image from "face to face"; a performance by lina issa - lights by alaa minawi 2016
In a world that is recurrently shifting its balance between the edges of globalization and nationalism, with the politics of the melting pot versus the calls to protect the unique identity and heritage of each culture, our sense of belonging is striving to find a place. In the beginning of the 1990’s, globalization constituted infinite variables and potentials within economy, culture, politics, art, and mobility and with the evolution in communication through Internet and social media, the open borders policy, the free trade, and the increasing dependency among countries on their existence the question of “where do I belong?” has become increasingly difficult to answer. The sense of belonging has definitely changed from being confined within ones nation’s borders with the new world order. Where does a French person who moved to the Netherlands at the age of 18, studied and worked in the Netherlands until he was forty, feel he belongs to? Does he belong to The Netherlands? Is he still French? Is his new house that he lives in considered home? Is home where he was brought up? At the same time, regardless of the greater politics of open or closed borders, the constant strive to belong is a human constant aspiration. To belong in its origin is “be + long”, to “be” “at hand”, or to “be” “together with”. The being and longing; the continuous self-explorative quest of ones being and his/her existence in the world and subsequently confirming this being with its relationship to spaces and others is a core in the attempts to understand oneself. Yet again, this emotional existential need is highly connected to the spaces our bodies inhabit. Spaces contribute an essential role in formulating or negating the sense of belonging. The house we were born and raised in, the room where we slept in, the street, restaurant, pub, club, library, school, class, even the table that we sat at on a regular basis is something that we could belong to. If our body keeps visiting or inhabiting the same space then we start building connections and relationships to it that makes our brain drops its instinctive defensive guards. When these guards are dropped due to formality, a sense of belonging starts to emerge. So the sense of safety in a space contributes in accentuating a sense of belonging. In this essay I will tackle that sense of belonging and try to find its performative aspect by going back to various articles and essays that have looked at performativity from different angles. The assumption that I will try to formulate can be summed up in the following question: “If performativity is the subject/object that has potentials in triggering actions, if performativity of spaces is in the potential that is held within the space itself then does the spaces that we belong to withhold these potentials? And does that make belonging performative?” Going back to “The Entangled Vocabulary of Performance” by Sruti Bala, the best description of performativity can be quoted as to bring something into life. Sruti Bala suggests that language by itself is performative. Its performative aspect is realized due to the fact that when we use language there is a potential of an act to occur. So for example if I say: “I am thirsty,” the assembly of these words holds within the potential of an action to quench this thirst by drinking or eating something that has fluids in it or not drinking at all and staying thirsty. The potential that arises in that sentence makes it performative. It is the utterances; which assumes that language will bring out, result in, or assume an action. In other words, performativity exists in everyday day life from the minute we needed to use language in order to communicate. In the same context if I use the language to describe my sense of belonging then a possibility of action will arise. For example if I say: “I always felt I belonged to my grandmother’s house” that sentence assumes that that person belonged to his/her grandmother’s house, and if he/she wants to regain that feeling, there is a potential that he/she makes an action of going back to his/her grandmother house, or bring elements that he/she relates to from that house, or do something else. But it also assumes that he/she would not do any action at all. In that sense belonging, which withheld all this potential became somehow performative in its linguistic nature. Another view about performativity is in Judith Butler’s: “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory” where she discusses the body as an “act”. It can be best stated in the following quote “the body is not merely matter but a continual and incessant materializing of possibilities”. Judith Butler discusses the difference between the “act” and defining gender in its current form. Thus, gender is a result of an act of a historical extension that can also be modified or transformed by the person involved. This act by itself presumes a sense of performativity. Thus on our daily life being a man or a woman is by itself a performative act. With Judith Butler, performativity seems to be at the origins of things i.e., when a man or a woman is born, the performativity of their gender begins in spite of the body’s historical situation. Relating this to the sense of belonging, and going back to the origin of its presence and if I go back to the former discussion stating that the sense of safety in a space contributes in accentuating the sense of belonging in the relationship between the humanbody and the space, then we can take the body to its first inhabited space: the mother’s womb. This is the first safe space that the body experiences, which is interestingly another body. This space provides the nutrients, the calmness, the oxygen, and the comfort. At the same time if that space could be a damaging space; if it is connected to turbulences in the mother’s psyche, if she smokes, if she drinks alcohol, or even if she has genetic mutations, that would be passed on to the infant. In that original space all the potential of belonging and not belonging and all the senses of trying to go back to that oceanic feeling, or not, lies. This makes belonging and the search for it varies depending, but not exclusively, on this phase. Erica Fischer Lichte’s19 “Fragments from The Performative Generation of Materiality In: “The Transformative Power of Performance. A new Aesthetics” discusses the performativity of spaces and the innate potentials that they hold within. She elaborates by saying: ”The performative space is characterized by that very possibility of being used in unintended ways, even if some participants considered such an unpredictable use inappropriate and infuriating.” From this statement I will reverse the discussion from how do we belong to spaces to how do spaces own the potential of creating the sense of belonging. Spaces in their “skeleton” nature are performative by the potentials they withhold. If the womb is the primary space the body inhabit, and if the childhood house is the first location the body gets familiarized and comforted in, then does the quest for belonging to other spaces in adulthood is an attempt to find spaces that correspond and match these past spaces? If I spent all my childhood in a house that has peeled painting off the wall does that hold the potential that later in my adulthood whenever I inhabit a space with peeled off painting some sense of belonging will arise? In a similar assumption, if I brought bed sheets from my childhood house to my newly bought house will the bed sheet arise a sense of belonging to the new space which I have inhabited? This potential exists, and the mere potential that lies in the “original” spaces that we inhabit, that were not foreseen at the time as possible and that might lead to an act in a later stage in life, makes spaces and their impact on the body performative. Being and longing are inherited in the formulation of the word belonging. I “be” in a space and long to “be” safely in it. To be safe in a space has the potential of belonging to it and the sense of belonging is performative because it simply is a need that might lead to many possibilities and or actions. Eventually if the basic human needs are constituted in food, safety, and shelter, these three elements can constitute and enhance a certain sense of belonging.
Special thanks goes to: Nienke Scholts Henny Dorr Nirav Christophe Proof Reading: Kristian Secher