Imaginatively Real

I’m circling ’round again with my ambitions. And trying to keep them to myself. Just a few days of digging into memories rips me open and I start looking around for support. And that’s a mistake.

This is standing in an open field with an open wound throat to pubis. Even the wind churns through me. I am a scarecrow of the strangest sort. Naked with a bucket over my head.

I am reminded of a time when I pushed myself through some art therapy with a therapist who desperately wanted me to cry. Collage work. Maybe it’s not surprising all the Biblical imagery one can cut out of fashion magazines. I see now how similar a scarecrow and a crucifix are. So maybe after all these years, I haven’t grown at all.

The collage was my idea. I think I’ve always needed a witness.

A few weeks ago my son recommended Derek DelGaudio’s In and Of Itself. A very interesting performance work (filmed) that is both original and not. It was interesting to watch it with my students and discuss the postmodern self-referential heart of the work. And to begin to question where the post-postmodern artist is heading. The most conservative of the students was put off by the “leaning toward narcissistic” storytelling. But the students who’d had a course in performance, and who recognized Abromovic in the audience were excited by the artist’s perspective.

The question that I always return to, that I didn’t and won’t discuss with my students is: who gets to tell their story? Who gives them permission. And what does it cost them?

The conservative student says he doesn’t like it when people just put all their private information out there. I think that’s interesting. I wanted to ask him if he felt it was an imposition on his imagination. Intrusive and “bossy” in that the other is trying to direct/shape his view of the other?

But I didn’t ask.

In the performance, DelGaudio talks about a sailor’s log, which is half fact and half imagination. Which is a perfect metaphor. Especially if one considers that the “facts” are “observations”, and what I mean is to refer back to his own retelling of the parable of the blind men and the elephant.

DelGaudio tells his story, which is so tightly interwoven with his mother’s story that it is unclear that any narrative is a thing in and of itself. Whose story is it really? While he explores the idea that an elephant was once a magical creature who then allows itself to be defined by others and stops being magical, I wonder if there never was a creature in the first place. All elephants are a single perspective on the savanna. All creatures are imaginary creatures.

Of course, there’s nothing original here, not in the performance, and not in my own thoughts about it. But again, I think there is something wonderful about backing up into philosophers through experience rather than going through the world with some kind of answer key in your hand and adjusting your view accordingly. It’s not that it makes me feel smarter, but it certainly makes me feel less alone.

Maybe there’s nothing wrong with circling ’round again and again. Maybe it’s like playing with the same lump of clay. Maybe it is a practice of staying in the moment. And there can be real joy and real discovery in that.

Maybe every incarnation is as real as it gets.


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