The curated self – is it authentic? Are our carefully constructed collages pure artifice? Are we all really too busy taking photos of ourselves and sharing our lives through social media actually to experience them? Well, maybe. But constructing ourselves as subjects through collating, arranging, reflecting on experiences is probably not a new thing.
Foucault this week – and Beckett.
The title quote of this post is from Foucault’s “What is an Author“, quoting Samuel Beckett, so I’ve been re-reading my Beckett this week: “I did not want to write, but I had to resign myself to it in the end. It is in order to know where I have got to, where he has got to. At first I did not write, I just said the thing. Then I forgot what I had said. A minimum of memory is indispensable, if one is to live really.” (Malone Dies)
Unsurprisingly, Web 2.0 has revived interest in Foucault’s idea of technologies of the self – the way in which individuals can transform themselves, their bodies, their thoughts or their ways of being in order to attain a certain state of happiness, wisdom or immortality. Macnamara and others point out that the technologies of 2.0 allow us new ways to write ourselves into existence. But none of this is new. Foucault also examined the way in which, since classical times, we have written as an act of self-creation. Some of the technologies he identified were: journals, notebooks or ‘life books’ – tools that allow us to collect the ephemera that catch our eye and that we want to record: quotes, observations, reflections. Sound familiar?
But is there a difference between writing oneself for oneself and posting for the the world to see? Is that the introvert / extrovert thing again? And is it just too retro and postmodern to want to see some kind of space between signifier and signified in which meaning can be created? Is the immediacy of being able to post without reflection something new?
Beckett again: “Yes, no reflection is needed, before or after…”, “Notice, I notice nothing, I go on as best I can, if it begins to mean something I can’t help it.” (The Unnameable)