Media Blog #8 – My Identity!

This really needs some cleaning up.

Analyse your identity. Is your identity self selected or imposed? What is it based on… bodily attributes? patterns of cultural consumption? location? or anything else?

What am I? That depends! What do I think I am? A lot of things! What do you think I am? I don’t know, you tell me! I can have a guess though.

Identity is a conduit between the self and the other – it bridges the gap between our private and public selves. The other could be considered a technology of the self – a living mirror in which we attempt to reflect our ideal selves. By Foucault’s account this “care for the self” is undertaken with the assistance of a public: the dialogical public of the mentor, the popular public of society, the abstract public of God. The presence of this public prompts a self-surveillance which blurs the line between “self-selected” and “imposed” identifiers – it is an imposed self-selection. I work within degrees of freedom – legality, normativity, availability, possibility. I can’t come to the tutorial naked, I’d get arrested! So I put on some clothes. This “self-selected or imposed” thing is a false dichotomy! I own these clothes, I feel compelled to wear them, but there is an element of choice – I decide which of these clothes I want to wear and how. I could come to the tutorial shirtless or I could come wearing my Mother’s dress, but I’d suffer judgement from myself in the form of an abstracted public  – “I wonder what that girl would think of me if I wore these authentic Versace jeans” – this is the ‘reflexive project’ of the self – and from I’d suffer judgement from a more immanent public if I decided to leave the house. But I can work with this, I can take what’s available and turn it into something which will convey myself to others – I can produce an oeuvre, I can wear jeans or I can wear shorts, I can wear tight clothes or I can wear loose clothes – I can construct an ensemble, I can create an assemblage of colours, shapes, textures, fabrics which convey some element of myself to others. I can work with constraint.

Conversely, there is a self-selected imposition of identifiers. Let’s say I want to get a tattoo on my forehead. I get the tattoo – it’s there now whether I like it or not. I have self-selected a tattoo to be imposed upon myself by the tattoo artist. I may have some idea what getting a tattoo means to others – I’m dangerous, I’m wild, I’m out of control! But the meaning of this identifier has been imposed upon me – I do not decide what the identifier means, only the degree to which I want to opt into it – the degree to which I take advantage of these technologies of the self. Of course, we can change the meaning of identifiers through work – disjunction, association, negation. I know combing my hair to the side will reflect my natural confidence. I produce my external self such that it reflects my internal self.

But what is my identity based on? That depends! As During says, “not all identities carry equal weight in particular circumstances… The relative weight of identities changes across time and space”. I think During neglects agency and I disagree with a lot of what he says – we have the power to choose which features will be used to identify us, the distinction between “given” and “chosen” identities seems arbitrary and counterproductive – I can choose to identify myself as having a mixed heritage, a Scandinavian heritage, an Australian heritage, an Irish, English, Welsh, French or Portugese heritage. I can choose to emphasise all or none of these identifiers. This is in part because I’m a straight white male – none of those identities are really called into question – they’re hegemonic. I can choose to emphasise the role of my father or my mother in my development, I can choose to emphasise all or none of my names, some combination of my names, given or invented names, potential names. I can choose to juxtapose these names and I can choose to emphasise different names to different degrees, I can choose to emphasise my name as a whole, “[BLANK]”. I can choose to emphasise my masculinity. Part of my identity is that I have huge muscles – I can wear loose clothes and conceal them or I could walk around flexing at people and saying “welcome to the gun show!!!”. Identities can be concealed, exposed, juxtaposed, disjuncted. What does it mean that I love French philosophy and have huge muscles? What does it mean when I put those facts next to each other? In ancient Greece, “physical beauty, paired with a well – developed mind, was the epitome of masculine virtue”1. But we’re not in ancient Greece! We’re here, now, and it means something different. It’s unusual now – the Greek gymnasium served as a place where young men could get together and work out while discussing literature, music and philosophy – it was a place where masculine beauty and intelligence went hand in hand. But what do we have to tie those things together now? Our contemporary technologies of the self offer no clear way to link the two together. This isn’t to say it’s not possible – I could get a bunch of my friends to sign up for the gym and we could sit around talking about music and books – but they’re not things we’d typically associate with each other.

Taking that into account, how do I identify myself? I want to contrast my “ARTS1090 Tutorial” identity with my identity at large – I want to explain how and why they differ. Firstly, I’m very tired by the time I get to my ARTS1090 tutorial – I’ve just been through 3 hours of classes, it’s Friday, I had to get up at 6, I got home at 8 the previous night. I talk way too much in all my other tutorials, but I barely talk at all in my ARTS1090 one! For whatever reason, I also have a much deeper voice than usual by the time I get to my ARTS1090 tutorial. The way I act in our tutorial doesn’t really convey the joie de vivre which consumes me at all times. Maybe this is because the tutorial isn’t really as social as my other tutorials? No one seems very enthusiastic! I don’t think the structure of the room – also a technology of the self – works with the class discussion format Luke seems to be going for. I think we should rearrange the tables so everyone’s in a circle and we can all talk to each other.

And what does it mean that I decided to mention I love French philosophy? Why would I decide to mention something which connotes “smart guy”? Am I full of myself? In part, yes. But I can back it up! I’m not the kind of guy who says “Oh yeah I’ve got a book of poetry with a publisher” at the beginning of semester and then it never comes up again because I was obviously just trying to make myself look smart, like this one guy in one of my other courses did. If I wanted to appear as though I was something I wasn’t, I’d put a lot of thought into what I said. I’d tell people certain things about myself, truths, half-truths, lies, and I’d try to construct an assemblage of connotation which pointed towards an identity. The language I use has a role in my discursive self. The language used around me has a role in my discursive self. I am simultaneously produced and consumed in my context. Context shapes and is shaped by identity – If people think I like to party, I get invited to lots of parties. If I go to lots of parties, people think I must like to party. Actions speak louder than words!

Notes

1. http://library.thinkquest.org/27850/library/history/greek_philosophy.shtml

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