Who Are You?

Justin Clavadetscher

"Identities seem contradictory, partial, and strategic."

"There is not even such a state as 'being' female", or "being" monster, or"being" angel.

"We find ourselves to be cyborgs, hybrids, mosaics, chimeras."

With great success, Shelly Jackson's Patchwork Girl addresses the unavoidable conflict of identification, which continues to haunt not only hypertextual works of art specifically, but the realms of cyberspace in general. Since first reading Mitchell's City of Bits, I have realized that a culture which emphasizes communication and general interaction through pixeled monitors dissolves the human paradigm of appearance. Be it sex, race, age, hair color, piercings, or physical "deformity", all physical characteristics take on little if any significance within the dimension of computer information technology. With this being lost, then how does an individual maintain his or her sense of self? Who and what are we and how do we orient ourselves in such an environment?

Just by the fact that Patchwork Girl was constructed as hypertext fiction, the reader must initially question one of the primary functions of identification: location. If Patchwork Girl were a book, a specific part which interested the reader could be remembered by a page number. To elaborate further, one can literally feel how close to the conclusion they are by comparing the amount of pages up against the left cover versus those on the right. Yet in hypertext, such dimensions do not exist:

" I can see only that part most immediately before me, and have no sense of how that part relates to the rest".

"I tell myself, I am a third of the way down through a rectangular solid, I am a quarter of the way down the page, I am here on the page, here on this line, here, here, here. In hypertext, where am I? I am in a here and a present moment that has no history and no expectations for the future".

"Or rather, history is only a haphazard hopscotch through other present moments. How I got from one to the other is unclear. Though I could list my past moments, they would remain discrete (and intrinsically recombinant in potential if not in fact), hence without shape, without end, without story".

While effectively debasing the preconstructed notions of identification as a function of location, Jackson also addresses notions of identification as a function of character. While escaping from the ball and chain of physical constructs, why not continue the argument into the realm of the psychological?

In Stuart Hall's "Cultural Identity and Cinematic Representation" he acknowledges two general forms of personal identification. The first is the notion of one shared collective self. This entails a shared history, ancestry, and experience, as in contemporary African-Americans's common struggle to heal the wounds of slavery and its wake , which unites every individual into "one people". The second notion of identification emphasizes the points of deep and significant differences which tend to constitute what we really are. Under the constant transformation and intervention of history, belonging neither to the future nor the past, this seems best understood as becoming rather than being. It is a function of environment, activity, and acquaintance, among others. Acknowledging the unreliability of past methodology, Jackson states:

Classical wholeness and taxonomic self-knowledge is harder and harder to believe in. Maybe even for angels, though they don't seem reft by racial and cultural differences, and seem to believe in hierarchy, in assigned moral parking spots as if souls acquired goodness stepwise, in integral packets. Notches, tax brackets; Thrones, Powers, Seraphs.

Jackson's construction of the Patchwork Girl, proposes a new manner of identification that dissolves the independent isolated self into an encompassing whole; a whole which has no existence outside of its varied parts. Though the great majority of us were not initially created as a combination of others people's (or animal's) body parts, Patchwork Girl serves as an appropriate metaphor. Though everyone has been born into a family with a heritage and a location, the process of life becomes one of "cutting off" aspects no longer desired or appropriate and "suturing" on those which are:

"You're right, I did pity you, but no longer, "I said, "because I see that your scars not only mark a cut, they also commemorate a joining."

"More than that," she said. "Scar tissue does more that restore a damaged wholeness and flaunt its strength by chronicling the assaults it has withstood. Scar tissue is new growth. And it is tougher than skin innocent of the blade."

"Is it less sensitive?" I asked, daring to brush my palm once more across her skin.

"In here, it is more sensitive," she said, removing her hand from me with a gesture that seemed to include both head and breast.

Not stopping at conscious acquisition of identity, Jackson even goes on to embrace the uncontrollable aspect of acquiring subtle nuances of character:

"Keep in mind, though, that on the microscopic level, you are all clouds. There is no shrink-wrap preserving you from contamination: your skin is a permeable membrane. Molecules hang in contiguity but are nowhere near as locked in place as a brick wall, and when they get excited, they take flight! Come closer, come even closer: if you touch me, your flesh is mixed with mine, and if you pull away, you may take some of me with you, and leave a token behind".

In conclusion, it seems as if the ultimate compliment is have another individual acquire part of what we have to give. In this sense one is granted eternal life:

"I have a crazy wish! I wish that I had cut off a part of me, something Percy would not miss, but something dear to me, and given it to be a part of her. I would live on in her, and she would know me as I know myself. I fear this but crave it. I do not know if she would want it. But I could graft myself to that mighty vine. Who knows what strange new fruit the two of us might bear?"

Coincidentally, this has become a highly regulated business. What began as a respectful references based on a bibliography and has evolved into a musician's sampling of beats, plagiarism has become one of the greatest taboos in the intellectual world. One can only laugh as the messianic criminal leads the artists into the promised land.

Discussion of Patchwork Girl Overview Screen for Website Body and Self