Role-making, Role-Taking

Last week, I published a poll on this blog that asked readers to check whether they most often feel like an ‘insider,’ an ‘outsider,’ or a ‘straddler.’ I had a suspicion that the number of people who self-identify as outsiders would be larger than the numbers of those identifying as insiders or straddlers. It turns out (though not many people voted and the poll was only made available to people who visited this blog—so hardly a ‘scientific’ instrument) that most voters did self-identify as outsiders.

So many questions have been tugging at me these last several weeks…and perhaps the most dogged points to the tension between “Role-making, Role-Taking.” Before I introduce you to Danica Dakic (the artist who coined the above phrase) and her current exhibition at the Generali Foundation in Vienna, I would like to say a bit more.

Here are some questions that have been pulling my earlobes: Do we make a role or do we take a role? Do we make a grade or do we take a grade? Do we make love or do we take love? Are we processors or are we distributors? How many times have I heard a friend, family member, or a stranger say, “I can’t because (fill in the blank with an externally imposed rule).” What I am saying is: to what degree do we define ourselves and how much of our identity do we hand over to be shaped and defined elsewhere? What is the ratio? I AM my work. Oh really? I AM my ethnicity. Oh, really? I AM my religion. Is that right? I AM the middle child. Hmm, I see. I AM an ‘A’ student. I AM a failure. I AM the fat girl, the ugly girl, the pretty girl, the skinny girl, the problem child, the racial minority, the criminal, the prostitute, the trouble-maker, the elite…I am the rule-maker, I am the boss, I am the subordinate, I am the I am the I am the….SCREEEEECH. Will everyone shut the hell up and let me think? Context makes noise and another context makes different noises.

Nan mentioned this when we talked; she mentioned that in Japan the culture is different, the rules are different, the people are different and as a result she finds space to reconsider herself (Self). Therefore, having changed the back-drop by migrating to a new country and culture, Nan finds the freedom to begin defining herself.

Now you might imagine how excited I was to discover Danica Dakic’s new exhibit, through which she asks, “What is freedom? Can being uprooted also be seen as an opportunity and not merely as estrangement? What does it mean to lose one’s language and the ability to express oneself in new surroundings? Which roles are imposed on us?”

Indeed! Which roles ARE imposed on us and which roles do we choose to internalize? The more I reflect on these questions the stronger my conviction that we are each responsible to live creative lives. We can write or be written, we can sing or be sung, we can make our role or we can take our role, but it is in the making that we access and employ our own agency rather than passively bobbing along the party line. Think about the word authority.

AUTHORity. I prefer to be my own author. Yes, of course, there is a terrific element of the haphazard (as Alain de Bottom has said) in this life…but there is also a hell of a lot more space for radical self-transformation than we allow ourselves to inhabit and creatively engage. I’m not talking about painting, dancing, sculpting, and so on exclusively…not necessarily simply making stuff but actually making self, creating self, by whatever means suits you. Perhaps it is banking, surfing, running, reading, reflecting, building stuff, performing guerilla theatre…Let me know, I’m interested…because I LOVE radical self-transformation…it’s brilliant, dynamic, and inspiring.

And so, Dakic uses theatre, photography, video and such to strip away context, insert new context, and explore the changes that this brings. For example, “The protagonists, detached by the setting from their social, legal, medical, and cultural profiles, take to the stage with their desires, dreams, and fantasies. As actors and audience, they perform and reinvent themselves at the same time. […] They protect, create distance, and enable the performers to present the “I as an ‘other’” for the duration of the play” (

What will happen if you detach yourself from your social, legal, medical, and cultural profiles? How about your ethnic, religious, or political profiles? What will you find beneath the din of all that set dressing? As we delve into that practice of undoing…what do we find?

I have to figure out a way to get to Vienna before May 16th –the day the exhibition closes. Who is up for a jaunt to Austria?

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About kalisaddhu

"The Method is to Know the Mind." View all posts by kalisaddhu

4 responses to “Role-making, Role-Taking

  • Hairpin


    Your comments are interesting. Even as you begin the questions of how we write ourselves, the blog begins by choosing insider or outsider – both interesting choices of imposition.

    I am a straddler because being an outsider is often lonely and hard. Plus it can be very frustrating when surrounded by insiders. I could never ever be an insider as a complete self, but I find that I need them in moderate doses. Therefore, I can wear some of their labels and allow them to impose some of their creeds.

    Do you find it interesting that Nan had to move to a new culture to find the freedom to begin defining herself? Had she not begun in high school or earlier?

    I am intrigued by your conviction that “we are each responsible to live creative lives.” Is that for the outsiders only or does it include the insiders and straddlers as well? If your conviction imposes this creativity on us, then have you not become the role-maker, the imposer?

    We all are our own AUTHORity, it’s just that a vast majority prefer the ghost writer’s take.

    I guess I just don’t like the “radical” in self-transformation. I live to evolve which includes the opportunity for self-transformation. Does it happen every day? No. Heck not all of it is even positive, but similar to your thoughts we should all strive to grow, to learn, to do something different, and if one happens to be an outsider then strive to leave the herd. My son has a new toy fish. When you squeeze it, it mooooo’s. At first, I was like we cannot have a fish that moo’s; he’s going to grow up thinking fish moo. Then I thought about it and I hope my son grows up thinking fish moo. I don’t want him accepting the mandates set upon him. Let him learn what works, what doesn’t work. I want him to decide everything for himself; I want him to choose which roles he will make versus those he will take.

    Though it is preferable to write our own stories and sing our own songs, there are times when it is nice when others write our stories and sing our songs.
    As a straddler I don’t detach myself from my profiles, but I do push at them and at times try to reshape them.

    I have been fortunate to meet some truly unique people who have successfully thrown off the mantle of “belonging.” But with the exception of one of them, they’ve led difficult lives as outsiders even though they possessed strong, talented “self’s.”

    And by the way, I would so love to travel to Vienna, but this year is booked.

    I love your blog!

    • kmariej

      Dear Eric,

      It has taken me forever to respond to your intriguing reflection! I’m sorry!

      “As a straddler I don’t detach myself from my profiles, but I do push at them and at times try to reshape them.”

      I love that–and I agree that being a straddler must be at least a bit less lonely than being an outsider. Too, it is an imposition to frame the conversation around those three broad categories: insider, outsider, and straddler. It seems a broad enough and old enough framework but just like all framing devices it contains assumptions, metaphors, implicit ideas that lean into those we are discussing outright.

      Yesterday I started reading an amzing book by Neal Postman, “Amusing Ourselves to Death.” In it, he goes on about how every tool we create contains an idea, and that the idea of the tool in many ways is just as powerful and indeed usually more powerful than the practical function of the tool. For example, he writes that the invention of eye-glasses in the 12th century brought with it the idea that we do not have to accept “as final either the endowments of nature or the ravages of time.” I know this seems a bit unrelated but language itself and the categories we create to communicate, classify, and so on play a large role in shaping what is said, what can be said, etcetera. Eric, I think you would really enjoy this book. I’m reading it on my Kindle.

      I guess I’m curious about the tension between man as a social animal and man as an ego-dominated animal–ego being what cuts us off in many ways from that sense of wholeness (that’s Yoga philosophy). In my experience I’ve noted that people tend to fall into one of those three groups but I am aware that I am attempting to shove chaos into neat boxes. Do you have any ideas on how to alternately approach alienation or social exclusion?

      I hope you are well. Thank you very much for reading my blog and I’m sorry it took forever for me to write back. I was preoccupied with finals and then in a mood. 😉

      love to you and yours.

  • kmariej

    P.S. I AM going to Vienna to check out the exhibit!! I’m leaving the first week of May and will stop by the gallery, walk around the city, and hopefully the weather will allow me to sit at a sidewalk cafe and drink a glass of red wine. Have you been to Riga, Latvia? That’s ALL we did there! We sat outside drinking wine and listening to the street musicians! It was wonderful!

  • 2010 in review « Minute Particulars

    […] Role-making, Role-Taking February 2010 3 comments 5 […]

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