A refinement of Nietzsche's Discussion on Identity

06-18-2023 | philosophy, self

Below are a few paragraphs I wrote in a personal journal in the fall of 2018. I’d just come off a weekend with my oldest friends and felt alive and new, ready to face the adult world that I’d been avoiding at all costs. About two years before this was written, I’d attempted to slog through Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia where I read a line from Nietzsche that its authors were discussing. That line said something along the lines of “identity oscillates around a fixed point”. I glommed on to this and have held close to it for years, but coming out of that weekend of juvenile freedom, I realized that this observation was in need of refinement.

Identity is, through life, a convergence on some unattainable state. The problem with Nietzsche’s take is that an oscillation makes no forward progress. Instead, we’re unraveling our existence like an infinite ball of yarn, with each revolution of the ball getting us closer to purpose, to clarity, to zen. If we’re left to oscillate around the ball, then we never creep nearer its center. The implication of Nietzsche’s metaphor is a life without self-reflection, or at least one without any productive reflection. Productive reflection is the following of the thread, tracing what we know now and using it make inferences about the paths which lie ahead. If the center is then unattainable, then perhaps happiness is merely the act of its pursuit, the act of continuing to follow the thread.

Nevertheless, this realization is one which I came to after a week of living in my new skin, having removed a layer upon arrival at home. It was fresh, pink, and unblemished. This is what leads me to believe that happiness is simply the act of exposing a new self, one that is slightly nearer the true Self that lies at our core. I personally experience this as what I’ve deemed an “identity shift”. This one was particularly affecting, however, because it traveled with an awareness of why, again reiterating that without forward progress, without a steady convergence, the shift is merely a shift. An oscillation. Happiness and contentment are fed by the thread we leave behind.