While you read this your identity is being stolen, has been stolen. Before you were confident in who you were: you were yourself; before you were confident in who others were: they were themselves. You could not be them; they could not be you. Or so you thought until now when, you find, someone has broken the rules. He no longer wished to be himself, she no longer wished to be herself, instead the person in question, in order to cast aside their true identity, has decided to become you. The you who is not you. And whether or not the new you acts in a way that you would act, really doesn’t matter. Because now they are you.
Although the choice to become you may have been relatively random, the plan that led to it was not. Cognizant or no, it turns out that you are very good with computers, that you hacked into various Web sites containing bank account and credit card and social security numbers, that you were able to forge signatures, speak in different voices, even becoming a master of disguise in order to create accounts you would later close; furthermore, you opened several new credit cards in your own name that you operated with the help of a league of associates you’ve never met in order to establish an excellent rating, to replace that entry level plastic with gold and then platinum, all for the purpose of establishing the new you, the you who is not you.
Once you were substantiated, the you who is not you hit the road. The escapade began small, but along the way continued to snowball until it consisted of a troupe of heterogeneous hooligans chauffeured by a legion of Hummer limos, a debaucherous odyssey spanning the entire country, paid for by the magnetic swipe of the cards, augmented by cash advances when the products or services desired were owned or enacted by those who prefer (and probably require) the anonymity of green. Along the way you drank drinks you wouldn’t drink at bars you can’t imagine going to, ate food you wouldn’t eat if threatened at restaurants you’ve never even heard of, took drugs you wouldn’t take administered to you by underworld types you felt only existed in movies, banged prostitutes you wouldn’t (and the Surgeon General claims you probably shouldn’t) even so much as touch, agreed to wagers whose odds dictate that no one in their right mind would…but you did, made friends with people of a dubious nature who couldn’t possibly be real—none of whom you remember anyhow, and, in general, had adventures of the sort found only in tabloid descriptions of celebrity benders, Penthouse Letters that begin with “I never thought that this would happen to me,” and the more outrageous pieces of journalism by Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (now deceased), and perhaps the worst part, for how much it’s costing you, the real you, you don’t even know about any of it.
When you finally learn of the jag you’ve been on, you will suffer an identity crisis. In trying to explain to various customer service representatives that you’ve never opened a credit card with their particular bank, that as a general rule you never take cash advances because the interest rates are outrageous, that you’ve never been to Jean Georges, or, for that matter, Tijuana, that it’s unlikely you and everyone you know could consume enough alcohol to equal a $1,000 bar tab really anywhere, that you seriously doubt the credentials of Madame Ling Ling’s massage specialists, so why would you go there, your complaints will fall on deaf ears for all of the call center operators will inform you that you are not who you claim to be. The real you can be found in your credit evaluation, can be found in the paper trail strewn across now three countries. And it continues still.
But what will keep you going as you make endless telephone calls, as you press countless numbers to reach real human beings who may not exist, as you wait for the next representative who may be illusory, as you hear those dreaded words “Do you mind if I put you on hold” knowing full well that they spell certain doom, as you are (unsurprisingly) disconnected, as you resignedly try the call again again again, yes, through all of this, what will keep you going? Beauty. The promise of beauty will help you persevere. The beauty of that sought after moment when you smile, or perhaps sigh a contented sigh. The beauty of honestly and truthfully saying to the last customer service representative, “No-no, thank you.” The beauty of hearing the line go dead. The beauty of setting the phone down and knowing that you do not have to pick it back up. The beauty of realizing that all of your actions from this point forth really will be your actions. The beauty of no longer being fused to the you who is not you. The beauty of being you all by yourself once again.
Andrew Farkas is the author of Self-Titled Debut and is a frequent contributor to The Brooklyn Rail.
Losing My IdentityBy Boris Groys
JUNE 2022 | Critics Page
Today, there is a lot of talk about identity. Identity is supposed to be something that connects us to the pastthat we carry inside us through the present towards the future. When we speak about our identity, we mean not only our own personal past but also our ancestry, the culture in which we were raised, the people to which we belong. Can we abandon our identity? It seems that such an operation is impossible. Even if we have migrated into a different country and culture then it is still possible to trace our route back to its origin and thus reconstruct our identity.
Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary ArtBy Charlotte Kent
DEC 21-JAN 22 | ArtSeen
The curators, Tina Rivers Ryan and Paul Vanouse, focus their broad agenda through four themes: the use of digital technologies for passive (but not always effective) surveillance, how identities are shaped by technology, the erasure of marginalized communities, and the active reassertion of control.
Mirror Image: A Transformation of Chinese IdentityBy Barbara A. MacAdam
SEPT 2022 | ArtSeen
The seven artists in this exhibitionall born in mainland China between 1979 and 1987are represented by nineteen works that range from video to performance to installations, digital art, painting, and more. Each tells a different story with wit, curiosity, techno savvy, painterly skill, and/or sociability.
Charles Gaines: Southern TreesBy Saul Ostrow
MARCH 2023 | ArtSeen
By abstracting Gainess processes and its operation we can tie his game of building and deploying systems to the real worldthey are models of the way in which the particular loses its identity and becomes part of a category. Gainess works, then, function as analogies whose subject is the construction and discernment of identity.