Structures enable stability: our bodies stabilize us the physical world, our egos stabilize us in society, and so forth. Yesterday, I talked about the structure of documentation; I would propose that it stabilizes our place in the world. Through our documentation, we are sure we were there: the letters we write, the words we speak, the books we read and write, the paintings we paint, the songs we sing, the dances we dance, the businesses we build, the mountains we climb, the food we cook and much more, are, I suspect, the myriad structures we use to prove we exist. If I don’t do this, then what am I?
And yet take away the structures and what are we? Take away a dancer’s legs and what is she? Take away chef’s taste buds and what is he? Take away a writer’s documents and what is he? Where has he been? What has he learned?
Who are we if not the structures we inhabit? What happens when we destabilize ourselves? Is that even possible?
Yesterday was a day filled with structural assignments: I woke up at 7AM or so at girl’s house. I went to Brooklyn for a modeling session. I rushed back home to change, then going to the Upper West Side to be a waiter. Finishing that, I went back to Brooklyn to a party at my intellectual-powerhouse friends Daniel and Filip’s.
Here are some of the structures I inhabited: lover, writer, model, servant, intellectual, New York City hustler. But within these structures, who am I? More importantly, without these structures, who am I?
Daniel and Filip are both performers. Daniel is an extremely talented Weimar-era style cabaret singer. He is a fastidious man of German and French heritage. While far from meek in his day to day life, Daniel becomes a presence on stage—a chanteur, emcee and embodiment of an era in time when historical structures were all demolished; when a gender and class and duty and many other signifiers of identity (either individual or collective) were mown down in some Alsacian trench.
Filip runs something called the Homeless Museum of Art (AKA HoMU), a conceptual art piece installed in their home that is both an expressive form and an institutional critique of the art world; the perverse juxtaposition of art and homelessness meant as an evocation of that former world’s rarefied and disembodied worldview.
For HoMU, Filip inhabits the role of art director—he becomes a person unbound by the various structures of the construct of “Filip Noterdaeme’s identity”. Wearing a fake beard and an empty pipe, Filip takes hold of a level of honesty, irreverence and levity his normal identity does not seem able to afford him. In character, he seems the most real.
Shuki is one of Daniel and Filip’s friend. He is an Israeli clinical psychologist who teaches at Yale and John Jay College. His imposing academic pedigree and vocabulary, compounded by an unrelenting conversational style and question-everything mentality, make him a provocateur par excellence.
Some of us were talking about gender, with a subtext of essentialism—i.e. “women are xyz” and “men are abc”. Shuki, while not completely nullifying what we were talking about, said that the discernment of some sort of essential sexual characteristics was impossible. He introduced us to a line of thought that he’s been examining; it is essentially a hybrid of quantum mechanics and cognitive behavioral psychology. Like wave theory, he believes that the results of observation in clinical psychology are deterministic (he extended this determinism to all fields of science). That it is impossible to extract finite conclusions through observation because the observer—i.e. the clinician—has such a deterministic role in the results of his subject.
We then brought up Filip and his role as HoMU director—how he seems to have access to a level of self-awareness not (as) evident in his normal identity of artist/art scholar. Why?
One possible reason is that Filip (and Daniel for that matter) is unbound by the structures that normally identify him. Generally speaking these structures are built around roles he has in someone else’s play. He’s a lecturer, a scholar, a boyfriend, whatever. These roles are circumscribed and rigid to a large extent. His director character allows him to shed those structural impositions. He is the author of his life.
In so creating his own reality, he is can easier shed the archetypal/predictable structures for the observer. Therefore, the conclusive determinism of most observers is thrown off. They don’t know what to do with him. He is clearly not a “legitimate” museum director, nor is he a madman (he is too clear in mien and speech). What do you do with someone who you can’t fit into a preexisting structure? Answer: you either withdraw or you engage. If we engage, it’s most likely in the attempt to build a new a structure for future comprehension. But the nascent stages of this engagement allow for something that might represent real presence—a state that is not time dependent, since all these preexisting structures are past-referential. Is this absence of limiting structures what we are? And can we replicate this structurally independent state without the artificiality of role-playing? Can we divest ourselves of identity in the context of our daily affairs? Can we perform our sundry tasks—painting, modeling, writing, cleaning, cooking, building, teaching—without being bound by the limitations of same said historical structures?
I’ll posit a theoretical answer to this question that relates to my musings on journaling yesterday: when we become the authors of our own lives, when we determine the narrative in our stories, and, from a psycho-social perspective, when we sufficiently create participation from others (“sufficient” insofar as we can override their impositions of past-referent structures), then we might be able to be in a place of self-determination, a place of creative control and, dare I say, contentedness, because if we are in creative control, why wouldn’t we create paradise?