The Quilt Imperative: Dimensions of the Post-modernist self

One of the distinguishing marks of postmodern identity is its fluidity and high fragmentation. This idea of the self has evolved from the pre-modern and modern identities.

The pre-modern identity is by far the most unified and stable kind of identity. Here, there is little conflict about a person’s identity, since it comes as a pre-determined role into which the individual usually fit. The modern identity moves further from the pre-modern identity, with a multiplicity of identities available to categorize the individual. Thus, while it is a lot easier to compartmentalize the individual in pre-modern times, modern identities do not offer a straitjacket for such compartmentalization.  There is a shifting personality in the latter classification.

In spite of the apparent differences between the pre-modern and modern self, there still exists the core issue of an inner self which both concepts embrace; however subtle. This existence of a core (inner) self is what sets these two identities apart from the postmodern self. To the postmodernist, an inner self is an illusion. Here, the individual is simply a fragmentation with different roles and an ever-shifting self.

In looking at the postmodern identity, the case is made about the various options of self that the individual is exposed to. One has an array of identities to choose from, based on a multiplicity of factors. The emergence of new media and commercialization of identities, as well as cultural mediators and unconventional lifestyle influences can be cited. Unlike the earlier identities where the individual’s exposure to outside forces is limited to a few social agents, postmodern identity parades an infinite stream of influential forces.

Cosmopolitan living, with its contingencies and fast-paced lifestyles, was the core of modern identities. This identity, arguably gives some level of personal liberty to the individual, since it has no traditional restrictions. The postmodern identity however moves beyond this clearly defined sense of self. The emergence of information technology has brought about a “new configurations of the individual”. What is striking in these categories of identity is the replacement of direct interpersonal communication with machine-assisted interpersonal communication. The sense of the self is being diluted by technological inventions. An implication of this phenomenon is the dissolved boundaries of existence.

Also, the complex creations of what can be tagged as the ‘hybrid’ self (machine plus human), has brought about an indeterminate identity of the self. There is an apparent intrusion of the natural, with the use of the inorganic; which creates a very complex dynamic that the postmodern individual has to grapple with.

Another element spawned by technological advancement is the blur in gender roles, where cyber-technology offers the opportunity for people to portray sexual identities different to their own. With the breaking down of the walls of direct communication, it is easy to assume a personality role without stress. Though this phenomenon does not seem to have had its full cycle of development, the case can be made that the restrictions of gender are gradually being surpassed with the ease at which roles can be switched. The case made about the disappearing self by Arthur and Marilouise Kroker (1988), gives a glimpse into the implication of this element.

From the illustrations of pop musician Madonna, to Cindy Sherman, the blur in gender roles is taken further into a realm where multiple identities have become possibilities. Here, there is an implication of artificiality in terms of the way these presentations are made. There is no claim to an authentic self, since it becomes an uneasy chore to pinpoint and justify authenticity in a marketplace of similar ‘products’.

Perhaps, the point about identity as construction, gives an overview of the position of postmodernists. The argument of a non-existent core self and the idea of self- creation remain the cardinal elements in this point. The American sociologist, Erving Goffman makes a fairly agreeable point with his reference to ‘image management’. Clearly, the postmodern identity is one where the core self dissolves into fragments. Goffman drives the point home with his view that the identity is “a peg on which something of a collaborative manufacture will be hung for a while”.

Indeed, like the traditional quilt, the postmodern individual is a patchwork of layers of contructs and experiences. This is imperative for one to meander his way through a rapidly changing world of multiple interactions.

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