FINNEGAN FLAWNT, a [personal] case study

Finnegan Flawnt 2009-2010

Finnegan Flawnt drawn by MSB

At the end of 2008 I listened to Derek Walcott, the poet, on BBC World Service talk about writing. It awoke my own lifelong desire to write fiction and from 2009 began to compose and publish short stories. For 18 months, I published under a pseudonym, Finnegan Flawnt. I had chosen this name partly because of my reverie for The Irish writers Joyce and Beckett, but also because of the slightly hidden meaning of the last name: ‘to flaunt’ means to display oneself ostentatiously to provoke admiration. Perhaps there were also other linguistic shades: the fear of failure, because ‘flawed’ and ‘flawnt’ seem so near to my German ear. But I didn’t only write and sign as Finnegan Flawnt, I also actively built his personality:

  • I created a Twitter account @flawnt ( since renamed to @marcus_speh) and discovered that 140 characters (per message) are excellent to unleash philosophical thoughts and bits on an unsuspecting world audience, something for which Flawnt soon became known on Twitter. Resulting in thousands of followers.
  • I created an avatar that I borrowed from the old head of Benjamin Franklin, whose renaissance-ness I admired and who was also known for thousands of Tweet-like aphorisms. After running with the copy of an old painting for a few months, I drew my own caricature of Franklin and used it for Flawnt.
  • I created a Facebook account for Flawnt which, much like Twitter, quickly grew to have several hundred friends many of whom seemed to like his quirky profile and utterances.
  • I engaged in two online communities: the then still new Fictionaut, an online community for writers, and “Virtual Writers World” in Second Life, a 3-dimensional virtual world. On Fictionaut, Flawnt built his writer personality, in Second Life he even had a (unique) body (created by a friend of mine), looking just like Franklin, a small man with a funny face, loud clanking shoes and wispy white hair, an incessant smoker.

Four Fundamentalist Teenagers in Front of a Metropolitan Railway Car, By Finnegan Flawnt Metazen

Flawnt even won story contests and was nominated for prestigious prizes

A year after Flawnt was born, he even began to give interviews and wrote a regular online column, and he had two blogs, one on Tumblr and one on WordPress.

Flawnt alchemi aka finnegan flawnt

Screenshot from Second Life: Flawnt’s character Flawnt Alchemi

But the personality cult around the figure began to take more and more time from me, and also, my real self had begun to develop envy of Flawnt’s success and ease of dealing with large virtual audiences. In a way he had become too real. I was beginning to worry if I could ever gain Flawnt’s fame (relative as it was) just by being myself. At the same time, I had become quite sure of my writerly skills so that there was no need to hide behind Flawnt any longer.

Flawnt hot tub

Flawnt in a hot tub in his cottage in Second Life®

So I killed him in June 2010. Bloomsday was his death day. I announced it well in advance and many friends of Flawnt surprised me with a  virtual funeral where a dozen or so reviewed his writing in the light of his mysterious personality, whose identity with me had only, to my knowledge, been cracked by one person so far. After a short hiatus, I returned as the writer Marcus Speh, still not 100% sure of myself one might say, because I now used my father’s name instead of my legal surname, but At the time I still wanted to preserve the gap between the professional, Birkenkrahe and the writer, Speh. Only two years later I finally merged the profiles on my blog and on my Facebook page. (Except that I still maintain a German identity/blog next to it…)


(First published at Wikiversity as part of a longer account on Online Identity in Learning and Teaching.)

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