“Being requires nothing in order to be. Contradiction is the name for the necessary impurity of every identity–its inability to just be itself.”Todd McGowan, Emancipation After Hegel
Welcome to the first installment of my new blog series, Self Portraits. In this post I will analyze my social presentation through the image above. I hope to investigate the contradictions between my conscious choices, with regard to self-presentation and those unconscious articulations which seep out, without my awareness at the moment the shutter released.
For starters, I will discuss my conscious choices in preparing to capture this moment photographically. It begins with the outfit, of course, as my interest in fashion and style lend an attention to small details with regard to creating an ensemble each and every day. I will not analyze every element; however, I will highlight specific aspects of my attire and explain the conscious drive compelling those particular choices.
My leather shoes are noteworthy, as I purchased them from a fair trade company called Oliberte, which at the time of purchase, operated factories in Africa, with the goal of providing fair wages and safe working conditions to underprivileged communities. They are one of two identical pairs I purchased from the company, which are my absolute favorite shoes ever. I like to call them my “forever boots.” When I wear them, I tell myself I am a good steward–of both the environment and my fellow man.
My scarf is a silk rectangle with paisley print, which I inherited from my paternal grandmother. I am proud of my connection with my grandmother–because I believe a sliver of her spirit abides within me, and I consider my sense of style to be a manifestation of that spirit.
Finally, I intentionally chose to pose with my copy of Todd McGowan’s book, Emancipation After Hegel. I have an affinity for style, and as such, I find myself interested in #ootd (outfit of the day) threads on Instagram. I did a little research, knowing that I planned to begin this series, and I found myself noting certain consistencies among myriad fashion accounts. It is customary for administrators of style accounts to capture self portraits wherein they are “holding” things. This is intentional, to occupy the hands for a more flattering image. An ungodly number of #ootd photos include a model holding a Louis Vuitton bag in one hand, with a Starbucks “to go” cup in the other. Upon making this observation, I decided to choose my own props with intention. I hold this book because I am steadily making my way through its content. Reading it, writing all over it, copying quotes from it, mulling it over, re-visiting highlighted passages, journaling about it, and now, creating an entire blog series inspired by it, I felt the book was an appropriate prop for use in the first self-portrait in this series. The conscious drive behind this choice is a desire to subvert social media norms. I desire to do something that breaks the rules, in effort to elevate the consciousness of my web followers.
I find this portion of my reflection much more difficult to write, as it is far more interpretive, and it requires a level of self-awareness, which I may or may not actually possess. Nevertheless, I will do my best.
The contradictions between my conscious effort towards cohesive social presentation and the unconscious messages I send are most noted in the environment of the scene. I am humiliated to take photos of myself out in the open, where my neighbors may spy my activity. I fear being judged as vain or self-involved, so I relegate myself to a spacious closet in our home’s upstairs loft. It is large for a closet, but small for a photography studio, so there isn’t enough space to properly hang a photo backdrop. The carpet is less than perfect, and my failed attempt to mitigate its unwieldy appearance with a paper photo background makes for a slipshod venue for portraiture. All of this reveals to me my shame upon realizing a facet of my psyche, which I would much rather keep hidden. I am vain with regard to my appearance, and because this is a personality trait I deem to be unworthy, I prefer to keep that part of myself closeted. My unconscious manifests itself in the choice of background locale.
Another part of myself, which I would like to keep contained is the part of myself that enjoys consumption. While I would like to pretend I am a conscious consumer, and my shoes are a relic of a part-time commitment to conscious consumption, the rest of my ensemble consists of regularly produced fashion, which without researching the brands, I am almost certain have been created through ethically questionable production lines. I hate the part of myself that loves to shop. I would rather squish that down in favor of the burgeoning socialist I have become on a philosophical and theoretical level. I am ashamed of the parts of myself which boast all of the pleasure of capitalist consumption. Thus, I photograph myself in a closet, where none can see me engaged in the deed.
So here I am: a divided subject, inherently embodied in contradiction. An empath, I desire to be a conscious consumer. I desire to live a lifestyle that promotes better living conditions for all workers across the globe, and yet here I stand, adorned in threads that carry the blood, sweat, and tears of many, with my philosophy text brandished as I attempt to prove my worth to the world. How can this awareness of my internal contradictions help me to be a better human? For starters, it helps me to not be so hard on all of the lovers of capitalism in my life, which are many, because I am an American living in suburbia. Next, it helps me realize that my soul is imperfect, and while I make efforts to live a more conscious existence, I will never arrive at a state of perfection. I can leave that to the Dali Lama. Hegel proposes that opposition conceals contradiction–so who do I oppose, in effort to conceal my inner conflict? This is a question to which I must give more thought.