Wednesday, 16 September 2009

783 - Derren Brown; Multiplicity; Storying

I've just found a quote in Derren Brown's book which puts a slant on Rita Carter's ideas about identity formation, and helps me to begin to understand how controlled character formation might contribute to the art of Storying.

Here's the (longish) quote:

It takes little reflection to see that our self images are arbitrary, and far more likely to be born out of our insecurities than our strengths. And what exactly is a self-image? Far from being abstract, let's take it for what it is: the image you make in your head of yourself when you picture who you are. You might have an over-riding self-image you refer to most of the time, and plenty of other ways of seeing yourself that are specific to certain situations: at home, meeting people, at work and so on.... You've probably left [them] to create themselves, and a lot of unhelpful bits of information have got stuck in there. Should you bother to change what's in those pictures?

The fact is that spending a few minutes playing with the content and look of those pictures can lead to worthwhile and even dramatic changes in your life. The way you see yourself defines the limitations you place on your behaviour. It's rather straightforward. People who are able to give up smoking overnight, for example, are very likely to be the ones who decide to see themselves as a non-smoker, and then behave in that new and exciting way, not worrying if they occasionally slip up; rather than the people who merely 'try not to smoke' and set up a stressful challenge that presupposes eventual failure.

Decide on a self-image you would like. Picture a version of yourself that is realistic but exciting. It's pointless imagining a super-hero version of yourself which is completely unattainable, but be sure to make it something that really appeals. Now, in the same way that you can look at a person and tell them they ooze confidence, make sure that this image of you radiates the qualities you would like to have more of. Design this self-image, and make it detailed. See this new 'you' interacting in new ways that delight you.... Wallow in it....

Some thoughts:

1. This passage (part of a section on the uses of hypnosis and suggestibility) covers similar ground to Rita Carter, who approaches the same ideas from a neurological perspective. For example, Brown writes about an 'over-riding image... and plenty of others'; Carter speaks of major and minor personalities.

2. I'd first want to remove value judgements about helpful and unhelpful information, but think Brown's imaginative approach is accurate and useful. So is Carter's, but her focus is more systematic, using personality tests. The two approaches complement each other, and can be used to inform one another.

3. Brown makes links between image and action explicit: 'The way you see yourself defines the limitations you place on your behaviour'; 'See this new 'you' interacting in new ways that delight you...'. This is helpful in my own attempts to explore how, in the art of Storying, character and plot interact fluidly.

4. A reminder: Storying, as I define it, is an artform whereby one casts oneself, and others if they consent, in a realtime, real-life story of variable duration, just because one can. Whereas other forms of art require crossing a threshhold related to equipment, previous experience, validation by others, and a shared terminology, Storying, because it takes place entirely in the imagination, singulalry or shared, is freed from all these. This means it is political. It is perhaps particularly a challenge to people who require us to define our identities for the sake of the State, or simply our relations with others. In a nutshell, it is about being proactively and positively a Billy Liar.

5. Certain aspects of Brown's and Carter's work presume that any change is made for all time. In the case of Storying, this would certainly be true were the story to be of a lifetime's duration. But if the story is shorter - a five-minute event, even - image changes could still be made in the manner described by Brown. This might give more scope for freedom - there'd be less need to create a 'completely attainable' self image (though again, here we are in the realm of value judgements). Why not, when Storying, create a Superhero self-image? What makes a Super super is his or her embodiment of an ideal - courage, goodness, kindness, steel. Since Plato, at the very least, we've recognised the necessity of ideals. So I'd quibble about Brown's view that they are unattainable (whilst acknowledging that they are!).

This book's value is its practicality. A snotty and patronising review by Hilary Mantel (who is accurate, but misses the point) notwithstanding, it is certainly feeding my ideas. As does Hilary Mantel herself, in her brilliant novel Beyond Black, but that's another post, another day....

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