Tag Archives: Žižek

Deepening (HUM470)

The differences between Mai’s America and Gangster are manifest in terms of genre, medium, immediate historical context, etc. BUT the continuities between these two (inter)texts might deepen our understanding of the category “American Autobiography.”

In an interview, film maker Marlo Poras observed that anyone in front of a camera is prone to performing, especially when the character they represent is themselves. In one sense that’s The Social in a nutshell: we enact our personae, attempt to accrue status, wear masks. Does this mean social life is a kind of masquerade? Consider that over the course of the Modern Era (in the long view from ca. late 14th Century onward, in a narrower sense since the Second Industrial Revolution) people have increasingly identified themselves with their activity– what they do. What’s one of the first questions we ask a new acquaintance?  “What do you do?” (“What’s your major?”)

Usually in this scenario, however, the question is taken to be a prelude to some more intimate knowledge. We assume, ideologically, that the face we present to the world is only one aspect of a truer, deeper self. Yes I may sell dialysis machines for a living but when I’m at home I lead an incomparably more gratifying life as a collector of exotic insects. Or, I know I may look conservative– always wearing a tie and with a clean business cut– but underneath this crisp blue oxford cloth shirt I’m sporting an elaborate chest tattoo and a pair of doorknocker-sized nipple rings. The real me is hidden beneath the veil I put on when I walk out of my apartment into the world.

But we should ask: is this really the case? Consider this passage from Slavoj Zizek’s First as Tragedy, Then as Farce:

“Our most elementary experience of subjectivity is that of the ‘richness of my inner life’: this is what I ‘really am,’ in contrast to the symbolic determinations and responsibilities I assume in public life (as father, professor, etc.). The first lesson of psychoanalysis here is that this ‘richness of inner life’ is fundamentally fake: it is a screen, a false distance, whose function is, as it were, to save my appearance, to render palpable (accessible to my imaginary narcissism) my true social-symbolic identity. One of the ways to practise the critique of ideology is therefore to invent strategies for unmasking this hypocrisy of the ‘inner life’ and its ‘sincere’ emotions. The experience we have of our lives from within, the story we tell ourselves about ourselves in order to account for what we are doing, is thus a lie– the truth lies rather outside, in what we do” (40).