Two Kinds of Identity

It’s started to dawn on me that the way I talk about identity may be confusing to some of my readers — that, when I say “this thing is very important,” people don’t actually have a good sense of what kind of thing it is that’s being discussed.  I can’t really blame anyone for being confused.  Identity, as in “identity politics,” is one of the cornerstone concepts of the contemporary cultural/political discourse.  The thing I usually mean is…not very much like that thing.  Not totally unrelated, to be sure, but pretty distinct in almost every important way.

So it may be worth taking a moment to unpack the terminology.

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Two Kinds of Identity

A Brief Lexical Interlude

Someone on Tumblr challenged me to provide a concise, usable definition of this “identity” term that I keep throwing around.  Which is really a very reasonable sort of challenge.

Someone else pointed out that it might prove useful, later on, if my answer to that question were not buried in the trackless depths of Tumblr.

So.  As best as I can define it, at the moment, identity is:

1. An abstracted mental image (or narrative) of the self, which is

2. Defined by a constellation of archetypical traits and tropes, and which

3. Allows its possessor to find both personal validation and aesthetic satisfaction in contemplating it, because

4. To some extent it simultaneously conforms to reality and to personal ideals. 

A Brief Lexical Interlude