Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Pain, Performance & Identity

This lecture was amazing. So much was said I don’t even know where to begin. In terms of language shaping the individual or the individual creating language, that is an interesting question. The thought that comes to mind is a person that is born deaf. They may not be exposed to any language, but may learn to speak and other ways to communicate, but this doesn’t make them any less of a human. Some argue that we don’t become people unless we process things through language or a narrative, but I think we as people have the ability to create our own narrative from the beginning without any road map telling us our story. I think that saying language itself defines us is giving language too much credit and undermining the individual. Sometimes language does fail us, some pain we cannot put into words.

Wow were those video clips of Bob Flanagan and Ron Athey intense. The concept of acting out your inner anguish makes sense, but it’s a whole different story when you actually see and hear them acting out the self torture and S & M performances. The question that arose in discussion was, is the performance real or theatrical? Was the performance crossing over to the real or just a performance for an intended audience? I think that these performances do show real pain, both physical and mental but also depends on the perception from the audience. On the other hand, one can argue that life itself is a performance and we are just acting for an audience.

One may think that this is an intended performance for an audience, possibly just to seek attention and recognition. Another may believe that this is their true life suffering demonstrated in this real performance. There is no argument that these men and others are suffering from real emotional and physical pain in their everyday lives, but is their performance intended for an audience? Or to help themselves deal with the reality of their illness? I think that these both may be true. They may want their audience to almost in a way feel their pain (watching these performances is “painful” to watch) and also this helps them to “control” or deal with their everyday pain that they must endure with being ill. I think it’s very interesting how Flanagan discusses his excruciating pain towards the end of his life. It seems as though the involuntary pain due to illness is more painful than anything he can voluntarily inflict upon himself. From a man that has voluntarily nailed the head of his penis to a board; the pain from his illness must be absolutely indescribable.

I think that no matter what you may believe, one has to find a way that helps them to deal with their pain in their own personal manner, whether it’s poking yourself with sharp objects or painting in the comfort of your own home. I think it is ridiculous how doctors and others try to deny people’s pain. This may cause people to feel the need to “act out” their actual pain, in order for people to believe they are hurting.

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