Why Do I Need To Write My Identity?


The writer is important only by dint of the territory he colonizes.- Van Wyck Brooks

How can the works written by authors create their own authors?  It’s easiest to explain with an example: Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Dostoevsky (who I’m sure will come up once or twice in the future) is my favorite author and one of the greatest examples of how writing shapes not only how we see an author, but how that author sees him or herself.

While still in his twenties, Dostoevsky had already made a big name for himself.  His first novel, “Poor Folk”, was an enormous success, and while his later works like “The Double” and some short stories never received the same degree of praise, he was still a force to be reckoned with in the literary scene of 1840s Russia.

Then he got involved with an alleged socialist/anarchist group (long story), was arrested, thrown into prison, brought before a firing squad in a staged execution (he wasn’t in on the joke), and sent off to Siberia for years where he had to survive with some of the worst criminals Russia had to offer.  And that’s when things got bad.

Needless to say, these experiences profoundly affected Dostoevsky, but not just in the obvious ways you might be imagining, for his writing changed just as much as his personality. It was this dramatic shift that allowed him to move beyond his days as a writer with a social message to the great artist he is known as today.

Notice that not many people, when talking about Dostoevsky, bring up “Poor Folk” or “White” Nights or “The Dream of a Ridiculous Man” – but even teenagers who wouldn’t dare try to read any of his books know about “Crime and Punishment”, while “Notes From Underground”, “The Idiot”, “Demons”, “The Brothers Karamazov”, and other works are still selling and generating debates today.  That’s because these later works delve into the darkest, most disturbing regions of the soul, where Dostoevsky is not only unafraid to venture but an able guide for the rest of us.  He also dares to ask the tough questions about mankind and God, even when they terrified him, and in the end, the nature of his work and interests ended up shaping what Dostoevsky means to us today.

Before I go on too long, all I want to point is that one could see the development of his personality just by reading his works in chronological order, and I believe these works were not the result of this development by the cause.

Anyone who has written even a short paper knows how mysteriously actually writing can organize the very thoughts you were trying to express.  Great writers are no different in this respect than anyone else, and throughout these blog entries, I hope to investigate the authors alongside their works, keeping in mind that the only way we even know these authors in any sense is through these works.

All of this makes me very curious about the nature of identity and the role of writing in its creation, portrayal, and interpretation and how a writer’s identity becomes bound up with what they write about.  I hope you are curious, too, and maybe, through writing this blog, I’ll not only understand identity more fully, but pick up a fresh one along the way.