the who

Who do you think you are?

It’s hard not to hear that question as an interrogation, a challenge. It’s particularly hard when it’s the subtext running through everything I read. Who are we? How has the way we see ourselves changed over generations, cultural epochs? How does being online impact our sense of ourselves?

Studying identity is like peering into a mirror that reflects a thousand mirrors back: it’s dizzying. The big picture I’m trying to cobble together isn’t about me, and yet it’s my own face I see refracted out from the exploration: a disco ball of Bonnies spinning to the tune of of a lot of big theory words. It’s all heady enough without the inevitable personalization the identity lens brings. Grappling with something so big and unwieldy and…well…self-ish does make me wonder who I think am. In a hundred different ways. Which is only really culturally appropriate if one is fourteen and writing bad existential poetry.

And then there’s the motion sickness. I’m at the point in my Ph.D where the bulk of the required, pre-determined coursework is done or on hold, to an extent. I’m in the privileged position of spending many of my waking hours under my own direction, blindly groping – or so it feels – towards vague concepts that excite and intimidate me.

But the more I read, the more the concepts I started with slip from my grasp, and the ground shifts under me.

Part of me feels like this uncertainty is probably good, that my existing thought and belief structures need to be destabilized in order to allow new ideas and concepts to settle somewhere. Part of me balks at how convenient and tidy this sounds, as if I thought my thoughts eventually formed coherent, integrated entities. Ha. Suspicious notion for somebody working with the partiality and fragmentation of poststructural theory.

But then, blushing at being caught out in my wrongthought, I hear the refrain again. Who do you think you are?

Here’s the thing. I have a whole other blog to tell you who I think I am. Here, I’m going to try to tell you who I think YOU are. Or how I think identity works, at this early, slippery, juncture in the sorting process.

I have been sleeping with Judith Butler under my pillow. In book form.

I started this journey because I’m interested in the idea of digital identity, of who we are when we’re online. What it means to “talk” to people on Twitter. What it means to interact digitally, and form deep connections with people we may have never met.  How writing one’s life can be different from telling it in person, because of what one is allowed to say and focus on. What it means to share our thoughts and life via RSS or tweet or status update rather than email or telephone. Why some of us @reply most of the time, using the medium almost as a party line. What kind of commitments – in terms of time and repeated engagement, in terms of pressure to be funny or interesting or smart – it takes to build and maintain a “self” online, an identity that others recognize and respond to. Whether there’s a digital identity even if nobody’s reading or following.

For Judith Butler, identity is performative. There is no essential, core self: who we are or think we are is created by discourse, what she calls “the limits of acceptable speech” (1997). Discourse is always in circulation, in every culture, though it shifts from place to place and over time, sometimes drastically with drastic events. We are all, for Butler, creatures of discourse and little more. Even the body is understood in her work not as a pre-discursive fact – though she doesn’t deny that we have bodies – but as meaningful to us in terms of language. Even before we are born these days, thanks to ultrasound, we exist within a web of language relations and assumptions that predate and utterly circumscribe our bodies. You are male. I am female. Those meanings are read onto us even before we know we exist, and shape how we come to know ourselves.

Butler disrupts the apparent simplicity of that binary and the concepts of gender and heterosexual norm that it supports by exploring histories of feminism and Foucault, challenging who we think we are by suggesting that the essentialist categories we rely on to explain ourselves have cultural and power-based historical interests propping them up.

(In a few weeks I have to give a presentation on Butler and her non-essentialist identity concepts to a room in which I will actually be the only person generally identified as straight and white. We’ll see how that goes. It’s one thing to destabilize identity when yours is usually taken up as non-problematic for others. It’s another thing to try to do so to a group of people who’ve lived the oppression our society doles out to identities that don’t measure up to the white, heterosexual discursive norm.)

It may seem strange to try to ground a study of digital identity in queer theory, with its focus on bodies that don’t even make it into the online realm. And yet the notion that we perform ourselves with each other, differently according to circumstances and the discourses that limit and frame the roles we understand ourselves to be playing, is for me an extraordinarily useful place to begin examining how and who we are online, and whether and how this who differs from the selves we get to be or play in our so-called “real” lives.

For me, I’m not sure there’s even a divide anymore. Online is one of the places I live and perform. So is the university. So is my children’s daycare, and the grocery store, and whereever else I go. So is my home, and even here my roles vary depending on who I’m interacting with. Some of these selves or performances matter more to me than others, some are more surface than others, more circumscribed by the limits of acceptable speech and by what is expected. But I’m not sure any aren’t real.

Do you believe in a real, authentic core self? How does the idea of performance strike you? And who are you when you’re online?

Who do you think you are?

41 Comments the who

  1. Frances Bell

    I think performativity is a great way to look at identity as enacted. Teenagers try out new identities on their way to becoming them – or not as the case may be. All of our performed identities can be considered together as our self, making separate and combined realities.

  2. hodgepodge

    I try, as much as possible, to be the same online as I am off. It’s just too hard to try and tweak my identity every time I get five minutes to sit at the laptop.

    That said, online I am a bit more circumspect; a shade more cautious; far less likely to suffer from foot-in-mouth disease and far more likely to crack a joke even when I don’t feel remotely like laughing. The delete key hides a multitude of sins…

    I always wonder who people are when you get behind the digital mask – because I don’t think anyone is completely authentic online. I don’t know if it’s possible to be so. Even if you write a very personal blog (I’m thinking of yours, or Thor’s, or Sweet Salty’s) you are still editing your life. You are always choosing the anecdotes to share. From reading these blogs I know incredibly intimate details about your lives, but I don’t know your favourite colours or what kind of movie you’re likely to rent on a Friday night when you need to unwind.

    As for believing in an authentic core self… I think we are all greater than the sum of our parts. I am different things to the different people in my life. Some of my selves are not nice people, and I don’t often let them out (unless I’m driving, then all bets are off). I think each of the sides we present have the same moral centre – and beyond that, I think we are each infinitely capable of trying on different identities and roles to suit the particular situation.

    I always struggled with these philosophical discussions of identity in university. I don’t have a strong sense of myself in the wee hours of the morning and I’m pretty sure that’s why I can’t pin down my feelings on it. I envy people who don’t spend a lot of time worrying about who they are… even though I suspect it’s quite limiting over time, it seems must more restful.

  3. Clarabella

    Oh oh oh, I’ve been waiting for this post! (BTW, my twitter handle is @BrilliantOne ;)

    Oh to see someone else, other than Butler herself, use the phrase “heterosexual discursive norm” in context. It warms this newbie gender-theorist’s heart.
    I think that performativity is a perfect platform from which to explore online persona. I certainly put on somewhat of an “act” online. I like to think I’m the same in person as I come across in type or writing, but the truth is I know there are differences. Also, the internet allows us a space to create a completely different persona, which either jives with or complicates performativity, considering how you use it, of course.
    Furthermore, in my own work, I look at the moments when those discursive norms are subverted, disrupted, etc. (the moment I believe Butler herself strives to identify or even encourage?). Why are those moments disrupted? How? Why is that important? What does it all MEAN? And on and on…

    Incidentally, re: the presentation: I presented a paper on Butler (& Faulkner’s novel _Sanctuary_) at a conference in the fall, and reading it aloud made me realize how clunky so much of her jargon/vocab really is. At one point, I just started skipping all the “discursive”s and “normative”s in my own paper. I thought I tanked. But the audience was super receptive. I credit that more to a general knowledge of Butler than to my brief explanation of her ideas that I used, BUT, the point is (I think) that if you ACT like you know exactly what you’re doing, the audience will follow you, but that goes for just about anything, of course.
    Good luck!

    (Also, also: my comps committee suggested to me that Butler deals more with the problematics of core identity in works developed after Gender Trouble & BtM, but I can’t for the life of me remember the suggested works…but know it’s out there!)

    1. bon

      i do have The Psychic Life of Power, quoted above if then not properly cited (1997)and Giving an Account of Ourselves (2005). but i’m digging through the early stuff first.

  4. Pingback: who do I think I am? | loumcgill

  5. Misty

    The people I’ve met in real life, who knew me first online, have all told me I’m the same. You, knowing me first in real life, then online, could probably vouch for this as well. So I guess yes, I have an authentic core self.
    I perform more in real life than online. I’m not good at pretending, it takes too much work, so I don’t online. Sometimes I have to in real life for my job.
    I fear that online, people misjudge me as being simple or stupid (because I’m a farmer, because I had a kid young, etc.)But that rarely happens in real life.
    That said, I honestly have no idea who I am, just an ordinary girl.

  6. bon

    Clarabella, maybe we should just send big snotty ridiculous tweets back & forth occasionally with 140-character WORDS in ’em, just so the other doesn’t feel lonely in her reading.

    Frances, i like the way you put the performed identities all together as self. i struggle with the idea of self, because it’s necessary, almost – i need a sense of myself, however fragmented, to function. and the more coherent that sense is, the happier i tend to feel. and yet i can’t read Foucault and Butler and think of coherence as unproblematic: i assume it has to be, in the internal structure of the theory work at least, something of a sham. and then i cry. :)

    or rather, i wonder if maybe coherence and fragmentation are actually opposites: maybe i’m getting stuck on a binary of my own making? b/c i live pretty happily with multiple identity performances but am NOT happy when i don’t feel like i can make my own narratives coherent to myself. hmmm. i’m going to have to look into this idea of coherence more.

    if you haven’t read Lou’s post, DO. made me wonder about the audiences we perform for…

  7. bon

    Misty and Hannah, you two made me think more about the idea of coherence, b/c you wrote about trying to be the same online as off.

    and knowing both of you online AND in the flesh, i’d say yes…i can see that. i do the same, at least in many ways. and at the same time, i don’t know if any us ARE the same online as off. or any different crowd of folks compared with another. rather, the performances get tweaked a bit to present ourselves within the limits of what is acceptable speech and performance for THAT environment, right? i mean, online, Misty posts her fabulous photos, b/c that kind of sharing and creation/consumption model is part of the norm for Twitter and blogs. we expect that our interactions there will provide us with stuff to look at, and we know that part of reciprocity in that environment is looking and commenting, as you guys have here for me. and it is part of our friendship online that i do the same in return (i’m sporadic but enthusiastic!)

    but when we get together for a Blog’Er gathering, we all talk less about our work, our writing and photos and creative endeavours, except if asked. and Misty would never hang one of her photos around her neck and walk around a Davestock party (where we first met, like, twelve years ago) saying “ask me about my art.”

    so we’re the same and yet no interaction is the same, because the performances have to be different to be appropriate. you know what i mean?

    and maybe coherence is finding enough avenues to perform all the aspects of self that we need to. maybe it’s not having them all line up tidily.

  8. Patti Larsen

    This plagues me, Bon… are we ourselves in this digital world? Do we act like the real, essential us or are we creating yet another mask, another reality? We’re so good at those… I’ve asked those who attend Tweetups if they feel socially awkward meeting those they communicate with in 140 characters or less every day and have as yet to get a satisfying answer… the best I can hope for personally is that I am being honest and open about my own truths… but am I the core me online? Am I stripped away to what I value and what I care about? Is that reflected in the blogs I read, the sites I visit, even the youtube videos that draw my attention? I wish I knew.

  9. mary g

    Okay, I obviously have to read Butler.
    In the meantime, I follow with delight and awe the discussions you brilliant young women hve in grappling with these questions. (Once there was BlogRhet.)
    Some of my beliefs in identity changed when I became old and wrinkly enough to be seen as a stereotype in face to face contact.
    I would say that all but a tiny bit of my behaviour, writing, interactions — all that — is performative. There is a person inside me, and I think it is the most authentic me, that reacts and then sits on my shoulder critiquing most things I do. She’s not very nice and I am not too proud of her; accordingly she doesn’t get to get out much, ever.

    And isn’t that switch to third person telling, hmm?

    I have just bookmarked this space and will return often.

    1. bon

      coming back to this, Mary, thinking one, i think maybe i’m finally ready for BlogRhet. nearly four years late. oh well. this can be my personal BlogRhet, and i’m hoping i’ve figured out a relationship to the screen that will allow me to break beyond some of the constraints i felt writing there.

      two, while performativity is a concept that has always gelled for me, it’s that piece you mention, that tiny bit, that i wonder about. discursively, it shouldn’t exist. maybe it doesn’t. but i wonder about the limits of the theory.

  10. Jennifer (ponderosa)

    I telecommute 30 hrs/wk. That means I communicate w/ coworkers entirely by email & over the phone. Sometimes we do webex to share each other’s screens (so we can see each other’s work) but we never do video conferences. Then when I’m not working online, I communicate through my blog. As for the “real” world, I spend my winters snowboarding, which means most people see me sort of in the distance, you know, and as a body not a face.

    So. That’s background. I meant to say: I’m not really sure what you mean by identity. Are you differentiating between who I think I am v. how I come across to others? I’m always me, but anyone “meeting” me at work vs. on the blog vs. on the mountain would I think consider that 3 different people.

  11. bon

    Jennifer…by identity i mean both the philosophical sense of “what makes an entity definable and recognizable” (thank you, Wikipedia) and the common usage sense of “who i am,” or how i am myself. i also mean subjectivity, or a person’s “perspectives, feelings, beliefs and desires” (thx again, Wikipedia)…the p.o.v.s from which we experience our worlds and our roles and our performances and the discourses that shape them. so not exactly a differentiation between how we see ourselves and how others see us, but more how we come to understand ourselves (which as i see it is largely as reflected by the speech and views and positions of others, whether in concordance or opposition, whether through personal contact or through books or through the “shoulds” that guide our sense of how to behave).

    in other words, Patti…i don’t think there IS an authentic self, in any medium…but i’m damn interested in HOW we are ourselves in this online one.

    Mary G, you should definitely read Butler. though she’s a bit dense. or makes me feel awfully dense, one or the other. ;)

  12. Angie

    I really loved reading this and thinking about it. You know when we talked about marketing oneself/branding. I really had thought about it as someone on the precipice of thinking about marketing/branding my blog and myself. And I thought of it in term of what I knew in corporate branding and marketing, and then I stepped back and joined twitter and starting watching the masters do it from afar, and realized that it is a completely different theory and practice all together. I don’t have it in me, I realize. Even if I opt out of that process, I am part of it. Everything I put out there, the funny, the witty, the inane, the silly, the uncomfortable revelatory is part of what people absorb as still life angie. So like everything I feel like I have to live with intention–what is my intention in that tweet? That post? That status update? I am a flawed person, but I try to act with intention. And in that way, I think I am authentic in all those spaces, even if I am different with my kids than I am when I am speaking in front of people (Good Lord let’s hope we all are.) But I think that is why I believe you nailed it in your last paragraph. There is no divide, we are one persona interacting in different spaces.

  13. sweetsalty kate

    I think there is such a thing as an authentic self. It’s a hundred-faced creature that chooses what it wants to show depending on where it’s seen.

    The only inauthentic thing about it is to insist that others are less authentic than we are, denying what we know in our gut – that we too have 99 other faces.

  14. Emily R

    There is no divide because the person in the grocery may be reading your words on line, and your co-workers probably are.

    Thank you for this. Butler takes on a whole new meaning in this age, doesn’t she?

    And, are you sure you can call yourself straight if you’re sleeping with Judith Butler?

    1. bon

      lol. i don’t call myself straight, really.

      i was queer – in the PEI colloquial way – when i was a kid and it just meant odd. i suppose i identify as queer still, if i have to identify at all. moreso in identity than sexuality: androgyny is deeply resonant for me. (though i do have a complete hard-on for Butler herself, which i only discovered upon googling her videos ten years after discovering her prose. alas. such time wasted.)

      but i live as straight and am read up as straight and i recognize how many fewer battles my life involves b/c of that. and so i sit content-ish with the label b/c to fight it is to appropriate struggles that are not my own, to claim a marginalized status that cheapens the real marginalization enacted against people who perform queerness in much braver ways than i.

  15. bon

    Angie, i went to bed thinking about your point about corporate marketing/branding and the differences, b/c i remember our email conversation from back in the spring. or summer? i remember the content better than the date.

    i don’t come at this from a corporate perspective and yet it’s a part of the digital identity picture that i want and will need to grapple with eventually: how does performing identity in an environment in which value always and increasingly has the capacity to be monetized impact identity? it’s another post, a revisitation of the branding series, i know. but i do think that a lot of the conflict online w/people critiquing others for being inauthentic or too calculated or whatever (and i’ve seen some real struggles and vitriol both in my tweetstream and in Dave’s edublog community of late) have to do with differing perspectives over the economy part of the digital environment.

    1. Angie

      Bon, I hope I didn’t communicate that I believe anyone is more authentic than anyone else. Kate wrote something after me, and your response. I agree with Kate in her ideas of authenticity. I think called someone authentic and inauthentic is a bit like calling a product “natural”. Everything is natural. And in that way, I think everyone is authentic, whether they are earnest or not, perhaps, is another manner. But I do think our own internal moral compass kind of defines it in the purely Sartrean sense–we need to understand our own motivations for acting to be authentic. I can only judge my own sense of intention, which guides my sense of comfort with exposing my life and my identity in the larger world juxtaposed with my private life. Feeling at ease with those sometimes disparate, sometimes similar personas, to me, represents authenticity. Simply, I think only the individual can decide if he or she is being authentic or not. Anyway, I apologize if I offended anyone with that misunderstanding.

      1. bon

        no no no…my bad…i started off by addressing you and then wandered off onto another tangent.

        the division you make between authentic and earnest is really interesting. i like that. it’s useful. as is the Sartrean usage: i wish i saw a little more stripping down – both in the digital world and the real – to explore our motivations to be “authentic.” i don’t disagree with your usage of it at all, but the reified usage kinda makes me crazy.

        however, yeh, i can only judge myself. right. i forget that. :)

  16. bea

    Absolutely, I believe in a real, authentic, core self – for that reason, there is always some cognitive dissonance for me in reading contemporary theory. I think the density of the prose forces one to abandon personal beliefs for the time being; it’s hard enough to decipher these theoretical texts in the first place, and it becomes virtually impossible if you are simultaneously engaged in a constant process of critical resistance. You have to go through that mental process of abandoning your preconceptions and believing – for the time being – whatever the theorist is saying. Then, later on, you can begin the much more arduous task of figuring out what, if any, relationship can be forged between Butler’s theories and your own beliefs and values.

    That said, I wonder how important it is to actually BELIEVE that there is no core self. I think that idea functions perfectly well as a rhetorical gesture – a way of setting aside the soul so that in its absence we can suddenly see, in sharper relief, the socially constructed borders of that self. I find that with most contemporary theory – believing in it isn’t the point: the point is to use it as a lens through which to see the things we would otherwise miss.

    1. bon

      Bea, thank you for an alternative p.o.v. on the core self…the soul, huh? i can see that. my own beliefs in that regard are so amorphous and non-essentialist that i’m not sure my concept of “soul” ends up being related to an idea of “core” or “authentic”, at least in any way that cancels out multiplicity. but theologies and mileage will definitely differ on that one.

      i really like the idea that the belief in a lack of core functions as an effective rhetorical gesture, in any case. i haven’t tried teaching contemporary theory much in the last decade, but if i do so again, i’ll be drawing on that idea.

      and for me, this wading back into Butler is more a process of making formal notes and extrapolations on concepts that gelled for me AS core beliefs and values almost 15 yrs ago, when i first came across them. queer theory, particularly Butler, gave me conceptual language for a lot of things i’d struggled with long before, and so much of my own framework by which i approach the world coheres with Butler and Foucault and Deleuze and Baudrillard and Haraway, blah blah blah, quite nicely…though i do still have to do a lot of work to get through the prose. on my first encounter with them, i did a lot more secondary-source reading. ahem. going deeper is both proving valuable and also challenging: especially in coming to terms with my woefully limited education in classical philosophy and psychoanalysis. autodidacts, FTW.

      1. bea

        I think most of the people I knew in graduate school were doing just that – taking this all on board without a lot of reservations. And then on the other hand, there are the Christian writers who fundamentally reject all of it and insist shrilly on things like truth and reason.

        My position is more complicated, and by no means fully worked out, but I do think there is value in having previous commitments that create tension with these theories, without allowing that tension to result in a knee-jerk rejection of them. (Keats’ negative capability.)

        As I was reading your post, I was thinking about how much my position has changed in relation to contemporary theory. I am no longer in that power dynamic where I anticipate needing to pay lip service to ideas I don’t fundamentally believe in order to respected, hired, etc. In some ways I feel freer now to recognize the value in those ideas, even as I treat most of those statements (such as the non-existence of an authentic, core self) as hyperbole.

        1. bon

          …i can see the value in the previous commitments. for me, some of the tenets of post-structuralism worked that way this fall when i found myself staring positivist social science in the face for the first time. :) though i think the power relations in the academy are shifting: i’m not sure contemporary theory is so contemporary anymore. i shoulda stayed in grad school in 2000, apparently, and ridden the wave of my brief alignment with vogue. :)

  17. Jennifer (ponderosa)

    I thought I understood what you were talking about for a minute there, but then I lost it.

    If someone I know in town asks, “Who are you?” I answer by stating my relationships — my family name, the school my children attend, the place where I work. By those relationships people here begin to understand who I am because they know of whom I speak.

    Online, no one knows my family or local friends or schools or anything; so when someone asks, “Who are you?” I could give descriptors, like “mother” or “wife” or “employee” — but there’s no guarantee that the descriptors have a common meaning. So online, I have to answer “Who are you?” by saying what I think and feel.

    If I answer that question by stating my beliefs, then there’s just two ways to be inauthentic: 1, to lie to you; and 2, to lie to myself. To act IRL, in other words, in contradiction w/ what I’ve said I believe.

    1. bon

      it was probably me who lost you. sorry.

      i find the distinction you’re making really interesting: you’re right that in our physical lives, esp. in places where ppl are highly webbed and know each other, we can identify ourselves relationally. and that online, we’re often stuck more with categories. except that online nobody asks that question, do they? don’t we just check out each others’ followers?

      being partly facetious. you’re right, the bio matters and there’s no guarantee that the descriptors are taken up as meant. i suppose there’s no guarantee IRL that i like your cousin you mention as an introduction, either. but still.

      i wonder if it matters if one’s performance or representation is inauthentic in some way, even knowingly? to whom are we accountable? and where are the boundaries? does leaving stuff out matter as much as lying? cause my bio doesn’t mention my conflicting laziness & anal retentiveness. :)

  18. Neil

    Some of this discussion seems heavy on literary metaphor. Maybe that’s the best way to talk about it because these terms have been around since the Greek playrights — “roles” “acting” masks,” and we all seem to use them as if they are accepted scientific facts rather than expressions used by writers such as Shakespeare. I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel that these expressions accurately expression my own feelings about identity, online or offline. The words sound so… theatrical, like I am a Phantom of the Opera hiding my true self with a mask or I am a Clark Kent, changing my persona to Superman when I put on my glasses.

    I know who I am. I live with ME all the time. This doesn’t mean I don’t adjust how I act, depending on the crowd I am with at the time. I am more relaxed with a bunch of buddies than I am a business conference. I might want to pose as someone more successful than I really am at a high school reunion than at a baseball game. Just the “mask” metaphor sounds too dark to me, like from a comic book.

    If we are going to go for literary metaphors, I prefer the one where we say “I feel boxed in,” “I box myself in,” or we talk about boxes. Most of us are Machiavellian, changing our masks to manipulate. We are insecure and want to be part of a crowd. We DO want to express our entire selves, but because of either external or internal forces, we box ourselves into a more limited identity.

    Let’s use you as an example. Why do you have two blogs? Clearly you are an individual who enjoys personal writing AND academic theory. Are you hiding behind masks? Nah. If anything, you are “boxing yourself in” somewhat because you are not sure how to combine these two parts of your life. You are concerned about boring one part of your readership. Or worried that some academics might look down their nose at you writing a poem about your child’s birthday party. Cultural norms, or your own social fears or concerns, is forcing you into these boxes. Wouldn’t you RATHER have one identity? Bon Stewart. Of course. And have everyone love you for who you are, Bon Stewart, 360 degrees, the whole package. But you feel the pressure from society/and or career propects, to cut yourself into pieces.

    So, rather than seeing the online world as a place where individuals are wearing masks to hide from each other, I see people AS WANTING to express themselves, just like they do in real life — but who are pushed into wearing uniforms and ties, and special badges, because of social expectations and the demands of belonging to a specific tribe.

  19. bon

    Neil…the word “mask” was actually used by two commenters, not by me…but i suppose the notion of performativity strikes a theatrical chord. i always wonder – this discussion has been fascinating – whether that’s what people are criticizing (online or IRL) when the “who’s authentic” conversation comes up. to me, there are ways of performing that are accepted as more real than others. i’m not sure it makes them that way. in fact, i think performances that people can’t accept or categorize as real are often dangerous. but that’s for another post.

    back to your point. i like expressing myself. for years, i thought i had to keep one blog to be coherent. the split is me trying out coherence as a non-unified thing: seeing if i can let loose different conversations in different arenas. it’s about audience, but not about boxes so much…i don’t think i’ll write traditional performances of either academia or motherhood in either space. i don’t see myself fully within either of those discourses. it’s more that i thought my blog audience might not want to engage in these conversations – i guess i was wrong! i’m thrilled! but i still like having this conversation here rather than on cribchronicles because i feel like if you came here you came here for this, thus i’m performing more appropriately to the situation. i’m freer to go on an on about this stuff here, on a regular basis. i see it as like having one room in my house to cook in and one to sleep in, or whatever. i can come here and put you all straight to sleep. :)

    1. Neil

      No one truly views their house as a series of “boxes” — a kitchen, a bedroom, a bathroom. Every day you walk in and out of all of them, to grab a towel or a soda. You don’t put on a different hat each time you walk into another room. The house analogy fits my statement more than yours. Society, or our individual tribes, force us to “box” ourselves in. That’s why we put labels on everything, from mommybloggers to Mexican-Americans. Your analogy works better if you think not of the rooms of the house, but rooms in different buildings, one being your home, one being your school, one being your workplace, and each one requiring a different uniform or way of interaction based on the social norms of that group, in order to fit in, and succeed in that group. So, in one blog, you can wear the colored hat that Dave photographed, and in this one you can don a cap and gown. I’m not being critical. We all do it. It is part of life. But I don’t see that as performing. I don’t think it purely an individual’s choice of which mask should I wear today. Not everyone is so lucky. The internet is not all freedom. For most, the masks that people wear are coming from the audience, even required from them, and not being chosen by the performer as an artistic decision.

  20. bon

    ah, maybe, Neil. my house is rather compartmentalized, though, i guess. if Dave & i are going to actually engage in an ideas conversation, it almost always happens in one of two spaces. as well as when the kids are sleeping. whereas we tend to talk about family stuff and the little folk in other locations. your analogy works, too…though i did want these two spaces to feel like part of the same environment.

    i’m relational: it matters to me that i perform as expected by individuals to whom i am connected and about whom i care. whereas i don’t place much value on societal performance expectations except as strategic. so some of my identity is predicated on being different…but if you have connected with a particular facet of who i am, i will try hard to fulfill the contractual obligation of being coherent and consistent in that role. where i can. and so the two blogs, for me, do open up a bit of freedom simply to feel like it’s acceptable to write three posts in a row about esoteric gender theory or education or whatever i want, without needing to acknowledge the aspects of myself i usually narrate on the other blog.

    on freedom in general though…oh god, no. you’re right. i don’t think that digital identity is emancipatory. i think some aspects of it may be, as in me feeling free to go on more in particular spaces, but others are limiting. in any mass technological shift within culture i think we both win and lose. my interests are more about tracing how the digital functions and operates rather than about claiming the marvels or horrors it will create. the *social media fortune teller* claim in my bio? tongue-in-cheek.

    and i don’t think performativity is meant to represent individual choice, either. Judith Butler would say we’re all configured and constrained – called into being, as it were, or interpellated – by discourse. so it’s not just a smorgasbord of choices, but rather a cacophony of narratives and possibilities from which we inherit both our horizons and our sense of ourselves. early. too early for conscious choice, as i understand the psychoanalytic background of the work.

  21. Neil

    I think you are right about the bad reaction to some of this coming from the fact that we associate words like performance, roles, masks, etc. as “acting phony.” All the world’s a stage and we are mere actors is good only if you are Al Pacino and getting paid for your work. And you enjoy being an actor. I know when I talk to my friends who blog or are involved in social media, I rarely hear them say, “I am enjoying the online identity that I present to the world.” Maybe the ones who make a lot of money say that. I usually hear frustrated voices about how they can’t be themselves online. They can’t write about certain subjects, or talk about their divorce, or their job, or say they hate Big Macs because McDonald’s is sponsoring their trip to BlogHer. So I guess my feeling is that rather than seeing online identity and the performance aspect of it in a positive light, I see it as a missed opportunity in many ways, and something that frustrated a great many of us. Maybe it only works well for you if your goals are very focused — for business or networking where your “role” helps you advance in your career or status. I think that is why some of us get all pissy about the idea of “branding” ourselves. Like some character might say in a future romantic comedy, “I want you to love me for being “me,” not because of my brand!”

    1. bon

      lol, Neil…can anyone who makes their money from McDonalds complain about BigMacs? that’s more an issue of not biting the hand that feeds you: same IRL as online.

      that’s why i try to keep my “brand” as “me” as possible.

      again, this theory isn’t about online identity performance, it’s about identity performance. doesn’t mean there’s not some basic sense of yourself: means it is shaped by discourse, not encoded in genes or Freud. or rather even genes and Freud are simply discourses.

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