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The Formation Of Identity Essay, Research Paper

The Formation of Identity

Our own bodies can move without the will conducting them (Descartes 73). This philosophy is based upon the idea that the body is simply a machine used by its agent, the soul. Therefore, not only would the body be able to operate without the soul, as Rene Descartes suggests, assuming that will is enveloped in the idea of the soul, but the soul would also be able to survive outside the body, interchanging bodies and outside forms but still able to continue to exist or function in spite of losing its original (or perhaps just long term) agency. The narrator in The Mask certainly uses this idea in the formation of her identity. At first she barely even recognizes any connection between her body and her identity (or what she views as her identity). Then, as the two blend, she divides them again, morphing into a machine, much like the metaphor Descartes employs. The separation of the body and soul not only allows her body to function without her identity conducting it but also allows her identity to remove itself from its original body to that of a machine.

The narrator s identity in The Mask is shown as a separate entity from that of her body, and therefore her identity does not exist as a result of or even in connection with her body, rather it is formed by her thoughts, memories and destiny. From the beginning, it is evident that her identity does not depend upon her body. She existed in the beginning (Lem 67), experiencing the darkness and cold flame (67) even before she experiences any physical knowledge of her body. As each new sensation is discovered, from physical feeling to actually knowing her gender, she is able to comprehend more and conceive of more ideas, yet she was still in complete ignorance about [herself] (69), referring to her body. She is able to know of her feelings and reactions during this time of discovery which therefore lead one to the idea that she has some sort of consciousness during that time and that this must be her identity or soul because her body, as yet, played no part. It is apparent that, from the beginning, her identity has no connection to her body.

Although it seems as though the narrator s identity melds with her body, it is clear that her thoughts and true inner emotions are in actuality completely divided from her body. Her body would move and operate without the narrator actually controlling it. In fact, as her body moved, she does not even know where she is going but simply that it is continuing on (68). Her body moves through the motions of walking through the hall and curtsying, all the while the narrator s identity wondering how [she] knew this so well and with such certainty (69). She has no knowledge of her body s experiences beyond that which had rushed into [her] at the entrance of the hall (70). Simply, her identity has nothing to do with what her body is doing. It is very possible for her identity to control its body (because that occurs later in the story) and react to the body as well. For instance, in coming into contact with the gentleman, the narrator blushes. She had nothing whatever to do with that blush, it came from the same source as the knowledge that had entered [her] at the threshold of the hall (72). This blush, a natural reaction, had come from the same source as her body s intuitions, being the body itself. It is apparent that she had no control over her reactions, and in comparing this to her knowledge, it is also apparent that her body had a life of its own. It moves in the ways it needs and it reacts intuitively without the soul/identity interfering.

The narrator s separation of her identity from its body follows the thoughts of Descartes. Descartes philosophy of the body is that it is like a machine, and because a machine has no soul, the body needs no soul to operate. He states our own bodies can move without the will conducting them (Descartes 73) like machines which the industry of man can devise (73). If a machine can run effectively, having all of the correct parts to perform basic functions, then the body, being simply comprised of organs and a network of veins and arteries, should be able to also function on its own. The difference between a machine and the human body is that machines could never use words or other signs, composing them as we do to declare our thoughts to others (74). Secondly, machines do not act through knowledge (74). In other words, machines are neither able to conceive of nor express thoughts or ideas. Humans can and Descartes suggests that this is because we have a spirit; an identity.

The narrator in The Mask is able to both conceive of and express ideas, despite her mechanical change and appearance. This both agrees with and challenges Descartes philosophy. The narrator still feels a detachment from her body as she is morphing into another body. She sets up the entire operation though still views the situation almost in third person, seeing the actions of her body and thinking of them as very separate from her true identity. She looks into the mirror and sees her body as if [it] intended to knife [itself], a scene dramatically perfect (Lem 212). She sees her life as one views a play, a scene played out by actors, portraying a character though not actually that character on the inside, their true identity hidden and different from the part that they are playing.

Then, she cuts open the body and sees the enormous fetus (83). It is here that she understands that it was not it, a foreign thing, different and other, it was again [herself] (83). This is where the narrator s identity challenges Descartes philosophy. She transforms into the mechanical preying mantis. She not only becomes this insect, but her identity seems to morph into the mantis as well, for it is only then that she realizes her true destiny, to kill her lover. It is this compulsion which previously [she] had only suspected (89), and now knew in her body. In Descartes thinking, this machine could not have a soul much less create the destiny for a soul. But, in fact, this is what happens to the narrator. She becomes a mechanism with a multiple memory of things superfluous to a hunting machine (91). In becoming this, she realizes her destiny and it is forced upon her. She is controlled by this machines destiny, yielding to the shining metal [which] had writing into it movements (84). She follows these instructions, her identity forming itself by the actions of her new body. She is gratified when those [she] came upon prostrated themselves (88) and when her lower sense of smell went idle [she] experienced a feeling of misfortune (88). The narrator begins to think and react in the way her body reacts, blending the two together.

This contradicts both with her experience in the human body as well as with Descartes definition of identity and soul. She at once is controlled by and controls her body, a machine. In Descartes philosophy, a reasonable soul could not in any way be derived from the power of matter it must be created expressly (Descartes 162). In The Mask , the narrator is recreated in the mechanical preying mantis. She acts and reacts upon getting instructions from the machine. The narrator insists that she still has an identity with desire [and] destiny (Lem 91), yet it is derived from the machine. This also differs from her previous experience with her human body. When she is in the human body, the narrator is able to think and react to what her body is doing. Her body is able to act on its own as well. This defined a large separation between the identity and the body, as Descartes expressed. If a body were to have no mind (and therefore no identity), it would still move in all the same ways that it does [with a mind] (Descartes 163). In this situation, the reader is lead to believe that the identity truly is separate from the body. Yet, then the narrator transforms into a mechanical being and then is controlled by that being and its destiny. This contradicts intensely as her identity becomes that of the machine. The machine and its destiny form the narrator s identity, not by her actions because even though she tries to change her destiny into what she desires, destiny wins and her lover is dead in the end.

The formation of one s identity is so very difficult to trace. Descartes attempted to at least set boundaries on how an identity or soul is created, stating that our soul is of a nature entirely independent of the body (Descartes 162). The Mask attempts to both prove and refute this philosophy, or perhaps just challenge it. The narrator inhabits two bodies throughout the course of the story. Each one represents a different method of creating an identity. In the human body, the identity is created expressly. The identity develops itself without influence from the body it is in. But, once changed into the mechanical insect, the narrator suddenly finds her identity run by the machine. She finds herself following the machine s instructions and falling into the machine s destiny. This suggests an identity formed by the body that it occupies. Is the identity formed in it of itself or is it created by its agency? The identity first develops itself without relation to anything else, including its body. As one s identity morphs and changes as its environment transforms. The identity is formed through a combination of these two ideas.


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