MaryBeth Monaco-Vavrik, Malouf Writing Post 9-1-19

“This question made me smile for a long time. Today, it no longer does. It reveals to me a dangerous and common attitude men have. When I am asked who I am “deep inside of myself,” it means there is, deep inside each one of us, one “belonging” that matters, our profound truth, in a way, our “essence” that is determined once and for all at our birth and never changes. As for the rest, all of the rest –the path of a free man, the beliefs he acquires, his preferences, his own sensitivity, his affinities, his life –all these things do not count. And when we push our contemporaries to state their identity, which we do very often these days, we are asking them to search deep inside of themselves for this so-called fundamental belonging, that is often religious, nationalistic, racial or ethnic and to boast it, even to a point of provocation” (Malouf).

This passage stood out to me in particular because I have had almost identical experiences as the one Malouf describes. When initially faced with this question, I also found it mildly amusing. I eventually came to the conclusion that this question was a microaggression. However, this passage elaborated further on this. I wanted to delve deeper into an idea that has persisted so much in my life as an Asian-American.

I thought I understood the whole of this passage, but at further examination, I was unclear on Malouf’s intention when he said, “As for the rest, all of the rest –the path of a free man, the beliefs he acquires, his preferences, his own sensitivity, his affinities, his life –all these things do not count.” At first, I interpreted this sentiment to mean when people require a simple answer to the question of identity, they want to ignore the complexities that life experience has on said identity. Through further analysis and contextualization, I came to understand that Malouf believes identity to not only be a result of ethnic, national, or religious factions, but a culmination of aspects of personality. I found this connection between personality and identity intriguing. Other humesters upon further discussion believed Malouf thinks identity is much more subjective.

I believe Malouf uses this passage to highlight the greater implications of people’s ignorance on the perception of human complexity– how in reality, a seemingly harmless question can reduce someone and disregard the essence of their being. This better underlines his overall point that people oversimplify the question of identity, but it adds more severity to the act.

I found this to be profound in the context of a point brought up in our Thursday lecture about our tendency to simplify others while maintaining our complexity. While we would never discount our life experiences as part of our identity, we are quick to discount the experiences of others for the sake of simplicity. 

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