I know what I like. I think.

2 10 2007

“It’s what you like that counts, not what you are like. Books, records, films–these things matter.” ~Rob, High Fidelity

Lately I have been trying to shed myself of my worldly identity (that is, my supposed identity that is shaped by the things that I own). This personal goal (which I will never reach) was reinforced by a piece of Pierre Bourdieu’s argument on taste which one of my professors presented to our class last week. Bourdieu basically draws our attention to the fact that everything that you think you do “in good taste” or because that’s just “how you do things” is bull shit and completely arbitrary.

Isn’t it funny how certain kinds of people do certain kinds of things in very particular kinds of ways? I think cars and music are the easiest things to classify in this way. For instance, why do so many professors drive Subarus? How did the VW bug and VW van become the choice vehicle of hippies? Clearly, luxury cars are purchased for status and minivans for convenience, but Volkswagans and Subarus cost about the same as a Ford Focus or a Toyota Camry or a Honda Accord. Blue jeans have become another kind of status symbol (which I am most certainly a consumer/victim of). So what gives?

We define ourselves and each other by our tastes. My husband’s little brother skateboards–this is something that I would have considered tasteless when I was in school. However, skateboarding is very trendy for his generation and I find myself growing proud of my limited acquaintance with the sport as this provides me with some common ground between my students and me. At the school where I work now, several of the teachers on my hall “go riding” (that is, they ride motorcycles) for fun. This is a hobby that I am familiar with only through my reading of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which is another personality-defining cultural artifact. Blogging is another hobby that is associated with a particular kind of person (though I’m not sure I could pinpoint what kind of person this is except to say that it’s probably a similar kind of person who owns a Mac versus a PC and perhaps drinks lots of coffee).

I often get classified as a certain kind of person when people learn that I have not taken my husband’s last name. I actually had a friend from high school whose reaction was, “I always thought you would be one of those kinds of people.” I’m assuming that those people are perhaps the kind of feminists who prescribe to the notion that I have seen on my gender and lit professor’s door, which reads something like, “Each time I say something that differentiates myself from a doormat, I get called a feminist.” (I can’t remember who said that) Since I was not aiming to “come off” a certain way by keeping my maiden name, I was not wholly prepared for my friend’s comment, nor was I sure about my feelings on the matter. Perhaps what I’m getting at is the fact that there is a difference between the choices we consciously make in keeping with our orientation towards “who we are” and the choices that we make as a result of who we are, which also contribute to who we think we are upon deeper reflection.

Now I’m starting to confuse myself. All I know is that I have always been disgusted by people who see outrageous, cool things and desperately proclaim, “That is soooo ME!” Although I will grudgingly admit to thinking this to myself upon trying on a cozy pair of pants I recently purchased at Anthropologie (talk about a store that caters to our desire to be viewed as tasteful people–I feel reinvented every time I set foot in that store, even if I only buy a candle). In many ways, having a baby made me feel pressured to define myself as an individual–apart from my being a mother. I believe I am making some strides in settling into my own skin a bit with all of my new roles, despite the fact that I still buy expensive jeans and candles.

A question for you to ponder: Stripped of your things, your hobbies, your uncanny propensity for selecting the “perfect” this or that, what defines who you are? It’s complicated. It really is.

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5 responses

3 10 2007
Emma

Rebecca West. It was on Penny’s door, next door. 🙂

I think that what defines me, minus all of that, is a propensity for sleep. Or is sleep a hobby? Hmmm …

5 10 2007
Art

I wanna know more. I think that can define me. Not for any particular reason, even. I just wanna know more.

22 10 2007
Lavanda

I just want to be in that happy place,
and every day, I think,
“In just a few more months, I will be in that happy place,”
but a few more months come, and still,
I am saying,
“In a few more months, I will be in that happy place.”
This is what defines me.

31 10 2007
whitreed

Yes! I empathize completely.

20 12 2007
Maximus

I would like to see a continuation of the topic

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