The persistence of selfhood

“You don’t know what you think until you speak.”

Which is why I blog. And then there are the extempore comments scattered across cyberspace, wanton and unremembered: pigeons loosed but never coming home to roost for they are not of the homing variety. Or they are seeds broadcast, which engender new life in many a foreign field.

If I should die, think only this of me;
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England

Anyhow, it was in such a comment, or an email to a dear faithful friend, linked and sealed via blogging, that I stumbled on a thought. “This is about miracles, not miseries; magic not mud; angelic sparkles and phosphorescence, not mere stuff”.

Then sometimes you know what you think without getting the opportunity to say it, perhaps without ever finding good enough words to wrap around it. Yet still an imprint is retained on the wrapping you hastily put on the gift you so bounteously received, that you and desire to pass on, as intact as possible. There are times, for example lying still under a delicious quilt at three in the morning, not sure if one is awake—when the harvesting of that fruit would break the spell, so the inspirations must perforce flow back to their source till another time. I think it was in one of those sessions the other night, or it might have been whilst walking the mean streets near my house (they’ve seemed mean lately) that I caught the tail of a thought before it slipped my grasp and fled. Now I recall it: striding past some premises with large windows, translucent but not transparent, the kind that it’s handy to catch a glance at yourself in, if you want to check your hair, or in my case if you suspect you are walking with one shoulder higher, something I’ve been accused of since standing to attention on parade as a cadet aged thirteen. When I glanced the other day, I saw the same person that I have known ever since I stopped growing. “For then I saw as through a glass, darkly; but now, face to face.”

That was the moment I became aware of a particular miracle, that I am still the “me” that I’ve always been, as far back as I can remember. I remember posing for a studio portrait in the summer of ’45: it has the date pencilled on the back of the photo. Proving that I was three. Not that external looks have anything much to do with it. They change radically, laughably, perhaps weepably. The persistence of me is the experience of being myself, from the inside.

“The personal is the universal”. That’s a thought which popped out in another discussion. Someone said it, then I seized on the thought. If I can get personal enough, rinsing out the circumstantial colour of my own idiosyncrasy till my native existential form is revealed, then I shall have contributed to universal understanding by a tiny amount.

“I am still me.” If this were understood truly, then our institutions would subtly change: our education systems, courts, punishments. I have just started reading Crime and Punishment. This is from the Introduction:

Above all, the portrayal of Raskolnikov’s character concerns the theme and problem of personality. What is under threat from … [various -isms] is the image of the human self, and its potential for change and transformation.

You may call it a paradox, I call it one of those miracles from which the fabric of space-time is woven. The possibility of transformation sits on the base reality of “I am still me”.
And at this moment I am unable to make it clearer than that.

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12 thoughts on “The persistence of selfhood

  1. Religion aside, I think you've tapped into the core of the pervasive and universal principle as relayed through the story of Moses: “I am what I am.”

    The profound and simple response of God to the question of who it was… makes a stunning parallel to what you're describing here, no? Age to age, you're still the same — I am still the same — we are all still the same. As for me, I believe we all strive to gain this sort of wisdom and understanding about the mechanics of life and living, and these discoveries like, “I am still me,” are eminations of things some have discovered about God (and ultimately self) and wrote down to verse… only to have some jerk try to capitalize on it as a religious mantra.

    No matter, I think this is the sort of revelation that ensues when we seek… we find.

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  2. Perspective. It provides insight.

    My young daughter is still discovering who she is. Unable to see herself clearly.

    I see that core of myself more clearly. A more refined picture.

    My perspective allows me to relax and accept myself.

    Hers is a less comfortable relationship.

    Discovering it is still me, is now a satisfying feeling.

    “I Yam what I Yam” – Popeye the Sailor

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  3. “I am still me.”

    What a relief, eh? I often wonder if that “me” is what the universe is made of, the eternal “it.” Now and then I have the feeling I am dissipating (for lack of a better word) into the great consciousness. It's such an ephemeral feeling and yet so real – an aha like “I am still me.”

    I like the way you think.

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  4. No, my Lady in Red, it is I who was curious first. I wondered what it meant “links to this post”. So I tried to do it back.

    It still mystifies me. Can you explain?

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  5. People get lost in this mad world and have no time to think or feel about their me-ness.
    It is a constant fight against this world which tries to change and turn us.
    It is actually a miracle to preserve this inner inner individual, especially when everything else is working against it.

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  6. Desperado, I cannot but agree with you. Disappointing but there it goes.

    Pauline, thanks. Yes, when we dissipate or dissolve like cigarette smoke into the All, or as you say “the great consciousness”, I cannot see how we will be able to say “I am still me” because that me is made up of a unique physical/magical entity that decomposes through fire or composting so as to be no longer an entity. And it is mere wishful thinking to imagine that I'll be still a “me” after that.

    Charles, what is it to see oneself clearly? Sometimes we declare ourselves sane, or indeed mad, but it's for others to judge. When you say your daughter is unable to see herself clearly, does she know that? Or is it your perception of her? What does it mean, I wonder?

    Thanks, May.

    Siegfried, I am wondering what your inner experience or intent is when you pronounce these paradoxes!

    Ghetu, your words have cheered me ever since I read them. When they wear off, what shall I do? Write another, I suppose.

    Tim, I'm glad the story of what God says to Moses and vice versa resonates to you. That is a gift that you have. It doesn't resonate for everyone.

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  7. I enjoyed this a lot! I am one of those who doesn't know what I think until I write it down. Speaking isn't enough, although I used to be very fluent… too fluent, I think, for real thought.

    And I am absolutely committed to the personal – not to shout and point “me me me me” but because I have faith that the more personal – (which means the more specific) we become, the more universal we are.

    I think sometimes people think I'm deranged to speak of very personal things, but it is only then that we really reach each other.

    It's worth the risk.

    Thanks for this post!

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  8. another o ur thoughts I find mine in resonance with.3mnths ago, was tryin 2persuade blogmte Priyank 2write more o himself in travelogues, rathr n “what's where-n how 2b there, what 2expect,” wh wd b there in any encyclop or travel catalogue anyway..2his “y?”, what you, Ghetuful, DESPERADO n HAYDEN say abt why personal does ultimately take one 2the plane o universal is what I'd tried 2tell him.Didnt do a very good job so wd refer him here.

    But I like ur blog bec o its clarity n intense efforts at honesty o thought and expression, so linked u, so my blogmates cd find u.

    PS:”Ghetuful” is something that only Bengalis wd know of, is that person a Bengali or Bangladeshi? who likes/has read Bibhutibhushan?
    Nt tht it mattrs, only 4an instant reminded me o home, altho I nevr wd return.

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