Monday, August 18, 2014

On the Selfie and the Self

  
August 18, 2014 by 0 Comments

This summer a relative put aside resistance and got his first smartphone, soon after sending us a picture of himself taken with his phone, captioned: “My First Facie.”   Initial mirth over this mistaken terminology—“facie” instead of “selfie”—gave way to conviction that his was, in fact, the much better word.

That strange new-ish cultural form the selfie is usually a picture of the face, sometimes captured in an odd expression, sometimes decorated with the presence of others or an interesting backdrop. It is a pose, a mask. It is certainly not a picture of the self.

The self is much too elusive to be captured by a phone snap. And the self as a thing, an identity, seems almost necessarily a religious category. Many writers have pondered the self, but late southern novelist Walker Percy’s words rise to mind most readily, in his whimsical treatment of the lost self in the cosmos.

Why is it, Percy’s Lost in the Cosmos asks, that you can “learn more in ten minutes about the Crab Nebula in Taurus” than you “presently know about yourself, even though you’ve been stuck with yourself all your life?”   The self, even our own, or especially our own, is hard to see. We try to see ourselves by looking–in the mirror, in a picture–but hardly can. Percy lays bare the difficulty with reference to a few common experiences: “You have seen yourself a thousand times in the mirror, face to face. No sight is more familiar.   Yet why is it that the first time you see yourself in a clothier’s triple mirror—from the side, so to speak—it comes as a shock?”

Or this: “Why is it that, when you are shown a group photograph in which you are present, you always (and probably covertly) seek yourself out? To see what you look like? Don’t you know what you look like?”

No.

What could we possibly want with a lot of ephemeral pictures our own face?   Selfies are by us and for us. Elements of selfie-taking include showing off, trying to show others the kind of person we want them to envision us, in a glamorous place, or wearing something nice, or with a celebrity. But the compulsion to take selfies seems very secondarily about to showing off someone else.   More, they are efforts to see who we are.   Many such attempts get instantly deleted out of refusal to believe that is how we really look.  But we persist in taking them, because we still haven’t seen what we’re after. It is hard to figure out what the self looks like.


Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/anxiousbench/2014/08/on-the-selfie-and-the-self/#ixzz3AlXtCXv8

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