Fly on the Wall—The Horror of Knowing Who you Are (Or Aren’t)

Fly on the Wall—The Horror of Knowing Who you Are (Or Aren’t)

Having a runny nose has a whole new meaning this year.  The response script of “quick, run and catch it” has morphed into “eek, go get tested”.  Life as living pathology, sigh, that’s reality at the outset of the 20’s.  But wait, on Hallowe’en anything goes, right?  Our dress can express the social and mental pathologies we feel and we are permitted to gleefully spread pathogens of fear and loathing wherever we tread.  In fact, the winning costumes are often the sickest!  Yuck, toilet bowl calamity headgear!  Yuck, amniotic birth canal of a bigendered headless horsemen!  Yuck, we have nothing to fear but that our own inner ghouls will make our costume too believable to be interesting! Thing is, all this dressing up and making believe masks the crucial truth that down, deep down in our shadowy insides, we may not be the singular unity we believe ourselves to be.  Identity, when looked at scrupulously, is a horror show all itself.

The key to dressing up, as Mr. Dressup was wont to show, is that you have to have a little tickle in your trunk.  Humour is key at Hallowe’en and especially in this year of pale faced cultural horror and malodorous online lynch mobbery.  This year I’m gonna be adorned as an Insecurity Guard, and go around flashing my doe eyes, with faux lashes, at people while asking them how they’re feeling and if they are doing okay.  We all have insecurities and I’ll be there to guard against them running amok.  Yet to ask a question is to answer it, as any good scientific methodology shows.  We frame debate, and evidence, by counting what’s left out so that we may zoom in on what’s important.

Identities assume themselves like a parasite taking over a nervous system; one flick of a wand of infection and we can literally be someone different.  Yesterday, hale and hearty.  Today, complications from syphilis.  Ok, not funny, but really there’s only two ways off this planet: the first is death and the second is an active imagination.  To create alternative selves is the basis of realizing the tangled webs we weave.  The idea of being well-adjusted is to be holding our polysemic versions together even as they howl and hoot in a cacaphonic chorus.  So, what can we know about our essence in this hallowed eve of ontological promiscuity?  Who could we be? Now’s the time to explore and ask; we can be anything we want—for a night.

Fears from The Crypt, The Ancient Humanoid Gallery

Let’s drift back, way back, through the suffocating mummifying sands of uncountable eternity, all the back to where early humans ruled the land.  Or did they?  Early humans are said to have known their place, and its tentative uncertain nature, all too well.

Shiftless but well-fed, they circulated the commons like our beloved fruit and vine workers from Quebec who arrive seasonally here in the Okanagan Valley.  No one has more fun than these Quebecoise and we can imagine the same to be true in those ancient galleries: those ancient cave paintings in France at Altimara and Lascaux.  The night frights of these early humans stemmed form the great predation rates they faced; this wasn’t some video game virtual reality gadget wrapped in plastic around their cranium like a toilet bowl in an old-school frat boy prank.  No virtual terror approaches the lived horror of being stalked by a living, panting predator on an autumnal night.  “Awoooo!” indeed.

As it turns out, “approximately 6 percent to 10 percent of early humans were preyed upon according to evidence that includes teeth marks on bones, talon marks on skulls and holes in a fossil cranium into which sabertooth cat fangs fit”, says The Guardian.  “To this day predation rate on savannah antelope and certain ground-living monkey is around 6 percent to 10 percent as well.”

So if you feel a cougar hunt coming on this Hallowe’en, as predator or as prey, chances are your intuition (for once) is spot on.  After all, we’re all more animal than not when we let ourselves run wild.

Who Are We Being on Hallowe’en Evening…And Are We Ever Ourselves?

Who and what would we express about ourselves given our druthers?   Hallowe’en is almost here and, for one night only, we can ontologically be whoever or whatever we want to be.  It’s carpe diem time, fangs out, knives out, lights out, inhibitions gone.  A season for expressive exploration in the way Christmas is a season for repression of longstanding feuds and iniquities.

Where exploration is concerned, ol’ Derrida is never far in the shadows.  That’s because he problematicizes meaningful certainties right in their bones, right in their basis as language.  How do we know ourselves and how do we know what we know?  Well knowing and speaking are not the same; the twain meet only when we can speak the name of a feeling, place, or person.  And what of the love that dares not speak its name or, for Hallowe’en purposes, the many identities we explore only to feign comedy along the way?

Who are we seeing in those eyes in the mirror?  Derrida notes that, as in any horror movie where the protagonist glances at a mirror and sees more than she bargained for, seeing what’s really there is where the chills of identity begin.  Installed, institutionalized, feeling repulsed with horror at oneself, of a life lived at the behest of despotic superficial cultural norms, the audience identifies with the protagonist—fearing and fleeing a beast with no name, one impossible in physical form but all too real in the life of the mind.

Derrida notes that in representation begins the quandary of identity, “Representation is intimate with what it represents … as if the represented were nothing more than the shadow or reflection of the representer.  Dangerous promiscuity and nefarious complicity exist between the reflection and the reflected, which lets itself seduce narcissistically.  In this play of representation, the point of origin becomes ungraspable.  There are things, reflecting pools and images, an infinite reflection from one to the other, but no longer a source, a spring.  There is no longer a simple origin…What can look at itself is not one, and the law of the addition of the origin to its representation, of the thing to its image, is that one plus one makes at least three.” (Derrida, 39)

Consider, then, the essence of your being.  Who are you really, are you one, two, or many?  As soon as we consider who we really are, under the makeup or mask or manscaped beard, we may encounter not a glowing endorsement of some authentic self, but instead a vast gulf, expanding into the cosmos like pancake batter spilled overboard on a cartoon space ship.

Finding Identity in Making it Up; We Are A Masked Production, Everyday!

Where does identity abide and why not in numerous iterations?  Perhaps, like the wicked witch of the West in Wizard of OZ, we really do wear a different mask of our self every day of our lives.  The weirder the better on Hallowe’en, but our options are socially circumscribed and intellectually circumcised for the remaining 364 days of the year.  I once knew a girl who practically got fired from work for only doing makeup on one side of her face!

What costume can possibly convey the excoriated truth of identities unravelling over the years?  What banal, superficial dreams allow us to chase fake versions of our selves such that our real demonic dream weave remains buried under heaped cloth of time?  Maybe the best mask is the acceptance that we’re always masked.  The older we get the more likely we are to discover the labile nature of living as a singular self.  This Hallowe’en, as we dream ourselves awake and see the moment as it is, let us at AU remember that the only nightmare worth facing for real is the horror show that would transpire if we failed to get our gnarly warlock brain in gear and our witchy warted schnozz down to the academic grindstone.

Boo! Have to Laugh, Right?

Beneath the rules and propriety Hallowe’en remains a time of plurality, open or otherwise.  Comedy is key to thrills; it may be too that humor drives art throughout history and costuming is surely a making-art of one’s own corporeal canvas.  Barbara Ehrenreich notes that early humans “knew where they stood in the scheme of things, which was not very high, and this seems to have made them laugh.  I strongly suspect that we will not survive the mass extinction we have prepared for ourselves unless we too finally get the joke”

The noted psychoanalyst Joseph Campbell further shines a light on the comedic element to what once were revered as sacred cave paintings: “As Joseph Campbell described it, operating from within the magico-religious paradigm: ‘A large bison bull, eviscerated by a spear that has transfixed its anus and emerged through its sexual organ, stands before a prostrate man.  The latter (the only crudely drawn figure, and the only human figure in the cave) is rapt in a shamanistic trance.  He wears a bird mask; his phallus, erect, is pointing at the pierced bull; a throwing stick lies on the ground at his feet; and beside him stands a wand or staff, bearing on its tip the image of a bird.  And then, behind this prostrate shaman, is a large rhinoceros, apparently defecating as it walks away.’”  So humor lives on through the ages, and mostly not laughs for the high-brow ilk.  Maybe the best costumes are the ones that make us laugh, either literally from nervous fright or just from plain old glee.

Perhaps to truly enjoy Hallowe’en is to realize that we’re never being just ourselves so much as we’re always, in life and in academia, in flux.  There’s humour in accepting the unchangeable even as it never ceases to flow.  After all, they don’t call it an academic discipline so we can just repeat back what we’re taught like some rote parrot or turgid automata!  Leave that for the cultural house of horrors populated by hoi polloi with zombie eyes glued to the dull blue glow of the screens of their smart phones.  Education for we star pupils at AU is about challenging preconceptions so we can unearth the most stunningly beautiful, startlingly shocking, or downright delectable parts of ourselves.  So here’s to being spooked into new learning adventures, happy Hallowe’en to all!

Derrida, J.  (1967,Trans.  Spivak, 2016).  Of Grammatology.  Baltimore: Johns Hopkins.