The Artificial “I”

(From my book Narrative Madness, which can be acquired at or on Amazon.)

All names are fictions, including the one that is closest to myself, that intimate name of names, my name for myself. For even the precious word “I” – which rises like a monolith above my head, promising singularity and unity – is an invented word, not a natural concept.

“I” is not a person. “I” is a letter. “I” is a word. Letters and words carry with them traces of their history, tracks that lead back in time, in the shapes of the letters and the derivations of the words. Our letter comes from the Egyptian pictogram of an arm, representing the long-”A” sound, later incorporated into the proto-Semitic language because their word for arm started with that sound (as ours does). Perhaps we can read a connection here between self and action. A derivation of the letter can be found in most Semitic alphabets. The letter Yud – Yodh, Yod, Ye or Jodh – is the tenth letter in Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, Persian and Arabic. In Hebrew, two Yud in a row represent Adonai, a name of God. Mystical significance is attached to this divine name because it is formed from the smallest letter.

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I am the One the Writer of This Sentence is Referring to

Who is I? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “I” is “used by the speaker or writer to refer to himself or herself.” Simple enough, but let’s think this out. The dictionary says that “I” is “used by the speaker or writer,” implying that “I” and “the speaker or writer” are not the same. How can this be? Well, one is a word and the other is a person. That “I” appears in the dictionary proves that “I” is a written or spoken symbol. Okay, so? The problem is that we confuse ourselves with that symbol. I think I am the “I.”

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