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Fr. 560

August 26, 2014

Does Faye’s presentation of self and identity as a lost supercontinent best help us to make sense of our lives and thus meet the Best Account test?

We have already briefly examined Faye’s image of lost supercontinents and extracted this image’s key qualities: lost as in cognitively dim; continent as in formation over time; supercontinent as in pluralistic composition. If we follow strictly each and every element of the presentation above, identity begins much like the supercontinent, as the formation over time of a superidentity, as it were. Here, the elements which will later constitute the more discernable, disparate elements of fractured identity are still parts of an entity which holds together.

If we might be tempted to view this original state as a better state, we should nonetheless take care to issue any premature judgments on the issue as this original state cuts both ways. To its credit, the supercontinent or superidentity allows us better to imagine what this entity resembles as a whole and the extent to which plural sources can come together in the form of a single monolith. For this reason, we might hold the supercontinent as an original state to which we must return, as a reintegration of disparate identities.

Yet this view swiftly meets with complications. Notably, if the supercontinent or superidentity opens a path to integration, we should recall that it is only following the splintering of the supercontinent or superidentity into its disparate fragments as continent or identity that we become aware of the particularities of the fragments, i.e. that these fragments take on an existence for us of any cognitive or epistemological value. In other words, the continent only takes shape as such in our minds following the dissolution of the supercontinent, which our eyes tend to regard more as an aberration than an ideal. In short, the continent or identity seems as viable and necessary a vessel as the supercontinent or superidentity.

This presentation corresponds with certain of our intuitions about self. On one hand, the image of a primordial identity appeals to our sense that childhood identity formation does not allow for the making of hard and fast distinctions between the diverse sources fueling that formation. These various sources come together in this original state and will only later come apart and, by extension, come to be known. Our awareness of childhood influences and memories resembles this first melding, as it were. On the other, upon reflection, we may feel that we know some continents better than others, that we have spent more time on these, that we feel more at ease or at home there, etc.. This feeling continues to hold even if we could reasonably maintain that all continents have an equal claim to the title of continent (or, as per Faye’s equivalence, the title of “identity”).

A striking question arising from the above presentation concerns the question of mapping identity onto continents. Are we to correlate a superidentity with the supercontinent? Although Faye’s text makes no direct correlation between the two, this connection does not seem without its merits. Having posited this, we can then further ask whether the individual continents are then to be cast as each an identity in itself, such that the self would then “contain” multiple identities. Thankfully, Faye’s text is more forthright on this count.

[…] it was not merely a single but rather a mosaic of identities which took shape […]

Faye is keen to point out the extent to which that which we ordinarily term identity has nothing of the singular about it; identity is, in fact, the collection, accretion, aggregation, etc. of standalone identities. Accordingly, any identity is, at its root, plural, and we are hence mistaken to speak of an identity where we should instead invoke identities. This view gains some currency when we consider how some elements of identity are standalone or independent of other elements of our identity, to the point of fitting ill at the joints. The repressed farmboy sits ill with the highbrow intellectual, yet these remain elements of an identity. The mistake lies in taking them for elements of an identity rather than identities in themselves. This, along with the cognitively dim “lost”, represents an advantage proper to Faye’s approach.


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