Wednesday, March 09, 2016


I bump into McGregor, who is teaching a class on "Identity". Except I'm never quite sure what this means, "Identity". It seems to have something to do with ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality – none of which I’m particularly interested in. All of these - Ethnicity, gender, religion, sexuality - are simply passport and social security categories. They are always on the side of the state and the state mentality. To 'identify' with such categories, to affirm your attachment to such categories, is to align the inner workings of your soul with the outer workings of the state, to observe obediently and to the letter a protocol decreed by the state. In latching on to this ready-made state identity, one is diverted from the force and idiosyncrasy of one’s own desire. Our own desire is nothing but the potency we have within us, the stubborn and innate tendency to express our own peculiar form of life, and our only duty is to be true to this desire; but instead we are diverted into false problems and fake questions, like this non-problem of our 'identity'. The endless framing and reframing of this issue, the endless discussions that require people to focus on it, the metastasis of blather that grows up around the question of identity, the demand that we attend to this bogus question, all of this only reproduces and confirms the mentality of the state, the mentality of bureaucrats and the corporate mind, and at the same time anaesthetises our desire almost to the point of coma. McGregor thinks that identity is affirmative and liberating but as far as I'm concerned, when people speak of identity they are speaking of knots. “I am Irish,” "I am Protestant," "I'm Jewish"– as if they cannot undo the knot that ties them to Ireland, to Protestantism, to the Jewish faith without the whole Self coming unbuttoned and falling apart. I'm an American!" someone shouts, proudly tightening their knot. The individual becomes the mouthpiece of the collective and makes pronouncements on its behalf. “As Christians, we believe...” and so forth. Belief resides always with a “we” and the individual defers to the we, refers all questions to the We. Such people have become ventriloquist dummies for the We.. They are content for the We to think and believe and feel on their behalf. “We believe that when you have a child..” "We have a different attitude to grieving.."Yes, I say, but what do you believe, the idiosyncratic desirous "I" who's wriggled free of its knot? They are lost for words, of course, or offended, or an amalgam of both, because they do not want to unravel the knot.  I have always tried to avoid such knots. Or at least mine tie me only to my own peculiar life. Morning coffee in a Soho cafe, the nib on the blank page: such is my communion, such is my citizenship and affiliation. I don’t need an identity, I say to McGregor, I’m happy with how I am.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Catholic Herald

Mildly intrigued by a visit here from the Vatican: sunday never ends&btnG=Google Search

Holy See (vatican City State)
Holy See (vatican City)
Holy See - Vatican City State

This made me think of a brief stint I did at the Catholic Herald. One week i wrote a ficticious piece, under the daft name Fingal Mackeen about my (non-existent) Catholic childhood, evoking the smell of beeswax and other objects of nostalgia. I felt slightly guilty when someone wrote to the paper saying how moved they were by the article, how it reminded them of their own childhood.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

symbolic support

My sense of some of the ‘democratic’ potential of blogging is contained in this post on anonymity, and was implicit in these words of Benjamin. (Of course, there are all kinds of other potentials too). The defence against this democratic tendency often involves attempting to reintroduce the social supports of the offline world. as such it is uncomfortable with anonymity. Thus:

The prurient and finally conformist demand to pick away at the anonymous I, a bodiless script, until it reveals the contours of the person underneath. And this, not through wanting to touch reality, but only to secure some Symbolic foothold – establishing that your interlocutor is a woman, student, unemployed, non-professional, or that he/she wears some other convenient categorical label that allows you to place him or her, to restore the proper order of things.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Risible Rhetorical Riffs

Not sure what to call this little rhetorical manoeuvre, but here’s an example of it - the polemical target is Terry Eagleton:

"The only conception he has of "questioning the foundations of the western way of life" is his own set of political opinions." [My italics]

It’s as if Eagleton’s ‘opinions’ are just some personal hobby-horse or idiosyncrasy*, the actual content of which is irrelevant. If someone’s ‘politics’ are marked by (say) a concern for social justice and democratic accountability, then he opposes a tyranny not because its existence ‘happens’ to offend ‘his own’ opinions but because of its injustice and unaccountability. I put ‘his own’ in scare quotes because these politics will in most cases be hardly just ‘his’ – they will be universal or certainly non-personal values that he believes in. If someone advocates torture, her ‘opinion’ is certainly different from my own, but I oppose it because of a commitment to certain universal values. Johaan Hari pulled a similar stunt some time ago, pretending that I was simply unable to tolerate a (ie any) different opinion. Of course, I was intolerant of his piece not because it was ‘different’ but because it was demonstrable nonsense. In any case, how can you disagree with someone who’s opinions are NOT different from your own?? The notion is trivially nonsensical.