Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A Hard Act to Follow

“Cleaning up your act,” or “getting your act together,” are expressions that people use when they’re in the midst of life changes. If you’re trying to reinvent yourself, you might easily talk about “cleaning up your act.” The implication is that you've been doing unproductive things and that these things have led to disarray. “All the kings horses and all the kings men couldn’t put Humpty together again,” goes the rhyme. But most people, in fact, aren’t like Humpty. They may have gone through periods of excess where they ate, drank or had too much promiscuous sex. But they can go on diets, join AA and settle down. There are, of course, people who’re so broken and so characterologically disturbed that nothing can be done to repair them. Psychopaths and  recidivistic criminals fall into this category. But what is most interesting about the expression is the notion of the act. An act can be simply an action, which would make the homily almost a tautology. However, sometimes an act is something which one puts on to seem a certain way. When you’re acting you’re not playing yourself, but another person. And so the notion of getting your act together has almost theatrical implications. You’re cleaning up the act or the performance, though this isn’t any reflection of you, unless you're playing your so-called real self. “It’s not a rehearsal,” is another expression that also brings up the conceit of life as a kind of performance. Life not being a rehearsal means that you’re putting on a play for a real audience. However, if your life is a play that is now in its regularly scheduled run, there’s still a degree of separation between the play and some other reality, again unless, of course, it’s an autobiographical play like Long Day's Journey Into Night. "It’s not a rehearsal” and “cleaning up your act” thus conveniently fit together. If you're merely an actor and the play is about to go on, you want to do everything in your power to put the finishing touches (“getting your act together”) or removing the false sentiment (“cleaning up your act”) so that the critics and audience will like you and deem your play a great success, like the now legendary Hamilton. But what about the real self, the self that's not acting and what about that aspect of life that's not a play for which there's a rehearsal period to deal with?  What about the quivering flesh, the clay out of which the self arises? Isn’t that a hard act to follow.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.