The Aesthetic Consummation of Identity and the Pleasure of Identification

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    • Presentation speakers
      • Naomí Combrink, Amsterdam School of Cultural Analysis (ASCA), University of Amsterdam


    When you think about art and identity, the writings of literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin can quickly come to mind. Bakhtin has written about aesthetic form in novels and the relation readers have to their fictional heroes and heroines. Contrary to how we experience ourselves, Bakhtin claims, we experience protagonists as aesthetically objectified or consummated: they gain meaning and significance through their context, have a clear part to play in their stories and are completed. In real life, however, this is not exactly the case and people should embrace their fluent and dynamic identities. What Bakhtin has failed to consider sufficiently, however, is that this aesthetic consummation can be a tremendous protagonists’ allure. People clearly desire to have a similar part to play. Because of this desire, the recognition of fictional tropes in real life can cause moments of significant gratification. In this paper, I will explore the way in which present day consumers are set out to recognise moments of storyness in their every-day lives. Using Bakhtin’s theory of aesthetic consummation of identity, I will argue that such acts of consumption are ways to be as complete and simple as a fictional character within a postmodern world in which true meaning might be hard to find. With cultural objects and experiences such as romantic dining, selfies, background music and fashion, I will argue that such consumption opens up a dimension of storyness in which its user can identify as a protagonist, rather than their everyday selves. This identification gives them meaning borrowed from the cultural imaginary, rather than the complex of flux of ideas that surround their own being. With this project I would like to explore the kitsch of such activities, without pretending that anyone would be entirely immune to the allure of such identificatory pleasure since this pleasure lies at the heart of our present-day consumer society. Coming from a background in narrative studies and theories of reading, I would like to approach the postmodern consumer as a reader who is looking for identificatory gratification.