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Fr. 561

August 27, 2014

To come back to the point at issue here, whether identity is in fact identities, against Faye, we could perhaps maintain that identity will inevitably be singular in that its terms are to be located within a single individual and these thus belong to that same individual. That said, this point can easily be turned on its head insofar as these terms undoubtedly belong to other individual indirectly as components of a group identifier or directly as the persons who had an influence on the individual under consideration. In a similar vein, we might come back to the observation that, like certain continents qua subdivisions of a larger supercontinent, some elements are standalone or fit ill at the joints. In short, certain pieces do not fit with certain others, such that, in place of a unified whole of elements in identity, we find instead some monstrous amalgam in which one element is entirely out of keeping, in practice or theory, with another.

Put still another way, we can be at odds with ourselves in that certain of our ends of potentially universal import clash with similar ends to which we hold. Such it is that the political progressive might simultaneously though unwittingly promote policies which oppress others or the highbrow intellectual might disdain those who merited his respect as a one-time humble farmboy. If Faye’s image is quite adequate in some respects, it fails to capture by the same token this monstrous amalgam of identities that we can reasonably expect to find in certain individuals. After all, when juxtaposed, continents cannot be said to be in contradiction or tension with one another; they simply are, independent of any logic, of any normativity. Thus, this proves one way in which Faye’s image of lost supercontinents falls short of the mark set by the Best Account test.

Before we continue on to the next aspect of Faye’s image, i.e. the question of time, it is worth considering, if only briefly, a line of questioning central to the larger enterprise of investigating identity. If, in contrast with Faye’s continents, elements which do not belong together are nonetheless held together in what we have dubbed a “monstrous amalgam”, we must ask ourselves precisely how something monstrous does hold together. We can tailor this question to a number of domains in order to throw light on the question’s various entailments. Logically, we might wonder how conflicting universal commitments can hold together in fact in a single entity. (At first glance, an appeal to our finite, discursive reasoning would here suffice as an answer.) Practically, we must inquire whether it be our task to seek out the “monstrous” in the monstrous amalgam of identity. Normatively, once having admitted this as our task, we must ask if we are  to make those parts better fit together, whether in the end of ridding the person of the identity most out of keeping with the rest or that most out of keeping with some ideal that we will have erected independently.

Although Faye’s image of lost continents raises the question without providing much in the way of resolution, the writer cannot be said to have eschewed the difficulty entirely. Indeed, he invokes a passage from Louis Aragon, as if to gesture at the conceptual murk.

Trips to meaningful places, but also from one piece to another of the puzzle on whose surface show little by little the successive layers of a me, layers which led to the one writing these lines. “I have not always been the man whom I am,” wrote Louis Aragon. “I have all my life learnt in order to become the man whom I am, but I have not forgotten for all that the man whom I was. And if between these men and myself, there is some contradiction, if I believe to have learned, progressed, changing, these men, when I turn back and look at them, I am not in the least ashamed of them, they are the waystages of that which I am, they led to me, I cannot say me without them”.

Through this quotation, Faye recalls that, if the later stages of identity formation cannot come to be without the earlier and if the processes of identity formation lead from bad early stages to good later stages, then the good later stages necessitated in some way the passage and transition from those bad early stages. In short, overcoming contradictions (monstrous amalgams) can be an important part of identity formation, which would seem to answer the practical entailment of our question. Yet this leaves the normative unanswered and, perhaps, further obscures it, wedded as identity’s contingency and necessity are in these lines. “Lost (super)continents” have seemingly little to offer in the way of the normative, being at their root an affair of description.


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