The Ontology of Bryan (sorry, Bryan)
First of all I should say this discussion happened without ANY vodka. Really, it would have gone on much longer if vodka were involved.
Ever read Jeff Vandermeer’s “Annihilation?” Read it (and the rest of the Southern Reach Trilogy) before the movie comes out this year, trust me. I read the entire trilogy on a cruise ship while my husband and his friend went and did cruise ship things (including making fun of me for just reading). It’s about a group of scientists who investigate an area of land where strange things have started happening and then more strange things happen to them. And a certain amount of the “strange things” happening have to do with a self-annihilation, a negation of the self and becoming something other. It’s honestly terrifying.
|Me, on a cruise. Doing Megan-Cruise things.|
I was discussing The Lust Experience today with a colleague of mine who is a performance theorist, and I was telling her specifically about the book release party, the events that happened after, Clint Sears and clint-sears, Darren’s disappearance and then reappearance, the insistence that everything was fine, except it probably wasn’t, and the appearance on the forums of multiple Larrys, multiple Russells, and multiple Bryans.
We began to refer to this as “The Ontology of Bryan.”
Ontology is the study of being, becoming, or reality itself – basically saying “what does it mean to exist?” or “what IS?” We deal with it all the time in theater, this concept of reality – where the play begins, where it ends and “real life” begins, when an actor stops acting and reverts to being himself. And reality is truly what we are dealing with several thousand times over here too of course, in an “alternate reality game” (which I don’t believe is a game at all but that’s another 33 page paper, trust me). I was reading about how this applies to set design – how we frequently ask designers to construct realities and ask for different realities – realistic, or naturalistic, etc. – and occasionally we think we’re extremely brilliant and say things like “I want this to look like it’s taking place in a theater.” And so the carpenters build a set that looks just like a theater. In a theater. Or they don’t, and it’s staged in the theater – and the critic refers to the “set” as being “well designed” and perfect for the script (but it was just the theater). The theater, then isn’t a theater at all but a set - a different reality.
|An "actor" on a "set"|
So, taken a step further – what was I doing when I was in Echo Park last June? Was I looking for an envelope in a bush that contained answers to our questions? Or was I playing a game? Which is the reality? Because, in my head, I was looking for a letter in a bush – that is what I was doing. But to anyone in the park who saw me, had they known, I was playing a game. My husband was watching that Periscope. He would have told them – “my crazy wife is playing a game.” Different realities.
With Tension/Lust we have this “alternate” reality. We’re supposed to believe it’s not ACTUAL reality, of course, but that depends on how we’re defining reality. My cat Sansa’s reality is completely different from my own – she lives in a reality where she rules this house and we are her servants who just don’t do our jobs fast enough so she has to yell at us constantly because otherwise we’d forget that the food is in THAT CABINET THAT CABINET THAT CABINET. My cat Ygritte’s entire reality is whatever small space she has crammed herself into today and is ruled over by the Angry God Travis. Asha…who knows. Anyway. If I choose for a period of time to invest myself in the reality of the OSDM instead of the reality of – god help us all – Trump, who is going to tell me it’s not reality? Trump creates his own reality every day, and until someone stands up and tells him it’s bullshit I don’t see how this is any less valid. So, the term “alternate” reality aside, it’s another reality.
I’ve said that for me the lines between reality and “game” didn’t really blur back in Tension. A lot of that is because I’m not physically in Los Angeles so it couldn’t affect me the way it did others. A lot of that is because I don’t “buy in” the same way others do. But god, I wanted it to, so badly. I’ve wanted to lose myself and my sense of reality and in many ways that’s what theater does…but not for me. Until January. YOUARENOWHERE did it. And after I saw it, I cried for about two straight days. I wrote to the artist and explained to him what his work did to me, explained about my husband’s heart attack, and how closely his work resembled Synechdoche, NY and how they both resonated so strongly because no we don’t have a lot of time left. Mostly I cried because for a period of time in that theater I had no idea how an artist had done something impossible and I was so deeply disturbed by it.
But lately, as I was telling my colleague (back to the Ontology of Bryan) the Lust forums were beginning to really and truly blur that line. Because we had Clint Sears, and then we had clint-sears. (Shadow Clint, we called him) Darren was “missing” after the book release party but then Clint (or clint-sears?) said he wasn’t. But Clint couldn’t reach him. But Bryan got a text saying he was fine. Except the text, from Darren, said “Darren is fine.” Then, larry-meyers appeared (a second Larry, we already had one). Shadow Larry appeared to be a sort of tongue-in-cheek version of Larry, as though telling us not to overthink things too much in our theorizing. And then a Shadow Russell, and a Shadow Bryan. And…we know it’s a “game” (right). We know it’s an “alternate” reality (#1) but is Shadow Bryan part of alternate reality #1 or is he part of alternate reality #2 – meaning, is someone else fucking with us? Because this could easily, EASILY be the work of another participant, another player, or an outsider being like “guys…GUYS…if I do THIS…they’ll think it’s the GAME…” And suddenly we don’t know anymore what is in game (alternate reality #1) and what isn’t (alternate reality #2) and what ISN’T isn’t (actual reality?)
And there is a part of me, going back to annihilation, that wonders about Shadow Bryan (or any of the Shadows) and imagines Shadow Bryan replacing Actual Bryan in the “real” world (alternate reality #3). How long before Miranda noticed?
How long before we noticed?
How long before I keep vodka in my desk?