With brash bravura
she puts on her Asian face,
and spruiks her authenticity,
her home a tiny island
with a bustling city,
her face shows traces
of curious seafarers, Portugese
who sailed east and south
and east beyond the rim,
they did not fall,her heart
bleeds dreams of red and gold,
untold riches found
in shopping malls …
She speaks only English,
with clipped end consonants,
her ancestral tongues
are silenced with her full
and she searches for
her identity in cinema
This is a unique poem. It was written by MissyPoem and me using Twitter. We wrote it as an improvisation exchanging lines through tweets using a hashtag #mmpoem. We chose to write it on the public timeline quite deliberately after deliberating because we felt our friends would enjoy seeing the poem emerge through our exchanges. We had no set shape or direction – just two themes – dancing and love. The writing became a dance between us. Our poem is performance art.
In the Moonlight
Her sad eyes shone
only in the moonlight,
she danced beneath
the silver canopy of rain kissed leaves.
Her sadness turned to joy
when she started to dance,
the earth turned to dark green velvet
at the touch of her sweet feet,
no storm could stop her dancing
her desire was endless…
Her nostrils flared greedy for his scent,
she sensed it in the air,
She knew him and knew his pace,
felt him from distances.
The warm air caressed life
into every pore of her skin,
every drop of rain
reminded her of the past tears,
of long melancholy nights
spent walking in the woods
searching, wishing on the moon,
walking on the path of emotions
at the end of dreams
in the moonlight.
Mindfulness is a part of improvisation. So is play. Often there is a narrative structure as well. I am thinking improvisation in terms of performance as in performance studies or theatre and drama ‘games’ and also in Twitter. I love to watch people, I also like to listen. In Twitter you can’t, if you ‘know’ the person n the ‘real’ or material world you can picture their face and ‘hear’ their words from your memory of them. On the other hand, if you don’t actually know them as physical embodied beings you don’t know what their voice sounds like, whether they use their hands a lot, whether they go red when passionate about what they are saying, what emotion they are feeling, that they speak softly when they are very angry and so on. All you have to go on are their words on the screen. The rest are acts of imagination and projection.
Getting to know people through words on a page is nothing new, and neither is deception in this context. The play Cyrano de Bergerac is a superb illustration of this. People can fall in love simply because of black marks on the page. Is the writing persona reliable? And what are our imaginations doing with constructing the voice, body and character behind the words ? How far are we projecting our own desires onto the words?
These were questions that held great importance when letter writing was an important form of communication and social glue. Letter writing played an immense role in courtship and seduction, then the telephone took over. We had the voice and could imagine the rest. Now it seems that telephones are becoming anachronistic and we have returned to writing as an important form of communication
So to return to my initial point about improvisation. Normally it is an embodied act of communication held in a specific place and space. There are tacit rules of engagement participants understand when they enter the performance space. I am starting to wonder how far this applies to certain floating worlds in Twitter. How do you react if someone suddenly acts out of character or takes something that is clearly an improvisational game too seriously?
Remittance Girl’s recent post on the role of the writing persona concluded with the following thought:
“That doesn’t make us artificial to each other. It doesn’t invalidate or diminish our relationship. Not in the least. We place ourselves in the realm of each other’s consciousness just as we are allowed to reside there. We can only affect each other with mutual permission.”
In 1988 Marie McLean wrote a wonderful book called Narrative as Performance. The book was written at the time when poststructuralism was making itself felt in literary studies. In this book she proposes an answer to the perennial question of interpretation:
How does a text maintain its authority, how does it keep a firm grasp on interpretation? The rules of the game involve control, at first seen as the control of the telling by the teller. Narrative may be seen as a delicate interplay of power in which the narratee submits to the control of a narrator, while the narrator must scheme to overcome the power of the narratee. Each experiences an invasion of his or her territory by the other.
In face-to-face contexts including staged performances it is relatively easy for a speaker to establish authority in terms of interpretation over interlocutors because a speaker is not relying on words alone. However as soon as text is written this relation becomes far more complex. Authors can address readers directly or through a narrator. Nonetheless narrators and narratees are textual constructs with a performative relation.
In the internet Web 2.0 environment, the dynamics shift again. Often the narrator has a nom de plume to protect anonymity. People who leave comments also often use a pseudonym. So who is writing/narrating and who is reading in the position of the narratee? I suggest that the narrator-narratee relationship is being made more explicit through the design and use of various technical functionalities.
Online personas also blur the artificial lines between fiction and non-fiction. When we read biography and auto-biography we assume that the narrator is telling the ‘truth’, that the memories presented are somehow reliable and located in the lived experience of the narrator. But when we read the biography of an online persona, do we make the same assumptions, do we expect that the persona is telling some aspects of the truth about herself or himself? Would we be shocked in the same way we were shocked when Helen Demidenko was unmasked as Helen Darville, if she were an online persona?
So to get back to the points Remittance Girl was making in her post, I wonder what the mutual permissions we give are when we perform writing as personas and I also wonder if we expect ‘truth’ from personas when they appear to be performing memoirs or autobiographical writing. Perhaps we still operate under the same assumptions that lead us to trust the ‘truth’ of autobiography.
We have just had a week on Twitter of adding a purple hue to our avis in order to support an anti-bullying campaign: http://twibbon.com/join/SpiritDay. I noticed that many commented that their timelines had turned purple. Many also used this as an opportunity to change their avis. I was one of them. I thought this is again an expression of personas.
So how do we perform our personas? Our social media personas live in floating worlds and have nomadic qualities away from our routine everyday selves, or do they? I googled some key words and found that of course the marketers already have strategies and are probably conducting training session about social media personas as I write this. After wading through several pages of marketing strategies I came across a post by Johnny B. Truant. In this post he talks about not merely adopting a nom de plume, but also becoming two people residing in one body. The process he describes is very similar to how an actor approaches a character role.
Which brings me back to the “not not me” so cogently defined by Schechner. And Lacan would say, that no matter how hard we try to hide, we shall always reveal ourselves though our writing even through the characters we create. So really it is impossible to be anyone other than ourselves, even if we conceal certain mundane parts in the realm of Twitter and its colliding possible worlds. I look through the list of people I follow. They are all personas. The differences lie in how much of their everyday concrete material selves they wish to reveal. Yet at the same, their personas are also a substantial facet of their everyday selves. I feel that the term is slippery. As soon as I try to pin it down it wriggles in a new direction. How much do we know of our followers and those we follow? There are distinctions to be made, that is for sure. The timeline is in the public sphere; then there are DMs, which are sometimes the sites of revelations, the place where we go to be private, almost like a corner in a crowded room. This is the place where we feel we can let our masks slip to reveal yet more personas.
I have just uploaded a series of images I extracted from video which I have called Patinas of Place. I was ‘drifting’ around Hanoi walking with my video camera. This is one of my personas. I like to drift with a camera in my hand and shoot whatever. You well may ask what drifting is. Its pedigree starts really in the 1960s with the Situationists and psycho-geography. It also has connections to Baudelaire’s flaneur. For me, it is about being as invisible as I can be drifting around streets simply looking and experiencing. If something or someone catches my eye I follow. (This is not to be confused with stalking.) It is one of my favourite things to do and getting utterly lost in urban mazes can be transcendental, truly. Experience of place is a luxury given all the pressure to be constantly connected, to have somewhere to go and someone to meet.
I shot the video extracted the images almost a year ago while on sabbatical leave. I worked with them for a while using various printmaking techniques and my trusty scanner. A couple of them were actually realised in the material world. Then I was back in the swim of work. I looked at them today, anew. I thought about what I was trying to express through this exercise. I had called the series Patinas of Place. I was totally seduced by the word ‘patina’ – both pronunciations roll so smoothly off the tongue, almost like toffee, rich and gleaming.I used to refer to the idea that places are overlaid with histories and memories. I was trying to express this idea through my images – kind of a tension between now and then and the transience of everything.
I remembered how delicious it was to have threes days in a row where I did not have to consider another soul. I was blissfully alone with my feelings, my thoughts and my camera and the abundant streets of Hanoi. This is a persona I had put aside for a while. Yet this persona feeds me.
Last night I was watching a doco on heavy metal and it struck me that liminal space, the space of play, the subjunctive, the ‘what if’ space is counter to modernity and its love of machines. The ability to play was not in the interests of factory owners. They needed fodder for their factories who would be content to work, eat, sleep and reproduce. The doco discussed the disgust felt by mainstream people to the fetishes, appearance and demeanor of heavy metal bands. Of course some in the right wing religions blamed heavy metal for social ills and labelled it satanic. And they still believe their own collective paranoia.
Each time people dress up and take on personas outside of a defined theatre space people get threatened. In ‘real’ life we are pressured to be static one dimensional beings. While different roles such as father, mother, son, daughter, etc are acknowledged; different personas which nonetheless are still me even though they are not not me are integral aspects of ourselves. We all have unfixed unstable selves that are constantly transforming and hopefully growing. I started to think about this disgust, which in its extreme forms accuses personas of being immoral or in league with the devil or trying to escape from the ‘real’ world, whatever that is. On the other hand there is the ‘happiness’ industry with exhorts us to be in the moment, to try something new everyday, etc.
So I am thinking about why the idea of personas is disgusting to so many. And why do people cling to notions of ‘real’ ?