“I AM WHAT I AM.” That’s marketing’s final offering to the world, the final stage of advertising’s evolution, beyond, far beyond, all the exhortations to be different, to be yourself, and drink Pepsi. It took decades of concepts to get there, to that pure tautology, to “I = I.” He’s running on a treadmill in front of the mirror in his gym... she’s coming back from work, flying down the road in her Smart car. Will they meet?
“I AM WHAT I AM.” My body belongs to me. I am me, you are you, and it’s not going too well. Mass personalization. Individualization of all conditions – of life, work, misery. Diffuse schizophrenia. Rampant depression. Atomization into fine paranoiac particles. Hysterics upon contact. The more I want to be Me, the more I feel an emptiness. The more I express myself the more I dry up. The more I run after it, the more tired out I get. I hang onto it, you hang onto it; we cling to our “I” like a tedious bureaucratic window-job. We’ve become our own representatives in a strange commerce, guarantors of a personalization that in the end looks a lot like an amputation. We insure ourselves all the way to bankruptcy, with a more or less disguised clumsiness.
While I wait, I manage. The quest for a self; my blog, my apartment, the latest fashionable idiocy, couples’ stories, getting ass... all kinds of prosthetic limbs to hang onto an “I” with! And if “society” hadn’t become such a definitive abstraction, then it would just be all these existential crutches offered me to let me drag myself along a little more, the ensemble of dependencies that I’ve contracted, for the price of my identity. The handicapped person is the model citizen of tomorrow. It’s not without foresight that the associations that exploit them today demand a “subsistence income” for them.
The injunction everywhere to “be someone” maintains the pathological state that makes this society necessary. The injunction to be strong produces the very weakness it maintains itself on, to such a point that everything seems to take on a therapeutic aspect, even working or love. All the times we ask “how’s it going?” all day long – like a society full of patients, taking each other’s temperature. Sociability is now made up of a thousand little niches, a thousand little refuges where you can come in to keep warm. And it’s always better there than in the bitter cold outside. Where everything’s false, since it’s all just a pretext for getting heated up. Where nothing can happen since we’re all too busy deafly shivering together. This society will soon only be held together by the mere tension of all the social atoms straining towards an illusory healing. It’s a power station that drives its turbines on a gigantic reservoir of dammed up tears that is always about to spill over.
“I AM WHAT I AM.” Never has domination found a more above-suspicion slogan. The maintenance of an “I” that’s in a permanent state of semi-disrepair, in a chronic state of semi-failure, is the best kept secret of the present order of things. The weak, depressed, self-critical, virtual “I” is essentially the indefinitely adaptable subject that requires a production based on innovation, the accelerated obsolescence of technologies, the constant upheaval of social norms, and generalized flexibility. At the same time the most voracious consumer, and, paradoxically, the most productive “I,” it will throw itself with the most energy and avidity into the slightest project, only to come back later to the embryonic state it started from.
“WHAT AM I,” then? Washed since childhood in the waves: milk, smells, stories, sounds, emotions, nursery rhymes, substances, gestures, ideas, impressions, looks, songs, and foods. What am I? I’m totally tied to places, sufferings, ancestors, friends, loves, events, languages, memories, all kinds of things that obviously are not me. Everything that attaches me to the world, all the links that comprise me, all the forces that populate me – they don’t weave an identity, though I am encouraged to wield one, but an existence: singular, common, living, and from which emerges - in places, at certain moments - that being that says “I.” Our feeling of inconsistency is only the effect of this foolish belief in the permanence of the “I,” and the very slight concern we give to what makes us.
It’s dizzying to see Reebok’s “I AM WHAT I AM” enthroned atop a Shanghai skyscraper. The West is advancing everywhere, with its favorite Trojan horse: the murderous antimony between the “I” and the world, the individual and the group, between attachment and freedom. Freedom isn’t the gesture of liberation from attachments, but the practical capacity to operate upon them, to move around in them, to establish or cut them off. The family only exists as a family, that is, as hell, for those who have renounced the project of altering its debilitating mechanisms, or don’t know how. The freedom to tear oneself out has always been the mere phantom of liberty. We won’t get free of what’s holding us back without losing at the same time that which our strength could be exercised on.
“I AM WHAT I AM,” then, is not just a simple lie, a simple advertising campaign, but a military campaign, a war-cry directed against everything there is between people, against everything that circulates indistinctly, everything that ties them invisibly together, everything that puts an obstacle in the way of perfect desolation, against everything that makes it so we exist and the world doesn’t just look like one big highway everywhere, an amusement park or one of the new cities: pure boredom; passionless, but well-ordered; empty, frozen space where nothing moves besides the duly registered bodies, the automobile molecules and the ideal commodities.
France couldn’t be the fatherland of anxiety-pills, the anti-depressant paradise, the Mecca of neurosis that it is if it weren’t for its simultaneously being the European champion of hourly productivity. Sickness, fatigue, depression, can be seen as the individual symptoms of a bigger disease that needs to be cured. They contribute to the maintenance of the existing order, to my docile adjustment to idiotic conventions and norms, my adjustment to my modernized crutches. They are the thin veil on my selection of opportune, compliant, productive penchants, and on those penchants that they’ll soon be amicably mourning. “You’ve got to be able to change, you know.” But taken as facts, my failures can also lead to the dismantlement of the hypothesis of the “I.” They then become acts of resistance in the war that’s going on. They become a rebellion and an energetic core holding out against everything that conspires to normalize us, to amputate us. It’s not our “I” that’s in a state of crisis, but the form in which we seek to impress ourselves upon the world. They want to make us into various manifestations of a well-delimited, well separated, classable “I,” able to have its various qualities checked off; – controllable – when in fact we are but creatures among the creatures, singularities among similar peers, living flesh weaving the flesh of the world. Contrary to what we have repeated to us since childhood, intelligence doesn’t mean knowing how to adapt... or if it is a kind of intelligence, it’s the intelligence of slaves. Our non-adaptation, our fatigue, are only problems from the point of view of what’s trying to subjugate us. They indicate, rather, a departure point, a junction point for unusual complicities. They let us see an otherwise more dilapidated but infinitely more shared landscape than all the hallucinatory landscapes that this society maintains for itself.
We aren’t depressed; we’re on strike. For those who refuse to manage themselves, “depression” is not a state, but a passage, a good bye, a step to the side towards a political disaffiliation. And from then on there’s no possible reconciliation besides medications and the police. Indeed, that’s why this society has no fear of imposing Ritalin so much on its too-lively children or of fixing people into life-long dependency on pharmaceuticals, and claims to be able to detect “behavioral troubles” at three years of age: because the hypothesis of the “I” is cracking everywhere.