A recent occurrence of misrecognition reminded me of two Culture on the Edge blog posts written this past summer (see here and here) in which Russell McCutcheon wrote about what it might mean to see the ordinary as curious in one post and another on public conversations on the role of identity in the movie, The Lone Ranger. In the former post, McCutcheon asked a simple question underneath a picture of Baka people performing for Pope Benedict XVI as he departed for Angola, “who is wearing a costume?”
If we take seriously theories of performativity and the role of the discursive in processes of identification as forcefully articulated by thinkers such as Judith Butler, then we know that something like Halloween occurs every day where we un/consciously present who we are/aren’t/want to be to the social world in which we participate in. In other words, the minute we wake up and start dressing and adorning ourselves (who will we be today?), we’re all in costume – the process of identification thus begins. But, that’s a conversation for another post.
This past weekend I had dinner with a Lehigh University colleague at the Hotel Bethlehem. Given the Bethlehem tradition of always celebrating Halloween on the last Friday in October, the hotel was hosting a Halloween bash on the same evening and thus we found ourselves in the midst of a costume party. We had not, or thought we had not, dressed up for the occasion.
Until, on our way out, party goers thought my colleague had dressed up for the costume party (he was wearing African printed pants). Quickly noting that he had not, the classifier, seemingly dressed up in costume for the party, had quickly re-appropriated the misfire of his discursive gaze by noting of himself, “This is not a costume either.”
This scene of misrecognition reminds us that the ‘thing’ we often call identity doesn’t as much speak to a thing in and of itself, but rather, the perceived costume of identity becomes concretized in the very performative ‘expressions’ thought to be the result of the category itself.
So, as McCutcheon asked a number of months back, “who is wearing the costume?”