homo effectus

Actors (inside the studio) talk a lot about (magic) moments on the set which are, let’s say, a kind of falling that feels like flying. They describe these moments as a sudden switch in mode or a shift in plane, of being, behaving. Roughly put, it is the (crippling) mode of deliberation and conscious elaboration (or control) giving way or space for a free-flowing, electrified and electrifying performance that self-assembles itself out of rich subconscious and environmental resources.

Though not on a set, Robin Williams in his interview inside the actor’s studio enacts something very interesting from the beginning. He starts embodying characters and characteristics, all sorts of stereotypes and slogans, one after the other, in an associative stream and frenzy of playful bricolage. He is pure zaniness in action. Towards the end he even reflects on this by saying that what he is doing is probably an exploration of the boundaries, basically, just for the fun of it.

Indeed, as soon as he takes the initial farcical leap he seems immediately intoxicated by the reinforcing feedback that he gets. Approval feeds confidence, and his style (of being and behaving) just spirals out of confining control. Energy is dis-inhibited. Williams is flying as he is falling.

Of course, there are cycles of slackening and recesses as well. The fangs withdraw from time to time and at once an impending sense of exhaustion haunts the game that’s been tacitly played all along. But then an errant spark inflames it all up again. Hilarity ensues. What we witness here is an occasional fall-back, a lull of sanity (of controlled conversation) that intersperses a barrage of daring farcical advances. In fact, Williams and the audience form a single dynamical system that is robust enough to withstand the fragility that manifests itself in its periodic lulls…but this is a tangent.

Now, any kind of performance is a skill, and as a skill it requires a lot of prior foundational practice. Only those individuals can let creatively go of themselves who absorbed a lot, a whole lotta stuff beforehand. As Gregory Bateson observes:  “intoxication does not increase skill—at best it may release skill previously acquired[;] [w]ithout skill is no art.”

After the necessary amount of exposure performance is basically a matter of trust (thrust, in effect) and daring on the part of the performer. I wonder though (and I am shifting levels of abstraction here): is the on the part of the performer bit redundant in the previous sentence?

Yeah, like doing what I’m doing now; this, here: writing. Good writing is a matter of skill. (I am a rookie (enough to (be droll and) start a sentence with a parenthesis) but I feel that) the more I write and read the more creatively I can shuffle the stuff that I absorb and harbor. Absorb and harbor.

The way the cookie crumbles, crudely: impressions cultivate my expressions and expressions cultivate the range of my impressions. The suite of shticks that I harbor (as subconscious resource ready to be deployed) is the sediment of the stuff that I absorb by dint of the shticks I already harbor… another tangent. (To do with framing.)

I also think of Derren Brown. The way his hypnotic prowess, by his own account, built up over time, gradually. The better he got at it, the more confident and therefore even more better he got. God bless the bliss of the positive feedback loop. Assuredly, self-assurance plays the lion’s share in hypnosis. How? Well, for one, con-fidence (a totally appropriate pun in this context) calls forth the conditions of the possibility of its own reinforcement by allowing an ecstatic interpersonal engagement. Fueled by rapport a single dynamical system emerges… once again a tangent.

By way of an even more far-fetched parallel let me sketch a flimsy sketch of the “skill” of resentment. If someone swallows a lot, of affront and whatnot, it is a kind of exposure that sediments as one comments on those felt hurts in the privacy of perpetual self-talk. And thus resentment is gradually building up, until one day…all dreck breaks loose. Just like that. Dregs of un(der)expressed impressions build up inside that at one point culminate in an electrified and electrifying outburst of ecstatic confrontation. We have all experienced these electrified and electrifying moments in our life. These are important steps that offer the opportunity for the development of our relationships. But more to the point, unrestrained confrontations like these  are a kind of mindless ecstasy that liberates the self from its narcissistic constraints. Everything rolls, in a free-wheeling, say, bricolage of grudge.

Admittedly, this may sound an analogy that’s a tad overstretched but I think there are some parallels in the specifics of these dynamics. Family resemblance for sure.

But then, nothing in particular is going on in this blogpost—apart, again, from random bricolage. Am I just riffing? Well… I guess, I am practicing (textual-conceptual performance). And surely, it gives me pleasure as playfulness gives pleasure to Robin Williams. It is a general rule, after all: once one starts to get the hang of a particular skill, performing it becomes, in effect, an auto-erotic exercise of sorts. Yes, like writing this very post. Too bad it’s not at least funny, right? 😉


About M

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