Friday, August 17, 2007

The Sickness Unto Death

I’m finally reading Kierkegaard’s classic treatment of human nature, and the following lines stood out as a perfect description of American pop-culture:

The man of immediacy does not know himself, he quite literally identifies himself only by the clothes he wears, he identifies having a self by externalities (here again the infinitely comical). There is hardly a more ludicrous mistake, for a self is indeed infinitely distinct from an externality. So when the externals have completely changed for the person of immediacy and he has despaired, he goes one step further; he thinks something like this, it becomes his wish: What if I became someone else, got myself a new self. Well, what if he did become someone else? I wonder if he would recognize himself. (The Sickness Unto Death, pg 53)
The tendency to define, and redefine, oneself according to external appearance has become so common that it’s almost a cliché, but what is really surprising is how often this is now embraced as a positive good. We can see this especially in the rise of virtual worlds like Second Life (on which I have much more to say in Salvo 3, due out this month). Here we find thousands of people who really believe that if they can just find the right look, or the right environment, it will somehow reveal their true self. Yet is it not instead the self, the real person beneath all appearances, which is lost in the shuffle?

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