The Shapiro Files

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Of Ice Cube, Marcel Proust, and Social Personality

Rapper-turned-actor Ice Cube was on The Daily Show last night. His appearance reminded me that he supposedly went to my high school. I dug out one of my old high school yearbooks to see if I could find him, only to realize I have no idea what Ice Cube's real name is. Certainly a Google search would have answered that particular question, but it was getting late and I started getting distracted reading the many yearbook signatures left by friends long ago.

Now removed by nearly 16 years, I discovered that it's possible to see myself at age 17 through the eyes of others as conveyed through their yearbook signatures. People talked about my constant dedication to my work in the music department and my creative impulses in general. I guess I haven't really changed all that much in past 16 years, as I'm the same way now with just about every production I get involved with. Who knew?

In all events, this idea of seeing yourself through the eyes of others got me thinking about Marcel Proust's magnum opus A la recherche du temps perdu (English title: Remembrance of Things Past), which I just happend to be rereading for the first time in about 10 years. In the "Overture" section of Du côté de chez Swann (Swann's Way), Proust writes at length about the nature of identity and how our "social personality" is created by others:
But then, even in the most insignificant details of our daily life, none of us can be said to constitute a material whole, which is identical for everyone, and need only be turned up like a page in an account-book or the record of a will; our social personality is a creation of the thoughts of other people. Even the simple act which we describe as "seeing someone we know" is to some extent an intellectual process. We pack the physical outline of the person we see with all the notions we have already formed about him, and in the total picture of him which we compose in our minds those notions have certainly the principal place. In the need they come to fill out so completely the curve of his cheeks, to follow so exactly the line of his nose, they blend so harmoniously in the sound of his voice as if it were no more than a transparent envelope, that each time we see the face or hear the voice it is these notions which we recognise and to which we listen.

Thanks, Ice Cube, for that strange little walk down self-examination lane.


  • Interesting thought... But what if we have more than one "social personality"? And if we're aware of it being constructed by other people, isn't it different than when we are not? (the Hawthorne effect of sorts)

    By Blogger Irina Tsukerman, at 5/05/2005 7:38 AM  

  • Irina, thanks for your thoughtful comments. You're absolutely right: we often do have more than one "social personality." In fact, Proust writes about this very thing in Swann's Way. Charles Swann has one personality as dictated by Marcel's grandmother (who assumes his social status is no more than middle-class), one by his elite colleagues in the upper-echelon of society, and of course a very different (and atypically evolving) one by Marcel himself. I also agree with you that this social construct most definitely changes based on whether or not a person is aware of its endowment by others. In other words: this is no true "identity"; it's merely what we consciously or unconsciously ascribe to ourselves and to others.

    Why am I suddently thinking about A Chorus Line?:

    "Who am I anyway/Am I my resume."

    Marcel Proust and Marvin Hamlisch... Now there's a connection you don't get to make every day!

    By Blogger Steve Shapiro, at 5/05/2005 11:15 AM  

  • It doesn't help when applications are trying to define who's more unique than others, when you apply to elite institutions. So in some sense, for some purpose, we are indeed our own resumes, whether we agree with what is put in there or not. (And no, I'm not bitter)

    By Blogger Irina Tsukerman, at 5/05/2005 2:31 PM  

  • No wonder Gregor Samsa woke up one day to find he had turned into a giant insect in Kafka's Metamorphosis. For all we think we know about ourselves and what we really are, we might as well be members of a different species...or so that line of thought goes.

    Well, now I'm depressed.

    By the way, Irina, speaking of different species, what exactly am I looking at in the photo next to your comments? It looks like some type of frog or crab creature hiding under a rock (or an otherwise moss-covered object). Just curious.

    By Blogger Steve Shapiro, at 5/05/2005 3:56 PM  

  • Oh, that's a dung beetle, rolling its ball! : D It has a double significance to me... I like to dig up stuff no one wants to even think about, and also the ancient mystical meaning of the scarab! ; )

    By Blogger Irina Tsukerman, at 5/06/2005 6:44 AM  

  • Thanks for clearing that up! :)

    By Blogger Steve Shapiro, at 5/06/2005 5:12 PM  

  • No problem!

    By Blogger Irina Tsukerman, at 5/07/2005 5:44 PM  

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