Thursday, 29 April 2010

Two Publications in One Week

Many thanks this week to Steve O'Brien, editor of London Magazine, for publishing my reviews of Amnesty International's short story anthology Freedom, and Hassan Blasim's collection The Madman of Freedom Square.  Thanks also to Marlow Peerse Weaver for publishing my story Bastard in volume 8 of the series In Our Own Words: A Generation Defining Itself

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Personal Identity and the Formation of a Concept of Self

One of the things that I’m exploring, in both my novel and in my thesis, is the idea of identity: what it is; how it is developed; and how it changes throughout a person’s life. This search for self-discovery is a common theme in fiction, particularly so where issues of race are involved. Sherman Alexie, for instance, has built his whole career on writing about characters who are caught between two cultures, trying to find out who they are, who they ally themselves with, and where they fit into the world they inhabit.

Sociologists tell us that identity can be described in a number of ways, including as an external perception of the individual by those around him, as a contrast to an Other, and as the individual’s own perception of self. Though these definitions are interconnected, for the purposes of this discussion I will primarily focus on the last.

There are many factors which contribute to our perception of self, including nationality, race, gender, social class, occupation, family position, personality traits, age, religion, and political allegiance. Each of these factors will have a greater or lesser degree of importance to each individual, playing a greater or lesser role in the way in which the individual sees himself.

Some of these factors, such as ethnicity and gender, are genetically imposed upon us at birth, and only through extreme measures like gender reassignment, can they be altered. Some, such as age, occupation, education, and family position change naturally over the course of a lifetime. Many others, including nationality and political allegiance, are subject to voluntary change. On a physical level, one can choose, or at least affect the appearance of, hair and skin color, and the shape of one’s body. In addition, there are factors which may come and go during our lives, such as involvement with social groups and activities. Sometimes these involvements are short-lived or ephemeral, particularly when they are inspired by celebrity or fashion. Often, however, when these involvements become true passions, they become as much a part of who we are as those factors we inherit, possibly more so because we have chosen them and desire to be seen as belonging to a group of like-minded adherents.

In the modern world, one can choose to align oneself with any number of options, developing and reinventing identities at different points in life. One can choose to be a member of the Women’s Institute, a Goth, a Christian, a supporter of Manchester United, a writer, a cyclist, a care giver, a rugby player, a Conservative, or indeed any combination of an almost unlimited number of possible identities. In his essay, ‘Popular culture and construction of postmodern identities’, Douglas Kellner writes that identity has become complicated by an ever-increasing number of options. The expanded possibilities with which people, today, are faced can lead to anxiety ‘[f]or one is never certain that one has made the right choice, that one has chosen one’s “true” identity’ (p142).