Sunday, January 5, 2020

Identity and Self


So close. I had 3.2 million bucks in my hands and it slipped through. Of course I was in my 6th year. It was 1938. I had deposited a few soda bottles and managed to save a dime which bought me the first Superman comic book. A few years ago it sold at auction for over three million dollars. I should have known then I would never be a visionary.

With a little foresight I might have had a signed first but Clark Kent had no time for autographs. He was too busy looking for a phone booth where he could rid himself of that mild-mannered reporter for the Daily Planet and set the world right.

The Shadow was another one who could assume his identity in other people knowing full well what evil lurked in men’s heart except for the Lamont Cranstons of the world. And then there was Captain Marvel who materialized from some crippled newspaper boy.

I was still looking for my Self and he had two of them. Batman, as well and the Green Hornet. I suppose the unmasked Lone Ranger was the second self of that guy riding off to the beat of the William Tell Overture with Tonto at his side with a GPS.

I had a suspicion I didn’t really exist when a late-comer to the Saturday matinee was about to sit on me in the dark row. He mistook me for an empty seat because my feet didn’t quite reach the floor along the aisle. This is why children need to be equipped with a box of candy or wrapper to announce themselves.

Even at age twelve I doubted my existence when sent off alone to eat dinner at Eddy the Sandwich King, the local deli. What if the waiter would never come over? What if I really was invisible? But he did and I wasn’t. I was confirmed by a few pickles and some rye bread.

It was the Age of Psychoanalysis which shined a light on the inner life. Jung reminded us of the shadow side. R.L. Stevenson ran with it with his novel of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The first Superman comic came out just about the same time as James Thurber's Walter Mitty.

If I had asked the bespectacled man from Krypton, Bruce Wayne (bat) or Britt Reid (hornet) each would say he was fighting crime and didn’t want to blow his cover. In fact they were projections of an inner hero practicing the ancient art of vigilante justice which seems never to go out of style.

All were models along with real-life athletes (Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson), actors (Spencer Tracy, Gene Kelly) and even a few political figures (FDR, Churchill) who were interjected in my pantheon. Of course, they were all out of reach but somehow the myth of them remained as the Self searched for itself. I probably knew who I wasn’t before I knew who I was.

Now I’m thinking Self is that vital, inviolable being; identity is bogus. We attach ourselves to our job or (god forbid) Religion or (ugh) nationality and settle for those appellations as if they were our measure. I say we are far more complex to be summed up by a word or phrase or even a paragraph.

Our Self is our soul; also unsayable but the authentic being. Was Clark Kent yearning for Krypton or for Lois Lane? Even the owner of those million dollar pages will never know. Those super-heroes lived in a tangle of the author's alter ego. No cape needed.


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