Eli Clare’s pursuit to define his identity

Close reading Clare’s first paragraph on page 31 

Clare uses intense words like ‘must’, ‘need’ and ‘restrain’ to highlight the challenges he faces writing a story about his identity. First, Clare says he ‘must’ acknowledge the feeling of longing for rural Oregon. He vocalizes how painful it is to talk about his hometown and how the words that come from his mouth ache like an “abscessed tooth”. He feigns that he is moving on from this topic for the sake of his writing by saying the word homesick is too overused, even after making such a chilling simile to a tooth infection. Clare’s pain seeps out from him even though it seems he wants to display vulnerability in the most objective way possible.  

Clare’s desire to remain objective is displayed in his efforts to find the definitions of his identity which he lists “Queer. Exile. Class” (31). Clare says he ‘restrains’ himself from using the dictionary because he knows them already—he represents them. Even though he failed at discussing his rural upbringing, he is now able to describe his true intention as the pursuit in defining his identity to himself, as challenging as that may be for someone who feels like the layers of their identity don’t align.  

In order to fully grasp his identity, he “needs to enter the maze created by dyke identity, class location, and white rural roots” (31). ‘Need’ points urgency to Clare’s mission to meaningfully reflect on his life experiences. This quote reminded me of Eli Clare’s “The good Body” lecture where he draws importance to recognizing the complex, complicated, and contradictory nature of our bodies. This passage suggests Clare feels the same way about identity in general: one must identify each layer of their identity and work to make sense of it all, without regard to textbook definitions and stereotypes.  

One thought on “Eli Clare’s pursuit to define his identity”

  1. I really agree with your point about the importance of identifying each layer of an identity. I think the idea about undertaking this without using a textbook definitions and stereotypes relates back to Eli Clare’s “Mountain”. My takeaway from his mentions of the mountain is that we would be far better off without the mountain. (I myself am defining the mountain as an obstacle of human perception and judgment). The mountain is something sustained by group perception as well—you could say a stereotype. So, the idea that to really perceive and define yourself you need to find your own meanings, really resonates with me. I think that to overcoming the mountain is done not by breaking it down, but by removing the significance and value from it entirely.

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