When Theory Meets Life and Writing: Identity's Catch-22

In honor of my return to school (and my impending Theory class) I’d like to consider how literature and the act of writing bleed over into that odd realm called “real-life” (although neither are really separate in any sense but the academic).

Much literature deals with IDENTITY in some way shape or form. Characters discover themselves or realize their identities are false and, as a corollary, good authors usually construct complex and conflicted characters whose identities are anything but unitary and holistic.

In theory, society has come to realize that identity isn’t a simple label. It’s conflicted, fragmentary, and constantly shifting in response to life. Literary theory deals with this conundrum by exploring the ways in which mimicry and culture form the basis of identity.

In an ironic twist of conceptualization, “knowing” one’s identity really means realizing that there is NO SUCH THING as a solidified, fixed identity. Being self-aware is to be aware that self has blurry and shifting boundaries associated with friends, relatives, social groups, and even the books we read, movies we watch, and music we listen to.

Truth is stranger than fiction, because, as has been said many times, fiction HAS to make sense. So how do we deal with this ambiguous and abstract identity as authors? How do you create a recognizable character without completely disregarding the ambiguity of identity, and how do you account for said ambiguity without completely obfuscating your character?

I don’t have an answer for these questions, I just think they’re something to keep in mind while writing. Maybe being aware of the conundrum is enough. Who knows.

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