The drama that is us.
Updated: Feb 25
There’s this concept I came across several years ago called ‘in media res’, wherein the narrative work (a film, a play, or a book) opens amidst an ongoing plot. The audience is plunged into the great unknown, becoming familiar with the unfamiliar, grasping what preceded their entry as the story proceeds through actions and dialogical processes.
In many ways, but especially two, our lives are ‘in media res’.
The first being the moment of our birth, wherein we are exposed to an environment undoubtedly not of our volition, we find ourselves in the midst of it all and, in some sense, not just responding to the past but also extracting through the past and through our response to that past an approximate mode-of-being in a direction we’d eventually come to call the future. And, in a similar manner, how the characters in books and movies are tied-in to the settings that they find themselves in, so do we. Not always in a compulsive manner, not always in a subjugated manner, but in a relationality which for as Butler, J. (2005) put it “the norm does not produce the subject as its necessary effect, nor is the subject fully free to disregard the norm that inaugurates its reflexivity; one invariably struggles with conditions of one's own life that one could not have chosen” (p. 18).
And drama it is, for we are our own actors as well as our own audience, each in a perpetual frenzy of feeding the other. For we’re all acting out a role, a position. And I’d like to take that idea a bit further, for we’re not just an individual actor but actors; a plurality undergirding our individuality.
In an age where identity is important, we seem to have forgotten that we don’t identify exclusively for our own sake but that of the other as well. The “I” that I am is distinctive of you not because of my integrity as an entity but for without you there would not be a reason for the “I” that seems to be me. To identify is to stand out, and how can one stand out without something from which to stand out from. This narrative that we, then, find ourselves in is not something that happens outside of us, but happens precisely because of us. As actors our lines, as it were, are produced through this connection with the others with whom we share the stage and it is in a constant process of discursive and contingent movements for as Bandlamudi, L. (2014) put it aptly “we are dealing with an ever-evolving self in linguistic transactions with ever-shifting others.”
The second is when this discontinuity is realised, within the mundanity of life and the rhythm of everyday irrelevance, quite presently. To add a twist to an otherwise Cartesian logic, we think therefore we are but here we are and therefore we think. Everything that hitherto happened is death itself, for it shall never come back. Our sense-making of the narrative, restricted as it were, to the extent that we can remember. But lest I give the impression that remembering is everything, I’d want to share a line from Sans Soleil which is quite revealing and un-disclosing of my concern towards the phenomenon -
I will have spent my life trying to understand the function of remembering, which is not the opposite of forgetting, but rather its lining. We do not remember. We rewrite memory much as history is rewritten. How can one remember thirst?
This puts us quite in the conundrum, doesn’t it? On this stage of life, then, we become the writers for our actors and for our audience(s). We find ourselves, then, engaged implicitly more often than explicitly in a process of writing, and re-writing. And writing is more than a mode of transmission, isn’t it? It is performative speech which in itself can be construed as performative thinking. But I digress.
It is tempting to think of our selves as being pre-conditioned by the other, and it certainly is not far away from the truth, especially as “the very birth of the idea of self is through others—most significantly from the mother’s words, intonations, and gestures. In these early years the self is fully and exclusively dependent on others to gain a sense of self-concept”. And furthermore, the others inform the Others in our mind to whom we, inadvertently, allocate positions. And these positions are important for that’s how we, in some sense, come to be for as Karsten, A. (2014) summed up the Soviet dialogical paradigm as “a central claim of this view of language and the self is that subjects can turn their speech activity to themselves, thereby taking up the positioned remembered, anticipated, or otherwise imagined utterances of others and themselves, re-positioning and re-accentuating these utterances” (p. 482). This is what most of us oft-recognise as inner speech.
This is the drama, then. The drama of us, the us within as well as without. For it seems that one comes to form one’s self in the light of this debate, for it is a debate across the within-us. Writing is, then, one medium through which we may perceive the victorious selves that manage to break free from the cacophony of the voices. But they are victorious insofar as they have won albeit at the cost of the others amongst Others and perhaps, sometimes, through associations undesirable.
This is the drama, then. Think Marcus Aurelius and his now famous Meditations, wherein he journaled by himself, to himself, and for himself. The moment thought is produced and written down, the actor at once becomes his own audience, and his own critic.
This is the drama, then. The drama that is us.
Bandlamudi, L. (2014). On movements of language—within self, of self, about self, and between selves: Commentary on language and self. Theory & Psychology, 24(4), 561–575. https://doi.org/10.1177/0959354314540061
Butler, J., 2005. Giving an Account of Oneself. Fordham University Press, First edition.
Karsten, A. (2014). Writing: Movements of the self. Theory & Psychology, 24(4), 479–503. https://doi.org/10.1177/0959354314541020