Collective identities. Overcoming the ego to be “us”

From: MaTerre. Matera European Capital of Culture 2019 project, April 3, 2019.

1. The collective identities are expressed to the first plural person. But the “We” is not only the multiplication, the diffusion of the concentrated singularity of the “I”.

While we affirm, reflexively, as community, the We always defines itself, transversally, by comparison with “You” and “They”.
An example: let’s try to conjugate the verb /to believe/: “We believe” is affirmative of a certainty, “You believe” advances some doubts, “They believe” claims that they are wrong.
Self-representation inevitably passes through the image of Us that is returned to us by others.Therefore, to identify with ourselves, to recognize ourselves as ourselves, it is not enough to proclaim ourselves unique or multiple by tradition or historical past, we must always deal with the “Outsider”: the You of the Other and of the Stranger, the They of the Foreigner and the Alien.
According to the original sociologist Norbert Elias, pronouns are not only “lice of thought” – as C. E. Gadda wrote – but “social representations” that imply very different regimes of identification, each with its own cognitive and emotional value.
“You”, like “Us”, are personal and reversible in point of view and speech, but “They” is impersonal. Therefore every personal pronoun involves the topical of its own places.
To the “Here” of “Us” it corresponds the “There” of “You” – the next one that concerns us is the “Over There” of “Them” – the distant one of which we want to be irresponsible.
Between the “We” and the “You”, intersubjective reversibility allows the investment of value, therefore love and hate, altruism and egoism, while the impersonality of the relationship with “Them” ensures indifference.

2. This transitive identity, which is a narration of actions and passions, can breakdown and disarticulate in front of the pathos of alteration and alienation.

Dealing with places of memory, official political speeches and certain history books, the We becomes privative, invents traditions, puts its roots in autochthony – the Greek term (Euripides!) meaning that men would be born from “their” own land.
Therefore the nationalist, who’s an active semiologist, has multiplied all kinds of identifying signs: dictionaries and imaginaries – prontuaries of images – maps and flags, coats of arms and uniforms, myths and ceremonies, hymns and monuments.
To counter him, it is not enough to qualify him as the missing link between man and monkey, as Hassidim Jews did. Israel docet! Or mock the sovereignist as a “comic opera singer”. The Mediterranean has deep graveyards!
Against this “We” privative who refuses or ignores the dialogue with the Allochthonous – as the Dutch call it – the good feelings of which the streets of hell are notoriously paved, are not enough. It is not enough to define a patriot, which is “for”, while the sovereign is “against”. It’s even not enough to multiply the exclamation marks after the inoperative and magnanimous calls for human rights, fraternity, and equality. At risk, among other things, to exchange the “Same” with the
“Identical”, that is the “Universal” of ethical and political values ​​with the globalized “Uniform” of economic and cultural consumption.
Cultures, this theory asserts, would be uninterrupted creations, re-creations and negotiations on the imaginary boundaries between Us and Others.

OK, what to do? In order not to remain between us, but among us and the others, transitive identity requires to translate the Us into the close “You” and far “They”, in all languages ​​and in all systems of signs. (For Eco, the author of “Saying (almost) the same thing”, the language of Europe is not English but the translation!).
Keeping in mind that the good translations are not those “faithful”, but those that enrich languages ​​and cultures, of departure and arrival, of “source” and “destination”. As the sociolinguists say: building “frames of participation” and multiplying the “located collaborative adjustments” to obtain hybridizations and creolizations. We must therefore multiply cultural mediators, linguistic passers-by, diplomats attentive to mutual meanings, all of whom favor duplicity, in all senses of the term. Not without paying attention to the unknowns of duplicity that can become resources in moments of change and transformation: renegades, veterans, infiltrators, double agents, traitors and impostors. In short, the privative identity of the claimed “autochtons” in every transitional and liminal moment must be disengaged. And every opportunity should be seized; like the one that plays Matera, as the European City of Culture.

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