Still in the incunabula stage
Dealing With The Money

Who Am I?

One of the more entertaining problems we discussed back when I was an undergrad in philosophy school was that of "personal identity."  What is it that makes me "me" over time?   In what sense and Scott_in_3rd_grade how is the 3rd grader the same person as me and no other?  Physically, we're composed of completely different atoms.  Psychologically there are vast differences between us.  Modern memory studies are sufficient to show that there's no steady constant link that we can rely on from his day to mine.  The faces that we present to the different people in our lives can be very different indeed.  What binds all those facets of personality over space and time?

I was disappointed that Laura Albert was found guilty of fraud for signing contracts under the name of her alter ego, JT Leroy.  I haven't followed the transcripts closely enough to know how the legal issues actually played out, but I was hoping that she'd get off.  That she needed to be JT Leroy in order to write seems clear enough.  And she did indeed deliver the novel that the studio wanted to make a movie out of.  But it seems that in our celebrity culture, novels don't stand on their own and the novel apparently written by JT Leroy is substantially different than the novel written by Laura Albert. 

One of the first librarian blogs that I started reading regularly was bizgirl.  It was literate, funny, sharp in a way that none of the other librarian blogs that I was coming across could begin to touch.  It also turned out to be a work of fiction, something that was coming to light just about the time that I started reading it.  Natalie Biz, the 28 year old "international librarian of mystery" was actually the creation of  a male  librarian and sometime music writer from New Zealand.  The truth finally came out when bizgirl started winning awards.  I don't recall that anyone accused the author of "fraud" -- but then, there weren't large sums of money in play.

Many of the bloggers that I follow wrestle with the identity conundrum.  Are they writing a "personal" blog, or a "professional" one?   If you're trying to be anonymous, how long can you carry on before you inadvertently leave too many breadcrumbs and your co-workers start suspecting that it's you?   

We are inevitably shaping our personas when we write.  Whether we label it personal or professional, we're creating a particular character to present to the rest of the world.   Sometimes, the creation of that persona can be more blatant and crafted, and that may make it possible to write things that one couldn't get to in one's "real" voice.    Those who value anonymity on the net argue that sometimes it is essential if certain things are going to get said at all.  That it so often becomes cover for deceit and meanness is, perhaps, just the price we have to pay.

I tend to think that the virtues of anonymity on the net are exaggerated and it is too often used to provide cover for someone who is unwilling to stand up to the things that they write.   But whether we write anonymously, or in the guise of a pseudonym, or ostensibly as ourselves, we're still just creating characters.

Comments

Dorothea Salo

Yes. Though characters can be more or less true, more or less honest, more or less whole, more or less contrived.

My only addition would be to remark that characters can have significant impacts on the people who read them (or read about them) as well as the people who write them. As we create our blog-characters, it's worth pondering what they do to us.

James (aka Natalie)

"...The truth finally came out when bizgirl started winning awards. I don't recall that anyone accused the author of "fraud"..."

Funnily enough, NetGuide, which is the largest circulating Internet-themed magazine here in NZ, and who were behind one of the awards that catapulted BizGirl into the limelight, did field some letters from outraged readers who couldn't believe that the blog award could go to someone who had 'just made stuff up'.

Just how a judging panel could authenticate the veracity of any given blog is beyond me, but the NetGuide letter-writers seemed to think I had indeed perpetuated some sort of dishonesty by mixing my fact (and a lot of the blog was my day-to-day life described exactly as it happened, through the identity-obscuring filter of Ms. Biz) and fiction (admittedly, more of this as time wore on, especially after I was 'outed', and the need and motivation for secrecy was gone).

Most people though, understood it in the context that it was meant - just a lighthearted bit of online mischievousness.

I really enjoyed this post, by the way. It brought back a lot of the memories of the time, when people were asking how much of Natalie's life and personality were like mine. The answer, of course, being "all of it".

T Scott

By the way, I saw that bit on NZ tv where you were interviewed just after you were outed. Lynn and I were particularly delighted that you used the phrase, "I'm a librarian by trade..." That's usually how I refer to myself, but I'd not heard it from anybody else.

I hope you're still writing regularly, and if you can point me to some of your work, I'd be grateful. I'm glad that Natalie was one of the first characters I came across in blogworld -- she gave me a good sense of what's possible...

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