Monday, 22 February 2016

On Identity, from a fiction in progress

I bump into McGregor, who is teaching a class on "Identity". Except I'm never quite sure what this means, "Identity". It seems to have something to do with ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality – none of which I’m particularly interested in. All of these - Ethnicity, gender, religion, sexuality - are simply passport and social security categories. They are always on the side of the state and the state mentality. To 'identify' with such categories, to affirm your attachment to such categories, is to align the inner workings of your soul with the outer workings of the state, to observe obediently and to the letter a protocol decreed by the state. In latching on to this ready-made state identity, one is diverted from the force and idiosyncrasy of one’s own desire. Our own desire is nothing but the potency we have within us, the stubborn and innate tendency to express our own peculiar form of life, and our only duty is to be true to this desire; but instead we are diverted into false problems and fake questions, like this non-problem of our 'identity'. The endless framing and reframing of this issue, the endless discussions that require people to focus on it, the metastasis of blather that grows up around the question of identity, the demand that we attend to this bogus question, all of this only reproduces and confirms the mentality of the state, the mentality of bureaucrats and the corporate mind, and at the same time anaesthetises our desire almost to the point of coma. McGregor thinks that identity is affirmative and liberating but as far as I'm concerned, when people speak of identity they are speaking of knots. “I am Irish,” "I am Protestant," "I'm Jewish"– as if they cannot undo the knot that ties them to Ireland, to Protestantism, to the Jewish faith without the whole Self coming unbuttoned and falling apart. I'm an American!" someone shouts, proudly tightening their knot. The individual becomes the mouthpiece of the collective and makes pronouncements on its behalf. “As Christians, we believe...” and so forth. Belief resides always with a “we” and the individual defers to the we, refers all questions to the We. Such people have become ventriloquist dummies for the We.. They are content for the We to think and believe and feel on their behalf. “We believe that when you have a child..” "We have a different attitude to grieving.."Yes, I say, but what do you believe, the idiosyncratic desirous "I" who's wriggled free of its knot? They are lost for words, of course, or offended, or an amalgam of both, because they do not want to unravel the knot.  I have always tried to avoid such knots. Or at least mine tie me only to my own peculiar life. Morning coffee in a Soho cafe, the nib on the blank page: such is my communion, such is my citizenship and affiliation. I don’t need an identity, I say to McGregor, I’m happy with how I am.

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