Yesterday I blogged about the possibility that the chameleonesque TCK worries that s/he has no authentic self. I cited Eleanor Catton's The Rehearsal.
Here's a different spin: if the TCK is a chameleon, exceptionally adept at adapting to different circumstances, perhaps the self which is fashioned in each distinct environment is a distinct self. For example, if Ondaatje is "Canadian" via Ceylon and the UK, maybe when he thinks of himself he imagines the Ceylonese boy as a whole different person, distinct from the UK public school boy, and certainly separate and different from the Canadian author.
If experiencing oneself as different kinds of people depending on where one is/was is true of other authors, then third culture literature bears it out in an array of ways.
- Time-lines are frequently discontinuous, or confounded. For example, both of Catton's novels which provide dates as chapter headings, but paired with such garbled plot lines they perplex rather than assist the reader. Or Susi Wyss's linked short stories in The Civilized World which are subtitled according to location and follow geography first and narative teleology second.
-Characters fail to know themselves. Ondaatje's protagonist in The Cat's Table calls himself "he" when writing of his childhood self. In his poem sequence Tin Roof, the speaker alternates between calling himself "I" and calling himself "You." Characters are schizophrenic (Wray's Lowboy), they are split in two (the separated Siamese twins in DBC Pierre's Ludmila's Broken English), they are actors (Catton's The Rehearsal).
-In Netherland O'Neill's Hans rifles through a box of photos. The pictures are of different selves in different eras. There is no honest way to put them in an album and imply they connect to one another. In Lively's The Photograph there is a picture of a woman which reveals that she had a whole other self, one no one knew about. In the poem Billy the Kid, Ondaatje includes many archival photos of Billy , but also includes one of himself as a child dressed as a cowboy! Amongst so many different selves, why not also be Billy the Kid?
Stylistically TCL features discontinuity. This too is one of its fingerprints.