Monday, December 18, 2006

On Identity, Part II

"Welcom to middle age..." Rev. Dan Prechtel (My spiritual director)
Derrida in his essay "Otobiagraphies: the Teaching of Nietzsche and the politics of the Proper Name." among other things plays with the problematic of the identity of an authers life (self) and an authors work: What is the relation between an authors two bodies both biological and literary/philosophical? He explores this through the philosopher NietzscheI took this esssay along to read when Kate and I recently visited LA.
I didn't begin to read it until the flight home, and then I began to identify an unease I had throught my time in LA. I had trouble making the self I remembered I was in LA with the self I am now in Chicago. To contextualize my quandry in Derrida's text: would I in LA have signed my name to who I am now? This questioning of my own identity caught me by surprise (though perhaps not entirely I after all brought along a certain text, one of the few books I took along on our tripp.) In part because as I said in "Part I" I have had a fairly strong sense of myself. This however, was the first time I existentially experienced a question of my identity through time. Augutines question in the confessions was abstractly interesting but did not express a concern I really had, of course "I" persist throught time. The synchronous challenges to my identity were more prevelant. However, I have been able to account for the synchronous multipilicities within myself. But now I could not make my former self agree with my curent self.

Even more puzzeling is that when I stoped and traced out the paths and trajectories from where I was to where I am now, I could see how then lead to now. I could see that who I was lead to who I am now. yet experientially being back in LA, recolecting who I was what I was feeling, what I was thinking and most importantly, the future I projected for myself (a projection I believed to be specific enough to be useful and general enought to be open to possibilities) and who I have become and what I am doing and thinking in Chicago simply did not agree. I experienced myself as another person. Somehow I had become someone else right under my own very watchful and self reflctive eyes.

On some level I think this existential problem of identity is part of the problematic of claiming to identify an author biological life and an author's body of work. So what can we say about Nietzsche's life from his works of philsophy, and can we go a step further an identify Nietzsche with the political implications/interpretations of his philsophy. Derrida does not answer the question but shows how neither an assertion strict identity nor an assertion of complete non-identity make sense either of a peice of writing their interpretations nor the life of a philsopher like Nietzsche. The life of Nietzshe, Nietzsche's biological life is found in the pages of his body of philsophical works, and thus Nietzsche is found even in the objectionable Nazi interpretation and aplication of his philosophy. But even in a seemingly autobiographical text as Ecce Homo we cannot identify with certainty what coresponds to the biographical "facts" of Nietzsche's life, we can even be less certain that Nietzshe intended the Nazi interpretation of his philosophy.

Derrida, perhaps ironicaly, wants to claim that Nietzshe's idea of the eternal return in some way comprehends this problematic of identity. Nietzshe makes the claim that he makes the claims and propounds his philosophy and that Nietzsche is a certian person who is a philosopher of note, based on what he has credited himself, a credit he recieves by the eternal return of the self to the self. The self our identity is then somethign we credit ourselves, but cannot pay excpet for the eternal return. The problematic of the relation between a life, work and interpretation is that of the eternal return, meaning the books are never closed; we cannot say if Nazism is the last word on the political implications of Nietzshe's text or life. Nor can we say that there is simply nothing of Nietzsche in Nazism. Nietzsche though has implicated himself in all of this, Yet Nietzsche the one of the eternal return cannot be simply identified with his work or interpretation, and at the same time we are able to identify Nietzsche in the works and their interpretations.

The terrible thing I found in LA was that I am neither the self I was nor the self I am. I have recieved an enormous amount of credit, something which I could never repay, if an accounting were demanded of me right now at this instant the books could not be reconciled, and I would be indebt. Unlike neitzsche, I do not claim to credit myself, rather the gift of myself has been given to me by God, (this is the logic of Augustine's confessions, we are who we are most truly before God). There is then an eternal return of myself, but in God as the Eternal. I credit myself an identity as a person before God. It is what I have been doing the past 15 years or so as I struggled with my synchronic identity. Having achieved that identity I realize it was a great cost, I have expended more of myself than I had, and I am in debt. The books don't agree, who I was alone does not account for who I am now, nor can I account for who I will be. The identity I seek I will never know, and I only have myself credited to me from God, to whom I must return neve knowing how my account of myself will be reconciled.