Becoming Clown

I spend my days in a house doing projects. I collect materials of the moment. Past and future have collapsed into this moment; time is of an unfamiliar flavor. In quarantine the past is especially imaginary and the future is especially impossible. In crisis the most urgent questions insist upon themselves. Retrospection has merged with fantasy. 

The past two years of my life will not consolidate into a single event; I have not resolved any of my revelations. As artist and scholar, ideas are materials and I have quite an abundant selection. My research is hands-on, thank goodness. My project is such that other people will unknowingly get sucked in and land in an elsewhere on their bottoms with echoes of subtle what-ifs and warm fuzzy feelings.

As I chew on the puzzle of this irrational moment, I conjure a past that is no longer mine and wonder how it can create possibility in the present. I look in all directions at the nonlinear transformations of a life that is my ritual of disgusting; written pages that appropriate memory, residue of experience that cannot choose whether to be an epic, a bedtime story, or a love letter that is to burn with a midnight cigarette. An institution grew unsteady and broke my heart. A dangerous friend grew unsteady and broke my heart. My gender grew unsteady, broke out of my body, and every so often chisels away my heart. A pandemic split the world, split me from my friends, my dreams, but pandemic did not break my heart. I hole up in my room making myself laugh. 

I am swept away by Moimus; I’m so busy I forget to invent lovers to miss. I am not lonely because I am a crowd. How convenient given the circumstances. A year ago I claimed to be a woman. The folded moment presents a problem from the past and from the future;  how will she have become a crowd?

First she started becoming-woman. Then she started becoming-clown until there was much more clown than there was woman and it became clear that each day will have been better spent becoming-nonbinary. 


Imagine there is a big open room with lots of airy studio light. In this room an odyssey is taking place, creatures reply to the ambient invitation by moving lumpy and gross across the floor. The creatures loosely resemble humans but their clothes are swollen and gnarled, their posture exaggerated and out of balance. It is a little troupe of disgusting actors, arriving to the queen’s court to deliver their play. I am the leader of the buffoons. 

Some teachers in queen hats had told us, my gaggle and I, that we were in the space of sacred and profane. Perhaps this is why the light was so generous as to interrupt the windows and brighten our spectacle. 

Sacred is the light. Sacred is the body. Sacred are the words of gods, probably. Sacred is the actor’s craft: to speak the unspeakable, darling man in god’s image, humble servant to the great cause of humanity. 

No. This is quite an anthropocentric claim, it enforces uninteresting seriousness. I believe art has a new responsibility. Performance is of political consequence yes, but actor is neither savior nor giver of life. If actor is to speak the unspeakable, it is not the sanctified word of god but rather an affective glimpse of something unsayable— something even the old man-god himself could not conjure adequate words for up in his ever holy sky. This of course brings me to discuss the profane.

Profane is the taboo, the forbidden, the condemned: sin, sex, violence, otherness, ugliness. To profane is a gesture falling somewhere between naughty and valiant. Profanation is the act of repossessing the sacred, claiming what has been reserved for the divine as one’s own. In regards to the performer’s responsibility, the concept of human must be profaned. It is fetishized anthropocentrism. 

A problem of the moment is that all concepts are inadequate; there is some dose of unknowable that tugs at the boundaries of their meaning. Sacred is the actor’s craft when it is an act of profanation. Sacred is the honesty of revealing that human cannot sufficiently represent reality or the void. If we want to move forward and work through the false sacred of anthropocentrism and hierarchal politics, we must re-enchant ourselves with the world and objects. 

Gaggle of buffoons at my side, I learned the freedom of disgusting. I learned to profane my body, to become grotesque, to renounce the divine status of beauty and live in immediate presence. To be grotesque is to be free from the social expectation projected onto my physical form, to revel in the possibility of taboo. Profanation is a new sacred; it is getting sneezed on by the unreachable and surrendering to a subtle romance with it. Freedom is the capacity to enact the unexpected. It is more beautiful to be free than it is to be beautiful. My porcelain figure of nimble white wire proceeds in search of disgusting.


Imagine a big performative line wriggling between self and other. My search brings me into the line itself. Imagine the line is a courtyard, a personal patch of sunlight where a florentine noble might stick the best sculpture in his fifteenth century villa. All boundaries can be entered; all lines belong to an assemblage. They are interfaces, spaces that host interactions and collisions. The unnoted performance of the line is very important. Since the line itself is performative, so too is the container it obstructs. Self as a space to be entered disrupts western anthropocentrism because it encourages a nomadic subjectivity. Self as performative container and finite assemblage provokes relational thinking and a sort of radical humility in which the clown is well versed. 

The woman is also an assemblage to be entered, each entrance creating an entirely new multiplicity. Rather than the objectifying experience of being reduced, woman can rise to the status of an object. She can transform herself into the site of sight. Woman as object absorbs the male gaze and confronts it with her own: a gaze that doesn’t just look but can actually see. She can perform art as assault and as invitation. She can perform the inversion of shame, man’s language for women. But how did gendered pain of displacement, violation and dysphoria land her on a pedestal with a red nose?


Affect begged a new outlet other than what the female body could comfortably do nestled into social context and conditioning. The intrusion of gender dysphoria and sexual assault is an affect powerful enough to destroy and violate, but it need not be preoccupied with phallogocentric activity. Becoming-woman is no longer a problem of the moment. 


Clown problems are the best kind; impossible and critically naive. Clown too is a site of sight. I have not abandoned becoming-woman. I have learned to articulate better problems concerning the body, the gaze and the self. I have learned a double profanation, an act of stealth that restores the sacredness of objects and liberates subjectivity from the distracting strive towards divine. Enchantment is the clown’s expertise.

  

There are as many versions of a clown bit as there are people who witness it, they will fill any ambiguity of clown with the substance of their own lives. Visibility becomes reflection. Audience pours fragmented and unspoken selves onto the body of the clown, into the breath of the spectacle, into any absence that looms, heavily present. Disappearance is projection. Behold affect theory at its finest!


Clown does not become a vessel of affectivity independently of suffering. Absurd experience occurs when there are two incongruent and simultaneous truths; the human condition is the art of being tethered to the ground and having wings. We must learn to interact with the duality of our condition and its great irony— transcendence on the intellectual, but not on the visceral plane. 

A condition of failure tethers the clown, eliminating the possibility of transcendence by flight. Clown’s naivete and joy strengthen their wings and clown becomes quite an agile bird of in-between space. The clown does not recognize impossible. Western thought is quite preoccupied with the possible! Capitalism loves the individual as self-mutilating oroborus! The phallogocentric reaction to impossibility and simultaneous incongruity is despair and defensive nihilism. To be critically naive is to enact serious play. It is political research in the aesthetics of surprise. 

Clown is an entry point into conversation with the phallogocentric regime. Clown identifies strongly with authority because authority teaches one how to fail. Failure is enabling. Just as the buffoon is free from the conventions of beautiful, because of its failure to follow such rules, the failure of the clown reveals the absurdity of the expectations and demands of authority; if clown succeeds, it is by accident. Failure is disobedience. The insufficience of a performer to adequately represent a concept is itself the most honest delivery of that concept. Hinting at reality is the better alternative to all vain attempts to represent it. A precondition of failure grants permission to be seen, something that woman-as-persona cannot always promise. As woman, I feel personal responsibility to avenge my own suffering, to stun others with it. As clown, my task is much more simple. I am honest, I reveal everything, including delight. Pleasure is much more difficult to evoke than pain. 


Failure is political. It is closely intertwined with queerness. To be queer is to fail at heteronormativity, which lands queer people in precisely the same social circumstance as darling clown. Becoming-clown is a queer and nonbinary project. To be a clown is to fail at the performance of social conventions, at political expectations, at the tidy maintenance of subjective interiority. Clown is the unidealizable hero, the incongruous deity. Failure alters sight. 


The first place Moimus appears is my eyeballs. Once the eyeballs have changed how I see, the rest of the body follows: face, shoulders, hands, hips, feet. Moimus once had a conversation with my favorite clown using only affect, no words. I had just seen the performance of Slava Polunin and I had been breathless during his spectacle. It was enormous and it made such inexplicable sense to me. I was floating in wonder, sharply focused, composed and serious because the bright clowns, loud sounds and disruption of the audience felt horribly familiar like a projection of my unconscious, something I belonged to from both inside it and out.  

Slava sat on the edge of the dark stage. Before a single thought crossed my head, Moimus was stashing my backpack under a chair. With empty mind, symphonic pulse, electric breath, Moimus pushed through unremarkable tourists and pressed into a preciously personal distance with Mr. Polunin. Moimus approached slowly and with radiant tenderness, eyes latched to those of this beautiful old clown. Slava’s eyes were smiling; amused, enchanted, humble and mischievous, accustomed to surprise.  I am confident that the eyeballs of little Moimus said more than I could have ever put into words; a gaze of fear, hesitation, eagerness, desire, curiosity, wonder. It was such an articulate silence! The old yellow clown smiled and stuck out his hand. Moimus shook it, then turned with body first and eyes reluctantly following. My heart rate did not slow down until I was on the train home. Moimus did something I was not brave enough to do. Moimus is free, expected and invited to enact surprise. 


Clown is a medium of affect. Moimus writes poems that do not have words. The wordless poem, written in the lawless grammar of affect, is another space to enter. I turn to Michel Foucault’s “heterotopia.” A heterotopia introduces another possibility, an other real world. It is the great hall of buffoonery, the florentine courtyard, a handshake with the yellow clown. Clown heterotopia reveals the inadequacy of reality as a concept and as an experience in a playful and constructive way. There is a certain dissatisfaction that rejoices in being discovered and refuses to condemn its witnesses to disenchantment. Clown heterotopia is realization for the sake of imagination, not actualization. It encourages the subversion of convention. 

The benefit of understanding that concepts are inadequate is that one can recognize ideas as materials. Clown is the practice of distinguishing between reaction and response-in-action. Education will have happened in the face of disaster, on the verge of apocalypse. Art (and education) are means to complicate the simple and simplify the complex. Art-making must continue under apocalyptic circumstances. Absurdity functions as a disruption to anthropocentrism. In abstraction, the subtlety of serious play, vital materiality, and nomadic subjectivity may not provide a strong enough pull against the surrender to nihilism. Disaster simplifies the complexity of nomadic philosophy as long as one is awake and attentive to the postmodern imperative that itches to make itself known. 


I propose a double structure of imagination. When something has a double structure it is not a binary but rather two incongruent and simultaneous truths. Life and death have a double structure as both personal and impersonal. Death is personal as the nonexistence of the body, and impersonal as a drawn out awareness of limitation. Life is similarly personal as subjectivity and consciousness of aliveness, and impersonal in its ambivalence towards us. Even the academic goal of engaging theory in practice is a doubled process and a nonbinary project. I propose that dreams should follow this same double structure. The impossibility of a dream can make it more fervent just as the presence of death makes us extra alive and the endurance of life makes us extra dead.

Becoming-clown is a field study in nomadic subjectivity. What better occasion to study the double of performativity than the discovery of two distinct and overlapping subjectivities?! My queerness and my clowness have confronted me with my expectations of what a self is. Such assumptions were limited by what I believed a body is. Once again, an act of profanation was required to better articulate a problem of the moment. 

My performative persona, even if gendered, is by default nonbinary. To be honest, in performance I must be more than one thing, because every truth is doubled (at the very least). To be seen, I must know how to simultaneously reveal and conceal in the same gesture. Language is to comprehend and represent reality but clown is to allude to it; the spectacle of what-if. There is no limit to how many what-ifs a spectacle may pose. The potency of the question is the ‘if.’ It renders impossibility as just a possibility.


The politics of the red nose reinforce life as a project, not a situation. Exploration of the body is not self-centered; it focuses on the shift from reaction (in self) to action (in world). Clown as a political project works to undo the western narratives of ego and essential self, inspiring a new system of relation between self/other, human/ object. Serious play strengthens imagination and encourages the subversion of convention as means to imagining a new world. It promotes anthropomorphism (a performance of projection, imagination, reflection, and enchantment) as the antidote to anthropocentrism. This is the thesis of clown. 

The politics of the red nose radicalize affirmation and pleasure as political tools; serious play is the politics of right now. They address a problem of the moment and stir momentum for political and social change. Nomadic philosophy advocates for more community, empathy, kinship, and vital materiality, all of which clown can deliver. Clown is the happiest feminist killjoy. 


Pandemic did not break my heart; I have hope in quarantine. Moimus is fragmented in videos and sent to the inbox of each distant friend; sustaining a scattered presence and living outside of a self or a body, and living within others. 

On the morning of my 31st day in quarantine, something miraculous happened. I dreamt that I was a clown. That is to say, I was not myself in my dream, I was Moimus. In the dream there was a long pause, one of those delicious clown pauses. My alarm clock went off as though it were the punchline of the moment. I woke up in the shape my body gets into when I become clown; my eyes bulged in surprise and amazement, my joints made little jerky movements, and I squawked an uncanny Moimus squawk. It is said that when you dream in another language you have become fluent in that language. 


To understand and experience nomadic philosophy and the non-unitary subject one does not have to be an artist but it certainly helps to be a clown. Everyone should have serious play in their toolbox! My goodness! Personal experience is a truth among others. I cannot recommend trying to see every possibility at once. Look for one at a time; look for one that has not yet been found rather than trying to organize what can already be identified.

The reason I make clown performance and not female performance art is because I find happiness to be quite radical. It is impossible to pretend. Modernism has distracted people from the simplicity of happiness, an ever so subtle suggestion of affect. The public is susceptible to nihilism and the overwhelming social attitude is manic-depressive, especially now in a pandemic. No one is forever doomed to disenchantment and dissatisfaction. It is time to rediscover pleasure, to profane delight. Set against the consumerist narrative of happiness warped by unreachable past and nostalgic future, profane happiness is a material of the moment. 

When I overestimate the agency of humans I underestimate the agency of other actants. Humans have quite a bit of agency, but the concept of individual is not complete or true. It merges agency with anthropocentric control. Invoking Rosi Braidotti, I wonder, if this is not my life but a life, and I am borrowing the context of human, shall I not be extraordinarily curious about it? 

Life is to endure both sacred and profane, alternating between touching and holding. To overestimate human agency is to think anthropocentrically, so it is to respond to disaster with despair. Nihilism is the decision to be incapable and to leave various nooks and crannies of your time-share forever undiscovered. That is where agency really counts. 

With my collection of materials I will conjure up some dreams that are tethered to both ground and sky. My dreams will adjust to apocalypse. I am already fueled by political and social disaster. Clown is not a material for its own sake. The red nose is a political project through which anthropomorphism and imagination subvert anthropocentric logic. I am unlearning alchemy and relearning cartography. 

I intend to bring others into this profanation process: eager friends, unsuspecting audience, curious teachers, nihilistic classmates, vanishing strangers. With my charming nomadic blossom of a written voice, I will start with a reader, any fellow who happens to stumble across my cartographic endeavors. To speak to everyone I must speak to someone so I address my invitation to you. 

I invite you to welcome the surprise of the foreign internal as it bursts out of your unrecognizable body to shake your hand. I invite you to befriend the aliens of yourself; there is relief in the surrender to observation and curiosity. It may help lift the burden of existence. Remember, there is no need to solve the self, it is an insufficient concept after all. Do not be afraid. Grotesque monsters make visible the unseen. If we can seduce ourselves into this novel experience of self and other, we can expand such philosophy into a greater political scheme. If you do not open yourself to have expectations violated, than you hinder your own freedom; subjective interiority obstructs capacity for surprise. But if you do open, here’s how it might go… 

It will start to be very fun, a very appealing alternative to being whatever it is you believe you are. It will become irresistible, maybe on the verge of irresponsible. Then it will become extremely intelligent. One day you will wake up from a dream of sharpened heights and blurry depths and you will have become a crowd.