The imaginary guest
tags: vintage published on:
The guest did not come. She was expected to arrive. She sent many messages to confirm that she will arrive soon but she never turned up.
Other guests did not start eating for a long time, as they wanted to be polite and wait for all the guests to arrive. The guest who had not arrived was also someone their friend was particularly fond of. And they wanted to be social.
Now, they started playing a game in which they projected characteristics on the guest who had not arrived. This projection activity had them working from within the limitation of their social filters to speculate on qualities for such a special guest. Initially they projected refinement and sophistication but as the guest continued to keep them waiting, and messages kept arriving, they also projected deceit and callousness.
Their friend explained numerous times that the delay was inadvertent, but it did not have any effect after a while and they started doubting even their friend's character.
Over the next hour, the guest never arrived, the friend was still claiming that she will arrive at any moment and the guests were inconsolable. They started leaving one by one. Soon, the room was empty and the event wound up.
The guest was imaginary. But knowing this only complicated the problem further. Why did the friend behave this way? Was this a performance? What did the performance achieve? Was it not just a prank (and a cruel one at that)?
The constraints of a given situation cannot be defined by those who are part of it. The reading of a situation and its capacity to respond to interventions and absorb inputs has nothing to do with the local. They are defined in exclusion of each other. If we easily accept the articulation of a reading of the field by those who live there, we will be overwhelmed by the complexity and lack of a potential space. Those who are the closest to the landscape have the least perspective.
The imaginary guest introduces the unknown stranger to the scene. The glare of the stranger as opposed to the practiced eye of the friend is part of the scene for good. The imaginary guest is a stand-in for the idea of the public. The public is a constructed idea which doesn't bother to explicate the rules of its construction. There is always an agent who is in closer proximity than others of who the public is and how it is to be addressed. Like the imaginary guest, the public never shows its face but always promises to arrive.
The stranger is someone who actually has the possibility of knowing us. Friends and family rarely are able to get a glimpse of who we are. All they can access is the construction that we serve them. The stranger is such a powerful image for us that even in an imagined form, she can force us to be conscious of our enactment.
The imagined and the feared are not very different. Sometimes we can get a glimpse of our mental models only by knowing the shadow that they cast. Projections hide as much as they reveal. What we project on the stranger is what we fear about ourselves.