9 Oct 2012

Who's the Real Paul Masson? Personal Non-Identity in Deleuze's Orson Welles

by Corry Shores
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The following presentation was scheduled for the 2012 Deleuze Studies Conference in New Orleans. A canceled flight prevented me from giving it. Yet I highly recommend it. And because it is liberated from its actual occurrence, I am expanding it to include an Andy Kaufman section. The work here is in part inspired by jtriley's (Jacob Riley's) response to one of my blog entries. At the end I will place extra discussion to make this into a promised reply to Riley's post.

Corry Shores

Who's the Real Paul Masson?
Personal Non-Identity in Deleuze's Orson Welles

Orson Welles had difficulty obtaining funding for his movies, so he raised his own money through acting.

He even did commercial advertisements.

Yet, we can hear in his infamous “frozen peas” outtakes that this was not always his favorite form of acting.


Later he endorsed Paul Masson wine in television commercials. We will see in the outtakes that he reads from a script. So he is acting. But the character he portrays is still himself, still Orson Welles. And his job is to represent the product. If we drink enough of Paul Masson, we become drunk. In these outtakes, is Orson Welles intoxicated? Or is he perhaps faking or acting drunk?


The final version uses the footage but with overdubbed audio. Does it feel like a more authentic presentation of Paul Masson wine? We compare the two and wonder, who’s the real Paul Masson?

Both versions were scripted for Welles; both are false self-portrayals in a sense. But did we feel that the first one was more real or had more power of authenticity of some sort? And what about the humor in this parody? Does it not seem like an honest, and yet, original presentation?


These clips serve to introduce our main theme of the originating power of the false. We will combine Deleuze’s writings on determinability in the third synthesis of time with his explanation of Orson Welles’ notion of fakery. Somehow, fakery as forgery or as role-acting can be productive of our authentic self-becoming and it is based on the temporal immediacy of the now and the next. Self-falsification might be how we continuously vary from ourselves, and it could rest upon the paradoxical structure of time. Let’s begin first by noting that Orson Welles considered himself a magician.


He explains:


Fortune telling as stage magic is as well fakery for Welles. Yet, this falsification can magically transform the performer into someone too close to the real.

(youtube.com / Thanks Mrx2848)
The fakery became real through the acting. Forgery can somehow be authenticity. Welles’ film F for Fake is partly a documentary on real life painting-forger Elmyr.


So normally we think of the forgery as coming after the model it falsifies. Yet, there is way for self-creative originality to be produced through forged falsification. Consider Welles’ infamous War of the Worlds radio broadcast. It had every appearance of a normal music radio show that is periodically interrupted by progressively unsettling news-flashes that detail an alien invasion. Millions of listeners panicked, thinking the invasion was real.


Now, notice how Welles confesses he uses normal broadcasting conventions. Then also note that the second reporter thought Welles’ faked broadcast seemed more real than normal ones.


Yet, the broadcast’s believability is not its production of reality. There have since been recreative variations of it for example, using similar techniques but with different content. Although it began as a forgery, as a fake news story, it nonetheless became a real dramatic form inspiring other variations and tributes. Regarding Welles’ fakery, Deleuze writes:

“the forger cannot be reduced to a simple copier, nor to a liar, because what is false is not simply a copy, but already the model. [...] the artist, even Vermeer, even Picasso, is a forger, since he makes a model with appearances, even if the next artist gives the model back to appearances in order to make a new model [...]”
Now, fakery as the creation of reality has the temporality of becoming. Deleuze writes

“it is so difficult to define ‘the’ forger, because we do not take into account his multiplicity, his ubiquity, and because we are content to refer to a historical and ultimately chronological time. But everything is changed in the perspective of time as becoming.”
To illustrate the ‘pure event’ of becoming, Deleuze recalls the scenes in Alice’s Wonderland when her body rapidly expands.

As she becomes larger, she of course becomes larger than the size she just was. But in that same stroke, she is as well ‘becoming smaller’ than the sizes she is now growing into. If we are assuming she will continue her growth, then in the next moment, she will be larger; but, that coming largerness is still smaller than the even larger size that comes after that. So it is not that Alice is larger and smaller than herself. Rather, Alice is becoming larger and smaller than herself.
"Certainly, she is not bigger and smaller at the same time. She is larger now; she was smaller before. But it is at the same moment that one becomes larger than one was and smaller than one becomes. This is the simultaneity of a becoming […]. becoming does not tolerate the separation or the distinction of before and after, or of past and future."
Deleuze's third synthesis of time is the synthesis of the future: it synthesizes the now with the next, and he roots his account in Kant’s critical analysis of Descartes’ cogito argument, I think, therefore I am. We will put aside many of its complexities to focus on the concept of determinability, which is like the infinitely tight crack that temporally differentiates the now from the next while at the same time bringing them together into absolute immediacy.

To illustrate self-consciousness as a disjunctive synthesis with our now and our next, Deleuze turns to the story of Actaeon’s transformation. 

After he happened upon goddess Diana bathing naked in the wood, she turned him into a deer. He becomes aware of this when seeing his new animal form reflected in the water. Actaeon both recognizes it is himself, for it is his self staring back at him, while at the same time, he must recognize himself as becoming something completely different than who he had been right up until then. In a manner of speaking, to be self-conscious means we must look in the water and see a deer, and yet still identify with that other, as if to say, “that is me, but who am I?” Being a self means being an other to oneself. Now consider our first time jumping into deep water. At the moment of the leap, we in a way have determined ourselves as being a capable swimmer. However, we have not yet reached the water and actualized our new status. In that passage between states, we affirm our determinability, our always being glued to the other self we are becoming. Consider then Deleuze’s discussion of the relay characters in Welles’ Mr. Arkadin. Because of how each character follows the other in succession with all being odd but in their own ways, they seem to be a series of metamorphoses, as if one character hands off the baton to the next in a relay race.


Do we not undergo metamorphoses throughout our lives, as if we as well hand off the baton from one state of ourselves to the following different one? Each runner is different, but all are connected by a chain of direct contacts. We see this sort of determinability in Rosenberg Cool Hand Luke. When Luke claims he can eat 50 eggs, he is not then really such a person, because no one has done it before. Yet by making the declaration, he glues himself to his forthcoming self-variation, and in that way affirms his determinability.

Is this something like acting or like making oneself a forgery? Consider this clip of Welles passing himself off as Churchill, who was passing himself off as Welles, who was passing himself off as Othello.

(youtube.com / Thanks cavettbiter)
Acting as someone we are not can in many cases be a source of vitality and growth, and an inherent part of every moment of our lives. Perhaps we have some control over our self-forgeries and we may guide ourselves toward worthwhile and vital selves to become. Let’s now end with a celebrity roast. Welles, like all other participants of these shows, normally makes light of the celebrities with slightly insulting jabs. But not so for Jimmy Stewart. Welles instead roasts other actors lacking Stewart’s courage to give anti-violent male portrayals. When we emulate admirable traits even to the degree of mimicry, now really, would this be inauthenticity? Or is there another standard at work? Could not fraudulent self-forgeries be evaluated according to the vitality, originality, and constructive self-creativity they produce?


Appendix A:
Andy Kaufman

Andy Kaufman was an expert imitator and as well a faker and creator of new forged models. He worshiped Elvis in his youth, and practiced him carefully so that he could do an accurate impersonation.

But he also worked his impersonations into his comedy routine, thereby creating a new situation rather than a mere impression act. He for example would imitate a foreign person doing bad impersonations, and then break into his real imitation of Elvis. He is doing more than copying a model but instead inventing a new model to be copied.

On stage, Kaufman often blurred the distinction between real and fake, in acts that created new situations for the audience to experience. In some cases, seemingly fake situations turned out to be real. In one act, he tells the audience he will read The Great Gatsby in its entirety. And in at least one performance, he really did do so. He seems to be faking it that he will read the whole book, but indeed he does do so.


This clip below does not show that instance, but you can see the tension he creates with the audience and how the viewers become a necessary part of the creation of this event. The joke would not work if the audience actually enjoyed hearing Great Gatsby being read to them. [The clip is long and its entirety might not be of interest to you.]


Now in other cases, what seems real turns out to be fake.

[Here is another instance of this routine, but with a different premise.]

In this case of his crying becoming music, what seemed real turned out to be fake, but the sincerity behind it might make us think that even though it was fake, it was real emotion used as if it were fake, so to create a new sort of real situation, in the performance-art sense. First consider this description Kaufman gives of himself as a boy; is it an indication of a depth of sincerity? And at the same time in his life, he was working on his comedy routine. A boy of great sincerity was playing with the ridiculous.

Another case of the seemingly real being fake, and yet creating a new real situation, was the stunt he and two others pulled on the live broadcast show Fridays. The other cast members and crew were not aware this was staged, making a mixture of fake and real reactions to the mayhem.

Notice the seeming and perhaps real sincerity in his apology.

A notable case when real and fake blur to create an original situation is Andy Kaufman's entrance into professional wrestling, and this example will also illustrate how fakery of oneself can lead to one becoming a new and original self. 

Andy was fascinated by professional wrestling as a child. Yet he was not athletic, and so becoming a real professional wrestler was apparently an impossible thing for his life.


Yet, he worked wrestling into his comedy act, at first only wrestling women.

One night professional wrestler Jerry Lawler interjects himself into Kaufman's routine.

Around this time, Kaufman is already in many ways displaying career distroying-behavior that makes you wonder if he was not in fact losing his mind. And in fact, he is later diagnosed with brain cancer. He seems legitimately mentally ill over this, and has perhaps had a mental breakdown. Kaufman then a sends a deposition and video to Lawler. (By the way, note that Kaufman's lawyer is Bob Zmuda, who is a long time comedy partner of Kaufman's and is frequently the side-kick in many of Kaufman's tricks on his audience [we do not here get into the story of Andy's alter ego character Tony Clifton, whom Zmuda later takes over once people begin realizing Andy played the character.]) We also see in this clip Lawler giving the psychological explanation for Kaufman entering wrestling (making up for unfulfilled childhood dreams) and Lawler also says that he will show Andy that professional wrestling is not so fake. So now it is unclear to what extent reality will enter the performance.

In the match, Lawler performs an illegal move and seemingly paralyzes Kaufman. But Kaufman really was hospitalized for three days, and note how he says at the end on the hospital bed that he now realizes wrestling is not fake. [But also notice that the person acting as a referee, here called Kaufman's ring manager and trainer, is again Bob Zmuda].

Andy, for whom it was impossible to ever become a professional wrestler, now just became one.

Their feuding continues like many professional wrestling dramas, with its plot twists and  predictabilities, yet all the while, Kaufman has you wondering if in fact he has not lost his mind. Consider this interview clip for example.

An incident on Late Night with David Letterman furthers the ambiguity of whether this feud is real or fake and whether or not Kaufman was in fact having a mental breakdown.

The punch seems real, and using such profanity on television seems too risky for just a prank. Yet it was not until ten years later, long after Kaufman's death, that it was revealed this was all a grand set-up and that Lawler and Kaufman were actually friends.

Finally, consider another David Letterman appearance. Here Kaufman seems unwell, having hit the bottom, explaining how his career is suffering so much that he is now in grave financial trouble. We might sense real honesty and sincerity and plausibility in his story, because much of what he says is true and because of the emotional tone of his voice. Note when he asks the audience not to laugh around 5.30. The audience goes silent, and you feel the sincerity. [We give this clip in its entirety, because it will be important in the forthcoming section.]


Appendix B:
Joaquin Phoenix

Responding to jtriley's (Jacob Riley's) post: The (In)authenticity of Joaquim Phoenix's I'm Still Here: A Response

In this post I thought that in his mockumentary I'm Still Here, Joaquin Phoenix fails as a hip-hop artist because his heart was not in it; it was all an act for the purpose of a fake documentary; he would have succeeded if he felt himself to be a rapper deep down.

Riley changed my view entirely in his response, and I will cover some of his main points. He observes that Phoenix remains true to himself as an actor, because he is acting a part in his mockumentary, yet this does not mean he is being authentic.

"For Sartre, authenticity is a difficult subject because our ontological condition is one of bad faith. Authenticity is never a stable state of being because we are always in bad faith. Every time we define ourselves as this or that, we forget that we are also that being which has possibilities (freedom). Every time we affirm complete freedom, we forget that, to use Heidegger’s terms, we are also de-limited by our facticity and state-of-mind. Phoenix, paradoxically, affirms himself as an actor because he decides that he wants to act in a fake documentary as himself trying to be a rapper. But while actors seem to have absolute freedom in performance of self, they too are limited by their facticity—their race, gender, class, fame, reputation, attitude, etc. Phoenix cannot transform himself into an ‘authentic’ black hip-hop artist, so he transforms himself into a ‘hipster’ hip hop artist—looking more like an indie singer songwriter than P. Diddy."
He then notes how musicians who make career expansions to being actors can still seem authentic to us, but actors becoming musicians do not always work in our eyes, perhaps because making music requires a certain sort of authenticity.

Riley also brings to my attention that Phoenix did once become a competent musician when playing Johny Cash in the film Walk the Line. He then makes the interesting point that the self is not necessarily prior to the performing of oneself.
"To say that authenticity comes from respect for self, is to assume that self is ontologically prior to performance. I would argue, even without having seen the film (but I will watch it—soon), that Phoenix is trying to create a counter-narrative to the side of him we have seen in his films and public performances—attempting to deconstruct our image of who Phoenix really “is.” But going even further than that—Phoenix seems to be revealing that the transformation of the self comes from a diffusion of the self rather than a commitment to an authentic being—“a rapper” in essence. The transformation of himself into a rapper would involve a change in appearance, attitude, investments, acquaintances, etc. He is not committed to this work, preferring to claim an essential transformation of the self and the soul. This answers the above question about why Phoenix is able to become Johnny Cash—because he transforms not his essential ‘self’ but acts like, talks like, sings like, looks like Johnny Cash" 
In the context of our discussions above, we of course find this 'diffusion' of the self very interesting [but forgive me if I misunderstand the discussion on essential transformation]. By becoming a fake rapper, Phoenix might not be breaking with the self that he regards as really himself. To make such a diffusive break, there perhaps would need to be a letting go of oneself, maybe something like the handing off the baton to the new self in Orson Welles' relay characters. In our Deleuzean terms, it would be like accepting oneself as already different from oneself, with that difference within us being the closest thing we have for authentic selfhood, given that we are continually in a state of metamorphosis. The first time we jump in the water, before knowing how to swim, we are diffusing ourselves as non-swimmers even before we become swimmers, because the leap precedes our becoming proven swimmers after landing in the deep water. The affirmation of the difference between us as swimmers and us as non-swimmers - an affirmation enacted by making the leap - is the authentic affirmation of our true selfhoods as being selves who are always becoming other to ourselves. Consider a situation when we have to act a part we never played before. Perhaps we need a job, and the employer asks, 'can you do x', and we say 'yes' when in fact we never did it before. We are asked for example to paint a wall. We then pretend we are painters, acting the part, knowing we theretofore have never been painters. Neither we as non-painters nor we as painters are necessarily our true selves. Our authentic self, rather, is the difference between the two, affirmed in the acting/faking we initiate when transitioning from one to the other. Jtriley writes:
"Mark Wahlberg has earned his place as a respectable actor—less so as a respectable musician. The hit they had in the 80s is still played, but this is not his primary focus. Wahlberg no longer looks like and acts like Marky Mark—that self has been traded in for his various acting and real-life personas."
Kaufman traded in his career as a comedian on television in order to become a professional wrestler. It was not a comedy routine like he normally does on stage in the sense that he is not trying to get the audience to laugh. Instead, he wants the audience to hate him like a professional wrestling villain. Perhaps he did suffer from the consequent loss of work. Recall his Letterman appearance when he was dissheveled and explained the destitute state he was in, resulting from his recent career  and personal setbacks. Is it not very much like Phoenix's notorious Letterman appearance, aired both on television and incorporated into the documentary?

Until it was made known that Phoenix's metamorphosis was a fakery for the sake of the documentary, many were confused as to why he would throw out his career to become a mediocre hip-hop artist. He seemed to have had a mental breakdown. Is this perhaps him taking Kaufman as a model to be copied so to create an original model? Perhaps it was not a musician that he wanted to become, but rather a performance-artist reality-creating comedian like Kaufman; for, the movie he made was really a mockumentary that can be seen as quite ridiculous at many times. He copies Kaufman, and in one sense takes on those appearances, like in the Letterman show, but in another sense, his variation is completely original given the new format and context. He has an original way of mixing reality and fakery, because the news media was following his transformation as a real one, and it was documented as if real, yet it was all fake and the fakery was documented fakely as a mockumentary. But was it just fake, or was it reality-creating and self-becoming fakery?

Orson Welles videos:
Thanks cavettbiter

Thanks Mrx2848
Thanks theucbmidnightshow

Thanks grimscribe126

Andy Kaufman videos:

Thanks AndyOnLetterman

Thanks Lottoman17 
Thanks rejectedburrito

Thanks Joeyland

Joaquim Phoenix video:
Thanks cameoscash

Referenced pages: