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There are two related groups of meanings for this word: the first, around personality - 'the condition of being oneself or itself, and not another,' or 'the sense of self, providing sameness and continuity in personality over time;' and the second, used in mathematics and logic, 'an equation that is valid for all values of its variables,' or 'an assertion that two terms refer to the same thing' (eg. i=i).
I and I
In creation where one's nature neither honors nor forgives.
I and I
One says to the other, no man sees my face and lives.
Bob Dylan, I and I, 1983.
:- In this country everyone is born free and with equal rights before the law.
:- ... Later on, everyone has to turn themselves around.
I say these groups of meaning are related because the first seems to me to be a human-related metaphor of the second.
Frye says something, which I quoted here recently, on the notion of a state 'in which the vision of gods comes back in the form of a sense of identity with nature, where nature is not merely to be studied and lived in but loved and cherished, where place becomes home.' This idea is a central one in his book The Double Vision.
Then one night recently I was out with friends talking about James Lovelock's Gaia, and it came to me quite strongly that the fallacy in Lovelock's thinking is simply that he has mistaken a metaphor for an identity. That the earth is a single living organism is a beautiful thought - but it is a fiction. News reporters have made much of carrying it to extreme positions; for example that global warming is Gaia's immune reaction trying to eliminate the human virus. This is nonsense, but it is compelling nonsense because it brings us back round to (possibly) feeling guilty (in a biological sense of course since the concept of living in a 'moral universe' is anathema to these same 'newspersons' and those they lead).
A-and there had to be a fallacy in Lovelock's thinking - how else could he get from Gaia to promoting nuclear energy?
Various Green Man images - who would be the Iron John of the next decade, my bet.
The mystery of symmetry; of a circle or sphere with infinite rotational symmetry groups; of a geometric point which we tend to represent with circles and spheres; and so on ... had made the second group of meanings for identity dominant in my thinking. Until another night recently when I was talking with some women about Candomblé and their personal identifications with their Orishas; and the way this works itself out in the practice of that religion - where each individual belongs to one of the 16 Orishas and is occasionally 'taken over' or 'occupied' or 'possessed' by the spirit of it.
And I remembered Thomas à Kempis' The Imitation of Christ, and Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, and an argument for the existence of God coming from the question: How can it be that human beings, almost without exception, know the difference between right and wrong?
I was roundly mocked by my friends of the time when I revealed my answer to this question, viz. 'Jesus must be alive and living in our hearts.' It makes me smile to think of this because the secular answer to the question hinges on identifying with the experiences of another human being, compassion and the like, which is no more than another expression of the same but with Jesus excised from the equation. There's that pesky I-word again.
In any event, that human religions operate at the level of identity is obvious, which shows (at the very least) the great human need to identify with something. :-)
I witnessed my mother as she was taken over by Alzheimer's, from an intimately close position. I do not say destroyed, because at the end of the process and for almost a year before her death, she seemed to have achieved some kind of satori though it was far from an awakening.
All this to say that maybe identity is not the be-all and end-all. Another ubiquitous yet tantalizing tendency, like pi and tau (the divine proportion), like love itself.
See also Russel Hoban's Riddley Walker with his Littl Shining Man and his 'wan big wan'; and Kurt Vonnegut in his Man Without a Country when he talks about PPs, psychopathic personalities and 'C-Students from Yale.'
At a recent U2 concert in Glasgow, Scotland, Bono, the lead singer of the band U2, asked the audience for total quiet. Then, in the silence, he started to slowly clap his hands, once every few seconds.
Holding the audience in total silence, he said into the microphone, "Every time I clap my hands, a child in Africa dies."
A voice with a broad Scottish accent from the front of the crowd pierced the quiet ... "Well, foockin stop doin it then ya evil basturd!"
Tags: Identity, Metaphor, Metáfora.