Virgin's Guide to Burning Man

A Virgin's Guide to Burning Man can be found here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Thoughts of Shantaram

"We know who we are and we define what we are by references to the people we love and our reasons for loving them....I'd lost my closest freiends and with them I'd lost the mark on the psychic map that says You Are Here". --Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram

Why is identity so amorphous? Why is it that the things that are so intrinsic to our sense of selves, our worldviews, our entire understandings are precisely the things we can never truly understand? In my research I do a lot of work with things like identity, conflict, power...acceptance and understanding. These words...we use them so effortlessly. And when we use them, we most certainly mean something by them. We have an idea in our heads of what power is, what identity is. And yet these concepts remain elusive, intangible and unquantifiable. In my own life, how I see myself today--what defines me--is most likely something very different from what I'll see tomorrow. I haven't changed per se, but what becomes salient has.

These things are not merely abstractions either. Wars have been fought, people killed, damaged and forgotten over competing claims to identity, righteousness, home and family roots. Does "home" come from ties to land or other physical, material things, or does it come from the people who become our references? Does the physical world define us, or is it the people who make us feel comfortable in our own skin?

I struggle with these questions in my research because scholars need to define their concepts to ensure they're using them properly, and not just abusing them with loose rhetoric to suit the argument. But countless of other scholars have struggled with the same thing. It is a jihad, and equally as fruitless and insurmountable a task. The more we try to pin these words down, tie them to physical observable objects, and put them in a neat tidy box, the more I feel affronted. I feel we are robbing these words of their power, of their own identity, making a stick figure out of a fully dimensional being with a life of it's own. Language is too flat to capture the essence.

I struggle with this is my own life because I feel I haven't quite caught hold of the essence of myself either. When I was about 6 or so, I remember standing in the shower and staring at the drain beneath my feet. The water dripping in the drain looked so strange from above. Have you ever seen the top of a drop of water? It looks like a little shiny ring, there for just a second and then it disappears. But right after that, another would appear. I used to spend ages in the shower staring at these drops trying to figure out what they were, and trying to stick my little fingers in the drain to catch them, only to come out of it frustrated and with pruny fingers. Somehow I feel like that again now, standing naked in the shower, trying desperately to capture the shiny little ring.

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