samuel x. brase likes to write

Response: The Collapse of Identity

Posted in pop theory, second novel by Sam X. on 10 May 2010

What if history is not cyclical and slow moving but arrhythmic — at times almost stationary, but also capable of accelerating suddenly, like a sports car? What if collapse does not arrive over a number of centuries but comes suddenly, like a thief in the night? -Niall Ferguson

From the Mar/Apr 2010 issue of Foreign Affairs, Ferguson looks at some common denominators when it comes to the collapse of an empire. The thesis of the paper, expressed rather informally above, is that complex systems don’t degrade for long periods of time; they remain stable-yet-in-flux, every on the precipice, on “the edge of chaos.” They are resilient, too, beating back many opportunities for collapse.

Yet all it takes is the right antagonism and whoosh, off the cliff it goes, descent into chaos and extinction.

Similarly, in The Bourne Identity, it seems that the main character, Jason Bourne, in the three years leading up to his memory loss, had been operating on the edge of chaos. He had assumed the identity of an invented man and lived a lie every waking minute; all it took was the right push, or in this case a number of slugs to the back, and he crashed off the cliff.

My second novel will study the collapse of social identity. My main character, bereft of his own identity, will move through a world descending into chaos. He will be one step behind those thrusting it into chaos, such that he will forever be in a mad world, uncertainty and insanity the order of the day.

What can save my character? Bourne was saved by meeting D’Anjou, an old comrade who could reveal a good number of his past secrets. I’m considering having my character only lose part of his memory, a la Paycheck, so that I can gloss over the time spent recouperating. Bourne spends six months in the beginning of the novel relearning basic things and establishing a starting point for himself. I don’t know if my character can afford six months, caught in a revolution as he will be.

If he has less memory loss, of course, he needs less saving. In fact, his own personal identity is clearly just half the story; the other half of the story is the nature of the revolution and future of society’s identity.

As for Bourne Identity, I found it a little unfulfilling. There was substantially less action than I had hoped, but the intricacy of the clues was interesting to unfurl. The only message I can take away from the story is how a large, centralized government almost ruined Bourne’s life. Indeed, intelligence operations had overreached their foundational resources, and putting Bourne out on such a limb was a risky proposition. What I did find quite successful was the fluidity of identity that Bourne experienced.

In one chapter, he was sure he had been an assassin. The next, a patzy. The next, a combination of the two. A, B, AB, C, AC, BC, ABC, D, AD, etc. By the end, he referred to himself as a ‘shell,’ and focused entirely on the one solid thought he could remember: Kill Carlos. Bourne lived out beyond the breakers, shifting from one belief to another, never assured of one belief, a new gamechanging fact just two pages away. That was when the story was its most inspired, when it acknowledged how tenuous Bourne’s understanding of himself was. I’ll be lucky if I replicate a fraction of that.


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