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Your Last Word on IDENTITY

Jeff G
Oakland, CA
Post #: 43
This thread is really a bulletin board, not a discussion. If you wish to post your thoughts pertaining to any topic discussed at the meeting, it is welcome here. Please keep the length down to one, self-contained paragraph (or, if you must keep talking, please try to make it rhyme). If after further contemplation your views change, then edit your post: that is why it's called "the last word"!

Here are some of the topics suggested by the discussion, but feel free to use another.

• If an identity is projected onto us, how much can we do to reject it?
• If an identity is a construction we make (e.g., "I love vanilla, not chocolate"), how do we know that is authentic?
• If an identity is inherited, is there any use thinking about it all?
• If we have multiple identities (say, a vegan Wisconsinite), how do we resolve conflicts?
• Can an identity change over time (listen to The Talking Heads' "Seen and Unseen")? If so, what is the same about it? Or do we trade our identities in for a new ones?
• Is identity the same process (e.g., story-telling) in different cultures, or do only some cultures really prize identity?
• What is the connection between identity and social responsibilities?
• Apply your insights into identity to the apparent fact that people are clearly flummoxed in encounters with others whose gender or race is unknown.

Jeff G
Oakland, CA
Post #: 211
An essay for the Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World course. The Brothers Grimm fable is here.

A tailor is someone who specializes in crafting appearances. "The Valiant Little Tailor" shows how to weave identity using the eyes of others.

After hoping that the aroma of jelly would inspire him to be strong and cunning, a diminutive tailor turns a private joke--"Seven [dead flies, that is] at one blow!"*--into a practical joke, by incorporating it into his clothing. The words pass the truth test because they are embroidered (shades of Kafka**). The first tests of this ruse are passed by manipulation of physical objects to give the illusion of strength to the tailor (the cheese, the bird), corresponding to the apprentice phase in any art, in which one manipulates materials. He polishes his stagecraft in taunting the giant, to the degree of being able to rewrite the scene to put his involuntary actions in the best light: flung from a tree, he says he jumped, and challenges the clumsy giant to match him. Accidentally, he escapes death while sleeping, foreshadowing the finale in which his image works even when he cannot.

Next he goes professional, his eye on the king's daughter. The king's trials are surmounted by maneuvering humans and animals (the giants led to fight each other, the self-impaling unicorn, the trapped boar): like a judo master, he redirects their strength against themselves. His braggadocio matures into an amused confidence. He cements his position, finally, by manipulating his own self, (perceived) as an (unconscious) object, parlaying the presumption that sleeping men cannot lie* into the confirmation of all his deeds. And this is the first time the tailor accomplishes his deception in public view (Victor, Victoria?****): he has become a strong man, his cunning edits ("flies", that he dropped stones on the giants) filled in by those around him, yielding seamless reality. The all-seeing god's eyes are his people (the water-bearer).

"Clothes make the man"--invisible. Unlike that foolish emperor*****, though, this tailor's made of stronger stuff.

Works cited:
* "The Valiant Little Tailor" (the Brothers Grimm)
** In "In the Penal Colony" (Franz Kafka), legal sentences are inscribed in flesh.
*** Victor, Victoria is a film in which Julie Andrews plays a woman pretending to be a male transvestite.
**** That is, "fib."
***** "The Emperor's New Clothes" (another folk tale featuring a tailor)
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