Postmodern Alice 8 -The Multiple Identity, Part I

What is the use of a book without pictures or conversation?”: the question is more poignant  when the main theme of the book in question is the quest for the lost identity. Alice’s adventures are marked by an uninterrupted series of transformations that undermine the individual integrity. As soon as she has done surfing the tunnel, her first adventure is not by chance centered on the modification of her physical structure, which becomes the modification of her mental structure. It is an extremely dangerous adventure, potentially lethal ( Martin Gardener and William Empson have pointed out that  Alice’s adventures are punctuated by “death jokes”), as she understands when she notices the little bottle containing the potion that will shrink her. It was all very well to say `Drink me,’ but the wise little Alice was not going to do THAT in a hurry. `No, I’ll look first,’ she said, `and see whether it’s marked “poison” or not’; for she had read several nice little histories about children who had got burnt, and eaten up by wild beasts and other unpleasant things, all because they WOULD not remember the simple rules their friends had taught them: such as, that a red-hot poker will burn you if you hold it too long; and that if you cut your finger VERY deeply with a knife, it usually bleeds; and she had never forgotten that, if you drink much from a bottle marked `poison,’ it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later)”.

Nonetheless, the temptation is irresistible to Alice , who solves the issue by pretending to accept the thesis of correspondence between words and objects. (“However, this bottle was NOT marked `poison,’ so Alice ventured to taste it”), which not only is fundamental in the Book for excellence, the Bible ( Recently for example Erri De Luca reminded that God for starters has to name the world in order to create it. The first thing that God says is “Let there be light” and there was light. However, whom is he saying this to? Nobody was there…and why does he have to say it? He has to pronounce it or else there will not be light. Divine will is not enough. If God does not speak and uses those exact letters the light cannot be created. The words he speaks make things happen…they are responsible for things .There is an identity between named things and made things” [i]. Likewise, we might add, Adam expresses his similarity to him especially when engages in the task of naming plants and animals in the Garden of Eden [ii]), but it is also central to the thinking of Plato and Shakespeare, ( and of many modern and contemporary literature, as I had emphasized elsewhere [iii]).

Upon drinking the little bottle content, Alice comments:  what a curious feeling!  Incidentally, in general the adjective “curious” and the comparative (quite irregularly used almost as a superlative) “curiouser” are among her favourites. Although, her curiosity may “kill the cat” of her individual identity.

Thus, it is not surprising that further on, at the Caterpillar’s postal question “Who are YOU?” , would produce only a circular sterile discussion, while when she entertains herself in a dialogue with an imaginary other self, the girl is struck by a radical ontological uncertainty: Am I Alice or am I her stupid friend Mabel? Hence, the girl succeeds to grasp the fragmentation of subjectivity. Pirovano writes: The Self impersonates constantly its absence…the characters are composed of multiple selves, which do not overlap each other, but is juxtaposed to the other”.  What a perfect definition, apparently, of the permanent crisis of identity experienced by Alice and by the bizarre individuals she comes across during her marvellous tours? (The metamorphic Caterpillar, the evanescent Cheshire Cat, the crazy one – “after all, we are all crazy here” warns the Cheshire cat – The Mad Hatter and the White Rabbit…).  Too bad that Pirovano is talking about a totally different trip: the postmodern spectator’s itinerary  in Quentin Tarantino’s movies [iv]”.

However, under this aspect, Alice is even a better teacher than Tarantino. Her story is paradigmatic of the possible alternative that in current life is set to fragmentation, or to the mere syncretism by juxtaposition, as a method to develop individuality. The alternative is the contamination, in the connection, in the hybridization of personalities in a unique singularity, which not necessarily “is above all a system of regeneration and recycling, living on credit and feeding on loans”[v] as Baumann would like.

Alice’s travel corresponds to making experience like the Barbarian of Barricco. “In his speedy travel on the surface of the world looking for a trajectory profile identified as experience, at times the barbarian meets quite peculiar intermediate stations. As, Pulp Fiction, Disneyland, Mahler, Ikea, the Louvre, a shopping center, FNAC. More than transitional stations, these seem to be, in different ways, the summary of another journey: a condensed of points radically different one from the other but coagulated in a single trajectory, designed by someone else in our place. In this way, they offer to the barbarian a very precious chance: multiply the amount of collectible world in his fast surfing. The perception is that, by stopping in that station, you are actually riding all the railway lines arriving there. If someone goes through Pulp Fiction, at the same time, goes through a nice iconographic anthology of cinema: the same way as going through the Louvre in three hours brings home a lot of art history. In a furniture store you can find the nightstand you like, but at Ikea you can find a way of living, a certain coherent idea of beauty, maybe even a particular way of existing in the world ( it is a place where  the idea of returning the Christmas tree after use is one with a certain idea for the child’s room ). They are all abnormal macro-objects: I would call them synthetic sequences. These suggest the idea that it is possible to build personal sequences, linking together not so much single points of reality, but concentrated sequences formalized by others. An astounding multiplying factor, we must admit. We can say that, once known, the barbarian chooses the synthetic sequences as favourite routes, and when he builds the transitional stations, he tends to build them upon this model.  From the bookstore-café, to the newspaper sold with a book or a disk, up to the huge shopping -centres where there is also a church.  They all share the same idea that if you go through a point that contains three, or a hundred, other points in it, you can collect an incredible amount of the world”. [vi]

So in this sense, even the transit through the non–places of Auge’, in which we “late digital people” see only the expression of  the emptiness of “ the postmodern sensibility, (to which a trend is like another, and where the patchwork of fashions represents the erasing of modernity)” [vii] – Thus, in a way, the loss of our identity sense and solidity-  for the barbarian, as well as for Alice, becomes the passage in a world perceived as place-portmanteau. Here, the apparently incongruous collation of experiences, the nonsense, leads to a new kind of identity, multiple and mutant.  We discover that the core narrative of Alice, the construction of a multiple identity through experience, is at the center of postmodern contemporary, at least in the description provided by Edward Docx: “postmodernism aims at something more than simply demanding the re-evaluation of power structures. It stated that all of us as human beings are nothing but aggregates of those structures. It argued that we could not distance ourselves from the demands and identities presented by those conversations. Adios Enlightenment. Bye-bye Romanticism. Postmodernism, on the other hand, states that we are moving through a series of coordinates on different fronts – social class, gender, sex, and ethnicity – and that these coordinates constitute in fact our only identity. That is all. This is the fundamental challenge that postmodernism brought to the grand banquet of human ideas, for it has changed the game, passing from self determination to the determination of the other”. [viii]

8a. To be continued.

Translation from Marco Minghetti’s Alice Annotata 8a

by Sabrina Fiorella Larson


[ii] About this see also Carofiglio, La manomissione delle parole, pp. 2021.

[iii] Nulla due volte, Schiewiller, 2006, pp. 195-196.


[v] Bauman, Zygmunt, Vita liquida, Roma-Bari, Laterza, 2006, p. 24.

[vi] I Barbari, 24.La spettacolarità generatrice del movimento.

[vii] Marc Augè, Nonluoghi, Elèuthera, 2002, p. 29.


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