Search results for "selfhood "

The question of identity

Author: joe

Tuesday, 20 November, 2012 - 22:09

One of the concerns that arises in the analysis of the relationship between selfhood and computerised media is a focus on authenticity. There is a tension that arises between the various personae that people are able to adopt in any given situation and the centripetal force that unites them in some supposed inner core. The relative status of these different personae - the extent to which they have fidelity with respect to the "primary source" of the "inner core", or the extent to which they perhaps mislead other inter-actors as to the true nature of that "real person", or even threaten the supposed integrity of the authentic self, is instantiated in the very functionality and interface of the computer screen which permits the same "logged-in, authenticated user" to adopt pseudonymous guises in online environments that can be slipped in and out of, framed as they are by windows one can "cycle through".

The people that Turkle describes, who find in the windowed interface a serendipitous enactment of their sense of their plural selves might, as Zizek puts it, be enabled to "discover new aspects of 'me', a wealth of shifting identities, of masks without a 'real' person behind them". In the postmodern world of simulation, where we as subjects trust in the fantasies presented on the digital screen rather than become modernist masters of the inner workings of the device, (the technics), instead we should "endorse this 'dissemination' of the unique self into a multiplicity of competing agents, into a 'collective mind'" and appropriate the logic of the "'decentred' subject".

Zizek provides a number of analogies for thinking about the efficacy of the production or construction of the decentred self, albeit that it might involve an "immanent violence and arbitrariness" since it has no authentic hinterland to which it must pay some sort of deference. Capra's film "Meet John Doe" portrays a character who adopts a "fake identity" but learns to adopt the subject position that the role demands of its actor. The cultural landscape is awash with imaginative explorations of the consequences of identity play, and in many of those story experiments, the narrative is resolved only when the protagonist learns to accept the identity which was at first mere play or a reluctant contingency. In "Sommersby", the interloper who adopts the identity of Jack demonstrates the fullness of his sincerity by accepting the penalty of death that is its price. The transience of identity necessary for persons to "become someone else" has its corollary in the tradition of fictions in which disguised characters become the object of some lover's affection, only for those affections to switch target as the disguise is revealed or passed along: in Twelfth Knight, Olivia easily accepts Sebastian as a husband despite having fallen in love with his disguised sister Viola, suggesting that accepting someone for who they appear to be is a perfectly adequate strategy.

Such ways of thinking about the self are clearly in contrast to traditional conceptions in which an authentic, continuous self acts as a guarantor of identity. Odysseus' testing of Penelope by adopting a disguise is an early instance of the depiction of a "true" identity which should be immune to the vicissitudes of changing circumstance or outer appearance. Woolf's “Orlando” is another case where a distinct and unitary identity both survives and underpins a shifting collection of personae and genders, adopted in dramatic episodic shifts. The protagonist's picaresque adventures are intertwined with the trope of 'The Oak Tree', the work which Orlando eventually completes, and which acts both as the "spine of the earth" and as the embodiment of change as it "flowered and faded so often", as it had over many years, "put forth its leaves and shaken them to the ground".

Erving Goffman provides useful tools for thinking about the shifting personae that we adopt. Using a dramaturgical model as the context for understanding interpersonal interactions, Goffman suggests that in any given situation we are actors on stage, a context which entails the existence of an audience whose observation of us is a primary structuring factor in our self-awareness. While on such stages, we stick to particular scripts - those we have learned, through normal processes of socialisation, which are appropriate to the context.

Such performances, enacted under the consciousness of observation, occur where Goffman calls front ‘stage’ or ‘region’ – the situation in which ‘act out’ the appropriate sorts of behaviours that we know are expected of us. Distinct from the ‘front’ region is a corresponding ‘back’ region – where alternative modes of performance can occur. Note though that this ‘back-stage’ situation need not be thought of as the refuge of the true or authentic inner self which can express itself away from the gaze of the audience: the back region is rather ambiguous, since it is commonly co-habited by fellow-performers who are also part of our ‘team’, also ‘letting their hair down’; and it is also a place where habituation can result in back-stage scripts becoming every bit as socialised in our behaviour as the formulae we follow front-stage. The back can be though of as just another front.

This dramaturgical metaphor opens the way to anti-essentialist conceptions of selfhood: contrary to traditional notions of the dimensions of our identity that have been considered to be stable, material and inescapable - sexuality, gender, kinship, race – not to mention the tangible common sense that we ‘are who we are’ (‘I am that I am’) – there is no inner core as such, but a constantly evolving and self-monitoring sense of self whose coherence is the subject of constant vigilence – either of ourselves or of circumscribing institutional and social apparatuses and their many ‘techniques’. It is only in the light of such possibilities that Butler could articulate the trouble with gender, and suggest that discursive formations of selfhood are anterior to the traditional material considerations of physiology and instrumental knowledge practices.


Categories: identity, performance, authenticity, front, back, queer theory, Goffman, Turkle, Zizek, Butler, Foucault, selfhood,
Comments: 2

Selfhood and blind-spots

Author: joe

Monday, 01 August, 2011 - 23:46

On the subject of identity, and who we should declare ourselves to be: Every time I sit down to write something I am fumbling in the dark, striving to establish where and who I am - what is my subject-position. In writing I work out where I am writing from, and who it is that is writing. No-one has the right to demand I mark out my position before I have spoken. If we all knew our assumptions and blind-spots before we opened our gobs, we would all be wasting our breath.

Giovanni Tiso at Bat Bean Beam puts it very well:

Are you gay, disabled, kinky or an anarchist? You need to find yourself a nice little community of like-minded or like-bodied people with whom to discuss your marginal concerns. For everything else, you must sign your real name and constrain your personality and opinions to suit – in other words, be the kind of person who can speak their mind without the slightest fear of repercussion or unintended consequence.
 
In other-other words: keep the most distasteful bits of who you are the hell out of my feed.
 
Giovanni Tiso, 1 August 2011, True Names, [http://bat-bean-beam.blogspot.com/2011/08/true-names.html]

Giovanni reminds me becoming myself is more than merely about me - a personal freedom; but in fact, becoming myself is a political act, which reverberates through the world around me. It greets, challenges, insults and comforts other people, also becoming themselves. Where would we be without the cushion of ambiguity, the ability to be reflexive enough to reassess, to shift our position?

A human being is a synthesis of the infinite and the finite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity. In short a synthesis. A synthesis is a relation between to terms. Looked at this way, a human being is not yet a self [...] Despair is not a result of imbalance, but of the relation which relates to itself. And the relaiton to himself is something a human being cannot be rid of, just as little as he can be rid of himself, which for that matter is one and the same thing, since the self is indeed, the relation to oneself.
 
Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death

Since my writing is my communicative action, it produces me, and is one of the means whereby I relate to myself - which is Kierkegaard's description of selfhood - the relating of the self to itself: hence the self is not a permanent essential thing, but something constantly achieved, in the jaws of despair.

Bora Zivkovic, 1 August 2011, Identity – what is it really? [http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/a-blog-around-the-clock/2011/08/01/identity-what-is-it-really/]
Alex Hudson, 28 July 2011, Why does Google+ insist on having your real name? [http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-14312047]
Chester Wisniewski, 27 July 2011, Google+ misses an opportunity - Privacy is an important part of openness, [http://nakedsecurity.sophos.com/2011/07/27/google-misses-an-opportunity-privacy-is-an-important-part-of-openness/]
Tim Carmody, 26 July 2011, Google+ Identity Crisis: What’s at Stake With Real Names and Privacy, [http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2011/07/google-plus-user-names]
Dave Winer, 25 July 2011, Why Google cares if you use your real name, [http://scripting.com/stories/2011/07/25/whyGoogleCaresIfYouUseYour.html]

Categories: selfhood, identity, google, kierkegaard,
Comments: 0

Self-placebo

Author: joe

Thursday, 28 July, 2011 - 20:33

"Self-tracking" is the meeting of lifelogging and self-measurement: to capture and record every moment of existence, and to transform it all into meaningful units of analysis. "Hey, I'm self-tracking, I hope you don't mind", I might say as I paid the cashier, spoke to my co-worker, confessed my ailments to my doctor. I transfer my rushes to the second terabyte network drive, but I don't stop to edit. Do I pause my life to log it?

And what do I quantify? Physiological measurements are the easiest place to start, since the physiological self is that which is already registered, enumerated, quantified and counted. I count! And then the psychological self - my moods come and go in finite quanta, and sustain for certain durations. I live and last! And my lifeworld, my phenomenality? Well there, I am in the service of my archive. I am a devotee of the annals, I am my own traces, now made tangible. The more I am numerable, the more I am remedied by numbers.

Self-tracking: in that peculiar concatenated phrase, marrying selfhood and assessment, is foreshortened an arborescent branching of a myriad canyons, each chasm an ellipsis. From this distance it is beautiful, the fractal of my life. Up close, I merely count the gaps - the irreducible can be reduced in this way. It is the lifeworld equivalent of a "close door" button in the lift: a cosmetic affordance which is sufficient to my requirements for control.

Kelly, K., 26 June 2011, "The Quantified Self", [kk.org]
 
Ross, G., 4 November 2010, "Placebo Buttons", [futilitycloset.com]
 
Silberman, S., 24 August 2009, "Placebos Are Getting More Effective. Drugmakers Are Desperate to Know Why", [wired.com]
 
Wolf, G., 22 June 2009, "Know Thyself: Tracking Every Facet of Life, from Sleep to Mood to Pain, 24/7/365", [wired.com]

Categories: placebo, selfhood, measurement, self-tracking, lifelogging,
Comments: 0