That’s a tasty word. It feels playful, right? It even has “fun” in it!
Who would have known, then, that it’s actually quite useful in capturing a thought I’ve been struggling to put into words?
If you don’t know (like I didn’t, just a few hours ago), a funambulist is a tightrope walker.
Back in ancient Rome, tightrope walking was a popular spectacle at public gatherings. The Latin word for “tightrope walker” is “funambulus,” from the Latin funis, meaning “rope,” plus ambulare, meaning “to walk.” – Merriam Webster
I think we all need to embrace our inner funambulist (even though some of us are truly terrible at this particular discipline – seriously, it’s impossible). To the true funambulist, everything is a dance, a constant movement and a search for an equilibrium that is never permanent, always transient. This is not a loss or a failure on behalf of the funambulist, but the most basic condition, the one rule that can’t be changed.
This is also exactly what we do when we play. As Thomas S. Henricks, whom I seem to quote quite often, writes:
players combine order and disorder strategically. Although we intentionally court disorder, our aim is to see what we can do with it. Leaping into precarious circumstances, we try to find our balance. Unsatisfied with our newfound security, we destabilize ourselves again.
This is because, as he writes, that it’s the process of striking the balance, not the balance itself, that is interesting to us. Once we’re there, it becomes boring and we leap again into new “precarious circumstances”, looking for new adventures.
While a funambulist and a player knows that any state of equilibrium can only ever be momentary, a proper citizen in 2018 is taught to believe that if only the right systems, models and rules are applied and followed, no balancing is required. We can turn off our inner gyroscope, we can stop balancing, thinking, sensing, we can just follow the manual.
Martin Weigel writes in the very interesting “The Case for Chaos” that “when we succumb to the fantasy that we can professionalise creativity, that we can extract the play, unpredictability, and human element out of the process, that it can be treated like the manufacturing process, repeatable and reliable in its methods, then we place the potential of creativity in serious jeopardy” and continues:
Orthodoxies, models, best practises and universal theories might make life more simple and obviate the need for independent thinking and lighten the marketer’s cognitive load. We can follow the rules, accept the wisdom, tick the boxes or throw everything into a black box testing process and let it tell us what to do.
But orthodoxy and best practise enslave us.
We keep pretending that it’s all about removing doubt, increasing control to improve our certainty and the predictability of any human endeavour. We have come to rely so heavily on these “orthodoxies” that we have given up on what matters most – trust: we don’t trust each other, we don’t even trust ourself, we only trust these godforsaken systems and models and procedures and we’re all suffering because of it. We’re less creative, sure, but that’s not my biggest concern, no, the worst part is that we’re less human. Every time we trust a system or a model over our own empathy and judgement, we cede a little bit of our humanity.
My friend Viktor wrote quite beautifully:
As an artist it seems self evident but when I turn to anthropology I am yet to find the language to cope. My left hand cannot describe my right. We’re in the same body but struggling for dialogue. How might anthropology engage/describe “change” -which is so much about play- and the generative act of opening systems up & leaving them there? This moment of creation is one that artists & activists know well, it is about chasing an emerging event horizon that is a becoming that is always not-quite-yet something… how do we maintain that sense of hover? How do we study the butterfly without pinning it? How do we balance?
Then she quoted Jean Claude Ellena on this impossible schisma between trust and doubt, between daring to do something, create something, without knowing where it might take you, giving in to the uncertainty:
“You have to believe in yourself and at the same time you need to have doubt. Because it means you are creating. If you have no doubt, you have some problem. If you are too sure about yourself, you close your mind. Be sure, but at the same time be open. It’s not easy.”
No, it’s certainly not easy. On the contrary, it’s super tricky, but that’s the point, I guess: it’s *supposed* to be tricky, and easy answers as well as unequivocal, clear-cut models and systems are comforting lies, allowing us the nice, fuzzy feeling of having everything under control in a world that is complex, chaotic and weird.
Reminds me of David Lynch:
I don’t know what I want to say to people. I get ideas and I want to put them on film because they thrill me. You may say that people look for meaning in everything, but they don’t. They’ve got life going on around them, but they don’t look for meaning there. They look for meaning when they go to a movie. I don’t know why people expect art to make sense when they accept the fact that life doesn’t make sense
In our blind desire to make something in this weird, wicked world make sense, we boil the complex down until it becomes so ridiculously simple and straightforward that yes, we may understand it, but it lost all real meaning in the process. Nothing sublime, magnificient or beautiful will ever come from these precooked meals heated in the microwave, from adhering strictly to someone else’s recipe. Only when we dare to trust in each other, to engage in the balancing act, to rely on our judgement, increasing our sensibility towards the world, only then can true, deep meaning emerge.
It feels like we’re collectively marching down this long, dark, blind alley with our eyes closed, and we’ll never really find a different, better path before we give up our desire to control things. It’s not a matter of total control or total anarchy, no, on the contrary, it’s about living life as a delicate balancing act, while embracing that no balance is permanent, no solution is final, no system is to be blindly trusted.
Again, play is the perfect antidote, always reminding us to dance, balance, and perpetually “destabilize ourselves” over and over.