Performance is not real! Life is not real!

When I talk about life as performative, people say “what do you mean?”

When I talk about how we are performing discourses (social stories) of what it is to be a “man,” “woman,” “immigrant,” “professionals” etc, people hesitantly say “I can see that.”

And when I take this conversation further and say we are all “constantly performing,” I get a sharper response, “when I’m at home or in the privacy of my home, I’m not performing.” Or “performance is fake, I’m not being fake.”

The challenge in the West is not with the construction of performance, it is with the construction of “real.” We have created the myth of life as real. So anything that is not real is fake and performance falls into that category. So we are back to asking the question about categories: how do we create a box that carries the label of “real?” in Hinduism, there is the belief that all of this life is an illusion (Maya). The making of this life, which is let’s say is an illusion, as real life is to make beliefs and making believe. All of which is performatory.

Life is no more real than how we create and perform meaning. I’m not saying experiences do not exist, neither am I saying they do. I’m not talking about existence. I am talking about the process of labeling something real or not. I am talking about how do we come to believe and make beliefs. How do we decide what is real? As a reader, mrmars, responds to the article “The Pleasures of Imagination” in The Chronicle Review (…

Anyone who doubts the power of make believe need only attend church on Sunday, read a history of the Crusades, or reflect on the impact of suicide bombers in today’s society. Not only does make believe come naturally to our species, we’ve institutionalized it, and take great pains to indoctrinate our children in our ‘flavor’ of choice at an early age. So our religions become both a source of solace and strength in times of trial and a great millstone around our necks that often prevents us from clearly understanding our condition and fully seeking and applying rational solutions to problems that would otherwise be obvious; a paradox of the first order.

Though, mrmars is referring specifically to religion, I believe, the notion that we make believe and make-up beliefs by organized social efforts is spot-on if you have run into any intergenerational differences. For instance, any time a parent says “we used to not be like this as children” or if a manager states “the millennials are different than the previous workforce” they are right. And yet it is also a belief in making. A belief that organizes us as a society and as individuals who act into that belief, thus making it real. Think about a story about you (or your family or culture that you accept) and reflect on how you have lived into that storyline for most of your life.

So which stories that you perform do you believe are real and which ones do you perform that you think are just make believe?

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