Thursday, August 03, 2006

Split personalities

In today's New York Times, Janet Maslin reviews Julie Phillips' James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice Sheldon. Tiptree was one of the authors I discovered when as a teen I started plowing through my father's numerous issues of Galaxie, a French science-fiction magazine, and his collection of hardcover books published in the early 1970s by Opta/Club du livre d'anticipation. (French sci-fi geeks will nod in nostalgic recognition.) Of course at the time I had no idea that Tiptree was a woman. While the gender-bending aspect of the Sheldon/Tiptree story is obviously crucial, especially since, according to Maslin, Phillips suggests Sheldon was a lesbian, I find the general idea of building a new identity—any new identity—as a writer equally compelling.

Multiplying identities according to various projects isn't new, as anybody who's tried to find their way through electronic-music releases can attest (Richard James = Aphex Twin = Polygon Window = Power Pill = AFX; Sasu Ripatti = Vladislav Delay = Luomo = Sistol = Uusitalo), but somehow it seems to have a deeper connection for a writer than a musician. A few months ago came out Angie David's biography of Dominique Aury, who was a textbook example of dissimulation and secret coding as both personal and creative covers. (No fan of Judith Butler et al., I'm contorting myself not to use the word masquerade.) While the book is titled Dominique Aury, that name wasn't even the subject's real one. Born Anne Desclos, she switched to Aury relatively quickly, then wrote Story of O under a second alias, Pauline Réage. Aury had a thriving career as an editor in the French postwar publishing world, while Réage wrote one of the most famous erotic novels of the 20th century. It doesn't seem like a total coincidence that Tiptree wrote science fiction and Réage a novel about an SM relationship. Both sci-fi and erotic fiction rely on precise codes, and part of the fun of masquerading (damn!) is to obey a different set of rules than the ones you are meant to follow publicly. Perhaps this is why the nicknames and varying identities of electronic-music guys feel like such a pose: They don't seem to hide deep differences between personal/artistic purposes, only relatively slight variations between projects at best (it's not as if Richard James produces 50 Cent under a false name), whims at worst. See Philip Sherburne's thoughts on the subject of names in electronic music.

And lest I miss the opportunity for a oink-oink moment: Angie David certainly knows how to pose for a publicity photo. The head leaning on the arms…the sweep of the hair…the leather boots…

1 comment:

Judy said...

More oink-oink moments please!