Identity, we search for it, both in our writing and ourselves. Readers too, seek to locate and pinpoint the identity of characters they are reading about, piecing together through the information the writing presents them with, the nature and personality of said individuals. As this process unfolds, discernible, understandable, and perhaps most importantly, relatable identity forms. These fictional constructs are the quintessential components of a piece of fiction. The overwhelming majority of fiction is centred on the characters contained within those worlds and the endeavours and interactions they engage in. Together they intertwine to manufacture plot.
Of necessity, popular fiction presents characters formed and recognizable. These familiar faces are a welcome home, the warm blanket we wrap ourselves in and snuggle down with on the couch and relax. If a tangent is taken and we deviate, wander off the well-worn, oft-trod path and immerse ourselves in worlds less fixed and stable, both literary and philosophical, we encounter some interesting ideas worth considering from an authorial and individual perspective. Perhaps works of fiction can be more robust in their investigation of identity? If we think against the notion, the purpose of fiction is the creation of rollicking good stories sustained by well rounded believable characters, we are left with uncertainty, where unfamiliar encounters are possible, where indeed, we are given scope to investigate identity, rather than merely assume it is a thing of simple understanding and consumption.
Let’s listen to Amber and Jonny and see what they have to say on the matter:
“Just be yourself Jonny.”
The words resonated through his head, eyes glued to Amber’s lips, the last syllable having escaped their softness.
“Be myself. Be….my-self?”
Amber’s lips parted and words came forth. He half-heard something about comfortable and skin.
If I was to be this self, what am I now, before I embrace it? The self in ignorance of itself, that’s preposterous! There is a belonging going in here, the self is mine, surely the my does not belong to the self! Ridiculous, cockamamy semantics, the self belongs to me…..ok then, who’s me?
“Amber, who am I?”
“Who are you, you’re yourself Jonny, how could you be anyone else?”
He didn’t like where this was headed. The rotations were starting again. It mattered not at all, the attraction was far too great.
“What is ‘self’, Amber?”
“Jonny, you need to stop.”
“All this silliness, asking these questions that have no meaning, getting lost in nowhere.”
“What? Lost in nowhere!”
Amber leant forward and rest a hand on Jonny’s knee.
“I’m serious, you need to stop.”
Jonny stood and her hand fell away.
“What is it? Talk to me.”
“Please, you must see, I wish to know, to understand what my self is, locate it, be it, inhabit it, so I can rest and find peace in the knowing. If I’m lost in nowhere, what hope do I have Amber? Hope is lost!”
“Go look in a mirror.”
Jonny is suffering from a distinct lack of certainty. Do we? Does the contemporary world? Are we faced with a multitude of identity related habits, attitudes and beliefs we cling to whilst our bellies churn and we choke on questions so many desire to ask, yet fear the asking? Would it be a stretch too far to say many of us dive into popular fiction for an anchored experience populated by characters sure and true. Not the worst thing by any measure.
This is a simple seeking, an asking of those engaged in the symbiosis of writing and reading, of what might be found if we encouraged a different kind of authorship, one that leaves assumption behind and wanderers into confusion for a seeking. There may be greater gains to be made in a confrontation of sorts, this wandering into, an immersion, where the writer acts as a mirror of the world they inhabit, reflecting back to the reader the uncertainty so prevalent in our current epoch. Many are no doubt already doing so, as have many in the past. What makes it more urgent, so very necessary in our current climate is the need for renewal, both socially and culturally.
The symbiosis commented upon in this gathering of words informs us that efforts can be made to invigorate the world of letters and the world at large through relinquishing expectation and foregoing archetypal templates for ourselves, others and our fictional characters, assuming as we have in the past, they are separable and exclusive. It is a reasonable statement that we have left behind a world where the trappings of identity are readily perceived and understood and instead, we are treading water in an ever-changing sea of selfhood.
Writers pushing the envelope in this manner, conjuring characters as unknown to themselves as they are to us, may discover dynamic narrative structures to explore and use, and ensure in some small way fiction has one more avenue to tread in its unceasing search for flashes of light in the dark.