This site features a book called Transformation which is dedicated to the idea that most of us are now surprisingly transformational, that we cultivate a portfolio of selves, that we inhabit many selves, that we add and change selves often.
I thought it might be appropriate to note new ethnographic data as and when these turns up.
Two recent sightings:
Sarah Jones as just about everybody
Sarah Jones is staging a one-woman show at 45 Bleecker in New York City. This is an imaginary multicultural open-mike poetry at an fictional Bridge and Tunnel café in South Queens.
According to the Wall Street Journal:
“In rapid success, Jones becomes an anxiously ingratiating Pakistani emcee, a grumpy Jewish grandmother from Long Island, a Vietnamese slam poet, a pretentious Jamaican performance artist and that’s just for starters.”
Some of the appeal of a performer like Jones is that she moves so effortlessly from person to person. We admire this virtuosity, I believe, because we now practice it in our lives. In other words, we go to see acts like this for the same reason amateur golfers turn out for PGA events. They have just enough in common with this activity to “get and revere the abilities of a Tiger Woods. (The rest of us are inclined to think, “Great, hitting a ball with a stick.)
Subcultures and culture
This just in!
Leora Kornfeld tells me that a friend of hers just returned from a Lesbian festival in Oregon called Lesbopalooza where some women were seen to be sporting beards, real or drawn on.
This is not the sort of thing that will make for performance art on Bleecker street but it is the sort of furious self invention that routinely takes place on the far margin of our culture. Much of our transformation activity consists in borrowing of some kind, as one group seeks new expressive possibilities by helping itself to the signs and symbols that define another group.
(As an anthropologists, I must say I am puzzled. I never understand why radical groups raid the wardrobes, in this case the physical characteristics, of the enemy. Of course it doesnt matter what I think, and we make take my observation as a declaration of the limits of my ethnographic mastery.)
Clearly, this is not the sort of invention that will move to the center of our culture. But it is not quite as peculiar as we might, at first blush, imagine. If we all engage in transformation, it is because we all engage in a lively trade of cultural signs and symbols. We are, to borrow the title of the wonderful book by Alan Wolfe, one nation after all.
Teachout, Terry. 2004. One for the Show. Wall Street Journal. May 21, 2004, p. 11.
Wolfe, Alan. 1998. One Nation, After All. New York: Viking.