A Sketch

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

acquiescence …

and she searches for
her identity in cinema
and sitcoms.

One or Multiple Personas?

A few of the people I follow on Twitter have multiple personas for a variety of reasons. This got me thinking. Some changed their persona name to better reflect who they wish to be in the Twitter world. Others found that too many work colleagues etc knew who they were; this cramped their style. Some found their timelines too busy and wanted to pare things back. Some were hacked and needed to start over. It seems we can build up baggage in these floating worlds that can weigh us down. Some vanish for a while, only to re-emerge with a new name and avi. They give themselves away quite quickly.

No matter how hard we try we are only ever ourselves even if we are playing a character role. And we reveal ourselves no matter how much we try to remain ‘in character’. I have had the same handle but like to change my avi – I have at various times been a set of Vietnamese water puppets in an image I made, a pre-Raphaelite painting, myself and an upside down cat. I am not sure what ‘face’ I will have next. But I know I can never be anyone other than myself. Even if I try on a disguise, I will betray myself and you will spot me.

Others have a couple of twitter handles, one may be associated with a business venture or community, the other is used as a tool for personal expression. I find such machinations fascinating as I try to unravel the new ways of being together in the floating world we create in social media universes.

I have also being trying to figure out whether I want to spend time in Google+. There one can have only one identity but multiple circles of acquaintances that can be kept separate. Perhaps the designers got it wrong. Maybe what people want is a space where they can have multiple personas in the same space to express different aspects of themselves.

I wonder how good we are at spotting people with multiple personas … and how easily can we be fooled by people who create multiple personas …

More musings on personas in Twitter

Last year I wrote a few posts exploring personas on Twitter. There was some fantastic discussion too. A few things have happened over the past few weeks that compel me to revisit this fascinating topic. These events are banal and unfortunate yet they reveal more about the nature of Twitter type spaces.

Recently I wrote a paper for Text called ‘Poetic Tweets. It will be published in October. In it I theorised Twitter as a creative play space for poets. (I also wrote a lot about aesthetics but that’s another story.)

Therein lies the rub, while Twitter is a creative play space it is also an uncontained liminal space where contexts can collapse. Lines between a performed character/persona and a ‘real’ person blur and social genres are murky. One can simultaneously be engaged in polite conversation about virtual food or the cricket at a virtual tea party, be engaged in a hash tag stream elsewhere, retweeting posts that appeal and chatting with a friend. We switch between different audiences within the same stream. There is no stable ground.

We’re experimenting with new ways of being together, whether we’re conscious of this or not. We’re learning to conduct multiple conversations revealing different aspects of ourselves to different audiences almost simultaneously. In other words, we can be different things to different people almost simultaneously. This can be a fraught phenomenon.

People project, interpret and introject. They construct identities for us based on a mix of our tweets and their desires – again consciously and unconsciously. They also ‘act out’ unresolved issues. We may find ourselves or our persona at any rate being the object of transference, counter-transference without realising it. The balances and checks that exist to moderate this tendency in face to face contexts are less compelling in Twitter because Twitter is a liminal space prone to context collapse (see danah boyd).

Twitter is also a wonderful space for people who delight in games and manipulation to act out. Since I wrote my posts last year, I’ve discovered I’ve been on the other end of people acting out quite a number of times. Unfortunately, I’ve found such people to be much harder to spot in Twitter than in non liminal spaces that are not quite so prone to context collapse. Perhaps this is an artifact of my conceptualisation of Twitter as a creative play space where people can be themselves in other ways and find new ways of being and interacting together. Should I be more cautious? My inclination is not to be more cautious but rather to delve further.

Moonlight Dancing

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.

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.

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?

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.