Thursday, June 3, 2010

Do I contradict myself?

I am, by turns,

a scholar
a mother
an artist

and also

lacking creative impulse

Does this seem contradictory? It's nonetheless true. I suppose that one of the illuminating (and terrifying) things about writing (about any form of creating, really) is that it can expose for you the limits of whatever self-hood you think you possess.

In graduate school, I read a fair number of theoretical texts on identity. Most scholars now eschew the term, preferring instead "subject position," arguing that identity (as a sense of a self that is whole) is a fiction. In reality, they say, individuals have multiple identities, multiples selves that are called into being. While I have a hard time accepting their final tenet--that the "I" that speaks is just a discursive construct (I may contradict myself on occasion, but I still have some sense that there is more to me than just a socially configured set of ideas and mechanisms), I do think that there are different facets of my "self" that are called into greater prominence by different contexts.

And so yes, I can be both wise and unwise, depending on the day, the place, the situation, the people I am with (even whether or not I've eaten recently, or slept well the night before).

I was thinking about this, the other night: our strange ability as humans to live with and embrace contradictions. My husband and I read Philippians 4 the other night, and I was moved by Paul's declaration: "I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need" (v. 12).

Psychoanalysts (Lacan, I'm looking at you here!) maintain that the self is always fragmented, always imperfect, and that we spend much of our lives in pursuit of an illusory sense of wholeness. And while I'm not sure about much of Lacan's theories, I am pretty sure that we are imperfect (our inner contradictions, much less our moral weaknesses, point to this).

But Paul suggests that we need not be paralyzed by contradictions; that wholeness need not be always illusory. If we can be both abased and abound, if we can be both full and hungry, if we can be all things in one (alpha and omega), then I think we do this only on the terms Paul set: "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me."

I have to admit, I find much of the Pauline letters obscure or confusing. But this, for me, was both clear and illuminating.

1 comment:

  1. I was completely unaware of this other blog of yours -- my goodness, you read and write a lot. I don't know how you manage it, but it's great, I enjoyed this post.