Below is a Blackboard post I made for my Marxist theory course last fall where I began thinking critically about a way we project our identities in the Internet. I use a quote from Bertolt Brecht to think this up. As a moment of reflection for where I’ve come to where I am now in my scholarship on composed cyborg identities, this is a fun look back.
This technique allows the theatre to make use of its representations of the new social-scientific method known as dialectical materialism. In order to unearth society’s laws of motion this method treats social situations as processes, and traces out all their inconsistencies. It regards nothing as existing except in so far as it changes, in other words is in disharmony with itself. This also goes for those human feelings, opinions and attitudes through which at any time the form men’s life together finds expression. (Brecht 122)
Here Brecht does something we’ve found lacking from the Marxist theorists we’ve read so far: praxis. Not only does he detail this term in light of the conditions of theatre, but he establishes a way to look at our social situations in the current—in the now. To question the processes of our thinking and our feelings, we employ dialectical materialism to see ourselves under the masks of time/space. These masks have evolved and re-plastered them upon others; that is why a study of ‘ historical conditions’ is necessary. To unearth the exergue is to study the process, thus the meaning of them as they pertain to our situation now. Am I lost in thinking this? I’m wondering if this is why Brecht encourages the alienation of the audience, enabling them to see their intellect in new ways. Some of you have commented on 40, and I think this is an especially evocative move in his “ Organum” because he details the move theatre should make, and the effects of such moves. We are certainly emphatically invited to question our standing amongst the masks. This gets me thinking about ourselves as masks of individuality.
As we don avatars in the space of social networks and in our dress (note my comment to Bryan’s post “ Film” from last week for a bit on this), we create forms of ourselves that alternate our current reality. Are these lies? Are these simply theatrical masks? Who are we really underneath the things we say online? I rarely have a hard time realizing that there is a person behind the image and the text they put forth, though there is a distance to speaking one’s “mind” online from what they would say IRL. I’m moved to question the relationship between the two, and how this either undercuts or emphasizes Brecht’ s theory. I’m thinking I see a disharmony about.
For context, here is the comment I had made on Bryan’s post from the week before (hey Bryan :D). I miss this class. Anyway, here it is: Take a look on any social site, and you can see it at play—or even around our campus. Everywhere we glance, a person is a walking advertisement of a brand, label, or “aesthetic.” Down to the bump-it coif and the Ed Hardy pattern, so many of the people in our culture assign themselves the role of canvas; I am endemic to this myself. This is the transformation of the superstructure upon every living act we make. And it has completely infiltrated our society. These markers of brands classify us. They project our identity for us. The days are gone when clothes are tailored for us; rather they tailor an aesthetic representation upon us. Reproduction has taken over. And, if we are to adopt Benjamin’s optimism, we need to revolt through the representation of ourselves. But how? Certainly my Doc Martins, ripped blue jeans, and band t-shirt says “revolt” as any ol’ punk rocker will tell you. Not really. That, too, has been branded as an aesthetic. Nothing we do is original or special, which explains why the original art has become so fetishized. If we keep yearning for the source of something—anything—we forget what representation—simulation—looks like. There are positives and negatives to this. Yet, I wonder how much is at stake in the optimism, or, for goodness sake, the pessimism.