Identity. Are You Being or Becoming?

Aren’t I gonna just be me? -Forrest Gump


You’ve probably heard the phrase, “The only constant in life is change.” This phrase definitely hits home with me. I was born into a military family. I’ve never lived in one place longer than 3 years. Change was, and still is, a huge part of my life. I found that change requires you to have a clear idea of who you are. When change hits, without a solid foundation, that foundation will crack and your identity is shaken.


I’ve been reading into the philosophies of Gilles Deleuze, specifically his views on identity. Our individual identity is something we all question at some point in life. Who am I? What attributes or talents make me into the person I am?


Enter the problem of being vs. becoming. This analytical struggle is certainly not new. Around 500 B. C. Heraclitus decided that all things were becoming, nothing stays stagnate, for:

“You cannot step twice into the same river, for other waters and yet others, go flowing on.”

But Parmenides opposed this view and countered with: 

“There remains, then, but one word by which to express the true road: Is.
 And on this road there are many signs that What Is has no beginning and never will be destroyed: it is whole, still, and without end. It neither was nor will be, it simply is.”

This argument: being vs. becoming, that humanity has struggled with for, well, forever, is a question I began to wrestle with. In order for change to have a positive effect on me, I need to know who I am, right? I need to be. If I am in a state of change and becoming while everything around me is changing, won’t I only fall into a state of confusion and despair?

Reading Deleuze’s work and his thoughts on identity gave me the answers I was looking for.

 

Being

Constant, unchanging, or enduring. Deleuze relates being to a tree. A plant that has only a beginning and an end. 

 “We’re tired of trees. We should stop believing in trees, roots, and radicles. They’ve made us suffer too much”

Becoming

Constantly changing; in motion; dynamic. Deleuze relates becoming to a rhizome. Plants such as bulbs or tubers (ex. Potato) are rhizomes. 

 “A rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, inter being, intermezzo.

Identity is a complicated concept. But today’s world has boiled identity down to what we do or what we accomplish, not who we are at our very core.


Think of it this way: If I moved to a place where everyone was obsessed with bacon, and I suddenly decided that I was going to become a Bacon Critic, this would become my identity, right? I would identify as a Bacon Critic. (Sounds like a decent job to me…) But, if I were to get a heart attack from eating too much bacon, and my doctor told me bacon was now off limits, would my personal identity be shattered? Was there some dormant Bacon Critic identity inside of me that would have never been expressed if I had not moved to this new place?


 Deleuze thinks not. He states that a human is a machine that craves connections. My decision to become a Bacon Critic was not based upon some static pre-planned identity, it was based upon my need for connections with the new people in this strange place. 


So often we conform to the identities handed down to us by our parents. We take the safe course of action, sticking within the societal boundaries set by the people we surround ourselves with, because, once again, we crave connections. Society doesn’t accept difference. In fact they suppress difference and alienate people from fully expressing themselves. We subconsciously avoid diverting from the accepted norm because we want to be accepted and liked.


But, Deleuze states that identity is in fact the derivative of difference.


To live well is to fully express one’s individuality, to reach towards your full potential, rather than to follow convention. In order to know our identity, we must seek difference. Not only must we seek difference, but we must embrace becoming not being. When we decide that change is too difficult for us to accept, we shackle ourselves to a rigid, adopted identity. 


I wanted to know who I was. I wanted to be absolutely sure of my identity. I was watching the world through such a narrow window, using a single perspective to make one definition of myself, that I lost sight of the fact that I am an ever-changing intity. 


Being ties us to down to a beginning and a end. Just like a tree has a beginning and an end. Root to Crown. Being blinds us to new possibilities.


Becoming is a whole different story. Becoming is like a rhizome. A rhizome has no beginning and no end. It’s always between things, constantly growing new plants in several different places, at one time. A rhizome is a map, not a tracing. It doesn’t follow a predetermined path. 


We ask the question, “how should one live act or live?” as if there is some cookie cutter identity that we are all supposed to conform to. That’s just not the way the world works. There is no prescribed identity that you are supposed to rigidly follow. Learn to be okay with not knowing how your life is going to play out. Embrace the motion and chaos of the world by engaging in a process of becoming, never being static, constantly moving.  

This is how it should be done: lodge yourself on a stratum, experiment with the opportunities it offers, find an advantageous place on it, find potential movements of deterritorialization, possible lines of flight, experience them, produce flow conjunctions here and there, try out continuums of intensities segment by segment, have a small plot of new land at all times. 

Instead of accepting the gift of your identity from someone else, instead of tying yourself to a single outcome, affirm your existence by embracing difference, by becoming. Not being.

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