“We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes —
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile
And mouth with myriad subtleties….”
– Paul Laurence Dunbar, We Wear the Mask
“It’s all impersonation–in the absence of a self, one impersonates selves, and after a while impersonates best the self that best gets one through.”
“The treacherous imagination is everybody’s maker—we are all the invention of each other, everybody a conjuration conjuring up everyone else. We are all each other’s authors.”
-Phillip Roth, The Counterlife
I have this thing with assumptions: I hate them. There’s really not much you can do about them though. It’s just that some people make assumptions far too much and place far too much confidence in them — that’s what can be annoying. In many cases, the less you give people to go on, the bigger the leaps they make about you. But of course, assumptions are what we do. We all do it to varying degrees. We all hate them, yet we all make them.
I think assumptions are part of the reason why it’s so hard to really know someone these days. And it doesn’t help that people are more insecure than ever — insecurity is one of the defining characteristics of our post-modern condition, no? So we create multiple selves for ourselves, choosing a mask for each aspect of our lives.
Truth is relative — that is also one of the epiphanies of post-modernism: the most blatant of lies can carry more meaning than the starkest of truths; it can be a more profound “truth” than any real truth could have been. And this “truth” can help us get closer to finding and broadening the beautiful spectrum of our identity as humans…and can hurl us ten steps backwards by also serving to fracture and refract it even more.
In this age of personal blogs, myspace pages, user profiles, and polished, carefully designed resumes, we are always busy creating our various fictions that make up our identities, hoping against hope that it is the poignantly true type of fiction. So we create this fiction — some complete fiction, a lot of non-fiction, and much more a combination — for the world to read.
Boy, do people read. They read into everything we say or convey through our actions and expressions. So it’s probably understandable why we create these fictions for ourselves. People are constantly reading and counter-reading each other, and conclusions, no matter if they are true or not, are reached. Because, fuck, truth doesn’t matter. It’s the essence that’s of utmost importance. And really, it’s so much more intriguing when a lie or a series of untruths are able to convey a concrete, undeniable truth. (Perhaps we have fallen so in love with doing this that now we only get mostly flat, dull, boring untruths that don’t mean anything.)
We not only create fiction for ourselves but we also create fiction for those around us in our lives. And the conclusions we draw from our palette of suppositions — with their many nuances and varying shades and colors of truth, emotion, envy, love mixed in — are what we use to paint the people who surround our lives as well.
And it looks like I am in the same boat as all the people I get annoyed by — all the people who misread me, misinterpret me, and create their own fiction about me; all those people who I in turn misread and misinterpret, sometimes out of spite; and my self, who misreads and misinterprets me as much as the worst of them. Who am I? I have no clue really. I guess I’m writing my own fiction for me to read and say, “Ah, yes, this is me. I’ve found myself.” This of course is different from the fiction that I consciously and unconsciously write for everyone else to see. That fiction is the one that provides the hard covers for me to hide my “true fiction” within. And who knows how many other fictions are hiding in those? After a while, you can’t tell which is which.
We’re all writers, then we’re actors, in a continuous, alternating pattern, and life is just a matter of finding the best scripts to act out in the most convincing fashion. Ideally, that script would come from yourself, but it could come from a script someone else makes for you.
The idea of a “true identity” may only be an unreachable mirage of an ideal, only possible in a work of fiction.
“All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players…”
-Shakespeare, As You Like It
“….We smile, but oh great Christ, our cries
To Thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!”