Monday, January 08, 2007

More of the below: 3 self and selves

Blogging. Telling it how it is. Oh absolutely!

How interesting to be invisible in public.

Who shall I be today?

There’s some kind of public self: a compound (stable but not fully fixed) of nature and nurture overlaid with subjective experience; unconconsciously filtered through personality; consciously filtered through personal morality, consideration for others, and an instinct for social survival and preservation of the core self.

By the way, how much of that gets filtered out of the blog version? What gets, um, enhanced? Arguably, you can’t fake intelligence, humour, culture, etc., though some may try. All blogs, to some degree, represent personas.

Assuming a straightforward relationship with one’s immediate colleagues, readers, whatever, there’s the other person’s – subjective - perception of ‘me’.
Friend, do you recognise and accept, or recognise and ignore, my less appealing qualities?
Foe, how does that question apply to my finer qualities?
Both, do you agree on which are which?

The public self: perhaps a matter of perception, perhaps only measurable by what it does, and how it does it.

And by way of illustration, here are one blogger’s impression of other bloggers she reads.

The family self: subject to closer and more frequent observation, and in a wider variety of situations; especially if some of the observers are children. Children are, after all, the most dispassionate of observers in many ways: while they may not immediately recognise the significance of an action or word, it takes its place in their expanding sense of the world in which they live, perhaps only to be examined years later; whereas partners, on the whole, come under the category of friends - friends, moreover, who have chosen us, which introduces a few more quirky variables to the equation.

The real self: possibly darker or more vulnerable than either of the above; certainly more complex. Who sees it? Perhaps everyone, including me, is aware of part of the whole, but probably no-one, not even me, gets it all. Certainly no-one, not even me, can predict with complete confidence what I will do in any particular circumstances. Variables again.

Nor would I want to be 100% predictable. To even want to know oneself so well suggests a worrying degree of self-absorption, and detachment from the curious business of living. This does not of course apply to me, because I’m a pre-menopausal woman and I’m supposed to think about stuff like this!

To want to know someone else to that degree suggests other problems, at least to me!

On the whole, it seems to me that the person I am now is fundamentally the person I was at birth. Had I been part of a cloning experiment, and the collection immediately dispersed throughout the world, then even allowing for some of us being placed with families of different races, or not even with conventional families, if those who survived to adulthood were brought together, I suspect that we would find we shared many common threads of experience – had made similar choices - because our different upbringings and environments would have worked on a common genetic, physiological inheritance, and the undefined, and undefinable elements that make me - me. Arguably, if our collective nerve held, we would discover as many differences and similarities amongst ourselves as exist between brothers and sisters in a single family, who share common genes and upbringing, in addition to the elements that mark them as distinct from each other.

At the same time, however, there must surely be significant differences, because our different upbringings and experiences would have encouraged or discouraged, perhaps even suppressed, specific aspects of the original me.

As a teenager, I was interested in ESP for a while, and worked my way through the local library's collection of books on mind and spirit. This brought me to Sybil, a fictionalised account of living with Multiple Personality Disorder, which was made into a miniseries in 1976, though I haven't seen it. I didn't see the 1957 film The Three Faces of Eve until years later. Such is the depth of my research.

As I understand it, multiple-personality disorder arises when a child experiences something so far beyond what its complete self can cope with, that a facet of its personality, its strength unalloyed by other, less forceful facets, assumes control for as long as necessary. However, if this happens once, it can happen again, with other difficult challenges triggering the emergence of other one-dimensional independent selves. If enough such selves emerge, or if those selves who do have sufficient strength to come through frequently, the 'original' adult experiences the loss of days and weeks. The novels and films - with different degrees of integrity - are based on doctors' documentation of the condition, and the process of therapy and eventual recovery.

Much more common, I guess, is schizophrenia, including the type that involves hearing voices which harangue the victim to do things that are utterly contrary to his or her wishes and values. The only schizophrenic I ever met was an old lady who lived alone in a flat, with a daughter who never visited, and upstairs neighbours who tormented her by playing 'Three Blind Mice' over and over on their stereo. In fact, the daughter visited frequently, only to be accused and abused; and the nursery rhyme only played in the old lady's head. Maybe it wasn't even schizophrenia, but a hideous form of senility; I never found out.

But when it comes to the voices version of schizophrenia, where do those unacceptable urgings come from?Returning to the bounds of the normal, we have play, fantasy, make-believe, theatre and cinema, and also role-play as used in training (as well as therapy). Dolphins, cats and chimpanzees may play, but only humans play-act, which requires not only imagination, but spontaneous creativity, and the ability to willingly (and temporarily) suspend disbelief.

Konstantin Stanislavski, from his base at the Moscow Art Theatre, devoted his life to developing and refining his System of actor training, which would enable his actors to play the new realistic dramas becoming popular in northern Europe at the turn of the 20th Century. The flamboyant skills required for melodrama and variety shows did not serve actors trying to portray the nuances of individual experience in Ibsen's 'A Doll's House' or Chekhov's 'The Three Sisters', or the works of Shaw in England, and O'Neill in the States. and later.

Lee Strasberg went on to develop the more famous Method, or 'method acting', on the back of Stanislavski's work. Associated with Marlon Brando, The Method is the foundation of realistic acting, and the central plank for actor training in the US, whose popular culture favours naturalism over symbolism or stylisation on stage and in movie-making.

Among the techniques Stanislavski developed at the Moscow Art Theatre, was 'The Magic If', a rehearsal tool that could enable an actor to get 'inside' the character s/he was playing. Actors would work through a series of questions 'as if' they were their character, questions such as 'Who am I?', and 'What do I want?', to establish an alternative reality to inhabit in the play. Emotional Memory is another technique, to be used with training and understanding, which can channel the actor's memory of an emotional experience into his playing of a role. At no point should the actor 'lose' himself in the role, but just as an audience suspends disbelief during a play, the Method actor can be said to inhabit a role.

Stanislavski and Strasberg are now so mainstream that schoolchildren and amateurs of all ages, without ever having heard their names, use elements and developments of their techniques. A piece of advice often given to actors is that, whoever you're playing, you need to have some sympathy with your character.

This is fine as long as your character is the good guy; rather unnerving if it's Hannibal Lecter or the Marquis de Sade. How do you have sympathy, or any kind of common ground with such a character? What does that say about you?

Then again, how do you play a fully rounded 'realistic' character while disapproving of him?

Just as most children demonstrate an instinctive aversion to playing the bad guy in games, and to investing baddie role play with any depth, we need to reassure ourselves that it's only pretend, and maintain the distance between our wholesome selves, and the depraved 'fantastic part' we're playing. However, the process of opening up a connection between the two is unsettling, because if we have a shameful memory of a petty cruel or dishonest action that gave us a buzz of illicit pleasure at the time, then drawing on that to play a part raises personal moral questions.

There are a number of actors I admire, among them Denzel Washington. In the DVD bonus material for 'Man on Fire', Tony Scott describes how, when Denzel Washington comes out of his trailer, he's in role as Creasy, a man whose entire way of life hinges on being a loner. He (Tony Scott) was worried that Dakota Fanning, who plays nine-year-old Pita Ramos, would be upset by her co-star's touch-me-not coldness, but she knew enough to recognise his particular approach to a role.

More worrying are stories of actors who deliberately stay in role, on- and off-set, for the duration of shooting. No wonder Hollywood marriages strain!

It may be the party animals who get the headlines, but most of the finest actors are remarkable only for their ordinariness in day to day life. They must be tapping into something when they're on stage or on set, but they can leave it behind when they leave the theatre or lot. Benign sybils.

Final thought: the Sybil was a medium. Cinema and theatre are media through which we are transported, without leaving our plush seats and popcorn, into another experience, another view. Doesn’t this endow live performance with an element of shaman ritual, with the actors as shamans?

As for cinema, you could say they’re our link to the bigger picture, especially if they’re on IMAX. ;)


nzm said...

haha on that last sentence!

Have you seen Fight Club with Brad Pitt and Edward Norton? Excellent example of what you're writing about here about MPD

MamaDuck said...


I've seen trailers, but it's usually on at 10 pm on a week night. I'll keep an eye out.

I'm astonished that you ploughed through all this. And survived! Thank you friend. I wrote a wodge of it (this section, in fact)a while back, because I've got things on my mind that I can't work through. It came out rather bleaker than I meant it, so I shelved it for a while, and thought about kabuki instead!

Actually,I saw something over the summer that got me thinking about identity, and self, that I want to work through in fiction. I've had the central character, a beginning, and the basic shape of the story, for months, but first I got busy, then I got tired, and then I just wasn't in the right frame of mind for this kind of material - and now I'm due back at school again! Never mind. It will come. I think! :)

nzm said...

I don't think that I could ever be one of those writers who disciplines themselves to write for xx hours per day.

My writing comes as it forms in my mind!

Deepak Morris said...

"Actually,I saw something over the summer that got me thinking about identity, and self, that I want to work through in fiction."

I know it's early months, yet, but if you'd really like to see what you can do as a writer try NaNoWriMo. That's where you undertake to write a novel in a month (the month of November, hence the No in NaNo).

It gets you writing xxx words a day, I can tell you, having done it (finally) in 2006.

It's all about the deadline.

Would you even consider not finishing a panto before Christmas?


Check NaNo out at:


MamaDuck said...

Deepak you have a point. The trouble is that I have to have a deadline, but it has to be an external deadline with penalties!

Jin said...

It is a bit of a 'heavy' post mamaduck, but extremely interesting. I feel like I'm a female version of Edward Norton (i.e. his Fight Club character) living in this house sometimes! I'd dearly love to be able to write a book, but I think the only way I'd be able to do it would be if I toss a mother & son off the balcony........