OU week 5: knowing ourselves

We’re sexed at birth. Then it’s rarely mentioned again. We introduce ourselves with what we do rather than Hi I’m Sue, I’m female. We only see ourselves through the medium of reflection. Our identity is the face in the mirror or how we are seen by others. The accuracy of this depends on how honest we are. They say the mirror doesn’t lie but we have nothing to compare it with. We can’t ‘see’ ourselves from the outside; we only ‘feel’ ourselves from within. This split lies at the heart of Lacan’s theory of identity construction. The child sees itself in the mirror as a whole image but feels it is made up of disparate parts. Somehow it has to reconcile the internal consciousness with the social and cultural expectations of the external world. Subjectivity is achieved through identification with external discursive practice which in turn is produced by linguistic signs. A fundamental aspect of identity is sexual difference; we wear it like a precursor of future expectation and opportunities. Freud’s in here too; Lacan reinterprets the Oedipal struggle as the child aligns itself appropriately and represses all that insatiated desire into the nether regions of the unconscious. All this theorising about subjectivity is just theory; somehow we develop from screaming egotistic bundles into functioning sociable individuals but there’s no consensus of agreement on how we do it.

I don’t know how old the study material is but there’s no mention of the Internet either as a source of information or as having cultural influence on identity; the opportunities it gave for ‘performance’ has been written about since the 1980s (Turkle, Borstein etc). The only medium is film with a focus on Hitchcock; nothing about gay cinema and although Butler’s Queer theory gets a mention,  the word gay is hardly used; instead the repetition of homosexual makes the text sound stilted in a repressed British sort of way. There’s no mention of intersex, transsexual or transgender, all integral to identity construction and the tiny reference to French feminism doesn’t do justice to the powerful challenge it presented on traditional male structures of dominance and control. In contrast with the other units which have been totally up to date this ones seems to be lagging in a bit of a time warp.

OU week 4; suturing identity

Week 4 and repetitive reading is increasing familiarity with the core ideas in Block 1. The A4 pages are my constant companion along with articles the OU call Offprints. The set book ‘an Identity Reader’ is a heavyweight not designed for carrying about. Considering most chapters are short I would have preferred these as A4 pages too. Surrounded by annotated, highlighted sheets of paper, I’m learning to re-appreciate hard copy. Still no word from my tutor. I expected something along the lines of How am I doing? Have I any problems? Am I dead? But no, welcome to the loneliness of the long distance learner. The isolation must impact negatively on learning. It runs contrary to Wenger’s virtual communities of practice whereby learning is situated in the sharing of experience and there are none of Laurillard’s online conversational frameworks. Instead I have to rely on my captured car-share colleagues for the sharing of ideas and application of theory.  

This week includes Suture; the method through which film replicates Lacanian identity theory; or Marxist ideology, Foucouldian discourse or any other theory of social control and power structure.  Suture is the process whereby the subject (created through language and culture with no independent existence) absorbs and relates to dominant power relations as through for example the ‘male gaze’, theorised by Laura Mulvey where women are portrayed as objectivised objects. Through suture we ‘believe’ or are ‘taken in’ by the portrayal of the plot and in doing so we fail to question the ‘reality’ of what we see. Identification with gender roles or behaviours, or merely being present by watching the film, especially without being aware of it, we accept without question what we see.

I would query a theory that doesn’t appear to allow the viewing of film as escapism; or accept that the view may be actively seeking an entertainment experience. For me this is also the problem with the ‘subject of language’ approach to identity; it assumes identity has a single dimension but I know that I is not me; that I is the language I use to identify me meaning I am only I through language. I know the ‘real’ me can’t be spoken of – or transmitted – other than through language. I disagree with the Lacanian idea that says we panic and identify with the subject position offered by language because we have no alternative. Not only does Lacan not account for where consciousness is before the process of self construction, he also doesn’t allow for any later processes such as education or other life experience, that leads the individual to challenge their earlier conceptions about themselves.  The problem with Lacan seems to be that no one else has yet come up with an alternative theory.