Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Liminal Space and Utopian Performatives. Or Something.

June 11, 2010. I spent a good deal of my childhood in and around the Methodist church – Christ United Methodist Church in Gastonia, North Carolina, to be precise – and many of my attitudes and beliefs were shaped, in both positive and negative space, by my experiences with that church and in particular that general congregation. I’m not speaking of the church’s dogma so much as the interactions with that community, and with the way people came to talk about the beliefs they held in common. I will confess I felt supremely bored during the services, but I felt bored amongst family. When our family left the church (an event I remember being cataclysmic, but was probably more like a slow dropping away), I left with a well-developed “belief muscle,” even though within a few years I lost the ability to completely believe in the specific God I grew up with. My reasons for developing that, let’s call itdistance, are not likely a surprise to anyone: multiplicity and acknowledgment of other spiritual perspectives, some semblance of psychological insight into why certain systems could have developed and likely developed in such a particular manner, the behaviors of others, yada yada yada.

And yet … the muscle is still there. It has been pointed out to me (ad nauseam, honestly) that my plays often tend to rely on magical and perhaps more importantly mythological systems – rely on them in profound ways – and I have, over the past year or so, started to wonder why that is. Am I as resolute about the mystical/spiritual/transformative world as I assumed? I don’t know. While I am not exactly superstitious (a little OCD, but that’s a different kind of ritual altogether), I have become very keen to coincidence, often finding myself looking for instruction in the coincidences I find. And while I have not thought of my search for instruction as necessarily presupposing an engineer … should I be?

An idea that continues to appear, continues to recur, is this idea of a liminal state, a communal liminal state, that is accessible and yet not immediately apparent. This is an idea that gives me a great deal of joy and hope, and it has been showing up everywhere, with more and more frequency. In songs, essays, conversation, graffiti … everywhere. Even postulating such a thing makes the difficulties and limitations of space and time more tolerable, something I absolutely crave. More so than I could ever possibly express. Most recently for me, this concept shows up in Jill Dolan’s Utopia in Performance. In this book she describes “utopian performatives,” moments in performance that (much like Nietzsche’s description of the Dionysian elements of theatre a century or so before her) lift both the spectator (and the audience/community of which he or she is a part) out detachment and into a temporary world that is communal, present, and in a very real sense, ecstatic.

I think, for the moment, I will have to be comfortable without concretes …

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