V. 4. Useful Pages from a Faker’s Handbook


This post is a direct continuation of chapter V.3.

2. The Imaginary Reality. Imagine an ant crawling up your neck, or a lemon wedge being shoved into your mouth. Almost instantly you begin feeling the maddening tickle or the tart taste, yet without having any contact with the irritant itself. By introducing to your inner attention a couple of imaginary facts your sense memory tricks your body into experiencing the sensation so that it starts reacting “in real”.

In our everyday lives we make use of these “in real” reactions more often than one might think. We frequently smile, laugh, chuckle, puff, frown, sigh, mug or nod in complete dissonance with our inner arrangement. We present, or show, or deliver, or lie about some make-believe state or condition, without practically having or going through it at all. In other words, we perform almost all the time. It is our tribute to the norms of communication with other humans, even though – as the following example would show – sometimes we go beyond that. Motive doesn’t matter. The important point here is that in order to be persuasive in our demonstration of what we are undergoing we have to get as close to experiencing it as we can. We trick ourselves as much as possible, so that our current behavior becomes indistinguishable from the one we are trying to recreate.

How do we achieve that? – By selecting currently non-existent facts about the world and ourselves, and, through our sense memory giving them the power of circumstances. Thus we allow our behavior to be influenced by them, and reach the inner state we target. This kind of behavior can be brought back to life from our past, or “borrowed” from what we have seen. Or, it can have an imaginary source, never seen before and completely invented by us. But how can our sense memory recreate a reality that is not part of our past and practically hasn’t happened to (or been witnessed by) us at all? If not the sense memory, what feeds our imagination?

Say you are at work but suddenly you receive an unexpected call from your spouse. She desperately needs your help, and urges you to take the rest of the day off. You’ve been around your boss long enough to be sure that he wouldn’t honor your reasoning. If you are really determined, and you are a slicker you might come up with an excuse as old as humanity: you are sick. So you enter the boss’s office playing out the symptoms of a cold or a fever. You apologize in a hoarse voice, but before continuing you have to overcome the cough first, yet not being able to stop wiping your running nose while holding your chest in pain with the other hand, and so on. You’ve already gone through this kind of sickness in the past, so for your performance you’ll be directly using your sense memory. It is also equally possible that before knocking on the door you decide that today you are struck by a more serious illness, which in reality you haven’t suffered from so far. In this case you’ll have to rely on recreating the symptoms you’ve only witnessed in others. Your visual memory will obligingly provide you with the kind of behavior typical for an infected person of your choice.

But if you are desperate enough to go to the extreme you might come up with some exotic kind of pain, which has been labeled as the next plague but which nobody has yet witnessed. Think of the health alerts society periodically gets. In this case, in order to securely avoid detection you might want to add to your sick person’s behavior an imaginary twist, a symptom that others are unfamiliar with, yet that is quite impressive and totally believable. This is already the stage of exploration of the imaginary. And if you are a good actor, within two hours everyone will talk about the plague and express sympathy for you, and you’ll be compassionately let go for the rest of the week.

Your display of imagination has earned you an enviable victory over your boss’s lack of empathy. However, your inspiration has a simple source that you only made easily accessible. The imaginary reality which your inner attention evoked and you applied to your behavior was entirely rooted in your sense memory even though you’ve never experienced it before. The difference was not in the object of your inner attention but in the way you used it.  You delved into your past looking for memories of familiar illnesses but instead of just embodying your recollections you deconstructed them, and then reassembled the parts in a free and effective manner: the cough accompanied by shortness of breath turned into stridors, the shivering shoulders made your helplessly flaccid arms tremble in convulsions, and your fast blinking eyes all but assured everyone around that it was a matter of seconds before you passed out.

When we use our imagination we still follow our experience; we just liberate it from the weight of its logic and consecution. We carefully extract facts from our past and rearrange them in a free and unrelated to any previous occurrence hierarchy. These facts become a combination of circumstances which has a new, totally different and unexpected message. Imagination is our ability to make a selection of past facts and include them in our perception of reality in a creative and unconventional, yet meaningful way.

Creating imaginary realities is a process which may or may not stop at the door of visible behavior. We can focus our inner attention on picking up facts and using them to build whimsical structures in complete isolation from the environment. But – as in the above example – we can also let our imagination be part of the communication with our surroundings. Whether it is directed inwards or connects with what is outside of us, our imagination unfailingly works in the same manner.

Let’s explore the kind of human activity which requires imagination most – art creation, and more specifically, acting. Actors behave unconditionally in a conditional environment. This means that they refer to and often communicate with people and objects which don’t exist. They have to imagine the entity of their interaction. Yet their pattern of achieving that virtually doesn’t differ from the pattern of the rest of us: from among the description of the unfamiliar object they choose familiar features, and focus their inner attention on them. Their sense memory provides them with the separate sensations they have had in communicating with those features in the past – the same way we got the sensations from our ant or lemon wedge. But since their imaginary object/partner/environment is presumably more complex, those separate sensations have to be interwoven together in an original manner relevant to their imaginary source. What inevitably follows is that this combination of sensations (hierarchy of circumstances) draws the actors into a concrete and emotionally charged attitude which they act upon. This way the degree of strangeness of the previously unknown entity doesn’t really matter. It could be something never seen or heard before: a crystal cave, an underwater castle, a flying carpet, a hobbit, a speaking egg, a tin man. All of them have familiar qualities which can stir powerful sensations and raise their tangibility to the point of eliciting an utterly unconditional sentiment.

The ease with which we are able to imagine non-existent material articles is derivative to the simple way in which we perceive the real ones around us. We rarely turn into circumstances all facts characterizing an object; we rather pick the features which stir the biggest interest, or impose the greatest challenge, and build our attitude on them. The rest never make it to the level of factors (circumstances). If we are asked to share our impressions about a wall we are standing by – a tall, thick, red brick wall with barbed wire on top and chipped plaster corners, bearing a washed out graffiti mural, and dotted with holes, we would surely award it with just one or two adjectives, which very possibly won’t even reflect its most specific features. For some the wall will be just tall, for others – thick and red, for still others – a tilted ugly structure, a prison wall, a piece of history, etc. Barely two people out of hundreds will share matching views about it.

The selection of the important facts depends on what really matters to us at a particular moment. It is our self-perception in its relation with our perception of the environment, which determines what qualities of the surrounding objects are most important to our intentions. Creating imaginary realities works the same way. Depending on our motives we combine into an invented situation only those facts which seem significant to us. They could be just a few – their number far from sufficient for a detailed description of the reality in our heads. But if they are vivid and exciting to us they would serve as a widely open gate to the made-up land which might absorb us completely.

© 2010 Peter Budevski

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