Fly on the Wall—Being Ourselves

When Words Don't Work to Express our Essence

As our identities shed skins of past selves our learning proceeds apace.  We’re never quite the same student we were last year or back in our days as a younger, perhaps more dogmatic, scholar.  Imagination and play at AU are only a study break away and, really, the flexibility to take flight from drudgery is what makes distance education a superior choice for so many of us.  We’re not bound and constrained and muzzled by the facts of sitting in a classroom day in and day out.  This allows us to embody Nietzsche’s slogan “there are no facts, only interpretations.”  Instead of a laundry list of reality we can embody a fuller flourishing of our academic identities.  At AU, we are literally our own models of academic progress—within reason, of course!

Each moment of lifelong learning embodies a new glow, a special sacred shimmer, to our being in the world, such that we are never the same thinker even from moment to moment.  Even within a single present tense our thoughts congeal and slither and writhe such that we can’t completely type or speak what we feel and mean.  It’s no wonder music is said to soothe the savage beast, the beast is our all-too-civilized, yet utterly uncouth desire to limit our inspiration as angelic human creatures.  Language constricts even as it claims to dispense meaning.  We can express ourselves in many ways, and also fail grandly.  This fact was orated wonderfully by the Renaissance thinker, Pico della Mirandola, at the tender age of 23: “man’s (sic) place in the universe is somewhere between the beasts and the angels, but, because of the divine image planted in him, there are no limits to what man can accomplish.

Every moment has divine elements if we get used to looking at life that way; our very essence is more abundant than we can consciously imagine.  And so even the dullest of study material contains kernels of potential enlightenment, if we only remember that we will proudly look back at our stamina and fortitude in the face of an endless onslaught of contract dates and essay deadlines.  Sometimes anticipation is retroactive; when we imagine our future proud selves we’re already closer to our goals.  Success is a feeling more than a phrase.  Being here now is what language struggles to give a face to, and perhaps that is why the poet Allen Ginsberg wrote that “it is you and me who are perfect, not the next world!

Deconstruct to Put Together a More Glorious Abode of Self

Jacques Derrida notes that we must deconstruct our essence while realizing that we the thinkers doing the analysis are ourselves naturally fragmented and polysemic, inevitably camouflaged by our context and embedded in our environment.   “The determination of ‘absolute subjectivity’ would … have to be crossed out as soon as we think the present on the basis of difference, and not the reverse.  The concept of subjectivity belongs a priori and in general to the order of the constituted (rather than the constituting) …There is no constituting subjectivity.  The very concept of constitution itself must be deconstructed” (Derrida in Spivak lxxii).

The illusion of identity solidity is just that: a convenient fiction that places us within our chosen life narrative.  AU is one of many, sometimes seemingly incommensurate, versions of our self.  Yet true critical openness and honesty with ourselves requires us to realize that we are not simply acquiring facts and knowledge but that we are actively participating in the arousal of hitherto-obscured intellectual instincts.  We’re learning more than we can know and simultaneously unearthing new aspects of our fluid self.  The trick is to keep our proverbial eyes peeled and not have our nose too close the perpetual grindstone of progress.

Streams and Being, We Are the Flow That Knows Not All It Knows

When we lose ourselves to the stream of awareness that precedes any words, we become aware more fully in the moment; cyber-shelves of self-help books on mindfulness use words even as, perhaps, the ultimate being-there is utterly unspeakable.  The point of academic progress is to describe our learning in words while also appreciating the unspeakable accomplishments we are gathering along our study journey.  AU makes us who we are, even as we make our way through the meadows of life as a whole.  Instead of being swallowed whole by one incident after another, we grow and learn and gain priceless wisdom otherwise termed “perspective.”

Our studies are one facet of our burgeoning identities, but this all depends upon openness rather than enclosure.  Meaning is flexible and often elides right and wrong answers that slither through and out of us and slides without abject certainty.  The practicality of language melts away as soon as we notice that only small flashes of our rich inner ecosystem of self gain the light of day with conscious thought and linguistic expression.  Simply by attempting to describe our learning we often realize just how foreign our academic selves are to the rest of our identity, the one others know us as.

We cannot even know all of ourselves and our potential, and certainly others can only read a part of us, our hopes and our dreams, our motivations and inspirations.  Our essence belies the facts of our life; at AU this is particularly true as we may struggle to describe what, exactly, we’re learning and have to resort to snippets and generalizations.  In a broader way, the real shock of education is that the more we know, the more uncertainties unfold.  What lurks next is up to us to find out, if we have the temerity and focus to keep on studying and growing as adult students.

Derrida, J.  (1967) In In Spivak, G.  (2016).  ‘Translator’s Preface’, Derrida, J (1967).  Of Grammatology.  Baltimore: Johns Hopkins.
Ginsberg, A.  (1956).  ‘America’.  Poetry Foundation.  Retrieved from
Nietzsche, F.  (1844-1900).  ‘Friedrich Nietzsche Quotes’.  BrainyQuote.  Retrieved from
Pico della Mirandola, G.  (1486).  ‘Giovanni Pico della Mirandola Quotes’.  Retrieved from
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