Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

"I Have to Figure out Who I Am": Embodied Self, Time, and the Ethics of Adolescence in David Levithan's Every Day

Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

"I Have to Figure out Who I Am": Embodied Self, Time, and the Ethics of Adolescence in David Levithan's Every Day

Article excerpt

A FEW PAGES BEFORE THE END OF DAVID LEVITHAN'S 2012 NOVEL. Every Day, the protagonist and narrator A finds her/himself reflecting upon our place in the universe. (1) Coming to the bleak conclusion that "ultimately, the universe doesn't care about us. Time doesn't care about us," A argues that it is precisely because neither time nor the universe cares that "we have to care about each other" (320). As both this short excerpt and its title indicate, Every Day is a novel concerned with the relation that time entertains with identity and our sense of ethical responsibility. Presenting its reader with the story of a sixteen-year-old, disembodied consciousness whose life so far has been passed hopping from body to body on a daily basis and who, upon falling in love with a sixteen-year-old girl, Rhiannon, decides to try, for the first time, to live a "normal" life, Every Day in many ways offers a traditional YA narrative. Attempting to portray "the alienated pains and pleasures of adolescence" in order to bring its readers "face to face with different forms of cultural alienation" (Hilton and Nikolajeva 1), it highlights the difficult and tense relation that adolescents entertain with their own changing bodies. By narrating the story of a young being forced to adapt to her/his new body every single day, Levithan thus presents an oddly familiar vision of adolescence as poised between a desire for sameness and an irreducible embodied drive towards difference whose collision can but lead to a profound identificatory crisis. (2)

Yet, if A's continuously changing body does in some way operate as a traditional obstacle to identification, its role in the novel is more complex than it may at first appear. Adopting what Carrie Hintz and Elaine Ostry define as the inherently didactic and proscriptive dimension of YA fiction, (3) Every Day not only reveals the difficulties of adolescence; it also frames them within a structure in which they become an instrument of politicization, a way to encourage "young people to view their society with a critical eye, sensitizing or predisposing them to political action" (7). Focusing on Levithan's exploration of the relation between time and identity, this article highlights how the sense of intense alienation defining adolescence, born as it is from the tension between embodied change and the creation of a stable sense of self, provides a unique opportunity for the subject to engage the Other on a positively ethical ground. By promoting an understanding of adolescence as a constant process of reiterative identification, a repetitive attempt at figuring out who and what the subject actually is, Every Day forces its readers to confront the role difference plays within our conception of identity.

Indeed, while Levithan's novel ultimately itself undermines the disruption of the binary structures of sameness/difference, normality/abnormality and hetero-/homo-sexuality that it appears to promote (Kennon 61), it nonetheless signals an interesting foray into questioning some of the dominant assumptions that continue to frame the way we think about adolescence, embodiment, and ethics. By highlighting the place otherness occupies in the constitution of our sense of self, Every Day opens up a potential new space for re-thinking adolescence not as a centripetal and egocentric period, driven by a quest for identity, but rather as a time of intense ethical negotiation in which the subject crafts her/his sense of self by opening this self to a continuous dialogue between an interior form of otherness and the commonality s/he finds outside her/his own self. Exposing how the egocentricism that has often defined adolescence can operate as the foundation of our empathetic ability, Every Day thus gestures towards a re-framing of the incompleteness at the heart of the adolescent identity as ground for a renewed political and ethical engagement with the collective; that which allows us to move from "figur[ing] out who I am" to "car[ing] about each other" (Levithan 1, 320, my italics). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.