On Constructing Identity through Fabrication

With the motif of personal identity resurfacing in discussions of The Flamethrowers again and again, I feel that the various ways in which the characters convey truth in identifying themselves are worth noting. We’ve talked about Reno, and the implications of her interests in minimalism, her drive to create art through risk whilst simultaneously aiming for its after-product to be “barely there”; we’ve mentioned Ronnie and Giddle, and the notion that most of what readers know of them and their pasts is likely fabricated or embellished. Regarding the latter, when Reno questions Sandro about the validity of a story Ronnie has told, Sandro says, “He’s complicated. You have to listen closely. He’ll say something perfectly true, and it’s meaningless. Then he makes something up, but it has value. He’s telling you something.” (199)

“Something” – non-specific as it is, I felt it resonate as I read that passage. There’s something, I think, in the way Ronnie Fountaine has no trouble creating a fictitious life for himself, a legacy of meta-lifetimes lived working on boats and in textile mills, but remains careful not to reveal too much in order to preserve or protect the happy endings that might not exist. There’s something in the way Giddle, a former actress, takes up a mediocre job as a waitress as she would just another role, but in the process becomes a new version of herself through that role. There’s something in the way she invents her backstories as though she’s rehearsed them, played out bits and pieces maybe, every facet perhaps feeling just as “real” as those she’s managed to inhabit through time.

“…[Y]ou know what I think of language? That it’s a fake horizon and that there’s something else, a real truthful thing, but language is keeping us from it…”

I felt Sandro looking at me. I always could. I turned and met his gaze. His mouth slightly curled in amusement. ‘We should torture it to tell us the truth…'” (165)

Torture it? Maybe. But I imagine that, without language, it would be difficult to discern the somethings being told.

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