In Tim O'Brien's powerful work The Things They Carried he says, "It's now 1990. I'm forty-three years old, which would've seemed impossible to a fourth grader, and yet when I look at photographs of myself as I was in 1956, I realize that in the important ways I haven't changed at all. I was Timmy then, now I'm Tim. But the essence remains the same. I'm not fooled by the baggy pants or the crewcut or the happy smile-I know my own eyes-and there is no doubt that the Timmy smiling at the camera is the Tim I am now. Inside the body, or beyond the body, there is something absolute and unchanging. The human life is all one thing, like a blade tracing loops on ice: a little kid, a twenty-three-year-old infantry sergeant, a middle-aged writer knowing guilt and sorrow" (264-5).
As I noted in my last post I've been working on a narrative theology lecture (I think I've finally finished it today). O'Brien's passage reminds me of the power of our own stories and the truth of them. We may have what George Stroup considers incoherence between who we say we are and what our history says we are, but I suspect that deep down we all know our hypocrisy.
The above composite ties 3 self-portraits from my childhood (probably 5-8th grade). It was an attempt to reclaim the stories of my youth. It came from the realization that I cannot live sui generis. Our culture tells us that we may re-create (or more accurately purchase) a new story and identity on a whim. This has contributed to a social state of amnesia. We have literally bought a Romanticist conception of ourselves that says we are truly human only when we strike out on our own to make ourselves free from the constraints and traditions of society. We imagine ourselves a fresh creation unbounded by others. And yet, we have only traded one tradition for another; a tradition of no tradition. And as Robert Bellah suggests, in this perceived glorious freedom and independence, we become the most susceptible to coercion by the dominant beliefs of our own culture. For it is a powerful cultural fiction that we not only can, but must, make up our deepest beliefs in the radical isolation of our private selves.