Who are our personas?

“Sometimes, in fact, like a hunter in the forest, he spots the written quarry, follows a trail, laughs, plays tricks, or else like a gambler, lets himself be taken in by it.”(de Certeau)

The comments on my last post on personas were inspirational. We are mosaics in Twitter spaces as _thextraman_ noted. And most of us real flesh and blood creatures. Pierre phrased a superb question: Is our persona a hidden alter ego or our true conscious self over emphasized? which is related to Peter’s question: Who will I become in the cupboards and corridors of their imagination?

I started thinking about what is so compelling about Twitter and how it is different from other social media spaces like Facebook. I don’t propose to analyse the technical differences, I want to unpack the some of the social ritual aspects specific to my floating wold in Twitter. For me twitter is very much a ‘what if’ space. It is also a space where I can observe the resurgence of poetry. I can also observe how photography is used in everyday life as a form of communication.

In my stream, I see people trying to be the best they can be. Like Peter, I was surprised and at times overwhelmed by the levels of kindness and care expressed by people in this space. I am also aware of the pitfalls of utopian views of life and of our ever present desire to create utopias. Nonetheless, maybe this is a space where we are beginning experiment with new social rituals  which depend on the development an over-emphasised conscious self expressed through personas.

I wonder too, if this space encourages self reflexivity, particularly with regard to what we are projecting and transferring onto others and in turn what is being projected and transferred to us? Those of us who like to write, draw and take photos feed on the feedback which is generally very kind. I, for one, send critiques through whispers, I prefer not to do it in public. That is my upbringing. I have noticed others do the same. There is a veil between public and private operating in Twitter, or to use a theatre metaphor, a front and back stage (Goffman also uses this metaphor). So, to be egocentric do I assume everyone else is doing the same?

My assumption is that the timeline is public, even for those who protect their tweets, and if people reveal intimate details, that is a conscious choice on their part. And yet, I am uneasy about this assumption because I am drawing on rules of engagement for what can be said, who listens and who speaks from other contexts with which I am familiar.

But Twitter is a new context, where else can you go where you just drop in and out, engage in dialogues or monologues, stick up paintings, drawings, photos, poems, microfiction, blog links? And who are we in Twitter? If we assume a persona we need to maintain it, inhabit it and nurture it. Peter’s question about who we will become in the imaginations of others extends to who we shall become in our own imaginations as well. And Pierre is right too, we do over-emphasise aspects of ourselves through our personas, through the people we choose to follow and interact with.

To return to de Certeau, I suggest we are also our own quarry.



Borderland Sky Garden

Convoys of concrete mixers roaring,
lorries filled with building materials staggering,
handcarts attached to push bikes weaving,
ferry food to a hungry beast
seeking development.

Steel structures
emerge and grow
covered with ropes,
pulleys, and buckets
planted between
gaudy townhouses
occupying the ground
once swampland.

Chairs, tables,
street umbrellas
invite fantasies
of alfresco dining
with people sitting
passing time
amidst signs
of globalisation.

Ubiquitous brands
inciting glamorous dreams
shine between piles of trash
and inconvenient
transient shelters
made of corrugated iron
with plastic tables and chairs.

This poem appears in  Chiron Review #95 (summer 2011)

Improvising Personas

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?


A little sestina silliness

She sits with her hands on the window
watching the rain splashing outside.
She spies two fat raindrops having a race
on the glass pane. If the one on the left
wins Mama will buy her a doll, if the right
wins,  Mama will tell her a beautiful tale.

Which raindrop will come first and tell the tale?
The raindrops slither and turn on the window
stopping and flowing  in streams to the right.
She watches holding her breath, first the outside
one trickles away, but no, wait, it is the inside left
raindrop coming up fast wanting to win the race.

Wistfully looking, she thinks of a story about a race,
she imagines herself as a princess in a tale,
the  kingdom with princes and castles is to the left,
she  pretends to see dragons out of the window
flying around in between trees in her garden outside
A prince will rescue her from boredom and  be right.

It seems that one raindrop has won, right
in front of her eyes, in this fabulous race
while she was imagining playing  outside.
The dragon who wins will be kind in her tale
he will understand her and come through the window
To look for a prince over there, on the  left.

She sighs deeply and  looks at the sky on the left
pondering how she will know if prince charming is right
for happily ever after? Again she sighs at the window.
She’ll make grueling tests and a dangerous race.
She wishes she could a pretty princess in a fairy tale
where it is always summer and sunny outside.

The raindrops are tired, they’ve finished outside,
there’s beautiful rainbow.  The dragons have left
with promises to come back for more fairy tales
with scary adventures, where things turn out right,
chasing boredom away, making everything race.
Sunbeams spill into the room through the window.

Now she can run outside, everything has turned out right,
the rain is left behind and she starts an adventurous race,
the prince from her tale is smiling at her through the window.

Personas narrating

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.