Tag Archives: Clarissa’s blog

Bildung

15 Dec

Pic26jpgI am borrowing the title of this post from Clarissa, who wrote: “what pleases me the most about my life is that every aspect of it was carefully constructed by me. I didn’t let things just happen to me but created a vision of how I wanted to live and then set out to turn that vision into reality. By the fact of my birth, I was supposed to lead a very, very different life and be a very, very different person.”

I found this very inspiring because I, too, am struggling to envision a life that departs from what was handed to me at birth. Doing a PhD, being queer, or developing an independent spirituality are some of the crucial aspects of my experience which in many ways work against what my parents or extended family has in mind for me. The past exerts a strong influence, as does education into a certain social class and a particular religious perspective, and it takes strength and determination to take bold steps towards emancipation from these external forces, steps towards self-determination. Even though it seems quite stereotypically American to me (think self-made man), I am attracted to the idea of creating a vision for one’s life and using it as both inspiration and guiding principle.

Incidentally, I stumbled upon this article on HigherEd about black dandies who are fashioning academic identities. I loves the self-conscious effort involved in the process of carefully constructing one’s identity – dress offers a practical, material way of stepping into a crafted persona. It provides a way of reaching out of oneself to effect change on one’s environment. I recognized Sharon Holland, whom I’d met before and whose style had made quite an impression on me. This isn’t surprising since I also love Elisha Lim’s Illustrated Gentleman and wish I had the courage to dress like that more often. I am reminded that one grows into a new social identity, but that the first moves can be taxing.

Back to Clarissa, who added that “the reason why academics so often get depressed is that they allow their identities to be molded by forces outside of themselves.” Although this is by no means specific to academics, it does remind me that unless one learns to be self-assertive, one will usually end up being manipulated into submissiveness. This is true, at least, for people on whom power was not imparted at birth, in other words, to those of us who want to make progress in life even though it strays away from what we were “meant” to be originally. As Joseph Jacotot once said: “L’éducation, c’est comme la liberté: cela ne se donne pas, cela se prend.”