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Sunday, 1 May 2011

Virtual Identity: Obnoxious Frankie


                                       “… there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet.”
T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock

Chris Jenkins (the Web Guy), an old virtual friend of mine, started a new on-line project recently and sent me a message on Facebook suggesting that I might be interested in contributing. While I felt very honoured, I found myself wondering about how I could possibly give him a positive answer.

My writing is a hobby. I don’t make a living from it (in fact, I don’t make a penny from it, though this does not mean that I would be averse to getting paid for it J) and much of it I do in my spare time. In the past months, I have been fortunate that my job, while involving long, unsociable hours, actually also involves a lot of time doing “nothing,” so that I can use this time for writing. Still, producing around two posts a week for this blog is quite time consuming.

Apart from the time, the essay format I’ve chosen to explore here also demands a fairly constant stream of inspiration; thinking about themes, reflecting on how to present them, trying them out. They don’t all get finished either – sometimes the “Muse” decides that she has no interest and the creative inspiration just quits on that particular topic, or the manner I’ve chosen to treat it. I don’t throw them away though, I’ve been able to come back to a few quite a while later and they have finished up turning into adequate posts. Still, I’m inclined to be a bit possessive about my ideas where this blog is concerned.

Attempted Essays is very much my baby; over the past fifteen months it has grown and developed beyond any dreams I had when starting it and (unless someone starts offering me good money to write something else) I have no intention of neglecting it. Besides, it struck me as pretty superfluous to start doing the same thing that I do here somewhere else.

And there, flickering at the edge of my consciousness, was an idea. If I were to do anything for obnoxi.us, it would have to be something different to what I do here. And that led me, somehow, to start thinking about identity, character, personality.

In our everyday lives, we play all sorts of different roles and take on all kinds of identities. I am a different person at work to the person I am at home – at least in some respects – because I am occupying different roles.

Sartre (centre) with Simone de Beauvoir and Che Guevara
This playing of roles is a central theme in Jean-Paul Sartre’s bleak existentialist analysis of life. In Being and Nothingness he offers a cold, clinical description of a French waiter playing his professional role and goes on to analyse it as what he calls “bad faith,” the inevitable alienation from our authentic selves to which we are subject when we identify with the roles we play out in different situations. The human quandary is that the authentic self is empty; in order to live and relate with others we must take on and identify with these roles which force us willy-nilly into falseness. Life becomes absurd, relationships inevitably involve lies and other people are hell.

Although I would basically describe myself, philosophically, as an existentialist, I do not share Sartre’s bleak view of the human condition – though I see much of value in many of his insights. Despite all sorts of inhibiting factors, I do think that we create our own existence. This continuous act of creation is the consequence of our basic freedom (and it also entails that we are responsible for that which we create). Create is perhaps not precisely the best word to describe it, the German word gestalten is better, carrying as it does connotations of arranging, configuring, moulding, fashioning, patterning, organising.

So we create our identities, wonderful, dynamic, shifting, multi-layered things, and adapt and develop them constantly in response to the situations and people we encounter and become involved with. It is this constant dynamic process of identity creation and adaption which makes human relationships so complex, fascinating and – often – frustrating. For that which I want to project to the other may not be what the other perceives; caught up in his/her own history and own picture of him/herself, he/she may receive something quite different to what I thought I was transmitting. But this too contributes to the variety, spice and wonderful depth of the existence we are continually creating, gestalt-ing, individually and communally.

Before the background of such ideas, I then began to think about the identities we project on the internet. The web is particularly conducive to the creative forming of different identities, since it generally works on the basis of a very limited simple interface – keyboard and mouse – mediating between communicating imaginations. Seen from this aspect, it is no wonder that many people create multiple on-line identities, particularly in chat rooms. After all, on-line there’s no way to know that the sexy seventeen year old vamp from Tucson isn’t actually a seventy-three year old retired priest in Manila, or that the particularly aggressive troll causing mayhem in half a dozen discussion groups isn’t really a mild-mannered granny in Uppsala. Second Life is a phenomenon which explicitly serves this wish to be someone else on-line, even if its popularity has waned considerably in the past few years.

And then – for the mind (or at least my mind) works in strange ways – I found myself thinking about one of my literary heroes, Brian O’Nolan, otherwise known as Myles na gCopaleen, or Flann O’Brien. Myles (for that is the name under which I usually think of him) spent his creative life playing with different identities, even going so far as to write pseudonymous letters to the Editor of the Irish Times complaining about the column he wrote in the newspaper. His hilarious metafictional masterpiece, At Swim-Two-Birds, features characters in the novel (as well as characters in a novel in the novel!) rebelling against their writer and getting up to all kinds of mayhem in doing so.

So Frankie came to be. He’s that part of me I would never let near Attempted Essays – or most other parts of my life, for that matter. He’s loud, rude, opinionated and insulting. He’s prepared to make hard points and tell plain truths without ever considering that there may be another side to the story. He’s someone for whom the rant as a form of communication could have been invented.

I let him out of his cage in the dungeon of my consciousness where I usually keep him locked away and he’s had his first outing over at obnoxi.us - you can read it here. He seems to have enjoyed himself and I’m sure that he’ll be clamouring to get out again soon. At this stage I have no idea about what he’s capable of getting up to, that’s something the future alone will show. I only hope he doesn’t disgrace me too completely at obnoxi.us, because it really is a very good site with contributors who are producing some excellent content. Even if you find Frankie a little hard to take – and I certainly wouldn’t blame you for that – I suggest that you read some of the other stuff posted there. You won’t be wasting your time.

* * * * *
This is the hundredth post on Attempted Essays. As it happens, I’m finishing it during the last night shift I have before beginning two weeks holidays in the morning (still a few hours away). I have various things lined up for those two weeks, particularly some fairly dedicated R&R, so I may not post anything here during that time. I’m not making any categorical statements but I am liberating myself for the duration of that time from my self-imposed commitment to post regularly. A century does seem to be an excuse for a break anyway! But, as Arnie famously said, “I’ll be back!”

 

Or if you prefer your music in German:





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