// who do you think you are?

Great inner monologues in cultural history: John Cusack in High Fidelity (and the book, naturally). Edward Norton in Fight Club (ditto). Kevin Spacey in American Beauty. Dexter Morgan in Dexter. J.D. in the first three series of Scrubs. Max Payne in Max Payne. And there are a million others that i’ve forgotten, not least all those 1940s film noir, The Maltese Falcon and so on…

All of these appeal to me because I identify with their way of seeing the world in some way. For quite a while, I adopted an inner monologue that was eerily similar to that of Dexter Morgan (who, by the way, is a fictional serial killer who, by day, is a mild-mannered forensic technician). That’s not to say that I am a serial killer (I’m not), but that way of seeing the world, always hidden behind a mask, viewing things at one remove – actually, that makes a kind of sense to me.

The same goes for High Fidelity, which still racks up as one of my favourite novels ever. I couldn’t help but identify with Nick Hornby’s character, a record-store loser with an unimpressive record in love, narrating his life in Top 5 lists and weary pop music references, because, to all intents in purposes, he is me. Or, well, so I thought. But, like he asks at the start of that novel, “what came first, the music or the misery? Did I listen to miserable music because I was miserable, or vice-versa?”

I don’t know if everyone narrates their life in voiceover (maybe it’s just me), but if you take the time to listen to your inner voice, that actually tells you quite a lot about yourself. The way you see yourself in social situations, for example. The way you deal with unexpected circumstances. The things that interest you, or excite you, or terrify you. To the extent that it is well worth taking the time to stop and work out what shapes your inner monologue, and whether those influences are sane, or even true

For a really long time, I identified myself with the record-store losers and Dexter Morgans of the world as I thought that I was doomed to be an outsider, that culture depicted who it was I supposed to be. And all that really became was a self-fulfilling prophecy. I thought I was meant to be an obscure indie kid, so I listened to comparatively obscure indie music, watched indie films. Fortunately, I looked terrible in most indie clothing, but for a while I did try to dress like Zach Braff. Fine, I guess, if you subscribe to the view that everyone needs to find an identity somewhere, until you pause to realise just how ludicrous that statement truly is…

Do you really amount to nothing more than your cultural preferences? Seriously? When did my music taste go from being an expression of self to a construction of self? When did it start mattering so much if I love Belle & Sebastian and you think that they’re twee, fey indie-pop rubbish?

Oh, I know that the Modernists got everyone talking about the ‘divided self’, and how we’re a million different people over the course of our lives, and we can never truly know who we are. But I’m not sure that I agree any more. At least from a Christian perspective, you have to see that you do have a stable identity – as a son or daughter of God, loved unconditionally, and crafted for a purpose – “to glorify God, and enjoy Him forever”, as the Westminster Confession puts it. And even if you’re not on the inside of a Christian worldview, it pays to ask that question, too: if I’m committing myself to this identity, saying ‘this is who I am’, what baggage comes with that?

Questions like (to take a couple of spurious examples), say, ‘if I commit myself to My Chemical Romance, can I no longer listen to Coldplay?’ ‘If I own an I am Kloot album, does that forbid me from enjoying Kelly Clarkson?’ And, whilst you’re at it, ‘is this it?’

You know, I’d like to believe that my internal monologue is an expression of self rather than a method of self-construction, but arguably to do that you have to be able to stand apart from it, to say “this is who I am”, and then point to that voice which echoes Fight Club or Dexter or High Fidelity or whatever as simply being a way of explaining who you are more articulately than you are able. It’s not an easy or entirely stable distinction, but that’s a line that it’s worth searching for. It’s entirely possible to never see the difference, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t one. No kidding. Have a look and see if you don’t believe me.

As, honestly, who wants to have their life dictated to by Nick Hornby, anyway?

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