Berlin, 2009

Berlin, 2009
We want more voices, thoughts and languages!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Multiple identity as politicised lifestyle choice

The post below is copied over from my livejournal (the blog where I talk mostly to my goth-geek circle of friends from Cambridge). But it probably deserves a disclaimer: it isn't about the comics.

I mean, I'd love to turn you all on to the subversive, counter-cultural glory of the British Invasion of comics in the 1980s. Here the radicals seized the means of distribution in a way rarely seen before or since. Anarchist gnostic Alan Moore led the trend, followed by the more emotionally-oriented Neil Gaiman and the punk mysticism of Grant Morrison

Before them, comics were replete with American patriotism, obedience to authority, and the resolution of problems by sheer muscular force. Somehow this group replaced that with anarchism, rebellion, and constant deconstruction of identity. And the public loved it -- it's hard to imagine how many teenage eyes must have been opened by this new breed of comics.

But, as I say, that's a side issue. What I [sic] really want to talk about is the political value of assumed identity. It seems ridiculous for me to preach about it -- I'm one of the few activists who has never managed to settle behind a pseudonym. Still, it seems the perfect path by which to resist surveillance, without vanishing into the cliquey cul-de-sac of total secrecy.

So, let me ask those of you who have pseudonyms here:

  • How did you choose to become, for instance, Belvino?

  • Does it affect how you write or behave, in contrast to using your 'real' name?

  • How do you deal with the inevitable situations where contexts collapse, and your pseudonymous identity is confronted with your other personality?

Now, that post...

I've never been good at pseudonyms, collective identities, self-reinvention. Nonmetheless, I consider them a Good Thing at a fundamental level. Your identity, or mine, is the accretion of social conformism, gender roles, the acceptance of our own position in society. You can try to unpick it, layer by layer, but the chances are you'll never get to a 'real you'.

Or you can take the shortcut: choose another identity, put it on, change it once it's no longer useful. Be Luther Blissett, be Spartacus. Be your friends, or your enemies, or some combination of them all.

Laurie Penny just gave a wonderful interview, where she defends political action without a true name:

Anonymous is its own separate thing, an anarchic and brilliant thing, but the wider concept of anonymity itself as a political statement - whether online or offline - is gaining more and more ground as a way of rebelling against a political culture that not only seeks to root out unsavory elements with surveillance but which mandates individuality as a form of rigid conformity. Think about it: it you grow up being commanded to self-actualise, to be the best individual you can be, to define yourself by buying things, to be yourself and find your special centre and compete with your neighbors and colleagues, then choosing to be anonymous is an inherently revolutionary act, quite apart from the organising possibilities the phenomenon offers. Plus, there’s a growing sense that there is a great deal of power in the collective, in sharing a sense of solidarity, symmetry and protection in anonymity.

It's perhaps not a coincidence that Laurie writes this in an interview with a comics blog. If there's one area that comics have picked over in every possible regard, it's the secondary identity. Start with a world that has Clark Kent/Superman as the mainstream, where almost every hero wears a mask or leads a double life. Then in the 80s, along come Alan Moore and friends, devote their considerable talents to picking apart every aspect of the superhero identity. The Guy Fawkes mask now identifying Anonymous is just the smallest part of this.

The climax of this tendency, to my mind, is Grant Morrison's The Invisibles. A cell of superpowered freedom fighters draw their personalities by lot; each necessary identity is filled by a different person each week. Characters live under layers of assumed identities, brainwashing themselves at each level to forget the next layer. Heroes and villains turn out to be the same groups, veiling their consciousness in order to play out their roles. The end result is reminiscent of, say, Shaiva Tantrism. By the end, it seems that everybody is part of the same identity: a character in a dream, a player in a video-game, the 'fiction suit' with which God walks the earth, or part of a hyper-dimensional being.

Yes, this is part plot device, part stoner esoterica. But it's also a guide to discarding the unwanted parts of your past, and to acting as a group not based on prior hierarchies. And, as Laurie suggests, to dodging surveillance. When government and corporations devote so much energy to tracking and correlating our behaviour, it becomes almost a matter of duty to thow a spanner in the works. That is to adopt some identity not linked to a passport and a birth certificate. To dream a fiction suit, be it, share it, discard it, and move on to the next identity.

1 comment:

  1. Talking of pseudonyms… How are you? Stumbling all over pseudonyms... ist mir frequent. I’ve hardly been attached to any of them. Obwohl, I guess… More than pseudonyms, I might be attached to the name of the animals. In my case, there’s no personality game going on, I often prefer not to sign at all. Sometimes I think of a ironic teasing name, which may fit with the text or one might think it would fit with the text, so making of the pseudonym a lack of name, really, giving in to the reader and possible prejudices. The bigger stake I guess is between masculine/feminine, sometimes the name might point to the nationality… And yet, every text – as far as I’m concerned – is never signed. I would say. Actually I was so surprised to see that the choice of our (for ‘our’ read here Maya’s and mine) pseudonyms (see Page Pavlov) was really questioned a lot. I would have never expected it. Why? It was just a name to play their game. More or less. But you raised a much more interesting problem, that is: identity politics. Pseudonyms in this context would break in in a queer sense. And here I might then refer to my worries with ‘queer.’ Short gesagt: I believe it could be great but could also be terrible. The line is subtle. I worry actually a bit about queer. On the one side… well, there’s no need to talk about this side… yes, it’s great, on the other though I wonder how it is that spread so widely. I guess it could also be a good instrument in the hands of the ones who like us to invent ourselves constantly (buying things, for example, etc.), who have advantage on the dissolution of the traditional family (since they want us isolated and eternally young, and die away with some expensive sickness) and ties in general. With this I obviously don’t mean: let’s support the traditional family (whatever that means, often too clear), but that queer, if it means no community, well… might not be so good… So: queer with community, ok, and what role do pseudonym plays here? ciao
    p.s. i've not seen the comics yet, nor thought much about it, but yes, it sounds really interesting, danke