Identity What

There is an essay by Martin Jay in the current London Review of Books about “situatedness”, about speaking azza. Azza woman, azza Muslim, azza graduate, azza whatever. The subject is similar to that of Todd Gitlin’s Twilight of Common Dreams: the difficulties and limitations of what we like to call “identity”. As Jay points out, in reviewing David Simpson’s Situatedness: or Why We Keep Saying Where We’re Coming From, it is difficult to decide which bit of our identity is relevant to any given discussion.

How can we know, for example, whether it is more important that a person is a woman, a baby boomer, a heterosexual, Asian-American, a Catholic, a breast cancer survivor, upper-middle class, a college drop-out, twice divorced, a fashion victim or second in birth order in her family in understanding why she campaigned for Ralph Nader in the last American Presidential election?

How indeed. In fact surely the possibilities are almost infinite. An introvert, a cat lover, a Buffy fan, a runner, a sloth, a Shakespeare fan–on and on it goes. Why do we think we have more in common with fellow women/whites/Muslims/gays than we do with fellow readers/knitters/cooks? Or do we think that. Probably not. We do tend to find our friends among people with similar interests and tastes, after all. And yet identity politics is about race/gender/sexualorientation rather than about interests and pursuits and even vocations. Balkanize this way but not that, seems to be the line of thought. One wonders why. One also worries about how parochial and narrowing and claustrophobic it all is, if some people don’t spend all too much time and energy thinking about their gender or sexual preference and all too little thinking about a larger world.

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