Smith and Watson offer an extremely interesting view regarding predetermined facets of self. The sheer volume of outside influences they offer as variables (which need to be understood when interpreting a narrator’s sense of autobiographical self) is immense. Certainly there are tons of influences on a person’s conception of self or identity. I really do believe that Smith and Watson captured the complexity of how life and perception are to some extent prescribed by external stimuli.
However, I do also have to somewhat disagree with the way such allowances for societal programming take a reader’s focus away from the unique individual. I did not disagree with Smith and Watson’s complications of the conceptions of self, but I did feel as if perhaps the individual self was being overlooked. After all, isn’t it something that no one could write the same autobiography? Even if two people fulfilled the same exact roles within society at the same place and the same time, they would still formulate differing stories of their lives. I believe that this is the engine of autobiography.
The idea that even though people are somewhat trained to understand things in a certain way, value specific things over others, and interpret happenings in a socially accepted format, they still manage to produce something that others could not imitate. Smith and Watson are right- our lives are so mandated by specific cultural, traditional, and experiential variables that it is difficult to tell what authentic self really constitutes. But even in the simplest expressions of perception, human beings will always differ in some way. Why is this? I think that this is what specifically makes autobiography or confessional writing so important in the realm of literature. It exhausts some unique aspect of self that is otherwise unknowable, and according to all the socialization that every person constantly endures, this unique self should be nonexistent.
Now despite the fact that Smith and Watson do suggest the complications of identity and true “self,” I still read them as simultaneously suggesting that facets of different socialization can definitely lead to spontaneous and distinctive self-creation. I am a 21 year-old white female and this will inherently make my interpretation of perception different from that of a 36 year-old African American male. That concept is easy enough to understand. The idea that we’ve both been to some extent trained by our differing experiences is still readily understandable, through broad in its intimations. The idea of two 21 year-old white females from the same geographic region, class structure, and general background who have entirely different ways of discernment and opinion simply because one’s mother was religious and the other’s wasn’t begins to complicate “self” further. And there are even smaller distinctions that can have even more far-reaching effects on a person’s conception of identity.
So, what exactly is identity based on? I believe that there is something inherently different about different people’s conceptions of self; however, at the same time, minute external facets of life can change a person’s conception of self entirely. It’s mind-blowing to imagine such seemingly infinitesimal details changing people completely. I think that this is the importance of Smith and Watson’s focus on the complications of self. Even though everyone has some inimitable perceptions of experiences, external stimuli can create environments where a person is influenced to be even more unique- to reevaluate and recreate their personal idea of “self” over and over again in the most significant ways. It’s this diverse socialization that reemphasizes the inherent individualism which I believe is demonstrated and glorified through autobiography.