A Crack In The Mirror

Excerpts from “A Crack In The Mirror”

-Barbara Myerhoff & Jay Ruby

Reflexivity generates heightened awareness and vertigo, the creative intensity of a possibility that loosens us from habit and custom and turns us back to contemplate ourselves just as we may be beginning to realize that we have no clear idea of what we are doing. The experience may be exhilarating and frightening or both, but it is tales, stories about storytelling.

Reflexivity is found in the universal activity of dreaming, a story the unconscious tells to the conscious mind. (Among the Dinka of Africa, the word dreaming is translated as a story the self tells to itself.) It is not unusual to dream about dreaming; we awaken wondering not only what the dream meant to say but also what it says about dreaming itself.

All societies have created occasions  for reflecting upon themselves: regularly engineered crises, collective ceremonies, celebrations, rites of passage, rituals, public performances and the like; times when the society tells itself who it is (or how it would like to be or should have been).

But these interpretations do not necessarily call attention to themselves as interpretations. Often they parade as other versions of “reality,” no matter how fabulous. They masquerade as different versions of truth into which individuals may come and go without realizing how contrived it all is. Ritual in particular may generate sentiments that mostly discourage reflexivity, requiring a mindless and frenetic, repetitive activity that keeps the body too busy to allow the mind to criticize.

This occurs even while the event may be precariously fiddling with the frames, mirrors, masks, reversals, screens, clowns, transvestites, and all the other commentators that threaten the sanctity of the order of things being presented. Precariously, a ritual may march along the edge of discovery of its own contrivances producing not reflexiveness but reflections. These two ideas are capable of coexisting without penetration.

The sleep of the unexamined life is one extreme, the achingly clear realization of the  nature and process of understanding the other. No doubt most people and events range in between For both attitude the devices we call metacommunication are necessary. Markers, frames, keys, clues, and disruptions remind us not to be content with how things seem; something more important is going on. The world as it is being presented is not to be taken at face value. 

To be reflexive is to be self-conscious and also aware of the aspects of self necessary to reveal to an audience so that it can understand both the process employed and resultant product and know that the revelation itself is purposive, intentional, and not merely narcissistic or accidentally revealing.

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