February 29, 2008

Performance and Self

Says Isaac Butler at Parabasis:

If we are performing all the time, because we are always in relationships , whether social, institutional, or both, at the end of the day there is no "true self". There are, I'd argue, "authentic" and "inauthentic" performances, but no real true self. (A clear example I can think of of an inauthentic performance would be being in the closet, or in some way compromising your core beliefs for x reason).

Getting back to acting again, most acting methods center around finding some kind of true self of the character. But if what you've got instead in a series of performances, some authentic, some inauthentic (or in Iago's case, entirely inauthentic at all times-- thanks Patrick!) maybe there are some different possibilities that emerge?

I guess what some of this derives from is that most of our approaches to acting are based in understandings of the self and human identity and psychology that are largely from the 19th century. For many of us, there are plenty of different understandings that have come about since then that are useful, revelatory, appealing etc. For example: and many of the older ideas (particularly those that flow from Freud) are based largely on the "self" as a primary unit instead of on relationships as the primary unit. And it's so ingrained that frequently when looking at character and performance, we look to the self and then the other, instead of the relations and then the individuals etc.

To which I wonder:

The concept of a fixed and immutable Self without relation to anything or anyone else is a particularly Western phenomenon. Clearly, other models exist (in Asia, Africa, and tribal cultures = and Scott is rubbing his palms now). But how would they gauge authentic and inauthentic performance? Authentic or inauthentic to what? If the performance is authentic or inauthentic based on something internal, what is that internal thing if not Self?

Does that make Isaac's idea wrong? I don't think so.

What I'm getting from Isaac's post is not that there is no internal reality. Rather, there isn't a self that can be easily summed up by a single word, a single interaction, a single trait. That internal reality, that Self, can only be glimpsed in bits and pieces, gleaned here and there from what someone says and does. There is a Self behind all that, but it's exact nature remains a mystery. When you think about it, it's rather obvious.

Given this idea, approaching a character as if there is a fixed, immutable Self reveals certain limitations. Most notably, the drive toward consistency can render performances focused and intense, but one-dimensional. I think that's why we love Hamlet. He says and does a lot of things that would indicate an inconsistency in his character, but somehow it rings true? Why is that?

I guess the bigger question is: What other ideas of Self can we use or create that include seeming contradictions?

February 23, 2008

Aesthetic Privilege

As a Black woman educated at an HBCU, it has been very interesting to notice the overlap between gender, ethnicity, and aesthetics. It's not my personal crusade, but it is something I think about. How and in what way do you see the arts (whatever your specialty) as being dominated by a particularly White and masculine aesthetic? To what extent is the current artistic climate able to enter meaningful discourse with divergent works? How should artists and audiences go about doing that? What can we do to expand our artistic paradigms (and vocabulary) to incorporate different methods of artistic expression?

February 21, 2008

Identity By Numbers

You know, I've never understood why people call themselves half-X. I'm sure that when people say they're half-Jewish or half-Chinese or whatever, they mean that one of their parents is Jewish, Chinese, Whatever. A verbal shorthand, so to speak. But why not say, "My Mom/Dad is [fill in the blank]."

How is it possible to have half a culture? Do you also have half a language? Half a religion (OK, I know this is America, but I'm saying . . . )? Half a history? Half a tradition? If someone identifies as half-Jewish, when they encounter anti-Semitism, do they get half as offended? What about someone who is half-POC? Does racism affect that person half as much?

It's certainly not about genetics. Case in point: Halle Berry. Her mother is White, but she identifies as Black. Another case in point: the "passing" phenomenon (Google it). Here's another one: Elrond.

I guess it's easy to be lazy about this with ethnicity. After all, you don't hear a lot of people calling themselves half-gay if one of their parents is homosexual. Might be a little too hot in that kitchen, I suppose.

Another thorny issue about half-identity is this: why call attention to one half instead of the other? What do we really say when we accentuate one half over the other? Are we saying one is normal and the other abnormal? Are we saying one is better than the other? What's the real message behind a half-identity?

I guess what I want to understand is: why do people feel the need to be half-anything if they can be fully both, or completely one or the other?

February 20, 2008


This blog is basically just a place where I can discuss with friends and invited guests things that are important to me. I mean "discuss" in the genuine sense. I'm not much for soapboxes. I'm more interested in making connections.


There are a few things to keep in mind about posting here.

1. Check your privilege. I want this place to be uncluttered by entitlement issues. I deal with enough of that crap in real life, so for my own sanity I'm not allowing it here. It's OK to passionately disagree, but I'm not interested in perpetuating real-life dynamics that oppress women, people of color, LGBQT people, religious minorities, the disabled, and so on and so forth. This is all I'm going to explain. It is your responsibility to educate yourself about the issues related to this post.

2. Keep it civil. I know that the anonymity of the Internet gives a lot of people courage they wouldn't have face-to-face. This isn't the place for that. I'm assuming you're grown, so I don't have to explain anymore.

3. This is my blog. I can have an edgy way of saying things. This isn't intended to offend people or hurt their feelings. If you call me on it, I'll probably apologize. Or not. Here's a hint: I'm much easier to deal with if you talk to me rather than at me.

I think that's about all for the time being. I'll update if things change.