Lessons from Kumaré and the Chair (Couch)

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Kumaré (2011) is a document of Vikram Gandhi’s quick turn into a yogi/guru. After studying religion and other gurus, Vikram believed it all to be false, a facade. To prove this he becomes a guru himself, donning the appropriate attire, growing his beard, and adopting an East Indian accent (and even a big walking stick). He hires a yoga teacher, learns yoga, then heads to Phoenix, Arizona to start his own following. Individuals in Arizona are deeply impressed by Kumaré, Vikram’s fake name, and after some weeks of teaching gets a core group of 10-12. Initially his facade was to expose the falsity of belief, etc., but Vikram receives the call from the other and turns instead to using his new master-status to convince his followers they don’t need a master at all – the power is, and always has been, inside you (the most cliché of New Age proclamations). What is of value in Vikram’s facade is his first hypothesis: pure exteriority.

Vikram wants to expose pure exteriority, the truth that there is nothing interior (i.e., psychological) that can be ‘truly’ discovered. Our clothes, our voice, our movements, are produced by… well, input whatever you like (society, culture, politics, history…). There is no authentic voice or behaviour, this is what Vikram shows us. What is (the) truth (of an individual) is what is exactly presented. When Kumaré reveals himself to be Vikram at the conclusion of the documentary, we could easily see him, several months following, revealing himself to be another (an other).

Thoroughly performative. Today I am a student, tomorrow a yogi, the next married, also a business person, a man/woman (yes, a controversial statement). And so on. What you are will always need the verification of an other and if that other doubts that facade the consequences are perhaps twofold: identity crisis and/or anti-social behaviour in that individual who is presenting himself to an other, and in the other to whom the individual reveals himself, if he should doubt the visible and audible exteriority, that individual will likewise recede into himself, become antisocial, and as is the fundamental human condition, become a neurotic who is, in this situation, in constant denial of the ‘truth’ of social relations, identity, or the cause and effect pattern that governs everyday life. (All this is phenomenological; thinking of Hume here.)

The end of Kumaré exposes the necessity to believe in the truth of exteriority. Vikram unveils his true self to his followers, a young man born in New Jersey, etc., and a young woman (perhaps who would also have liked to be physically and emotionally attached to Kumaré – a guess) rushes to Vikram and embraces him. Some of his followers were disgusted, in themselves or with Vikram is never quite clear. This woman however leaps back into the truth of social relations, i.e., its performativity, its facade, and the necessity to never doubt that there is nothing deeper than what is presented.

The lesson from Kumaré put into practice:

On the couch your analyst sits silently behind you. On a long bus ride the unknown passenger sits silently beside you, but nevertheless looking ahead, so in some sense quite behind you.

I am on a bus and waiting for it to depart. A car pulls up, a young woman gets out from the back. A man exits the passenger door. The man and young woman hug, she places her hands on the sides of his face, they share looks of admiration, care, and love. He lifts her off the ground, they hold each other for many seconds. A young woman emerges from the driver’s seat. The first young woman rushes over to embrace her. They hold each other, share the same looks of caring. The first woman rests her hands on the other’s face, then rubs her large, pregnant belly. This caress is the caress of love, an acknowledgment of the life that will soon begin and the pleasures of having a child, raising a child, loving a child. The embrace concludes, the young woman hugs the man once more. I felt warm, I smiled, I would have told her what an experience this was for me.

The young woman ascends the bus, floats down the aisle, and sits across from me. Next to her a young man, 18-years-old I eventually hear. They both stare straight ahead; almost immediately she begins to speak. Small talk at first: school, work, life. I overhear everything. She unveils herself, he does too, to a lesser degree. She is from very far away, visiting her pregnant sister (I think – could have been friend, missed this part), and her sister’s husband (who is also this woman’s ex-husband – perhaps the sister is a friend). She describes her days visiting sister and further, tells the young man (and me) all the complaints about both sister and brother-in-law. The truth of social relations revealed: she seems to genuinely dislike the sister and given the ex-husband status, has a number of issues with him as well. Her time with them was a slight nuisance, cause for annoyance rather than the warmth of the goodbyes I witnessed moments earlier.

But each of the three players involved must perform; if the performance was anything but amicable, anti-social behaviour and neuroses would inevitably result. The truth between these three is nothing short of the warm goodbye, a dramatization of everyday life, otherwise boring and of little meaning without caring and love for the other. The exeriority of relations and not the internal confusion (dislike, ex-husband issues, etc.) is the phenomenal experience. Everything is played out on the social field, i.e., its physical setting. Back on the bus, if the young woman did not have the analyst chair, her description of interiority, of her time spent visiting, would have greatly differed. The supposed truth of interiority is relative to the actual and physical exteriority,  i.e., those warm moments with family and friends and the conditions under which we can re-purpose those events for an exchange between patient (woman) and analyst (young man). Both are exterior relationships, not psychological processes, or the ‘real’ truth of that exteriority.  Two truths simultaneously: The young woman loves her family, performs as such and the family accepts it as authentic; she also despises them, will tell her interlocutor so.

(NB.: interiority discussed here as psychologists, pop-psychologists, and spiritualists perhaps might define; the unconscious, etc., is a different issue which I do not approach in the above.)

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2 thoughts on “Lessons from Kumaré and the Chair (Couch)

  1. Pingback: Vikram Gandhi’s Kumare | PHOTOGÉNIE

  2. Pingback: Finding your outer self: Harmony Korine’s Mister Lonely | Tapage nocturne

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