Imposter syndrome: a brief history of sadness in ‘the cult of self’
Below is a small text I wish to give as a presentation during the Fine Art Masters Degree I am currently undertaking
….Or ‘Wall, i’
A paper that keeps becoming art/art that keeps becoming a paper
I’m here to make a presentation about my ‘practice’.
But what if this practice keeps on becoming something other than a study focus, or skill base? Where the boundaries of disciplines become criss-crossed as everything gets dragged into an ongoing negotiation at the border of a self that is perpetually straining to get beyond this self, because the self always becomes the only reference point?
With a cyclical nature to this negotiation, any academic skill-set that is reasonably applicable beyond it, continually feels re-disembodied. Every day the body in question must be re-applied for. “You’re still not quite ‘it’ – not yet”. An audacious attempt to ‘do my own thing’ succumbs to the fears of dismissal or ridicule from what appears to be numerous superego structures, from whom one confusedly, but necessarily, asks for a body. Give me a body for this, ‘your‘ world.
This is important, because I wish to frame my work within this very proposition of a paper that keeps becoming art, or art that keeps becoming a paper – never having its own body.
Yet I argue that this is a dilemma concerning what a body is, and should be for, in the Modern industrial age. In his book Discipline and Punish, Michel Foucault saw the conjunction of the development of the scientific discoveries, especially relating to the anatomy, and the technological advancements that led to industrialisation, evolving a use of bodies specific for the Modern age; what he called ‘docile bodies’, would be trained in the school, the factory, the prison, the military camp, to be of use to the machinery of the industrial processes.
Yet, after the processes of the past 40 years this feels somewhat antiquated.
40 years ago Pink Floyd released ‘The Wall’ a work about the trauma, sadness, violence and hatred, born from what we can call the alienating affects on the body under this Modern experience.
Yet 40 years ago is when Margaret Thatcher was elected as UK prime minister, promising liberation from that world of factories and discipline, for individualism over collectivism.
30 years ago the Berlin Wall collapsed, bringing a symbolic end to a faltering communist experiment in collectivity and equality; simultaneously Western countries saw the end of a traumatic decade of de-industrialisation; Francis Fukuyama would tell us it was the end of history; global capitalism was the best system to offer us individual liberty, and, despite its problems, was our arrival in the best possible world.
‘So go forth and be yourself. The big decisions are all done with. It is your personal destiny that matters.
But 10 years ago I embarked on a conceptual work that tried to link the then 30th anniversary of ‘The Wall’ with looking for socio-political causes for anxiety, depression, disorders, and the inability to enjoy, when I’d grown up around so much positive encouragement to choose my own destiny. If the project was to change this it failed; the search for the answers became a work of superstition, in the sense of the philosopher Spinoza; overcome by feeling a lack of personal power to change, I laboured as if labouring for divine intervention.
In 2019, I try again, within the context of Masters Degree, and a different kind of future.
‘Wall, i’ is a playful re-employment of important themes in Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’, for the generation that grew up after the fall of the Berlin Wall, amidst what I call the ‘teenage kicks’ of neoliberalism (the 1990s); a semi-fictional amalgamation of personal experiences and those of my piers.
If Wall, I could be said to mark out a practice, then it is an auto-ethnographical one; a self-reflective practice, seeing ones experiences as part of a larger group, who are defined by certain common experiences, throughout the last 30 years.
It was a time of the ‘cult of self’, leaving behind the factories and armies of Discipline and Punish, but only to find ourselves in Gilles Deleuze’s ‘Control Society’, where “[Each time one is supposed to start [again] from zero…” No longer bodies subjected to power, but bodies arriving into a void of a guaranteed function, only gaining a body role by proving their superior individuality.
Suggesting ‘imposter syndrome’ is a phenomena that corresponds to how ‘being yourself’ often means the opposite of enjoyment, as enjoyment may occur beyond the parameters of such a ‘designated identity’, Wall, I only has addictive sad pleasures to feel any kind of connection, and justifies it through a vengeance-ridden conception of his circumstances. His, ‘i’ for Individual, IS THE WALL!
Addmittedly, although Wall, I could be a confident bodying of a skill set, it could also be a panicky releasing of distress signals to every superego that could grant me a body. As a highly collaborative work of animation, drama, film and music, it promises to bring to life flattened gestures, and abstracted goals, embodying the very thing in question in a way that suggests overcoming it. Equally, ‘Wall, I” is, for me, my perfect gesture for the past 30 years; a gesture on symbolic breaks with the past from the personal to social level. Yet they reveal a weakness for placing meaning in signs, the superstition of divine intervention.
Regardless, I speculate that overpowering what I call my ‘designated identity’, will allow an overcoming of ‘imposter syndrome’ when the chance of overpowering an inhibiting identity reveals itself.
However, I conclude, that what Wall, I says about individuals and this brief history of sadness, is vital to understanding a lot of what is fuelling the reactionary identity politics in the social media engagement with the world through what the late Mark Fisher called our ‘mandatory individualism’. Heavily inspired by the philosopher Spinoza’s conceptions that it is related to the body in its positive encounters that we truly to get to know ourselves, I take heed from Fisher’s latter thoughts, suggesting that what is causing the hurt and hatred is very much connected to being stuck in our identities, stuck in an idea of what we are, and that overcoming our ‘designated identity’ may not only alleviate the pain of taking everything personal, but could allow for joyful ‘consciousness raising’ ideas that are a potential antidote to today’s miserable political inertia