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 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.