The Problem With Finding Identity In Power

We’ve talked a lot this year about identity and power, and how they intersect. People’s identities are tied in with the power they have or do not have. However, a person’s identity should not only be based upon their position of power; if they lose that power, their entire identity crumbles.

In King Lear, we see this play out with the character of Lear himself. At the beginning of the play, he is king, he has as much power as he wants, and that seems to encompass his entire character. As the play progresses, Lear’s power diminishes. First, he gives it away, to his daughters, but soon he begins to lose it against his will as Regan and Goneril take more and more away from him. It is then, in the storm, when Lear grapples with something more than a loss of power: a loss of identity. Lear placed his entire identity in his role and power as king, and now that he no longer has that, he is lost. Subsequently, he begins going mad, with no idea of who he is and no control over what happens to him.

It is dangerous to place one’s identity in only one thing, especially when that one thing can be easily lost, just as Lear’s power was. Power and identity are linked together, but they should be part of a larger web that makes up who a person is.

Life Through A Telescope

“Telescope” by Cage The Elephant from their album Melophobia is a song of self-reflection that dives into the human experience of being alone and of feeling like you are going through the motions of life. The song talks about a man who lives as a recluse, separate from the rest of society, and the listener can subsequently connect in a variety of ways. They may themselves feels like that recluse, know someone who fits that description, or fear becoming like the person the song describes. Ultimately, “Telescope” invites the listener to reflect on their own lives, and what they choose to spend their time doing or find meaning in.

The song begins setting the scene of the reclusive man:

In a far and distant galaxy
Inside my telescope I see 
A pair of eyes peer back at me 
He walks and talks and looks like me

In these beginning lines, Cage The Elephant presents a juxtaposition between how this person seems strange and separate but also very familiar. The “telescope” in the second line emphasizes the distant nature of this man, but the fourth line encourages the listener to note the similarities they have with him. The listener is instantly pushed to think about how they may relate to the rest of the song. As the song continues, the lyrics include a simile in the chorus:

Time is like a leaf in the wind
Either it's time well spent or time I've wasted
Don't waste it

This simile gets at the main purpose of the song. The artist wants the listener to reflect on how they spend their time and what they find worthwhile. The comparison of time with “a leaf in the wind” emphasizes the fleeting nature of our own lives, and how quickly it can blow by. The manner in which Cage The Elephant ends this chorus, with a direct message to the listener, persuades the listener to continue in their own self-reflection. The next verse brings the song back to the story of the reclusive man:

Desperately searching for signs
Too terrified to find a thing
He battens all the hatches down
And wonders why he hears no sound
Frantically searching his dreams
He wonders what it's all about

These lines detail things that many listeners could relate to. Some of the things the man is doing seem irrational and contrasting, searching for answers he does not want to find. The last line of this verse suggests that the man is searching for meaning, something many people do. They don’t know where to look and they are afraid that they won’t find meaning or that the meaning they do find isn’t enough. The word “dreams” in this verse can serve two meanings; many people attempt to find their purpose in their goals and aspirations in the future, but this man seems to be looking in his dreams as he sleeps for hints of the answers he searches for, because he has prevented himself from finding any in his daily life.

“Telescope” provides listeners the opportunity to reflect on their lives and their own ideas of meaning. If we spend too much time searching for meaning, we may miss out on important things; if we don’t find meaning in anything at all, we may feel as though we are going through the motions and not truly living.

Not an Other

In the media today, stories of migrants are written in a way that emphasizes their journey, their struggle, and the hardships they come from. Essentially, these stories do their best to create an “other”, to emphasis everything that makes migrants different from the person reading the story.

In Exit West, Mohsin Hamid takes a different approach. The book focuses heavily on relationships between people, particularly Saeed and Nadia, as well as familial relationships and the connections Saeed and Nadia make with different people as they traveled away from their home. Everyone has relationships of some sort with people in their lives, and so people reading this book, who most likely live in entirely different circumstances from Saeed and Nadia, are able to relate in that way. The use of doors as methods of traveling from place to place reduces the emphasis of the physical journey of a migrant and allows the reader the focus on what is more important: who the characters are and the connections they form with others.

Exit West combats the narrative of migrants as nothing more than a distinct “other” from non-migrants. It emphasizes the things that humans have in common, regardless of what part of the globe they are from.

If Nothing Matters, Anything Can Matter

Mr. Heidkamp’s talk about the meaning of life brought up the idea that anything we feel, or any meaning we find in life–love, relationships, the pursuit of happiness–is an illusion created by the society we live in. In a sense, he said that nothing truly matters, has intrinsic value, or is “real”. I would argue that because nothing matters, it doesn’t matter if something is “real” or not. If we believe something to be true or if we value a particular thing, that should be enough. It is unnecessary to get bogged down with the details of whether something is an inherent truth or whether we have been conditioned to think so by society.

Take love, for example. Mr. Heidkamp questioned the existence of love and whether it is something natural or something created by society. As and I and other students pointed out, it shouldn’t matter whether love is real and natural or not. We feel what we believe to be love for other people, we think that it is real, and it doesn’t matter if love is actually an illusion because believing in love doesn’t hurt anyone. Believing in all of these things that could be illusions just helps us to enjoy life and to find our own meaning in it.

If nothing matters and everything is an illusion, choosing to reject that idea, and to believe that there are some transcendent truths to life, doesn’t matter either. If it doesn’t hurt anyone, we can do whatever we want and believe whatever we want. Anything can matter.

Power in “Dry”

This summer, for my summer reading book, I choose to read Dry, by Neal and Jarrod Shusterman. This book, set sometime in the future, details the events following a massive drought and subsequent water shortage in California.

Throughout the book, the authors illustrate the power dynamics at play within this water shortage. Those who have water have the power; those who do not are at the mercy of those who do.

While this is a central and reccuring theme throughout the book, it is most clearly demonstrated in Chapter 18, regarding a character named Henry. While everyone scrambles for the little water left in the area, Henry has a stockpile of water bottles in his home, and has been trading this water to his neighbors in return for expensive items. Henry holds all of the power in these negotiations; he does not need his neighbors’ items, but they need his water. When one of his neighbors makes a deal he doesn’t like, Henry acts as if the negotiation has ended and says, “If you’re not serious about this, I’m gonna have to ask you to leave” (Shusterman 188). Instantly, the neighbor scrambles to give Henry what he wants, so that he can gain access to the precious water Henry has to offer.

Henry and his negotiations are just one example of the power dynamics that play out throughout the book. Dry is an example of how important systems and dynamics of power are to storytelling, and how nearly every story is connected to power structures in one way or another.

The Remote in Escape from Spiderhead

Escape from Spiderhead is all about power dynamics and binaries. There is a very clear power dynamic from the very beginning: Abnesti is in the position of power, and Jeff is required to submit to him. This power dynamic is reinforced by the technology of the world in which the story is set, as it states early on in the story, “Abnesti used his remote. My MobiPak whirred” (45). Abnesti has the control in this situation, because he has the remote. As the story continues, we see the way that Abnesti exercises his power over Jeff and other subjects and finally, at the end of the story, Jeff takes back power by using the remote himself. The remote in this story is a tangible representation of the power dynamic regarding Abnesti, Jeff, and the others.