Wednesday, February 3, 2010

How coherent are we talking here?

“Readers often conceive of autobiographical narrators as telling unified stories of their lives, as creating or discovering coherent selves. But both the unified story and the coherent self are myths of identity. For there is no coherent ‘self’ that predates stories about identity, about ‘who’ one is” (Smith and Watson 47).

The longer I look at this, the more I agree and the less I understand. Does that make sense? Probably not. My mind is constantly going off in multiple directions. Which is possibly what Smith and Watson are trying to get at. Nothing, when it comes to the self, is ever that clear.

So this “myth of identity” thing. That seems pretty accurate. Whether or not we really choose to think about it this way, our identities are formed just as much by who we are as by who we are not – the fact that I am not every other person on this Earth in some minute way must contribute to me being who I am. Right? Well maybe, but I’m not sure that’s my argument.

In terms of this ‘unified story’ business, it kind of does have to be a myth. Can any of us look back on our lives and see everything clearly, chronologically, without that haze of uncertainty about what happened when and with whom and whether or not that one conversation was actually a dream? Beyond that, our lives don’t just move in one straight line. They’re interwoven with the stories of others. People filter in and out of our lives (and the other way around), and while all this makes life more interesting, it makes presenting an entirely unified story of one’s life pretty damn difficult.

And now my favorite part. The ‘coherent self.’ I haven’t the faintest idea what, exactly a coherent self is. I’m fairly certain that I do not have one. Or that it is hiding. Or something. When I think ‘self,’ (at least pertaining to myself) I do not think coherent. We are constantly changing creatures. We become different selves in different situations and with different people. As college students, we can even add another layer by claiming that we’re using this time to “find” ourselves. As previously mentioned, I don’t really know what a coherent self is, but I get the impression that it would involve some level of certainty and stability. That isn’t life. That isn’t identity. Who you are is constantly changing because everything around you is constantly changing. Not everything is relative, but to a certain extent I think identity has to be. Especially if you’re going to try and share your story with others. I can’t tell my story without having some idea of who I am, but an organized schema of my mind and self in relation to my experiences is just not going to happen.

And so I leave you with this rambling drivel that hopefully answers the prompt at least satisfactorily. Identity is a can of worms I find myself opening quite often. Maybe I’m used to it? I no longer shrink back in horror. Sometimes I don’t even sigh. I think I’m beginning to enjoy identity, but sometimes it is just plain exhausting.

And on that note…

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