There’s something about the idea of performativity, about the capacity to reenact different versions of one’s self depending upon the demands (and opportunities) presented by a given situation, that freaks people out sometimes, because–
That is, I think many people believe that they possess a “true” self, an inner rock of being that is distinctly, unequivocally their own.
But to me, the notion of a One True Anything–much less a One True Self–is frankly terrifying.
Maybe it’s the Gorgias lover in me [yes], or the postmodernist [yup], or the wanderlust, but for me, everything is situational.
It’s like Zora Neale Hurston says in her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road: “Nothing that God ever made is the same thing to more than one person. That is natural. There is no single face in nature, because every eye that looks upon it, see it from its own angle” (45).
The cynical version of this would be it’s all relative, but that’s not quite what I mean.
I’d say: it’s all kairotic.
Toss these questions online, these musings over identity and performance, and whoa.
Who am I online? Given that there are different versions of me running around on tumblr, on twitter, on AO3, here on this blog: what control do I have over the answer to that question?
Well, as Corrine Weisgerber notes, the answer may be not a damn lot:
Interpersonal communication research tells us that on social networking sites the people in our network actually co-construct our identities.
Weisgerber uses the metaphor of the multiverse to illustrate this effect: in essence, we’re read repeatedly and from an enormous variety of perspectives by those whom we encounter online. Each of these readers constructs a slightly different version of our “online self” based both on information about us they’ve collected [and we've shared] and on the particular screen through which we’re read.
Thus, who we are online is not one being, rather a constantly evolving set of selves whose outlines we may sketch through the information that we provide but whose features and characteristics are ultimately created by each of our readers.
It’s like online: I’m Batman.
And I’m Batman from Earth 2 (who gets to marry Selina):
The Batman of Zur-En-Ahh, as re-conceived by Grant Morrison, is a man for whom all of Batman’s other selves are real. He’s the crazed, embodied Bat whose head is drowning meta and experiences and identities that his body, his brain, can’t hope to contain.
So I am all of these selves, all at once. Along with many more versions of myself that live in the minds of my readers, as it were, that I’ll never meet, much less name.
I find this vaguely comforting, this kind of being and not-being.
As a writer, I’m always quick to dismiss the notion of authorial intent: to my mind, once I write something and put it into the world, it’s the reader’s to play with, not mine to control. I can give it all my attention in the crafting, the furious typing, the inevitable swearing. But once it’s published, out there in the ether for anyone to see, it’s not mine anymore.
Certainly, the stakes are higher in academia than in fan fiction: interpretations of my Professional Online Selves may help or hinder my ability to feed myself, for example. But the multiverse metaphor is freeing for me because it underscores the limits of control I have over this particular form of text, of Online Me(s). It doesn’t give me a free pass to openly not give a shit about what I post or who I speak to or what I choose to say–though that’s tempting, believe me–but it does take the pressure off a bit.
Because let’s face it: I think of myself of the Batman of Zurr-En-Arrh, but most folks have no idea who he is. And I’m ok with that.