Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

In search of identity


In search of the personal I and not just for identity

There prevails a confusion between 'I' and identity. While identity relates to the problem of recognition within a system of categories related to a state and citizenship, the 'I' is said to be only then a moral entity if active. But when asleep and passive, what would this mean? It is possible to imagine how the 'I' slips out of its silent fold and joins the dance of the dreams. More difficulties the 'I' finds when daylight comes and entry into the real world begins especially in a city. Here Dostoevsky stated that the soul has a million possibilities, while the pre-existing frames made for the identity to fit in are all only three dimensional. That means all the alienations experienced in big cities echo merely the good old stories Vincent Van Gogh still made out when visiting people living in squalor and tiny urban shacks. Today this word 'alienation' is hardly used but it did play a role not only by Marx but in how the stranger came to the city. That was since Ancient Greece the one who might bring new Gods and a possible chance to evoke such changes that society would become more just. If not, that stranger was ousted as quickly as he entered. Even Aristotle was not accepted by the Athenians until Alexander the Great gave his former teacher an own academy since Plato's had not been given to this great philosopher. And once Alexander had died, they chased Aristotle away. It seems in the light how the migrant is being treated in modern Greece that there is something in need of being explained why belonging or not can impose such a huge censorship on human relationships and rather than open up close a big city like Athens? All this seems to be connected to the fear. Here may be at work not so much alienation but fear of loss of identity. It goes hand in hand with loss of a hold over own affairs, and for which a state (Hegel) is foreseen to protect one's own interests but which seems unable to fulfil for numerous reasons this function any more. This is when the identity crisis is perceived as a political one, and even worse as something questioning deeply the state and its way of functioning. For then the trade off between giving one's identity to the state and vice versa the state providing protection no longer works. The terms change as well as the political moral. And even if privatization and the free economy are praised as way forward, in reality everyone knows this will not work for who is going to look after the clean-up the city if everyone does what they like and just throw the rubbish out of the window? Naturally many more examples can be given as to what constitutes in the final end identity linked to a state and an individual 'I' seeking understanding of the self in such a place that seems inhabited by people and governed by a system reflecting the latest technology or logic to organize things. A person with a mobile phone in the hand can cross entire oceans to contact a friend while the one taking the plane to cross that ocean can anticipate to be seeing soon that friend on the other side in real terms and real time. For the search for the 'I' has to do with a liveable present since the stuff any personal identity is made of can be called 'le vecu' (Sartre), or rather 'lived through experiences'. They matter to know that the existence of this personal 'I' makes a difference in how things are perceived, related to and understood as part of the human existence on earth.

hatto fischer
Athens 2.11.2012

Growing up and childhood memories


Growing up in what a world? In what street? In what sort of house?

Stephan Faigenbaum is making for instance a movie about the street he grew up in Detroit, and which is no longer recognizable since so much destruction has taken place in the meantime.

There is the beautiful story by Thomas Mann who attempted to write with his brother while they were in exile to write a book in which their father would recognize the house they had grown up in.

Memories of parents' home, the street and the school alter in retrospect. Most of the time the same things which appeared to be huge in childhood, have shrunk when returning to them fifty years later. That is not always the case but it makes identity into an elongation of the shadow one casts ahead once the sun sets and walking home around that time takes one past the market.

Of course, memories are incited when taking the first real job. It alters the meaning of earning money all by oneself as if already able to stand on one's own feet. This feeling of having a paid job does give one a different status in society. It begins with selling newspapers at the street corner or baby sitting but should take on also other dimensions if to learn how to grow into society. Naturally all that depends on experiences made and especially if it is possible to link practical with theoretical know-how. The train designer Lutz Gelbert said about himself he studied first mechanical engineering and then in a second study art and design. To date that gives him the advantage of knowing both i.e. which model can be build and is therefore not just a beautiful but impractical design.


First love

What is love? The first kiss - the enormous emotional response to a potential existence of love for someone specific



Friendship – making and keeping friends and the art of bringing together people

Friends and parents


Image the future

Imagination of the future, of what lies ahead and this beyond the sommer



Experiences and stories told key persons - listening to grandfather e.g. Thomas Bernhard


Entering force fields

Entering certain 'force fields' – Martin Jay and artistic freedom -

Experiencing the 'self' while traveling and the changes in self understanding (in German philosophy there is linked 'Verfremdung' mit 'Entfremdung', so that once back home, to have a double reflection of one's previous self understanding by means of estrangement and alienation)

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself

Have you ever observed how children hesitate before they throw themselves into the midst of children running around on a playground. They would hover like a bird ready to fly but still not sure if to trust the direction of the wind. They look at times up to their mother or father to get some reassurance. What if not only they hurt themselves but more importantly they lose their identity in exchange with so many being available out there, in the playground. At times it appears as if a wild sea in which many masks appear to be riding waves of enthusiasm or of disaster. Everything is possible. A child's imagination knows no borders. It is like sifting sand to let the time clock run. The wait turns into eternity, so it seems. And then they suddenly dive like a hawk, the wings spread out, the eyes in search of a piece to eat. When the play is over the child comes back as if holding an invisible chord giving guidance on how to find back to the self still hovering but now anxious for the now exhausted body to return to where things started at the fringe to the playground.

Of course, there is are many sayings which can guide but also puzzle one at times when leaving behind all known and trusted references: the house, the familiar streets, the close friends, the shopkeeper for sweets, the garageman with the friendly smile, the dogs in the main street and the cats in the alley. All of a sudden trust is turned outwards. Here begin the streets of fear and of another world. Not sure who is home, being lost becomes the closest call to being just at home everywhere. It makes possible the revelation of a self and once approaching others a test of another self understanding whether now talking with a prostitute, a fellow tourist or the ticket man who speaks no other language but Italian. And suddenly other moralities become visible, for said Guiseppe you as a stranger will have another look at the port of Genova than us who live always beside it.

Sometimes people search for another, truer identity in another part of the world like New Zealand, but then they risk to overlook what they are really searching for. It might be just around the corner or more often just sitting beside one. True things are too often simply overlooked.

In all searches the role of the coincidence is crucial. How to be convinced if everything is enforced or produced, but does not come about in a way that it is true because of a different quality of interest. Naturally not all coincidences can be integrated. That is like saying not everyone one meets en route shall become over time a true friend.

Finally, when growing up, there is the important lesson to be drawn out of the introduction Brendan Kennelly wrote for his epic poem 'Judas': how not to loose one's dreams and stay on a true path – ideals and practical realities – where to make compromises, where not – how to work on the conditions to make one's dream become real?

Childhood since Dickens

If growing up in a certain place means something, then because it is retained in one's memory as to how one experienced the world when just about to learn to stand up on one's own two feet.

The pain with parents

The search for a father compared to a mother and what it means to grow up without anyone of them being really of a great help to find one's way in this world?

The pain with sisters and brothers

Jealousy but also other feelings about injustices in the family are linked to the problem of experiencing that parents often do not know how to be fair and equal to all despite age differences and different dispositions.

Identity and friendship

Indeed, identity and friendship seem to go hand in hand. We go with those and count them as our friends with whom we can identify ourselves best. That might also be the right choice in a wrong situation or what the school can end up pushing you to do e.g. join the smoker circle even though you do not smoke but as outsiders you identify yourself with them because you feel too much pushed around. And besides they all laugh in class when you try to say something. It is not easy growing up.

Justice and injustice

There is injustice all the time around you and who knows how to defend yourself when attacked by the others? This can grow even worse as the ganging up by some against just one e.g. the Russian-Greek boy who disappeared in a Northern Greek village and never found again – the silence of not only the five boys implicated but also of the parents and relatives.

Orwell, Down and out in Paris and in London / on the Road to Wigham Pier – poverty in UK and the anticipation of what is entailed in 'Animal Farms' – life under Communism

Searching for a job or work to identify with – the ethical and practical choices

Then there is something else which seems to limit the choices one can makewhen growing up, as if everything is just a matter of false alternatives and the world full of coercive powers which can force you to go against yourself. This can mean a number of things: betrayal of your own dreams, either give up yourself or not get any money from the parents, or being for the system but then against others or else join the protesters and not be accepted for a job due to your political background.

Positive experiences

A piano tuner who shows you how to discover secret melodies in an old piano, or the first love flung out like open arms during a rainy summer day when just running across the fields brings love together with a sense of freedom.

The wedding of a couple with the man being an animal doctor who has saved your horse.

The canoe trips in Canada and other trips into wild, untamed nature.

School theatre or concerts

Playing on various teams and walking home after having won the 4 x 400 m relay

Negative experiences

The jealousy of the sister means getting hit by a mechanism so powerful that it leaves one speechless whenever injustice is inflicted ever more in the belief to have been treated unjustly by the parents but the brother is to be blamed ever since he came into existence.

The loss of the mother with the men playing cards

The school system in Munich and the ganging up of the others in the class

The abuse by a priest

The ill temper of a father who cannot control


Sources of identity



Conflicts with the father

There is a saying that one day the revolt comes for if the father is ready to hit again, there arises the need to stand up to oneself. It is the breakage point. And all what one needs to do is to say in a very sober tone, 'if you hit me again, I shall hit back!' A broken father thereafter is more difficult to deal with not because of the transformation in the relationship between son and father but because the mother demands of the son to apologize to the father as if stopping violence is not of utmost importance. Otherwise how can mutual respect be gained if you let the father deal with you as he likes.

Psychoanalysis and Oedipus complex


Regaining identity through resistence and honesty

If identity has been lost, then what to do?

Art therapy

The experiences of Mari Pizanis can tell a valuable story: after a motor cycle accident she was in coma for two weeks and regained only her identity by applying methods of art therapy. Since then she poses analytical questions which give resistance against arbitrariness and presence to the self in the mind looking out in search of answers. Once this becomes a creative answer, then trust in the senses lets the intellect to be true to the self. This means painting something or playing the piano some improvised tune can be spontaneous, but over time there needs to be discovered a lawfulness which respects life. Life itself is not arbitrary. It becomes only once we have lost our moral compass and think we can get away with things without having negative consequences if we do not listen to our conscience. The mental strength to stand in the wind of questions means to draw strength out such a moral conviction in one's own honesty. Hence humor becomes audible just as traces drawn in the sand show what is possible along the beach once the wind has died down. Drawings in the sand is but a metaphor for being mentally present when not just speaking to the other, but listening actively to what the other says. It is like the sea being close by but also out there it has a depth unknown and never fully explored. Both exist. That means being present is an exception since not many have found their identity as has Mari. One can say too many people stand behind trees as they seek to hide themselves from the glare of the eyes of the other. We often mask ourselves and hide deep down in the underworld of our selves. This has given rise to Freud's concept of the 'unconscious' but was already in Ancient Greece the world of Hades.

Prerequisites for a free conscience

The imagination, free conscience and dialectic of securalization

The binding power and the imagination – Sartre as part of the free conscience, but also his keen sense that Capitalism means how to win off masses energy without these masses having a chance to gain an own identity. This implies someone with identity is able to shape his or her own life. At the same time, this would mean there is a difference between fate and destiny when it comes to link one's own personal identity with a certain state. In human development things have come a long way since Frazer or Polanyi described the way primitive and archaic societies have been organized whether now in terms of totems and tabu to regulate especially marriages or else what would constitute a complex decision making mechanism via money as unifying force which allows for a maximum of freedom. Often this contrast betweeen Western and Third World has been sustained by a lot of mythos about differences but Gaughin caught perhaps a yearning of the White Man to leave behind that sick society in Europe by going to Taihiti where he felt that he could express himself spontaneously and still feel the connectivity to the whole. That illusion has ended with Adorno declaring the whole is not the truth, in order to refute Hegel's claim that the whole is the truth. Ever since fragmentation of society meant individuals are unsure how to link up with the collectivity of mankind. In a football crowd this is very different to when an earthquake strikes and all people run out into the streets. Common experiences can unite but also show where the real differences lie. Marx attempted to show this class division about which Habermas would say slowly that model was left behind as different political forces started to shape society.

Identity with political movements - protest

Flow of ideas, flow of people –

first Tunesia, then Tahrir Square in Egypt

Spain and the indignant people

in Athens, there were the assemblies of citizens

Wall Street Occupy – the 99% against the 1%

Detroit – American Revolution: James Boggs / Grace Boggs

how to find a path towards changes which favour democracy and respect people's Rights?

Identity under normative and real pressure

In totalitarian societies, it was said the pressure upon the individual was so great, that people said they felt threatened in their identities.

The dialectic of securalization is a complicated process taking place in society when state and church are separated and do not determine the free conscience of the individual. That allows for freedom of choice with decisions made in accordance to retaining a free conscience. It means also not going against life, nor being forced to do so e.g. compulsorary military service and obedience defined as following orders even if it means to kill another human being. The conscious objectors of war services would argue in front of abitration courts that they do not want to go against their free conscience. Interestingly enough these courts were set up when it became clear more and more of the youth did not wish to do their military service. Especially in Germany the reconstitution of the army was anyhow a breaking of the promise people made after 1945 never to allow war to originate from German soil. Once Adenauer overturned this promise and started to organize the 'Bundeswehr', young people started to escape to West Berlin where they were exempted from compulsorary military service since the city was under the Four Power rule. This explained why another kind of identity finding process coincided with the student movement wishing to break the silence of post war Germany about the atrocities committed during Second World War. This process ended with the election of Weizsäcker in 1981 as mayor of Berlin. He had been elected on the platform that either become German or out, and who critized young men who would not serve in the army as he was afraid they would not bind themselves to the state and be loyal enough to serve society.

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