“I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.”
– Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
There are many levels to the mediation between the self and environment, occurring to different degrees and in multiple directions. While a person can project themselves onto their environment, so too can their environment shape an individual’s sense of reality. When one is unsure whether the self is a result of their environment or a projection onto it, solace can be found in the idea that we will always know ourselves. The view that the self is all that can be known to exist, known as solipsism, reassures the individual that though the environment external to one’s mind may be unknowable, we can be certain that we exist within ourselves. Solipsism, and the philosophical dilemmas it entails, also brings to light the idea of the mind as an environment that mediates the projection of the self, and all that is known, onto all that cannot be known, which exists outside of the self. These levels of identity further complicate the web of mediation between varying environments and the self; however, they also create the reassurance that identity is a tangled web that is completely individual and unchangeable by others, as your interpretation of the web belongs only to you. The Sylvia Plath quote conjures a heartbeat of remembrance: I am, I am, I am. When nothing is certain, and there is no predicting how we exist externally, there is always the self.
Many of the works in this chapter explore how outside environments shape the internal reality and the self. In “Identity, Environment, and Escape in The Horse and His Boy and The Tombs of Atuan,” Noah Jensen illustrates how the environments created by Lewis and Le Guin in their novels create and sustain ideas of culture, identity, and racial ideologies. Likewise, as Meghan Dewar demonstrates in “The Various Forms of Sunshine,” events of external environments that are outside the control of the self can have a profound impact on the internal mindscape.
Other works in this chapter focus on how the mind exists as an environment in and of itself which constantly mediates identity and perception between the internal and external. In Michelle Westerkamp’s “unease” and “disinhibition,” we observe the narrator navigating their own mindscape and follow their attempts to negotiate with themselves, an added level of mediation between multiple internal selves.
Madison Grounds’ essay, “The Interplay of Sound, Silence, and Trauma: As Portrayed in Purple Hibiscus andThings Fall Apart,” brilliantly toes the line between both features of mediation, centring on how sound, and the lack thereof, can be used to perceive others and the environment, while simultaneously mediating the internal perception of socialization on the individual level.
This chapter forces us to question who is being mediated and what is doing the mediation. Do we exist solely within ourselves, with the environment, or are the interactions so intertwined that there is no way of separating the two? As you read, enjoy the questions of identity and personage through mediators of the internal and external, the self and the environment. Most importantly, let us contemplate our own roles as mediators through the experience of reading and take pride in the responsibility. “Solipsism” dictates that we can consider the self lucky to be knowable, and consider ourselves lucky to play such an important role in the process.
Photo by Weiqi Tang