Identity is two-faced. In fact, identity is many-faced. Since the work of Goffman on the theory of face, we have come to recognise the flucuating and diverse nature of our identities. Context has become highly relevant. In my own experience, my identity adjusts to various social situations and people. One moment, I am a linguistics student paying more attention to how people speak than to what they are saying -- a tactic guaranteed to irritate the imperturbable. In this face, I frequent the library at lunchtime only to emerge lugging a pile of books and periodicals. The next moment I find myself wearing dresses (well, occasionally) and lipstick, frolicking about the Arts scene feigning an air of infinite wisdom about some obscurity or other. Finally, I don the baggies, yellow glasses and an air of cool unconcern as I sit on my bike at the top of a steep drop-off, contemplating the promise of blood, mud, scars and facial reconstructions. In all these guises, I expend great energy ensuring that various friends only see one of these faces, adjusting my appearance and language accordingly. Mixed parties, of course, present an ultimate dilemma -- which face will I reveal this time!?
Of course, this fluidity of face shift is not merely a personality quirk. We all constantly adopt different faces, depending on particular social contexts. We dress differently, adjust the modulation of our voices, and skillfully change the topics of our conversations as we interact in our changing environments. We are not merely two-faced, but many-faced. In this issue of M/C, the writers pull on their 'social commentator' faces to deal with various aspects of identity.
M/C guest writer Jonathan Lillie takes a constructionist approach to identity, considering Manuel Castells's idea of a collective identity. He highlights problems with models which fail to identify the individual within the mass, proposing that even within an identity constructed by the dominant instutions, a person may adopt some aspects of a resistance identity. Lillie recognises the Internet as an ideal outlet for resistance identities.
Continuing with the Internet theme, Axel Bruns discusses the display of personal identity within the Internet community. He describes how the disembodied nature of online identity means that some form of outside feedback to the presentation of individual personality is needed to realise a user's identity. The effect of this phenomenon is, Bruns suggests, that in computer-mediated communication the Cartesian 'cogito ergo sum' must be rephrased.
Adam Dodd looks at computer fighting games and the transfer of player identity onto the characters onscreen. He suggests that in this projection, we demonstrate a willingness to forget ourselves and become an arrangement of coloured lights, happily turning our friends into quivering bloody masses. Linguistically, we can't separate the "I" at the controller from the "I" onscreen. Yet Dodd believes that we still never fail to distinguish between the violence of the computer microworld and that of everyday 'reality'.
P. David Marshall considers the confession and its relationship to the self, suggesting that while confession demands an audience, the protestant reformations of self internalised this audience. However, Marshall believes that this audience has recently re-emerged in television programmes such as Ricki Lake, which he dubs the 'public confessional' of television talkshows. This type of confession is exemplified with his own confession concerning a Pat Rafter obsession.
Also writing on identity and confession, Heather Wolffram examines the motives behind the current "scholarly striptease", proposing that academics are revealing their identities to vindicate their politics. Adrienne Rich is one academic rejecting the shroud of objectivity, identifying herself as a lesbian in order to speak with more authority on the subject. Wolffram also describes the self-promotion factor of these public confessions.
Nick Caldwell turns the focus to a very different kind of assumption of identity. He observes that with the advent of sufficient processor power, many computer users are now using their machines to take on the look and feel of older home computers from a time before Microsoft established its stranglehold on the market. The reason behind this phenomenon, Caldwell offers, is not so much a nostalgia for the good old days, but the desire for computers with an identity beyond the slick and soulless design of Windows.
Finally, Kirsty Leishman also looks at an area of rebellion against the mainstream. Taking her cue from a recent newsgroup debate, she reviews the adolescent nature of zines -- publications on the low- and no-budget end of the market. By nature, she finds, zines are both revolutionary in their questioning of institutional publishing industry wisdom, and evolutionary in their aim to develop the zine medium as well as the individual identities of their creators -- qualities which are also at the very heart of the adolescent quest for personal identity.
As you can see, cultural criticism has approached problems of identity from many angles. So please slip on your critical reader face, and send us your comments on any of these articles!