Suppose that you are a soul and you want to be on earth to swim in water, to smell the flowers, to hear the music, to touch the sand and to share your time with humans. You would soon realise that in order to do so you would need a body.
Thus, you could ask Mother Nature for a body and she could offer you several ones, a tall or short one, with white or dark skin, with or without big muscles, with blond, red or black hair and other options. Maybe you could reject all of them because you just want to have a body and not one in particular. In turn, she might offer you the most common one for the people on earth, with brown hair, 1.60 meters tall but you also reject it because your aim is just to have a body, not a popular, normal or specific body, not a characterized one. Consequently you would find that nature has no answer for you because it is not possible to have a body without features, without a difference, without defining the belonging to something and the exclusion of something else.
With that in mind, you finally choose a body, but by doing so, what are you now?
How does your soul relate to this body and to the people to whom you will share your characteristics in your terrestrial existence? What’s more, you may find that people refer to you as if you come from a certain group of people, such as the people with your body. So, even if you didn’t expect it, for the people that don’t know your essence, unfortunately your identity will be, before anything, socially categorised as pertaining to the people who have the same corporal size, hair colour, expression have shape of the body as you. Here I don’t know if I have to say I am sorry.
In parallel with the former story and accepting your determined body, you ask Mother Nature to put you on earth now. But to reach earth, Mother Nature also asks you to choose a place to belong to. As with the last question, you request not to belong to any place, only to belong to the people that live on earth, to be cosmopolitan, to be a citizen of the world. Your request is granted but when you try to enter into a certain place, the representatives of that country demand your passport, a country of birth that ensures that you were born there and therefore that you exist. You need to be care because you could be held in custody without such a passport.
Both examples tell us something is terrible to think about it. At the first glance society defines our identity not by our essence but through the eyes of their prejudices. We can deduce that the first way that the mind has to approach identities is by reading the representation of the essence, its image. It does that by breaking down this image into pieces, making symbols and using experiences to approach it or to reflect on it. Even the external can be different from the inner essence of that identity. This is related to what Barthes states, that a person “can only signify by adopting a mask” (Barthes, 1982: 77).
In addition, our existence on earth seems to require the belonging to an organization that certifies what we are. A nation, a religion, a family, a club, a political party or any believable group that not only distinguishes us from nomads, but also that makes us something socially understandable. As we have seen, any being should be established in relation to something, that is to say, not as something autonomous or disconnected from the world. Therefore, questions on identities generate answers that inevitably talk about others in this network of relationships necessary for being.
Such networks are structured by absence and presence and classify the person in relation to something. They divide the person, splitting the personality aspect by talking about only one part of it and crystallized it. Thus, it is anchoring just one characteristic, one moment onto the continuum that time is, one place and an activity among all that are possible to be undertaken.
Thus, the differences that identify each person can run in parallel, showing different categories to which our identity is referring to, categories that are nothing but the classifications induced through assessment by social regimes.
However, even though our birthplace or our heritage beliefs seem to fix us to such difference, our desire can mobilize us to acquire new identifications, new differences and new horizons, but that is another story.
© Sebastian Guerrini, 2009