But who am I anyway? I do not ask myself this question frequently, because I don’t believe it is a question that is to be frequently asked, because I don’t believe in the shameless exhibitionism of our day: me, myself and I. For the most part I do fine without the photographic evidence of my own being-there, presented to everybody else so that they can confirm my existence by clicking on “like”.
Any truthful inquiry about the self, it would seem, must remain silent or must only be spoken about with one’s intimates if it is not to devolve into an unhealthy stylization of the self. To my brother I can say: this and this bothers me, it does not agree with what I believe in. I can tell my sister: jesus, look at this old picture here, those were the days and here we still are, sucking air. And to myself I can think: what a miracle, to wake up day after day, the atoms changing, the molecules going on their promiscuous tour through the universe, the cells of my biological body being replaced&dying, my worldviews steadily permutating and yet, there within, at the core, something remaining forever the same. Until death that is. Perhaps I am an essentialist, a sentimentalist or maybe I have a soul.
What about that unhealthy stylization of the self? Unhealthy, yes, I stand by that. How many people can you present yourself to as a surface, a pic or a desirable body without reducing yourself to exactly that status? A dozen? Three score? As many as you have FB “friends”? The self is important but not as a prop to impress others, I think. Or perhaps I have it all up-side-down and we impress/provoke/stimulate others so we can watch them react to us and from this reaction sort-of meekly derive what we ourselves are like or, at least, appear like.
But who am I anyway? Don’t ask it because it is very likely to become some sterile, solipsistic mental exercise from which I will be unable to draw any knowledge of self. Solipsism being the believe that there is nothing certain except the existence of one’s subjective self, in my case, one tbmg. And that everything outside these eyeballs, nose, mouth, ears, hands, alleged-brain might as well be purely Maya.
Then again, on the other hand, the single hand that claps, I do believe that thinking is being, and if there is some of the former, it seems to me, there would be some of the latter too. That is, in following the call of the question one realizes the answer. To a certain limited degree because the process alone of thinking through the question seems, almost self-evidently, to constitute only a small, temporary fraction of my entire being, a being that is really a becoming. My subjectivity changes minutely with every passing moment.
Putting it in these terms illuminates another thing: trying to answer the question is likely to create a verbal/mental/linguistic bubble that shimmers gaily but will eventually pop into nothingness. If one then mistakes that nothingness for the actual core of one’s self, how existentially scary would that be? The psychological equivalent of taking an ever closer look at the body, how it subdivides into organs and those into cells, zooming into molecules, then atoms and ultimately elementary particles of which I must assume they are solid sameness or more cosmic froth, neither of which is a very calming idea.
But who am I anyway? To me this question is a call to failure. Little wonder we don’t even want to begin thinking about it unless we are feeling mentally masochistic. But since the answer seems to be a game of language or thought we could just toss out a few hypotheses.
B) I am what I am. My biological body constitutes me in my wholeness. That is, e.g: 182 cm, 70kg, dark-brown eyes, black, curled hair, shoe size 44, such-and-such a DNA sequence, all the specifics of my phenotype, the frequency of my voice, etc. Well what about that DNA sequence? Me and my brother surely share upwards of 99.99%, yet it seems that in certain respects we could not be more different: I like my paper blackly printed on and bound together in uncrumpled hundreds, while he needs them one at a time, single-colored, print-free, then folded up [crumpled if you like] to an almost impossible degree… mine are a medium for narrative/thought, his are the very substance of an object. And of course, let’s not even begin to talk about major differences in psychological profile. It seems safe to say that it is the 0.01% of difference that make the difference. And even if a biochemistry luminary were to [impossibly] list all the acids and bases, which are different between S and myself, this would be an extremely unsatisfactory answer.
The biological being is only the stage, so to speak, where the drama of my self is to be played out. Absolutely vital, the site of life-power, ideally the need-based subject of medical interventions, of athletic exercise for summer time Ws, the perpetuum mobile of sexual stimulation but not a very enlightening body of an answer to the question. [At the philosophical level I wonder if it would be the correct example for a certain differentiation: the genes are my essence, the phenotype is my appearance?]
K) I am who I am because of others. Ubuntu, very warm and humanistic, does sound nice. [So nice in fact, that the Swiss Telecom company “Orange” had no problem using it to increase the megatonnage of their ads. Neither the Zulu nor the Xhosa have made any IPR claims about it]. So if I want to find out who I am, I go to my family, friends and acquaintances and, surreptitiously or not, find out what I mean to them [make them write a bullet-point list or commence an obnoxious conversation that is exclusively about ich, mein und mich selbst]. Then I come back home, sit down by the desk, reassemble that patchwork of meanings into one of those fancy semantic networks and, KAZOOOOOM, voila le Themzini! Though this is implicitly claiming that Ubuntu is a relational rather than a normative concept, which is open to debate. It could just as well be an ideal for social interaction.
But what if this “I am who I am because of those I consort with, warts and all” is meant in the sense of conditioning. I pick this trait from this person and that behavior from that one: very post-modern, hugh? But subjectively it feels as though, @ least from my POV, one constitutes oneself positively: neither am I a serial impostor of my family/peers nor am I the sum of all the differences from socially significant others. Shhhhh, listen, there is something more there, a positive core of selfhood.
R) Am I, then, the keeper of my soul? Good heavens, now I’m beginning to sound spiritual, borderline religious. But the question is of course totally valid. Except that it would require that I do accordingly and go on some sort of spiritual voyage. As we all know, these voyages do not necessarily have to have a spatial dimension and can be conducted from the safety of one’s living room. As long as one keeps one’s legs crossed and eyes shut.
The issue I have with this is not only that I don’t seem to be particularly cut out for meditation [flighty thoughts, zero flexibility, etc.] or that I might be scared of the type of self that could reveal itself to me [isn’t that sort of a paradox in itself?] but that the method seems inappropriate. What I effectively have to do in meditation is to totally cut myself off from my everyday modes of living and practice this ascetic way of being-in-the-world for quite a while. In itself, such a practice seems desirable to me. However, I am a bit doubtful that it leads to a better understanding of myself. It seems a bit like the spiritual equivalent of those questionnaires you have to fill in with your professional career counselor: of course you will try to answer them to the best of your abilities and knowledge but it is simply impossible to have a clear-eyed, disconnected view of oneself. The result will end up either emotionally catering to oneself or, in a more Ubuntu-type of guy, to the counselor. And in that way, I imagine the view of the self yielded up by meditation to be a sort of purified product that has not all that much to do with the everyday self that I find myself in hopeless pursuit of.
Evidently there are many more hypotheses that I could go into but I’ll call off this mentally masochistic exercise for now. The most I can say for these few pages is that I know near-nothing much more about myself than I did in the beginning, not only because I did not want to go into personal specifics or because I did not follow the exercises in the lettered examples but, I believe, because that is the very nature of the answer to the question: “But who am I anyway?” …an unending but agonizingly fun Odyssey.
[word cunt: 1’545, not including these]