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Anna Poletti

This entry develops a definition of literature as an identity technology by bringing together theories of identity formation as a process of identification and introjection, with thinking about reading as a materially grounded process in which readers encounter identities in the form of characters and narrators. The essay critically situates the terms “identity” and “technology” in the study of literature, media, and culture in order to argue that at the linguistic, symbolic, and material level, literature can be used as a means for inscribing and reinscribing identity at the individual and collective level. Drawing on ways of reading literature from autobiography studies and queer theory, this article is about how to read and think about literature as a mechanism through which identity is formed, negotiated and renegotiated, inscribed, and made public. The case studies utilized in this entry are the opening and closing essays of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s important work of literary theory, Tendencies. Sedgwick’s theorization and enactment of reading as a generative, queer practice is brought together with a close reading of her reflections on her own identity and the variety of techniques she uses to situate to her reader to elucidate the utility of thinking literature as a technology used in the ongoing work of identity.


James Purdon

The term “identification” denotes both a social procedure (the act of recognition by which a person is acknowledged, formally or informally, to be a specific individual) and a genre of text (the marks, signs, or documents, such as signets, signatures, passports, ID cards, and birth certificates, which formally record and enable that procedure). Like many forms of literary narrative, the genres of identification are explicitly concerned with questions of the stability—or mutability—of the self. Who is this person? Do people change? If so, what, if anything, remains constant: how can we be confident that this is “the same” person? How much control do individuals have over the recording and representation of their personal characteristics? And how do those objective records relate, or fail to relate, to lived experiences of unique subjectivity? One distinction to be drawn between literary narrative and identification is the different value each has tended to give to temporality. Put simply, an identificatory technique is deemed to be the more effective the more capable it is of excluding from the process of identification those personal characteristics that might alter over time. Fingerprints and DNA, for instance, are among the most valuable identificatory tools because they remain constant from before birth until after death. Photographs, meanwhile, possess some identificatory value, but many factors can cause rapid and drastic changes in an individual’s physical appearance: this is one reason passports and similar documents include expiration dates and must be renewed. Narratives, on the other hand, are by definition temporal structures. They tell us that certain things happened or failed to happen. They frequently register and explore change and transition, and even narratives concerned with stasis and changelessness are obliged to acknowledge and account for the passage of time. In this sense, identification and narrative would seem to be at odds with one another. Identification exists to formalize the attribution of identity by rendering narrative irrelevant: the border guard who demands a valid passport will not accept an autobiography in its place. Yet several features of identification complicate this apparent antagonism. Firstly, identification documents function not only to record identities, but actively to constitute both individual identities and the broader concept of identity in a given society. They become not just records which diminish the significance of narrative, but constituent parts of the way individuals understand their place in society and by extension their own experience. Identification becomes part of the stories that individuals tell themselves, and tell about themselves. Secondly, because officially ratified forms of identification have a unique probative force, they themselves have become powerful tools in the production of stories and selves. The criminal who wishes to manufacture or steal a new identity must become adept in the deployment of official documents as a way of authenticating a fictitious claim to recognition. Finally—as countless scenes of identification trouble in fictional works suggest—the moment at which citizens are obliged to identify themselves by recourse to the data contained in identity documents frequently generates a reaction in the form of a heightened sense of individuality. The modern citizen is never more conscious of the complexity of their own story than at the moment when they hand over the misleading simplification, printed on passport or ID card, which constitutes their “identity.” Over the 20th century in particular, as modern systems of identity management became ever more technologically complex and bureaucratically stringent, literary works found new ways to describe and explain the effects of such systems on individuals and on the societies they inhabit.



Pelagia Goulimari

Feminist, queer, and transgender theory has developed an array of fruitful concepts for the study of gender. It offers critiques of patriarchy, the gender binary, compulsory heterosexuality, heteronormativity, and homonormativity, inter alia. New Materialist feminists have analyzed gender variance, continuous variation, and continuous transition through concepts such as rhizome, assemblage, making kin, and sym-poiesis (making-with). Feminists of color and postcolonial feminists have theorized intersectionality—that gender always-already intersects with race, class, sexual orientation, and so on—and gender roles outside the white middle-class nuclear family, such as othermothering and fictive kin. Materialist feminists have studied gender as social class, while psychoanalytic gender theorists have explored gender as self-identification and in terms of the relation of gender identification and desire. Queer theory has explored vexed gender identifications and disidentification as well as heterotopias, counterpublic spaces, and queer kinship beyond the private/public divide. Transgender theory has critiqued transmisogyny and theorized transgender and trans* identities. Indigenous feminist and queer theory has theorized Two-Spirit identities and queer indigeneity in the context of a decolonial vision. Theorists of masculinities have analyzed masculinities as historically specific, plural, and intersectional. Gender studies, in all this diversity, has influenced most fields of study—for example, disability studies in its theorization of complex embodiment, its development of crip theory, and so on. Gender studies, in turn, has greatly benefitted from the study of literature. Literature has been indispensable in the genealogy of dominant gender norms such as the 19th-century norms of the angelic/demonic woman and self-made man. In return, gender theory has offered fresh insights into literary genre, for example the Bildungsroman. Since the development of gender theory, it has taken part in an ongoing dialogue and cross-fertilization with literature, evidenced in self-reflexive and critically informed literary texts as well as in gender theory that includes autobiographical and literary (e.g., narrative, figurative, fictional, poetic) elements.