Sympathists

Posts Tagged ‘Authenticity’

My Dinner with Andre Part II: Andre in Poland, “I Could Always Live in my Art, but Never in My Life.”

In Life as Lived, My Dinner With Andre on April 25, 2009 at 8:52 pm

M. Standfast, Kyoto

imageWhen we left off, Wally was just arriving at the fancy restaurant to which Andre had invited him. While Andre seems quite comfortable in his immediate surroundings throughout the film, he has not been well; in fact it is clear that he has experienced a prolonged period of painful self-questioning. Wally tells us in the voice-over that he re-connected with Andre only after a mutual friend (George Grassfield) found Andre weeping in the street:

George had been out walking his dog in some odd section of town when he had suddenly come upon a solitary man leaning against a crumbling building, sobbing uncontrollably. Well, George was about to walk by rapidly, as one does in New York, when he suddenly realized that the man was Andre {…} Andre explained to him that he’d been watching the Igmar Bergman movie Autumn Sonata about twenty-five blocks away, and he’d been seized by a fit of ungovernable crying when the character played by Ingrid Bergman had said, “I could always live in my art, but never in my life” (19).

It turns out that a few years previously Andre had lost the ability to “live in his art,” and began to struggle with living his life as well. Wally meets Andre, they embrace (“I remember, when I first started working with Andre’s company, I couldn’t get over the way actors would hug when they greeted people. ‘Now I’m really in the theater’, I thought” (20)) and move to the bar. Wally tells Andre that he looks “terrific” to which Andre responds “Well, thank you. I feel terrible” (20).

This exchange is a touchstone for the entire film, and also stands as a joke that can only be appreciated after seeing the whole film as the issue between how we read the surface expressions of our friends or lovers and how surface impressions often mask deeper issues and problems pervades the film. The exchange also indicates the shallowness of Wally’s observation of Andre at this point in the film, and his desire to simply get through the evening, even if this requires a reliance on cliche. Wally’s uncertainty about the state of his friendship with Andre and the state of the evening leads him to fall back on his “secret profession” as a private investigator. He begins to question Andre about his experiences and Andre begins his tale, which, from the very beginning, oscillates between profundity and absurdity, and between self-knowledge and self-pity.

About five years previous Andre had been invited to Poland to teach a workshop by a fellow director Jerzy Grotowski. He didn’t want to go “because, really, I had nothing left to teach. I had nothing left to say. I didn’t know anything. I couldn’t teach anything. Exercises meant nothing to me anymore. Working on scenes from plays seemed ridiculous. I didn’t know what to do” (22). Grotowski tells Andre to ask for anything he’d like as an attempt to lure him, and Andre responds: “If you could give me forty Jewish women who spoke neither English nor French, either women who have been in the theater for a long time and want to leave it but don’t know why, or young women who love the theater but have never seen a theater they could love, and if these women could play the trumpet or the harp, and if I could work in a forest, I’d come” (22). Grotowski can’t come up with forty Jewish women, but he comes close and finds forty women, plus some men, all of whom are questioning the theater and none of whom speak English. He also finds for Andre a forest which is populated by only “some wild boar and a hermit” (23). Andre agrees to go to Poland. Continue Reading

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Minor Intellectuals Further Theorize About Selling Out Here

In Organizations, Sociology on February 17, 2009 at 11:59 pm

Editor’s Note: It is nice to see the affinity for the fascinating subject of sartorial conformism on the part of sympathists.  This post is organized as a dialogue, made up of comments to previous posts as well as material written expressly for the colloquy.

Tim Chanecka, Kyoto

Interesting observations, Mr. Inch, and good recollection as well. I would point out further that as one who shared that office with you and MT, it always seemed to me that for most of the rest of us (although if you’ll recall, I also seasonally wore a tie) the choice not to wear a tie was also an act of rebellion against the cultural norm that we were thrust into. In other words, an act of rebellion against a culture that insisted that anything less than a necktie was less than professional. Some of us, I believe you would be included in that group, wanted to be taken seriously as professionals for what we DID, not the packaging in which we did it. I guess that would skew quite seriously the idea that we could become something which we were not by pretending to be it.

At any rate, for me anyway, the wearing o’ the tie has become de rigueur, perhaps for the same reasons MT did and still does it, perhaps because I am in a culture which I cannot change, so I have changed my practices to be more in step with it. It still comes off before I even get out the door in the evening, however.

Dean Williams, Kyoto

What about MY sartorial choices? Something wrong with suspenders and bow ties? It was me, not the slim one, who read and took to heart the self-help smash, “Dress for Success–If You Want to be a Circus Clown.”

Matthew Thomas, Kyoto

Mr. Inch’s wonderfully ambivalent post deserves a full response, and, at the risk of typecasting Sympathies as a blog focusing on the minutia of social practice, will receive one. For the moment, I would only add that Puritano’s ability to pull off the circus clown look is wholly dependent on the projection of an identity that supports the fashion in question. For those many of us yet to acquire to ability to turn on and turn off more or less at will what for lack of a better word can only be called “charisma”–a conventional, even conservative professional appearance may indeed act as a kind of catalyst through which a measure of social effectiveness may be harnessed. I think that the ambivalence, perhaps even the hint of insecurity, that animates Andrew’s post is precisely born of his uncertainty about how far charisma, charm, and personality can take before he too will need to rethink his rebel pose, his “alternative (…) perhaps less respect-able but nonetheless conformist, relationship to the rules and rituals that regulated life in that particular setting,” and find it in himself to don the noose.

Andrew Inch, United Kingdom

Fascinating stuff, Mr Thomas.  Goffman does indeed provide interesting means for thinking about the self and identity.  I think, however, that in part you have misinterpreted the roots of my ambivalence, and in so doing attribute something rather different to my post than I intended Continue Reading

The Imaginary Camera, Part II

In Sociology on February 14, 2009 at 9:37 pm

Matthew Thomas, Kyoto

Editor’s Note: Part I of “The Imaginary Camera” left off with Jennifer Senior considering why it is that politicians like Reagan and Clinton were so effective as personalities; she suggests that this is because they basically have no “backstage” character–that the space between the private self and the public face is in fact de minimus.

On Bill Clinton:

Senior’s point here is that the best politicians are basically the same on stage and off stage. In Reagan’s case, as a professional actor, Ronald Reagan the man had, over time, simply become “Ronald Reagan” the politician and public figure. In the case of Clinton, one suspects, the same end result, being truly comfortable in the role, was attained by sightly different means–Clinton as an adult seems simply to have never had a self apart from his political image. Senior quotes Clinton advisor Paul Begala (well-read enough to be familiar with Goffman) to this effect: “Erving Goffman used to make the distinction between front-stage and backstage personas. Bill Clinton has the least distance between his front stage and his backstage personas out of anyone I know” (129). Begala’s comment here is especially interesting if seen through the lens of John Harris’ account of the first meeting between candidate Clinton and the two hot operatives of 1991, Begala and James Carville. According the Harris, Clinton first interviewed Carville and Begala at a bar, and he was wooing these two rather than the other way around. “Clinton had a reputation as the consummate politician, so the operatives sat down waiting for a discussion laden with inside dope {…} Instead, Clinton launched into an impassioned discourse–nothing short of a sermon, really–about how troubled he was about his country.” Begala “swooned” but “in his crush {…} kept enough detachment to contemplate that the session had been a put-on, and what seemed like a wonderfully guileless performance actually had been a more sophisticated brand of artifice. Is this guy for real? he asked Carville” (xi).

Through our reading of Senior and Goffman we realize that the answer to Begala’s questions is of course “yes”–he was for real, in this sense, the performance was both entirely guileless (that is sincere) and entirely artifice (that is cynical and calculated), the two modes blending in Clinton to such an extent that there was virtually no difference between the two. Clinton, after all, had by this point been running for a very long time; he lost a congressional race in Arkansas in 1974 at the age of 28, won a race for Arkansas Attorney General in 1976 and one for governor in 1978 at the tender age of 32. When it came time to run for president, Clinton the candidate had essentially erased any vestige of Bill Clinton the man, with a backstage self distinct from the man in the floodlights. Senior traveled with Clinton to Africa in 2005, and came away with this observation: “Even when the cameras aren’t rolling, he’s always performing. The fantasy about Clinton is that he’s exactly like you or me. But he’s nothing like you or me {in} Africa {…} even in the most solitary circumstances, he lit up like a Christmas tree. He enjoyed performing in these quiet circumstances, often repeating the same jokes and anecdotes {…} It was like an imaginary camera was always running” (135). Continue Reading