Monday, 3 September 2012

Acting the Part

There is anatta (no self) and there is ‘self’: identity, you, me, him, her - the habitual self-construct. Usually we are engaged, like this, in the act of ‘being somebody’. Many years ago I was staying with a drama school friend in an apartment full of actors, performers and exceptional ‘people’, opportunists; all hustling for parts in TV, movies, music, anything. They were performing all the time. Every step of the way was an opportunity to perform – life itself was the audition.
In the apartment the phone was ringing constantly, theatrical agencies calling up to return a call from somebody in the apartment. The process of answering the phone was an invitation for these multi-personality beings to try out a different persona every time. The phone rings and whoever is sitting next to it answers, switching to a subtly different ‘voice’, with a different accent, quite believable and acceptable to the caller but interestingly ‘changed’ to those of us in the room.
It was baffling to me at first because there’s a strange logic to this: the caller at the other end of the line is ‘somebody else’, a person with his/her own identity – hence the created personality, character (game) seems like, well, appropriate? You create a ‘self’ to communicate with the other person’s ‘self’. The phone gets put down and immediately rings again. The same person answers it in another ‘voice’ – an identity that’s so different from the one he just used it’s hard to believe; bordering on the schizoid. Who you are at that moment is determined by whom you’re talking with. The way I project ‘my’ character, ‘my’ personality at a particular point in time changes. I can appear to be somebody in one situation, then ‘be’ somebody else in a different situation. The ‘self’ function has flexibility. The whole thing is about acting the part.
The skilled actor plays the part so well; the spectator thinks he is the person, not the actor. The actor being himself and simultaneously not himself reveals the ‘self’ construct. Or it could be that the ‘act’ is revealed completely to the spectator; a self-reflexive act that does not distinguish between the ‘self’ construct and acting the part, it’s just there; a total act, an actor/spectator encounter. The performance is not usually given a direction that would allow the spectator an opportunity to see this extraordinary existential moment. For the most part, it’s accepted as ‘theatre’, illusion, samsara and we’re immersed in the story of it all.


  1. Once you realize, the self, just like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, it is impossible to ever see the self as real again. As we will never know how the other sees the self.

    Thank you for this post.


    1. Hi Kurt
      I like think there's an all-inclusive thing about how everything ends up and 'self' is part of that too but in a way I can't recognise right now
      Thanks for your comment

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