Tag Archives: multiplicity

Culture is the sea in which business swims. Millennials get this. Boomers not so much.

Here’s a post I published on the Harvard Business Review Blog recently.

I argue that Millennials are now forced to live secret lives in the corporation.

Please click HERE.

Thanks for Karlo Cordova for the excellent (and illustrative!) photo.  

Fringe aka Managing Multiplicity

If you’re fan of the show, you know Fringe (Fox, Thursdays, 9:00) can be fiendishly interesting.  

One of the pleasures of the show is the performance of Anna Torv (pictured).

Torv’s character Olivia exists in two, parallel worlds.  So Torv must play Olivia twice.  She must be the same person in both worlds, but the viewer also needs to see small, and telling, differences.

Managing two identities in this way makes the actress a little like the audience.  Many of us are called upon to manage several identities at once.  The differences can be small, but they must also be telling. 

Torv was recently asked about playing the same person twice.  You can hear in her answer some of the difficulty of the task.  But you also hear her voice some of the advantages of the postmodern self, the ability to slide across perspectives, to see oneself with new clarity.

Anna: I was so excited when it first came up, and then we’ve kicked in. I haven’t really had the chance to play the Ultimate Olivia properly for herself. It’s been our Olivia, thinking that she’s the Ultimate Olivia. Then, the Ultimate Olivia pretending to be our Olivia. It’s been a little bit tough to work that line. What has been interesting is how clearly I am now seeing Olivia, which I don’t think you get to do. You don’t get those opportunities where you actually get to step back and look at a character from a different perspective while playing her. Each of them has their own impression of the other that they haven’t met really properly.

So, it’s been tough, but fun. The differences are subtle there. They both ended up in the same job. They both ended up to the point where they even had the same partners. It’s just gentle little shifts. It’s been fun. I think all the guys that have had that chance would say the same. It’s been so fun to play on the other side, which does feel like, “Wow, this is a completely different energy.” Then, I get to pop back. I’ve loved it.

Those who have not seen Fringe might want to have a look.  Bill Gorman, at TV By The Numbers, said today the show’s in peril.   


Gorman, Bill. 2010. “Will Fringe Or Lie To Me Be Cancelled Or Renewed?.” TV By The Numbers. http://tvbythenumbers.com/2010/10/12/fox-fringe-new-season-same-bad-choice/67591 (Accessed October 13, 2010).

McCracken, Grant. 2008. Transformations: Identity Construction in Contemporary Culture. Indiana University Press http://www.amazon.com/Transformations-Identity-Construction-Contemporary-Culture/dp/0253219574/.  

Radish, Christina. 2010. “Anna Torv Interview FRINGE Season Three.” Collider, October 13 http://www.collider.com/2010/10/13/anna-torv-interview-fringe-season-three/#more-54255 (Accessed October 13, 2010).

Meaning through multiplicity (aka fluid selves in fluid cultures)

digital natives like Molly
have power over their self expression
they are constantly recreating themselves on line
but simultaneously leaving behind traces of their past selves behind
(from Re:Born Digital, ref. below)

This is Berkman School Interns describing what it is to be a digital native.

Is multiplicity possible only through new media?  No, it is, of course, an ancient engine of creativity and (as we now prefer to call it) innovation.  This summer saw the publication of a Secret Historian by Justin Spring.  

Drawn from the private archives of Samuel M. Steward, Secret Historian is a sensational reconstruction of one of the more extraordinary hidden lives of the twentieth century. An intimate friend of Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, and Thornton Wilder, Steward transformed himself into Phil Sparrow, tattoo artist, and then into Phil Andros, erotica novelist. Secret Historian is a moving portrait of homosexual life in the years before gay liberation.

Is multiplicity for "secret" identities only?  No, increasingly it’s the logic of life lived "en plein air."  Last week I was corresponding with Shira Nayman about a research project.  I mentioned my interest in multiplicity as a theme and she replied

And wow, about the multiplicity of the modern self—my background is an almost embarrassing pot pourri, as I hinted at (my studies alone–B.Sc. in physiology, a year of medical school, a one-year diploma in religion, a doctorate in Clinical Psych, a MA in Comparative Literature, a 2 year post doc in psychiatry), and now being a consultant, a fiction writer, and a professor (I teach in the Program of Narrative Medicine at Columbia University, both to Medical Students and to doctors and other professionals).  And geographical–in the past eight years, I’ve lived with my husband and kids in Mexico, Spain, France, US, and I’m Australian (I just realize that in my lifetime, I’ve held three citizenships….).  Help, it’s sounding scary…  (And I also just realized that we have close family members in four continents, and visit them not infrequently).  Guess I’m kind of a poster child for all this….  (Don’t mean to catalog ‘myself’ in a narcissistic way…just kind of wowing on your point, and realizing that I’m a living instance of it….)

A couple of years ago while living in Toronto and Cambridge, and figuring out how to be an anthropologist in business and a businessman in anthropology, I wrote a book called Transformations.  It opened to no notice.  Had it been a Broadway play, it would have closed the next day. 

It turns out our culture didn’t need an "instruction manual."  The multiplicity continues anyhow.


Anonmyous. 2010. “Re:Born Digital, in Video: 2010 summer interns take up "Born Digital".”  Berkman School for Internet & Creativity. October 1. here.  (Accessed October 5, 2010).

Linn, Denise, Paul Kominers, Molly Sauter, and Sunanda Vaidheesh. 2010. YouTube – Re:Born Digital, in Video: Identities.  On YouTube here. (Accessed October 5, 2010).

McCracken, Grant. 2008. Transformations: Identity Construction in Contemporary Culture. Indiana University Press. on Amazon here 

Nayman, Shira.  2010.  Personal correspondence.  September 24.  

Nayman, Shira. 2009. The Listener: A Novel. Scribner.  on Amazon here.  

Spring, Justin. 2010. Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. on Amazon here.


Mr. Spring will discuss his book today at 4:00 at the Beinecke Rare Book Manuscript Library, Yale University, 21 Wall Street, New Haven, CT. This event is free and open to the public

DNA, string theory and what might have been

Dear Grant McCracken,

The automated search has found a new match that meets your current mtDNA search criteria:

Jeffrey Blankenship, 0 mutational difference.

Every so often I get an email from a company called Genebase.  It informs me that they have found a match.  Good news! An addition to their database matches my DNA signature.

Yesterday, Genebase informed me that I was a match with not only Mr. Blankenship.but Marshall Eltzey, Carlos White, and Delmar Albert Dyreson.

Delmar Albert Dyreson!  Tell me more!

That’s the problem.  Genebase tells me almost nothing about the people to whom I am matched.  Take Delmar Albert Dyreson.  Genebase says only that he is living and male.

But I want all the details!  Where does Mr. Dyreson live, what does he do for a living, what’s he like as a person?

I don’t want to befriend Mr. Dyreson.  I just want a glimpse of his life.  And why?  Because if we really have DNA in common, Mr. Dyreson is an opportunity to see what might have been. If the universe exists as endless variations of itself, why not make this the grounds for variation?  At least for imaginative purposes.

Yes, of course this is fanciful.  But people have used much smaller similarities to identify with one another.  How about: "our parents both came from the old country.  We kinda feel like brothers."

Mr. Dyreson and I have a more substantial connection.  None of that "sons of the soil" crap for us.  We are actually made of the same stuff. And on the strength of this connection, I can dream.  What might my life had been if I can been born into his family, country, language. Sure, it’s a footless enterprise.  I don’t really learn anything about myself.   But it’s fun.

A Google search tells me that there was a Delmar A. Dyreson at the 601st meeting of the American Mathematical Society held in New York City in 1963.  Interesting?  Not really.  But I do notice Dyreson institutional address is given as New Mexico Highlands University.   Somehow this man found his way to the deep obscurity of the high desert, a place that vibrates with a spirituality that evades even the most speculative math.  Much better, thank you.  I’ll take it from here.

Delmar, sir, if you get this message, let’s compare notes.


McCracken, Grant.  Transformations.  Identity Construction in Contemporary Culture.  Bloomington: Indiana University Press. here.

Note: this post was lost due to Network Solutions incompetence.  It was reposted December 26, 2010.