Tuesday, July 19, 2011

How Does One Know One?

Last night, I luxuriated by way of time and language. I rarely find myself in a ménage of this sort. It's usually one or the other but not both. Well, what can I say. I'm in a splurging mood lately and there's nothing I can do about it.

I had the opportunity to take some quiet/unscheduled time lately. After that, however, big questions were born and what better way to discuss them then by talking with those who share your modus vivendi? So, last night one of my closest friends asked me the following, "Na, du, wie kennt man Einen?" Translated: "So, you, how does one get to know one?"

I don't have the answer to it. "I don't have the answer to it," I said. Come to think of it, i don't even wish to have the answer to it. The beauty of getting to know one lies in the process. That is the stuff of poetry. One of the lines that has stuck with me from all the literature I have ever read, - and that is a whole lot -, comes from Botho Strauss' play in two acts Die Fremdenfuehrerin i.e., The Tour Guide. In it, the main character says: "Ein zweiter Mensch erweckt neue Erwartungen" i.e., "A second person awakens new expectations."

Without expectations there can be no drive to renew one's self, to morph into something better, hopefully more developed. Without expectations there can be no passion, no drama, no, well, life. Expectations set things in motions and humans are meant to be in motion. Agito ergo sum, after all. We do/move, therefore, we are.

Back to my friend's question. I told him I didn't have any special insight. I think I added something like, "man kennt einen, wenn man sich selbst kennt. Oder nicht. Was weiss ich denn..." "One knows one when one knows one's self. Or not. What do I know..." After saying it I felt some measure of melancholy. Knowing one's self is tough. It is, in my view, one of the hardest pursuits. Those who think they know themselves well usually fail miserable at recognizing basic truths about them. Self-knowledge is nigh impossible. Which means, a knowledge of the other, actual knowledge of the other, is nigh impossible as well. It's not the knowing of one's self and the selves of the others that is important but rather the inclination to engage in a process of self-knowledge and knowledge of the other.

Knowing others is fundamentally predicated upon knowing one's self and one's 'self' i.e., our 'selves' are not like books standing on the shelf where they can be picked up at any time divorced from time and particular circumstance. Identity is not petrified, like the written word. It shifts, morphs into new things, progresses and regresses. It moves. To get it, to get to the core of one's 'self' one needs to consider any and all variables. And this, well, this is nigh impossible to do. However, it is in this very impossibility where beauty can be found. Not the kind of beauty that fades but rather the beauty about which one is compelled to give a damn. True substance.

Knowledge of the self and the self of the other changes as a result of circumstance as well.

I illustrate:

I used to hate pizza. As in "ewe, blah, double ewe, can't eat that crap"-type of thing. I have my ideas as to what informed my general disgust for this particular food. I reckon it has something to do with a period in my life when I didn't particularly care for Italian cuisine generally and pizza/pasta particularly. I like pizza now, though. Matter of fact, I just had it for dinner tonight. Coupled with hot chocolate. And cherries. Yeah. Yum! Put that in your pipe, Wolfgang Puck, and smoke it. I know why I'm cool with pizza now. I know why I'm cool with pizza in the company of hot chocolate and cherries. Given the same presentation a while back, I would have sneered, mocked, and resisted the urge to part ways with whatever dwelled in my stomach. But that's then and this is now.

Hard things beg for attention. Not-so-hard things are largely forgettable and I happen to think not worth one's consideration most of the time. There's bound to be a hierarchy of difficulty. After all, we're not all meant to be into John Donne. Some are into that kind of hermetic brilliance. Others, on the other hand, do just find with Harry Potter. There's something for everyone.

I have a knack for hard things. It's one of the few things I have come to truly get about my nature. What can I do about it? Nothing. I can embrace it and go with it. Sooner is always better than later. Resisting it would be like the day my friends and I were swimming in the river and I had the brilliant idea to try going against the current because, of course, the Napoleon inside me, thought s/he could just do it. Long story short, I ended up on the other shore, lost my left Havaiana and ruined my favorite swimsuit when wrestling with an unfortunate looking tree branch. I have yet to find a better suit. But I digress. The point is, we are who/how we are. At the core, we are who we are. We do not change. This sounds too much like a cliché. I can't be the first to have phrased it this way. Wait, it's making me think of someone. Duh, Charles Dickens and his Great Expectations. Still, though, it has value even though I get zero points for originality. I happen to concur with the point and that adds value to it. How's this for healthy self-esteem?!

So, after talking about sociality, my friend and I segued into an analysis of sociality. I made the point that an understanding of sociality can only be had when one truly invests in solitude. And investing in solitude is tough. Especially if one's inclination has little natural space for it.

I've gotten to be a bit more decent at alone time. I'd give myself a solid 6/10 as an adult. The reason why is quite simple. It's called learned behavior and focused practice. Gregariousness has always come easily to me. Others would most likely give me a 9/10. I would give myself a solid 8. But, just like it is the case with other traits that one comes equipped with genetically, I tend to often privilege things and traits that are not as easy. I don't know why this is. It's a trait I've long resigned myself to. If all roads lead to Rome, I tend to usually take the longer, more difficult one. I illustrate as a tip of the hat to my Italy-residing people. It's kind of like getting to Rome from Milan by driving your car - at least a stress-fueled 8-hour-period of your life marked by noise, odd lane-changing habits, and traffic that comes out of Dante's third circle of Hell - as opposed to flying from Fiumicino to Malpensa (a mere hour). In case I need to explain, I'd, most likely and almost unequivocally, prefer the former. Why? I don't know. We are who we are. We don't change.

So, how does one get to know one as per my friend's question? One stops being a coward and starts to get to know one's self as one truly is at dawn and not as one thinks one is at dusk. Dusk, albeit a favorite time for many, is a tricky little rascal. Dusk is like wine. It veils things. It doesn't let one see things in an unfettered and untarnished fashion. Nothing can reveal all freckles, blemishes, and corporeal changes the way dawn can. And in that space of time is where the others might be known too. At least to some degree and in some measure. Nothing and no one can be known fully. And in this very lack of omniscience lies the beauty of being human and foible.


Unknown said...

A lot of awesome nuggets in this piece, Bri.
...."I'm cool with pizza in the company of hot chocolate and cherries".... Am I right in assuming that this is some kind of trope and/or of poking fun at someone?! What could possibly possess you to eat such things at the same time?!
I agree with the self-knowledge/knowledge of the other point. I'm a better person to be with when I let myself be seen at dawn as well.
I need to read this another 5 times. Or 10. I don't know what inspired this but I want to drink some of that cool aid.
Thanks, Bri

Unknown said...

Ok, one more thing as I'm still laughing and my sides are hurting as I read this out loud to Dana. The opening paragraph will be a favorite!

Dita said...

"Nothing and no one can be known fully. And in this very lack of omniscience lies the beauty of being human and foible."
I'm not sure if I should admit or not that I got a bit 'hormonal' reading this. ;)

vipull said...

it's past midnight and too late to leave a clear headed comment, so here goes nothing - knowing self is somewhat like catching a moving target - everytime one makes an attempt to figure out oneself, the very act of accessing those memories changes the memories. And what we percieve are nothing if not our own memories biased heavily in our own favor. I am sure this will make less than half-decent sense in light of dawn, but the blogger demands instant response.

Sra said...

I'm not entirely sure anymore that a person's essence doesn't change over time. So maybe it's really hard to know one's self because of that. Even though I can recognize the me of 10 years ago, for instance, I no longer feel like that person in a lot of ways. I think I might have known myself once in my life: at about 17-18, which was a big self-awareness time for me. But I'm not so sure I know myself now.

Can't really fathom eating hot chocolate, cherries, and pizza together. It just seems wrong :)

Johana said...

So do we change or not? Can we know ourselves and the others or not? I found your thoughts a little contradictory in today's piece. I both agree and disagree. The reason for that is that if one asks the question why is bound to find answers, which lead to knowledge of both oneself and the people around. On the other hand you forgot to put into play the sixth sense. Many things you simply know because your guts say so, without necessarily having an answer at that particular moment.
I might be wrong but this is my reflection. I believe one can know oneself may be not fully, as we have hidden potential that comes to light when exposed to different situations.

Liam said...

While at the core we may not change, I suppose the longer and harder we self-analyze, the more apparent behaviors and traits become. I specifically remember at age 18/19 reading a book on self-realization, my first ISKCon book, as a matter of fact, and thinking to myself, "I'm self-realized." Only ignorance could foster such a thought. If one was to ever feel self-realized, the process of self-reflection would likely cease, and effectively kill the purported realization. Life is a process, and our mentality grows along side, thus I see no end to the "getting to know oneself", much less others.

B.R. said...

It was surprisingly appetizing, the cherry/hot coco/pizza combo. The thought of it is making me nauseous right about now but it worked last night. Go figure. There's a time and circumstance for everything.

-Dita, sorry about that. Go on a walk. I hear that helps with that sort of thing. :)

-Turkish, your sense of timing is, as always, impeccable! -Tommy

Wrong is the right lexeme to use when referring to that unfortunate dinner choice. I wish I could explain, but I can't. As I noted to Nicks above, it somehow worked. I doubt it'll work again. Thankfully, I might add.

You're right. There's contradiction in the piece. There's a good reason for that. I happen to think that contradiction is a natural companion of cognition of any and all sorts. Self-knowledge and knowledge of the other is bound to be jumbled up in contradiction. I suppose it's what makes the topic so difficult to deal and cope with.

Just now while reading your comment I was transported back to a memory of chatting with you outside the library on the U of U campus. Remember? I think we stood outside till the moon came out and my stomach started growling. Must have been a few hours.

Self-discovery and discovery of the other[s] is only bound to happen when language is allowed to happen, unfettered and encouraged. Sociality informs much, including a better exploration of 'self.'

I have this desire to watch Viktor Vogel today. Funny that....

Liam said...

I do indeed recall. :) Sometimes it's weird having those flashes of times past now that I'm here as an employee rather than a student.