Identification, says Korzybski, is a blunt tool. Language is a box full of tools, all imperfect, none quite fit for purpose, their functioning performative and never exactly descriptive. Meaning: anything we can say about the world is never quite how the world is, a chair is not “a chair”. Is not the word “chair” that we use to identify it. Using the word “chair” helps us to get along. But there are drawbacks to getting along with imperfect tools.
Just as it can be tiring to use the wrong screwdriver, even if it’ll get the job done in the end, so it’s fatiguing to use the wrong concepts, even though we seem to get along fine at the time. “What’s wrong with you?” “I’m just tired.” And that’s enough to explain away the nausea.
And other times we can feel we’re not getting on fine at all. The exhaustion is palpable, and we start to press uncomfortably against the limitations of language. Thinking in words isn’t working. But how else to think?
Using the words I have at my disposal, it’s difficult to think of myself as a process, rather than a state of being. And yet I seem to be changing all the time. I’m feeling out of sorts today, and I don’t know why. “I’m confused”, “I’m tired”, “I’m sad” … None of these quite seems to fit. I’m not any one of these states, but a point somewhere between them all. And others I can’t name right now. Even this isn’t quite right. “I am I.” Even this. I’m not this point, or this thought, or this body, or anything. No thing, no state. What am I?
I close my eyes and stop thinking. Ten, twenty minutes meditation and I’ll be right again. Stop thinking. That’s the goal, but do you ever stop thinking? A different kind of thinking then.
I see that oscillating point now, shimmering between the different states of being. And soon I’m following its vibrations, and I don’t see it at all, only feel it, and what I see now are only ripples of colour, and shapes in shifting shadow. And then … When I open my eyes, what I have seen falls fast from my memory. Waking from a dream. Perhaps it’s not what I saw, but what I felt, the images there were a side-effect, might have been anything. Ephemeral symbols, necessary for the dream but torn away now, never to exist in that connection again.
Language wants everything fixed, so this means that, and that means this. But people change, and maybe ephemeral symbols, that can be picked up and used and then unattached again and put down when the dream is over, are the only symbols we can use to describe what it is to exist as a human being, as a person, as anything.
People change. “When you stop growing you start dying,” as William Burroughs said. It’s change that’s so difficult to describe.
You get to a point where you’re comfortable and you stick. There’s nothing to be gained by taking a new risk in a land governed by identity. So I assert that “I am I” and forget that when these words were first uttered they were intended for a platform, a jumping off point, a dead “I”, springboard to a higher self, an ongoing process. But instead I say “I am what I am” and I’m contented.
Blunt tools are perfect if you want to wear yourself out. And down. And maybe this is what we want: to be just tired enough at the end of the day to be able to say “I tried, I did my best”, contented after our ten hours, to work, and work, and back home again. And not fearing death, because death is just the end of a process of winding down, from the anxiety of youth, to happy tired middle age, to the inertia of old age, and on to and into the grave.