Don’t you ever want to breathe fire?

I really enjoyed the [ample] reading for this week; the Carter chapters and Hustvedt book complemented one another well.

I’m not sure from the letters of the notebooks if they are actually alphabetically chronological as it seems unlikely to me, however, Harry’s transformation and awakening into acknowledging and getting to know her multiple selves is present throughout the novel; “You are not sorry any longer, old girl, or ashamed for knocking at the door…You are rising up against the patriarchs and their minions, and you, Harry, you are the image of their fear. Medea, mad with vengeance” (154 Harriet Burden Notebook B).  Aside from addressing herself, this is one of the many examples in which she identifies with a character from literature or a famous person in history. Many of her personalities (or traits) are personified in existing narratives from which she borrows to make sense of her own multiplicitious narrative.

Rachel speaks of Harry’s self-awareness of her multiple identities, “She knew perfectly well that she was Harry, but she had discovered new forms of herself, forms she said that most men take for granted, forms of resistance to others….” (243). The quotation continues, “Girls learn, she said. Girls learn to read power, to make their way, to play the game, to be nice” (243). The bending that girls do is what Harry attributes to the high rate of multiple personality disorder because of what women must do. I wonder if a woman’s likelihood to embrace more than one identity has to do with a comparison against men who suffer from a lack of fluidity in their dominant cultural role. Bruno talks of the plight of men, “Millennia had piled up expectations, stone by stone, brick by brick, word by word, until the stones, bricks, and words weigh so much that the hopeful anti-hero can’t get out from under them…” (158 Bruno Kleinfeld). While woman are definitely limited by what our cultures will allow us to do, men too face those restrictions, however, the interpretation of men who do not follow their gender norms has a different type of stigma than that of women.

———Probably due to the nature of my work, I felt that the following two quotations spoke to the idea of social identity:

According to Rachel, at one point, Harriet says her goal is to “investigate the complex dynamics of perception itself, how we all create what we see, in order to force people to examine their own modes of looking, and to dismantle their smug assumptions” (pg 104 Rachel Briefman) and “Harry’s identification with me might sound outrageous to some people, but it was sincere.) She didn’t truck much with conventional ways of dividing the world – black/white, male/female, gay/straight, abnormal/normal – none of these boundaries convinced her. These were impositions, defining categories that failed to recognize the muddle that is us, us human beings” (pg 122) Phineas Q. Eldridge

I recently hosted an event where the purpose was for attendees to question ‘their modes of looking and to dismantle their assumptions’ about social identity. Since Harriet didn’t ascribe to the culturally dominant ways of seeing people, it would make sense that a goal of hers would be to break apart dichotomies which are superficial to her.


Like Jennifer, I feel that many of the quotations speak for themselves, however, being a woman of many words, I am going to accompany them with commentary (I mostly do so to highlight where texts or passages complement each other well):

“After a time being a man became effortless. Moreover, it became real” (33 Harriet Burden Notebook C re: women living as men)

Harriet’s conclusion about the new role becoming effortless is supported by Carter, “if you repeat a piece of role-playing enough, you end up learning the part…learning involves a physical change to the neural structure of the brain…thereafter, when you slip into that way of behaving, you are no longer acting – you are the role” (125)



“[Time, experiences, and self-analysis] has surely reconfigured my memories. Accumulated experience always alters perception of the past” (47 Rachel Briefman) – Carter’s questionnaire question, “Do friends and acquaintances refer to events they claim to have shared with you which you cannot recall,” offers another possibility, that our minor and major characters may be in play for certain parts of our lives and therefore, the memories are less accessible when in the personality which did not perform the action.



Harriet says to Rachel, “isn’t it strange that we don’t know who we are?? I mean, we know so little about ourselves it’s shocking. We tell ourselves a story and we go along believing in it, and then, it turns out, it’s the wrong story, which means we’ve lived the wrong life” (p. 50). I questions this because if we are following a certain role or path, it means that at least a part of us identifies with who we are acting as in that moment. It may not be our “true” dominant self, but it is a self that we use enough to represent it continuously make it “our role.”


WITHOUT commentary

Everything has a pattern or a rhythm that can be discerned through close attention, but whether those repetitions exist outside the mind is an open question. You and I did not see the same patterns” (54 Ethan Lord, A Compendium of Thirteen)

“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” –Wilde (pg 114 Phineas Q. Eldridge). Already chosen multiple times but so good and so fitting.

“…belief is a complex mixture of suggestion, mimicry, desire, and projection. We all like to believe we are resistant to the words and actions of others. We believe that their imaginings do not become ours, but we are wrong” (236) Rachel Briefman

“You’re so reasonable. Don’t you ever want to scream and yell and punch someone in the face? Don’t you ever want to breathe fire? (243) Harriet to Rachel in Rachel piece

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