Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Identity Issues; Selected Quotes

1 When we remember remembering, [it] is already autobiography in the making. And this making, this mapping of our lives in time, I like to think helps us to keep track of who we are.

Paul John Eakin (170)

2 Belief in individualism, which seems to authorize our confidence in our freedom to think, to act, to be what we want, to say who we are, needs to be measured against the constraints of culture that condition or otherwise set our possibilities. (103)

3 The Internet and the World Wide Web are creating radically new opportunities for self-presentation, and perhaps, some observe then, new modes of selfhood as well. Jefferey Wallen's investigation of online journals or weblogs, for example, lead him to speculate that 'the contemporary 'self ' is in important ways discontinuous with what existed at earlier times." His findings parallel those of the French autobiography critic Philippe Lejeune, whom he quotes as follows; "The self [moi] is not an atemporal essence altered today by disastrous technical progress, has always been shaped by the evolution of medias" (Lejeune, Cher ecran 240).

4 Blogs, online journals, home page, photo album video clip /Facebook/MySpace

87% 12-17 year olds have uploaded into these Internet systems. (95)

5 Predictably, the social world of cyberspace seems to have developed its own version of the rule-governed narrative identity system [described in chapter 1]. (95)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Truth About Lying

When is it okay to lie? In autobiography and memoir, there has to be some fictional creation to fill in for memory lapse, some omission to smooth out the story, some changing of detail to protect privacy...but when is enough enough? Looking at all the fact checking that Jamaica Kincaid has undergone, all the interview questions about her fiction being autobiography and her autobiography really being fiction, the significance of this question is readily apparent. It's significance is not lost on Kincaid because she intentionally draws the readers attention to facts and muddied truth. What is it about her that makes the reader give her permission to alter the truth or pretend the fiction is not truth? Kincaid is portrayed as a young woman who has grown up in a country that had very little resources; this idea of a success story is appealing to an American reading audience; it's the rags to riches story-even if the riches are moderate. It's the proof that with wit and will, you can overcome obstacles in life. Kincaid carries with her this embodiment of the success story, even as she resist it. She criticizes the United States but characterizes the United Kingdom as comparatively worse. One reason is that in the US you are allowed to reinvent yourself whereas in the UK you always must deal with the limiting pressures of class. Kincaid refers to the UK as "the old suitcase" meaning that nothing fresh or possible can happen there, change is slow. Also. Kincaid has stated that its acceptable to criticize the United States within the country because there is a tradition of self[-examination there. Further, Kincaid fits within the model of one who has a right to confront colonial systems and the historical aftershocks because she grew up under a British colonial education system,which makes her a suitable spokesperson within the genre. Her biographical facts lend credibility to -her tactics, the reader questions her purpose for self-reference? Carte blanc permission is given to change the details, shift the names, invent facts because: She must have a reason for the disparities in her facts. She's confusing on purpose. What is her purpose?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Narrative and Identity

Seriously, what a topic! The author, Paul John Eakin, approaches the study of autobiography in his new book, Living Autobiographically; How we Create Identity in Narrative with the following four chapters: (1) Talking about Ourselves: the Rules of the Game (2) Autobiographical Consciousness: Body, Brain, Self, and Narrative (3) Identity Work: People Making Stories and (4) Living Autobiographically.

For now, I will select material that focuses on a general question:

Who writes what..and what can be written? Later (or soon?---sooner or later!) I will address how these questions impact the reader of Jamaica Kincaid and the writer herself. On a personal level, these questions impact me as I write an autobiographically driven blog so I think about them every day.

I'm interested in autobiographical writers and the writing of autobiography because the genre places great decision making pressure on the author beginning with the question, who should write an autobiography or memoir? Once someone, the new author or the seasoned author, begins the process of writing, a slew of questions come up. What can I say? Who will be offended by this story? What should I cut or add for narrative flow, aesthetic, and literary reasons? And the most pressing question, what should I hide for privacy reasons?

Eakin begins with the idea that we talk about ourselves everyday, that we create stories in our minds even if we don't share them with others.
Two ways of looking at identity, episodic and continuous, are pointed to as in conflict with each other. Later, it seems to decide that both are really present...though he favors continuous.
What does that mean? When a person's identity is episodic, they are able to have a fresh start new identity without reference to the past...where she came from, who her parents were, ...the starting event can occur whenever...Eaken writes about a medically disabled person, who has to decide who he is every day. He can't remember the past and so is stuck in a cycle of self story creation. (Sounds like 50 First Dates, the movie) And too, he mentions a person who (Episcopalian) who choses to be new through spirit, I suppose. A continuous identity begins from the past and changes/shifts from that reference point. Reading about this makes me think about how these two ways of framing identity are implicated in notions of re-making identity through narrative.

Jamaica Kincaid changed her name and her vision of who she was in the world by moving from her home, observing how people live, writing about her insights and providing wittily bold opinions. Nonetheless, she continued to mark the place of her birth and circumstances as the genesis of who she became. She remade herself but in a continuous manner...however, that story of beginning in Antigua was contained by the actual life, she stopped communicating with her mother for 20 years...she didn't send back money as was expected. She had a sense that her connection would bring her down or back to who she was and that was too psychologically dangerous. She has stated in her interview (insert) that she stopped communication with her family, and in Lucy she writes about the girl who won't read her family letters and will not write back. I think that narrative, the story about our lives, is continuous but in working out a new identity sometimes the past must be contained. People do this by lying about where they came from and about what happened as they were growing up. Even in their new recreated identity, they may have to lie to maintain who they currently are and even what they do.
Interestingly, Eaken puts forth the idea that there are rules that constrain the narrative and hold it to an idea of objective truth. I think Kincaid felt that her family would not support the reinvention of herself...and the stories she told in the form of writing and speech (interviews) helped her to figure out who she was and how she came to be. They also created space from that time when she lived in Antigua to the time she became her new self in the eastern United States. This containment strategy has an element of the episodic, Old Elaine Cynthia Potter Richardson/New Jamaica Kincaid, and also includes continuous identity formation because her starting point is frequently referenced. The reader never forgets where Kincaid was raised and her difficult circumstances. Who Kincaid became is based a beginning subsequent events.
Who does the policing for truth in memoir...who gives permission to invent and where is the objectively verifiable truth line much can be created by making the memoir, filling in the dialogue when Kincaid was four in Mr. Potter: the event of seeing her biological father is repeated and detailed even though it is unlikely that she could remember it to that extent. One reviewer was critical of this detail. His unbelief in the memory for Kincaid's detail and its significance to her is part of an attempt to police. Foucault refers to those who police institutions but Eaken mentions society as the controlling force. (check) I think this example supports the notion of society policing and also shows how it can be done to an author through a book review.

Eakin, Paul John. Living Autobiographically in Narrative Identity. Ithaca, NY; Cornell University Press 2008.