identity and difference: from illusion to mediation

What does it mean to have an identity?

Identity is always an assumption. It is that one thing everyone just passively assumes one has. That there is such a thing as ‘identity’ and that it is equated with ‘unity’, as a thing absolutely itself– this is the illusion that who we are is a unity that results in an identity. The expression A=A and the myth of the exact 1:1 correlation, or an equal rate of exchange, is pure abstraction. By recourse to identity we can relate to ourselves and the world around us; we can be certain of a real world, and we can identify words with objects. And it is because of identity that we relate to the world in narcissistic fashion, objectifying all that exists apart from the self as something ‘other’.

Identity and Science
((When I refer to science I mean the methods of inquiry fueled by logic, reason and a metaphysical drive that reveals nothing other than (Nicholas of Cusa once posited that ‘the non-other is none other than the non-other’. Indeed, self-identity requires the negation of otherness. That which is the same can admit of no difference.)…that reveals nothing other than the self-referential desires of man’s self; in a word, it is nihilism. This will make sense when we expose scientific discoveries as illusory identity markers upon things still yet undiscovered, that only further mask ourselves from ourselves-as-we-could-be. For indeed science is the science of identity, without which science could not be. Science merely serves as a mirror that reflects human nature at its most primal, a nature that objectifies, nominates and disseminates. This probably deserves a separate post.))

The ‘Other’ A
The principle of identity, A=A, expresses the equality of A and A. That they are the same. The difficulty arises when we question where the ‘other’ A comes from, the A that is abstracted to equate A-itself with. Does this ‘other’ A come from itself? If the ‘other’ A that we identify A with comes from A itself then A is not ‘one’ pure indivisible abstraction but a construct that presupposes divisibility and differentiability, in order that it can be posited in the first place at all as ‘identity’. To prove identity is to disprove it for to prove identity, identity requires an other to prove it which disproves it. A=A requires an ‘other’ A that throws a monkeywrench into the whole notion of identity as a unity– or more precisely, uniformity/oneness– as an absolute relation of equality with itself. Can we formulate identity as the A that equals another A? If so then A is no longer merely same with itself but same with another A that is of the same type. But to be ‘same’, is it not enough to be ‘one’? Again, why the existence of an-other A? ‘Two’ is redundant, is tautological (from the Greek ‘to auto‘, the same), after all how could identity be more than itself, more than what it is, if what it is is all that it is; if identity is in-itself whole and absolute? A=A does not express that A equals another A but that A is itself the same everywhere as any other A. That A is itself the same everywhere. So then A=A implies a unity, a sameness of all A’s, the unification of all A’s into an absolute unity. It would seem then that identity can be formulated as that which is a unity with itself. Instead of A=A, we should say A is A. Tautologically, identity is that which is identical with itself, that which is self-same. Identity, to be strictly speaking, identity, admits no difference.

If ‘A is A’ then what identity presupposes is being, as ‘is’ derives from the verb ‘to be’; what identity presupposes is an inherent contingency upon the copula– ‘is’. We can drop out the ‘other’ abstracted ‘A’ and simply state that ‘A is’.Thus identity is inextricably bound with being, a being A that is the unity of ‘being an A with itself’. Identity identifies itself as being. But being is always accompanied by time, it entails duration. Identity identifies itself by recourse to being and yet, how does the being intuit that it is an A? If in time, this suggests a process– of self differentiation and re-constitution. Where does this a priori notion of being an A, of identity, come from? It can only be formulated via consciousness, for prior to consciousness there can be no conscious appropriation of the abstraction ‘identity’ or ‘self’. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

The Splintered Identity
Identity [is] that which is a unity of being with itself, a unity of being as being. But such a tautological utterance adds nothing to our understanding of ‘identity’, only that it is what it is, that ‘A is’. So we may very well conclude that identity is simply what a thing ‘is’; a thing is itself a thing that is its identity, a thing that is a unity with itself. As such, identity is an ideological construct of the abstraction ‘to be’, it is derivative of being. To speak of identity is to inquire into the meaning of Being, the grounds upon which the archi-tecture of being erects itself. To ponder one’s own identity is to channel one’s inner Hamlet, “to be or not to be?”

However, our formulation of identity as stated thus far proves deficient. For we’ve operated from the outset off of an assumption, the assumption of identity itself, that such a thing as unity even exists. For to posit identity as that which is a unity of a being with itself presupposes that such a thing as unity has anything to do with identity at all. To describe abstraction with abstraction is begging the question, for what is ‘unity’ other than an abstraction? Take fruit for example. One can never buy fruit. One can purchase an apple, an orange, a banana, a mango…but if you asked me whether or not you could purchase fruit, i’d say that’s impossible and respond, what particular fruit do you want to purchase? The same goes with any unifying concept. Universals subsume particulars and particulars make up universals. Except unity itself cannot be had, only its parts. Indeed, there is no such ‘thing’ as a ‘unity’, there are only differences. let’s continue. Unity itself presupposes a synthesis, a prior unification of separate parts without which there would be no unity. Unity presupposes separate beings. Unity presupposes a difference of prior individual parts that come together to synthesize into a unity. And now our initial formulation of identity shows itself to be rather crude. For if identity is that which is a unity of a being with itself, then identity cannot be that which is ‘same’ or ‘one’ if it is a unity that presupposes difference and multiplicity. Thus identity is not atomistic for it presupposes parts that constitute it. Either identity is something that is divisible, and prevailing definitions of identity are ill-conceived, or identity itself is not a thing that exists as defined.

Impotence of Identity Nihilates the Fecundity of Alterity
Furthermore, if identity indeed were a self-sameness, a oneness, an indivisible unity with itself, then existence would cease to be. For if identity is the origin and cause of all that there is..if all that there is, originated from a primordial identity/being that was one with itself, that was itself an indivisible unity, then how could this pure identity have splintered to give birth to or create Others? It wouldn’t, for identity could not create, if identity is always necessarily ‘one’ with itself; as such, identity is impotent. And if such a pure identity did somehow splinter itself to create ‘otherness’, then wouldn’t all ‘otherness’ be merely a mirrored projection of this primordial self/identity/unity/oneness? If such a pure identity could somehow ‘create’, it could only re-produce its self-image, it could only reproduce itself; existence would then be merely a  self-projection and perpetually subsumed under this transcendent ‘identity’. Again, identity is impotent to authentically create; identity can only self-posit. If the existence of such an ‘a priori identity’ is auto, self-same and without difference, then how could such a thing be splintered as to become…two? The problem with ‘one’ is that it cannot beget another, if ‘one’ is all that is in itself identical with itself, if ‘one’ admits of no other, then ‘one’ can never become ‘two’. And even if we allow the possibility of ‘two’, the ‘two’ would always be subsumed, subservient, and derivative of the ‘one’. Hence the world in which the one-self-identity exists is none other than a self-projected world; a world of the self-identity that does not admit of any difference, others or foreign objects. Existence ceases to be, for all that existence would be is this pure identity without ‘space’ for others to exist. Or, more precisely, the existence of otherness would ‘cease to be’ for existence would simply be what the self/identity projects. What results from such a grandiose assumption of identity is a dogmatic ideology that posits ideas such as ‘God’ or whatever other ideal as a ‘supreme Being’; to make dogmatic claims that all life is subsumed under one absolute unifying concept. Indeed, identity is the psychological impulse to certainty; by naming things under the assumption of the 1:1 identity correlation we could have control over their existence and determine them by definition as dead objects (Adam prior to Eve). But of course we’ve already demonstrated how such a logic is self-defeating for to posit such a primal, indivisible being/self/identity is to negate alterity, is to posit the self’s self-sovereingty, the absolute Self, the ‘God’ that is one.

Identity Theft
The identity that we’ve been inquiring into hitherto has proved to be nothing other than a silly abstraction. Now that we’ve overcome our identity problems pertaining to unity and indivisibility, we can return to the aforementioned relationship between identity and being. If ‘A is A’ then what identity presupposes is being; what identity presupposes is an inherent reliance on the copula- ‘is’. We have reformulated the principle of identity, ‘A=A’ with  ‘A is’, revealing that identity is inextricably bound with being; identity identifies itself as being. Identity identifies itself by recourse to being and yet, how does the being intuit itself as an identity? Where does this a priori notion of being-an-identity come from? To return to the notion of identity as a unity of being, being itself…being, ‘being’ being…the ‘is’, or ‘being’, of being is what connects being with itself, is what mediates being to itself. Hence identity is how being relates itself to itself. But again, this being that is described as being, as being itself, is merely an abstraction differentiated from beings-in-general, or existence. For there is no speaking of Being, for that is prior to consciousness. To speak of being as opposed to Being is to speak of identity, identity that is mediation. The a priori notion of being-an-identity comes from being itself but this notion can only be formulated via consciousness, for prior to consciousness there can be no conscious appropriation of the abstraction, ‘identity’ or ‘self’. Of course, this is all assuming that what is prior to consciousness is even logical. Once conscious, identity is no longer an indivisible unity but exists only as a mediation, as a relation of the self/identity to itself. For consciousness is always consciousness of something, it is necessarily intentional. And what is this relation of the self to itself other than the ethical relationship to the Other? If a ‘pure’ abstract ‘identity’ only exists prior to consciousness, then the notion of identity that we have on this side of consciousness exists as a mediation between the self and itself. Ergo identity is contingent upon alterity, upon otherness. For a self-identity is always tantamount to a self-construction that is determined by what is other to the self. For conscious beings, identity as a ‘unity’ with oneself is always found in others, hence identity, strictly speaking, does not exist in oneself, but as a relation between oneself and another. Who we are is bound by how others are to us.

There is No Identity
Identity in its literal sense does not exist on this side of life, this side of life that is lived existence. For all that is on this side of life is difference. What exists on this side of life are the ramifications of being free from the tyranny of absolute identities and auto-Gods. The only proper way to speak of identity on this side of life is to speak of it in terms of alterity. For to be conscious is to be conscious of an Other that stands in opposition to the Self, the Other that shocks the Self into self-consciousness. What is fundamental on this side of life is tension. Once conscious, identity as ‘unity’ with oneself is no longer found in the Self, but is found in everything outside of the Self…in Others. The illusory notion of an absolute identity as we’ve discussed above cannot exist in this life if this life or existence is to exist. However a ‘lower’ identity that manifests itself in this life indeed exists. But this identity is in perpetual flux and it is not one; it is multiple, it is experienced within the context of community, within the context of others. this identity is not A=A but A=B+C+D+E…etc. for who we are, we can never know in full. Our identities are inextricably bound in others. Who we are is not our own and we are not ourselves. Who we are can never be, for if we ‘are’ then we are dead, static motionlesss beings- an identity. But who we are becoming by virtue of the others that shape us…this is identity properly spoken of on this side of consciousness. Is to be in flux, perpetually recreated and dialectically related to others. Identity as a self-project does not exist. Identity is not the unity of a being with itself, it is the unity of a being by another. Inherent in identity as such is difference. and so the formal formulation of identity is as follows, A/B=AB=A=B=infinity.

Ramifications

  • ‘identity’ politics- expectations for politicians to hold consistent records and to conform to party lines that in turn determine individual and collective political identities. relations between nations and how one nation’s identity is formed by another’s, thereby de-mythologizing the notion of any particular state identity; a deconstruction of democracy.
  • economics- the exposing of illusory exchange rates and the creation of a marketplace. in conjunction with identity-politics, capitalism as a positing of oppressive abstract ideals dictated by institutional ‘identities’- corporate/religious/political (see related post below)
  • gender inequality- descriptive of the preeminence of phallogocentrism. identity construction always finds recourse back to the phallic ‘gold’ standard.
  • hermeneutics- its obvious how things are always lost in translation…yet we continue to take assumptions for truth. for tis what all thinking is- assumption. the one who claims certainty must either be a madman or [G_D]…or have died, seen the other side of being, and been able to return from [nothingness] to tell about it.
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