My memory is my identity: the reason I identify myself as Bryan Ray is that I awoke with Bryan Ray’s memories. And memory is like the text of a play: my consciousness, my self in the present, is informed that its body—which I am to call my body—did such-and-such in the past: and I am expected to continue behaving along the same lines. Possessing a memory is like being assigned a role to act. Every day, I am handed the same role. It makes me mad.
What is my “self”—what am “I”—before the memory intrudes? I mean, in the blob of text above, I tried to explain that my consciousness receives its role from the memory. How and why is this consciousness attached to that which I consider my “self,” before the memory assigns it its working orders? Why am I not ninety zillion different things at once, every morning, before I realize that I am Bryan Ray? How or why does consciousness lock me down to one single being, one single body, even before the memory has its say?
Is what I call “consciousness” another type of memory, a more primitive memory that gives marching orders to something subtler than my fleshy animal? Like: an hypostasis is being told “remember that you are a body” even before it is told “remember that you are the continuing life of Bryan Ray.” I want to know the nature of whatever is being told that it is a body. I want to peel back the layers:
First I subtract from my mind the memories of having lived Bryan Ray’s life, and I find that “underneath” them is a human body reacting to stimuli from within and without, like a border separating hell from hell: this is the thing that I call “my fleshy animal.” Next I subtract the pre-memory stimuli that keeps insisting to my “self” that it is this moving corpse. Having subtracted these elements, what remains is the mist of limitless potential.
But I suspect that this last blob of text is only what my imagination wants to conclude about its “centermost” character. Perhaps at this point language is so helpless that it would be equally true to label the mist as nothing. I mean, you can get to a point where the focus is so delicate that it reconciles the opposition of presence and absence.
The reason I began obsessing in this way is that I wanted to know why it’s so hard to make big changes in life. Why can’t I just wake up and take a bus to New York and get on stage at a club and become a comedian today? I could do it easily—what’s holding me back? Even if I had no time to prepare, I could improvise a set of any duration that would be better than anything anyone had ever performed in the history of stand-up. But my memories seduce me into prudence:
My memories inform me that this body called Bryan is a timid being who keeps to himself and routinely types on a computer—his idea of fun is to watch a movie on disc at home—it would therefore be out of character for him to risk life and limb in the great big city. Plus my fleshy animal warns me with its signature language of pleasure-pain that I am likely to get nervous, hungry, sleepy, etc., etc.… So I decide to remain where I am, to avoid excelling—because I assume that a change in life would mean trouble in life.
Here’s another thing that is stupid about my tendency to heed the advice of my fearful instincts. These memories always claim to be guiding me away from potential trouble. But am I experiencing a trouble-free life at present? Is anyone? It seems that every individual life is fraught with trouble. Trouble is the name of the game. It’s like sin: it’s the condition of existence. If you’re alive, you’re sinning. If you’re living, you’re definitely in trouble.
All of this reminds me of “The Burrow” (“Der Bau”) by Franz Kafka. Please read that text and weep for me, because I am its subject.