Identity and Circumstance

I have been reading Plato at the Googleplex by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein. For me, its like taking a sip from a firehose. I have a keen interest in philosophy, but no training and only passing acquaintance with the highlights of the field.  As an engineer by training, I am used to getting down to basics. This is why I am so enthralled by Goldstein’s tracing of the history of philosophic thought from the works of Plato. Goldstein inspires me to read the Classics, history of the ancient Greeks and other the other fascinating readings to which she refers in this very interesting book.

Identity shift is ancient

In my reading, I keep one eye open for snippets that are relevant to my current interests. Below is an excerpt from an ode from Pindar, a Greek lyrical poet from the 6th century B. C. E.:

But he who has achieved a new success

basks in the light,

soaring from hope to hope.

His deeds of prowess

Let him pace the air,

while he conceives

plans sweeter to him than wealth.

But the delight of mortal men


the flutters to the ground,

shaken by a mere shift of thought.

([excerpt from] Pindar, “Pythian 8,” for Aristmenes of Aigina, wrestling, 446 B. C. E. lines 88-96, in Pindar’s Victory Songs, trans. Frank J. Nisetich, p 205.  from Goldstein, R.N. Plato at the Googleplex New York: Pantheon Books, 2014, p 136)

The idea that “delight of mortal men” can be changed in an instant by a mere “shift in thought” was written nearly 2,400 years ago. It is true that a mere shift in thought or point of view can impact one’s identity. For example, some people even have life-changing shifts in how they see themselves by virtue of experiencing a milestone birthday. Or sometimes it is not the shift in the person, but rather it is the shift in how society views a person in that classification. A newly retired person may feel the freedom from a daily work schedule – something to get used to in itself – but may experience a backlash from society which does not value a retired person as much as a working person.

To comfortably navigate the change brought on by a significant life event requires a lot of thought and input from others. The Identity Shift Project (@TISProj) of Jessica Safran and Julie Hassett Sutton tackles the idea that shifting personal status (i.e., health, social standing, etc.) can be addressed though a collaborative process of artistic expression.

Today’s experiment:

Before identity shift, one must have an established identity. Below is a sketch of my older brother Michael, who is autistic, low functioning and nonverbal.  I am pictured as a partial sketch in the upper right hand side of the sketch. My early blog posts touch on some of my own identity issues.

Watercolor Sketch - Portrait of Brother Mike and Me

6″x4″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block

I have to say that I abandoned all semblance of watercolor technique in this sketch. I thought of working with volumes: breaking down the facial features into cylinders, cones, etc., etc., but never did so. I wanted to get Mike’s facial expression, so I used lines instead of intersecting planes. Perhaps I should step back and try again without an emotional investment.

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