Landscape organizes everything within sight.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Where am I?

Reading: Dror Wahrman on the idea of the self. In the eighteenth century, he thinks, the self is leaning outward rather than inward. There's an concept of an individual "you" determined by the experiences and expectations of the society in which one lives. But by the 1790s something's changing. The "you" is supposedly traceable to an inside self, a concatenation of successive experiences separate from what people expect. The modern experience of subjective alienation has begun. Drorman believes that the reason is locateable in the kinds of science and psychology that are ever more exactly locating the kinds of certain history that have a definite (seemingly definite?) impact on the self.

In the middle of the eighteenth century one A. Betson, an idiosyncratic writer with a scholarly bent, published a treatise on masquerades, setting the scene with a seemingly innocuous definition: 'Masquerades, or Masqueraders, are _Persons in Disguise_, representing or acting other Personages, than what they are commonly known to be.' Now read this definition again, paying particular attention to how its ending betrays an archaic way of thinking. We might say, 'masqueraders are acting personages different than what they _are_', but we are less likely to say that they act personages different than what they _are commonly known to be_. It is not much of a stretch to hear in this formulation an admission that real life was itself not unlike a masquerade: both, it seems, involved assumed identities. The difference appears more one of degree than of kind: whereas in real life one is known to be a particular character most of the time, in a masquerade one sports a character only for an evening.

So where are we? Tragically torn between the objective and the subjective? Located, perhaps, between objective understanding of the cerebral cortex, between objectively Freudian understandings of what all humans do -- masturbate, fantasize, desire, fetishize -- and what we ourselves do.

And I wonder. This film that's been haunting me, Waking the Dead, contrasts the subjective, temporary idea of the self, as determined by friends, mentors, lovers, associations -- with a longer-term version of the self -- as determined by history, family, the politics of the longue durée, language, God. And there's a tragic association between the two. One's friends don't understand that the place one is from casts one in the tragic position of fighting for a long-term struggle. The teachers of this year don't understand one's duty to the place and class and family one came from. One's family doesn't understand that one exists in the moment. The self is dual, torn between the present and history: between the lyric poem and the epic saga of the nation, between the self and the collective. Neither is more authentic or more real. But existing in one at the expense of the other appears as a kind of treason.


Post a Comment

<< Home