams, too, translate themselves into American. And his children, his children will themselves have very few dreams of Poland; and when they do they will be situated in an American visioning of Poland and be-ing in English. And his children’s children; and theirs…?


Assimilation To and Fro: In a book review of Bone by Fae Myenne Ng, entitled Dying to be an American, (NYT Book Review 2/7/93, p.7), the death is that of the middle sister in a second-generation Chinese family. She is an apparent suicide, dying of a high apartment plunge while overdosing on Quaaluuds. But the book is principally about the Chinese family attempting to…


We were a family of three girls. By Chinese standards, that wasn’t lucky. In Chinatown, everyone knew our story. Outsiders jerked their chins, looked at us, shook their hears. We heard things…

…A failed family. That Dulcie Fu. And you know which one: bald Leon. Nothing but daughters….

…This theme is the difficulty of cultural assimilation. And Leila (the oldest sister narrator) implies in several misty passages that jumping was Ona’s only escape from being “stuck” in Chinatown. The youngest sister, Nina, had already escaped to New York City…In America, a magical injustice reigns. ‘In this country, paper is more precious than blood,’ Leila’s stepfather, Leon, tells his friend You Thin Toy. In order to get to California, Leon had to invent ���paper’ ancestors; his wife married him only for his green card; when he tries to visit a grave, he discovers that it can only be done with the proper documents. Families are destroyed in the scramble to cross the impossible ocean, and then they are reassembled out of several pieces in America’s Chinatowns, mysterious sovereign colonies where the census taker doesn’t go and a social security number is merely a strange token of a civic religion.


How to be someone…else, an other like all those others who are…American? The three daughters, trying so hard to be; equally hard to not-be; not knowing so well what it means either to be or not to be…American. Cursed/blessed by being girls – only girls (dirty genes?) – within the Chinese context; not so sure what it means to be girls within the American context. Much of life remains unclear to obscure within the experience of that second generation; hyphenated, yet leaning; ready to fall in one direction or the other; not so sure what it means to be…

[But assimilation also obscures the facts of (the politics of) birth order. Being the son of the middle daughter of her three-girl family, and the husband of the baby of yet another three-girl family, I am pretty certain - if I know that someone is a child of such a family - which child I may be dealing with: 1, 2, or 3...]


Pride and Meaning: The rise in Islamic Fundamentalism (NYT Magazine: 5/31/92) has been blamed on the wish, the need to restore some sense of “pride” in being Muslim, to the millions of those who have felt aggrieved by the West defining them as being “lesser”and ���backward” in contrast with the West. After the Gulf War (1991) and the ignominies visited upon them/theirs by the Israelis, they feel some need for “finding” themselves. In the absence of any direction or vision for the future which arises from their ongoing lives – a sense that vision is particularly owned or controlled by the West (Europe and America, particularly), the direction for any viable solution is seen to be in a “return” to a fundamentalist Islam.

Similarly, America which has at present little sense of its historical existence, or that this history can inform the present, is often looking for what will give them/us prideful meaning.

The question of what grants anyone/people pride – or how anyone grants pride to self – then becomes the important study.


Yield and Surrender: Diminish or Grow? The perspective of the parents, the teacher, the spouse, healer…do as I say, or I deem best – for you! Then you will grow, flourish, prosper.

Believe in…country, deity, the prophet,…submit to the truth of…and you will be righteous, go to heaven, be saved…grow, flourish, prosper.

If you go through this surgery, then you will soon be whole again! – says the surgeon, we will cut out this minor irritation for the integrity of the entire body. Submit to my will, to my scalpel.

So complicated, so confusing. To yield to my (Teacher’s) superior -knowledge, experience, connectedness with the rulers of the universe – to surrender my will to the deity who – God knows – knows God.

Dogma derived from some other place, some other time trying still to claim that today is the day of all other days, a blip upon some eternality. Believe me; trust in me!

What is the distance between believing others – in others – and believing oneself, and in oneself; and in locating precisely where and who that is? When is it important/useful to suspend belief and disbelief, to yield and surrender one’s critical spirit in order that one may develop, grow, heal?

Integrity, authenticity, authority…(See: Teaching as Dialogue)


Generational Identity: The issue of general identity seems to arise most clearly when a particular “generation” undergoes a (radical?) transformation, and the following, descendent generations see themselves to some large extent with reference to these “patriarchs” (in some cases, “pariah-archs”) or matriarchs.

This clearly arises in situations where a generation migrates to a “new” place, when one generation gains money or great power. It arises as well, when a generation loses money or power, is subjugated (colonized), excluded, exiled, “falls.” And there are situational variations depending on how “direct” one’s relation to the “originary” line is perceived to be – by self and by others.

The lives of the “originary” generation are markedly different, the “personality” characteristics much different between the “first” generation and those subsequent. The first or establishment can be said to be more “ambitious,” more “adventuresome,” ���stronger,��� if this is the generation which establishes itself “positively.” Or it may be the pariah generation if it “loses” everything – or was considered weak or sinful or unlawful. Those who had great political ambition, who had great yearnings for money or power, and managed to obtain what they yearned for, become in effect a defining generation. (Machiavelli: Discourses)

The next generation is usually brought up by those who had the great yearnings, not themselves to have great ambitions, but to be like their parents were – after they had obtained power or monies, or migrated. The “first” generation of migrants, for example, had in their own upbringing a range of experiences which are essentially unavailable to their children – living now in another place/culture, or within a totally different “life style” from their parents when they were children. So the upbringing of the second generation is cast within the parental experience of “after” their rise or fall: perhaps, within their memories rather than their actualities. Often this generation is brought up to “preserve” what had been gained, rather than to be ambitious on their own account.

By the next generation – the third – members of this generation are, in effect, natives to the new land, or to their being as landed gentry (or relatively less affected by the downfall of their grandparents – sins last in collective memories until the fourth generation, it says in the Bible). By this time, the reason for being one of descendents of the transformed generation is not any longer clear. They are not children of the newly rich or famous or of those who migrated newly into new lands. They are citizens; they are in a particular social class or setting whose reasons are simply what they are – no one got there; they are there! (Testimony of being seems to become less valid and powerful as the age of the generations extends beyond the parental and personal experience gains more its own validation.) By this time – as in the case of the Rockefeller fortune – there are numerous grandchildren who are heir to money, power, or tradition, and instead of there being a patri/matriarch, there is a convention deciding how to preserve or split up the heritage, and wondering how to revision it within the disparate experiences of the various sub-lines. In the cases of “royal families,” the Shakepearean plays demonstrate still very clearly the problems and possibilities of preserving a single line of hereditary monarchy in a clean or pure sense.

The fourth and subsequent generations have a tendency to seek out their genealogies and roots, having lost the reasons for any identity. Many of these simply “disappear” as members of any line or group, understanding their line of descent as an artifact of their existence. Others wonder “who they are” and begin to seek out literal family lines, or genealogical chartings, or “returns” to the home land and the ancestral home or ideology or religious tradition. In other words, history is now becoming tradition, and has to be restated and revised in a sort of messianic way to make it again “alive” for those in the subsequent generations. It is possible for this virtually to disappear, or to regain great power of “authenticity” in the hands and minds of those who want badly to recreate their being within the history of some genealogy.

As we now witness in the varieties of returns to national and ethnic history in Europe, the former Soviet and elsewhere, the idea of history can remain very lively in the thinking of the current generations – e.g., the national museum of Anthropology in Mexico – the sense of greatness of 12th century Lithuania, the sense that Confucius or Christ will be waking and walking among us any day now. When and if any current generation moves from what I might call a “predictive” notion of the future to a “prophetic” moment in which they carry in their thinking the notion that their heritage or religion is fully informed, full-time by the idea that they are members-of or believers-in, then they are effectively “back” in an (updated) “authentic” version of their system of genealogical being. (This is not very different from being a “vocational” thinker of any sort when, e.g., a musician carries in s/his thinking full-time some line or lines of music which can no longer be “turned-off.)


Life Paradoxes: Attempting to look most broadly and comprehensively at the world’s traditions (theo-political—–?), I have been struck by the observation/fact that most of these traditions have tended to “resolve” certain of what I will call “life paradoxes.” Except for the Confucian tradition which seems to “complementarize” the (experiential) paradox, for example, of change vs. permanence, other traditions have effectively “decided” to choose one or the other of a number of life paradoxes (20 or so!) and take seriously only one “side” of the apparent oppositional positions. That is, most of these traditions have apparently resisted or even abhored paradox, even or especially at the level of personal/individual experience.

Life-paradoxes” are about the experiences we (all?) have that seem in their phenomenology to consist of two more-or-less clearly oppositional phases or aspects. While we are awake, we “know” about sleep; while alive, about death; when picking up a particular object know that it is also generic and a name of a class and category, and that I myself am at once and also a man, human, and a one-of-many; but man also an aspect of knowing woman; and on and on. The most human of the all-too-human, the face it itself an example of the Heraclitean paradox of change and not-change: I am who I am and look like I do to others so that they treat me and identify me as a constant me; but my face is changing in each moment’s expressions, blinks, and articulational movements.

Sometimes, in life experience, these paradoxes seem oppositionally “heightened,” and we are more or less aware that we are duple in our thinking and being, or especially confronted with some desire or need, say, to change even as we hang on to older versions of one’s being. At other times, the other “side” of the paradox fades into some experiential background or back burner simmering perhaps, but not totally disappearing.

That is, by calling certain experiential realms or events paradoxical, I do not mean that such are necessarily in full time opposition. The paradox of life and death are not necessarily opposed in all of life’s moments. “Waking up” at age 7 or so to the “fact” of one’s mortality is the first moment of paradox. And for many persons, the question of death is neither constant nor nagging; while for others – often within certain theological outlooks – death can overwhelm living. (See: Emotions and Identity)

As sex is duple in the world, our lives are in effect sexually “resolved” paradoxes, even as anatomy. As we are both awake and asleep, it remains unclear which is the actual or real, which is more commentary: both are necessary for survival – but, perhaps, waking takes care of the conditions for sleep, while the reverse is less obvious. As I am one (individual) and many (son, husband, father… – teacher, neighbor, citizen,…) the quest for identity wavers between who precise “I” am, and who I am within various “communities” and in various relations which are not much less constant than who I am, precisely as I am (as it were) alone. As change is, as they say, a “constant,” the notion even of granting myself identity and continuity in life is palpably paradoxical. However, large traditions have “decided” that paradox is not somehow acceptable, and have opted to resolve some/many/all paradoxes on one side or the other. Some, particularly the Confucian, have instead “decided��� to “complementarize” certain paradoxes (the yin/yang of the I Ching involving moments and dynamics of change).

Western thought, for example, has “chosen” to call the very idea of the “real” that which is universal, non-changing, and awake. It seems to call upon the eternal – a very defining concept for its depiction of the deity – as the real, while the life of change (which is our life), is downgraded to the mundane, or to those aspects of being which do no more than imitate or “partake” in the real (Plato Republic X). Amerindian traditions tend to make real those aspects of our being which are loosed during sleep: our spirits or “nahuales” which we are said to “share” with the spirits of particular other species. In many of these Amerindian traditions, in order to find out who we truly are, we must go on “vision quests” which enable us truly to see and know what is our nature, being, and identity. Vocational “urges” are similar: decisions at some early moment in life which are made ���for” life.

[This granting of active “agency” to entire traditions is a kind of observational gathering notion - as on the face of it there is no particular reason to think that Western thought would, in any sense whatever, be anything in particular: but it is! This means, of course, that each person, family, grouping constructs the world as if it has this agency - a structured/structural idea in which everyone’s acting as if (a story, a shared myth), makes it so.]

In the context of opposing theo-political traditions, a powerful way to see (to heal, to bridge?) differences is within the context of the variety of life paradoxes, in which the concept of paradox is “to be grasped” and understood within the existential, rather than to resolve experience into a set of either/or’s, thence to hide or to banish much of our experience from our very existence.


Existence: Probably the most powerful life paradox is concerned with the issue of existence: of life and death, life vs. death, death over life, and so on. Questions of identity intersect directly with existence, because when existence seems, in one’s experience, to be problematic, then the question of identity arises also in ways often entirely new to one’s prior exerience.

The originary experiential issue of being and identity arises around the time (age 7 or so) when one becomes rather fully aware (conscious?) that death not only occurs, but that it is also my personal (physical) destiny. “I am but I will not-be,” is my hind-sight statement about how this arose specifically in my knowing-knowing. The events in my life, specifically involve a classmate in 2nd grade who died. More powerfully, in its effect on my being at age 8, was the sudden death of the father of a neighbor-friend who spent the afternoon and evening of his father’s accidental death with my family – we knowing the nature of the event, he remaining uninformed until an older sister arrived at our house in great grief at about 8:00 P.M. to take him home. This latter event greatly shaped, surrounded, informed my thinking, dreaming, and some activities for years afterward; perhaps still.

Some of us, until age 7 or so when the issue of death may enter our knowing but does not smash into us within the context of a virtual paradox, may have “known” of death. But the idea of going away, to not/never return seems, to me, a quite ordinary experience in the early development of every child. Early on, disappearance and appearance are as if magic anyway. Parents show up, then do not. Siblings are more constant perhaps, but the concept of constancy and change is not at all clear without some inner notion of identity, which is the towardness of social interaction – not, I think, any given within one’s early (bodily) experience. The very idea of a “mother” is one of a recurrence toward a constancy. Many of those children whose mother “disappears” actually, become autistic, not any more relating to others. That is, the question of the constancy of identity – in the social sphere which is the human – does not seem to me to be a given of our existence. Instead, the notion of identity which is the “who I am” is an emergent fact in our existence.

For the rest, many stories about existence have been constructed to deal with, solve, resolve,… the problematic(s) of being. One popular mode has been to “banish��� the body, thus to banish any actual experience. Being is divided into two (mind and body – often with an intermediate area or “interface” – usually, the “emotions), and only one part is thought to be particularly human – e.g., Plato/Aristotle calling “the human” what is particularly different from other animals or is considered “unique” to human: mind, language, etc.

Or, in Plato’s terms, (changing) human being and experience is to “downgrade” itself with respect to the unchanging nature of the pure or true reality, which is of ideas and/or forms. Thus experience only or merely “partakes” of the real in some form of mimicry or imitation. In the Christianizing formalization of Plato’s ideas, Augustine creates the notion of our being as “fall to earth” through the sins of our parents who could not control their desirous nature, following the Adam and Eve who were tempted and fell to the Satanic seduction. In effect, then, existence has been made a form of cosmological “error����� or “mistake” and the solution and resolution to the paradox of being alive/dead has been to resolve on the side of “death” – but with the idea that our “real” being is the mind/spirit/soul which is “alive” by itself without our bodily existence; thus problematizing the issue of the body by denying it as completely as possible. Amazingly, Plato’s “solution” to the paradox of life, is to deny life, the senses, and all of knowing which is not derived from the truth of ideas and forms which have an eternal existence quite apart from our being. Plato’s “vehicle” for carrying this story into the future world has been Christ, and later, Mohammed – both fully “alive” in present thinking. Any paradox between life and death, in this tradition, has been to resolve on the side of death, and life is the “placement” of the soul in a body to be “returned” to eternal heaven as surely and quickly as possible.

Other traditions – parts of Africa (e.g., Cameroons) is to take the concept of the person and “transfer” it from one generation to a next: from a grandmother who has (say) just died, and grant her being and identity to her grandaughter who is then raised as much as possible within the social construct of the character of her grandmother. In effect, one’s being is already pre-constructed, and one becomes what others see one as: in these traditions, as if she is already who she will become. Here, there either is no death, or it is of no particular consequence.

In Buddhistic traditions, one (one’s soul, again in a dualistic paradox which is effectively “resolved”) is “reborn” any number of times, with the idea of towardness of perfection or utopia – a Nirvana – giving direction to our being. Eventual (but projected into some usually far-off, just beyond the possibility of our imagination, future when we will be relieved of life. In these traditions, life is taken in its essence to be very difficult, and needing to be dealt with effectively. The major difference between the West and the South of Asia is that the body is to be banished in the West, and to be entered into as fully as possible through some meditative and physicalist “Zen.” That is, Buddha makes us disappear from our own existence by an extended paradox of existence in which complete “entering” into it bodily makes it “disappear.”

The two major traditions (which I have some sense for) which move toward some utopic moment within life, are the Jewish and Confucian. Both seem to deal with death by pushing it toward as distant a futurity as is imaginable, thereby hoping it will fade from present thinking. Perhaps it is that old age will “live itself out” and seek death more than life at some point. Perhaps it is that the sense of life as bond and as “covenant” between persons so certifies life and life’s meanings, that death of the individual diminishes to the fading point. But, in these two traditions – alone among the great theo-political traditions (?) – life v. death is not resolved, but “handled” – treated as a given, but reduced in any moment’s active awareness as it is pushed within the idea of life as infinitely long. In the Confucian traditions, as long as one remains on the “way” to true life and knowledge, there is not only remaining and continuing life, but there is also continuing growth. That is, the sense of life as good and sufficient “in and of itself” in some paradox in (active) foreknowledge with death, seems to be filled with some sense of progress and towardness which is positive and interesting, with a sense of developing skills; toward whatever enters into the concept of “wisdom” in any era.

This is all to remind ourselves that death – rather the foreknowledge of one’s death which enters one’s awareness around the age of seven – has to a great extent driven theories of being and of reality, how to live a life, and where the notion of life itself has gained in meaning. The wish to resolve this paradox, either a wish to banish thoughts of death, of somehow to “handle” whatever we all might experience as the fear of impending death, has driven and directed various of the other theories of being, especially from around the time of Heraclitus in Western thinking. The traditions which have done this “successfully” and reduced the sense of fear or directed it toward some interactional-political theories, have grown very large and powerful: the major traditions who apparently needed some gathering idea of “agency” which has grown out of the experiences of paradox in each of our lives.


Politics of Paradoxical Theories of Being: When a felt or otherwise experienced paradox is “resolved,” a side of portion of the paradox is foregrounded and/or granted primacy, while the “other” side is backgrounded and/or diminished, possibly to point of its “effective disappearance.” Our lives, predilections, concentrations become particular, even as we continue to live (as) the vanished opposition: what I tend to call our “actual” lives.

[I’m am not at all sure that what one/we experience as paradoxical extends to all the human condition - rather, some paradoxes seem more particular to certain traditions, and may be absent in others. In those traditions which have tended to complementarize what others experience as oppositional (e.g., Confucianism with respect to time and change), the experience of life remains within life, but in the West, the paradox of mind and body has literally (!) been interpreted Within the neo-Platonic Christianity and Muslimism as real being existing only within or on the “day” of one’s death.]

The fact is that we all are awake and we sleep; often on most days. When we are awake we think and dream; and when we sleep, we seem to think and dream. But in most traditions we have “granted power” to one way of being/thinking/dreaming more than the other. In the one case of sleeping, we are presumably all “alone” (Heracleitus) and not moving, not in gravity or at least supported not from bottom to top but more equitably across our bodies. and when we are “awake,” we are “in-common” sense with others (Heracleitus), but also supported either by our feet or our rumps, and having to maintain that weighty protuberance – the head or cranium. In sleep, we care less about balance and our loci. When awake we must know where and whence – i.e., about location and orientation and navigation (Don Griffin). Any “maps” of being are quite different from sleep to wakefulness, awake needing to be “reading” continually, and sleep being based on…memory, or memory alone?

By granting hegemony or even reality to the one or the other of wakefulness and sleeping, the politics of our being is then “extendable��� to other arenas of experience. If we grant power to dreams, for example, we likely grant power to those who “have” the best dreams (those which are somehow vision-ary). Particularly, the power of definition of whatever is reality is often granted to those who claim to interpret them well or properly. These interpretations are then granted political or other reality; others act in terms of that reality; and on and on. (Does that understanding of the real then feed-back into dream life, toward new interpretations,…?)

Similarly, within traditions which have resolved the issue of sleep and dreams on the side of wakefulness, the politics (e.g., in Plato) convince us that certain types of persons or of experience, predilections or abilities are more worthy of the human condition than others: varieties of hierarchies – toward action, or contemplation, or taking care, of compassion or pity, or transcendence, or…

Once some aspects of our being are downgraded into the less real, that is, then it seems that the hierarchy is established in our thinking, and the assignation of the importance of anyone’s being is available to shape experience, as well as our thinking and evaluation of that experience.


Paradoxical Tics: A friend, now deceased (Bill Pew) taught me how to control whatever are facial (and other?) “tics,” those involuntary movements of some facial muscles which seem occasionally to “shoot off” as if they have been given life beyond the vessel which displays them. They are, apparently, muscle movements which give to one’s expressive observers the sense that something has happened to the face which is…out-of-control, pathological, something gone awry.

Bill’s idea – which I (and Buddhistic thought) has extended to whatever is the experience of “pain” – is that the muscular “tic” has in effect taken on its own being within us. This, I think, is not such an unusual event. But it “usually” – up to the moment of its re-occurrence against our “wills” – it usually goes away, like pain. Give it time! Relax! Have a good night’s sleep. The paradox of the experience is that we are at odds, even a minor war, with ourselves: I am two, not one; or I have lost “control��� of my (former) being.

The solution, paradoxically, is not to fight the tic (or pain) which has by the moment of which we speak, become consistent and insistent, but to attempt to come to some terms with it. One doesn’t fight the pain, but accepts it, and does not want it to become “an enemy” within us. Nor whould one fight the tic. It is there. It is, paradoxically, me…as well as who I tell myself I am.

One should try to find the muscles which are themselves the source, the cause, the tic itself. In discovering these muscles, one begins to attempt to “cause” the tic.” Rather than fighting it, one not only accepts it, but tries to “own” it. Gradually, Bill said, the tic would disappear as it no longer owned a space in our (collective) life.


Emotions: I am how I feel, what I want, all that I need…raised to the level of necessity. Some Rousseauian battle about whether we are truly rational or truly emotional creatures. Is this then extended to the question of truth being from knowledge or from esthetics, but not both?

But there is some slippage in constructing the notion of identity (rather than identity, itself) based on some either/or, likely a paradox in which being is either rational, or it is emotional/esthetic but not both, and more. It is as if we must choose from the categories rather than query our experience to see whence these categores derive, and how they grant us being.

Within the Western construction, we seem to be caught within the dualism of mind and body, where the emotions act as an “interface” category, in the occasional attempt to reconcile how a mind and a body which have virtually nothing to do with one another, can co-exist. I suggest, in this context, that the apparent opposition between mind and emotions granting us identity, tends to rise as reasonable or interesting particularlyh in those eras when a mechanical model of the universe (as in the 18th century), seems to have resolved the nature of our being by externalizing the bodily aspects of being; as it were removing being from our being by claiming that the body (alone) is understandable, and the methods by which it is are quite independent from our experiencing.

For those interested in identity and being (all of us? – but some have decided that the “problem” is promised to be solved outside of any experience, or that we have reduced being as a problematic virtually to zero), this seems – within a framework of dualist and oppositional thinking – to leave the question of being as a war between the mind and the emotions: one or the other is either more “basic” or “fundamental,” or we are born essentially as bundles of emotions, and what development is, is the gradual overcoming of emotions, and the learning of rationality (Piaget). Some in this tradition (Freud) think that we never truly overcome the emotions, but they have been “stuffed” deeply within our being, always at the ready to emerge. And I don���t think any of this is precisely incorrect.

But it is not revealing of our being, as it tends to take “small” truths and extends them to all of being: either-or’s all the way to destiny. The body – as an experiential aspect (dynamic, developmental, changing,…device?) – simply ���disappears” or does not appear as a subject of study; e.g., the fact of our faces interacting and reacting with others’ faces, a centrality of being human.

The strength, the shaping, the “use” or situational and contextual aspects of the emotions and feelings and what they contribute to our being, also have tended to be explicated within models of pathology, rather than strength, or merely the “what is.” “Feeling” is as much about knowing where I am located and what is my balance, and about how I know how others in some shared space “feel��� their bodies, as it is about some war between esthetics and knowing. It is an aspect of knowing, just as rationality is an aspect of whatever is feelings and esthetics.

Hidden, as usual, in this oppositional formulation, is a surreptitious story in Western lore, about the nature of our bodies being ancient and primitive and harboring still some aspects of animality and nature – which we are “supposed” to have overcome in becoming modern and civilized.

Much of the “postmodern” critique of modernity is that we haven’t much “overcome” anything, falling into war and hate and revenge and all those usually negative emotions which continue to plague us just when we thought we were on the verge of a rationalist-utopic moment in world history. But, again, this model has been constructed as if we existed within some larger gathering schemata of history and progress, and have not in each generation asked us to query those schemata of our being which we live in actuality, and to wonder about how and why that is.

The pessimisms of Adorno and Horkheimer (The Eclipse of Reason) over our propensity for war and destruction instruct us particularly that a mechanical-rational model of humankind is not sufficient or correct in any essentialist, outside of experiencing, senses. They do not tell us how we are particularly well in reacting within whatever seems to be oppositional to the ideas which had been selling in the prior period…when all went wrong.

In his utopic works, Plato (even) warned us that those who live on the edges of their emotion-driven desires, are apt to get society into great trouble: power as the most addictive of the ambitions, and all. Ridding ourselves of the body, of the desires and emotions, by stating that they have no power and meaning in our lives seems as incorrect as stating that the most human of all our attributes is the (uniqueness) of human reason.

The answer to emotions, body, rationality is Yes, Yes, Yes,…and there is more. But aspects of changing, growing, learning, maturing, include channeling and shaping emotions, figuring what is possible and permissable and “what works” within what contexts – personal, interactive, and so on. To say what is inborn, or primary, or why the philosopher king of age 50+ no longer experiences or gives into s/his desires, does not illuminate questions of identity – or remind us that life is in the living.


Birth Order (Alfred Adler): The fact is that we are, among other senses of being, political creatures. Our politics carry over to, affect, and are affected by our personal psychologies. If we are born into or are taken into an existing family entity, as most of us are and have been in some form or other, the situation – politically, psychologically (and so on) – differs as each child enters the scene. Likewise, the scene changes and is changed as a “new” face/person enters into any relationship, extending it, compressing aspects of it. (This extends to family pets, as well.) And, in certain times and places the fact of being an only child are also important in understanding the psychology of being.

In a nuclear family of male and female (if any/many now exist), the first child enters a formerly adult relationship. The child has the potential of full attention – at the least she/he doesn’t much share it with other children – of the parents. As any relationship is complicated, adding a third person doesn’t directly simplify it. This first child deals directly with the parents, unmediated as it were. As children are children of their families’ (thinking, logic, outlook) the power of parents to define much of the child’s outlook and being is great in many areas of present and future being (e.g., religion, culture, etc.)

A next child deals also with the parents, baut also with and “through” the older sibling: whether a second child deals with the parents directly or alone, the image and knowledge of the being of the first child has some undoubted “presence” in the interactions. There is not only one dyad between second child and parents (and each parent and each parent dealing with the marital and parental relationship), but the children are in some complex of dynamic and historical relationships with one another.

By the time a third enters, this situation gets multiplied, rapidly on its way to becoming a full-time bureaucracy. At this point, not only do further children experience the world through and in the terms of their older siblings, but in many families the energy necessary to oversee younger children is no longer available, and some of the older children (especially girls & often the oldest) become a kind of surrogate mother – as if this family has become a kind of corporation with differently managed smaller companies within its structure. Here, birth order per se is less important in terms of family politics than the surrogate mother and her relationship to younger siblings, and her own relationship to parents. what are otherwise a manifold set of relationships in larger families become largely reduced.

The question of how familial politics affect or determine the psychologies of various children in terms of birth order – or of only children – is interesting, perhaps profound. The modern University is, for example, full of oldest or only children; most faculty are oldest or only. They are, perhaps, the most “ambitious” or yearning or responsible or need to belong to a “mother” institution. Other professions are more care-taking: youngest children (social workers), and so on. In other words, birth order certainly seems to affect or direct ambitions or outlooks on what to do in one’s life. (ELABORATE!)

One infers that the oldest/only children are more directed toward the ambitions of their parents, tending to see a world in which parents’ interpretations are more actual than later children whose interactions with the parent’s understandings are interpreted as well through older siblings. The world of the oldest and only is, perhaps, the adulthoid world in their terms. And other children find themselves constructing that world with different contextual twists and turns.

But the most told story is about the politics of the siblings. Both my mother and my spouse grew up in three-female families: mother, the second and middle; spouse, the last and baby. The story of same-sex threesomes is about the disappearance in many ways of the middle child and a sense of deep resentment for all of that. The “smartest” and most ambitious in worldly terms is the oldest, and the youngest is the more intuitive and caring for all the others, always remaining as well, the baby of the family.


cont. (Read A. Adler)


Existence: Writing mornings, my usual take on existence is how my body feels upon waking: a renewal of self-acquaintance, a looking forward or not to the day to come, an impending sense of euphoria or a sense of the dismal as this is the day I have to have a root canal. Usually my bodily feeling confirms itself, and I am: simple as that.

At other moments, the notion of existence does not seem much to appear: neither dread nor diligence directs itself to think about the me, myself, and I which in one large sense is who I am: all of existence; my being. The world is my creation, much as I seem to create myself each day (is each day new?).

Meeting some of those who believed, who healed their ills and woes by praying to some idea outside of their being, my later youth wondered about what they were up to. Healing? Praying? Why not go to the doctor for some pills and palliatives? The said to one another: ���Jesus is in the tent tonight,” and they greeted one another to the left and to the right and sometimes shook and held each others’ hands. And some went forward to be touched by the preacher, while others did not. I watched wondering.

Years later when I was an anthropologist, we received a note from an evangelistic preacher stating that “creation science” should be taught along side “evolutionary science.” It was then that I began more seriously to consider that many folks are more wondrous and questioning about existence – their own existence – than I had ever thought. They, trying to convert me, said that I had never thought.

Death, the fear of death and love of the concept of death informing life and the who and what of the I am: a cosmology; an about my being from the depths of the infinite of the universe. A magnificent sense of the largeness of my being tempered and captivated ten seconds after by the vast diminution of my being; ever being. I was so happy to know that different traditions thought about life and death differently and seemed to blunder through life pretty well. But, wondering about existence even as I awoke, vulnerable to the problematizing of my sense of myself just as the cobwebs of thought were being brushed from my insight! Imagine!

Existence, the love of the imagination as it represents life within our being…


The Social Me: I am –> I belong. I am my mother’s child. I have a covenant with the people of…This is our land; our nation; our god; our house; our child; our (mother) tongue…

I believe. I believe in.

I accept.

I love.

Others see me as. Others see me as a. Others do not see me, notice me, note me.

When I look in the mirror; when I look in the mirror I see looking back at me the features which my brother and sister see looking back at them, looking at me. I see in me, I see as me, I am the one which is the many.

And I? And I!

(A major difference between men and women in relationships?) – at least in late 20th century America.

There is (for G.H. Mead, and all of us?) no sense in which we are not social in our identity. But we are not only social, and not always social in the same ways.


Freedom: The paradox between individual and social identity begins to show up in this question of being “free.” Whether we are engaged, in this context, in thinking that freedom and being are especially or only to be located within individual being and possessing the “free[dom] of will” to do exactly as we “want” can be balanced against the sorts of freedom which are available by yielding some aspects of identity to membership in some group. In this sense, who we are is in some ways clearly restricted, but having yielding some limited aspects of self, we are “free” to do – especially to think – exactly as we/I want to.

If I “give myself” to some particular image of the deity – in becoming a nun or priest for example, or in joining a political party – this may be restricted to certain limited aspects of myself. This may leave “me” with great freedom of intellectual or geographic freedom, or it may open up great arenas of possibility. Similarly, the discipline of any deep study or skill, opens up vast possibilities once the art or craft is developed sufficiently that one doesn’t have to spend all energies developing the skills necessary to do or to make something: musical or other performance, and so on. How much of “oneself” is yielded in developing the discipline or skills necessary to gain the ultimate freedom to develop oneself is a complicated issue: delayed gratifications, studies toward real knowledge sufficient to be a “real” professional leave some so involved in preparation that they never “get” to where they might be going. Others (say, Olympic gymnasts), the preparation is often so all-enveloping during the years of growing-up, that the few years of performance are over before age 20, and skills for living life “itself” were never granted much attention.

There are certain models for being which particiularly seek-out the freedom of self, of movement within any restricted or restricting definition of self, which raise the question of freedom of the “will.” The Stoics, particularly Epictetus – a cripple and former slave – urge themselves to find ways to take the most constricted external definition of self, and to explore the possibilities of freedom within which will “release��� the individual from the bondage of definition and treatment by others as being one thing or one way.

In the context of the realm of the social-political, the question of freedom complicates itself with respect to the sort of features which characterize location within that group: are they “voluntary” – harkening back to issues of free-will? Are they “given” – aspects of the bodily anatomy: sex, size, color, irregular or anomalous features of one’s surface vs. being within some preferred esthetic of appearance or being, age? Are these features related to a desired or earned state of being: (grand)parenthood; marriage (divorce); being a public (or hermetic) person, fame, power,…a failure, an addict, a criminal or cop?


Being – of Several Minds: Some (post) modernists claim (Gergen: The Saturated Self) that it has been technology which has so complicated and filled our minds with so many ideas competing as it were for limited mental capability, that we are overfull beyond the brim with thoughts and meaning hurtling hither and yon. We are “saturated” with images which find no solidity, no framework, no compositional mode which is frameable as any singularity; no me, no more.

The (formerly: romantic, scientific/mechanical) mode of our being truly an integrated individual are no longer experientially available to us. We are so overful and overloaded with images blowing our minds asunder, that we cannot find our selves; not our true or authentic selves. We try to reach back in time to the most primal of our human (or other) instincts, reach out to the agency of the deity within, ask a head or other “shrinker” to limit and delimit our being so much that we can find who we are…truly. And I know what he’s saying; feeling a bit like I am operating on 6 cylinders in a twelve cylinder world, with carbon incrustations corroding the formerly faithful six. Where a good night’s sleep or an orgasmic experience would have cleared the self of the webs of yuck accumulating in my psyche, now they merely gather, grow, grub, and fester.

But I wonder how much of this is new in the world; how much is temporary, of born of a time of simpler expectations. I wonder about some simple concepts which have multiplied within us only gradually, now come to our attention because the ground of their competition might demand that we take sides or make hard choices. A term of great sway and practical power comes “to mind”: the term “rational.” Most of us moderns –> post-moderns have in our little heads at least 4 “meanings” or contextual soundings: in in philosophy (“logical”); one in psychiatry (“crazy”); one in economics (“greedy”); and the “rational person” in law (who is “reasonable” as a good and responsible citizen). In most of our collective minds’ meanderings, these 4 notions or meanings assigned to the same term seem to reside unmolested by their competition for attention with the others. All are true, all are pursuasive, used for the proper occasions within the sensible contexts in which they “make sense.” Is this era the one where we note that they all cry out for attention at the self-same moment; the time when we want to resolve the kinds and sorts of contradictory confabulations which had earlier been able to demand their own conceptual space. Perhaps we are trying to stuff additional meanings into a shrinking space. Perhaps something is changing about the context. Perhaps…

I have wondered since meeting the mind of my spouse whose mind is so very full, if much of the idea of the saturated self – for at least many of us – isn’t partly a problem of “scale.”

She, having grown up in a village of some 500 persons, knew everyone there, and in some depth of their being: their family histories, all the players in their lives, the frivolities and foibles and phantasmagora of all of their imaginations and habits. Being the daughter of the town inn-keeper she got to watch many of them, and hear each day’s gossips brought up to the news of each newsy moment. And she knew just what to serve when, in the full bar-room after work, someone for reasons she would know but I never could fathom, someone yelled “a round of drinks for everyone,” she would serve them all what they wanted, and in her head tally up the costs, and never (as far as I could tell) make an error in person or in money: a whiskey and a tap beer here, a Miller or a Schlitz or a Bud or a Genessee or a Red Cap pale ale, or a shot of Old Overholt (I made that up: my grandpa drank that!), or of Scotch or Jack Daniels, or…

And she knew which women waited in the car, or if not the spouse just who it was, and where everyone else in town was…likely; and who was good or bad at what, and only learned much later what the nature and quality of judgment of 500 persons ensconsed in the mental boundaries of a small town, meant in some larger world: not a great deal! But this knowledge filled up her head, saturated her knowledge empeopled with the people who knew her back, kept track; delimited her being, and likely limited her possibilities.

I, who grew up in a larger town – in an ethnic community of some 20,00 or so persons within a city of close to a million persons, knew very few people in such breadth and depth. And we moved from one neighborhood to another several times while I was growing up so that the persons I knew – sort of – changed; or the locale changed, or I changed, or they did, or…But most I never knew, nor could know.
Even though there were many, many more, I actually knew many fewer than she, and in much less detail. My mental clutter, at least with respect to people-knowledge was sparse, spare. And I had learned, apparently, to let this knowledge go and fade into narrowing memory with very little residue.

So I wonder if the self of those who have matured in a small community is indeed already “saturated” by having in mind all those persons in myriad detail in manifold relationships, while the self of those who grew up in large, large, largest communities isn’t greatly reduced and focused. What we witness, now, is the increased pressure on the self of the “selfish��� to expand what and who they know, working on a self which is not accustomed to such great pressure to contain so much.

I wonder, as well with respect to the engorgement of technology in impacting our being, if we hadn’t Descartes someplaces in our thinking that the human condition isn’t particularly located in that conceptual, metaphorical space that machines were-not. Whatever our existence is, is underwritten by Descartes as the ability to think. And now machines occupy that formerly clear space, with a sense that they will fill it increasingly until there is no space left: they – computers, robots, artificial intelligentizers – will do the thinking. And there will be nothing left of us, or for us. Sopme have even suggested, seriously I guess, that the time of the human body and its evolution is effectively over, and that the mental processes will go on among the artificial minds: minds over matter, and this earthly portion of our existence is over, and…well and good?

How much of our being, that is, has been imagistically constituted by some (implicit?) contrast within the Cartesian framework of our existence being our thinking? It seems now that artificial intelligence expands so rapidly, that we diminish variously with respect to its growth. We might, one supposes, find new ground and hope for being, rather than revel on the sandy soils of our having defined ourselves largely as the one thinking being in the universe.


Identity and Context: As the concepts of identity and meaning are virtually dependent on the definition of the accompanying term, and both actualize themselves within a variety of notions of context, the issue of context is directly relevant to thinking about who I am and who we are.

Like, perhaps, the search for the ground and grounds of our being, the issue of context is both an umbrella-like presence, and an idea behind all ideas which is hidden even in its revealing. I find it useful to think of some aspects of context more as a “residual” notion, a what-is-left-over when all else is understood. In other senses (although the question of what means “otherness” is particularly at issue within the framing of what and where is context), the sense of context comes with a kind of powerful-not-so-powerful “everybody knows this” sort of agency, in which the meaning of a particular word in any setting “depends” on the “context” or the “situation” or a concept gains meaning when and if… (See: Context)


Politicization: Some of us wander blithely through life thinking that most tomorrows will be…better; at least not any worse. We live within some implicit scripts of life’s ways being…forward or upward; at least mostly straight ahead.

Some moments, some times, however in life’s cycles or progresses gain our attention so clearly, so powerfully that they reflect upon our lives, revealing reflexively that we had been living within some schemes of being which now seem…silly, useless, false. And we are left…wondering.

It may have been an unexpected illness, an accident which had nothing to do with our being cause or even very involved. It may have happened to someone upon whom we depended or were involved so that our very being became at some risk. Such events seem to raise powerful questionings in our being, bring us to some crisis in life. Even for some, these days, becoming age 40 crystallizes the facts of life by raising the hints of death’s approaching, teaching us or at least demonstrating that we had fairly successfully hidden to ourselves the reality or irreality of life and of death.

But some such critical events seem more…social, more political, more due to eventness way beyond our ken and experience: a revolution, a police vendetta visited upon someone close, neighbor or friend, an acquaintance of an acquaintance. And, often just of a sudden, one begins to think that something happening is way beyond oneself: beyond control, having little to do with personal being or identity. One begins to think that forces exist outside oneself which are catching one within their webbings; one is seemingly told who to be, who one can be, cannot-be. And the stories one told to s/himself still at work within seem increasingly without meaning, false, downright misleading, lies that you and I believed about our being. And we are becoming politicized: belonging to some party, an outlook, a history, a citizen of a place, a believer/reader in an ancient text which apparently explains how we are and should be, and that we are like others who are just like us. We begin to act, to think, to be as we are defined, as we are told to be who we think we are told to be…to be who we are.


Justification: The issue of being and authenticity is bound peculiarly in Western thought, at least, with the notion that there is a judging public to whom and for whom any movement needs to be explained and somehow…justified. Justification is beyond explanation of what, and bends over toward the why of any activity or action. Going to war demands justification; i.e., we are civilized, they are barbarians (from Sepulveda to this day invoking Aristotle over Christ). If there is no justification, no sense that an action entails or contains some sense of justice, then there is the reactive feeling that the judging public will not approve, will not support, and eventually one is left hanging in the wind, alone. No mere declaration or assertion will do – even, apparently, in telling a story to oneself.

An Indian (South Asian {Deleep Rao}) friend claims that this is particularly true of Minnesotans, perhaps all Americans; but not true of others. Minnesotans cannot/do not merely declare who they are and that they are, but walk around any statement of who we are, perhaps try-out the effect of out statements of identity on others. He thinks this feeds-back on ourselves. Others, he says (referring particularly to others of his countrymen) simply state who they are, and go on about their business. Period! Does this extrapolate to Western thinking?

Justification is the idea that what I say is, truly is; what I say there is to do, should be done; that what the justification claims is fact, is truly fact; that there is authority, and that this authority serves our purpose. It is as if the further we can push from ourselves to some exterior authority a rationale for some otherwise dubitable claim or activity, the more it is possible to accept its premises, and to act upon it. It is as if we push responsibility far enough away from us, then we bear less and less of the responsibility for ourselves, our thoughts, and actions. Now we can hurt or kill and even convince ourselves that we are moral, still.


Being and Truth: From Bergson, the issue of knowing that I am, who I am, and so on, is the most obvious and direct aspect of being one can know. He attempts to draw out the quest and question of existence by appealing to the notion that our most direct awareness (!?) is the passing of one moment to another (like a movie frame perhaps). This raises, in turn, the question of what holds steady. Of a sudden, at the beginning of the 20th century, we find ourselves doing a restatement of Heraclitus’ puzzle of “not being able to step into the same river twice.”

Somehow…establishing that and how we are, seems to captivate the question of being. Once, we establish that we are, and probe how we are and how we know, then we will apparently be set to understand how we go about knowing truth. (This also works inversely: if we question the possibility of truth – modern forms of nihilism or meaning crises – then we are also or in turn driven to question [our/my] existence.)

This seems to mirrors the sorts of skepticism which has beset Western thought from the “beginning” – from Parmenides to Pythagoras to Plato. It has been a skepticism about knowledge resting particularly upon a skepticism about the possibility of knowledge – of objects – and, again particularly – about the possibility of others knowing precisely that and what we/I know – related to a skepticism about being. The skepticism is deeper that any mere doubt about knowing any one thing more-or-less precisely, but a doubt about knowing anything with any sense of surety. Within this framework of skepticism about knowledge, there seems always to be a suspicion that we may not exist, not possess being – and the philosophers from then onward (the essence of being philosopher, philosophical) have considered truth an aspect of, or dependent on some reasonable (!?) solution to the problem of being – as if it needs to be a problem rather than some mere notice, observation; a declaration.

But none of this makes the “problem of truth” any more (or less) clear. (go on)


Being as Knowing: Preliminary Digressions: The quest for and question about knowing is cast differently within different…metaphysics, assumptions, notions of nature and of the human nature which we might hold in common. In a mechanical world, as Descartes’, where we are some pointed mind casting about in and at some impersonal universe, the notion of knowing is all about knowing the universe which is “out there.” Nothing is of great or particular interest within one’s being or within oneself, or even about the self which I might be. Knowing resides evidently within some notion of language and language is all about the external, mechanical world. And that world – about cause and effect – has endless truths and knowing which is monumental and as permanent as the everness of action and reaction and the geometries and logics which try time.

In the more feminine and feminized viewing of the Oracle at Delphi who counseled us to “know ourselves,” the question of knowing is directed less at any world external, and more to the vessel which is ourselves knowing what it means to be ourselves; oneself. In this context, knowing oneself can never be cast at me, the individual, existly solely, because this is not the human condition. The human condition is changing and includes others, mothers, the knowing of the world but always with others’ knowing knowing. It is always organic, organismic, including the history of how I got here and where I am, and where is there to go next. The locus of knowing begins with the sense of the quest of knowing oneself.

In the eschatological world in which the knowing of life is always interwoven with the fears and fascinations of death, knowing is directed toward some end; toward escape, toward doom, toward escaping from doom, toward escaping from the concept of doom – transcendence layered like a global onion; knowing flits from core to periphery. Nietzsche’s proclamation of the “death of God” attempts to deconstruct the notion of eschatology – the necessity to seek the end of… – to live at the edges of all of being, and to state what is the beyond which is not the end. Bataille (Inner Experience) lives this out only too well, succeeding by becoming the unexpected (but welcomed?) Faust who solved all the problematics of knowing, and finally became bored in the beyondness which was precisely a mirror of the end which he had told himself he had abandoned. Knowing collapsed upon itself.

Critical naturalism considers knowing within the nature of our nature, attempting not to see how we humans are unique within life, but as we are. We have oversimplified ourselves and our being, and need now to see us as we are, have been, as well as the complications of our unfolding. It lives within the viewing of us both inside and outside, the viewing of the viewings, and the problematization of what we experience as mundane and ordinary.


The Others’ Me: They – my mother, spouse, kids, friends – see me as a who I am which is consistent. It is, for them, very much the same; not anyone else. And whoever I am, from the perspectives of my being who others see my as and say I am, it is always right now.

No matter how I think I am, or which of the many me’s I feel like I am or would rather be…these others treat me as if I have real identity. Am I actually the as if me that others see in me; see into me? If their envisionings of me are static – at least not very dynamic, what does that do to my imaginings of the me who I (think I) am?

As a teacher, I am constant and authoritative, a consistent being to my students’ construction of me-the-teacher. Inside, I am ordinary to myself even as I try to remain the authority of constancy and stability that the students grant to my being as their teacher. They try to please me, the teacher, even as they might actually please their own constructions of me.

Watching an infant come to grasp the constancy of its mother – thence, perhaps, itself – it dawns that the process is akin to taking-in the features of the mother into oneself (one’s face?), then responding to the constancy of the other to confirm oneself. The process of being constant thus seems to involve and entail the yielding of some senses of self (superficial? – as definition), the taking-in of some senses of the other (constructed into some forms of [my?] holism), then responding to the other of my construction as if it is essentially the other. Not very different from the circularity in terms we invent any aspect of transcendence.

The others’ me seems thus to be the the locus – at least a locus from which we can find constancy – in terms of which we are who we are with enduringness. Rather than this part of being me located within, it is peculiarly located outside of my physicial being within the knowing that the others’ me is palpable. They know who I am. The problem remains, then, in how I may use this idea of the others’ me, to generate my idea of me.


Group Identity is Enduring beyond the Individual: Within the notion of any “we” the quest and question of identity has enduringness beyond the being of any particular individual. Perhaps this notion is appealing for some of the especial or super-reality of group identity. As differentiated from Plato’s “solution” to the problem of death accomplished by ridding the individual of its body, and granting to the soul or spirit a sense of enduring eternality, the idea of the one’s enduring also exists within the idea of any group’s genealogy. I have a son to “carry-on” my name, a daughter to remember me and praise(!?) me to her children in her turn. In some places, a death is proclaimed not to be a death, but a rebirth in the life of a grandchild born at the time of the death, who is then given the name of the grandparent, and treated as if s/he is that person.

Aristotle (Politics) takes this endurance of a group beyond the being of any individual, to give primacy to the idea of the state. But, as I mentioned elsewhere in this work, this move doesn’t solve or resolve the issue of being, but merely attempts to locate it in one or the other place – often obscuring the fact that the primacy of being one or the many is paradoxical in our existence.


Identity and a Group: Family, Country, Race,…: I am an American – am for, hate, will do, will never…be for that sort of thing. I pledge allegiance…to the flag. My hopes will never flag for the old red, white, and blue. I am a citizen. I love America; I love the idea of America. Like my friend who loved humanity, the question of loving people is always at some risk in the context of concept over persons, of structure over personal and individual being.

I am a Catholic, Jew, free…thinker. I approve of…cannot abide…just because I am a…Who, precisely, am I. I am white, black, just the right proportion of each of those. There is no concept of race…no purity. Who am I? Who am I without these gathering concepts? How can I be me, when I am so many? And all the things and -isms who I am-not and can never be so startles me that I cannot hope to find myself. Who will tell me who I am…to be?

Imagined Communities (Benedict Anderson – Nancy Armstrong_ the question of the concept of the engulfing nation and why we accept/reject it (go on)


The I who/which responds to the Others’ Me: If we are talking interesting puzzles, here resides one which goes on and on and on. When I look in the mirror, even, just whose version of myself do I think I see? When first I saw my facial image reflected in my mother’s eyes – literally – what precisely did I see? When I saw myself (still do?) reflected in her face and critique and whatever love she could afford to give me, was this a me which: I liked; despised; got sustenance from; defended from; …? Did this response/reaction change from time to time?

Is maturity a growing need or necessity not to see myself as my mother would see me? To forget or forgive this version of myself? To alter my mother in my own view such that her envisioning of me was moving…and growing, or not?

Family, spouse, children, friends, enemies – imagined or real: where do my reactions to them reside? Is this residential neighborhood of my being, my real or actual home? Does the I which I call myself consist in major part of some blend of my reactions to the me which others say I am? What can love or hate or toleration or my disappearance from anyone else’s eyes mean in my own story to myself about who precisely I am? Is there a core of being located here? Is “it” merely located here, generated anew every so often; is it changed and updated; or a vision of the past notion of who I was or said to be, which now reigns over my being?


Identity Projected Forward: I wandered about in the world a victim, a slave to the various of my addictions, wondering why and how I had become so in love with certain substances, particularities of thought: caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, to name those substances which are adjudged “legal”; and various obsessions including the various dependencies which sought me out successfully (or which I sought out!).

There has/had been an argument about the nature of addiction, cast as within Western thinking between the notion of physical or psysiological addiction – a passive attachment and “need” of one’s next “fix” or “trip” – as opposed to a psychological addiction in which one presumably gets in the habit of thinking that one needs to have a cigarette in hand with one’s coffee which one needs to have to wake up in the morning or a drink which acts as a soporific to sleep through the night.

Instead, I have wondered if the question of addiction is more one of how one thinks about one’s being and identity “cast forward” into one’s image of self in futurity: the “moment of addiction” being that time when one (can) no longer see oneself or imagine oneself into future being without the substance or object of obsession which is “causing” or promulgating the addiction. That is, one’s future image of self seems to be (at least passively) involved in determining one’s identity as it plays out in each present…moment.


Body, Body Politic, Body of Knowledge: It is not easy to say where we begin to state and to think about the relation between being and identity, because the framing of both seems to be intertwined; intertwined, that is, within several virtual loci in which one locus is presumed, then the other(s) derived from that presumption.

We can charge Aristotle, conveniently, for developing this model of conflation. The (physical) individual body is first presumed to be nature of our entityness: an establishing principle. Having presumed that each individual person has existence, we then divide being into two parts: body and soul, granting (both dualism and hierarchy are derived from Plato/Pythagoras) that the soul has power over the body. Identity is thus shifted toward whatever the soul is or does.

The concept of “nature” which is used to bolster this thinking, is not only invoked but is also given a sense of direction and towardness: human nature is what each individual tends toward – here, the male adult.

At about the same conceptual moment, the concept of the nation-state is given primacy over the individual, because it exists more generally: irrespective of the existence of any particular individual(s). But its nature is taken to be analogous to the individual (body). It, too, is dualistic in its nature: the director (mind) having hegemony over the citizens’ (bodies). Thus the “nature” of the state is of the “body politic” in which the physical (body, citizens) is presumed or taken as given; then, the its proper form is declared to be some form of monarchy – a directing mind “over��� the body politic.

In this web of circular and circulating presumptions, the question of what is a good or proper person/government is conflated. Aristotle (Politics), having presumed the primacy of the physical body – then having hidden it – takes up the “problem” of the direction, thus the nature of our true being. On the way, the question of whether there are “natural” slaves – inferiors, thence superiors, arises. Although there seems to be nothing like ���proof” of their inferiority offered by Aristotle, there is the conclusion that there are and must be: I infer that the idea of superiority of mind over body, of monarchy over citizens, leads fairly directly to the idea that slaves who are principally bodies in terms of their treatment in society, are now taken back to their originary being: body equals slave. As body is natural, slavery/slaves are natural.

In any case, the web of intertwining body with body politic, now moves back again to body and seems to establish, at least to offer justification, for there being slaves, and treating them as lesser; i.e., as subservient.

Since, the “fact” of one’s identity at birth is nowhere clear, this ���methodology” of intersecting body and body politic permits us to dis-identify any particular person by equating identity with an im-personal body-mind, to raise being to the body politic where the individual is made virtually to disappear, then back again to the person who can now be declared to be a slave…or not. Here one disappears under the weight of s/his external definition.


Nature and Culture: A story in Western thought, at least, is that we are some mix of culture and nature, or some mix of good and evil, of mind and body – an oppositional sense that we are particularly some one way, with some other crying to be let out or threatening to take over some more or less real me. And when there is some opposing or other side to our being, then there is likely to be an arena of interface, where the two sides may find one another, or they may even be subsumed to the area between. Capping this tradition is the hierarchical tendency to value one – or the other – side of being; occasionally both in different moments, or in some complementarity of yin/yang. (Much of this seems due to the unwillingness or incapability of theorists of being to figure out what to do with the fact that much of life is [truly] paradoxical, and to confuse or to conflate different modes of being with their having to be oppositional; i.e., life/death, male/female, one/many, and so on to the number of 20 or so.

In the Platonic-idealist tradition, I am really-truly mind, language, rationality, text, deity, purity, form, and the other – the body, nature, dirty, Satan-anti-Christ is opposite and threatening to the real me. One suspects – within this metaphysics – that one has the real exactly the opposite from what it really it (In Next Places: “The Terror of Beast Within”). Or, worse, that as we are composed of both parts at once: that nature is always trying to overtake the real me, and may win out, needing then to be exorcized…or I may need to be imprisoned…or…

In a theory which is variably social then political then…theme and variation on Hobbes vs. Locke/rousseau, the question of who I am is taken to social and political theory. Who I am is intertwined with the issue of freedom and liberty. The real me is the me who is totally free to do with what I will, what I want. (As Hobbes derives directly from Aristotle, the Hobbesian attempt is always to take the theory of being, of one’s identity, and to metaphorize it into social-political theory: the Body Politic and the Organic Analogy. As the mind is free and reigns over the body, thus it has been held, is the king over polis, man over woman, parents over children, and polis over slaves. Here the question of the dualism depends on which side is credited with being the real I – the really human in Aristotelian theories of nature is the mind.) But in Hobbes retold via Paglia, the really us is the body, and the interface is located in sex and the erotic. The opposing theoriests are variably Locke and Rousseau who presume us to be born free, and it is society which has placed us in chains. (cont.) – quote Camilla Paglia (Sexual Personae)



Tender Loving Care (TLC): Human infants do not survive on their own!

They do not survive in ���their own terms.” If they possess such “terms,” they do not ensure survival. Surviving infants (us, et al), survive in terms largely defined/shared, interpreted by their parents.

Whatever TLC consists in – touching, smell, talking to and with – is some set of terms which creates/breaks boundaries and categories in whose terms we survive. (Ashley Montagu)

The individual “I” thus exists in terms largely constructed by parents. This does not mean that I do not possess (prior?) terms, or that my terms of identity are not “emergent.” It does mean that Rousseau’s notion of “born free” has little meaning, derived as it is from “natural law theory” rather from study of the developing human condition.

Parents draw the boundary conditions for the emergence of identity – but do not necessarily specify in any continuous and structured manner, the nature of one’s identity. They ���demand” – as it were – the conscientious/conscience of any other within particular contextual sense of being: e.g., not being a great danger or threat to self or to significant others. Stay away from the fire! Do not bite your mother!

Beyond these contexts, however, the nature of identity has great “spaces,” its limits often needing and getting continuous or particular or sporadic redefinition – perhaps particularly in those arenas which are interpreted as TLC: touch, smell, talking with and to, and so on.


Sex and Being: This is what I got; what they gave me. Is this who I am?

They looked at me early on with sex and gender in their eyes, dressing me as a boy/girl, addressing me as girl/boy. How earnestly did they look in the buggy and basinette to see what sort I was. And I? How did I respond to them looking at me with gender in their looking’s lenses? Did they judge me within a gendered frame? Didn’t they always refer to me as she or he?

I learnt girl and boy pretty early on; learnt to tell myself, that is, what I am? I learnt early on to think of son and daughter, of being father or mother, brother or sister. I was shut out of women’s/men’s rooms after a few years. I was restricted in who I could touch where, what I got to smell, where.

Within reach of hands and fingers probing, feeling, feeling pretty good, better than most places, would change, often swell the boyish sort further out, unlayer the girl beneath the beneath. At some moment in time, sex solidified into gender and became a who I am, further complicating the quest for who am I.


Who I Am-Not: The I who-am-not seems to be primarily comparative in origin and in its driving force. Am I not-time and not-space in the same senses in which I am not my spouse or my dog or my students or parents or friends or enemies? Am I not-lightening or a distant star in ways similar to how I am-not a chimpanzee or an octopus or a poltergeist, a Martian, or a weatherperson? Am I natural; in nature…not?

Yesterday I was the me that I am in this moment except that I am-not. Tomorrow, similarly, I will be; then, some day I will not-be. What power, what necessity to discover who I am that I am-not?

Is the issue of phenomenon – the reality (and experience?) of the existence of objects which I also am-not – the sense of the residual in terms of which I discover I am? What: discover? What difference between knowing and dis-covering the who I am that I am-not? Isn’t this issue of the constancy of being – the who I am that I remain even as I am as in-change as the Heraclitean river – derived from the language of the particular and the universal: at once this one and in the same moment every one?

Do these vagaries of life’s experiences for the infant to whom all is contrast (it seems) freeze into phenomena and persons much as the faces which they face back, become identities: mothers and others? Then, once I am, the others are, and I am, and…a circle of being? If identity is circular, how does being increase, change, grow, freeze, problematize, adult-erate?

If an infant’s mother ���goes away” – even for a few hours – does the infant “know” that this is the “same” person? Does the infant know that s/he is the same? Constancy, duration, how do they become me while I still live in many senses as change?

How do chemicals become me? How do I become myself? Am I in some state of tension at the ready for my self becoming not-me?


Loss: Of limbs, of life, of youth’s imagination of who I would be…!? How afraid in the depths of my being (!?) am I of, say, becoming blind or deaf – both of which conditions reside on the margins of my present being? What if: I have an accident; become senile? Is this like whatever else I call fear within my being: an exaggeration, perhaps, or something of quite another kind? Are these sorts of loss similar to the “loss” of another – significant to me – person?

In the arena of the construction of being and identity, is the posing of this sort of question likened to the asking of questions about toxics and other limits to life – in the informing of being: the conditions of not-being used to define who I am? Does this help our understanding? Is it unavoidable, either methodologically or in the living of life? Is this about the issue of what one “needs” in order to truly be? Is this different from what one is, or defining of it?

That is, if it is the case that I need(!) so much food to survive, or cannot tolerate some other condition, does this contribute to any positive understanding of who and what I am? If I am overdosed on carbon monoxide, or given the hemlock which began this entire tradition of questioning, what does this tell me about who I am?

Now it is certainly the case that I need to avoid or to expel those things and substances which might harm me – to take care not to expose myself to the killing wind-chills of deepest Minnesota winter or to the baking heat of the hot deserts of the world. In what senses does this not-doing – a positive kind of knowledge, in general – active in the constuction of identity?

In my own person case, I have not been able to see out of my left eye since I was a small child, it having been destroyed by a thrown stone. And I have worn a prosthesis since that time, making my appear to be relatively alike in appearance to most other folks of my ilk; not different enough in general to be seen as damaged or “other.” But it has made me self-aware or aware of self perhaps in ways that have led to the asking of the fundaments of identity.

Consider: that I know that I look different from how others see me (in my mirror, in my memory of a face with one eye gone, a socket of light rose flesh which does not look back; in my intellectual being which wonders what eyes have to do with being human and being me, and how are others with two eyes or with none…?). Consider that I know that I am different, that I have lost…an eye? What means the possible bitterness, the sense of what might have been – actually I don’t think I experience this sense of thwarted being very deeply. But others – those who lost an eye at a later, more grown-up moment in their lives – apparently do mourn such a loss. For me, personally, it haas led me to muse on the nature of appearance, and how the interpretation and looking-into me has led me to look for in-sight.

In terms of the loss of others, is the mourning of the loss of a limb akin to the loss of a significant other? What, in me, has changed when someone I love, dies? What, in me, changes when a significant person no longer enter my life: accidentally or on-purpose? What sense of loss turns into treason when a spousal person or a loved sibling decides that a relationship in null and void. Where does that leave the other; the bereaved; me? What does mourning tell us about our own identity? How is it that others have entered us in ways that their dis-appearance causes us to have powerful feelings of loss?

It must be: that the centrality of our being includes – or begins from – the inclusion of others into our very (physical) being! While the sense of loss – of their death – has a reality separate from our being, the fact is that we feel the loss, often powerfully. A friend reported, on the occasion of a spouse leaving, that she felt that she had a large, painful �����hole” in her chest. Did “time” heal that hole? Was the hole she felt different from an actual lesion? What is the relationship between the hole and being whole?

How, that is, do we have or develop an inclusive sense of the entirely or wholeness of our being? Clearly it entails “taking-into” our being (physically?), the fact of whatever “significance” of others means to us. The loss of a person who is important – one whom we have included in our sense of being who we are – is an aspect of our being. S/he is in our being, in our thinking at least potentially (as is obvious at the moment of loss).

What then is a loss? Is my eye more important in the constellation of my being who I am than my beloved? Will only loss tell? Tell what? Whom?


Drugs: Drugs alter one’s being and sense of identity in various ways.

If we focus on the alteration, then practically any ingested stuff, any activity which we “use” or which occurs to us, is a drug: food, sex, power, a sense or loss of will, excretion as well as constipation; washing our bodies, shaving or cutting hair, picking a pimple…all of these are alterations. But we usually mean, by drugs, something broader or more specific.

The concept of ���alteration” presumes already that one somehow “has” a continuous identity, but I think that one’s sense of permanence is also an emergent phenomenon. Going to sleep, another day – are concepts which may have little continuity for an infant. One observes that the infant’s mother’s face/presence is the link of being which provides ongoingness into (!) the infant’s experience.

So, alteration!

We have, find, want not to have, to have…some of us approach the world as wondrous, transformative…others do not?! (Kierkegaard’s axis between those who approach the world through fear, the others through wonder.) The world has settled down, I want to rile it/me up. Do druges alter me, my perceptions, the world? What is it, how do I keep my self continuous: a sense of my self-image, carried forward, projected into the futurity of imagining me into each tomorrow?! Is this sense of continuity which I (have learnt to?) carry in myself into my futurity, where drugs gain their power, their interest? Is my continuous self complete, boring, exciting – can I wait till tomorrow; do I want today to be over; am I bored to tears?

Coffeed to the point where my metabolism speeds at just the right momentum for me to write and live my day at twice the speed of…

Liquored to the point of soporification so I can sleep the sleep of sounding quiet…

…so I can taste the elixir of coffee, and live my life at a pace which I can barely keep up…with.

Cigarettes I quit so many years ago, still reverberate in my being, wondering that I cannot stand the smell of its smoke with some temptation to breathe deeply the smoke of tobacco and feel whatever my body yearns for: a yearning!? An alteration, steadying the nerves of…what nerves? What am I reading about my body’s feelings, feeling incomplete? – with what solution…in my feelings’ mind?

Hooked on drugs? Hooked on the image of my own being carried and projected forward into the future sufficiently that I live my life as risk-free…as possible…or on the edges of existence challenging the cars as they cross my path and the ideas of time in which I want to play in these moments. Drugs, living on edges, wanting to dare the dark urges, titillate them a little, a lot…all the way to hither and yon and beyond the being which I know…perhaps to know much more, and to know all there is.


The Historical Me (from Jung to old-age): There is always the present temptation, especially when the I of who I am right now is less satisfying than the sets of I-images in my being tell me they might be, or should be, to look to history for explanation or for clues of how to undo the self I think I am.

The most prevalent stories – from South Asia and from the Western quest for directedness in life’s passages – make some claim that I am in some trajectory from lesser to more. Where I began mostly in nature – likened to another creature whose spirit I am or once was – now I am further along, more progressed, with a sense of towardness: on the road to utopias, Nirvanas: a return in the West, an escape in the South of Asia. Some form of an end and endedness, an eschatology, a finishing is held out for us to aim: human potential, maturity, but not always wisdom which is more processual and passing than an endness.

The search, then, is not toward one’s Next Place in the world of being, but back in history: back to another life; back to the traumas of infant���s repressions and recessions; back because the present being of my being unsatisfies me. And rather than explore the senses in which my pictures of present being are not satisfied, I look for older-younger images which I will work at changing or explicating. Here, one hopes/believes that history so determines present being, that a change in one’s putative history will somehow affect present being. If only…turns into a possible doing…and being.

I suppose there are ways of doing this well or usefully. My wonderings have more to do with the costs which attention to these ideas of history take from critique of the present. Does present understanding yield to past misunderstandings? Does critique turn into blame: of one’s parents (I have found that it has been useful to forgive my memories of their being in order to move on.); of the traumas I occurred even before I had the sense of being sensible about my own being – variation and theme on lost innocence.

Similarly my wonderings and skepticisms are less, I think, about the possibilities of exploring the who of who I am, and more concerned as spouse, parent, teacher, citizen about remaining critical and thoughtful in the here and now. If I yield to dreams or history or the vast variety of numerologies and mysticisms which appeal to various of my sensibilities, can I also remain critical in the present? I think that one cannot do both with any depth, and I seem to have made my commitment, at least for the nonce.

And, since most of these schemes of skewed development have implied for scholars and politicians of the mind’s perorations, a sense of history – usually from some depiction of nature as other animals toward this utopic sense of what it might mean to be fully human (away from animals and bodily being toward soul/spirit and a visage of the transcendent deities) we find ourselves in this quest for the historical to be burdened with heavy luggage: racist in theory, usually racist in hard facts paralleling the histories we have sought to draw; and racist in the practice of comparing ourselves the Brahmins with the others, the they’s of the world, the untouchables and the would-be, should-be slaves to our fantasies of wanting to be…perfect.


Geometrizing Being: In his Domestication of the Human Species, Peter Wilson claims that humans first became the sort we see today – hierarchized, grubbing, thinking imaginatively about the spaces and places which occupying self-consciously notes – when we first established fixed domiciles. It is not in the human condition, per se; but something we came upon; a process of our ontology rather than a process of our primary developmental being.

This piece of speculative history shows us several things: 1) the fact that we carry already in our thinking about the human condition a variety of presumptions about being human, most or all of which may be mistaken – that is, that we are speculative thinkers, but of particular sorts; 2) the apparent fact that we are the only species who thinks, which has some Kantian sense in our heads which matches the external universe of our being, is likely not the case. We have learned in’s and out’s by living as if there exist particularities of space and place; 3) that boundedness and discontinuity are as real as anything else, setting up perhaps the paradox of the one and the many and of continuity vs. change (perhaps much of language origin finds itself in this experiencing and geometrizing).

Indeed we tend to operated in the world as if these places which our geometrizing of the world, keeps on constructing are powerful. But they are as much metaphor as anything else: Eden, heaven, the kingdom, America (but is the world of the same order?),…hell.

Much of our identity is bound up with the construction of the places which attach us to them: we have effectively lost something – memory? – when certain places no longer exist or are destroyed much as the death of a significant other. Much of life is given power and definition for religious thinkers who want to return to heaven, to nationalists who gain their identity by being of this or that land, or wish to return, say, to Israel or to…It is interesting, frightening, exciting to return to one’s childhood home. What aspects of oneself are attached to the spaces of one’s existence that the metaphors are often as real as anything else in our being…at home in this life?

How does place give us meaning and create within us some sense of belonging or not? And, at least in contrast to the Amerindian sense that the earth is our Mother and that she cannot be parceled or valuated or sold or bought, how do we construct our thinking being to be able to abstract ourselves from the land to which we ever might thing that we belong, and might return…to?


God Said: In the beginning, in the beginning,…we are so lulled into these words and thoughts as if they represent some reality that we follow by thinking that we are the creatures who primarily think…was the word, the word. And the deity was said to say that the world should be created: talk, not doing. And still we talk about being, and steer clear of…being itself, herself. A man’s story?

In the beginning we emerge from our mother’s womb; from the vagina which wrapped about the penile punch some nine months before. That was some (sense of) beginning.

In the beginning, we became (I guess) human? Created as it says in the Old Testament story of Genesis; evolved from the long line of life and living creatures: continuous, yet discontinuous; we seem to want to focus fully upon the differences, the particularities,…the word we think that God spoke which moved the powers which made the world for us…humans in the image of, with dominion over,…Thus spake…!

I am who I call myself; whom others call me?

If I was in the beginning, and always will be, who am I now?

(How do I know?)


Transforming Knowledge (Minnich):…and if a man tell woman’s story? Is this the same as if she tells it?

It depends, I suppose. I used to try to imagine what it is like to be/have a vagina, to be able to/to have a baby, having lived through/ gone through much of this experience with J. Much of the experience I can think, in my most imaginative construction, that I could (as the saying goes) walk in her shoes. But, I could not merely remove my genitals and formulate a vagina; and even thought one can do this (have it done) surgically, is it a close approximation? Was/is it sufficient to say: this is who and what I am…in order to know the experience of another, a mother?

But who can tell anyone’s story? Can I (even) tell my own? Certainly not in the detail which I experience it. Much of what I tell ( and I seem to talk incessantly) has to do with others’ theories of being, of experiences which are generalized and universalized to the stars. some of it seems to be an invention (mine, J’s?).

I think much of it depends, as well, as how men and women construct each other, one and the other: how much in the context of opposition, where the male constructs the female he would want her to be, then responds to her through the vision and lenses; or precisely not want her to be, and then responds. The gaze of the male defines the female who then has to react, defensively perhaps, in and to his terms if she seeks love and approval.

Certainly the way in which women tell woman’s story is quite different from the way in which men have been telling it. Perhaps this is principally about power and equity; perhaps it is more directly experiential. How could a man tell the difference?

And where/how does one draw her boundaries. Women are part of men; mothers at the least. How have men constructed the idea of man that we do not love and lavish the women inside our experience? Are men so powerful that they need not; so incomplete that they cannot; so denying that they must not?

Can a man tell woman’s story? Somewhat. Not really; not exactly. Can we find a couple who can tell both stories; or have couples moved their boundaries of being sufficiently so that male and female have moved to un(re)cognizable spaces and places?

On the other hand, it seems important almost always to continue in this quest for understanding…others and oneself. Who is to be able to know where one’s next visions and next places reside, and what notions of being and identity we have to surmount to continue to grow in our understanding?


In at the Womb (from egg-zistence to embryology): the vast puzzles of being might receive heightened awareness of the developmental aspects of our being if we take embryology more to the heart of the task. Two cells – an egg and a sperm on one level – two cells joining and sharing and beginning (perhaps) the process by which I am. No free fall from the space of heaven’s home for the spirit of later imaginings: just two cells – not at all dull – but not all that…interesting, either.

Growing, ingesting, taking in nutrients, expelling and extruding the wastes of development’s excrements, the cells divide and multiply, fold in such interesting ways. Who one cell is, now become where that cell finds itself, the neighborhood, what everyone else is and does: being embryology sounds more and more like the culture of interaction’s theories. The outside folds in: three layers depicted in three colors remember me of the course I took in embryology so many years ago; but fresh still in many ways…and striking in my amazement. Purely mechanical –> increasingly mental, rational, I have always thought we heightened this directional idea of development and underestimated, even dis-esteemed the physicality of our being by mechanizing it. We have left the theorist of our own development in the hands of some directorial homunculus whom we now think of a genes. They – that is, the genes, seem to have a life all of their own; but they are not available for consultation about being and identity. Shy? Conceptal slippage about the question-why and the retort-because?

It, my embryo, ma and pa (blush, Augustine!),…me. If those aspects of my developmental being remain in the conceptual background, has that fairly formally blinded us from noting that the body whose hands and fingers type out this stuff,…type…stuff? And we remain in the either or of opposition and antinomy even as my type types; not remembering to remember why there are chairs in the world’s places. Fingers…type…stuff.


A Patina of Identity (derived from, the deity, mom, flag, sausage,…): There resides within being a deep temptation to splinter off edges of my being and let them fly like satellites about the nearest celestial body.

I virtually cry every time I look at the flag and imagine the wonderfulness of the state, thence of me. I am proud to be…an Amurican! I feel deeply about citizenship, about being a “good” citizen to some concept of a nation which I experience at some level whenever…Similarly to the concept of being citizen to the world…

I love(d) my mother, and her apple pie (especially lemon meringue), her ability to spell well even when she didn’t know what words meant, her angers and fits which were many and voluble, her analytic skills which went everywhere but never too deeply, and her involvement in being a historian to all the characters who had ever shown up in her life, keeping them afloat and updated each day even many years after they had died. One thousand miles from her was the necessary minimal distance at which I could live. May she rest in sufficient turmoil to maintain her own senses of being!

I love the sense of fullness of the fullness of my stomach having ingested a fully satisfying meal: of sausage as the ex-Soviets seem to say. More, I feel a sense of nervous incompleteness when I have fewer than 2 heads of garlic in my cupboard or the other spices of my life are running low. Then when I possess the garlic, then…I am. And hot sauce, I am.

Am? Am what? Am I garlic, yet unprocessed, yet unsmelling? Do I constantly diminish myself in the context of 30 spices adding up to…me? Can anyone be said to be living a life, to possess a real identity and being without coriander and vinegar, cumin and caraway? Nations go to battle over spices, as well as over gems and other minerals which oil the wheels of commerce. Do I go to pieces over minced garlic mincing about in the onions of life? Capsicam, therefore I am?


The Essential Self: a Residual Notion? Dig deep! Dig underneath the patina of my being. Look, look into the mirror of my mind’s eyes reflecting and see Narcissus looking back at me wondering who I am. I am me; am I not? If not me; who then?

Am I an aspect of the deity whom I invent, who invents me, whom I trust to confirm me in order to confirm the god of my invention who tells me that I am?…

Am I my parents’ child, my spouse’s husband, my dog’s “master,” my children’s father, my students’ teacher, my colleague’s colleague, myself’s self, the actual composer of these writings,…the inventor of the concept of myself?

Then who am I? Is there anything left over of the me who is principally defined by others telling me who and that I am? (And if they no longer tell me and confirm me; what then?)


The Necessity of Being a Who I Am: This truth-telling universalized Western attempt to seek the essential and continuing of being wonts to take itself oh so seriously. Pure reason! I think, therefore I am! Bah and not a little of the humbug whose humbling and huddling grows out of the ashes of being. A humble hubris.

Yet I seem to want/need to find myself and keep that self intact and locatable and reliable. I need/want to trust myself. I want/need to know what I believe so I can at the least trust myself to remember who I am and what I said. Do I “mean” what I say? What I said?

Mucil: The Man without Qualities


The Moral Necessity of Being a Who I Am: I in the world with others, some of whom seem to “depend” on my being who I say I am saying that they are, and they are who I say…they are. But if I think they depend on my saying, on my being, then do I deny that they are? Do I project into them my imaginings of who they are? What then, of them?

If I do not mean what I say, if I am not at all certain that I am, saying that they are, then am I not being moral with respect to their being?

Isn’t being moral more truly to establish that I have trust in their being? (J.)


Intention: There is some “methodological” urge abroad in the land to find the me who is by attempting to locate the I who “intends.” If I say this, I intend that it influence you, change you, affect you somehow: otherwise…I wouldn’t have said it? This move to locate being by/as intending is an attempt to understand the nature of communicating as if there are (already) two of us individuals cleanly and independently saying to one another what we “mean” to say. This seems to me a form of stimulus-response argument, an elaboration of a telegraphic metaphor of mutual understanding: I send, you receive. Thus we must both be…

The “information theory” which gave rise to this thinking did not necessitate the physical presence of both of us – sender and receiver – further rarifying or further purifying the problem, depending on how we come to the issue. What this approach does tell us is that the problematic of how information gets from one person to another remains interesting. But it presumes much about the nature of personage and being which we need to begin to understand: residually, there must be sender and receiver whose (physical) primacy is guaranteed – i.e., “unquestionable,” not capable of becoming problematic in our thinking about being.

Intentionality brings “back” into our awareness, on the other hand, some notion of the “will” of the Stoics and of the theorists of the 19th century whose “will and idea” terminated into the “will” to live and to power (Schopenhauer and Nietzsche). But it resonates, so far, within a captious presumption about the locus of being, being passive. At the least, it raises into our awareness, the fact that being and “doing” are coterminous in the human condition (and in Law).

But, this is all recollectible within (political!?) theories of being in which the intention and power of the individual is to be gathered or subsumed into the state; in which the individual being has to be diminished or subjugated or educated to the greater good of the greatest number, rather than the contractual notin of the individual whose identity is discernable and in at least some areas of our being, “separable” from others.

When I think that I intend that you understand me: do I set all the terms for your understanding of “me”; are we both located within many larger frameworks of understanding (e.g., spatial-temporal, in some particularity of relationship, etc.) in terms of which most our our words are “about” the contexts rather than directed from or toward one another; do I “seek” love or power or the mere filling of time or variations on these whose intention weakens itself even as it proceeds to lay itself out? (Brentano, Searle)


Integrity: I think that some of the virtues, especially “honesty,��� are extremely difficult to pursue.

I think that the issue of “integrity” is central to the question of identity, of knowing about one’s boundaries and central foci and directness, and of maintaining them in the context of many reasons and pursuasions to alter them, thence one’s sense of self.

In two areas of my life, particularly, this has been very clear. In violin play – “amateur” play – it is the case that one easily becomes pleased with her/his level of performance, and calls “good” that which is pleasing. One apparently adapts at some “plateau” of competence and calls that “who she/he is.” What I can do well-enough, I (have) gradually have come to call “good.”

The other place where I have become particularly aware of the issues of integrity associated with an ���honest” reading of myself is in my teaching. At some point, I “woke up” to discover that my teaching had become largely “memorized”; that I was not consciously engaged in my teaching, but was pandering to an audience out of my desire to please them, whose pleasing would then please myself. I was becoming a good (I think) “low-payed monologist.” (Now having produced a book on teaching in which I drew a quite-fine Teacher, I feel the necessity to work harder at my own teaching…See: Teaching as Dialogue)

I wonder in how many other arenas of life one settles-in to some self-conception of honesty which is more actually akin to one’s prevailing practices and adjustments? How can one be ���careful” and live “carefully” with respect to issues of honesty and integrity?

But integrity is also concerned with the boundaries of being whole and complete; of not being destroyed or of being a destroyer of oneself. And yet one changes, perhaps grows, moving toward some “next place” in life. How is one then, with respect to her/his integrity?

Can I be me and still move on? Can I not move on?

If, as in the assymetry of teaching, others regard me as complete and integral and essentially non-changing, how then do I regard myself? Can I confirm/disconfirm what they think, and still remain loyal and honest and integral – to myself? How can I be simultaneously of two minds, without forgetting who I am? And just who defines and sustains…who I am?

Equally, if others see me and changing, or want me to change, do I find myself resisting that felt wish, and saying like a deity: ���I am who I am”?

If, like Kierkegaard, I see the joining of a church as being a disciple, the giving away of myself to some external, largely political structure, do I seek to live my life like Christ (is said to have) lived his? (Attack Upon Christendom). Or like Nietzsche in his “destruct” mode against the power of Western thought upon our self-definitions, to transcend ourselves; or like the Catholic nuns and priests who deny themselves (their senses, feelings) to live more fully; or the variety of ways to enter into and enhance bodily experience (Zen, martial arts, Alexander, Feldenkrais,…) even as we attempt to enter “fully” into each moment; or by being a musician – even, for me, occasionally, when the music plays itself over and over and over in my head’s “hearing” – then who am I?

What are the boundaries and edges of my being? Who am I really? A structured me? A process me? A path and trajectory who is not anyone else? I am only a “difference?” A role? An actor upon the stage of a theatre in whose plays the scripts ran out of good lines some time ago?

Near the beginning of Jasper’s Nietzsche (unreferenced), in which N. is said to have said that even the most evil of us have to tell ourselves stories which allow us to sleep the good sleep each night…


Culture: Bypassing the dynamics and processual aspects of being, we are apt to search out some mechanisms which seem to grant us a particular form or nature. Culture, language, society, family are often claimed to determine who we are. We are, for example, Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Muslim,…if we are brought up in a family which is…If we revolt against that identity, it is not that we are not Catholics, but that we are ex- or once were or failed at whatever our family “raised” us to be. Overwhelmingly our identity is taken to be attached to the orientation or identity of our families.

This is often extended to local or national or historical or “racial-cultural” identities where we are who we are perceived to be and/or with whom we “identify” – we often have no “choice.” At certain moments in life, at particular moments in “history,” the necessity to be some “thing,” some cultural or religious member or participant seems overwhelming. At other moments, the issue is moot, or there is no issue. Like gender, personage and being often is the crucial issue. But in other moments (or in particular cultures or traditions) the identity which is less individual and more external, is the one who we think we must be. Or others think this is who we are and must be: we become the other that they demand we are.

In such moments, in the context of the externalization of identity, the quest for who I am is often submerged, virtually to the point of disappearance. As with, say, menopause, the person who is the woman is no longer threatening/threatened and may gradually discover herself once again. Being a Jew in the midst of a holocaust translates only roughly into being a Jew in other moments, or into being a cultural Jew or an ex-Jew or into not-being a Jew in myriad ways.

The issue of who I am in contexts of culture, tends to weaken and disappear under the virtual weight of extrinsic perception and definition. It is not that I do not occupy myself with issues of who I am in particular during those moments, but that they diminish with respect to issues like “who I must be,” and “who I am said to be,” or “who I wish I were not.”


Love and Friendship: The conundrum of “love” so complicates the issue of identity that one can barely recover the sense of the problematic of being from its voraciousness. The notion of love is – in some respects – contrary to the very concept of personage and being: one yields aspects of self to someone (or something) other than oneself. This is said to be a “romantic” idea, the “falling” in love; the imagination that the object of our love has overtaken concern with the self.

Love implies that none of us is sufficient (ever?) to oneself. We yield ideas of integrity and wholeness to the sense that we are incomplete. Rather than the (e.g., South Asian) notion of a “contract” with some other being, we Americans seem to want to “fall” in love with a person. Here the quandary of what is identity reaches for the question of whether one’s being is located within oneself, or located directly in the being of another, or in some relationship(s).

If we locate being within the physical person who is (also) myself, then the question of being “ in love” is clearly a diminishing. Whether one lets loose of part of oneself, whether something which was oneself is now “yielded,” one becomes less…than.

This notion presumes that one was in most senses a complete an unchanging being before she/he “fell” in love. But, in a world construed as always in some flux, the idea of being in love, might be as aspect of a growing sense of oneself. The question of identity then alters from the location of being and indentity strictly within the confines of the (physical) individual, suggesting that identity is an ongoing incompleteness, or that identity actually is more complex than the usual treatment of it has implied and entailed.

In construing the problematic of love principally within the notion of being in-love or of “falling” in love, the problem is also skewed (as in most American ballads) within the romantic idea that one is never possibly “complete” except when one is involved and invested in a (usually) sexual relationship with a partner/spouse in some sense of marriage beyond the contractual nature of sharing goods, children–> some notion of “family.”

Once one moves beyond the idea of love as (purely) romantic, the question of the “eros” of Plato (Symposium), of the love of companions and companionship, of wanting to be “with” someone often, occasionally, to enter into some communion/commonality with them, to eat/break bread together, to have a party, celebration; towards community.



Wrestling with Irony: In a recent report, it was told that a local high school woman (12-14 years?) was wrestling capably with the boys. In the midst of some hue and cry about the morality of this, it dawned with a shining sun moment on the crowd of would-have-been moralists, that boys wrestling boys must also be…sexual.


Memory/Forgetting: Am I what/who I remember? If I remember everything that has ever happened to me, wouldn’t the clutter so fill my being that there would be no space for the present, for the new? How is it that I remember some of the 1930���s, ‘40’s, ‘50’s, ‘60���s, ���70’s, ‘80’s, and the 1990’s?

Some of older (condo) neighbors seem to dwell increasingly within (on?) the past? A few seem to have “fallen in love” with the past, using the (putative) present only to think upon how wonderful was the past: parents, small children,…eventnesses. Then, they are diagnosed as senile or with Alzheimer’s, and their sense of the present does seem slimmer than many of ours. But their inner sense of being and identity seem possibly clearer than ever: just not very interested in the present? As noted by C. Darwin in his M and N notebooks on “Mind, Memory,…”, older folks often are able to (and interested in) recall events which seemed otherwise to disappear through their earlier lives: as if the clutter of some present experience covered over certain aspects or detail of memory.

Living in southern Mexico for two years, where many persons were not literate, one was impressed (amazed, more like) by the vast detail of the memory of the non-literates. Without books, without the possibility of any records which are not within one thoughtful grasp, one has to know/remember everything – or it effectively did not ever exist. With writing, with literacy, one “trusts” to records, to encyclopedias, to the references of one’s life (ncluding other persons?), the details and facts of one’s life experiences. Does this require effective modes of forgetting?

When I play/perform music, I need to have at my disposal several (19?) “modes” of thinking about my playing. Especially, I need to immediately “drop” or forget what I have played, and both to remain in the present of the performance and to be looking a little ahead (but not too far!). Just who is the I who is performing: 19 of me? Who conducts, directs, forgets, remembers to remember where I am at this moment, dropping it, not getting panicked in each present by an error in the just past, or worry about an especially difficult passage to come. I do, in this form, however, perform a text: which has a beginning, middle, an end. I have “studied” it at length, and “know” it well. “Know?” I can locate myself at any moment within the text, etc. And performing with others? Who am I, exactly, that I blend with another, with several, trying to play well for myself, for them, for a good performance…?

My teaching as dialogue is an improvisatory art. Some ideas are outlined, students are apprised of the general topic, of an issue in some potential dispute. Then I ask a question, challenge some idea, and play off the responses – others’ retorts to those. Watching how other students react or do not, I may ask another question or argue a point. The form is “made-up��� largely as it goes, rather than being very specifically pre-planned. How do I remember what I am up to; find gathering notions, sum up…all in the “heat” of a discussion which has no very discernable structure?

Is it, indeed, “structure” which provides a sense of memory like the narrative of the novel which dramatizes the world and gives it some particular sense of direction, of eventness, of happenings which I then give meaning as it reposes in my memory? Has, for example, the art of reading and writing led us to this form, which now in the land of television and the virtual presence of the bodily image is rendered less important? Doesn’t the presence of the bodily image itself carry memory? How? Has the overwhelming use of the lecture form in teaching derived from the print medium – but is no longer necessary and is the less convincing? What is the relationship between memory and what is convincing?

A picture worth a thousand words? An unforgettable character?


How Many am I? Father, son, husband, teacher, student, neighbor, citizen,…all of these and more am I. How can I be all of these and remain particularly and especially myself?

Most of the works on being and identity seem to strongly presume that the I of my being who I am is at once a centrality to my existence and quite particularly alone in the world. (Shades of Aristotle defining the psyche as being that portion of being which is the breath of life!) I am isolated; I am at war with myself…all of this presuming that the otherness of being who I am with respect to…is less essential to my being than my work particularly at exploring who I am…alone.

But I am not really alone. Rather I am in a variety of discourses – some with myself, admittedly; others with a spouse of many years whose boundaries in our being are at many points in some dispute and unclarity which seem dynamic and less fixed than the sense of being secure in my actual being who I am. Here, the integrity of being is apparently secured within the relationship: sometimes stationary, more times moving – consistent in relationship to children.


Denial: Denial already presumes that there is more than one of me; that my identity is manifold such that there is a sense of my identity which can deny aspects of itself while still functioning and able to say I am who I am.

Certain aspects of being become backgrounded, placed into arenas of being which are no longer “in awareness”; once central, now more firmly who one is. Example: The mouth which was once quite central in our being infants – as large as large can be, I suppose (but cannot “remember” except I note how its awareness grows when I chip a tooth or have a seed stuck within two teeth) – now that the most complicated art and muscular practices of speaking are “second nature,” they are not much in my awareness. Like any other function which we do at the level of balletic complicatedness, they now appear unproblematic, then apparently “simple.” But they are not simple…we are adept.

Within the complicatedness of being we have rehearsed, performed, and memorized (as it were) many dramas of life; many of which are remembered in some detail, but many of which are placed in that area of being which is not any longer on any surface we find regularly; or are in places which we can no longer seem to locate. The who I am now has no particular interest/access to such places, and, it seems, that many of them are unavailable and inconsistent with who I say I am, now. I can literally deny that is how I am, even though some “trace” of my being may still linger like faint perfume in my being; to arise, perhaps, when “I” least expect or least desire, or at least say that I do…or I don’t.

All the trails and trajectories of thoughts and desires which have pulsed the fasciae of my body – awake, asleep – all them are “there” somewhere. In my necessity and zeal to tell myself who I am, some of these I do not permit, do not allow, do not admit to the myselves of present being. No! Old thoughts, habits, would-have-beens, the vengeances of little-boy hurts and the wounds of bigger-boy slurs, the frailties of my being which I cannot and would not admit…these lurk no doubt in being even as I tell myself they do not, and would not.


Hope, Transcendence, and Progress: Who will I be? How will I be? How do I will myself to be?

The idea of a God was constructed to place one into orbit beyond the ordinary of each today: one “solution” to questions of hope and transcendence is to critique the idea of the ordinary. Life is itself transcendent: we must come to be able to note this – to see our seeing – even in our oft seeming quest to stop the world.

The idea of futurity – some “guarantee” of the future, is planted into us by our parents who “see” us forward into the future, becoming much like them, heirs to their knowing and being. This works in our lives for a while, at least until we are able to survive (as it were) on our own. At such a point, we need to recast the idea of futurity, for others, but especially for oneself.

Teachers can also “guarantee” futurity. Like earlier parenting, this requires authority granted to the teacher: varieties of the yielding of the self to another, who will point toward the substance of the teachings; knowing then defines the direction of the future.

Transcendence entails thinking about one’s next places in the world with some meditation, some sense of purposefulness and the possibility of growth rather than any mere management or hanging on. The “loss” of hope, like entering into Dante’s Inferno, involves the yielding to issues of death; issues, that is, constructed from some particularities and traditions and stories and questions of “why” am I here, subtlely replacing the drama and inner dialectic of why I am here.

Progress is the most subtle of all the temptors, deriving from the experience of youth growing-up to the images and suitings of being the adult which the former adults had “read into” one, then having to construct oneself within an effective stasis of being. The existential problematic has much to do with how to balance and use the change which is (always) occurring, and grant it some sense of towardness; some continuing vision which is from life. Like pain (after a certain age), the issue of death can become an enemy, rather than a partner within one’s being. How to use this idea to further inform living, is life’s problematic; and progress is a word which elaborates it.


The Actor:


Striving for the widest variety of identities, he [Laurence Oliver] had run the risk of being no one and consequently often felt he had failed to locate the contours of his own adult character…I don’t like myself.” (D. Spoto, Laurence Oliver: A Biography)


Actors often wonder, as they assume one personality after another, just which might be their own; library shelves groan under the weight of theatrical autobiographies redolent of self-doubt, of performers confused about their identities. Having devoted a life-time to the convincing assumption of different manly personae, Olivier had become a man ever more remote even from himself….His emotional history reveals a pattern of timdity, insecurity and withdrawal that he constantly sought to overcome onstage…it is sentimental to expect him, because he is an outsetanding actor, to be a man of great feeling and emotional depth. Not many actors are…An actors life involves maintaining continuous emotionall openness in the face of rejection, a warp to the strongest temperament.


Remembrances of the prohibitions of ���graven or false images” in the Ten Commandments, one wonders if the question wasn’t particularly about being oneself; that if one attempts to “act” out the being of any other, of taking on the notion that one stands outside of himself, that if theatre overtakes life itself, then being is weakened, cheapened, and one no longer can know (or like) s/himself. One either has no identity in particular, or one cannot remember with any surety, who s/he is. Or one does not continually seek s/his own being, a task which is life-long, and ongoing.

But the temptation to “live outside” ourselves is always present, available, even urgent for reasons which are at once personal, political, and whatever is called theological. Internal to our own being, we are filled with ���desires” and “impulses” which from time-to-time are raised to political and economic theories to justify our acting upon them. Theoreticians of utopias from Plato to Skinner have sought ways to temper or control them, or to wait for public service until we are “past them” after some age: whatever is 50 and “golden.”

In fact, we live with others’ (bodies), and are creatures who respond to their faces (particularly), and are at least in part derived or emergent from others’ expressions responding to ours. Who I am is not exclusively derived from some self-dialogue or depiction floating in my originary being from prior lives or ancient archeons located in the belly-buttons of being. One is in continuous interaction with others, with one’s “traces” of parents and friends and the teachers of our youth with whom we spent much time, and with I thought I was, and would be, and who others thought I should or should not…be. And I am in some continuous inner dialogue with who I will be next: derived from some earlier vision of self which I still practice, or look for some continuous or transformative experiences. (See: meditations on…Next Places)

The sense of growth and movement which characterized our early lives – before we thought about thinking about – does not necessarily “want” to halt its being in our own. Maturity is not a state of stasis. Development is not just for children. But in times and societies where adulthood is constructed as a statis, where the responsibility for one’s being is burdensome and without any possibility for growth or change, one seems to “buy” a sense of the bureaucratized self as if it were life’s cloak; as if the “grim reaper” of actual death visits us early disguised as a clothing salesperson, and we are tempted to become the clothing which seems to fit us.

As parent, as friend, as teacher, and all the other characters I am, I also “play” just as if I were an actor in my own life. It is not that I live as a permanent, continuous, and identifiable self: an identity, a sense of being which was granted me, and I need only “find” it, discover it, as a destiny which will stand up to be worn, once and for all. Even in those societies in which the roles for everyone seem like “givens” for all persons in all of time, they need to be studied, forced and reinforced, and each person needs to be treated as if they are who they will become; as they are willed to become.

Unlike Laurence Olivier, unlike those who are paid to enter the cast of characters who appear on those platforms which we all agree are the illusions of life – the stages of being – the rest of us enter into outlines and drawings of characters who we will truly call “ourselves.” The actor in us brings home, rejects, tries on, enhances the roles one plays in one’s own life. As being, as identity is in part an act derived from various places in the being of beings, then one’s own being involes an ongoing search for the wonder of oneself.


Will: The will to live, the will to power, the will to will,…

Camus said that the only real problem in life is whether to suicide (Myth of Sisyphus). [Can a one-year old “commit” suicide?]

Caught in some epic 18th century battle between rationality and the emotions (say, between Locke vs. Rousseau, Leibniz, and Kant’s cant), the question of will seems now like an archaism best left to the Stoics whose Libertarian offshoots have cheapened being by confining life to each of us: as if we are solitary individuals wandering in that primeval forest of the one-on-one; where competition is all of being. Can one truly be “self-reliant?” (Can one not-be?)

Perhaps we are caught in the English language in some deep confusion between the “will��� of self-will, the “will” of futurity, and a variety of plays upon whether I do what I have said I would; some border between the contingency of “would” and the morality of “should.” There is also some lingering sense of the possibility that we would be monarch of the world, that I “will” this, I “will” that to happen…and it does or it does not.

And there is some magic, some mystical ideas deriving from the pouting of childhood where “no” often meant parents did not want you to, now at war with the arenas of freedom: the necessity and responsibility of saying “no” to oneself…if and when it is “appropriate.”

I am caught a bit as well in the zone between what I can assert and actually make happen [much involves me, me: typing this word, eating, drinking...sleeping?], and the loci in which I have no power, or almost none, and can find some if I can…and will!

I will the world to be better place!

I will help make the world be a better…!

…but God’s “will be done” – an abdication, or another way to will, or a passive release and acceptance, a diminution of self in light of…?

In the context of Teaching as Dialogue, the issue of will arises in such interesting ways. In teaching, there is already an “assymetry” between Teacher and students; an assymetry of power in which the Teacher can will the students to empower themselves; and can with some skill work at this. And the students can, and some of them will overtake their Teacher. This I will!

The borders between “will” and “cannot” are tender, often excruciating. Perhaps the ultimate issue of being resides here: active/passive, redoing the world/myself.

Like Epictetus (Ross Perot and Admiral Stockdale), there is a method: redo my own conception of the world to fit the picture of myself which can survive whatever happens (I can only “allow” or “permit” myself to be defined!). Then one has the power of self-identity to do whatever s/he can to redefine the world; literally to “will” it to be what I will.

The problem – as with Ayn Rand’s “Libertarians” – is that there are other persons in the world; and we are (already) interconnected with them in various manners; and our interconnections may/should increase. I cannot do all I can merely if I do not hurt or interfere with others. My mere being “interferes” with the being of others. Why should parents raise their young, ask the sociobiologists, unless they “gain” something in return? The only “gain��� is in enhancing their own human experience, not – as the sociobiologists claim – in passing their genes on to next generations, following Aristotle who thought that generation and the preservation of the human “race” is what we exist…for.

Will creates its own senses of the purposes of being; and these often need updating in the course of any/everyone’s life experiences.


Embryology: The egg and sperm – each half-alive and half-a-life in the potential wouldness of Aristotelian purpose – meet in the warmth and darkness of life’s wombs. They grow and divide, divide and grow, and multiply into the shapes of future being. Persons? Shapes, undoubtedly.

Enlarging, multiplying, the shape becomes a spheroid-blastula, which then invaginates, turning into itself on one side. The in-turned will become the guts of life’s processings. The outside remains the structure of our being what we are – skin, skeleton, the stuff which frames the other stuff of our being: the architecture of being human.

Now we are an inside, a place which will “pass-through” the externalities of air and water and subsistence, the foods of our continuing being. In the places between form the “middle-stuff,” the mesoderm of muscles and blood; the heart of the matter.

The heart of the matter is that this growing, living thing is not only enclosed in its “mother,��� but it is in various forms of interaction with the living (already) being which houses it. The question of the activity, the passivity of the mother is at issue here. Is this a passive nesting place, a locus for the exchange of tissues and food merely? Or is it a more active locus where the being and identity of the mother is blended somehow with the embryo – an embryonic being? Already a social…being?

What are the paths between the joining of genic “material” and the development of being? Is the splinter between the material biology of a new being and the still imagined being of an actual person so complete that we do not ask how they are one as each of us? Is the biology of being pure structure; even as the persona of being is a fictive generation of that structure? Is the biology only a limit on our being, even as who we are determines our life experience? The gap between these two ways of thinking about being remains a yawning abyss, even as the competitors of theology and philosophy battle over the turf of definitions: biology comes first, thus has primacy; or, being is all in the rational which we become; or neurology will fully explain our being; or, we are fully self-determining; or, after age of 50 or so, who cares about…?

I remember my first course in embryology, all described in three (primary) colors: blue (ectoderm), yellow (endoderm), and red (mesoderm), and have wondered at the intellectual gap between those in the curing arts who think of almost everything (diseases, etc.) as composed and analyzeable in terms of three – as passing-by the oppositional philosophers who everywhere see in two’s. This is, perhaps, why I try to think in terms, of two and three, but also in five’s, and about 20, and lots, and too many to count.

When, how does any “cell” have heart, act like a liver, course in the veins of life’s dynamics? Is being any different: made-from, but not made-of?

When does potential become…?


Parenting: Who am I that I am someone�����s father or mother? The fact of an infant’s being who s/he is 24 hours every day; that, as infant, s/he is quite completely dependent on me/us, is breath-taking in its actuality.

I say us, because though I may be mother or father, others are involved and invested in this infant’s being, and continuing to be. Sometimes they, too, are present. But at other times I am alone the parent of this creature who also possesses being in essentially the same ways in which I think that I do. cont.


Who am I: Exactly/Particularly/Precisely? Is this question sensible: sometimes, always, to everyone?

Is my identity a given, a quest, a both am and a-changing?

Do I have purpose; destiny; past, present, and futurity? Can I not?

(Do I have a history before I have memory of my history?)

Where/what exactly is my extent? My being interpentrates the being of various others (whose being interpenetrates that which I call my own): do I gain extent as others; lose as they forget me, as they die?



Wisdom: Beyond the skills of living, having gained the knowledges which are available in knowing, I think it more a pursuit than any state of being…

Unless wisdom is pursued actively as a search, a quest, then its possibility fades and blurs into the not’s of existence, of which there are many; even now they increase::Wisdom cannot be pursued actively, it is an outgrowth of being and living just beyond sufficiency. (A parable or a paradox?)




Marriage and A Marriage: On the sufficiency of sufficiency: if one is somehow “complete” unto s/himself, then there is no possibility of marriage. If one is not sufficiently some-one, then one cannot enter fully into a marriage.

Marriage is in a way the living-out of the problem (paradox) of change and permanence. It is a contract which is made for the life of the participants; it is an ongoing relationship in which the participants – and the relationship – are in continuous flux. As it involves children, the relationships are continuous (mother/father); as it involves children, the relationships are in flux.

How many is/are a marriage: you, I, and the relationship; the history of you and I before marriage; the history of you and I becoming married; the history of the marriage; the present of you and of me; the notion of the futurity; the relationship of the relationship with respect to each child; to the children, each one; to the children’s relationships with the marriage; with you, and with me,…(Pity poor Kierkegaard who could not deal with the possibility of his incompleteness!/ Pity the idea of a deity who could not…!)

Updating and living (mostly!?) in the ongoing present. Does the power of the history permit us to look at ourselves and bring us into each day, together? Or do we move along propelled by the stories in whose terms we calculate the relationship…only to awaken one day to find that this history has little remaining meaning?

Marriage is a most subtle form of relating; details of one another’s facial expression are memorized in such exquisite detail that the vast changes of aging visages are rarely noticed, but incorporated within the memorized ongoingness. Similarly outlook, vision, habits, annoyances are incorporated into well-honed adjustments as the time of relating paradoxically packs nuances of expression into the history which is increasingly well-rehearsed and the performance of each day applauded.

A conversation: when all else (sex, food, sleep,…) is handled, the essence of any marriage is a conversation (Nietzsche); a long conversation, a theater of performance in which each of the partners is both player and audience. Like the identity of any person, a marriage can relish the boundaries and edges of being comic and tragic, or pack all of being into the middle ground of not much new – at least to any observer.

A long-term marriage becomes very fast, very subtle. Its dynamics and details are not available to anyone outside the relationship: even its children (at certain levels, perhaps especially to its children?). So much history; too many habits.

It is perhaps most obvious in a marriage, that the partners have imbibed each other’s being to a powerful degree. It is not very clear – perhaps most/least of all to the participants/partners, how much each lives within the construction of the other; within their construction by the other.

Can’t live with ‘em; can’t live without…the history of the marriage has overwhelmed present being, for at least one of the partners.

In love: a romantic fable; an ongoing necessity? In love with one’s vision of the other; of their vision of themselves? In love with the romance of the original romance (revisionings even at home)? Looking for: good feelings, a sense of deep understanding? A wish for more, always more? A looking-out for the spirit of the other looking out for yours: no one on earth like her/him?

An appreciation: for the sharing of home, children, for a place of safe-haven and the safe-guarding of the soft-spots and sillinesses of one another; for the incessancy of demands that we both remain in the present.

Bad habits:cont


Lying: One of those attributes claimed for humans alone because (?), only humans have propositional language, and lying presumes positive propositions. Probably, a lie. Does lying presume a prior truth; the possibility that there is some (obvious) order of truth? What does lying have to do with being and identity?

If I can lie to others, this implies that there exists some concept of truth, particularly of my knowing that there is truth, and that any statement is not true. What then does identity have to do with knowing and telling the truth?

A great deal!

Much has to do with one’s sense of steadiness and consistency in the world: not only who I am, but who I am with respect to other persons, places, the artifacts of which one knows and applies, the uses to which things are put, the places which one knows, and the spaces between oneself and others. As one can play with gravity, with one���s bodily parts, altering the aspects of relationships, testing the boundaries which others hold to one, truth gathers itself. And lying constructs its possibilities.

To be someone other, to grow…up, to live within some older and ancient vision of being, to not be “loyal to oneself,” all of these are able to be lies about the focused locus of one’s being. The problem in stating who I am – especially in lying about it – is that others and myelf must have already a consistent if not clear vision of what and who I am. Thus lying about identity contains within it, at least at times, the impossibility of moving on in the world.

If I “pass” as someone I am not, then who am I…really? And to whom do I lie? To them? But what of me?

Lying seems to presume, then, that I am very sure of my identity; or that I am fishing about in the world trying on the clothing of becoming who I would be, if I would be…


The Uniqueness of Being…Human: So steeped in Western thinking that Plato created that we seem only to elaborate certain possibilities of our being within his framework of not-being other. I am not exactly who I am, but who and what other (species) are-not. Much of the definition, the space of being is thus framed by whatever we claim are the features and aspects of (other) animals by which we contrast our own being. And the very study of being and identity is also thus restricted and captivated; in this contextual history, by the claim (restricted observation?) that others do not possess the mentality to think, to act rationally, to be capable of seeing the formal and ideational structures which define the truth of truth. They are – we have claimed – without sociality, without morality, without the sense to come in out of the rain.

Thus the question of identity has been bounded and framed by the architectonic of being-not or not-being like others. Less is it framed by the noticing of what and who we are actually: bodies in the universe of other’s bodies; always changing without falling over the edges of any universes; fragile but not always frail.

(Cont.)Social-political theory constructed upon the uniqueness argument – assuming that other species (in nature) do not have society. Based on limited identity argument from being-not.

Same with morality (see: Kant’s Metaphysics of Morals)


Homo Faber: (Arendt’s The Human Condition) The idea is that we are what we do. Only (the human uniqueness story goes) humans have opposable thumbs, only humans know and create objects (are objective), thus we are what we do and make. Expecially Arendt distinguishes between work and labor, labor being more animal-like because instantaneous and ongoing (without duration like other species, historically), and work being making those objects which endure for long periods of time – particularly beyond the life of any individual, granting reality to history, etc: architecture, furniture, moving toward the technologies of today.

We evolved into humans via labor, avers Engels: so labor is not only an identity marker, but it is also a motive for history; even a driving force; progressive, one presumes, and with a towardness which is invested in the definition of the human condition.

Before the notion of the market and the industrial revolution, the idea that each of us would live and do as our forebears: a kind of heredity of being-as-vocation, destroyed in the 18th century. Now…what? A conflation of who I am and what I do.

What am I to do? Do, be? Be, do? (Doobeedoobeedoo!)


Essentialism and Existentialism: The question of identity impaled on the horns of an ancient Western dilemma with being, particularly with being and knowing. How, asked Plato, could I know, and know what you know, that you know, and all that. How could I be anything of interest, of endurance: identity thrust within some Heraclitean puzzle of that old man river jes’flowingalon’. Will I durst place my little toe in the river which both is and isn’t, to see if…If what?

My dear; my soul; myself!

If I am not already – the essentialists argue, placing us in juxtaposition with the forms and ideas of all that is out of time: the circle of the circle, the triangle of the triangle, even the essence of the bed upon which I was (actually) made, which obviously precedes one’s existence (Republic: Book X). Existence, a mere copy of the essence even of myself. My soul!

The problem of identity and being, reduced to the problem of change and non-change, some philosophical issue hung up on the problem of knowing how we know?


Yang and Yin: An Asian notion that we are paradoxical and complementary and living aspects of more than one: two, too,…? Full of yang, we begin life, gradually taking on more yin, becoming less yang, or developing some harmony; in some harmony.

This idea at some odds, a war when cast within a Western dualistic mentality where two seems to have to mean that one must oppose the other. The difficulty is that the battle has some tendency to destroy the entire category: no more yang, nor ying,…nor being, much less identity.

In Hegelian terms, the opposition occurs as dialectic, having to go somewhere; even, one supposes, when there is nowhere to go.

In Norwegian droll: ying-gle, ying-gle! Yang-gle?


Loyalty: The existential problem of loyalty has to do with remaining alive in one’s version of the Present Age. Whether loyalty is to some one, a group, even some previous picture of oneself, the issue of abandoning one’s thinking being in each moment centralizes and focuses the issue of being and being loyal.

Does loyalty mean remaining consistent to some idea or person which is outside of one’s being; of being consistent to some sense of purpose or ways of organizing being or thoughts of being and/or the world?

And if not? If one is not loyal, does this mean that any center of being is floating like waves in front of a fickle tropical storm?




The Schlemiel, Schlamozzel; the Tzaddik…: With apologies to all and to none, the mixing of the jerks and scions and best persons of all of being, this Jewish sorting of characters in the world indicates that many people/groups do characterize the world. Probably most of us do!

How I would love to be the thoughtful, the wise and blessed tzaddik, but worry that I am even now acting the part of the schlemiel, writing this heavy heady stuff which may end up sounding like so much…trash. Oy veh!

So…what identity. Some accident of my anatomy, overfeeding from a mother who wanted me to have at least 40 pounds averdupois in excess of…god forbid I should get sick, and could lose the 40 before anything serious would…a schlub, I think I was and see myself still as with fat so overhanging feet that I cannot see them. But then, the feet cannot see me either, so…

Some accident, I became one day the class clown, the overserious never-serious, the one who, the one which…some accident of fate that on the very day I…I became the character whom they all remembered…and from which there seemed to be very little escape. No me left! Instead, I found myself (I think a she-friend once said in annoyance) up my ass; up my own ass; and I couldn’t even see myself seeing myself. Not their idea of who I am; fighting their idea; locked forever at about age 12 or 16 or…

What’s a guy/girl to do? Seen within a limited universe of characters, I had to become one of them. How should I become some one I wanted to become, and not the one that became the me frozen into a time beyond which it never seemed to fit me; to fit any picture of me I could find within…and so I seemed to be at some war between who they said I must be, and a who I couldn’t yet delineate; and for whom I search, still. Am I locked within that ancient-seeming universe of schlemiel and schlemozzle, a being within only from without?


Identity Crises: I cannot fathom whether this issue of identity arises within other cultural constructs, but in the American doing of the Western tradition, the question of who I am seems often to occasion a crisis. Perhaps because I was told that I was to be some one, that the one which I thought I was no longer seemed to fit me; even to belong to me, or I to it.

Other cultures have, perhaps, handled the moments of changing identity by ritualizing them, or by not concentrating on one or another aspect of my disposition


Intuition: Better some things you shouldn’t know, my mother used to say as I occasionally seemed, to her at least, to ask questions verging on some forbidden areas surrounding which she had erected barriers.

Intuition often seems to reside within these arenas considered by some to be sacred or sacrosanct, forbidden or frightening, and beyond any creed to live and let live.

Whether I was seen by her as a super-sensitive because of the loss of an eye or some other sense of my being damaged which impinged on her own life’s boundednesses, or I was just wreaking some small measure of petulance of the do-gooder’s teenage angers at the status quo, or I really was treading on dangerous grounds, I am not at all sure. But I think I really trusted my intuition, at least until I came to be educated to what intuition might mean.

Maybe it is my dealing with fate and personal destiny within a life which seems fully bounded by what it is, and the problem of figuring out how to live it well – and living it (am I caught in the inability to grapple with some distinction between being abstract and being an abstraction?). But it is true that I was asking all the kinds of contextual questions which I can stuff into the arena called intutition. And when I was more ignorant, all of this seemed like a good idea.

Trust me! – Do I really trust myself? Swaying somewhat uncertainly on such an axis where inebriation meets intellection, I find solace in walking the tightrope of knowledge and intuition. Trust me!

Or perhaps I follow or walk parallel with Kierkegaard’s own declared axis of the paradoxical amble between fear and wonder. I fear I would be the last to know precisely where I am, and how frequently fall off this balance beam of life’s concentrations like the aging gymnast whose weighty shoulders bear one’s weight but overbear one’s grace.

Intuition! I thought I trusted myself until I knew that others think that knowing and intuition are at somne odds, fight wars of never-ending claims to where there is knowledge, of what it might consist, or even in these days of trust-diminished perhaps by the blazing images of television’s picturings worth thousands of words each harboring the possibility of thought, until there is no thought of thought left. Intuition!

One of my teachers tried to make the distinction fit between what he called line vs. point integrators styles of putting atoms of knowledge together into useful knowing. Line integrators were the proverbial cooks who read the recipes of life line-by-line, adding each ingredient in the quantity and order specified, and coming up with a luscious if not inspired moment-by-moment creative dish. The point integrators would intuitively wander from place to place gathering ingredients, throwing in dash of this and a sprinkle of that, looking, smelling, dreaming perhaps of what such a dish could be – and (voila!) it is either a magnificent creation or…it didnt’ work this time…or ever.

It was safer and surer to be a line integrator because the recipe is tried and true. Do what it says, and it will do what you already expect. Even a jerk can cook this way.

But the intuition of the point integrator requires…genius, creativity, a sixth sense of knowing which no recipe can…intuit. Somehow intuition resides in some space where there is genius, creativity, orginality. But there is also space in this construction for the fool and those who are too stubborn to follow the rules and recipes for a live lived sufficiently if not well. (Do I sound like Dionysus beating up on Apollo, still seeking the thrills of driving drunk?)

Alas, the Enlightenment! Alas, Aristotle’s trying to take over the definition (mostly successfully) of humans wanting most of all to know, by our nature. And knowing, in his oppositional thinking became pitted against whatever else. And intuition became the fall guy for whatever there is about us humans which isn’t knowledge: thence against and contrary to knowledge. And what was there to trust about my intuitions which would be at war against knowing?

(I, who have been accused of being the ultimate rationalist…!?)


On Re-seeing and Seeing: How we see others (ourselves?) is very complex. We have forgotten to see our seeing in Western thinking: the idea that we are the creatures who love faces, and love to love our ideas of faces – others and our own. Narcissus turns in all directions…in love.

I, who clearly do not look like I appear, am engaged in a life-long fest of love with the complexities of appearance: of how I appear to others, knowing that it is much an artifice, and that I distinctly do not look to myself how I look to others. The artifice is a molded and painted disk of plastic crafted to look like my left eye. And look like my left eye it does…for others, and usually to myself looking hard in the mirror to find myself…there.

It is so clear that we see-into faces much of what we find there: age, character, beauty, gender, ugliness, power, and pity. We find there one���s mother and brother, even after they have been dead many years conjured up in this dream, in that revery; not only looking back but usually in some relationship, loving, judging, wanting to be pleased offered as a smile.

In a course I teach about thinking about categories of people and the pluralisms abounding in the world, I try to engage my students in various exercises to get them to see their own seeing. The one which is about re-seeing, is to be teaching the class for several sessions; then to proclaim to them that I am not precisely who I appear; that I am handicapped, and that this handicap is visible to them.

What,” I ask, “is wrong with me?”

I try to lay out some groundwork for seeing their own seeing, try to suggest that watching their own views change about a political candidate, or their perceptions of others’ age, or whatever is loveliness to them which has altered over their own experience, is available for critical review, perhaps, if they can watch their watching, re-see their seeing.

Only a few, in most classes, have noted their own noticing that my eyes do not always move in tandem: a lazy eye, think some; cross-eyed, but not very. One might well say that I have a glass eye, and I tell them that that is correct. Usually I am not challenged in this telling, but am ready to permit them to touch this eye-thing which is hard and not sensitive like a…real eye. (Oh the vicissitudes of the authority of fact and truth!?)

I suppose I should try to take a video recording of the students looking at me and their re-seeing, as they alternatively stare, and rethink, and re-see me as a one-eyed person, contrasting with their longer term vision of me as regular and ordinary…and whole. It is in their eyes, and it is notable, and very powerful in my visioning of their re-seeing. And nothing has happened, and they now see differently. And they possess the experience of re-seeing their teacher.

If only, as a teacher, I can help them to see that much/most/all of their seeing is open to re-seeing; and to ask how they come to see; and how others did…and do.


Biology of Being: By this time, the question of how and who we are, embedded so firmly in the dualism of mind and body, has made this title seem tohave some meaning: something deep, obvious, unquestionably not very open to any reasonable question.

But…to say “biology” is already (within the thinking of the oppositional mind) to think that there is something else, some otherness of our being which is importantly not-biology. And once into this game of dialectic and dialogue, one finds oneself suspended upon an axis which is itself not so obviously located anywhere; and if were to fall to ground, one is suspicious that the fall would be long, longer…

I understand (?) somewhat the idea of living and of life – just recently a newborn grandson born of the daughter who was born to my spouse, and all that. I understand the concept of poison, of damage and limits to our being: hot, hot, I tell my grandaughter who knows the term to be whispered so loudly with that special intonation, but doesn’t yet really know HOT! I have some knowledge and experience with death: of other humans, much of animals, in some deep (?) way of plants, I call food. I know something of the mechanics of the body, but not much of how to interpret or reinterpret them to be able to move, to be strong. I have increasing experience with/of an aging body, and so on. But, the biology of being!?

Biology: deep, sexual, intuitive, dangerous, a kind of sense of out-of-control, hidden even to my own ability to know knowing…women, female, wine, Dionysus, br-r-r,…wow!

Nature, other species, smell to me, and smell a lot to one another, one notes and supposes, trying to experience what four legs does to the power and processes and predilections of smell. Ah-h-h!

On first coming across the dish, I was (I think) told that sweetbreads were breasts instead of thymus. What a good dish, what a good idea! Now knowing differently, I only think cholesterol, and no longer sup the sweetness of that bread.

Biology of being is nothing I can do about it: or almost anyone. No plastic surgery on being; no culture; no society, no change, no sir! It is the race of racism and the color of coloration, and the excuse me, because I couldn’t help myself! Help yourself, one might have said, but no longer to any avail. No excuses accepted here.

No interpretation if it really is biology. Biology is what it is. The biology of being is really what it is. Really!


Models/Teachers for Being: The conceptual difficulty with not having a philosophy of dualism, of nature of the freedom of becoming whatever I might is that the direction for living well and upright, seems nowhere available.

As life is the continuing authorization of being, the strength and wisdom needed not to succumb to one’s youthful models and visions, is not always available to perception or to the practicalities of being. This is why living in an unscripted time (the present age) requires the judgment and conceptual authority of those whom we grant the title of Teacher. (See: Teaching as Dialogue) These Teachers, living in the sacred spaces of those who are permitted to touch our spirits, can act to inspire others; they live in the present within the context of their students living in their own futurities; thus guaranteeing the future, as it were. It needs to be within their construction of wisdom to construct themselves that they may authorize the being of others.

The world – which I hold to be intrinsically secular, involving persons as bodies living in the world with other persons… – invents certain positions of authority, which exist in the realm of the sacred. The sacred realm includes those persons (who effectively occupy positions) which can touch the body or spirit of others: family – but also curers, preachers, and teachers. In encountering the sacred personae one yields some aspects of his/her being (or suspends some aspects of judgment), hoping that greater benefits will result: much as the surgeon causes a lesser hurt or disease in order to prevent or cure a larger one. (A scripted time exists when most/all people regard the existence of some transcendental text or other authority (deity, monarchy,…) as determining of the notion of present and future; in whcih it seems apparent, even obvious, of what a good or proper or successful life might mean.)

In an unscripted time, the problem of models is duple, at the least: how to be an effective model for others; how to direct and conduct one’s own life so one remains useful for others, and does not thereby destroy s/himself –> a search for wisdom!?


Interdependence of Opposites – the romantic solution to being: “Be careful who you choose to conduct war against,” says the old Russian proverb, “because you’ll become just like him.”

The questions surrounding the categories of opposites and oppositions often make me wonder what press of likeness surrounds those adjectives which seem, like the general against whom we war, to gather much as to divide. Good and evil find each other more often than either of them finds anything (anyone) else. No wonder Orwell warns us against the possibility that one concept elides into the other: mirrors, reflexives, or the very seat of morality and all of being.

In the romance of romance, it is told and seems not unlikely that one will find true love and being with that person who is precisely one’s opposite in character and disposition. Here we sense the concept of harmony and the blending of those traits which would in most other contexts leave us each alone blathering about the impossibility of the other: fact, a palliative, an adjustment which would ask us to abandon good judgment in order to…get along? The fact is, I think, that none of us is consistently that clearly one or another of any single trait if we remain within our own existences. If, on the other hand we grant agency to ourselves in the name of some transcendent, mystical, or divine persona, then we can package ourselves to ourselves in the context of clear and clean opposites: a trick? Perhaps.

The existential problem of oppositional thinking is that we often seem to be driven into some axis of opposing, pushed down to the ends of our being in order not-to-be something or someone: enemies. We become Platonic essentialists, as it were, trying to fix who we think we are in order to clarify continuously who we are-not. What a fix. But how simplifying when the complexities of life’s living, of dealing with the present within the larger interpretations of yesterday and today, myself and others, play upon self-understanding. so much easier to float, to decide to be one thing or another specifically; easier when who I would-not-be stares back at me threatening body or spirit.

Then there is the story of Jorge Luis Borges who asks us to consider our life-ways such that who we have actually become could have had another history and destiny so entirely opposed to that which we have become actually, that that persona would have to kill off the actual us. A tale of caution about loving so much the axes of our being that we forget often to be.

What I actually witness a great deal is that romantic thinkers, used to oppositional and polemical being, mostly create a polemic, then create their enemies essentially in their own terms: straw men and women. They then do battle with whomever they have created, often killing the others without ever much understanding…


Giving Voice to Others (the anthropologist-linguist): There are various senses in which I have lived my life (live my life) as someone who exists principally to give voice to others who are different, lesser in some sense or other, or who have less access than I to the sources of life’s tellings. They do not write, or cannot be heard, or cannot sometimes even find the muscles which would express their minds’ perorations: children, various of the handicapped, physically or mentally, others of other cultures or places or genders or those who have experimented so much with their being that they cannot find where the place and locus of others’ being usually resides. This I do gladly, perhaps well.

This choice of giving voice to others seems heroic, noble, and sometimes arrogant and stupid. If being moral is to live life so others can live their lives also, then giving voice to others seems good. But there are some difficulties in maintaining the sense of my own being which is less clear to the them whom I try to represent than it is to myself. They do not know, do not appreciate, the them whom I told the world about have now aged, now disappeared, now gotten their own voices. My path which seemed clear, pristine at the first, now is well trodden, even worn down, and the meaning of giving voice has captured my own being which can now only peek out, trying to find the path which it once chose and now unchosen. Who cares? Only me?

This self-appointed martyr, would-be prophet would – it seems – want to be told how wondrously special she/he was; still needing a soulful massage. The troubles I went to…for you and you and you – are you grateful? Am I?

I was/am a sophisticated naive: able to study, to try to understand the voices which I had chosen myself to represent to the world to which I thought I had access. I would never hortate, praise the poor and pity the incapable: not I. I tried to find their souls, the beauty in their being beyond their appearances which everyone else had already judged as…inadequate, wrong, foolish or worse. I trod some path of relativistic absolutism in which everyone who was born of humans (and most of the rest of life) had/has a right to exist in s/his own terms: some wedding of universality of rights and the right to universality: a holism; a confusion?

I study them, studied their studies, studied my own study of their being…leaving me…where?

Like the teacher who would engage in dialogue with the world of all the others, I found that the assymetries of my being did not reside so simply and restfully in obtaining the position of grande naive. No, not at all. All that happened was that I aged, and began to reside in that part of my being which seemed to be the place which would give voice to others, while I was less and less able to give voice to my own…voice. Seeking still for the strength which others think I must have in order to represent them, to teach them to have that strength of head and resolve which grants themselves their own voices without destroying me, or me trying to raise myself over them, so I can always be the voice which might give them…voice.

Bittersweet! What lessons for continuance and being?


Author: There is some battle occurring which has to do with being and authorship and authority. In the attempt to sunder our relationship to the edifices of thought which inherit themselves within our being, a recent (!?) move has been to deny that the idea of the author has any meaning, any author-ity.

In the work of Foucault, Barthes, Lacan, there is the sense that the author (he, she – is the author gendered; cannot she/he be?) is, like the Marxist idea of identity of all of being determined by forces external to personal being: in place, time, intellectual direction, the child of particular parents – and that there is no way any (human?) author can get past or transcend this.

Similarly in the behaviorist work of B. F. Skinner, and the banishing of the notion of the mind, there is virtually no one at home – leaving the peculiar problem of deciphering the who of Skinner���s writings. It is a recent form of the ancient battle between the mechanists and the mentalists for control over the definition of our being. Only now, the material-mechanical is extended to movement and to behavior: the battle rages within over the definition of what is behavior; the temptation is to extend it to culture and to our political being.

And this is the complication of the move to remove author-ness and author-ity from being and from texts: that to attempt to destruct or to deconstruct the edifices of old which greatly determine who we are and how we think, the move to remove the author from thinking our or intending s/his works, effectively (for many) destroys the power of the work over our thinking.

There is much to be said for locating any author within the themes and variations of her/his social forces: I keep telling myself in an apologetic for my lack of bravery, that I might have been a terrific poet of oppression; but I will not let myself feel that oppressed, and I am not so oppressed…actually. And I deeply appreciate it that others are (on recently hearing a reading by the South African writer Breytenbach). I am, no doubt, a guy; but my closest friend (J.) is a woman; and the boundaries of our being and thinking are complicated and intertwined. As a guy, probably, I am the one who does the writing; but…and…And I am handicapped, not being who I appear. Not being who I appear to be, am I not freer to be…my own invention?

Am I (not) fortunate not to have been much educated to literature and philosophy, to have had anti-religious parents whose anger extended freely to their children’s bodily being? How much am I, is anyone, my own invention? How much has this changed over the years? If I had been more successful, early on – two of my friends who were briefly successful as writers never seem fully to have recovered from this fling with fame?! How brave, weak, ambitious, tired,…? How lucky to have been trained in science and technology, to think that the new is truly new, and that originality and creativity are where it’s at, before stumbling on the edifices of thought? To have had a mother who thought the religiously orthodox to be old-fashioned and more dangerous than quaint? To be a teacher? To have been trained early on to be a musician, and to think as if I were playing, performing, hearing scanning, musically?

Amanuensis? Lacan posits, apparently, a language within our being which mirrors and doubles language; the place from which and in which our thinking writes itself. An unconscious which seems to serve as an explanatory device for some, of how we can think. But I, I pick up my fiddle, and fiddle; sometimes in reading and playing a text of some history, I do it, play it, read it. And I know very well that most people cannot even begin to imagine doing this; that getting to the place in playing that I am and can, takes much study and practice and thought; that it moves on and is on occasion something like transcendent, and I can see and do and hear universes better than I could. And this is interesting; and has something to do with the being of an author…or composer, because I the reader am here clearly also a doer, a performer; and the puzzles of reading take on in this context some realizable occurrences. Not only do I understand the text, but I do it. And we have not much theory for doing literary or philosophical texts. If we did, wouldn’t this problem of the author become somewhat…transformed?

And I the linguist, returning to how we know language, and how I know to get inside the cognitive structures of speakers of some/any other language, to see how they construct and hear and understand sound, then speak it. Yes! And much of what Barthes, Foucault, and Lacan agitate themselves about is the kind of knowledge we gained and learnt (and taught ourselves) when we were very small, and placed in those out-of-awareness places in our being; those places where we have much of our knowledge but use it simply to do, and not to raise to consciousness except upon occasion when a linguist can bid us to tell ourselves about what and how we know. It is much like all the technique which I (hands, eyes, arms) possess that I can play the violin, but which I can just call upon when I want to. If the out-of-awareness is not much less mysterious than the idea of the unconscious, it is less metaphor and more body-referable.

The trouble began, I suppose, most directly with Saussure, who kept telling us that language is arbitrary. What he meant is that any word is as good as any other for expressing or symbolizing or saying what any thing or idea is: mesa, table, tabula,…whatever. What this notion has been taken to mean is that all of being is relativized and there is no ground for anything, including being. Actually (?!), in the dynamics of being, there is very little arbitrary in the selection of any particular word in any given context; and the issue of absolute or relative seems, to me, to be located in the general issue of context (See: Context).

But this eventually leads (as most of our edifice is crafted upon) back to Plato’s stealing being from experience and the body. In violin parlance, once we tune to A, and tune the other strings in fifths to that A, then we are pretty relativistic. But the A is something like an absolute, and the limits of arbitrariness are quite close: something of a statement about the human body, or…And so the attack on authority and the author seems, to me, weak, even if well-motivated in the attempt to deconstruct the edifice of Western thought and to see the human condition more cleanly and clearly.

Now, then, it is important to ask ourselves about the author, and to educate ourselves to reading much as if we were doing anthropological-linguistic fieldwork: attempting to enter into another world-view; coming home to see ourselves while wearing new lenses; going away…returning home…


No Nerve: A…warrior. The metaphor of my child’s version of the American Indian, of Castaneda’s depiction of myself as my shamanic Don Juan, Maxine Hong’s idea of the Chinese(-American) woman as the person who could always seek inside herself and find the strength to do what needs to be done, the spoof of Garrison Keillor’s characters in Lake Wobegon being just slightly above average – all these visions spin in my being: wanting to be a warrior.

The routines of living can wear one down. Mere living, the question of loving each day sufficiently that I can love my self sufficiently for…Today is a day made by God doesn’t much work for me. Bleak winter days, the only luck is that it is not so deeply blustery cold. Bleak sense, that life becomes harder, I become older, and soon can see that there is much work left undone. Were I the warrior that I tell myself I would be,…what then?

Perhaps I am in some dialectic with the warrior whom I would be, at odds with the martyr into whose sacrificial places my moods would settle more graciously. A cause to which to dedicate my life, myself, a sense of injustice ruling the world, to which I would give myself. But I sense that this would require exactly the kind of yielding and surrender of the sense of myself as warrior that the warrior in me would find so self-destructive. Later perhaps, but not now.

I want to be garnering strength, to sleep the deep sleep which refreshes but does not diminish. Yes, the sense of self as warrior requires refreshing, a kind of arrogance which remains bounded and within control; a sense of increase, a hardness sufficient to protect the necessary places of love and naivite and softness which can understand others; some sense of synergy and growing.

I wonder how much those who wander into the political places of power and control of others more than of themselves, have actually lost much of their nerve, practicing control but over others when they have lost some of the same sort of control over their own being. I wonder how those great minds which discipled themselves to others’ meanderings, took on the great problems, but settled for distancing themselves from their own paths and solutions. I wonder, that is, how the Heideggers and his followers came to unravel being, precisely in the name of being and its study!?







Appearance and Being
: Aspects of the problem of being who one thinks and says one is, is that being human is being social. And being social means that one’s identity is is many senses and contexts also social: that although one is (it surely seems) one’s own physical skin-surrounded self, one is always in the world seen, reacted to, interpreted by others. Indeed, G.H. Mead was certain that we (the I, I say I am to myself-myself) carry the other(s) with us no matter where we go or how hermitted we might become in the living of our lives.

An important fact of our being is that others see us (hear,…). And they not only see us in any momentary frame of being, but carry within their own beings some sense of who and how we each appear.

I look…interesting, odd, ordinary, anomalous, pretty, old, gendered, kempt, like my others’ grandpa, not very well, one or another race, bursting with energy,…

The fact is that I appear to others in some terms and categories which they (and somewhat reciprocally I) carry in my being’s judgments. I not only appear to them, but simultaneously judge who and what and how I am in at least some senses which may well become aspects of how they respond and thence appear (back) to me. Such terms and categories are, for many of us in many of life’s contexts, very powerful; so powerful, in fact, that once we literally see someone as (gender, race, age,…), it is practically impossible for us to see-through the our categories of their appearance, that we can see any particular person: a very complicated problem in life, excruciating in attempting to teach by dialogue; and a doggedly constant problem in distinguishing identity and appearance – for others, for oneself.

One of the complications of being social, of engaging in face-work is that the categories of others seeing us has some effect on our being; in terms of how we are seen, responded to – and perhaps most importantly – how we then think of our selves. Appearance and identity is very complex in terms of how we understand our own identity – and then others…and then ourselves…others…ourselves.

Much (most?) of what we do in the human condition is face-work. (This is true at least in societies in which the scale of our being many is beyond the 1500 or so persons who would, in a small mostly hermetic town, know one another in a fairly complete and ongoing detail – but then detail is one of the issues here.) Infants mainly are students of faces; we identify one another principally as and by faces – prisoners cover their faces – memory of others is much in terms of faces and expressions,…face-work.

Ironic it is, is it not, that the study of faces has not ever gone very deeply into its dynamics. Somehow, the complexities of the facial aspects of our being are so obvious to us in terms of out-of-awareness processes of our thinking, that they are very difficult to see; to see ourselves seeing…ourselves and others: categories.


[Add piece here from Language & Human Nature on faces!]


Cosmetics: It is not easy to be precise in expressing the notion of what is cosmetic and what is not. Perhaps the definition is in the eye of, the gaze of, those who behold us. And if we apply or use any cosmetic, it is most always with the concept in our minds that the gaze of the other is the context in which we do our cosmetic work.

We try to look: attractive, ordinary – if we would otherwise look unordinary – younger/older. To talk clearly about cosmetics, we need to develop, to study the concept and actuality of the nature of gaze: of what we see in one another, and thence (I think) in ourselves. That is, cosmetics is a derived art.

Are we discussing the nature of appearance with some reference: say, nature? As our usual natural reference is other species, do they use cosmetics? They (all?) do groom: themselves and, for some, one another: for appearance, for health, to relieve themselves, to feel better? Smell, looks, is it cosmetic to go around peeing on every (significant?) object? Does it make a difference in species, how they cosmetize, if they are attracted to faces or to asses, or to the perfumes and noises of our constructed selves? And are these selves constructed in other species? This is often what we mean when we invoke the notion of nature: that we are what we come with; that we are totally passive in our being what and who we are. Surely, cosmetics has to do with social analyses, with volition, with knowing about appearance. Do other species…?

We humans, the naked ones living in the oddest climates on earth to which we are often ill-fitted, we humans adorn and cosmetize ourselves. It is one thing to stay warm, one might say, but another to stay warm artfully: to throw upon our bodies a skin or fur with the idea (in mind) that others will see us. Judge us? Judge us in ways that we now judge ourselves, applying cosmetics, plying appearance in order to…place order upon…?


Passing: I suppose all or most of us pass, at least occasionally. We portray ourselves as someone or something we are not…exactly. But as we pass, we also pass to someone; we require that others read us as someone who we are-not, as someone we might be, might like to be; as someone they might like us to be; we might like to fit into someone else’s picture of who or what we are, rather than… Occasionally we might like to be so far in another’s background of attention that we can virtually dis-appear.

I have, since age seven, worn a prosthesis. For many people, a prosthesis literally aids them to do something that they might not otherwise be able to do: an artificial hand which can grasp, or a leg to stand on. No, in my case ithe prosthesis seems primarily to be – as they say – cosmetic. It makes me appear to others as if I am…regular, ordinary, not a freak, not a handicapped…person.

But my actual, real appearance (!) sans prosthesis is hardly like most others. I (really, actually – to myself?) have no left eye – a flap of white-pinkish skin covers a gold ball inserted there by an opthalmologist some 50 years ago. And this image of myself I carry in my mind’s eye (i.e., where appearance locates itself).

But I also wear the prosthesis most of the time, so when I look in most of my life’s mirrors, I see the me which is prosthetized: two-eyed as if…I were not passing as ordinary. Ordinary to others, sometimes ordinary-passing to myself in the terms which others bring to my judging; carrying, as well, that factoid of appearances not so clear reality that I look quite, well, odd.

Passing, looking at the world looking back at me, as if I were just like all the others and their apparent appearance categories…


Passing (Adrian Piper): She occupies the borders between whatever are the races: black and white. She seems black (African-American) to some others; often to herself. She seems white to some others; less often to herself. Caught, freed, not finding a locus of her being except in the reflections of others seeing her…face. And writes a poignant piece about living this experiencing and how it reflects back upon her own reflections of self (Transitions, Summer 1992).

Inside…who knows. Her writing pensamientos concern history and those others, those genealogies which have passed as white, and how she might or might not want to know them, having chosen mostly to…pass as white; i.e., as majority. Much of her so-called family has broken off, does want to know they are black, does not want to know her, a woman who lives on the edges of the margins, ready to fall off, and dangerous to all the others who might try to maintain her precipitous identity.

Facing…as an academic in a philosophy department the stares of others who judge her first, it seems, according to whether they know or recognize (re-cognize) her as one race or the other. Some judge her as lesser because she is, because she might appear, because it causes them to…? Some others, one supposes find her especially interesting, perhaps brave to fall over the line and see herself as black even when…she is not…exactly? Exactly! But she mentions no one, no colleagues who find this issue of passing intriguing, challenging. In her terms, at least, they mostly judge, and judge her less than…

Identity is always problematic, but it gets stranger in its liminalities. Neither fish nor fowl?

How is it that others see us? Directly? Not possible!


Masks: I grew up listening to the William Tell overture celebrating the triumph of good (mostly?) over the various evils which abounded in the world of radio’s machinations, as the masked Lone Ranger jumped upon his horse, shouted Hi-Ho Silver, laid his silver bullet on the table, and gathered to him his faithful sidekick, the Amerindian Tonto. “Da-da-da da-da-da da-da-da-tada…” rings still in my mind’s ears. The mask itself seemed to be an ambivalent/ambiguous symbol, designating the intrinsic goodness of the persona while asking us to ask why anyone would need to cover his real visage. A real visage!?

Days of work, days of rest, holydays and holidays, the sense of what is real and what is not reacts and constrasts and intersects with who and what anybody is. If, as in the Mardi Gras and the theaters of life, one puts on a mask, then one is not who s/he is ordinarily; one has license to be, to do. Sex, dance, debauchery, the Bacchae runs to the intoxicants of life which: alter life, make it possible or worthwhile, cast any of us in the multiple possibilities which might be, just might be life’s story of being and identity. Who would know just which of us is the real me; the one which is my destiny; the one which Borges seems to think would so hate the one I have become that he would destroy the me which I am…think I am.

Masks may, like cosmetics, enhance more than change, invite or excite much as they alter the being of our being. In the world before the incandescent bulb, the faces of our being are at least double: in the reflection of sun’s light, and in the light cast by the fires of evening’s fires or moon’s monthly flights. Most of us, especially those of darker cast, have actual reflective masks which differ considerably from light’s light to dark’s night lights. And in the darknesses of intimacy and of sleep, who knows exactly which visage illuminates itself in our touch whose knowledge is not lesser.

Made in the image of God…Thou shalt not worship graven images: dolls, animals, what are the pictures, depictions, of others whose flesh is removed from the visuality which can be carried about in wallets, on television and movie screens and posters.

If we would like to come to understand masks, we might like to study why we like to study our own visage reflected in life’s mirrors. Beyond Narcissus, we carry in our being the experience as memory of years past and how we looked and must have looked, and wonder how we recreate still the visages of parents long dead looking still at us through the masks of death to discern who is truly me.

And the ambivalence of wanting to see-through the masks others wear while wanting the masks we see to be truly you…


Pictures in Our Heads: I enjoy(!) playing with students responding to appearance in some of my classes. I tell them sometime after they have made some judgments about me and my teaching and my subjects, that I am not exactly who I appear to be.

Who I appear to be? How do others see us? Do they see us filter-free? Do we see others without lenses crafted by experience and the sense that we must see how, what others see? What, for instance, is female or male-appearing about a face; do genitals translate into facial features? Beauty, age, trust, race,…do we see or we see-into?

How well-constructed these gazes of others into the I that I call myself? How well-motivated? How accurate? More about them than about me? Does the me I think I am get reconstructed in reflecting and responding to the gaze of others? Deconstructed? Do I need reflect that which I see in the others’ imaging of my visage? Where does this process begin and end?

Do they see me more than their construction of me? Me?

Do I have a self, a me, which is stronger, more purduring than the me they see in…me? Me and my facial image; now there is a real relationship in some dance with the me they see in me, and the me I am…!?

But…my class. At some point in the course, usually in ones on the Body and the one called Issues in Cultural Pluralism, I say that there is something wrong with me: I am a handicapped person. “What is wrong with me,” I ask.

The look of embarassment is multiplied by most of the students in the room: such looks shared by 20 or 30 or 40 persons are impressive, educational about what facial expression is. To see a similar set of facial movements spread over the visages of all those persons is to begin to see faces. The look of embarassment is, I think, much ado about requiring, demanding that they change something about how they see…me; about how they have constructed with some sense of comfort and a completion of business, me; a who I am to them. And I am telling them that I am different; that I am handicapped; that they are wrong; that their images of me are not the me who I more truly am. And they are…embarassed. They stare at me, at my body, dissecting me, stripping me several ways, wondering what they have missed or what they have added to their internal depictions and gazes.

Or is it that I have told them that I am less than normal that they seem to be embarassed. They stare at me, stare at their own stares, trying to redo them even as I watch them, collectively…

I wonder now, but now in the excitement of seeing so many faces reconstucting their visages of my…visage, if this is like the time several years ago when we told our neighbors of over 20 years that we were selling our house, leaving their neighborhood, moving out. Instead of interest, instead of their somehow helping us to redo our images which had been gathered, padded, fleshed out in the children and the loves and the sicknesses of all those years watching and participating in the neighborhood, instead of all that, they became quite upset and angry. Angry, I think now, because we were asking them to redo their images of their neighborhood where we, and the safety of their knowing us and our house, were about to force them to change their images of their neighborhood. I wonder if this is similar to asking students to re-see me.

A few students respond by looking askance: not about to risk telling me that I lack any body parts, am crippled am less than how they see me, seeing an older man. One asks about my eyes. Don’t I appear to be a little bit cross-eyed; one eye seems, to s/him, to…wander a bit independently of the other. I say s/he is on the right track. Faces going blank, going into that calculated neutral in which they try to construct their faces so as to become totally impenetrable.

Another asks if I am blind in one eye. “Yes,” I say. “Which one?” Pauses. “The left one,” a student offers. I now relieve them now, taking the edges off their being asked to say what is wrong with me, by saying that my left eyes in actually plastic: a glass eye.

And now I see the entire group redoing their images of my face; of a half-blind person whose left eye is some sort of hand-made disk seeming to look at them; but it is empty…blind. This is an amazing moment, seeing 40 students staring so hard now to see me anew: the man with one glass eye, seeming to see them, but seeing…blankly. It is like being undressed, I guess, in the gaze of a curer, of someone who wants to see-through my exterior. And it is powerful, especially in my seeing these stares which last and last, and for which I have given them license to stare in ways which are not so usual, but for which they are all quite prepared.

So they now see me differently; see a different me. And I am left wondering how we construct images of others, being more and more certain that we actively construct rather than merely mimic or reflect others����� visages. If we see – through stereotypes, comparing who we see with some kind of image we construct: directly or by some sorts of comparison with what we expect or remember or desire or cannot bear or…

I wonder where such images reside: how to guide them toward more empathy or sympathy or understanding or teaching students how to see-through their own habits of seeing.

So powerful these ways of seeing others; so permanent, so seeming-sure, yet so easily and obviously altered, changeable in the proper circumstances, given the contexts of…

If we see the beauty in others…can they remain…beautiful to themselves?


Illusion, Magic, and Simulacrum: For many persons and peoples, the striving question is that of death, whose awareness in one’s being meanders amoebalike in the depths and processes of being and identity. What, who…am I? Am I…the question rings and rings, round and round, often producing panic in the young whose feeling states to themselves that they are…but maybe they are…not. If this is real, what is that? If that is…what is this? Chimera, illusion, trust the senses to distrust the touch of hardness which is the world! Woe is me! Whoa to this line of thinking.

Theater, illusion, seeing the antics of persons who, I really do know, I do really believe, are just the same as you, the same as I, cavorting upon those places we see as life’s stages. Yet we see them as other, as different from the me and from the you which the ordinary knows to be ordinary. Call it a stage, call it theater, and we are taken by the idea and the ir-reality that those others truly are other, captivated and commanded by acting out the play, whose author and authority wanders in spaces others than our own.

The ongoing tempation is to think that the reality of theater casts precisely a commentary upon the reality which is ours: the real reality. And if we study staging just right, approach it with a sense of correctness which illuminates the edges and liminal moments of existence’s dubiousness, then it will like Plato’s back-lit, top-lit cave bring the light upon our knowledge of our own being.

Life is all a stage, Shakespeare’s believers quote and try to believe, leaving it up to my older intellectual brother, Erving Goffman, to describe to our own knowing: perhaps he described a method, perhaps he found new ground from which to observe our own being…perhaps.

But others -living more upon the edges of their being – having early, it seems, given up the idea of the deity as an explanatory device for various reasons, seem to want to believe in more certitude. Artaud’s theater of cruelty, Bataille’s attempts to implode his inner experience, want to take us to the extremes of being to find the regularities.

One wonders (I wonder, not having had so strongly to reject the idea of God which my father had never taken into his heart), if this trying to reflect back upon reality the erstwhile mirrors of being as if death were somehow reflective upon life, rather than (simply) owning its own turf within our existence, isn���t fundamentally ascetic. Somehow, if we cut into being just enough, if we slash our senses just short of insensitivity, our bodies will have to tell us who we are, that we are, playing upon the boundaries between existence and un-existence, we tell ourselves, will mimic precisely the borders of reality and non-being. Then, with the hope of the futility of the fantastic, we will truly know something…truly know.

But, but, I who can love the mystical-seeming feelings of the presence of greater being, the poet and musician of composition’s musings, think we are missing much of our own experience, yearning for illumination in mirrors and in smoke. We, as Delphi tells us, need to look into our (bodily…) being, to know ourselves knowing illusion, magic, and simulacrum. We need to see ourselves seeing, to know that we have developed (develop still) in the idea of life which, as Kierkegaard suggested, wanders along the axes of fear and wonder. We wonder less, fear more, and think that exploring the edges of fear will instruct us, or gird us. It is as if the solution to life’s questions and still unfathomables were to be found in de-sensitization rather than in study and understanding of what we are, already.

We have, many of us, given up upon the reality of external reality, and seek within ourselves (the self, the subject) as the sole creator; taking on the Faustian task without wanting to take on the costs of these exercises; a modernist form of the Tower of Babel, a hubris which finds it more tempting to quote others, than to work to find ourselves, our being, quotable.

Gregory Bateson, who called himself also an Anthropologist, wrote in his metalogue The Message: This is Play, that children know (already) much about the roughnecking which is understood as play – not serious – and the seriousness of other similar behavior, which is not play. I wonder, as well, if there aren’t levels of knowledge (already) in our metalanguage and in the contexts of domains where ordinary being is given direction and interpretation. (In Steps Toward an Ecology of Mind)

What seems to be happening in this moment of severe critique of the modern is that we are engaging in changing the very locus of the metalanguage and contexts, the very nature of the metaphors which help us to understand the questions and issues of our being. The search upon the edges of being – magic, illusion, and simulacrum – while always interesting and often enjoyable, should not be sacrificed to the principal task of illuminating our being. Rather, they exist also in the own rights. We do as well.


On Being Beautiful (Ugly):There are certain persons-others upon whose faces we dwell. Those whom we might call beautiful seem to pull our eyes in to their features, not merely to glance for a brief moment before pulling our eyes’ attentive selves away perhaps to return shortly, but literally to remain fixed: to dwell. Those whom we are also drawn to, but in senses almost (directly?) opposed to those whom we might dub beautiful, we might call ugly. Some of these have literally different features – anomalies, let’s say: a cleft palate, a missing tooth in these days of dentally reconstructed features, a missing nose or huge blotch or colorated spot or…, or whatsoever draws our attention in to its peculiarities so that we would dwell there, but find in it more a sense of repulsion which seems to cause us to look quickly away, but then return, and virtually have to fight our own eyes’ tendencies to dwell. Others are not so beautiful or their faces seem nondescript or they fit into some stereotype or caricature which seems to be carrying our heads about: ordinary; e.g., we feel no need to dwell there. Our eyes are…free.

We seem to have little insight, no sense of these forms of freedom when it comes to those we tell ourselves we are in love with: spouses, children, parents, especially for me these days, grandchildren. It is as if the idea of significant others places our responses to their visages outside of the usual habits in whose terms we see and judge; judge, then see.

How do such judgments affect our being and identity: surface and/or depth? And what part do they play in determining the identity of those who are often judged to be especially beautiful, or particularly odd or ugly? (And, one might ponder, what does any of this have to do the integrity or authenticity or centrality of the who of who I am. It is as if the external facies are, at least for those whose visage pulls us in to dwell, a mask, a uniform, a story about being.) If, as I have seen until recently, those who have been judged retarded have had few people dwell for even a brief second upon their facial surfaces. Most people look away from them, past them, through them; anywhere but not upon their surfaces. What is it like to live one���s life without anyone else seeing one; seeing one’s surfaces, looking one in the eye: is it some denial of other’s being. And if I am not seen by anyone, do I miss that seeing? How do I (anyone) construct myself with – or without the glances? How do those who appear to others beautiful, then respond? Do they think of themselves as…beautiful; special? Do they, like the Marilyn Monroe’s of the world, resent the fact that beauty is only skin deep, and that their depth of character never has the possibility of showing through to others?


Becoming/Being the Gaze: Upon discovering this century that the history of ideas and of politics and the discourses only of some of those who have preceded us still operate within our thinking, shaping being, we ponder and wonder who and how we are.

We sense only too much that the ways in which others see us has much to do with how we are. Which others? What conjoinings of conceptual powers enable others to see me as of a certain sort or type or not much to see me at all?

And we have realized as well that most of our antecedents do not much appear in our being. Only certain ones show up still, and they are primarily of certain sorts; and certainly not of others. Not many women, not many persons from the continents of the Americas or of Africa have weathers the ravages of whatever significant history means and has meant. Events, power, gathering ideas which excited many persons; some thinkers who ideas have been invoked time and time again as if no time still produces the ideas which whatever classicisms developed: and develop again and again. It is, in Western thought as Whitehead tells us, as if all of thought has been merely footnotes to Plato.

Those of us do not appear, who are we? How is it that we do not much appear; or that particular sorts of others do? Is this mostly situational, like showing up as who we are in the moments of our birth; mothers are present, but fathers often get much of the credit; and who am I? Is it much to do with how others see us; or do not? Do we become, are we becoming, am I…the product as it were of others seeing me or not…seeing me. Are we visitors to our own lives, products of the gaze of others; struggling either to please their gazes or to find some sense of ourselves which we might please…if…

The fact is that we are students of faces and gazes and interact and judge others as their faces, much of the time. Some of the time we are, so to speak, accurate. We read faces, read into faces, and sort persons as some age, gender; much of the time we also see-into faces categories as types of persons, and do not much see any sense of person or persona, blinded as we are by our typing of them. And they often share these same typings, it being difficult to know exactly whose types we see, thence become. If it fits and we wear it, does it only seem to fit; does it become us, the gaze, or is this some complex of circularities in search of meaning and identity? (See: meditations on…Next Places)


Charisma and Presence (Mondale, Nelson Mandela): There are some persons who seem to walk into a room and virtually command by their mere presence that we dwell upon them, pay them attention even as we suspend much attention to ourselves. It is almost as if these charismatic persons appear to us upon the stage where we are audience, becoming passive even as we stretch our being to join in theirs. They are more than present; they have presence.

It is, they have, I think, ways of bearing themselves which indeed seem like their being on-stage. It has to do with they ways in which they carry themselves – varieties of tensioned muscles and bearing which is like…regal. A sense that they are, indeed, special, and that the others will become audience as they move through the world appearing. It is in their faces – varieties of tensioned expressions carrying like beauty some sense that we must and will look at them in order to…to glare but with some greater sense that the persona will give us something back: like beauty but with an offering, a recompense.

Whatever it is, this charisma, it does not necessarily translate from actual presence to television. I have been in rooms with Walter Mondale who actual presence is close (for me) to exciting – and truly interesting in the sense that the promise of his charisma is delivered in his actions and his talk. But on television he appears flat and too slow.

Are we talking about actors upon stages? Is it some mere projection? Or is charisma indeed some sense that the person who projects it really does have/contain a sense of energy, a sense of knowledge, a set of promises which might, just might, be…?


The Reflected/Reflective Self: How we are represented by others shapes how we represent ourselves, what is real to us and the worlds we imagine; and images and representations are a formidable cultural force.

…so a review of Black Looks: Race and Representation begins. (NYT Book Review, 2-28-93). This is, says B.S Madison, particularly important-powerful-poignant among black victims of white supremacist culture precisely because representation is so important a force in self-identification, particularly for people of color.

But why? How does a majoritarian (supremacist) culture effectively control the representations, thence the very definitions of being people of color?Is this sort of statement a fact, a lament, an analysis? How is one/does one become the other?

As social creatures, all of us are susceptible to extrinsic, representational definitions of our identity. An angry glance – when we are young – from parents, is powerful in our being: taken in, responded to. Similarly with loving, approving glances. At once so obvious, to simultaneously inexplicable, the power of others to affect and to define us is not at all clear. We humans are, I have thought, students of faces: dwelling upon them, using them to read character into others, loving/hating them, we sprinkle vocabulary upon facial movement like seeds of grain strewn and sewn upon the great plains’ unending horizons.

We seem virtually to absorb into our being the emotions we read into others’ faces: the seat of conscience, a necessity even for our survival!? If we see anger or fear, we are supposed to stop what we do: don’t walk into the street; that’s hot; don‘t move; be-e-e careful! If not we may not survive: fear, awe, caution, taking into our being what we see in others’ visages.

But, then, at various points in being, we are supposed as well, to become someone: at various points and turns, to be more-or-less independent creatures – the problem of the one and the many playing itself out in each of our experiences.

Why entire populations: how does the gaze of the male now determine the inner sense of being female? Is there some drive, some intrinsic sense built on the reading of emotions in others’ faces, which we not only absorb but then use virtually to define ourselves? What about the majorities: males, whites, the necessity to become supreme is problematic for all and each of us. How does character spread from individual to populations. How does reflection generalize into representation?

How does any of us grow into a self-sense of power even as we are all susceptible to extrinsic definition: the glance, the slur, the stare, the calculated inattention?

Is the locus of these questions the quest for meaning and for who and how the significance of the significant others gains power over our self-definitions? Context, will,…hope?

At some point in our being, the glances of mothers/others translate themselves much into words into stories about mothers’/others’ glances, and seem able to replace visage with virtuality: is becomes about, reflection becomes representation.

Is it that we are totally derived…from the beginning, as it were: that what we see in others’ faces reflecting our own being is our own being? (Fanon: Black Skin, White Masks; de Beauvoir)




At Home/Not at Home: As a writer one doesn’t belong anywhere. Fiction writers, I think, are even more outside the pale, necessarily on the edge of society. Because society and people are our meat, one doesn���t really belong in the midst of society. The great challenge in writing is always to find the universal in the local, the parochial. And to do that, one needs distance. William Trevor. (NYT Bk Review: 2-28-93)

Who belongs…anywhere? Is this a time, asks Martin Buber (Between Man and Man) when virtually no one is at home; when we do not find any place to even pitch the stakes of our tents. There have been other such times, he claimed: times of change, of upheaval, of conceptual wrenchings whose vast landscapes have, this particular time, extended virtually everywhere upon this earth.

I, the anthropologist, feel less at home, more a visitor. Even in the midst of the city, I am usually away from the action. Even in the hum, even in the roar of people’s doings and comings and goings, I am often alone. For the past several years, living in an aerie, seeing many people moving below, quite abstracted: they, me, us. For me, at home is away.

And for those who have moved, emigrated, immigrated? For them, what? Some people – whole large peoples – seem to be so tied to the sense of their geography that they are only at home when they occupy some place: actual, virtual!? What is a place; who am I? Who are we? Ethnicity, religion, language, I have no being particular to myself which is not always generalized to others’ particularities?


Adoption: We fell powerfully in love with the creature who showed up at the airport in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. She had been born some eight months earlier, and there was the possibility of acceptance or rejection. There were some questions of health and background, and we advised our grown-up daughter and son-in-law to go for her. And they did. And this one night in July we found ourselves some 20 persons at the airport awaiting her arrival.



The Chemicals which ARE Me: I am utterly sure and certain…I am utterly confused and diswrought…by the…apparent fact that I – the I that I am – am a chemical factory. The Dow Chemical of downtown, the Sandoz of the upper midwest, I now seem to eat a banana not at all to find enjoyment or some hidden (to myself – a suspicious notion in the chem-con-text) Freudian joynial in its phallic swallowings, but for its potassium. On calcium! – that I do not ingest gradually the bones which support the cranium which might (might not?) contain the symbol-making places which direct the fingers whose ideas…well, this is as silly as Alice wondering.

Tits and asses reduced to fats and glycer’s and all the “-ols” whose productive packings tell me to think they deserve a…second glance, what truth is this chemical mass whose mess will one day be re-re-reduced to the dust from which it…arose…by any name.

I waver between the hardness of hard truth and the obliquity of “so-what,” even as the rDNA chemists are making a monied revolution against the biology which I could more easily recognize as something like myself. Looking in the mirror, I more and more see my facial twitchings as the creakings of kekule rings and dead denucleated cells I used to call dandruff, and find myself now longing for a view of the mystical aura. The only sadness remaining the inorganic vision of the organism I call myself is that my genome is itching unbearably and my fingernails cannot find the precise places whose scratchings might relieve it. (Would you try, please, just a little to the left of…!?)

The power in reductive thinking is not merely in its correctness, I think, but also in the fact that we in this era are so uncertain of the reality of our being that reduction seems to promise a ground upon which to deposit the chemicals of the contract of our being. Woe would be me…!


Insuring the Future: It seems easy to hold as mystical the divination of the future. It seems difficult to understand in any way with clarity the notion of what will be, shall be, except as extrapolated from the present which was future, and the past which one would be; by now, has been. Even the semantics seem complex.

If only…the savior on the great white horse will…appear once more on earth. If only…I am lucky. If only…I meet the love of my life. If only…I get well. If only…I can accept my fate. If only…I can understand my fate to have been other. My life is…destiny; open? If only I hadn’t, they hadn’t, it didn’t…did. If only…

What’s new…nothing under the sun? What’s new…is perception bound in the wonderful words of the Book of Ecclesiastes, within the unending, unbeginning ebbs and flows of the seasons to sew, to reap, to plow. What’s new…is everything. But generation is seasonal; as the seasons ripen, I grow old. What’s new…less and less, I.

Heraclitus said that everything is always in flux, and that the world as moving stream appeared paradoxical. But we thought – Pythagoras, Plato, and each I of the stream of the West – that paradox was to be resolved in life as in logic; in life as if it were as aspect of logic. But Heraclitus is correct. Everything is always in flux, and much of it appears to be stable. And this truth is not to be resolved, but lived.

As scholars perhaps we should be more aware of the discovery of insurance, but we are not. Insurance, security, the futurity of our being is all taken care of; less and less is left to…chance?! We need no longer to trust to the divinations of star gazers; indeed, in fact, we have bought the future…and it is becoming us; who we are.

And it is difficult to see-through the notion that we somehow possess the future, because most of us have a proprietary stake in it. Like trying to understand the Amerindian lament that the ownership of land is against any and all principles of life: the earth is not for sale! – we have taken the future and are trying to possess it. Little do we note that the concept of ownership freezes the future and so shapes present being that it is difficult to discover and sustain who we are, who we might be…If only…


Guaranteeing the Future: In an unscripted time – this time? – it does seem that certain significant others in our lives may so exemplify and futurity as to inspire it. It is neither small nor trivial that our mothers/others breathe life into us: humans are not survivable on our own until we are about 8 years old. Not merely food, but sustenance of the spirit is necessary for the continuance of individuals of social species; including humans. It is not very simple to distinguish the I which is my own invention from the I whom others have said I am, and am to be.

Those who have a good change to inspire, to virtually to guarantee the future seem to be those to whom we are willing to yield or to surrender aspects of our spirits in order that we may…grow and go on. These are sacred aspects of our existence in a world of chancy secularity. It is hope, the sense of towardness which the teacher underwrites as s/he may enter into dialogue with s/his students. Its guarantees are to be studied and explored and lived within the peculiarities of the assymetries of students’ granting continuity to their Teachers, while considering themselves ongoing and ordinary.

In an unscripted time (the present age?), it seems helpful, perhaps extremely important to create Teachers – to set the possibilities of life’s chances – so that Teachers can create themselves. Otherwise, it is difficult to see our being forward, and we find ourselves on the various precipices of Dante’s Inferno, losing…losin…lose meaning; lost future. See: Teaching as Dialogue


Not Here, You Won’t Be: Some years ago I played violin in a neighborhood chamber orchestra which performed occasionally in an Old Folk’s Home. I said to my seat partner once – a woman slightly older than I – that I would hate to live in this place. She replied, casting her looks about at the oh so few old men living, surviving, that I would not have to worry…



Consciousness (Immediate, etc. Hegel and on and on): In order to unpack the mind, some thinkers from Hegel to Bergson have thought that we could somehow examine our immediate consciousness.

It is as if what is happening in/to our minds in the fairly well-bounded here and now is available, perhaps obvious to us thinkers who are having the experience, thinking our thoughts. Our phenomenology would then be ascertainable, presumably some summative function over a period of time or a duration. Then we would know…something about our thinking, about the reality it refers to, about…

The problem is, I think, that it is not at all this simple: that to think that immediate consciousness is particularly revealing of…itself, its thinking, thoughts,…is only a small part of the story of thinking.

With respect to questions of being and identity, some ways of being who we are/I am are always somehow present or being generated (if we consider immediate consciousness more an active, less a passive mode). The fact of my being, the facts of being who I am, the contexts in which this all might make some sense, seem to me to be ever-present, even though back-grounded. Similarly, I almost always need and seem to know how and where I am…going (D. Griffin’s biologistic senses of orientation and navigation).

Even if I appear passively listening to someone else speaking (perhaps particularly then), I am busily generating, coding, decoding ways of understanding, moving my vocal muscles in some ways analogous to modes of speaking and unpacking. We know from phonemic theory that the so-called rules of cognitive mapping are operant, and that they are so beneath the sense of consciousness which the notion of immediacy implies, that they are not only not available for examination, but we don’t even know these rules in any direct senses. Here, I’m thinking of such obvious rules as the ways in which we form plural morphemes in English: /z/ after voiced ending consonants, /iz/ after affricates and vowels, and /s/ everywhere else. We do this virtually without error, know it as well as we know our very existence. Yet how can we say it/they are not part of immediate consciousness. Such rules may not report themselves to us actively, but…

And we know a great deal about what is not being said or thought: contrastively (when we think female, male is not far behind; but the contrast is present in its virtual availability). When I think myself, the other (G.H.Mead) is virtually present. How can we say even that our (own) immediate consciousness is more directly ours in any proprietorial sense, than thinking others through ourselves: the question of the identity of self is dependent (Mead) upon knowing others. Perhaps we’re looking for immediate consciousness precisely in the wrong places. More probably it is too simplistic to proceed this way…why it seems necessary to follow this exercise of thinking-out being and identity.

Possibly an analysis of such a study as this – to the extent that it begins to be a sufficient analysis – is more useful to note what is in our minds.

[Besides the existential problematic has more to do with using or playing our minds than with their examination in some temporally delimited senses.]


Spirituality: Besides some construction of myself as scientoid and/or humanoid, the me I tell myself I am seems to be a very spiritual person.

I don’t mean spiritual in the sense of looking for my soul to be carried to the heavens of my dreams of return to any heaven: I remain a skeptic about life being more that what it is. Nor do I mean spiritual in any mystical sense of trying continually to find more (than what there is) in the numbers or symbols of starcasts or the progression of saints or cycles; I think that entering into mystical realms might be interesting, but it would not allow me to be or do what I am.

It seems, my sense of my own spirituality, more to be a sense of connectedness, interest, and some strange responsibility for everyone, extending sometimes to life itself; all of life especially in these times of radically transforming of the earth, and the ways in which we think about the human condition, and the transference of genetic material willy nilly from species at one end of the earth into others and others and others.

Sometimes this sense of spirituality seems to fall squarely into the various excesses of desire and hubris so well told in the story of the Tower of Babel in olden days, and more recently in the variety of Faustian urges which the quest for knowledge seems to feed. Here I often feel guilty as charged: I do want to know everything in some way or other; but less, I think, as ambition or competition, and more because this is an aspect of the ways in which I have chosen to pursue what I do and who I am – toward wisdom, a veritable needing to grow and to understand more deeply the human condition and these times; a nagging set of worries that I have been susceptible to my own defining in order to please others; less to develop an esthetic whose self-pleasing would be self-satisfying.

And I am not always clear whose boundaries I find and those which find me in the ongoing dialogue which I have with J., she with me. It is she who has the critical mind, a women’s sensibility and obligation. Perhaps it/she has captivated me. Perhaps we once discovered exactly this sense of spirituality in one another and are living out its paths and trajectories.

Maybe this sense of spirituality is from young youth, a sense of the search for some purpose in life’s living; a direction, a sighting of the martyrdoms which might fulfill a life well-lived, a useful life, a good life, a…Perhaps this amounts to an inversion of the fear of death. Perhaps…

The spiritual contained in the sense of being a teacher, now Teacher, is that one (I) have a fair degree of power and control over those who might study with me. The question remains of what to do with these understandings: about hope and futurity, and being able to stand upon one’s thinking feet in any and every present. So I write.

I think spirituality – mine, at any rate – is also about wanting, needing, being fascinated with all those I meet and see: mostly the humans, but also many of other species, and even the machines which we have created to…to…extend us, enlarge us,…replace us? I go places to see the places, to see what is there, and inevitable I am entranced with the people, engaging my imagination of the human condition to enlarge itself to include each new persons, each new people I find in my wanderings, or who arrive in my town. More, these days, who arrive in my town.

Also, I imagine spirituality – mine – to be truly transcendent; again, not to any sense of deity, but with an amazement and enduring wonder that this is all happening. Sure, I am, that it does, even when I know that many others are not so sure, and continue to worry less about living it than its dying. Life is a transcendent form, and how that is remains a fundament for my puzzlings.


Authority and Celebrity: We note in this moment of history’s storying the diminution of authority and the rise of celebrity. The quest for importance has become much less what one does than who one is. Much of the world has thus become deauthorized, and the locus of meaning and of power do not find any location.

Some portion of this deauthorization seems very important in that it enables us to exist within our own present experiences. It has the power and possibility of lessening the importance of prior, even ancient texts (& personages) in our ongoing lives. But it may also diminish our own possibility of authority by empowering us in the small, and leaving large vacuua into which any number of totalitarian forces may enter.

Kierkegaard’s attempt to move us into our own existence and experience (Attack Upon Christiandom) shows us that we are tempted to grasp authority by discipling ourselves to some institution which claims the authority. Thus, he says, by joining the (Lutheran) Church, we veritably worship the Church more than we worship the deity. We should, he corrects, live like a Christ lived his life, rather than worshiping the history of his existence. In this way we fill our own lives and infuse them with deity rather than living in the shadows of some external authority which has little or no actual effects upon our being.

On the other hand, the diminution of the author-ity of others, does open up the possibilities for us to grow beyond their authority. But mostly this does not and will not happen because we seem to grasp and grapple for a lessened and diminished picture of the possibility of authority in our own lives, and quit our lifes’ work early. We have lost the concept of vocation, trading upon virtuosic talents which sell easily in the marketplaces of being and of knowledge, rather than considering how to live and work as if we will live the longest lives.

Whereas the loss and diminution of authority is a mixed bag, the question of celebrity is most often negative and more problematic. It revolves upon the question of respect (others and self-) – if one has no celebrity, why would others study, follow, listen to that person? Is this not a definition? But the question more clearly follows the path of self-respect and self-esteem: when one is a person in s/his own right, then s/he can understand and appreciate others in their right. Questions of power and yielding follow from this, rather than existing in their own right; i.e., in teaching or studying with someone.

The problem in growing older is to be able to maintain and to sustain one’s own sense of power sufficiently to be authority to oneself; not a simple task in a world which worships celebrity almost as deity.


Testimony: Although we often think of the notion of testimony as occurring particularly in courts of law, it seems clear that much of life involves testimony; testifying, as it were.

One gives witness (the religious context is perhaps, more explicit about this aspect of testimony) to some acts, some ideas, some beliefs that one has seen, done, heard (of). As the testimony is believable, much else is believed. That is, the notion of testimony is linked (inevitably?) with believability.

Some of the power of testimony can be inferred by my witnessing of the power of the holocaust (WWII) on young people’s thinking and being. Right after such a terrible activity (killing of millions of innocent people), almost everyone is horrified and believes clearly and definitely that the events occurred as reported/witnessed. We all knew someone in WWII who was killed; walked down any street in America as children (in my case) and saw the gold or silver stars displayed in the windows indicating that a young person of that household had been either killed or wounded in the war. The war and its consequences were burnt into my being; and my identity.

But the power of testimony has waned. Those who experienced the events directly are now old and feeble, and nowhere near as believable as they were to those of us who walked down the streets seeing gold and silver stars and knowing of the haunts of war and death. Two generations have passed – been born, grown – not knowing the events directly or by the testimony of those who had been there, and the situation was/is no longer as believable. Testimony thus entails being believable; believability entails having some experience(s) which would lead one to be receptive to testimony and to witness.

Testimony, in any senses per se, thus boils over to the character of those who have witnessed and give testimony. And much of life – personal, social, etc. – turns on the issue of who and what is character.


Character: There is some sort of battle brewing between the sense of oneself which seeks out a persona, a being and a way of being which is large enough (Kierkegaard) for the longest life: a character whom I can live and live with; a sense of my being which I can say that at age 50, 60, 70,…100, I can look back at my life and self and say that it was good and well enough done – as if I were a person of great strength and good taste. Thissnes of character, of character tasks, Kierkegaard opposes to tasks of virtuosity which can be done with technique and pizzazz at the earliest moment of one’s life when it becomes obvious that one can do something which is desired, and do it well enough…one can show off, scintillate, and seek out the 15 minutes of fame which Andy Warhol says each of us is due. Character is inner, virtuosity is about becoming celebrated in a world whose attention shrinks even before the minute fifteen draws us over the edges of fame. Virtuosity seeks fame; character seeks…itself?

This dialectic seems so correct to me, particularly as I age; particularly as I do not seem immune to the stylistics of being whose clock runs yet, runs still; wanting flattery, wanting fame, wanting love; yet knowing more and more that if is not inside of me, inside of my character, then life empties.

The (only?) trouble with character has to do with the tendency of many to see it as a structural aspect of being: one has it, or one does not. Some wish it to run in families, genetics, and all that. Others see it as kind of discipline that one can impose upon oneself; with the hint that certain sorts of people do this better than others – a field in which racist thought unfurls itself in myriad foldings.

The advantage of the concept of character is that it places some sorts of demands on the processes of being which tell us that there are and will be and ought to be moments of accounting for who we are and what we do. These help us to remember the moment, to pay attention to what we do, engaging in, expanding toward others and toward the sense of moving on as growth toward…character.


Stubbornness: Questions of integrity, battles of the will, shrieks of Yes, I will! – and No, you’d better not if you know what’s good for you.

Questions race around my thinking and being having to do with whether it is better if I yield, give in or give up, or simply to act reasonable. Or should I gather my strength to fight this battle, and maintain my sense of self, of being, of dignity?

But how do I separate out what is mere politics (I win or you win, I lose or you lose!) from some other, perhaps larger, longer-term sense of self and of other? If I lose today, will I win tomorrow? – or do you see me as permanently weaker? If I yield on this issue, will we find compromise on others?

Is stubbornness more about issues, more about identity and politics? This is correct! Why should I change? - or – Will you care less for me if I…will you respect me more if I am stubborn, or if I come to agree with do, do what you think is…right?

Is stubbornness a defense against the loss of meaning, of the sense that I am somebody, of whatever is integrity? Can I remain stubborn without reducing myself, or being reduced by others: discipling myself as opposed to agreeing with some others (Kierkegaard)?

If I am not stubborn in some arenas of life’s being, do I remember that I exist at all? Which? When?


Projecting Being Forward: Living in the moment, living toward the future, dwelling in the past, when are we?

The time of the senses, it has been said, is in the present here and now: what we see, hear, feel, smell. For other species, it has been claimed even, that all they do is to live in the present here and now, respond to immediate stimuli, and have no sense of past, or future, thence no conscious knowledge that there is an ongoingness other than to experience it. The entire Western theory of our being and knowing resides in this…belief, assumption,…that human being means knowing about the time of our lives. Indeed, the study of being human consists primarily in examining these senses of our being as knowing creatures.

But this is all too easy, too simple. Some (much?) of our being has to do with projecting our being forward in time to some other moments, to some next places, to tomorrow, next week, forever. Maybe this all begins for us with our parents imaging and imagining the sorts of creatures we will be when our mothers (& others) realize the pregnancy. When we are small, the idea of being male or female is carried forward in their seeing us, into seeing into our futurity: older – a day, 50 years. Much of their understanding of us, of their interpretation of what proper behavior might mean at any particular age/stage in our being, depends on their readings of who and what we are – but usually, I think in the context of their forward projections of what we move towards.

Much of this think about our being comes from watching children, and watching our own watching of our children. But much also comes from grappling with the notion of an addiction. What does it mean to be addicted to any substance – as opposed, perhaps, to using some substance (or behavior) but possessing the volition (still) to not have to use it: drugs, power, gambling. I observe, I propose that much of what we call addiction is the taking-in to our forward projections of our own being, the substance or behavior which is coming to be addictive: having to smoke the next cigarette (the most powerful addictive drug?) – i.e., not being able to imagine ourselves without that drug; seeing virtual pictures of ourselves with a cigarette dangling or held just so in our hands. Is addiction (merely) a physical reality, or doesn’t it have to do as well with the difficulty of seeing ourselves in this or that context. Does the drug or behavior literally define us to ourselves?

Consider that many people die in the first several months after retiring from a job of many years; that many long term spouses die shortly after their significant others; that I am still occasionally in some existential search for a cigarette some 30 years after quitting smoking, actually.

Just who is the I who am/became addicted: my and my being, my tissues – lips, tongue, lungs which crave…? Who is the I that is looking for the fix which I tell myself is the necessary pleasure of my continued existence; the without-which-I am…not?

As for other species, their sociality seems to tell us that they too project forward the meaning and being of their young: that futurity is a social issue, much as an individual and existential one. The point of growing up is growing up to be…a proper (noble – V. Hearne) individual – but individual in the understanding and imagination and forward projections of the others who interpret our being into the futurity which is, for them, right and proper. Otherwise they could not discipline us, and we could not exist.


Rights, Privileges, and so on:


Why do Boys Grow up to be Criminals? As it states so clearly and poignantly on the window of the Nancy Drew store in Chicago’s Loop, it is difficult for boys to grow up at all because they all have mothers. Because they all have mothers…mothers who want them not to grow up? – mothers who do not (yet) want them to be…men?

Nietzsche wondered if many criminals weren’t looking for some excitement, and tended to be just those persons who have some verve and nerve and courage finding themselves entering a world which equates maturity with boredom: many of the most talented, most adventuresome. Not finding legitimate directions for their interests, going contrary to law fills many of their wishes, their needs.

Boys will be boys!

Is it some sense of fantasy, of the ideal and transcendent which pushes boys into the beyond beyond each next beyond? Do they entertain in each moment the possibilities more than the actualities of their being: now forever moving to what’s next? Is growing up precisely yielding the what would be to what is…right now?

Perhaps it is the ‘mones pumping egos and testicles and muscles challenging limits which drives boys to crime. Perhaps the pumped up feelings need release need release, and the object is always just around the corner. Perhaps!

But it is not always so clear what is crime and what is criminal, although many of those suspecting the worst of boys will be boys nabbing tits and grasping asses think it is all so clear. It is not always clear what is the right and what is the law. And there are questions of justice, of what is fair, and what is fair game. Do unto me and I will do unto you; but if…not, then…

Many of us blame it on culture, on society, on class. Poor kids produced by poor parents seeing the BMW sitting on the street in its elegance waiting for each me to ride in it, to own it, to be owned by it. Why someone else; why not me? Why not, why indeed? Why should I lose the sense of any future at age 14 when the guys I used to go to school with see a bright future, a long adolescence? Why do I feel, why should I feel robbed of my life, just because my parents are poor, the wrong kind? Whose fault? Whose laws? Is this too sophisticated for the boys who rob…to analyze the workings of the world, having had to grow up too soon?

Bad habits? Back to sons of mothers who indulged their sons so proudly, not setting clear limits, not forcing, not disciplining their sons, themselves. Listen to Nancy Drew!

Laws are made by men/people. What is crime anyway? Do not kill, do not dishonor thy parents even if everyone else does!?

Many of us are really afraid of boys turning into men, growing muscles and speed and strength and cunning. Afraid early on that they will hurt themselves turns into cold fear that they will hurt others, hurt me and you. Afraid early on that they would be unhealthy turns into fears that they abuse drugs finding life on high, looking for a higher life. Better they should seek the deity? Follow? Lead!


And they grow up, still on the edges of gaining and losing control, aware of the authority of others who might do them harm and take their money and years of their lives locked up in the jails of life’s vicissitudes.

The girls? Lacking nerve? Tied to their roots, being; being natural wanting to re-produce; looking for esteem, value, meaning? Or are they beyond the need for meaning? Or are they…not boys?

Or do many of us value precisely the kinds of verve and nerve in boys which only very few will find outlets…for? And the rest commit crimes?

Maybe, just maybe, we do not like kids very much. Discerning this, they commit crimes; crimes commit boys; boys…


Discipline, Disciple, Disciplined: ‘Readin’, ritin’, ‘rithmetic,’ rules, regs., the list of r-ginary words goes on and on. Do it right! Be right! Go about it…right!

From the disciples of the deity, the believers in whatever is the righteous and the right, to those who wind themselves up to be and to do right, to those who are forced and made to see what right means then to do it, to those whose study is proper because it reflects the world properly and gives them sustaining powers to follow what is proper, the domain of discipulo leads on and on.

Follow the appropriate path, the trajectory from here to where, the subjects and objects of our being are the disciplines and studies of what there is: the trivium, the quadrivium from music to math to hiistory and language; where is there, and here I am is onsconced in particular courses of study –> disciplines.

Now confused, now bureaucratized, now departments and political turf in universities in journals in books which sell because discipline means audience and big bucks, the question of the disciplines of being and identity remain problematic.

Is teaching, for example, a course of study, a way of being, a doing? Is it important, trivial,…necessary for what? Is a biology which used to study organisms and populations a subject matter that it is now rapidly being reduced and replaced by the chemistry of genes?

In the study of our being and identity, do we do psychology of one’s and many’s; do we do an anthropology, a sociology? Do these major problematics of our existence fall into the intellectual-existential cracks of anti-awareness because they have no clear disciplinary locus?

Do I need to know – in order to know – a discipline? Do I need to be a geographer, a physicist, a …, in order to become disciplined: launched upon a life of study properly grooved in the particularities and proprietaries of…knowledge, custom,…what?

Do I disciple myself to a subject matter much as I would disciple myself to some particularity of a deity? Would I learn more or less about being: rather would I learn less or more about…?

And in those various times and moments when the idea of being grooved into disciplinary narrownesses seems old and confining, do I then become inter-disciplinary? Should I study others, with others who possess knowledge garnered in the disciplines of our times’ times, attempt to understand what and how they think (and do not think, specifically and residually)? Or should we attempt to move beyond history, trying oh so hard to live in the ongoingness of the present age?


First Full-Consciousness (age: 7, 8) – consonant with the awareness of personal death? First possible to survive alone? Honesty!?


Oh, it seems so complicated to even talk about one’s thinking about one’s thinking. Do it, I say, and leave it at that. I reach down(!?) into the parts of my body feeling and reporting to me that they are the I which feels them feeling, and peculiarly this does not always seem to be the case. Am I hungry – or do I feel a part of me, my stomach’s reporting that it wants food, wants relief, satiety? For most things, most of the time, this does not seem to be too much of a problem, even though it/I remain unclear even to myself (especially to myself, to my self?).

Where are the grounds upon which the I which watches myself watching, has full awareness of the rest of my being; the I which is the energy of movement, the I which goes to sleep, and gets up, and thinks, worries, ponders, loves…others and my self? Is it all arranged, so to speak, in those first moments when we realize(!) that the I which I am and call myself has some very finite limits in the world: that it will die, and go away, and return to the dust from whence it is said to have come? Here? Away? Do I arrange it all in that moment of first complete awareness of the finitude of my existence? Others may have told me, but I did not fully understand (I do not fully understand) until…

Bill Charlesworth, a colleague, a kind of person who thinks just like I do/exactly in directions which oppose my thinking/runs parallel, thinks about humans always including other species whom we are and are not…like. Bill, having traveled much of the world in some Catholic sense of charity and love to the hovels and favelas of the 3rd and 4th and 5th worlds says that children might first survive about the time they are 8 years old. Younger children (4 or more) may occasionally latch on to an older one and be taken care of, but they do not truly survive until they are 8. And, Bill reports, the oldest child that he was fairly certain told him a direct truth was probably 7. Survival, truth, knowing, awareness of the presence and certitude of death, survival, truth, knowing, awareness…from the certitude of the death of that which I call myself, my self!?


Hyperreality (Beaudrillard, Eco): The observation: that the so-called artificial can define us in such ways that the identity of – for example, journalism, photos, novels, television – can become more actual than our experienced actuality and identity.

One can write/read books in which the action takes place in fictional or in real space; then there is a reversal. Fact is less real than fiction? Who would know? What difference does it make? Where does imagination reside…beyond the here and now?

With modern computing techniques, even photographs which used to be thought to express some sense of the actual, can be altered in various ways to tell stories different from…the original.

But – one wonders – what did a portrait, a shutter closed for 1/100 second actually portray? How do we see what we do; that a 1/100 of a second represents something that we know living (as we do!?) in the streams of our ongoingness? How fast are we? In reference to what? Where are the bottom lines of the actuality of actuality that we know fakery, or are tricked?

What are the dimensions of magic, theater, illusion, surreal, that we know that we are being (have been) fooled? Fool, fool, foolish: verbs, noun, adjective: pun…intended.

Art, more real than life!?

The text-as-world (TAW): the Bible, Koran; Plato, Aristotle, the Buddha, even Confucius. The work and words of texts as laws which tell us what to do, how to be.

The world-as-text (WAT): CNN. Stories of the world at war justify the war.

Is this all about justification; testimony of the real of our being? Affirmation, reaffirmation? Authority, agency? A sense that if reality is external to us, then we are? Aren’t we?

Wasn’t the world always hyperreal (he says as he strikes the plastic buttons with lines on them depicting letters which he then remakes into letters/sounds/words which he takes to convey what he means)?

Since Plato (Parmenides, Pythagoras) discovered how to foreground logos and language by denying the validity and actuality of body and change, the paradox of being change/permanence has tilted to the envisioning of non-change and the idea as the only (or overarching) reality. Western thought is (always) susceptible to hyperreality becoming (new) reality defining/redefining itself as it goes.



Heidegger: only the poet Holderlein could witness our being.


The question seems to be, within the notion of Western dualism, whether some approach to the nature of our being is somehow more serious, deep, all-seeing, into the nature of our being. Obviously this pertains, reflexively, to this writing about fundamentals, much as any other claim.

Within dualism, within an interesting and peculiar sense of historicism which has proclaimed the bodily aspects of our being to be located outside of history, while the anti-bodily or mental resides progressively as history, some approaches to the human condition are said to be privileged.



Sickness as defining of Identity – Review of Georgio Pressberger’s The Law of White Spaces (NYT Book Review – Feb. 28, 93, p.13): distinction between healer’s writing of the meaning of being, and the sick.


Every tale turns on a moral dilemma, and the physicians-scientists who must make agonizing choices are often baffled and outraged by the way choice seems to make up the entire texture of moral life….The extremities they confront in their practice create in them an extremity of need. The physicians are finally the unacknowledged subjects of these case histories, which themselves become episodes in the history of the soul.”


Who gets to write out the nature of identity, of history? Who gets to construct the theories by which we seem to construct ourselves? The young, the old; the brave, the scared and frightened; the well who see futurity beyond a particular moment of diseased being, or the sick who wish the sickness away and lament (their version and present experiencing of) the human condition, or those who find themselves as the curers and healers and see the rest of us almost solely at the most difficult and agonizing moments of our being? Pessimists-optimists?

Do we need to spend all of the energies of our thinking-being contemplating death, robbing life’s experiencings as we guard against the extremes; not seeing each new day as having its full measure of whatever life is in its fulnesses and possibilities. Is life’s story in its theories of identity constructed to center its fail-safenesses, neglecting the very interest and excitement of the mundane and the ordinary; tempted to celebrate the outsides of the boundaries of our being?

If life’s stories are written by teachers, how different it is and would be; like perpetual new parents imagining the vast future of is child’s wonderments, the ideas of the ongoing stretched into perpetuity; driven by the celebration of change rather then by its dreadings…(See: Teaching as Dialogue).


The Ages of Identity (within a lifetime, over history…): I used to know that cultures provide certain moments of effective change, of ritual and practice and declaration that one is someone and something new, that the past is over effectively, that one is mature or old, that one has reached some moment of power or impotence or importance: circumcisions, puberty rites of Bar/Bat Mitvah, cleansings and cuttings and scarrings, wearing and cosmetizings, growing hair and letting blood, the right to stick and to be stuck, to have children and to raise them then to let them go to have children and to raise them; to regather them (Bateson: Naven). And each of these moments and momentous changes I used to call an age-grade, and think that these were very powerful in establishing new identity and in bracketing the old in various kinds and modes of containment. Now I am not so sure, not willing nor wanting to enter the modes of old age and dispensal and disposal of my character’s and characters’ beings.

I see that it is all culture, that it is all definition, that the world of oneself is a kind of market of ideas about who and am and can and will be, and if I do not will to be that which I can be understood to be, then I barely have existence.



The New Age & other forms of Millennialism: What a relief to proclaim that this age is truly new: a new age, a not-what-was, the end of some era declared – the fin de ciecle, a postmodernism, a millennium, the now is the best which was always yet to be. What a comfort!

I will be what my heart has always desired; the deity will arrive again on earth, the white knight, a new…job, a new…life. All will be alright as if I were born again and now have the real opportunity to do myself and my life better; the right way. Help! I am drowning in my being, in my history, in what I might have been, in what I am now but cannot nearly abide. Get me outta here!

Help us! The jerks who got us here didn’t know what they were doing. How did I get wrapped up in their schemes? Not my fault. Not my fault? Time…time to start all over. Another life…looking for Nirvana through the lenses of all my experience/our lives. What’s new?


Dependence of Being and Identity on Memory (loss of…): If identity is a complicated collectivity of more-or-less related notions, then memory is its…Its what?

We wander, I think, in the knowledge that older (usually) persons having suffered strokes sometimes seem to have lost their memories. Or perhaps they have lost their presents. Like the persons who wander in the world seemingly aimlessly, not seeming to recognize anyone or anything; who seem helpless almost like newborn babes…The Man Who Thought His Wife was a Hat (Oliver Sacks). We think our infants do not think, and have theories that their development goes from the totally unknowing, purely reflex-biological to the knowing rational, dependent on memory…which depends it seems on identity; on remembering who one is and that one is.

Korzybski (General Semantics) claimed that man is the time-binding animal. Is time then memory; does memory bind time? Or does the knowledge that one is who one is bind memory?


Names: Names, nicknames, malnombres, the name I am which I was…given. Some places grant us new names when…ever we want or need them, or when some significant event has placed us into a new or next place.

Approaching the age of 60, I think I am (finally) getting used to the idea of Harvey being me, being my name. What is the difference between it (Harvey) being me, and being my name? Isn’t it time for a confluence? Or should we get sundered; a sundering, splitting celebration between me and my name.

I tried during my teen-age years to switch to my middle name, Burton. A few of my friends, I recall now so long, tried calling my Burt. But that didn’t seem to fit so well, either. Fit what?…I continue to ask.

Harvey, Harv, Harvella (my sister-in-law Shirley Andrews continues to think and say). Uncle Harvey sounds O.K. for my nephews and nieces – kind of affectionate but we live fairly far away so its sound doesn’t actually resonant out-loud very often. Loudly in my head, I can hear it clearly in the sound forms peculiar to each and every one of them, now including their spouses: Mary, Jack, & Peggy; Betsy and Jeffrey, voices of generations. Memories of my parents and others saying my name, sometimes fitting, sometimes not; sometimes with affection, much in neutral, and some fair bit in anger.

Why, I used to ask, was my name so…so un-common, wavering between wanting to be special or not so very unique, and wishing to be a Bob or a Jack or some name which didn’t have a large man-sized rabbit for its most common social referent. Harvey?

Not too many years ago, I realized that this name wasn’t really mine precisely, but my parents; mostly my mother’s I think. Harvey, Burton, the most anglicized names my mother the Anglophile could imagine; so waspy as to remove any question of origins from her so, so-assimilative imagination wanting not to appear…different, ethnic, Jewish; or that her ambivalence would be reconciled not perhaps in her generation, but in the next. I realized not so long ago that names are generation-backward, given by parents whose life experience with the very same name (I guess) is so different from my own. What seems exotic or regular, in a name-fluid world of America to one generation, may turn out to be ordinary or so, so peculiar and unusual within the experience of the namee.

J., who was brought up being Jan or Jan-Marie, or Janis-Marie has not so many years ago changed her name to Janis. Only the old of acquaintances call her Jan and I am always tempted to correct them, to bring them into the present: “Her name is Janis.” Get with it!

But in some families, in some entire societies, naming is much more historical, continuous, related in an obvious, clear way: John, Jr., John so-tospeak III, IV, like they were kings, queens, popes of other droppings from heaven. In Africa some places, children and grandchildren turn out precisely to be their antecedents, and there is no pretence that one is discontinuous in any way from the ancestor: an interesting way to banish death, it seems to me…to be.

In Mexico where we lived two years three decades ago, the Mayan people there seemed to have various names: at birth they were given secret names known only to their fathers until they survived (and lest they would not, and someone would steal their souls which were bound so intimately with names) for 40 days. Then they were given other names, new names which might serve for many years. The name and the self and the soul: which is which is which?

And Harvey Burton has as well a Hebrew name, given to cover all cases, one supposes: Hayim Berel; something about life which at some level of my existence has seemed important in developing an existential notion of our being and identity. To Life! Salud!

Do not take the name of God in vain continues to wonder me as if my spirit would disintegrate like brain tissue turning to a murky viscous fluid running down the leg of being.

I resent it when the modernist world of medical/dental practice calls me Harvey, as if they would treat me like their less-than-peer, a sense of their noblesse oblige which I would hate in myself.

I tell all my students (who can deal with it) and colleagues that I am Harvey. I do this less out of intimacy than out of a sense of self- and other respect: something about formality doesn’t guarantee quality; that our institutional life has to do with titles and offices taking away being and granting official identity being step after step on the road to becoming an apparachik; better call me Harvey!


Evil: I have never thought this was a very useful concept. I presume that the idea of evil arises from our thinking dualistically, from trying to resolve the paradoxes of life without noting that we are truly paradoxical. Do the good and the pure exist as overarching truths which generate their opposites, necessarily when we fall short of our own definings of the good, the pure? Or is evil, most usually, some form of banality, which Hannah Arendt noticed (Eichmann in Jerusalem) as some outcome of being bureaucratized in our thinking: being some instrumental or structural notion of our own being in whose terms we act virtually without morality…except in terms of the structural definition of our being? Where does this leave me/us?

Like human nature, I assume that the control of the definition of good and evil and purity is the power to define our being. And our living, our being existentially and ontologically fades into our thinking about ourselves, rather than thinking out our lives and living them.

As Jaspars says in his book about Nietzsche (did Nietzsche actually say this, or did Jaspars?), that it is pretty easily to turn one’s acts into some form which allows one to sleep at night. In a directly Orwellian sense, evil can turn into good quite easily this way, and we would never really notice; never really note this.


Logic of One’s Family: My father is, I think, doing better in my construction of his being and his influence and relationship with me. Some 20 years, now, since he died, and in my thinking he is improving in many senses: better motivated, more benign, more thoughtful and comprehensive in his vision, his relationships with others and the world (including, especially, me) more clearly and well motivated. My mother (deead some 10 years) not as active in my memory at this point, I think, but always it seems lurking just beyond every horizon of being.

I think I am in various active discourses with them; with their memory working in my thinking about them about me. The point is, I guess, that I think not only of them, but to some extent (large, small, increasing??) in their terms. Love them, hate ‘em, I seem in various ways to be like them, a son of their family, of their thinking about me thinking about them thinking about.

It is, I think that I think within the logic of their logic, granting importance to the things they thought were important, downgrading most of those thinks and things they found immaterial. I find myself disagreeing with them (my reconstruction of my memories of them) on many issues. But I also still construct them – especially facial expressions – in great detail, at various points in their lives’ movements. I am not precisely governed by them, their memories within my thinking being; but I am not precisely free or outside of their thinking either.

Perhaps it is that I don’t exactly want to please them, please my memories of them; but I don’t exactly want to displease their places within myself, either, perhaps especially. It seems to me not to be a question of operating with the logic of the family in which I was raised to be me, but of conditions, of processes, of growth, change.

Is it a sign that I am more mature if I grant my memory of my father greater pleasantness in my present being?


Twins: The magic and metaphor of the study of twins keeps telling us that there is more underneath the twoness of their being than all the onenesses in the world. Some story about nature and nurture, about eggs splitting and splintering, about the destiny of our being being predetermined by our genes, by our inheritance. Maybe!?

But where, then, is the twin I would have had, might have been? Where does the identicality of identity reside in the person each twin is and would be? It is said (anecdotally, the social scientist of my former being would admit) that when identical twins grow up and move away from each other, that one can see in their photos their appearance changing away from one another within six months of their splitting. My twins, my teenage neighbors and friends (the Rivo boys) always seemed very different to me…But, to themselves?

They were the classic mirror twins: the right-handed seeing the left-handed seeing one another. And I wondered if the one twin did not see himself more in the other, each thinking that he was the other, that the other was him?! Didn’t they each believe that the other was himself, he the other?

One is mindful of Borge’s story of identity in which our present being is mostly particular, incidental, perhaps accidental to our identity. We could have gone other directions, heard different stories of how and who we are; told ourselves that we are/were someone quite other, even, Borges suggests, opposed to our present being. At the storyline of oppositional extremes, Borges says we might have turned out to be precisely that person, that being who we would most hate; that one who would find it necessary, absolutely, to murder literally the one we have turned out to be. I infer on cooking this idea, that that oppositional other – to whatever extent s/he is the one especially whom I would hate would hate me – that that other resides somewhere within the me which works so hard at banishing my twin would-be in every way every day!


Body as Locus of Individuality: Western thought (others?) have had this (only to me?) very peculiar propensity to focus on the individual as the repository of all of our essential being. But where and what is the locus for this notion of the individual: in the physical body, a reality or a concept which is then finally abandoned as the locus for much else of knowing or being. Plato worried about our own knowledge and absolutely freaked about the possibility of anyone else’s knowing, our knowing their knowing and on and on.

Somehow (Phaedo) the effective banishment of the body from knowledge and intellection was posed by (or posed) this surreptitious locating of the mind within the physical body, only as locus with no particular contribution of body to the remainder of our being except as some impingement on the mind: desires, sickness, death. Banish the body, banish fears of death, and so on: the primary text for (modern) Christianity. We remain, apparently forever caught in this skepticism about the very possibility of knowledge, about issues of whether the real is really real. I think most of this is resolved once we admit the facticity of the body in our very intellection, and in the intellection of others, it/their development, and so on.

Our identity (and our knowledge) is also located within the body living within the universe of other(s’) bodies. The facts of our being are there as well as the certification that we got here in the past, and exist in the present,…and will in the future. This is to say that much of our being and identity is bound up with bodily being; not just with a locus of body to identify being, a fact then used to obscure much of our actuality and set up a war between the putative body (as desires, sickness, death,…) and the mind which we think somehow is the depository and repository for the mind which then constructs its own sense of the body. (See: The Body Journals)

Much of our identity is invested in our bodily being, a most complicated aspect of our being, and to use it merely as locus for circumscribing the real self is to see ourselves seeing ourselves but never to close in upon the actuality of being. (See: Foundations Project Description)


Creation of Image of Political Self (Teddy Roosevelt, 1st president to have done this successfully) NYT (2-38-93): In some senses, I suppose, people have always known that image is much of identity. It is not exactly the I of my imaginings or being which one’s parents see, respond to, and interpret. It is not this sense of who I am that they attempt to mold and form and help enable me to become some sense of reasonable and responsible and moral person in their terms. It is more about the issue of whose terms in which I find the I to call myself.

It is even much more complicated, perhaps by the conceptual language of time in which I can possibly talk about the nature of my being in and over time. The I which I say I am endures; at least seems to. How did I get here is much of knowing that and where I am, right now. How did I get here seems to demand and receive a sense of self-history which is continually being regenerated, checked, and kept in the places below awareness which seem, nonetheless, to ground the being which I am right now. I can (need) to rely upon a complicated historical construction: others who shared my experiences form important places in this sense of my history – for some a problem after they have died or moved away; a need for some of us to check with them that my formative experiences really were…And some sense of carrying the I which I am into the indefinite futures which inspire, at least do not kill off the present here and now.

Image: me to me, me to others. I appear, they respond. Do I look like me, like how I should in their terms? What terms are my own? Do I see into the reflections of my visage looking back with accuracy? Do I even know what accurate would mean, more fascinated by the experience of the mirror looking back looking in, than with any sense of accuracy with what I see. Older, most always older, most of us see today’s image. But some of us want to see something which we call younger or longer ago, or more mature…or something we are not nor ever were. “I look interesting,” my neighbor told me once. Students and faculty at other colleges and universitities say hello to me as if…as if I am someone they know or ought to know, falling into some imagistic stereotype of a professor. All image? Or an image which my other behavior does not embarrass or chagrin?

So others see me. They see masks and images which they construct much as I upon the visage I call my face, which they seem to call me. And with photography upon the art of portraiture, someone figured out how to arrange this image, this face upon my being, so that others saw what they wanted; then they saw what I wanted them to see. It was like, this Teddy Roosevelt attempt to control and define the image of his presidency, like a universalizing cosmetics. I try to find whatever you want to see in me, whatever will attract you, not repel you, fit into whatever will make you think I am your president, whatever will help you yield your power and your vote to me – and to be that person sufficiently. I am me, the image you hold of me.

And where am I within the knowledge that you will see in me what I want you to see, and very little more or other? Who knows? Hidden, really to you, I may be clear or not at all clear to myself. Meek, diabolical, a terrorist within lamb’s likings.

But people have known masks, and mirrors, and magic for a long, long time. They knew perhaps with the purposive of manipulation. Or they thought that different visages really were different: image and reality – where do we play within the actual, the surreal, the sublime, the image? What confusions between who I am, who I appear to be to others and to myself in some complex of orderings? Who is to say precisely which is image and which is not? The question, once opened, reduces to questions of agency, and who is the actor is the construction of the life of the person I call myself; or the image I call myself.

Here we play within the notions of the real and real-ize that it can be constructed…thoughtfully; and this at once disturbs us as if we have found ourselves out to be of dubious being and identity, and reaffirms the necessity of wandering through this sort of thinking-out of ourselves; and the wonderings of how others do…and what, just what now will keep the world afloat!?







(See: meditations on…Next Places)



On the Horizons of Being: Life often seems to be a visitation to one’s being. I, the real I of my would-be, find myself glancing almost offhandedly at the self whose living I seem to be doing: an occupant, as it were, of some address, any address in the city or metropolitan area – take your choice.


I, looking backward from the various vantages I used to tell myself were the places of judgment of the life-lived, to see if it were done well…enough. From age 40, much of it appeared to be mistaken, but not all so bad; careers appeared open, the possibility of success hanging out like a lawyer’s shingle: here I am, open for business, buy my wares (I come along for free!). From age 50, it focused already within the fantasy of life’s vicissitudes, finding sufficient integrity and honesty, but not seeing much future; already having found Nietzsche’s fantasy of being a posthumous author pleasing, pleased that there was more work to do, not to be sent to a house of nuts whose squirrely work would be to irrationalize my being. At the very moment of reaching 55, the rest of my life appeared reflecting backwards to this moment of rushings, hurrying me on to…towards?

Approaching 60, there is no apparent reason anymore to sum up a life; rather more to live it, and to let the horizons I view become moments in which I can see growth once again. Less debt, more concern with sustaining the work which has been launched long ago yet concentrates still in these moments: sum-uppance?! Life is finally becoming less a visitation, the horizons less distant from being itself. Lights at ends of tunnels beginning to ignite and spread and devour the tunnel through which I once would look blurrily, bleakly; now, no more and less and less…on most days.


Ways of Creating (historical?) Identity: history, ethnicism/religion/nationalism, language – mysticism, millennialism, texts, counter-identity,…:


When the many (a people) are seeking for some sense of who they are, for the yielding or dropping of some sense of who they have been, toward a new or newly sustaining identity, there are a number of favorite/usual ways to proceed. One can look to commonalities with others in the contexts of family, of religion, of nation, language, history, and so on.

All of these moves require each person to yield something of his/her own being. But this yielding is often or usually desirable because prior senses of identity have been somehow less than satisfactory or useful or sustaining. While all of us live in multiple identitities – self, family, son/daughter, parent, cousin, student, etc. – there are times when one or more of these identities become more or less interesting or more or less problematic. For example, the loss of a significant other, the gaining of a new friend or a marriage, will raise questions and make problematic various senses of who one is.

Some of these may be desired or desirable, while others may be imposed: a marriage or birth; a death or the presence of some external force seeing oneself (me) in terms which solidify some aspect of one’s identity, positively or negatively (e.g., race, religion, nationality in the context of fearful or hateful gazes).

Gathering ideas seem to be few and repeat themselves over and over again in history, appealing at various moments to populations who feel some sense of ennui, of ordinariness in the face of change, or of death, or some other ominous force appearing on the effective horizons of their being.

These appeals are often textual: reference to an ancient text such as the Bible or the classicisms of some time which is granted hegemony or golden-age status compared to a present which is considered dull or derived, depraved or suffering beyond their collective endurance. Examples of the Greek-Platonic and Aristotelian traditions have arisen over and over again in the Western tradition. Indeed, appealing to Plato is perennially useful when we feel that we have lost our way. Aristotle is invoked over and over again whenever we may wish to assert our hegemony over others by proclaiming our essential humanity while some others are said to be, by nature, slaves. That is, even the appeal to nature is usually a textually concocted notion of nature, rather than one which demands that we return to experience and observation. Recently, an Allan Bloom can lament The Closing of the American Mind even as he wishes us to return to the Platonic texts for present day guidance. Read the Bible, the Koran, the…, and find the truth of our being and identity therein; rather than engaging in the ongoing reading of the Book of Life. In 11th century France, Cuger was able to take Plato���s Timaeus as his text and to create in actuality the idea of the cathedral which would cement aspects of Catholicism for centuries.

Other returns bespeak of an originary or creation moment, before some experience of the present which is not working or serving some group of people very well. The loss of meaning among some Amerindian tribal peoples, leading to excessive use of alcohol, a high rate of suicide among teenagers – is spawning a looking backward toward some originary moment before the presence of Europeans: a moment of some power, of truth, of the actuality of being ab-original: the real people. Then, once established, this idea will be taken into the present where the people will live their lives in harmony and conjunction with the figure of the aboriginal. Returns to notions of natural law, of man (sic!) in nature, are quite similar. We have been soiled and soiled by, e.g., our sociality (Rousseau), and we need to return to (some depiction of) nature in which we were more true to our given nature. In this context, especially, it is clear that returns have an intrinsic political power to raise those whose claim to history are significant, thence to lower claims of others who have helped to perpetrate and solidify their own power. Claims of genealogy or family lines direct to someone who was famous or powerful operate similarly. For whatever reasons, the power of the concept of history to influence present identity is often if not always persuasive to many people, especially those who (says Kierkegaard) do not always reside happily in the ongoing present age.

Other rallying cries which work from time to time, and in particular settings include religion as a kind of cultural glue, the nationalisms and ethnicisms of place and relationship. The conditions under which these operate seem to be fairly limited, often depending on the perception of an oppressive outside which is said to be oppressive to the rallying force which would bind people together. The power of Israel literally to define the nature of the Jewish bond is arguably the most effective and inspiring in history – for others (again Amerindians, the use of historical place to inspire is just emerging, especially around the massacres at Wounded Knee in South Dakota.

The story of the Balkans which is occurring at the time of this writing is the story of groups of Serbs who have been so frightened by the threat of slaughter, that former neighbors and friends have found it within their ordinary being to rape and ravage and damage solely on the (newly established) grounds of group and ethnic identity. The (psychological) dynamics of when some one becomes some thing, some group, are astonishing, and shold lead us back to questions of mob activity and hysterias. When they occur, they occur quite rapidly and almost without warning, especially when while we remain unaware of their potential power, and the cyclical facts of each new generation having to be, as it were, retaught the various facticities of their history, and the ways history can be used to inform present being and identity. Language, class and caste, and culture can be used similarly, given appropriate conditions for their emergence.

When such conditions either do not apply or are not useful to rally individuals or smaller groups into larger identities, retreats into various forms of mysticism are often powerful. I do not think that mysticism is necessarily very different from other gathering ideas of group identity such as texts or religion or nationality. Benedict Anderson instructs us that all of these notions (Imaginary Places?) are in many senses are conceptual more than actual. That peoples will define and defend the nation as if it were actual and even sacred should return us to the issues of this entire exploration into identity. It is certainly clear that imagined or as-if identity is at least as strong for most of us as our experiencing being.

By mysticism, I mean that we can construct various ways of being which are not so much based on texts or living, wakeful experiences as upon acts of the imagination, of drug-states, ecstacy, dreams, and so on. The idea of a fall to earth from heaven and the soul’s return to God has had extraordinary(!) power over self definition and the judgment of one’s actual experience. Indeed, this reflection upon what I am calling mysticism should cause us to reflect upon what we mean by the actual: and for mystics at least, and relativists at most, should ask us precisely what we mean by being and identity. Is it all derived –> varieties of intellectual nihilism which I think we have to grapple with (and to reject!) from time to time? And this leads me, at least, back to Kierkegaard’s axis of being: fear vs. wonder – where the wondrous examine mysticism while the fearful become and attempt to placate or otherwise deal with it. Again, this points us toward grappling with the facts of being paradoxical creatures in a world whose major traditions have become major precisely because they resolved certain paradoxes in ways which have led to their power and hegemony, not the least over the posing of questions of identity.


History in the Context of the Balkans: In a review cast as a “Readers Guide to the Balkans,” (NYT Book Review 4/18/93: 1) Robert D. Kaplan says:


History, like hate, is the product of memory, and memory is composed of unforgettable detail — sights, smells, sounds, exalted emotions, grim statistics and cruel memories. A memory is not subject to condensation. It loses all meaning. It becomes just another lifeless fact that can never convey how people have come to think and behave as they do.

The Balkans are a region of pure memory: a Bosch-like tapestry of interlocking ethnic rivalries where medieval and modern history thread into each other. More complicated and less visually exotic than the Middle East, the Balkans are unsuited to the reductions of the television camera…Whereas the Middle East is a game of checkers — Arabs versus Israelis, with a modern history that began only in 1918 — the Balkans are three-dimensional chess.

So in a sense the ascendancy of the Balkans as a news story in the 1990’s means a victory for print over television. Yet it is not only the television correspondents who can’t do much with the Balkans. Neither can the newspaper pundits, since the region is not an extension of America���s own ethnic and racial obasessions, the way the Middle East and South Africa are. The Balkans are truly foreign. They require pure intellectual curiousity, nuance, not op-ed polemics. There is no getting around it. To understand the Balkans, you have to read books.

The key word for understanding the Balkans is process: the process of history and the process of memory, processes that Communism kept on hold for 45 years, thereby creating a kind of multiplier effect for violence. Balkan violence is not a phenomenon of “modern hate,” like that in Algeria and the West Bank, fed by rising economic expectations and demographic stress. Southeastern Europe is a caldron of history — of unresolved border disputes and nationality questions created by the collapse of the multinational Hapsburg and Ottoman empires.

By ���process,” I mean the fact that in the Balkans each individual sensation and memory affects the grand movement of clashing peoples. For today’s events are nothing but the sum total of everything that has gone before. Process is something that is more emotional, physical even, than rational. It often has no direction: the asides and footnotes can be more meaningful than the main story line. You have to feel. You have to be able to imagine all the details of the past. That is why the best books about the Balkans are old and frequently eccentric — granting access to a psychological universe that no television camera will ever penetrate.


This Kaplan follows with a list of books…


Like many families…


Transforming Knowledge (Minnich): The case of women (men?) is quite different from the question of and quest for group identity.

It is women who hold the key to the future. Why, then, this strange historic battle in which men (qua men) have taken power away from women, arrogating to themselves (ourselves?) control over the public world?

Men’s toys: phallic symbols, power over things, weapons of being and the possibility to destroy more than to construct: out of some cosmic vision; out of weaknesses whose nurturings are never admissable?

Men – always treading bluntfully on the edges of control, ready to lose and to let loose of themselves, muscles grown big out of weakenings. What sense of justice here?

Grown strong, the men, seeking vengeance for their lack of power over the determination of the future, carried always backwards into each day’s experiencings? Lost, each day? Lost in some visions and structurings of life’s would-be’s never to reside in today’s living?

Utopias, the onwards of what would-be, capturing and captivating the imagination? Living: in one’s imagination? Out of…fear? How can this wish, this need for control be out of strength; for strength, true strength is set within the ability to step-back from one’s visions of the what would-be to see how one is that he(!) is also other; that others/mothers have created him and his lookings-out? Control out of the in-ability to admit that he is on the verges of control, that there isn’t any necessity to his existence, so he remains busily trying to not-worry, not to worry means constructing the possibility of meaning outside of himself, for there is nowhere within?

Life, men’s life, a robbery of existence?

(And, if men could/would become women, and women would/could become men: what then?)


Fear: There is something, something often powerful, to the stuff of fear. Perhaps, as Franklin Roosevelt said, “the only thing we have to fear is the fear of fear.��� Perhaps!

Much as I hate to admit thinking reductively, analytically to the smallest ‘nth of my being, there is also something to the behaviorist notion of pleasure and pain: that we tend to do what produces the sensation of pleasure in us, and avoid pain. There is something, as well, to the notion of training – as opposed to education: hard work at working hard at some skills at which we become better; in some senses in spite of ourselves.

But what is the stuff and the experience of fear so great that we will do most anything to avoid its happenings and reportings within our being? Pain seems quite direct, immediate; its occurrence demanding within us for instant ridding, powerful, nagging if it persists even as we demand its banishment.

It – fear – seems to be some variety of bodily experiences which some call feelings, to which we react much as if they were actually painful, pulling and punching at our nerve endings, catching our full attention and overwhelming all other aspects of experiencing. Pain acts porwerfully in the present here and now, often acting as definitional of the possibility of placing boundaries upon itself.

Causes of fear? A good question; a good way of questioning? Death, economy, authority – these seem to have been and to remain best sellers in the game of causation. If we seek labels, then these will serve us.

Why fear death? – some have said. It (death) is a new aspect of experiencing, of being, of…Plato, astoundingly, found something like a practical solution to the problem of death: banish the body, have the soul attach itself to ideas and forms outside of actual experience, return the soul whence it came. Life experience is merely an illusion, a chimera, and fear is transformable. And remarkably it has served many, and continues to. It seems to depend to some extent on working on the young to get their fear factors operating in certain contexts: do as I say, say parents, or you’ll go to Hell! And this fear seems to train, to operate upon bodily fears so they are readily, steadily available just in case one is feeling too little humility, or not sufficient pity for others. But it works in others to get themselves to play with means and ends in very peculiar ways, virtually the opposite from humility and from pity: whatever works to allay the fear? – one wonders.


(cont) power, economy


Insanity: (Include the aphoristic piece on insanity?): a sickness, an adjustment which hasn’t worked out so well, a sane response to an insane world? It is not so clear what insanity is. It is not so clear that insanity is a state, or a set of processes, or a set of feelings which so overwhelm us that they call attention to their own feeling’s thinking and enter us into realms of thinking thoughts odd from the perspectives of others’ thinking. How odd?

So confused by now that the physicians have taken over the diagnosis and care of those who are seen as insane. How sad the future of those diagnosed as schizophrenic, as if the diagnosis truly lays out future possibilities as time is confined, and each new day is not much new. How complex that the idea of insanity is so peculiarly linked to the irrational which is the other side of the rational, whose definition has become so…dispersed: rational = logical; rational = the legal responsible citizen; rational = the economic person who maximizes profits and takes care of number one. And the oppositional notion is the irrational, the crazy, the insane who don’t much partake in the oppositional categories at all: just clinically strange and estranged. An esthetic? A sickness? How is it that any of us is truly sane?


Public Life:


Retreat from Public Life: The headline in the alternative weekly newspaper seemed to me to scream out: MAKE THE WORLD GO AWAY (WHY HOME SECURITY IS BOOMING).

The American population, first the rich who lived out in the exurbs of our lives, but now all of those middle class especially suburbanites who live with their houses facing back into their individual yards, are able and eager to buy electronic equipment to make their homes secure.

A box insert quotes itself, saying: The building of electronic barricades marks a natural step in our retreat from public life — perhaps the most significant one since the advent of television, suburbis, and the backyard patio.

In the Twin Cities, we are just about to build our first walled-in, gated community, like a country club. Only now we build walls and gates. Like Mexico City suburbs where the favelas are the slums, where the poor-poor live across the street, and armed guards are placed at the gates of the development, we are becoming classed and anti-classed, afraid and insecure. Public life is to be gone into with great caution. We move away from others, to the few others like us whom we might trust, and even those we face away from. Do we not diminish in this construction of the anti-public, while preserving some sense of who we might be (if anyone) by who we are not?


Poets of Oppression-Saids’ Culture and Imperialism: In my own search for identity, I thought I might have made a pretty good poet of oppression. I just could not see my plight or my work as occupying the position of arguing against any dominant force from which I found myself directly excluded. While I have never precisely been in vogue or in power, neither have I been fired upon for being either who I am, or who I am not in an general sense of identity; more I have tried to be me as a kind of occupation, or one might say, a preoccupation – life as its own study.

But this is not to be critical of such poets of oppression. I am a supporter of those who argue against oppression: easier to support a Gandhi (a Christ) or a Martin Luther King who wanted to overthrow oppression by non-violent means; but I can relate to and join with those who would oppose oppressive power by whatever means it might take. Perhaps I have taken the easy way out by exploring power itself, and claiming the role of teacher within this context rather than putting my life on some line, dug-in some firmament more firm than conceptual. Perhaps I am a coward.

Perhaps. I weep for those who have been destroyed in the name of…I search instead for how it is that any/all of us become the who of who we are and each of us am. How is it that anyone can kill in the name of some social identity without even taking on some sense of the personal, of some sense of the responsibility which seems, at least, to be in the domain of the personal; the wish to go on, to not die? How can one not die while killing anyone else? I would rail against the killers in the name of…

I think that oppression is born of weakness, of some lack of strength and surety that one is…, that one is oneself in a sense which is sustaining. Plato moaned that it was personal desires which undercut anyone’s ability to know, to tell the truth, not to be deceived or to have deceived oneself; but I think it is more difficult, more complicated than this. Strength sustaining and sufficient: how to be sufficiently strong that one does not need to hurt others in order to protect those hurt places in oneself? Sufficient to find places of self-sufficiency that one can pursue and tell of the integrity of self which rebounds upon it-self? How not to sell-out to? But this is so complicated by questions of loyalty, of family, of senses of deity and transcendental agency, and my response seems so…American; stoic, willful, and all that. But if not…then oppression?

It has something to do, this poetry of oppression, directly of oppression: of one’s parents even when/if they acted of the necessity that I be protected or protect myself. How to not be oppressor – Freire’s wailing lament – in my turn, when I have learned principally and primarily the lessons of oppression? How to see-through my own tendencies even as I have the size and strength to strike out and strike through: self-control, control of self when others would oppress me also in the name of nation, of deity, of culture, of race and gender and all the collective concepts which rally identity for…but also against.

The problem last century of Nietzsche was to overcome the tendency toward peace by focusing on the weaknesses of others rather than upon their strengths – or, in my interpretation – upon teaching them in some dialogue so that they can become strong enough even to subvert their own teachings so others can become strong enough to…No great sense of pity; rather than of understanding and invitation toward becoming auto-didact: strong enough to, strong enought not to, strong enough not to have to…

In this historical moment when an entire generation has grown up in countries in which oppressors and colonizers had left some 40 odd years ago, a new time: beyond the time when one had to be and write the poetry which would lament and heal and wonder us about the odd paradox of power of oppression: strength and killing and wounding out of weakness; kindness and understanding arising from the once-oppressed. (See: Teaching as Dialogue).


Hierarchies of Identity: Prestige, importance, authority, others dwell upon your being. I was born to be…me, one of them, the prince or princess, the ugly duckling who would. Here I am; there go the swells, the good-looking, those who know, those who are rich, those who control, those who would and those who resent and plot.

White, red, yellow, black, brown; black, brown, red, yellow, those without much color – the mad rushes rushing to establish that I am one of the we who are the right kind. If only I can convince you that I am: the Kohens, the Levites, the Israelites, who gets to sit nearest the Torah; who gets to…stick it to some them who are supposed to lie passively and…be stuck, and act as if they like it. If only they can be convinced to convince themselves that they…like it.

Realizing some two centuries ago that this notion called culture could be taken with language to establish a sense of history which could be used to foretell the past into the present, reigning in life, and reigning over others who thought they were peasants. The idea of a Church which could also be used to establish the notion of a fact that I am to subjugate myself to the deity…thence to those who are said to (say that they do) represent the deity, be angels or some other form of demi-semi-god. Realizing that some language – call it German could be said to have had a long history, a noble history, a destiny, a higher calling, calling it higher over and over again, inspiring inspiring. The French bought the story then, resenting it now and then, and warring seemed necessary. Who would wage war and in whose name?

The Chosen chosen to give all of us the word and word of the one god bringing down the resentment of those who are not and were not and think they never would be, inventing their own story of god and their own texts and tests, born to be born again. The battle of life vs. death fought over texts and claims, and life cheapened and empties out. The arrogance informed by belief in one’s own greatness informing others who then believe it. Pace Paulo Freire.




Paradoxes/ MIXED with dualisms


















at odds (disharmonic)


















Paradoxical Methodology:


- any oppositional entity may generate its own (repeated) internal antinomy –> Mind: mind/body (the self is created/exists (only) as social reality. Male and female, in terms of how we see infants, is a creation largely of our imagining them, way beyond their physicality.







to be included – check out the ones from the early 1980’s!?







Adler, A.


Garcia Individuality


Gergen Kenneth. 1991. The saturated self.


Mead, G.H. Mind, Self, and Society

Montagu, Ashley. 1955. The direction of human development. New York: Harper & Brothers.


Musil, Robert 1953. The Man Without Qualities. Coward-Mc

Cann, Inc. N.Y. (Tr., E. Wilkins & E. Kaiser)


Taylor, Charles 1989. Sources of the Self: The making of the modern identity. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.


Znaniecki, Florian. The Polish Peasant





From Musil: see single sheet. For Intro of Diff. Sections of Identity.


When the Man Without Qualities returned from abroad some time earlier, it was only out of whimsicality and a detestation of the usual kind of apartment that he rented this little chateau, which had once been a summer residence outside the city gates, losing its meaning when the city grew out and round it, amounting in the end to nothing more than a neglected piece of real estate waiting for a rise in the price of land, and in the meantime untenanted. (9)


…But if there is such a thing as a sense of reality – and no one will doubt that it has its raison d’etre – then there must also be something that one can call a sense of possibility. (12)


…so the sense of possibility might be defined outright as the capacity to think how everything could just as easily be, and to attach no more importance to what is than to what is not….It is he who first gives the new possibilites their meaning and their destiny; he awakens them. (13)



We have gained in terms of reality and lost in terms of the dream. We no longer lie under a tree, gazing up at the sky between our big toe and our second toe; we are too busy getting on with our jobs…efficiency. (40)


News & Newspaper: …it is in the realm of the abstract that the more important things happen in these times, and it is the unimportant that happens in real life. (page?)



Holocaust: Importance, …, cheapness,…fascination,…with death.


A chip of bone, held up to show…when words failed.


Dissipation of authority…


Emotions of uncertainty, terror, loss of…will to live.


Tension between survivor testimony and diaries of the instant (Lodz Ghetto)


Conflict between oral history U& documentary histories.






Rites of Passage:


The Towardness of Being: (looking for transformation?)



Fanon: Black Skin, White Maskss


Pathology and Normality


Acceptance vs. Denial of Oneself



Inner Experience (Bataille)



Losing One’s Sense of Self:


The Chemicals which are Me:





(but within the individual)

envy and the 7-teen deadly sins

Critical Literacy:



Being and Truth:



Cognition & Perception

Kant Cant (and Descartes dreamt he could):

Intuition: (Leibniz – the battle between the rational and the desires which would make us do…)

Insanity, thus Sanity?



Power of Powerful-appearing Persons:




folie a dieu

Being (an) Ethnic

Denying One’s Identity (e.g., Am. Indians in gov�����t Schools – having lost language, culture, etc.)





An Authentic Voice: (of an author: e.g., Marquez).

Originality, Creativity,…Belief




Light dust:(dear sunshine)

Becoming like god:



A Poet of Oppression:

Utopias (Dystopias, Eutopias)


A World Citizen: a global community – the danger/usefulness/temptation of inferring from a notion of identity bounded somehow by a gathering idea of a nation-state, now attempted to be transferred to everyone, everywhere.


Ayn Rand


Just Another Primate:


Justification of…(war, being,…)



Paradox of identity and the paradox of reality: (that Plato, for example, learned how to frame reality as a problematic which could be resolved…rather than lived.)

Problematizing the Ordinary of Identity

Identity and Action/Activity – whose terms? (in which I act)

the rel’n between the press’ power and celebrity – questions of the possibility of integrity.

The Demon-within:

the other

Stanley Keleman

Centrality and Marginality – colonialism and its un-impact on the center, etc.




Fabulist’s narrative basic materials: fatalism, austere hilarity and brevity.



It’s one of the blithe pretenses of modern living that a disease is something you “get” or “have,” with-usually-no more enduring an effect on your character than getting or having a new car or a cellular phone. But in a person experiencing severe or chronic illness, just as in a community suffering an epidemic, disease provokes a crisis of self-definition: internal boundaries shift, and the complex structures of identity rearrange themselves. It’s not merely an organic condition that brings about the crisis, not merely infection or pain or the imminence of death. Medical historians and lay persons alike are beginning to realize that disease is a social construct as well as a medical event. When you contract a disease, you contract the world of that disease, and that world is what threatens self-definition. In this, as in so much else, AIDS has reminded us of things that were on the verge of being forgotten. It has distanced us from the medical optimism of the nineteem-fifties and sixties and reasserted the fact that no sickness-and certainly no epidemic-comes without its myths, which can be every bit as damaging as the sickness itself…


“Dangerous Diagnoses” by Verlyn Klinkenborg. In the New Yorker, 7/18/94 (78-80). A review of Living in the Shadow of Death by Shei9la M. Rothman (Basic Books) and Silent Travelers by Alan M. Kraut (Basis Books)