David Blaine's feat of endurance: Above the Below: some thoughts on its significance
Sue McPherson 23 Oct 2003
David Blaine entered The Box in the early days of September, 2003, staying there without food or nutrients but with only water to sustain him. The perspex box, just large enough for him to stand up in and lie down, was suspended by a crane, in one of the main tourist areas in London, England, overlooking the London Eye, the Tower Bridge and the Thames River, and the Tower of London.
During his time in the box Blaine has been undergoing a test of his mental and physical ability to endure these forty-four days without sustenance. Previous feats include being buried for seven days underground, encased in ice for about two days, and standing atop a pillar for a certain number of hours, overnight, in New Your city. I have heard this latest endurance test - Above the Below - referred to as Blaine's "ultimate truth", by which he faces death through starvation, or perhaps permanent impairment of some kind.
He went in knowing the possible consequences of this ordeal. He describes it as a test of his body and mind (and also of his spirit). Even if the concept of spirit is unacceptable to some people, he is however consciously combining these two parts of himself - body and mind - taking them to the limits of endurance. He will be suffering both mentally and physically, and it has taken strength in both areas to enable him to get this far.
He comes out of the box today - the evening of October 19th, and will spend the next month in hospital, being introduced slowly to food again. I do not agree with some of the statements that have been attributed to him, but I do see that he is trying to prove something - that people can endure through difficult times. Part way through the forty-four days he wrote a statement of his purpose on the back panel of the box.
"I do not consider myself as part of an individual race or country or
religion, just simply a human being and this is my exploration and now
discovery of how strong we all are in mind, body, and spirit. Peace."
He described what he was going through as he experienced it. He has said previously that he never feels more alive than when he's facing death. I can't help wondering what he will have to say about this, after some time has passed.
This feat draws to our attention so many aspects of our life on this earth - the mind/body dichotomy, the public/private split, and spirituality and suffering. I should mention, also, that he stands to make a million.
One of the photos that I have included on my web site is of Blaine kneeling, with a blanket around him. Although we cannot know for sure, this depiction is probably about his bodily needs, although he may also have been taking a moment to compose himself mentally, or to engage in spiritual meditation of some kind (more on this follows).
During this time in the box, he has been attacked verbally, and has had things thrown at him.
One further interesting point. He is an illusionist. He is described as such and advertises himself as one. It seems that the sociological theory of labelling is applicable to this situation. Once a label is attached to a person it's hard to get rid of. For many people, because he is an illusionist, then that means that this event - Above The Below - is an illusion and David Blaine must be tricking the people. He couldn't really be starving himself, as he claims to be, is what some people say.
Blaine himself has said that this feat was inspired by the death of his mother, when he was nineteen. It may be interpreted as a rebirth of sorts - an attempt to reconcile himself with her death, and come through it a different person.
Sue McPherson 19 Oct 2003
Following are excerpts from a message to an internet discussion list (Oct 22) from a fellow member, on this subject of David Blaine's Above the Below. I will include here only part of the original post, although I would like to have been able to reproduce it here in its entirety.
Thanks for writing that.
This comment, now, refers to the photo I mentioned earlier - of Blaine on his knees, covered by a white blanket. He could have been meditating, but it's more likely it was a call of nature - to relieve himself physically. The mind-body distinction is blurred - it surely would take some mental effort to perform that task in front of hundreds of spectators. There's something about shame, here, too, but not the shame of the observers (consumers), the shame that Blaine should supposedly be feeling, when talking about or doing - or not looking after - his bodily needs in a hygienic way. Everything he does goes against what we know is proper for humans - looking after his toilet needs in public, not brushing his teeth or washing. But he seems to have no feelings of shame.
Sue McPherson Oct 22
This society we live in is demeaning of older women and often does harm towards them. I think at some level men and women do love their mothers, but it sometimes seems to be considered uncool to demonstrate that. And it is considered a sign of weakness to want to have the characteristics of the traditional mother figure - patience, passivity, emotional - all those so-called feminine characteristics. Nowadays, young women as well as men are encouraged to be more like men - active, objective, demonstrative, single-minded, firm decision-makers, etc.
David Blaine is an unusual man - he has expressed fondness for his mother. In today's society, that is a feeling that seems to be discouraged. I think, especially, in today's world, men and women need something to hang on to that can provide comfort. And no, I'm not talking about regressing to wanting to be in the mother's womb, but remembering what motherhood is all about, and having feelings for those you were once close to. Has anyone mentioned the notion of loss? When someone you love leaves you, it can be traumatic, no matter what age you are.
Much of what Blaine is doing is dealing with loss. And this is probably why so many people are drawn to him. In this stunt he is attempting to deal with losses in his life, it seems, and has done his suffering in public. This is where his skills lie - and this is how he makes his living. In this instance - for this feat, he was more specific about what he was doing. This was about his mother's death, and his desire to go through that suffering.
Sue McPherson Oct 22
A note to those who see this feat of David Blaine's as womb regression, as a result of a traumatic birth or childhood.
Being born is traumatic. There is no way of softening the blow for infants, warmed in a climate controlled environment in their mother's womb, receiving all the nutrients they need (hopefully), then being cast out into a cold environment of air, now being expected to breathe, instead of merely floating and receiving all they needed with no effort. Even in they are born into water, they still need to start to breathe air in order to survive. Then they need to take in nourishment, and have to begin the task of adapting to the environment by sucking on their mother's breast - or a bottle, if they must.
Of course being born is traumatic. We spend our whole lives meeting up with one challenge after another, not just through the natural environment, but having to adapt also to society. There would be times, of course, that we would long for the comfort of our mother's breast, or to be held once more, and loved for who we are, not for what people think we are, or what they want us to be. And yes, maybe there can be some unconscious longing to be safe in the mother's womb once more. But this has nothing to do with being trapped, or stuck, or traumatised by particular circumstances.
This is about life - and life is hard, and if people continue to blame their mothers or blame their normal birth as supposedly unusually traumatic, they're not looking at what life really is like. Of course mothers have been hard on their children sometimes. Just try being a mother and see how difficult it is.
There is no such thing as a non-traumatic birth. There is no such thing as an easy childhood. We all have something to complain about. That's life. We all suffer losses, betrayals, and abandonment. David Blaine, for one, has acknowledged that.
Sue McPherson 23 Oct 2003
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