ABSTRACT

It is clear now that it was Jane Eyre (the child) I identified with, and the growing young woman’s dilemmas of the Bette Davis character in Now, Voyager.

Adrienne Kennedy, People Who Led to My Plays

Identity. Identification. Sharing the Latin root, idem, for ‘same,’ few terms in contemporary theory are so mutually vexing. Consider the famous opening statement by the Combahee River Collective from 1974-‘The most profound and politically most radical politics come directly out of our own identity’—a statement which confronts the decentered postmodern subject of the 1990s with the self-authorizing voice of liberation struggle. The statement’s essentialism is explicit and unabashed: identity is proposed as a solid core of beliefs, images, discourses out of which a set of practices and coalitions emerge. ‘Profound’ (internal) ideas model or precede an (external) effective politics. Indeed all identity claims are propped on the hierarchical structure of classical mimesis: identity is imagined to be the truthful origin or model that grounds the subject, shapes the subject, and endows her with a continuous sense of self-sameness or being. In the case of the Combahee women, African American and lesbian, whose claims to selfhood have been and continue to be questioned in the dominant logic of race and gender, ‘identity’ becomes a believable and mobilizing fiction capable of binding each individual into a collective empowering ‘our’ which is felt to be unique, unified, and consistent.