sue watling

I’m easily distracted. Show me an assignment title and I’ll find something unconnected. Like Enneagrams, not the nine-sided star polygon but the nine personality types theory. You can test yourself here. Thanks to Google it’s clear that enneagram personalities are polymorphic in nature. Interpretation varies depending on the intention of the author (although Barthes would disagree).  Even Wikipedia  calls for more clarification on its Enneagram of Personality page. My main personality type is 5 and my highest behavioural tendency is detachment with 90%.  Detachment has multiple meanings.

Fluidity is at the core of semiotics. The more you try to pin something down the more unstable it becomes. The nature of truth and knowledge shifts from ‘reliable’ to at best an agreed consensus of meaning; one that’s continually shifting and open to reinterpretation. As a result, that which we need to rely on such as our identity, and our place and purpose in the world,  become equally unstable. We are produced in and by the subject of language; or are we? Enneagrams bring me back to my starting point. How useful is the ‘subject of language’ approach in helping understand identity?

The danger with any analysis of identity is the shifting sands scenario; we live within a framework of social discourse that encourages behaviour without question. Take gender; babies are sexed with a cursory glance at the genitals then the weight of social construction kicks in. Dress a baby boy in a pink and it will be universally assumed ‘he’ is a little girl. These powerful beliefs rest on perceived biological difference with no reference to individualism; do we ask our children how they feel? We take the sex/gender dichotomy for granted. It’s only when you encounter ambiguous genitalia or transgender personality that you realise all may not be what it seems. The core of our identity is constructed for us.

Language is a tool and like any tool it’s how you use it that counts. Without language we would need to explore alternatives. Sara Maitland  describes six weeks in a remote cottage on Skye in the pursuit of silence. The book brings together accounts of other experiences from Antarctic explorers to round the world lone sailors; those who have experienced long periods away from people and the sounds of civilisation. These suggest that once we move beyond language there are other inexplicable ways of being; ways we don’t have the appropriate words to explain. This suggests that what we know is constrained by what we can describe. The world still exists for the deaf and blind but is experienced in a different way. Reality is not constructed by language; only interpreted by it and through it. There is still much that is missing; experiences where language becomes inadequate or culturally specific like the French jouissance. The ‘subject of language’ approach may be useful in the study of identity but navigation through the dense theory doesn’t tell the whole story. Language is not only fraught with instability, it’s inadequate too;   some of the most intense lived experiences are those which are the hardest ones to find the words to describe.



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