Saturday, October 19, 2013

Identity Fraud

The past is not only a foreign country, it is big enough to have a number of different time zones.  There is the immediate past, which can pretty well include events up to last night at, say, midnight.  There is the recent past with can be given a colloquial equivalent of "roughly a month or so ago."  

There is the reminiscent past, which translates to the "back-in-the-day" nostalgia kind of past.  And there is the distant past, a past with the potential of extending way before you were born, perhaps even beyond the early examples of photography, and into the dusty corridors of antiquity.

You find yourself now using the past the way you might have used your favorite dictionary, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, of course in its unabridged form.  A significant reason for your favoritism if the AHD is its role model, the stately and extensive The Oxford English Dictionary, first published in 1884, now containing over 600,000 entries, based on historical principles,  This means the first definition of any given word represents the first historical in-print use of the word.  Thus the OED's first noted use of the word "character" comes from a 1586 reference to Christopher Marlowe's play, Tamburlaine.

Consulting the OED was no mere whim or procrastination; you had/have a bona fide interest in the word "character," just as you have an interest in the referential word "part," when used as a synonym for character, as in playing a part in a drama.  (This, by the way, was the 1749 use, discovered in Henry Fielding's romp of a novel, Tom Jones.

These references are not frivolous.  They meet in and at the large terrain of a topic of critical interest to the human species, even before the development of a written language.  The topic is identity.

Who are your characters?  What do they want?  To what ends will they travel to achieve the (or these) goal (goals)?

Answers to these questions for writers and readers are not mere sufficient questions.  They are necessary questions; their necessity has long been understood by dramatic writers as essential to the craft of narrative.

In a real and revealing sense, the answers to these questions can go begging unless the writer is conversant with an answer to yet another question, Who are you?

This is not intended to convey the sense of challenges such as, "Who are you to conclude you are a writer?"  Rather this question asks the writer to acquaint herself or himself with the component identities residing within the condominium of the Self.  Who are you as an ego?  Accepting the multiplicity of selves camping out on the terrain that is you, is there anyone in charge?  What is/are your vision/visions?

You have frequent cause to wonder who you are, sometimes taking acute clues from the way you pose that question to yourself (Who are you to ask such a thing?) of the way others pose it to you (which has the potential for causing you to remind yourself you'd best keep Old Grumpy under wraps, but it could also cause you to tell yourself, "All right, no Mr. Nice Guy.").

You often attempt to answer the question "Who am I?" with the one-size-fits all reply that you write to find out, to identify self.

No wonder mysteries are so popular; none of us knows with ardent certainty 24/7 who we are.  We recognize the movement among selves, the occasional palace revolt, wherein we overthrow an intransigent leader.

Back in the day, much of your reading had a sense of happening right now, which seemed to suit you well until your discovery that there were persons of more or less the same curiosity and imagination as you who'd lived some time earlier.  Tom Jones, for instance, who starts off as a foundling but then has the miraculous gift thrust upon him of being something quite else (and thus, for your tastes, less interesting.  Tom is of noble birth.  Oh, please.  Except that readers for some time after were only too pleased to accept that.)

Adventures of identity are your favorites for the simple and yet most compelling reason of all:  Finding out who you are is a surprise you are not always going to be comfortable with.  What can you do but live with it?  And write about it.

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