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Clothes Make the (Wo)Man

I was asked a rhetorical question recently while visiting a photography exhibit how I would like to be represented in a portrait, which got me thinking as I envisioned Pinkie http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinkie_%28Lawrence_painting%29  by Thomas Lawrence and The Blue Boy http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Blue_Boy by Thomas Gainsborough.  What background would I choose?  Would I prefer a natural landscape or a cityscape? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cityscape Which props would I want to include? Are there specific items that could be used to construct a personal iconography? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iconography Would there be paintings on the wall behind me or a photograph of family members displayed somewhere in the room? Would I be standing or sitting?  What would I wear? Would I wear glasses (prescription, computer, reading, sun, fashion, etc.)? What would I contemplate as I pose for the picture? Which cultural background would I want my photographer or my artist to have? What are the methods employed by Domon Ken, André Kertész, Henri Cartier-Bresson, William Penn, and Arnold Newman to capture their subjects' essence? 

Then, a few days later, I had an interesting conversation about the construct of self, Judeo-Christian self, the Buddhist not-self  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anatta , and the authentic self, starting off with the hypothetical example of a salesperson saying, "That's you," to a customer.  (Yes, we were having a discusson on Percy Walker's book, Lost in the Cosmos.)

The truth is, I don't trust anyone who doesn't really know me saying, "That's you." When a salesperson says it, I assume that's just the style of dress she's promoting because it happens to be popular among customers or fashionable at the moment or it somehow fits her first impression of me, whether she sees me as outgoing, reserved, feminine, intellectual, artistic, elegant, avant garde, status conscious, athletic, sedentary, ambitious, laid-back, flamboyant, understated, etc.  When someone who knows me a little better says, "That's you," it could mean that I am clearly and confidently wearing the clothes and not being dominated by the clothes I'm wearing.  It could also mean that I'm making some kind of a fashion statement that they know I endorse.

When I was growing up, my mother was the one who took me shopping twice a year, spring and fall.  She had good taste in clothes and I trusted her judgment. She'd select a few items and I'd try them on and she'd say, "That doesn't do anything for you," or "The print is too busy; you'll tire of it quickly," or "That's a good color on you," or "That suits you." And I'd say, "This makes me look fat," or "I like this," or "I don't like this on me."

Although Sherlock Holmes might be able to deduce many things about a person from visual clues, I personally find it difficult to say something definitive about a person just by studying that person's choice of clothing or appearance in general. No matter how dedicated someone is to his or her profession, I can't tell just by looking at someone whether he or she is a scientist, a writer, a musician or an artist. Individuals are infinitely more complex than what their appearances reveal. Just as people are surprised to find out that their polite nextdoor neighbor is a murderer, it's not always easy to see what is hidden beneath the surface. Impressions people have of other people tend to be shallow and, for the most part, they've only scratched the surface having merely perceived the tip of an iceberg.

Appearance is nevertheless one of the many aspects of a self that people cultivate to carve out a niche for oneself within a given society. Mark Twain had said, "Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society." In my opinion, this desire to carve out a niche in society and belong to a community drives the authentic self more than the libido http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libido  or the death drive  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_driv  that Freud upheld as the most fundamental of psychological drives. Jung disagreed with Freud and turned to universal archetypes

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jungian_archetypes  to explore the collective unconscious. No doubt, we are biological and psychological beings but my argument is based on the fact that we are also fundamentally social.  Even a recluse cannot live completely outside of society.

In Washington D.C., it is easy to tell apart most tourists from people who live and work there, especially early in the morning.  If someone is in a business suit, wearing a necktie and carrying a briefcase, he's probably on his way to work. If someone is in shorts and T-shirt and carrying a camera, he's probably a tourist. Of course, artists or software engineers who work independently out of their homes often choose to dress casually while others dress in a way that would be appropriate for all the places they expect to go to in a day whether it's an office, a classroom, a restaurant, a museum, a lecture hall or a concert hall.

Despite the slipperiness of appearances, it seems to me that the signature of the authentic self as a depository of individual preferences must display a language all of its own based on a specific lexicon developed through past life experiences that define that individual.

When a person suffers from amnesia,  many or all of the different "selves" that person cultivated to fit into a specific niche may be permanently lost or temporarily become incapacitated. He (or she) is suddenly lost and set adrift looking for the authentic self, the core self on which all the different identities (I= x, y, z) had been anchored. This person may experience language loss of some type, for example, losing a language he or she had mastered later on in life but recalling an earlier one that had fallen to disuse. The loss of cultural baggage that accompanies amnesia might suddenly allow for expression of suppressed material. Maybe this process of revelation is one of the reasons why films depicting amnesia appeal to many.

One thing that seems certain, no matter what, is that a subjective viewpoint necessarily exhibits tendencies or inclinations away from certain things and towards other things. What are we to think of an authentic self?  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Authenticity_%28philosophy%29 "If it walks, quacks and looks like a duck, it must be a duck," as the saying goes. How does an authenic self sound, seem and behave? An accent may point to a geographical location and a jargon may point to an occupation, but can an accent or a profession point to the authentic self? Or is the authentic self to be located at a deeper place within the person? Is the authentic self "free from the corrupting influence of external forces" a genesis (something we discover) or a destination (something we create)?