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Š Nick Inman 2013 The right of Nick Inman to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1998. Published in 2013 by Findhorn Press, Scotland ISBN 978-1-84409-620- 6 All rights reserved. The contents of this book may not be reproduced in any form, except for short extracts for quotation or review, without the written permission of the publisher. A CIP record for this title is available from the British Library. Edited by Nicky Leach Cover design by Clara Villanueva Interior design by Damian Keenan Printed and bound in the EU

Published by Findhorn Press 117-121 High Street, Forres IV36 1AB, Scotland, UK t +44 (0)1309 690582 f +44 (0)131 777 2711 e info@findhornpress.com www.findhornpress.com


Contents

Acknowledgements .............................................................................................. Preface .............................................................................................................................. PA RT A - Here Or Here? My Problem Self

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.

..........................................

13

A Challenge from My Bank ......................................................................... Easy Impossibility .................................................................................................. Sure Thing ..................................................................................................................... Parrot Person .............................................................................................................. Rebellion Against Myself ................................................................................ Each To His Own Identity Crisis ............................................................ Why Would You Want to Know? ............................................................

15 18 22 28 30 33 37

PA RT B - Outside In

8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22.

9 11

.................................................................................................

43

Let Me Introduce Myself ................................................................................ 45 The Nominated Me .............................................................................................. 47 The Incorporated Me .......................................................................................... 52 The Vocal Me ............................................................................................................. 56 The Stinking Me ..................................................................................................... 59 The Recognizable Me ......................................................................................... 62 The Imagined Me ................................................................................................... 66 The Documented Me .......................................................................................... 70 The Inscribed Me ................................................................................................... 74 The Categorical Me .............................................................................................. 77 The Qualified Me ................................................................................................... 83 The Inherited Me ................................................................................................... 88 The Reputed Me ...................................................................................................... 92 The Virtual Me ......................................................................................................... 96 The Material Me ..................................................................................................... 102


Contents

PA RT C - Inside Out

23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28.

.................................................................................................

107

The Interpreted Self ............................................................................................. The Indefinable Me .............................................................................................. The Remembering Me ....................................................................................... The Suffering Me .................................................................................................... The Immortal Me ................................................................................................... The Future Me ..........................................................................................................

109 114 118 123 127 131

Afterword .............................................................................................................................. Appendix ................................................................................................................................ Notes on Sources ............................................................................................................. Chapter Notes ................................................................................................................... Bibliography ........................................................................................................................ About the Author ...........................................................................................................

137 138 143 145 150 155


Preface WHO ARE YOU? I’LL TELL YOU

Y

ou and I, we could be twins. It’s like looking in a mirror. Almost. I know there are a few differences between us but nothing that great. We are the same species, aren’t we? Built to the same model. We differ only in the details. And that goes for any two of us. If you doubt this, go and look at a beach full of semi-naked people. Get us away from our houses and possessions, make us take our clothes off and surrender our job titles, stop us talking so that we don’t fudge the issue with words, and there is not much left to tell us apart. What’s true of me is largely true of you, and vice versa. But, you might protest, you are far more than you appear to be. You are someone within that skin. All of you is important—your trappings, too. They are not insignificant variations on a standard format. They are what makes you a you and me a me. And I would have to agree. There are at least two ways to see a human being, and they are both implicit in the question that forms the title of this book. We are both generalizations and particularities. To explain who on earth you and I are, we must simultaneously consider what it is to be a human being (what we are we doing here) and what it means to be an individual person in these two forms. What can I tell you about you? Not everything, that’s for sure. But I can tell you much by telling you about me. On many points we will, I hope, coincide, and where we don’t you can supply your arabesques for yourself. Taking the two together, my thoughts and yours, we should be able to compose a respectable response to a question of vital importance to us all. — Nick Inman


Here Or Here? My Problem Self


1

A Challenge from My Bank

M

y bank has written asking me to prove who I am. Although I have been a customer for some time, the letter explains, it is obliged by new regulations to make sure that I am not a money-laundering identity thief. Otherwise, it won’t be able to look after my money. When I first received the letter, this seemed like a reasonable request, and I was ready to do my best to comply. I am used to identifying myself to interested parties. It is a frequent routine in the modern world. Their proposed procedure is a simple one. All I have to do is provide two documents—a copy of my passport and a utility bill—signed by a witness on an approved list of occupations. Thinking about this further, what they are asking me to do makes less sense. If I were a cheat—either a lazy man or someone pretending to be me—these two documents would be easy to forge. I could recruit the first person I meet on the street to write the required text in a convincing-looking handwriting. I could even write it myself—who would ever know? For extra authenticity, I would get a rubber stamp made giving the name of a bogus solicitor or estate agent, because no one ever argues with a rubber stamp. The bank could call to check up on my witness, but what would that prove? Anyone can pretend to be anyone on the phone. If it is going to check up on me properly it would have to find a reliable witness to witness the witness, and a witness to witness the witness, and so on. This would go on ad infinitum, or until the chain of witnessing reaches back to the official in the bank who started all this. He would then have been assured by someone he knows personally that someone known personally to the first someone knows someone who knows someone who knows someone . . . and so on around the world a couple of times and back to the starting point: me. Even if my documents are genuine and my witness sincere, how will my bank be able to connect them to me? They will know that a person with my name was born and was still alive on the date given (but perhaps no longer), that he held a valid passport, and that he lived at a particular address. Any half-competent impostor could steal that kind of proof. If he wants to acquire an identity, all he has to do 15


W H O O N E A R T H A R E YO U ?

is intercept a letter containing witnessed documents that, by the bank’s definition, guarantee that the sender is an authentic person. I can’t help feeling that my bank is on an absurd and futile quest. However, I sympathize with its predicament. It does need to check up on me, and it is in my interest that no one impersonates me. Is this really the best way to go about it? If it is not, can I suggest anything better? This set me thinking, while the letter from my bank lay on my desk. What would I have to do to prove who I am? To answer that, don’t I have to first ask how do I know who I am? Or even more bluntly, who or what am I? What makes me so certain that I know the answers? Because I do know the answers without even asking the questions, or rather I pretend that I do. I couldn’t function if I didn’t. We need ways of identifying ourselves in all human interaction. Every day we go through dances of identity, more or less formalized rituals, charming little displays of superficial and reciprocal trust. I have practised my part in these exchanges all my life and have got it off pat. I know just what to say to convince people that I am a genuine person. We all get used to giving the responses expected of us. We rattle them off each day to new acquaintances (and acquaintances who have forgotten that they know us), employers, strangers, receptionists, bureaucrats, and anyone else with a legitimate need to know. If we meet, you’ll probably ask me some innocuous little question, so that we don’t have to stand there looking awkwardly into each other’s eyes. The chances are the first couple of sentences I say about myself will satisfy your curiosity about me. If you want something from me or have something to give—say, you are considering me for a job—you may want to know a little more but still within a limited range. I will have my lines prepared to make you think that I believe them. We don’t generally question what we are saying. If it sounds true, it must be true. We get used to being who we say we are. All this is good and natural, an essential part of social life. We are a gregarious species of animal. We need to know who each other is: friend, foe, or harmless other without portfolio. There is safety and reassurance in being recognized—in knowing your place, in others knowing who you are. The old ways of interacting work as long as you are dealing with only a few people in a reduced space, in any kind of small, traditional community, and conditions stay more or less stable. But the contemporary world largely isn’t like that. Society is more fluid than it was a generation ago. We abandon our roots on a whim, in search of freedom. We mix with people we would never have come into 16


A C H A LLEN G E F R O M M Y BA N K

contact with, were it not for the fact that we have new media at our disposal. We switch banks as often as we need to, in search of better deals. Then the banks merge and morph with each other in search of profit margins, so that we don’t know who we are dealing with any more. The strange, disconnected, and often identity-less freedom of the internet, in particular, makes everyone both excited and nervy. Trust, loyalty, truthfulness, and availability seem like quaint concepts that have been swept away by globalization. Bank branches don’t have their own phone numbers manned by people you know: you have to go through a central switchboard, where the staff rotates by the minute. No one wants to be pinned down. Fixed-line phones at home are fast becoming antiquated as smartphones enable us to resume the nomadic lifestyle we gave up several thousand years ago. We could be anywhere pretending to be anyone—and we probably are. Greater individual freedom generates an increasing level of fear. The more opportunities people have to cheat, it is reasoned, the more they will cheat and the more they need to be checked up on and curtailed. The price of planetary sociability is a paranoid level of surveillance: a vast industry of monitoring, interrogating, and recording operated by states and private companies for their own ends. As a result, we are expected to feed the appetite of a massive and growing organic-to-inorganic data-crunching machine dedicated to making sure that we remain verified, compliant units in the economic and political orders. My bank is merely doing its bit within all this. It is just as scared of the permanent, accelerating change that we are living through as the rest of us are. It doesn’t know what else to do but to do what every other institution is doing. There is, however, an argument to be made that the more you try to check up on people, the more you will fail. You can feed the details of a human being into a computer, but if you want to use the data you need a human being at the other end of the system to make sense of it. Automated identity hunting is really a massive detour between the same two points that were once reached with a handshake and a smile. No amount of elaborate procedures and technologies can resolve the perennial challenge for one human being to know another. The curious thing is that my bank and I are interested in answering the same question. We go about it in different ways, with different motivations, and we are hoping for different kinds of answers, but in essence we both want to know who I am. We aren’t the only ones. This question has been taxing the brains of human beings for millennia, and it has teams of experts working on it 24 hours a day. So what, we might well ask, have they come up with so far?

17


2

Easy Impossibility

I

am not the first person to ask, “Who am I?” Learned thinkers, freed from the grind of food production by slave and labouring classes, have been asking themselves the same question since at least the time of the ancient Greeks, 2,400 years ago, and possibly for eons before then. The question may even have been formulated (nonverbally) the second after some primitive human being pointed at his chest and invented a personal pronoun. Asking it would not have done him much good in the daily struggle to survive, but a quest had begun. We can only suppose that during the immense stretches of time that is prehistory, tribal shamans held a monopoly on the answer, couching it in terms of deities, myth, and taboo. Over the last two millennia, philosophy has spun many theories on the nature of being human and on the experience of being an individual. Religion has also always had a lot to say about who we are, offering dogma instead of troubling uncertainty. The Enlightenment proposed that man not God held the answer, and that it was to be found using the rational mind and empirical exploration with the senses. Today, science is still asking the question through a multitude of specializations, especially psychology, psychiatry, anthropology, and sociology, and their subsidiaries. It is widely hoped, however, that another discipline, neuroscience, the study of the physical brain, will finally demystify the subject. As yet, however, the immense amount of thought and research that has gone into the question has produced few if any certainties. We remain a surprisingly slippery substance, rich in ideas and insights about ourselves but poor in facts. It seems that “Who am I?” is an easy question to ask but an impossible one to answer with any confidence. There are several reasons why this should be so: 1. It may not be a closed question with a definite answer but an open question. There may be more than one right answer, or the answer may be multifaceted. Neither science nor philosophy nor religion may have the 18


E A S Y I M P O S S I B I LI T Y

complete answer: we might have to take many different, even incompatible statements together in order to make sense of ourselves. 2. Words can get in the way. Many terms are used to talk about human nature and personal identity, and each academic discipline invents its own terms to add to the mix. None of them have unambiguous meanings and what meanings they do have overlap. Even the most basic words are problematic. If I look up “me” or “I” in the dictionary, I find they are personal pronouns that can apply to anyone. What I want to know is about this self of mine: it is, I read, “a person’s essential being/distinctive individuality that distinguishes them from others, especially considered as the object of introspection or reflexive action.” More precisely, “myself ” refers to “a person’s particular nature or personality; the qualities that make up a person individual or unique.” My identity is “the state of having unique identifying characteristics held by no other person or thing,” “the individual characteristics by which a person or thing is recognized,” or “the fact of being who or what a person or thing is.” These definitions amount to lexicographical tautologies. I am what I am: I am the components that, taken together, make a whole me. We have no choice but to communicate in words, but we must never forget that they are always metaphors standing for concepts and literal truths. 3. Every generalization is based on the assumption that we are all essentially the same, but we may not be. Clearly we have things in common, but we also have variations. We don’t know how important these variations are: trivial embellishments or fundamental differences. In the best of circumstances and with the most straightforward of phenomena, it is impossible to know how far any generalization can be stretched. The closer we get to the subject matter, the harder it is. Unlike all other phenomenon that we study we are the subject matter under observation here, and that creates a conflict of interests for any would-be expert: how do you dissect yourself ? How is he to know whether any statement he makes applies to all of us or just to him? Before he makes any pronouncements he has to know himself well and persuade the rest of us that he is not just passing judgement on his own neurosis, or navel gazing. 19


W H O O N E A R T H A R E YO U ?

4. It is not necessarily a question we can answer with the head alone. As we are dealing with ourselves, we may have to engage with the question passionately rather than dispassionately, making full use of our humanity instead of trying to minimize it in the interests of objective scholarship. There is also an element of courage needed—to dare to see who you really are, which might not be what you hoped or expected you would be. 5. Knowledge, especially self-knowledge, goes in fashions in its aims and methods. What we ask, and how we ask it, depends on the age in which we live. For most of history the question, “Who am I?” would have been unutterable. Either the answer would be presupplied by religion or, since the individual was inseparable from society, the question would have to be rephrased as a group inquiry: “Who are we?” It might not have included in its remit anyone less than full members of society. Slaves and colonized peoples may have been excluded, and probably the poor and women, too. Identity changes with the centuries, varying with socioeconomic conditions. For most of history, only the rich and powerful have been accorded full identities; everyone else has been permitted only as much as they need to function in their daily lives. When life was short and death more present, being someone on Earth must have felt like being in a waiting room: why waste time asking such questions if the answer wasn’t going to serve you for very long? “Who will you be when you are no longer on Earth?” made a lot more sense. 6. Like all objects we are indivisible wholes, but we can also be dismantled into our components. Is it self-evident that the two states—the dense, undivided bundle of stuff including consciousness that operates as a person and our various body parts carefully removed and preserved in jars of formaldehyde—need to be studied in different ways? Don’t we lose something, perhaps the overview, if we look too closely at the detail? And don’t we miss vital information if we insist that the whole is all that matters? Is there a way to consider the whole and its parts at the same time? 7. In all self-examination, it is easy to let your own interests or expectations get in the way of an impartial search for the truth. You can easily see what you want to see: a materialist may see only matter, 20


E A S Y I M P O S S I B I LI T Y

while a religious believer may consider only such evidence as will uphold his faith. 8. We have to study the outside and the inside at the same time. As we are looking at ourselves, it is probably true that we will need to take two approaches simultaneously: to study ourselves from the outside as objectively as we can, while also observing ourselves from the inside, entirely subjectively. Do it from one side only and you risk getting only half the picture. All of these problems are a reminder that it is possible to be too clever, too well read, too wrapped up in methods, assumptions, rules, and fear of ridicule to see what we all see in the mirror and feel behind our eyes. It is easy to write a book on the subject, full of technical terms, footnotes, and ingenious hypotheses—and to get no farther than your starting point. The question, “Who on earth am I?” has always been treated as a philosophical, scientific, or religious one. But it is too important to be left at that—confined to lecture halls, laboratories, churches, and conferences. This affects you and me. It is about you and me. We can go on waiting for new generations of experts and new techniques and technologies to provide better answers, but a much simpler way is to ask ourselves what we know, then see where it leads us. We could start by simply listing the incontrovertible facts about human identity before we attempt to go any farther.

21


Outside In


8

Let Me Introduce Myself

T

he next chapters set out what I know about my identity, and by implication yours. Each chapter looks at a different aspect of me: a form that I am known to the world or to myself, and a way that I can describe and explain myself to you. The chapters go together in a particular order to tell the human story, from the superficial to the supernatural, but there is no reason why you shouldn’t treat them as semiautonomous essays to be dipped into as you wish. I have written the book in the first person for three good reasons: 1. I wouldn’t want to suggest that I know you better than you know yourself, which would have been the effect of pitching it in the second person (you). The first person is also a way for me to own up to who I am. If, as you are reading it, you are able to think as the “I” and “me” as referring to you, the communication between my brain and yours will be that much more direct. 2. By keeping the text to the first person, I also get around a potential problem. Although I hope I am articulating some universal truths here, I do not have the power or the right to say anything accurate and meaningful about anyone else, specifically someone whose circumstances are different to mine: female, gay, wheelchair bound, and so on. I have, nevertheless, tried to at least mention as many variations on the individual human being as possible. 3. I am not putting forward a philosophy of self or a scientific theory, for which impersonal third-person register would have been more appropriate. I could have written a compilation of answers other people have given to the question, but that is not the book I wanted to write. Instead, I have based my authority on firsthand experience and knowledge. I have tried, as far as possible, to make my own observations and pursue my own thoughts. This does not mean that I have not drawn on sources of information and inspiration (cited in the notes or in the bibliography), whether to confirm my conclusions or to challenge me to rethink them. 45


W H O O N E A R T H A R E YO U ?

Another problem is less easy to work around. English is automatically sexist when it comes to the use of the third person: it has to be either a he or a she. Neither is satisfactory, and all proposed solutions seem forced to me. For consistency only, my hypothetical third persons are all “he’s,” but I hope, as you read, that you will imagine 50 percent of them as female. All of which has carried me a long way from my starting point. When I first read the letter from my bank, my first urge was to complain of the folly behind it. Now I see how grateful I should be to that unknown policymaker in an office somewhere for bringing such a crucial question to the front of my mind. Lessons in wisdom—or at least invitations to inner sojourns—can come from even the most unexpected source. After all those years spent in intellectual search, earnest discussion, listening to and reading about spiritual teachers, interpreting numinous texts, participating workshops, and it is my bank manager who delivers the proverbial satori slap on my face to wake me into consciousness. “Who on earth am I?” Good question. Where do I begin to answer it? At the beginning, of course, with the habitual description of me. With that aspect of my identity that can be pronounced and printed. With the reflexive response to the question, “What do they call you?” I’ll tell you what they call me, then I will tell you everything else about me. And, by extension, about you.

46


9

The Nominated Me READ THE LABEL

I

am, to begin with, a name. It is the first thing I will tell you if we meet or that you will be told about me in my absence. It may well precede me in a phrase, such as, “You must meet . . . ,” “ I’m sending you to see . . . ,” or You know . . . ?” It may be the only detail you retain about me when our association ends. “The name is familiar,” you say years from now, when prompted. “Didn’t he live in that house, go to my school, know my sister, write that book . . . ?” Or more probably, “But I can’t remember his face or anything about him.” My name sums me up. It is mine for life (unless I choose to change it), but it is not my name at all. I did not arrive with it. It predates me. It was chosen for me, prepared, waiting until I was born. It was the first gift I was given in life, whether or not I wanted it. I couldn’t refuse it. It was insisted upon, and I learned to answer to it, just as a dog learns to answer when called. Really, I have no name. I never have had, and never will. Like the stars and the birds and everything in creation, we are nameless. Just as there are no countries marked on the landscape, no indelible distinction of your tribal land from mine, so names are human contrivances for human purposes—temporary devices to make it seem as if we are the ones in charge here. Therefore my name is not attached to me; it only refers to me. It is a label easily detached, a category name for the container; by itself, it tells you nothing about me. In itself, my name is bare and describes nothing. It is a signpost, a metaphor, an arrangement of sound and lines. It is mere code, a convenience, a formula, a string of letters, a hollow sound, a meaningless proper noun, a hyperlink that leads to me as long as the code behind the icon remains correct. No wonder it sometimes sounds strange to me and there are states of mind in which it can seem like something alien, nothing to do with me at all. I do not carry this name for my benefit. I don’t use it much. I do not, myself, need a name. I am only obliged to remember it when I am asked for it or wish to claim possession of something. “I” will do for me when I am alone. You and I, 47


W H O O N E A R T H A R E YO U ?

together with no one else present, can manage without it: “you” would be enough; there could be no confusion. My loved ones may not need a name for me, either. To my children, for example, I am simply “Dad.” My name is therefore for other tongues to speak and hands to write; it is a convenience provided for third parties. They do what they want with it; I may have little sanction. I may try to correct them, or ask them to use it differently, but I can’t oblige them to do so. I have to trust them to nurture my name and keep it alive. It needs to be sung into use if it is to survive. It will last only as long as it is used—as long as there are human beings around who know what it means and care about it. Otherwise (eventually), it will lapse. When the material substance it refers to—me—is gone and forgotten, the batteries will run down from lack of use and will not be revived. Just as a long-held address passes into new hands, maybe some one else will one day possess my name with no knowledge of its previous owner. I should feel honoured to be singled out in this way. It is reassuring to be awarded a name. It is a special item of language, one with a clear and specific meaning. It is a very personal and proper pronoun, and its application is duly rationed. We cannot give everyone and everything particular names or we would forget most of them. We only give names and identities to people (and animals and sometimes objects) who are significant, however ephemeral they are. We are quick to name a child who lives for only a few days, and we name the animals who live with us but avoid naming the animals we intend to slaughter and eat. My name humanizes me, allows me to believe that I exist and that I matter. Because a name confers favour, we take great care how we refer to evil. Wanton villains and monsters do not usually have names (certainly not when they hunt in packs) or else we risk treating them as beings like us and sympathizing with their predicaments. Only when we are sure of our opprobrium do we name the target of it. We retain and use only the names of beings we value and intend to have protracted dealings with. We may not bother to find out the name of the neighbour we don’t like. We probably don’t want to know the identity of a tramp who reminds us of our own fragile good fortune; and we cannot possibly ask for the names of the starving and dispossessed billions who we can only think of as a mass. They live and die anonymously, as far as I am concerned. Conversely, to know my name and deliberately not to use it is an effective way to dehumanize and demean me. If this is your intention you may want to replace my name with a number, so that I can be referred to as if I were a spare part of machinery. 48


T H E N O M I N AT ED M E

My name was not granted to me altruistically, without conditions. There are several reasons why I have been given it: •

For convenience, to sum up the otherwise unidentifiable “me.” It describes and delineates me: a certified stamp on a packing case of genetic material. By the act of naming me I became a recognizable, discrete, and later autonomous entity. I was also placed in context. My name makes clear which family I belong to, which territory I came from, my social status, how I should be treated, and so on.

To get my attention when called or addressed in writing. I learned as a child that people liked me to respond to my name; it made them smile, or at least made them less severe. This ensured I got fed and looked after and even loved. It also works to my benefit. Hearing my name in times of crisis, reassures me that there is a link between me and the person who is willing to utter it.

As an instrument of power. If I am a dictator, I wield the power: I transmit orders in my name. In all other cases, people use it to wield power over me. In childhood it was a way of staking paternity/maternity over me, or even ownership. My parents and teachers used it as a means to tell me what to do or not to do and to chastise me when I ran foul of instructions. Bullies used it to specify me and personalize their taunts—to pick me out in order to pick on me. Since then, my name has proved useful to anyone who wants to exert authority over me, formally or informally. To hear it, isolates me from everyone else. It triggers responsibility and guilt, so that I can be made to punish myself. It is easier to pin blame on me and harder for me to shrug it off if I am named. My name can be used to caress me or to hurt me, depending on how it is said, depending on the gesture of the hand that accompanies it. The bureaucrat uses my name in a particular way. With it he arranges me, in alphabetical order, in the filing cabinet or in order of priority on a list. This is how I can be accounted for, politically controlled, and taxed.

To direct praise and love. An award certificate is meaningless if it is made out to no one in particular, and I would not feel loved by someone who didn’t know my name.

49


W H O O N E A R T H A R E YO U ?

To express requests and needs. Those who can’t tell me what to do have to ask. If they ask anyone who is listening, I can pretend I am not listening. If they ask me by name, I may well feel obliged to respond.

To oblige me to take care of what is mine. If I acquire a possession, it passes into my name and that is the only way its rightful owner can be identified.

For referring to me in the third person, usually when I am absent. It is useful to know my name if you want to talk about me, to quote me or judge me, praise me or curse me. To say “him” or “those people” (lumping me with others in a category) doesn’t have the same precision or force.

My name serves all these purposes because it has four important properties: 1. Continuity. It doesn’t change, and as such is a way of maintaining my

identity through time. Most people keep their names for life—and beyond. A name can be changed but only rarely, as it is a radical step. If I changed my name daily it would not be of much use. Anyone who truly lives in the eternal present probably doesn’t need an enduring name; the rest of us do.

2. Commonality. My name is communally agreed upon, a currency universal-

ly honoured. A name ensures that we are all talking about the same person. Society would break down if we all used nicknames for each other.

3. Singularity. My name is, at least locally, unique. It sets me apart from

other people, makes me an individual. It indicates me and me alone. It is synonymous with my skin. It is what separates me from everything else, the boundary between us. It is confusing to have more than one person with the same forename or surname in a group or community, and some system has to be invented to restore their divisibility.

4. Plurality. Depending on the culture and status, a name is likely to be

adaptable to requirements. I have a forename, middle names, and a surname that can be used singly or in combinations to suit different circumstances. I can also use my initials, and I may take a pseudonym for a specific reason. Other people may give me nicknames, out of affection or frivolity or malice. In addition, my name may be embellished front and back with abbrevia50


T H E N O M I N AT ED M E

tions to invoke a level of formality (Mr.) or to inspire respect (my university degree). That makes a lot of ways for me to describe myself or for you to address me. In the process of living, my name is turned into a transporter of predicates. Like a magnet it attracts what is placed next to it. First, the circumstances of my entry into life are associated with it—my family, date of birth, and so on—and gradually everything that happens to me is appended as medals or scars: my schooling, my behaviour, my achievements, my work record, my addresses, my coupling and procreation, and so on. Depending on the context, the specifics don’t have to be given: my name acts as shorthand for all these items. Moreover, in people’s minds (and in mine), my name crackles with emotional resonance. You hear my name and a feeling is provoked in you that leads to one of three basic reactions: a desire to see me, a need to keep your distance (out of fear or repulsion), or indifference. My name says a lot in a few letters, but in itself it is a useless piece of information. To activate it you need to attach it to something. And that can only be one thing, because I am only one thing: some body.

51

Who on Earth are You?  

“The world will be a better place if we ask ourselves who we are. One reason is that we can’t actually know anything if we don’t know who is...