Doctor/Kake or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Post- modernity

By Karen (Kake) Huck, Speech

Kake1kake2If you know me, you may have witnessed or taken part in one of the following greeting rituals.

The writer/artist’s introduction:
“Hi, I’m Kake Huck.”
“Hello, Kate.”
“No.  Kake.”
“Right.  Kate.”
“No, Kake.  With two Ks.”
“Like pineapple upside-down cake?”
“Yeah, yeah, but with two Ks.  And no need to quote Marie Antoinette, thanks.”


The collegial introduction:
“Hello. I’m Karen Huck.  Also called Kake.  Or Huck.”
“Which do you prefer?”
“Oh, you pick.  Whatever you’re comfortable with.” 

The classroom introduction:
“Here are your choices when you want to get my attention.  You can call me Karen.  You can call me Huck, just plain Huck, like, ‘Hey, Huck!’ or, if you really need to put something in front of my last name, you have two choices:  doctor or professor.  I’m also quite comfortable with ‘M’am’ if you’re ex-military or from the South.”

This multiplicity of monikers sometimes gives people pause, especially if they’re introducing me to someone else or talking about me in front of students (who aren’t allowed to call me Kake). 

Well, you may be  happy to know that I have theoretical grounding for all this ego-absorbed label-mania:  I am a self-aware creature of post-modernity.  Unlike the solid, community-bound self of classical thought or the authenticity-seeking individual of modernity, the postmodern self is diffuse, diverse, and dramaturgical — a co-construction created by embodied beings performing in relationship with others.  Postmodern identity is contingent, open, and uncertain.  According to my Utah mentor, Jim Anderson, the last century’s discoveries in psychology and sociology have thoroughly destabilized the unitary vision of the self and shown us that “much of who we are — is the product of social action, not internal character.”[1]  

Others have argued that the postmodern self is a bricolage[2] of potentialities lifted from mediated representations of being.  It is criticized for replacing class consciousness with classy accoutrements.  In a world of multiple opportunities for impression-management, we grasp at selves sold to us by organizations moving product.  Hence all those Facebook apps in which we identify ourselves through some commercial narrative:  “Which House character are you?”

This, of course, is in direct contradiction of my mother’s advice to “Be yourself.”  Or Shakespeare’s “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”  Or that rallying cry of the boomer generation:   “Just do your own thing, man.”  People I respect, however, still hold this belief.  My colleague Michelle Franco celebrates authenticity in her classroom and business, Eloquence Communication.  She inspires her students and her clients by asking that they speak from a true self.  But I’ve challenged her worldview because though it once was mine it is no longer.

For many years I struggled to “be myself,” to become, in Jungian terms, individuated or whole.[3]  But it occurred to me that the famous Shakespearean quote was uttered by Polonius, the pompous old dude in Hamlet who gets stabbed behind the arras.  Not the best source of philosophical mentoring.  And there are at least three other problems with the modernist ideal of the authentic self.

First, as I note above, it doesn’t fit the data produced over the past hundred years by psychologists, anthropologists, sociologists, and artists.  People are born with certain physical characteristics, certainly.  But what our biology means is a matter of our interaction with members of our culture/family/organization/tribe.  Who we are is who we’re with and what they say about us. 

Second, it isn’t just the social sciences that prove our interior diversity.  Neuroscience reveals the impact of chemicals on both behavior and cognition. [4] When I first began taking anti-depressants in the early 80s,  I changed.  I don’t just mean I was finally able to hold a job or talk to strangers.  I mean that my mind, personality and interior vision of the universe changed.  I not only became happier but many of the things that I considered the core of my being dissolved. This experience, while annoying to those friends who loved my bitter, self-hating wit, was also an intriguing revelation about the indeterminate quality of a thing – my Self – I’d once considered immutable.

And finally, there are pragmatic reasons for enjoying multiple selves.  Sometimes who you really, really are simply isn’t effective for what you really, really want to achieve.  Just ask Dr. David Bruce Banner.

So I sometimes explain to people that I operate (or am operated by) at least two distinct selves:  the artist and the teacher.  Both have experienced the same family and social history but each understands it and re-creates its memories in very different ways.[5]

articleA newspaper article that never appeared.  Photo by Kake Huck.

(click on the icon to read)

The poet and artist Kake Huck, is driven to tell her psychic “truths” of loss, betrayal, destruction and despair.  She looks into the twisted heart of humanity and finds it wretched and perverse.  Child in a family punctuated by madness caught in a world prone to genocide and hate, she is cynical, weary, occasionally enraged and offers little hope that human beings are capable of treating each other decently over the long run. 

Oh, don’t let that poet into a classroom!  She’s sooo scary! 

Of course note here that according to studies done by Nancy Andreason, a lit PhD become neuroscientist, poets are more than 2 1/2 times more likely to be depressives or bi-polar than members of the population at large…[6]

The character who teaches communication, on the other hand, Dr. Karen Huck, is positive, upbeat and relentlessly optimistic about personal change and self-empowerment.  Sure, she’s had the same history as the poet.  But she knows that re-creation is possible.  She’s learned how to live with PTSD and depression.  When appropriate, she mentions them as manageable mountains.  She appears to have conquered her stage fright.  She believes that anyone can give a good public speech or alter their relationships for the better.   And that if life gives you lemons you should request a gol-dang martini glass with a sugared rim!  

I was happy at the convocation on May 8 when VPI Kathy Walsh recognized the positive aspects of socially constructed performance when she noted that I have worked “to analyze the role of ‘excellent teacher,’ to determine what behaviors most assist student learning, and to adopt herself to that role.”

So I’ve learned to be multiple selves.  Is this good or bad?  It’s wonderful, according to America’s great gray poet Walt Whitman who wrote, “I contain multitudes . . .”[7]   Not so hot, according to the Apostle Mark’s story about the pig-infusing demon who screams, “My name is Legion.”[8]  

But postmodernity, at its best, is an ethical incoherence. 

What counts between people must be dependable, even if we change our costumes.   In this way, identity is like architecture.  Postmodern architecture is wild in its multiplicity of influences and fantastic shapes but must be solid and dependable in its plumbing.  The same is true of postmodern identity.  It can be diverse and confusing but there in the moment of our interaction with each other, in relationship, in our here and now, postmodern identity can and must offer compassion, hope, and faith in the protean experience of a chaotic, loving grace.

gehryArchitect Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.  Photo by Kake Huck

[1] James A. Anderson and Elaine E. Englehardt, The Organizational Self and Ethical Conduct:  Sunlit Virtue and Shadowed Resistance (Fort Worth, TX:  Harcourt College Publishers, 2001) p. 83.  For more on postmodern identity, see also Kenneth J. Gergen, The Saturated Self, (New York, NY: Basic Books, 1991).

[2] For critique of this kind of identification, see Michele DeSilva’s previous entry in this blog.

[3] Psychological types; or, The psychology of individuation, by C. G. Jung…Translated by H. Godwin Baynes.  (New York, Pantheon Books,1962)

[4] What, you’ve never had an alcoholic drink, a cup of coffee or a donut?  You really need proof here?

[5] For more about the physical aspect of memory and its variability, please see the work of Joe LeDoux (Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are, Penguin, 2003) and Jonah Lehrer (Proust Was a Neuroscientist, Mariner Books, 2008) or check out this episode of WNYC’s Radiolab

[6] Nancy Andreason , The Creating Brain:  The Neuroscience of Genius, New York:  Dana Press, 2005.

[7] Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself:” “Do I contradict myself?/ Very well then I contradict myself,/ (I am large, I contain multitudes.)”

[8] Mark 5:9, the story of the demons cast into the herd of pigs.


One Response to Doctor/Kake or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Post- modernity

  1. Michelle says:

    What a stunning post, Kake/Karen/Huck/Doc Huck/Professor Huck! Seriously, extraordinary. It is beautiful in crafting, disclosive and generous in thought and transparency. And this may come as a surprise, but I totally agree with you, even as I aspire for my clients and students to find their “authentic powerful voice”. We are complex, multitudinous creatures and authenticity is malleable (to some degree) and situational – and still, we are/can be so very “ourselves” when we tap into it, in so many forms. As I read about your experience of self, I see threads of you that seem to have remained. I can feel the threads of me that have been there since before I can remember anything else.
    I love your scary poet and positive teacher descriptions. What a wild dichotomy of experience that must be.
    I am, as always with you, impressed by your post. Thanks for this.

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