Identity Parades: Northern Irish Culture and Dissident Subjects

By Richard Kirkland | Go to book overview
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Introduction

The question of ‘speaking asinvolves a distancing from oneself. The moment I have to think of the ways in which I will speak as an Indian, or as a feminist, the ways in which I will speak as a woman, what I am doing is trying to generalise myself, make myself a representative, trying to distance myself from some kind of inchoate speaking as such. There are many subject positions which one must inhabit; one is not just one thing. That is when a political consciousness comes in. So that in fact, for the person who does the ‘speaking as’ something, it is a problem of distancing from one's self, whatever that self might be.

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak 1

We live in an age in which it is practically impossible to speak of politics without speaking also of identity. Identity provides us with a sense of who we are, where we have come from, and, more importantly, where we are going. It mediates our personal memory in terms of collective inheritance and provides the platform from which we launch ourselves on an unsuspecting world. Understood in these terms, identity offers itself, almost uniquely, as a means of ordering the chaos of our experience. It can assimilate the unlikely event, the crisis-wracked history, the piece of outrageous good fortune and find in this material not merely a story but an explanation. Perhaps more importantly, within this function identity is forgiving; it justifies the visceral response, smoothes over the contradictions of our prejudices and constitutes the final refuge from which we can argue our case and vindicate our position.

At the same time, however, identity has its limits, not least in the fact that it never quite seems to coincide with the incoherences, the ambivalences and the gaps out of which we make ourselves. Indeed, Spivak's awareness of the ‘distancing’ involved in asserting any statement of identity is salutary in that it suggests something of the

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